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April 24, 2009

Wikipedia: Ptolemy II Philadelphus

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Head of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, with Arsinoë II. The Greek inscription reads: “ΑΔΕΛΦΩΝ“, which means [coin of the] “brother and sister.”

Ptolemy II Philadelphus (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Φιλάδελφος, Ptolemaĩos Philádelphos, which means “Ptolemy the sister-loving,” 309 BC–246 BC), was the king of Ptolemaic Egypt from 283 BC to 246 BC. He was the son of the founder of the Ptolemaic kingdom Ptolemy I Soter and Berenice, and was educated by Philitas of Cos. He had two half-brothers, Ptolemy Keraunos and Meleager who both became kings of Macedonia (in 281 BC and 279 BC respectively), and both died in the Gallic invasion of 280-279 BC (see Brennus).



He began his reign as co-regent with his father Ptolemy I from ca. 290 BC–ca. 283 BC, and maintained a splendid court in Alexandria.

Egypt was involved in several wars during his reign. Magas of Cyrene opened war on his half-brother (274 BC), and the Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter, desiring Coele-Syria with Judea, attacked soon after in the First Syrian War. Two or three years of war followed. Egypt’s victories solidified the kingdom’s position as the undisputed naval power of the eastern Mediterranean; the Ptolemaic sphere of power extended over the Cyclades to Samothrace, and the harbours and coast towns of Cilicia Trachea, Pamphylia, Lycia and Caria.

The victory won by Antigonus II Gonatas, king of Macedonia, over the Egyptian fleet at Cos (between 258 BC and 256 BC) did not long interrupt Ptolemy’s command of the Aegean Sea. In a Second Syrian War with the Seleucid kingdom, under Antiochus II Theos (after 260 BC), Ptolemy sustained losses on the seaboard of Asia Minor and agreed to a peace by which Antiochus married his daughter Berenice (c. 250 BC).

Ptolemy’s first wife, Arsinoë I, daughter of Lysimachus, was the mother of his legitimate children. After her repudiation he married his full sister Arsinoë II, the widow of Lysimachus—an Egyptian custom—which brought him her Aegean possessions.


“Cameo Gonzaga”, Hermitage

The material and literary splendour of the Alexandrian court was at its height under Ptolemy II. Pomp and splendor flourished. Ptolemy deified his parents and his sister-wife, after her death (270 BC). Ptolemy staged a procession in Alexandria in honor of Dionysus led by 24 chariots drawn by elephants and a procession of lions, leopards, panthers, camels, antelopes, wild asses, ostriches, a bear, a giraffe and a rhinoceros. According to scholars, most of the animals were in pairs – as many eight pairs of ostriches – and although the ordinary chariots were likely led by a single elephant, others which carried a 7 foot tall golden statue may have been led by four.[1]

Callimachus, keeper of the library, Theocritus,[2] and a host of lesser poets, glorified the Ptolemaic family. Ptolemy himself was eager to increase the library and to patronize scientific research. He had exotic animals of far off lands sent to Alexandria. Although an enthusiast for Hellenic culture, he also adopted Egyptian religious concepts, which helped to bolster his image as a sovereign.

The tradition preserved in the pseudepigraphical Letter of Aristeas which connects the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament into Greek with his patronage is probably overdrawn. However, Walter Kaiser says, “There can be little doubt that the Law was translated in Philadelphus’s time since Greek quotations from Genesis and Exodus appear in Greek literature before 200 B.C. The language of the Septuagint is more like Egyptian Greek than it is like Jerusalemite Greek, according to some.” [3] Ptolemy had many brilliant mistresses, and his court, magnificent and dissolute, intellectual and artificial, has been compared with the Versailles of Louis XIV.

Ptolemy was of a delicate constitution. Elias Joseph Bickermann (Chronology of the Ancient World, 2nd ed. 1980) gives the date of his death as January 29.

Relations with India

Ptolemy is recorded by Pliny the Elder as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra in India, probably to Emperor Ashoka:

“But [India] has been treated of by several other Greek writers who resided at the courts of Indian kings, such, for instance, as Megasthenes, and by Dionysius, who was sent thither by Philadelphus, expressly for the purpose: all of whom have enlarged upon the power and vast resources of these nations.” Pliny the Elder, “The Natural History”, Chap. 21 [4]

He is also mentioned in the Edicts of Ashoka as a recipient of the Buddhist proselytism of Ashoka, although no Western historical record of this event remain.

See also

  • Alexandrian Pleiad
  • Library of Alexandria
  • Ptolemaic period – period of Egyptian history during the Ptolemaic dynasty.
  • Ptolemais – towns and cities named after members of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

External links

  • Ptolemy Philadelphus at LacusCurtius — (Chapter III of E. R Bevan’s House of Ptolemy, 1923)
  • Ptolemy II Philadelphus entry in historical sourcebook by Mahlon H. Smith


  1. ^ Scullard, H.H The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World Thames and Hudson. 1974 pg 125 “At the head of an imposing array of animals (including…)”
  2. ^ Theocritus: Encomium of Ptolemy Philadelphus
  3. ^ Walter Kaiser: A History of Israel, p. 467
  4. ^ Pliny the Elder, “The Natural History”, Chap. 21
Preceded by
Ptolemy I Soter
Ptolemaic dynasty Succeeded by
Ptolemy III Euergetes

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