THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY
Ptolemy I (Soter)
(Satrap of Egypt, 323305; King of Egypt, 305 to 283282 BC)
In June 323 Alexander, having created a Macedonian Empire over the whole extent of the old Persian Empire and more, died suddenly in Babylon. About five months later, one of his marshals, Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, appeared in Egypt as the satrap appointed by the new Macedonian king, Philip Arrhidaeus. The new king was a feeble-minded half-brother of Alexander's, and the real power was in the hands of the great Macedonian chiefs who had served under Alexander, especially in that of Perdiccas, whose precise office, if it is somewhat obscure to modern scholars, was perhaps already a matter of controversy amongst the great chiefs themselves in the confused struggle of those days which followed the great conqueror's abrupt removal. It is plain that Perdiccas was determined to act as supreme regent of the empire, and that he was the most powerful person in Babylon, when an agreement was come to amongst the chiefs assembled there for a fresh assignment of the satrapies. In that moment of doubt and confusion, Ptolemy saw quickly and decidedly the thing he wanted for himself—Egypt. Perdiccas, or the council of chiefs, gave him, in the imbecile king's name, the appointment he desired, and Ptolemy withdrew as speedily as he could to a safe position outside the mellay he foresaw. "There must have been a bargain between Perdiccas and Ptolemy; Ptolemy's price for recognizing Perdiccas was Egypt and the appointment of Arrhidaeus [a Macedonian chief, not the king] to control the funeral arrangements."
According to a statement in Diodorus, it had been settled, amongst other things, by the Macedonian chiefs in Babylon that the body of Alexander should be buried in the temple of his Divine Father in the Oasis of Siwah. Arrhidaeus, one of their number, was at any rate commissioned to construct a funeral car and arrange a cortège of unprecedented magnificence, and it seems quickly to have occurred to Ptolemy that it would add immensely to the prestige of the principality he already in imagination designed for himself in Egypt, if it possessed, as a fetish of extraordinary power over the minds of men, the body of the great Macedonian hero. The most natural place in which to bury Alexander would have been the royal city of the Macedonian kings, Aegae, in the homeland of the dynasty, and possibly this, and not burial in the Oasis, had been the original plan. At any rate, this sooner or later became the plan of Perdiccas. But Ptolemy forestalled him. When Perdiccas was in Asia Minor, Arrhidaeus, acting on an understanding with Ptolemy, set out from Babylon with the funeral cortège on the road to Egypt. If the body were to be taken to Siwah, it would in any case (unless it went to Paraetonium by sea) have to go first to Memphis; it is likely that Arrhidaeus, on leaving Babylon, gave out the Oasis as his destination. Ptolemy met the cortège in Syria with a powerful escort, and took control. When it reached Memphis, it proceeded no farther towards the Oasis. Whether Ptolemy had already determined that Alexandria should be Alexander's ultimate resting-place, we do not know. Pausanias says that the body remained at Memphis till it was transferred to Alexandria by Ptolemy's son, some forty years later.
Diodorus, Strabo, and other ancient authorities say that it was the first Ptolemy himself who placed Alexander's body in the Sema at Alexandria, where it still was in Roman times. Possibly this is the truth, and the fact behind the statement of Pausanias would then be simply that the body reposed for some years at Memphis, till the sepulchre at Alexandria was ready for it. The regular road from Syria to Alexandria went, as Mahaffy pointed out, not across the Delta, but by way of Memphis. But Pausanias gives it so definitely as one of the evil deeds of Ptolemy II that he brought the body from its resting-place in Memphis to Alexandria, that he may have been going upon some good historical authority. In any case, there is proof of a state-cult, whose priest serves to determine the year in the dating of documents all over the kingdom, under Ptolemy I. The priesthood is held in two documents by the king's brother Menelaus, and since, later on, the eponymous priest of the state-cult is the priest of Alexander, it is probable (though not stated) that Menelaus was priest of Alexander. If so, the cult may originally have centred in a temple-sepulchre of Alexander at Memphis, and been afterwards transferred by Ptolemy II to the Sema at Alexandria.
The Macedonian chieftain, bearing the Greek name of Ptolemaios, who came to Egypt in 323 as its new ruler, was the son of a certain Lagus (Lagos or Laagos: the longer form of the name is given in the contemporary papyrus of Elephantine, and it is probably just the Greek Laagos, "Leader-of-the-People"). When the house of Ptolemy had become very great in the world, its origin from the obscure Laagos came to be thought rather discreditable. There was a malicious story that when Ptolemy asked a grammarian who the father of Pelops was—notoriously an obscure point of mythology —the grammarian retorted by saying, "I will tell you, if you first tell me who was the father of Lagus." Justin, in his rhetorical way, exaggerates the contrast between Ptolemy's comparatively humble origin and his later greatness by saying that Alexander had promoted him from the ranks. This is nonsense. We know at any rate that Ptolemy as a boy had belonged to the corps of pages at the court of Philip, and was an intimate friend of Alexander before his accession. Lagus must have belonged to the petite noblesse of the country.
Ptolemy's mother was called Arsinoe: the official genealogy later on represented her as related to the royal family, possibly with truth. In the campaigns of Alexander, Ptolemy had won distinction as a commander. He had become one of the seven Bodyguards of the king. In India especially he had taken a leading part. So far as we can see Ptolemy's personality through the mists of time, he was a robust, full-blooded Macedonian, with the sound common sense which often characterizes the leaders of a people of country farmers, the shrewd caution which looks a long way ahead, and likes to play a safe game and secure solid advantages, an animal lustihood which made him take joy in many women, a genial bonhomie which attracted soldiers of fortune to his standard from all Greek lands—a man rather of vigorous bodily and mental constitution than of fine fibre. Yet he was not without interest in Greek letters; young Macedonians of the upper class had learnt for a generation or two to talk Greek and read Greek; and Ptolemy was not only eager to get Greek men of letters and philosophers and artists to his court, but himself made, as an author, a very creditable addition to Greek historical literature—a narrative of the campaigns of Alexander distinguished by its plain adherence to fact and its freedom from rhetorical claptrap. Such was the man who now came to Egypt as satrap for king Philip Arrhidaeus, and the joint-king, baby Alexander, the posthumous son of Alexander the Great. Ptolemy's age was then about forty-four.
According to the arrangement made in Babylon, Cleomenes was to remain in power in Egypt, as Ptolemy's assistant (hyparchos). Cleomenes was devoted to the interests of Perdiccas, and would thus, it was hoped, act as a check upon the new satrap. But when once Ptolemy, in defiance of Perdiccas, had seized Alexander's body, it was open war between the satrap and the would-be regent. Cleomenes could act as a check only so long as Ptolemy was afraid of breaking openly with Perdiccas. Now he had broken; and Ptolemy caused Cleomenes to be arraigned on some charge, condemned, and put to death. Of course he had now to expect to be attacked by Perdiccas with his whole power, as soon as Perdiccas could get his hands free. Meantime Ptolemy extended his dominion along the African coast by possessing himself of the ancient Greek colony of Cyrene and its daughter towns. Civil war had broken out in that country in the days of confusion after the death of Alexander, one faction led by the Spartan condottiere Thibron, and another by the Cretan Mnasicles. Refugees of the defeated party came to Egypt to entreat the satrap to intervene. Ptolemy dispatched a force, military and naval, under Ophellas, an Olynthian in his service, to occupy the country, and the two condottieri joined forces against him. Ophellas beat them down, captured Thibron, and had him crucified. Then Ptolemy came in person to take possession of Cyrene, towards the end of 322 BC. The subjugation of a state so illustrious, with more than a century's tradition of republican freedom, since the fall of its old Greek dynasty, by a Macedonian ruler made a powerful impression upon the Greek world. The Cyrenaeans never acquiesced in the position of a subject province. They were destined to be often in the future, not an accession of strength to the Macedonian kings of Egypt, but a thorn in their side. Yet Cyrene furnished to Ptolemaic Egypt, as Ireland has done to England, a roll of illustrious men like Callimachus the poet and Eratosthenes the geographer, and numbers of soldiers. Amongst the soldier-colonists of the Fayûm and of Upper Egypt the papyri show a noticeable proportion of Cyrenaeans. For the moment Ptolemy left Ophellas in the country as governor.
The attack of Perdiccas came in the spring of 321. It was then seen how wise Ptolemy had been in securing for his power a territorial basis hard to assail. Perdiccas failed to get across the eastern branch of the Nile, and was assassinated in his own camp. Ptolemy might have stepped into his place. But he knew that it was safer to be ruler of Egypt than to be regent of the Empire. The victorious chiefs of the party opposed to Perdiccas met at Triparadisus, a place apparently somewhere in North Syria, in the autumn of 321, to make a new settlement of offices and governorships in the Empire. Ptolemy was confirmed in the possession of Egypt and the Cyrenaica.
Through the forty years of struggle which followed between the great Macedonian chiefs—the men who had learnt war under Alexander—Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, remained in his African province, safe as a tortoise in his shell, while armies marched to and fro across Asia and rival fleets battled in the Aegean. To some extent, indeed, he stretched forth out of his shell to mingle in the mellay, for the power ruling Egypt was now one of Hellenistic character, having various connections, political, economic, cultural, with the other states of the Greek world. It looked northwards, seawards, from Alexandria, with an interest which could not have been felt by one of the old native Pharaohs. And while Ptolemy wished to have the safe seat and centre of his power in the country of the Nile, he wished to have certain other neighboring countries attached as appendages to his principality, and to have points d'appui for his sea-power in the islands and on the coasts of the Levant.
Ptolemaic Egypt was more of a Mediterranean, and less of an African, power than the old Pharaonic Egypt had been, which sometimes extended its power far into the Sudan. The Ptolemies never cared to make conquests up the Nile much beyond the First Cataract. But Ptolemy did aspire to hold Southern Syria, like the conquering Pharaohs before him—an appendage on the east to his principality as the Cyrenaica was on the west. He desired, too, to possess Cyprus, as Aahmes had done in the 6th century BC, and beyond that to extend the sphere of his control over the Greeks of the Aegean islands, over places on the coast of Asia Minor, and even places in the old Greece itself. To that extent he had to come out of his shell and take risks. If Egypt, in the new days of world politics and world commerce, was to be a strong and prosperous state, it could not be altogether self-enclosed and self-sufficing. Large timber, for instance, for shipbuilding was not to be found in the country of the Nile, but was furnished by the Lebanon and the hills of Cyprus. The line of commercial traffic which went along the Nile, to and from Alexandria, had a rival in the line which went from the Persian Gulf across Arabia to Gaza, and it was to the advantage of the ruler of Egypt to control both.
Since this is a history of Egypt, rather than of the house of Ptolemy, it lies outside its scope to trace the activity of Ptolemy and his successors, in war and diplomacy, as a power of the Greek world. We have, however, to note the vicissitudes of world-politics so far as they affected the internal history of Egypt. In the two years following the settlement of Triparadisus, Ptolemy possessed himself of Syria from Lebanon southwards, the country we now call Palestine, commonly called by the Greeks of those days Coele-Syria ("Hollow Syria", from the depression of the Jordan Valley). The governor of this region, according to the settlement of Triparadisus, was a Greek of Amphipolis, called Laomedon. Ptolemy tried first to buy the country of him, and when Laomedon refused, occupied it by force. It was on this occasion, according to the common view, that Ptolemy seized Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, when the Jews felt that their religion forbade them to offer any resistance. Bouché-Leclercq thinks that it was more probably in 312. Yet Ptolemy can hardly have avoided securing the city of this singular community (as they seemed to the Greeks) when he extended his power over Palestine in the years 320318.
When Antigonus, the satrap of Phrygia, returned from the eastern provinces in 316, victorious over the remains of the party of Perdiccas, Antigonus in turn became to his old allies the same danger which Perdiccas had been. Seleucus, the satrap of Babylonia, had fled to Egypt, and a new league of chiefs was constituted against Antigonus. Ptolemy, by his occupation of Coele-Syria, had obviously given a ground of complaint to any one who aspired to be master of the whole Empire.
In 315 Antigonus invaded Coele-Syria, and Ptolemy prudently withdrew before him the tortoise shrinking into his shell. Antigonus occupied the cities of the Syrian coast as far as Gaza. But Ptolemy's navy, under the command of Seleucus, was meanwhile carrying on the war against Antigonus at sea. Ptolemy threw a force into Cyprus. That island, with its mixed Greek and Phoenician population, was in a divided condition. Its several districts were ruled by a number of petty independent princes. Some of these were partisans of Antigonus; the dynasts of Soli, Salamis, Paphos, and Chytri held by Ptolemy. With the arrival of the Ptolemaic force, Ptolemy's ascendancy began to be established in the island as a whole. He could use it as a naval basis against Antigonus, who now had command of the Phoenician ports on the Syrian coast.
In 313 Ptolemy, having lost Coele-Syria, temporarily lost Cyrene as well. The city, after nine years' subjection to a foreign Macedonian ruler, broke into revolt and besieged the Ptolemaic garrison in the citadel. Ptolemy, however, could spare a new expeditionary force which beat down this revolt and brought Cyrene again under the hand of his governor Ophellas. During the same year Ptolemy went to Cyprus in person and completed the conquest of the island. The Phoenician prince of Citium, Pumayyaton (Pygmalion), who had held by Antigonus, was put to death.
In 312 Ptolemy issued again out of Egypt into Palestine to strike a blow for its recovery. Antigonus had left his son Demetrius, then a boy of twenty, in command there. Demetrius was destined to have a brilliant and adventurous career, and to be known to history by the surname of "the Besieger" (Poliorketes), but at his encounter in the spring of 312 of the confines of Palestine with the veteran who had fought under Alexander, he sustained a shattering defeat. The battle of Gaza marks an epoch in history, for it was after this defeat of Demetrius that Seleucus saw the way open for his return to Babylon, and from this year (312) was dated ever afterwards the beginning of the Seleucid Empire in Asia. For the second time Ptolemy occupied Palestine and obtained command over the cities of Phoenicia.
Then came a sudden reverse of fortune, as was the way in those tempestuous days. A Ptolemaic force was defeated in 311 by Demetrius in Northern Syria, and Antigonus came marching down into Palestine from the north. For the second time Ptolemy withdrew from Palestine into his shell. Simultaneously Cyrene again revolted, not against Ophellas this time, but under the leadership of Ophellas. It was a bad moment for Ptolemy. In 311 he and the other Macedonian chiefs, his allies, Cassander, the ruler of Macedonia, and Lysimachus, the ruler of Thrace, made a peace with Antigonus, by which Ptolemy abandoned Coele-Syria. This was only a breathing-space in the long struggle, and soon the war was going on just as before. The efforts of Ptolemy were now mainly bent to establishing his power on the seas. He had lost Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, but he still held Cyprus. The Macedonian chiefs all professed to adhere to the principle expressed in the phrase "autonomy of the Hellenes", and on this pretext each might turn his rival's garrison out of any Greek city it happened to hold, and install his own garrison—as a guardian of the city's liberty — in its place.
The naval forces of Ptolemy were active in the years following 311 on the coasts of Asia Minor, detaching, where they could, cities from the power of Antigonus. Agents of Antigonus, on the other hand, tried to buy over to his cause the dynasts of Cyprus. They succeeded in the case of one of them—or Ptolemy believed at any rate that they had succeeded—whether it was Nicocles, the prince of Paphos (as Diodorus says), or Nicocreon, the prince of Salamis, who acted as Ptolemy's lieutenant-governor in the island, is uncertain—and the dynast in question was compelled by Ptolemy to commit suicide. Ptolemy retained for the present his hold on Cyprus in spite of his enemy's intrigues. In 308 he even landed with a force in Greece itself, and put his garrisons in Megara, Corinth, and Sicyon. In the same year he took the first step, by liberating Andros from a hostile garrison, towards establishing the Ptolemaic protectorate over the Cyclad group of islands in the Aegean, which was to be an important factor in the Mediterranean in years to come. Delos, obviously marked out by its religious prestige to be the political centre of this group, Ptolemy also detached about this time from Athens, to which it had been subject for nearly two centuries. An inventory of temple possessions found at Delos mentions a vase bearing the dedication: "Ptolemy, son of Lagos, to Aphrodite." It was also probably in 308 that an army commanded by Ptolemy's stepson, Magas, recovered the Cyrenaica: Magas was installed there as viceroy.
In 306 the whole fabric of Ptolemaic sea-power collapsed under a new blow. Demetrius swept down with a fleet upon Cyprus, and in a naval battle off the Cyprian Salamis inflicted upon Ptolemy as severe a defeat as Ptolemy had inflicted upon him at Gaza six years before. Ptolemy's brother Menelaus, who had been his lieutenant-governor in the island, Ptolemy's son Leontiscus—a son by one of his many mistresses —together with many of his principal officers, fell into the hands of the victor. Demetrius, with the showy chivalry which was proper for Macedonian aristocrats in their dealings with each other, sent back all his noble prisoners to Ptolemy without a ransom. But there was an end for the present to Ptolemaic rule in Cyprus and to Ptolemaic sea-power. The things which Ptolemy had striven during sixteen years to gain outside Africa—Palestine, Cyprus—he had now lost them all. But Egypt and Cyrene remained to him. He was still absolute lord in the rich and populous country of the Nile, shut off by its desert frontiers and its almost harbourless coast from the rest of the world. Here, in spite of all disasters, he could await the turn of fortune, drawn safely in from the outside storm. The sagacity of his first choice was more than ever apparent.
His position in Egypt was now different from what it had been when he first came there in 323. His official position had then been that of satrap of the kings Philip Arrhidaeus and Alexander. Philip Arrhidaeus had been murdered in 317 by the mother of Alexander the Great, and the boy Alexander had been murdered in 311 by Cassander. There was then no longer any pretence of one Macedonian Empire. But the rival Macedonian chieftains did not immediately after the boy king's death assume the title of kings. Antigonus was the first to do so in 306 after the victory of Salamis. Our literary texts represent Ptolemy as having immediately followed suit, in order to show that his defeat had not bowed his head. Yet the Alexandrine "Canon of Kings" makes the kingship of Ptolemy begin not earlier than November 305, and this is borne out by a number of demotic papyri. Up to that time apparently official documents in Egypt continued to be dated by the years of the young Alexander, even after he was dead. The fiction served to fill up an interregnum, whilst Ptolemy was waiting on events to determine what form his rule of Egypt was to take in the unprecedented world situation.
It might be thought a formal change of no importance when the satrap began to be called a king. Yet, if the supremacy of the boy far away in Macedonia was a fiction, even while he was alive, it may well have been a fiction which had its effect upon the minds of multitudes beside the waters of the Nile. Somewhere, behind the machinery of government which they saw, there had been a divine person, still described in the old formulas applied generations ago to their own Pharaohs—"Horus the youthful", "Lord of diadems", "Lord in the whole world", "King of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt", "the Delight of the heart of Amon", "Chosen by the Sun". And the nearer ruler—Ptlumis the Egyptians apparently pronounced his name—was a mighty governor under Pharaoh, like Una in the days of old.
The hieroglyphic stele discovered in 1871 in Cairo, dated in the summer of 311 BC, throws light on the relations of Ptolemy with the native priesthood, whilst he was still nominally only the satrap of the boy Alexander:
"In the year 7 (i.e. in the seventh year of the boy king Alexander IV, whose formal reign began at the death of Philip Arrhidaeus), at the beginning of the inundation, under the sanctity of Horus, the youthful, the rich in strength, the Lord of diadems, loving the gods who gave him the dignity of his father, the Horus of gold, Lord in the whole world, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Lord of both lands, the Delight of the heart of Amen, chosen by the Sun, of Alexander the ever-living, the friend of the gods of the cities Pe and Tep, while his Holiness, being also king in the world of foreigners, was in the interior of Asia, there was a great Viceroy in Egypt, Ptolemy was his name.
"A person of youthful vigour was he, strong in his two arms, wise in spirit, mighty among the people, of stout courage, of firm foot, resisting the furious, not turning his back, striking his adversaries in the face in the midst of the battle. When he had seized the bow, it was not to shoot (from afar) at the assailant, his fighting was with the sword; in the midst of the battle none could stand against him, because of the might of his arm there was no parrying his hand; there was no return of that which went forth out of his mouth, there was not his like in the world of foreigners. He brought back the images of the gods found in Asia; all the furniture and the books of all the temples of North and South Egypt, he had them restored to their place. He had made his residence the fortress of King Alexander, chosen of the Sun, the son of the Sun: Alexandria it is called, on the shore of the Great Sea of the Ionians, Rakoti was its former name. He had assembled many of the Ionians, and cavalry and ships many in number with their crews, when he went with his people to the land of the Syrians, who were at war with him. He penetrated into their land, his courage was mighty as that of the hawk among little birds. Having captured them all together, he carried their princes, their cavalry, their ships, their works of art to Egypt. After this, when he had invaded the territory of Mermerti (Cyrene), he, laying hold of them at one time, led captive their men, women, horses, in requital for what they had done to Egypt.
"When he returned to Egypt, his heart being glad at what he had done, he celebrated a good day, and this great Viceroy was seeking the best (thing to do) for the gods of Upper and Lower Egypt. Then there spoke to him he who was at his side, and the elders of the land of Lower Egypt, saying:
" 'The sea-land, the land of Patanut is its name, was granted by the king, the son of the Sun, Khabbash living for ever, to the gods of Pe and Tep, after his Holiness had gone to Pe and Tep to examine all the sea-land in their territory, to go into the interior of the marshes, to examine every arm of the Nile which goes into the Great Sea, to keep off the fleet of Asia from Egypt. Then spoke his Holiness (Khabbash) to him who was at his side: "This sea-land, let me get to know it." They spoke before his Holiness: "This sea-land (it is called the land of Patanut) has been the property of the gods of Pe and Tep from immemorial time. The enemy Xerxes reversed it, nor did he leave anything of it to the gods of Pe and Tep." His Holiness spoke that there should be brought before him the priests and magistrates of Pe and Tep. They brought them to him in haste. Then spoke his Holiness: "Let me be informed concerning the quality of the gods of Pe and Tep, what they did to the miscreant on account of the wicked action which he had done, seeing that the miscreant Xerxes had done evil to Pe and Tep, and had taken away their property."
"They spoke before his Holiness: "The king our Lord Horus, son of Isis, son of Osiris, the king of the kings of Lower Egypt, the avenger of his father, the lord of Pe, the beginning and the end of the gods, after whom there is no king, cast out the miscreant Xerxes with his eldest son, making himself manifest in the town of Neit, even in Saïs, on that day beside the holy Mother." There spoke his Holiness: "This powerful god among the gods after whom there is no king, he shall be the way and the rule of my Holiness; that I swear." Then spoke the priests and the magistrates of Pe and Tep: "Then may your Holiness command that there be granted the sea-land (the land of Patanut it is called) to the gods of Pe and Tep, with bread, drink, oxen, birds, all good things. May the renewal of the donation he registered in your name on account of your bounty to the gods of Pe and Tep, as requital for the excellence of your actions." '
"This great Viceroy spoke: 'Let a decree be drawn up in writing at the office of the king's scribe of finance as follows:
"I Ptolemy, the Satrap, I restore to Horus, the avenger of his father, the lord of Pe, and to Buto, the lady of Pe and Tep, the territory of Patanut, from this day forth for ever, with all its villages, all its towns, all its inhabitants, all its fields, all its waters, all its oxen, all its birds, all its herds, and all things produced in it, as it was aforetime, together with what has been added since, by the gift, made by the king, the lord of both lands, Khabbash, the ever-living. Let its south boundary be the territory of the town of Buto, and the northern Hermopolis, as far as the place called Naunebu. Let its north boundary be the dunes on the shore of the Great Sea. Let its west boundary be the windings of the navigable river as far as the dunes. Let its east boundary be the nome of Sebennytus. Its calves shall be (a supply) for the great Hawks, its bulls for the countenance of the goddess Nebtaui, its oxen for the living Hawks, its milk for the august Child, its fowls for Him in the Shat, whose life is in himself. All things produced on its soils shall be for the altar of Horus himself, the lord of Pe and Buto, the head of RaHarmachis, for ever.'
"The land in its full extent which had been given by the king, the lord of both lands, the image of Tanen, chosen by Ptah, the son of the Sun, Khabbash living for ever, the donation thereof has been renewed by this great Viceroy of Egypt, Ptolemy, to the gods of Pe and Tep for ever. As a reward for this that he has done, may there be given him victory and strength to his heart's content, so that fear of him may continue among all the strange nations which there are today. Concerning the land of Patanut, whosoever shall venture to take ought from it, may he be under ban of Those that are in Pe, under the curse of Those that are in Tep, may he be consulted by the fiery breath of the goddess Aptaui in the day of her terrors, and may neither his son, nor his daughter, give him water."
From 305 onwards it was Ptolemy himself who was king, the supreme divine power in the land of Egypt. It was upon him that the Egyptian priests and scribes now heaped the titles of the old Pharaohs. And the people were now taught to understand that he had really been king all the time since the death of Alexander the Great. In the official dating of documents the years of his reign after 305 were reckoned, not from the time when he had first assumed the name and style of king, but from 324323 BC. One can understand how the Greeks of that extraordinary time came to think of Fortune as an incalculable deity who might play the strangest game in human affairs, when some one who in boyhood had anticipated probably no other life than that which a Macedonian country gentleman might naturally lead amongst his native fields and hills found himself, at the age of sixty-four, Pharaoh in the land of Egypt!
After Ptolemy's loss of all his external possessions in 306, fortune turned once more against Antigonus. His arms encountered two severe checks during the two years which followed. First he was imprudent enough, having despoiled Ptolemy of Palestine and Cyprus, to renew the attempt of Perdiccas, and attack Egypt itself. He did not do so without forming a large force, military and naval, which he hoped would enable him to triumph over the well-known obstacles—the desert between Palestine and Egypt, the Nile, Egypt's "immortal wall". The army was concentrated first at Antigoneia in North Syria (the city afterwards superseded by Antioch) and then moved to Gaza (November 306) on the borders of the desert. Diodorus gives its numbers as over 80,000 foot, 8000 horse, and 83 Indian elephants, whilst it was accompanied by a fleet of 150 vessels of war and 100 transports under the command of Demetrius. (Not much trust, as Mahaffy pointed out, can be put in the figures of ancient historians in such connections.) At Gaza, before crossing the desert, the army was furnished with rations for ten days, and a body of Bedouin on camels was procured to escort it with 130,000 medimni of corn and fodder for the beasts. From the point of view of physical conditions it would have been better for Antigonus to have deferred his attack till the summer. During the winter the Nile is in flood, and navigation along the coast is made difficult and dangerous by strong north-west winds. But the exigencies of the world-struggle, the necessity to strike Ptolemy while he was still weakened by his losses in Cyprus, no doubt forbade Antigonus to postpone the attempt. It would have been best, if the attempt could not be postponed, for it to have been given up altogether. In the circumstances everything went wrong. The fleet of Demetrius could make no head against the winds; several ships were driven on shore at Raphia; co-operation according to plan between army and fleet was impracticable.
"When the combined forces arrived at Pelusium they found it amply defended; the entrance of the river blocked with boats, and the river above covered with small armed cruisers to resist any attempt at crossing, ready moreover to circulate among the invaders promises of large bribes and good service if they would desert and join Ptolemy. As these bribes amounted to two minae for a private, a talent for the officer, it was with difficulty, and by punishing such deserters as he could stop with death by torture, that Antigonus escaped an end similar to that of Perdiccas. Demetrius, finding any entrance at Pelusium impracticable, attempted to land farther west—first at a socalled pseudostomos, or sham outlet, probably from the present Lake Menzaleh, and then at the Damietta mouth (Phatnitic). In both places he was beaten off, and was then overtaken by another storm, which wrecked three more of his largest ships; and with difficulty did he make his way back to his father's camp east of the Pelusiac entrance" (M.).
There was nothing for Antigonus but to make his retreat from the frontiers of Egypt as speedily as he could. Ptolemy's real strength, after all his defeats and losses, was made manifest to the world. A second check awaited Antigonus. Demetrius attacked Rhodes early in 305. The great maritime and commercial state of Rhodes, where the spirit of republican freedom lived on for centuries after Alexander, had no doubt manifold connections with the new important mart of Alexandria. The Rhodians were Ptolemy's friends.
Demetrius, having besieged Rhodes for some fifteen months, 305304, failed in the end to take it, and had to consent to a compromised peace. The successful defence of Rhodes had been largely due to the provisions and reinforcements which Ptolemy contrived from time to time to throw into the besieged city.
In 303302 a new league was conformed of Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus against Antigonus. Seleucus was in the depths of the East, conquering the farther provinces of the Empire as far as India. In the winter of 302301 he was moving westward, to bring his allies the support of a large body of Indian elephants. Ptolemy played a cautious and not very glorious game. All he did was to occupy Coele-Syria again for the third time—whilst the forces of the other three kings were concentrating against Antigonus in Asia Minor. Then the news came that Antigonus had won a great victory and was marching on Syria. Ptolemy immediately evacuated Coele-Syria for the third time. But the news was false. It was the three kings who won a great and decisive victory at Ipsus in the summer of 301. The body of old Antigonus was left dead upon the field.
The victory of the allies at Ipsus brought a new controversial question into the political field, the Coele-Syrian Question, destined to be with us through all the subsequent history of Ptolemaic Egypt. In the pact between the allies before the last fight with Antigonus, Palestine (Coele-Syria) had apparently been assigned to Ptolemy in the event of victory. But it was natural that the kings who actually bore the brunt at Ipsus should take the view that the king of Egypt, by failing to make any appearance on the critical theatre of war and by his precipitate evacuation of Coele-Syria on a false rumour, had forfeited his claim. A new arrangement made by the victorious kings between themselves after Ipsus now annexed Coele-Syria to the Asiatic empire of Seleucus. Ptolemy refused to recognize the new arrangement; Seleucus refused to regard the original pact as still binding. Here was matter for a controversy which would remain open between the house of Ptolemy and the house of Seleucus for generations to come. As Palestine had been in ancient Pharaonic days a debatable region between the power ruling in Mesopotamia and the power ruling on the Nile, so it was to be still, when the place of the old native kings had been taken by two Macedonian houses.
After the battle of Ipsus, Ptolemy occupied Coele-Syria again for the fourth time. "When Seleucus after the partition of the kingdom of Antigonus arrived with his army in Phoenicia, and tried, according to the arrangement concluded, to take over Coele-Syria, he found Ptolemy already in possession of its towns. Ptolemy complained that Seleucus, in violation of their old friendship, should have agreed to an arrangement which put territory governed by Ptolemy into his own share. Although he (Ptolemy) had taken part in the war against Antigonus, the kings had not, he protested, assigned him any portion of the conquered territory. To these reproaches Seleucus replied that it was quite fair that those who had fought the battle should dispose of the territory. With regard to Coele-Syria he would not for the present, for the sake of their friendship, take any action; later on he would consider the best way of treating friends who tried to grasp more than was their right."
The three old men who survived of the companions of Alexander—Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Lysimachus—together with those kings who represented the second generation—Cassander in Macedonia, Pyrrhus in Epirus, Demetrius still ranging at large—carried on between them, in the years of comparative peace which followed the battle of Ipsus, a complicated game of diplomatic intrigue, now impossible to trace, in which the tension between one party and another, the friendships and antagonisms, varied continually according to the circumstances of the moment. The tension was always liable to issue in fresh war, as when Demetrius seized the throne of Macedonia in 294, after the death of Cassander, when Demetrius attacked the kingdom of Lysimachus (287), or in the last great fight between Seleucus and Lysimachus, which did not break out till after Ptolemy was dead.
Ptolemy himself, after Ipsus, engaged no more in war with any of the rival kings. He took part merely in the diplomatic game, and supported, now one, now another, according to the turns of the game. We can see indications of the state of the game, now and again, in the dynastic marriages. Relations had become strained, as we have seen, between Ptolemy and Seleucus, immediately after Ipsus, by the emergence of the Coele-Syrian Question, and we see a rapprochement between Seleucus and Demetrius, between Ptolemy and Lysimachus; Seleucus marries Stratonice, the daughter of Demetrius, and Lysimachus (sometime between 300 and 298) marries Arsinoe, the daughter of Ptolemy. Then we find Alexander, the son of Cassander, marrying another daughter of Ptolemy's, Lysandra, Demetrius marrying yet a third daughter, Ptolemais (betrothed about 300; married, 286); Antigone, the daughter of Ptolemy's wife Berenice by a former husband, is married to Pyrrhus (298295); another daughter of Berenice's, Theoxena, is married to Agathocles, the ruler of Syracuse (about 300); and finally the other Agathocles, the son of Lysimachus, had a daughter of Ptolemy's to wife.
When Demetrius besieged Athens (296294), Ptolemy sent no effectual help to his friends, the Athenians; his fleet hovered off Aegina, but did nothing to prevent the city's fall. In 287, when Athens revolted against Demetrius, Ptolemy sent 50 talents and a quantity of coin; but again his fleet did nothing to arrest Demetrius.
The acquisitions which Ptolemy really cared about outside Egypt he recovered after Ipsus. Seleucus, as we saw, found him again in possession of Coele-Syria, when he came to take over the Syrian part of Antigonus' kingdom. Apparently Ptolemy's occupation of Palestine was then far from complete. The cities of the Phoenician coast were still held by garrisons of Demetrius, and one odd notice speaks of Demetrius capturing Samaria in 296925. Bouché-Leclercq thinks (or thought when he wrote vol. I in 1903) that the possessions of Demetrius in Phoenicia and Palestine passed into the hands of Seleucus, not of Ptolemy. The house of Ptolemy would not in that case have acquired Palestine for good (or rather for a period of eighty years) till after the death of Seleucus in 281. Bouché-Leclercq builds upon the contention of the Seleucid diplomats in 219, who argued from the lordship of Seleucus "in these regions." It seems more probable, as the great majority of scholars hold, that Ptolemy was master of Palestine from Ipsus onward, except of such places as remained for a time in possession of Demetrius, and that Ptolemy acquired these too when Demetrius ceased to be able to hold them. The "dynasty" of Seleucus in Palestine, to which the Seleucid diplomats appealed, may well have been a lordship, not which he actually exercised, but which he claimed by right in virtue of the partition made by the victorious kings.
Cyprus Ptolemy recovered in 295294. Here, too, the forces of Demetrius remained in possession for six years after Ipsus. The defence of the island against Ptolemy was energetically conducted by Demetrius' brave wife, Phila, Antipater's daughter, but she had ultimately to surrender in Salamis. Ptolemy returned the chivalry shown by Demetrius in 306 by sending Phila and her children to Demetrius in Macedonia, "loaded with presents and honours."
About 287 the Egyptian fleet was again powerful in the Aegean, and regained for Ptolemy the protectorate over the League of the Cyclad Islands. At some time he had (between 294 and 287?) close and friendly relations with Miletus, which had passed under the dominion of Lysimachus; Ptolemy used his influence, apparently, with his ally to secure the city a remission of taxation.
The Greek books tell us a little about the part which Ptolemy played in the struggle between the world-powers during forty years after Alexander's death. But when we ask what all this time was happening in Egypt itself, our documents give us no material for a narrative. We can only infer the developments taking place from the conditions which we afterwards find existing in the country.
Looking at this period of the history of Egypt as a whole, we can see its main characteristic to be that Egypt has now, instead of the comparatively homogeneous native population which it had under the old Pharaohs, two strata of population living together within its borders—the upper stratum constituted by a European ruling race and the lower stratum constituted by the great subject mass of Egyptians. It was a state of things not altogether unlike that which is found in certain countries today, for the civilization of the ruling race in Ptolemaic Egypt was precisely that same Greek civilization which is the parent of the modern civilization of Europe, and their feeling of superiority to the people of the land was not unlike the feeling which "white men" have today towards "natives". Indeed, a word which means "natives" was the common one in the mouths of the Greeks when they spoke of Egyptians.
This Graeco-Macedonian stratum in Egypt was not due simply to Greeks and Macedonians drifting spontaneously into the country just because the natural conditions of the country attracted European immigrants, as Europeans have drifted into America or Australasia in recent times. It was a deliberate creation of the Macedonian ruling house. When Ptolemy chose Egypt as the basis of his position in the world after Alexander, Egypt gave him many things. It gave him an easily defended territory; it gave him great material riches both in its native products and in the merchandise brought down the Nile; it threw over his kingship something of the glamour of the wonderful old Egyptian tradition. But it did not give him everything necessary. It did not give him one thing supremely necessary—man-power. There were plenty of men, it is true, in Egypt, but these were not the right kind of men, the men out of which one could make armies able to stand against armies of Macedonian and Greek soldiers such as Antigonus or Seleucus could put into the field. Ptolemy must have his sure supply of Macedonians, too. He could remember how the nucleus of the army, which under Alexander had conquered half the world, had been drawn from the man-power of old Macedonia, the horse-riding aristocracy, the stout pike-men who were farmers or field-labourers of the Balkan countryside in peace time. Ptolemy was now cut off from Macedonia, the old home-land. He conceived the idea of creating a new artificial Macedonia in this strange and incongruous land of Egypt— a stratum of Macedonian and Greek farmers, thousands of them, to be spread over Egypt, men who in peace time would grow corn or breed cattle in their plots of land irrigated by the Nile, but could be called up, whenever there was need, to take sarissa in hand or mount their war-horses, to form phalanx and march with Ptolemy or one of his generals into Palestine or to Cyrene. This system of European military colonists, the characteristic feature of Ptolemaic Egypt, must certainly go back in its origins to the first Ptolemy.
Both for the new Greek cities, Alexandria and Ptolemais, and for the military colonists to be settled in the country, Ptolemy needed to bring thousands of Greeks and Macedonians into Egypt. He could not transport them wholesale from Macedonia and Greece, countries outside the sphere of his authority, as the old Assyrian kings had transported populations from one part of their kingdom to another. His plan might have been impracticable if the man-power of Macedonia and Greece had not been, at that moment of time, largely flung out already over the Nearer East, in consequence of the conquests of Alexander, distributed in camps and garrisons under the command of one or other of the great Macedonian chiefs. When Ptolemy came to Egypt in 323 he must have found a certain body of Macedonians and Greeks already there as the garrison of the country. He may have brought others with him from Babylon. When one of the Macedonian chiefs in those days defeated another in battle, the troops of the defeated side were often ready to pass over in numbers to the service of the victor. If they were Macedonians, the victor also was after all one of their national chiefs. Part of the defeated army of Perdiccas in 321 may have found a new home under Ptolemy in Egypt. Diodorus tells us that after the battle of Gaza in 312 Ptolemy sent more than 8000 soldiers of the defeated army to Egypt to be distributed in certain regions of the country. Probably an allotment in Egypt soon attached large numbers of the shifting mass of Macedonian soldiery to Ptolemy by a tie which even a defeat could not break. We are told that when Demetrius captured an army of Ptolemy's in Cyprus in 306, large numbers of men, instead of accepting service under Demetrius, tried to make their way back to Egypt, where they had left their families and chattels.
Besides bodies of soldiers brought en masse into Egypt, many men from the Greek world may have individually entered the service of Ptolemy as mercenaries, and then accepted the offer of a permanent settlement in the country. The armies which could be formed from Macedonians domiciled in Egypt were not by themselves adequate. They had to be supplemented by Greek and Balkan mercenaries. The essential distinction of the mercenary troops of those days was that they were hired individually by some condottiere or other, usually at one of the soldier-markets— Taenarum in the Peloponnesus or Aspendus in Asia Minor—where soldiers of fortune from all parts of the Greek world met and mingled, in order to accept service under whatever captain offered the most attractive prospect of money, excitement, and glory. The captain would then, with the troops he had got together, sell his services to any of the kings or city-states he chose. Certain arms in an army of the period were almost always furnished, not by Macedonian regulars, but by mercenaries from some particular region—archers from Crete, javelineers from Thrace. Of the Cretans, Thracians, Athenians, Spartans, Boeotians, Sicilians, who came in this way to Egypt, many apparently stayed there. Ptolemy seems to have exerted himself to be known all over the Greek world as the kind of genial, free-handed, valiant gentleman whom any young man inclined to the life of a soldier might cross the sea to serve. The great resources of Egypt made it possible for him to be liberal on a scale with which many of his rivals could not compete.
The reign of Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, in Egypt was marked by one new creation, destined to have a future in the Greek world—the creation of a new cult. A deity whose name had hitherto been unknown to the Greeks outside Egypt became one of the great gods of later Paganism—Sarapis. The origin of Sarapis-worship has been the subject of a good deal of learned controversy, but the question has been brought into clearer light by Wilcken's great edition of the Ptolemaic papyri now in process of coming out. We must begin by looking at an ancient Egyptian temple near Memphis, known from this time onward to the Greeks by the name of Serapeum, temple of Sarapis. It stood about four miles from Memphis to the west of the Nile, close under the sterile hills which shut in the Nile Valley on this side. Some suppositions about the Serapeum, which had been passed on from Mariette to one writer after another, Wilcken shows to be mistakes. There was no "Greek Serapeum" separate from the "Egyptian Serapeum." There was only one Serapeum, a considerable complex of buildings, on the higher ground beyond the cultivated land. Immediately beside the river was, and is, the strip of cultivated land, then, a little higher, a narrow strip of desert, and then the hills. On the edge of the desert, close to the cultivated land, was a temple of Anubis, surrounded by a precinct. (In this precinct there was later on a government police-station with a prison attached to it, a government bureau (grapheion), and quaestors for the representative of the strategos of the Memphite nome. The strategos himself, when he visited the Serapeum put up here, and on one occasion, under Ptolemy VI, we hear of a strategos who spends two days in the temple of Anubis "drinking.") From the temple of Anubis a paved road, flanked with Sphinxes, led across the strip of desert to the Serapeum.
The Serapeum was a temple erected in connection with the sepulchres of the dead Apis bulls, whose mummies were here bestowed in subterranean corridors. The living Apis bull was kept at Memphis in an Apieum adjoining the great temple of Ptah, in the cultivated land, four miles away. The bull during his lifetime was ordinarily regarded as an embodiment of the divinity of the Nile, sometimes it was identified with Ptah. Just, however, as a man at death became an Osiris, so the dead bull became Osiris-Apis (Osir-Hapi). According to a view, prevalent in Roman times, if not earlier, the sacred animal's deity began with its death. Its funeral was an event for the whole of Egypt. There was mourning everywhere for seventy days, whilst the process of mummification went on. All the temples sent byssus for the wrappings. Two women priestesses lamented near the body in Memphis. When the mummy was ready it was brought in procession, led by a priest masked to impersonate the god Thoth, to the temple of Anubis on the edge of the desert. Here the mummy was taken over by another priest with the jackal-mask of Anubis, the Conductor of the dead, and escorted along the paved way to the Serapeum. It was laid to rest in a chamber prepared for it in one of the underground corridors. Ever since the chamber had been finished, perhaps years before, the corridors had been shut, no priest even allowed to set foot in them. The divine mummy once laid to rest, the corridors would be shut again till the funeral of the next bull, except for the time required to make a chamber ready to receive the next bull's mummy.
Wilcken's theory is that, while the workmen were hewing out the chamber under the Serapeum destined to receive the bull now living in Memphis, a cult of this living bull was started in the underground corridors, in which he was identified with Osiris, the god of the dead, not simply in the way any dead person became "Osiris," but in a more distinct and personal way. As such, the living bull was called Apis-Osiris, whereas the dead bull was Osiris-Apis. The worship in the Temple above ground, Wilcken thinks, was addressed to Osiris-Apis, only not to any particular one of the multitude of dead bulls buried below; it was addressed to the general Osiris divinity embodied in them all. The minds of the worshippers tended to think of this Osiris-Apis not so much as a dead bull, but as the god of the lower world himself, under a local form, a human form, probably, represented sitting on a throne, though possibly with a bull's head.
The earliest Greek papyrus we possess is a curse written by a Greek woman in Egypt, called Artemisia, in which the vengeance of the "Lord (despotes) Oserapis" is called down upon a man by whom she had had a daughter. That scrap of papyrus, destined to be an object of interest for alien eyes, centuries later, in the Imperial Library at Vienna, may have been laid by Artemisia, fresh-written, at the feet of the god before ever there was a king Ptolemy in Egypt, in the days of Alexander the Great. It is a proof that, even before Ptolemy I established a cult of Sarapis at Alexandria, the Osir-Hapi of the Memphis Serapeum was already a deity of prestige for Greeks resident in Egypt.
According to the traditional view, the worship of Sarapis was deliberately established by the Ptolemaic court; Schubart questions this, and believes that it sprang up spontaneously as a new religion among the Egyptian Greeks, but the arguments brought forward by Wilcken seem to me to prove that it was pushed forward under the first Ptolemies by active court patronage. A further question is whether Sarapis was the Egyptian god, Osir-Hapi. Lehmann-Haupt has tried to make out that he was a Babylonian god, Shar-apsi, but this theory does not seem to commend itself to other Assyriologists. Wilcken at one time was inclined to deny any connection between the name Sarapis and the Egyptian name Osir-Hapi, transcribed by Artemisia as Oserapis. Now, however, he holds that the name Sarapis was originally an inexact popular rendering of the Egyptian Osir-Hapi amongst the Egyptian Greeks. The Sarapis worshipped at Alexandria was, he thinks, understood to be identical with the god of the lower world worshipped in the temple over the tombs of the mummied bulls near Memphis: to that extent Sarapis was a really Egyptian god. There can, however, be no question that the sculptured type of Sarapis at Alexandria was Greek, not Egyptian—a bearded god, resembling Zeus or Hades or Asklepios, seated on a throne with the three-headed Cerberus, the dog of the lower world, beside his feet, and wearing on his head a tall head-dress called from its appearance a kalathos, "basket." A legend recorded by Tacitus describes how Ptolemy, instructed by a dream, procured the image which represented Sarapis, from a temple in the Greek city of Sinope on the Black Sea. In itself there is nothing unlikely in the story, but doubt has been thrown upon it by the fact that the temple of the mummied bulls near Memphis, or the region of desert hill where the temple was, was called Sinōpion—so the Greeks transcribed some Egyptian name which cannot now be made out. If the worship of Sarapis at Alexandria was, at the outset, a worship of the deity of the Memphian Sinopion, it may be thought a confusion in the legend, when it makes the image of Sarapis brought from Sinope on the Black Sea. That there should be an accidental association of the god Sarapis with two places, far apart, of similar name seems to go beyond probability. Perhaps, however, the association was not accidental. Supposing it is true that the image of Sarapis was procured from Sinope, in consequence of a dream —and that the people of antiquity really were guided in such matters by dreams, instances given by the papyri and inscriptions themselves are enough to attest—it may well be that the mind of the dreamer, when he was casting about for the right mode of presenting the god of the Sinopion to the Greeks, flew to Sinope just because of the association of sound. Whether the image was made originally for a temple in Sinope, or for Alexandria, it seems probable that the tradition which gave as its creator the well-known fourth-century sculptor, Bryaxis, preserves a true fact.
So far as we today can see what happened, Ptolemy, whilst only a satrap of Egypt, though thinking already of Egypt as his permanent possession, conceived that it would be good if he could establish some form of religion for the country in which Greeks and Egyptians could be drawn together. He had beside him, as advisers, Timotheus the Athenian, a member of the priestly Eumolpid family, an authority on Greek religious practice, and the Egyptian priest, Manetho, who would speak with knowledge about Egyptian religion. And here it appeared that there was one Egyptian god, the Memphian Osiris-Apis, who was already invoked by the Greeks in Egypt under the name of Sarapis. Ptolemy laid hold of this as the nucleus of his new religion.
To the Egyptians perhaps it hardly appeared as a new religion. When they spoke of Sarapis in their own tongue, he was Osir-Hapi, as of old. Macrobius says that the Egyptians accepted the worship of Sarapis only under compulsion: one might observe, he says, that the temples of Sarapis in the case, not indeed of Alexandria, but of native Egyptian towns, were always outside the walls. Probably, as Wilcken contends, the idea that the Egyptians had resisted Sarapis-worship was simply a false inference from the fact noticed by Macrobius, or by some earlier Greek author, that the Serapeums in Egypt were usually outside the cities, on the edge of the desert. The real explanation of the fact was that these temples, having to do with a god of the dead, were built near the burying-places.
When Sarapis had once been established by Ptolemy at Alexandria as a chief god for the Egyptian Greeks, and had been presented to them in the visible likeness of a Greek god, he came to receive attributes analogous to one or other of the ancestral Greek gods. He became especially assimilated to Asklepios as a god of healing. Sick men might sleep in his temple and receive instructions by dream regarding their case. So far as we know, there had been nothing of the kind in the case of the Memphian Osir-Hapi. But these attributes must have been quite early attached by the Greeks to Sarapis. An inscription has been found in the ruins of a little Greek temple built beside the paved way joining the Memphian Serapeum to the Anubieum, which by the shape of its letters can hardly be later than 300 or so BC, and in this a Greek returns thanks to Sarapis for his healing.
But although the Greeks made Sarapis in his images look like a Greek god and contaminated his worship with Hellenistic elements, his Egyptian side was always conspicuous, even when his cult was carried through Greek lands overseas, in his close association with definitely Egyptian deities, with Isis, Anubis, Horus, and the Apis bull. As himself originally a form of Osiris, he usually in the Greek world supplants Osiris altogether by the side of Isis, but occasionally Osiris appears as well. Wilcken points out that the Egyptian deities associated with Sarapis are just those which seem to have been associated with Osir-Hapi at the Memphian Serapeum. Geese, too, were offered to Sarapis, as they were not to any genuinely Greek god.
The cult of Sarapis was launched in a new temple, another and greater Serapeum, erected in Rakoti, the native quarter of Alexandria, to supersede the temple erected on this site by Alexander to Isis. The obelisks of that older temple continued to stand outside the precinct of the new temple. The architect was a Greek, Parmeniscus, and the style (so far as we can tell from descriptions and coins) was Greek, its impressive columned façade rising at the top of a long flight of steps. It counted as one of the most majestic temples of the Mediterranean world; only the Capitol at Rome, Ammianus says, can be put above it. Sarapis became the great god for Alexandria, for Egypt generally. Under Ptolemy III we find the "Royal Oath"—that is, the oath prescribed by the government for use in the law-courts and in legal transactions—to be an oath by the kings, "by Sarapis and Isis and all other gods and goddesses"—Sarapis and Isis are the only two deities singled out by name. But that from the very beginning, from the time when Ptolemy was only satrap of Egypt, the court at Alexandria showed special interest in the cult of the new god, can be shown by the inscription put up by Arsinoe at Halicarnassus: "With good fortune for Ptolemy the Saviour and God, Arsinoe erected the shrine to Sarapis and Isis." The inscription seems to belong to a time before Ptolemy had the title of king. Again, the Zeno papyri have shown us Sarapis-worship actively carried on in the entourage of the court under Ptolemy II.
And then from Alexandria the cult spread to other cities of the Greek world. Temples of Sarapis, or of Sarapis and Isis, were built in one place after another, during the centuries which followed, round about the Mediterranean. The cult received a fresh stimulus in the first century of our era, when the Imperial Court at Rome, from the Flavian Emperors onwards, used its influence to promote the worship of Sarapis and Isis in Rome and in the Empire.
Sarapis was not the only new deity whom the Macedonians and Greeks of Ptolemaic Egypt worshipped in addition to the gods of their fathers. The deification of men recently dead or still living was a feature of the Greek world after Alexander. It was a Hellenic development, not borrowed (as sometimes supposed) from an Oriental tradition. Even in fifth-century Athens the idea of offering divine honours to men, as the expression of enthusiastic reverence or gratitude, occurs as a figure of speech, and in days when rationalism was corroding the old religious awe, when theories were abroad which explained the traditional gods as men of an earlier age deified by imagination, it was easy to go from idea to practice, and use the forms of religious worship as a mode of flattery addressed to eminent men of the time. Old-fashioned religious people protested against the practice as impious, but it became common. It began in the Greek world even before Alexander.
Alexander himself, as we have seen, was deified, probably by his own desire. And when his marshals, after his death, became the powers of the world whose favour Greek cities wished to gain, or to whom for some benefit bestowed they might feel a genuine wave of gratitude, they rushed into ascriptions of deity, the offering of sacrifice and incense, the establishment of priesthoods. The next step was for the new Hellenistic courts themselves to establish a state-worship of deceased and living members of the royal families, as a mode by which their subjects throughout their kingdoms might show their loyalty.
For the Greeks of Egypt, Alexander the Great had been a god from the beginning. The kings and queens of the house of Ptolemy soon came to be gods and goddesses as well. Educated Greeks no doubt regarded the official cult as merely a symbolic form. It had become so easy in those days to call a man a god without meaning very much by it.
The worship of a dead man was much more in accordance with the ancestral religion of the Greeks than the newfangled worship of men still living. The soul of a dead man has any way passed into a mysterious world, and from quite early times Greeks had believed that the soul of a great personality might act for good or evil upon the living, very much as a god did. Worship of a kind slightly differing from the worship offered to gods had been offered to many powerful spirits of dead men under the name of heroes. A Greek city especially would often carry on a ritual worship or "tendence" of its founder as a hero. It was therefore something quite according to traditional Greek practice that the city of Alexandria should worship Alexander, the step from worshipping a dead man as a hero to worshipping him as a god being a slight one. In these days, however, it was not only the dead Alexander who was worshipped by the Greeks, it was also the living Ptolemy.
It is important to distinguish between four different kinds of cults of which kings and queens of the house of Ptolemy were the object. There was (1) the worship offered to them in the Egyptian temples in Egyptian forms which had become traditional in the worship of the native Pharaohs. Such worship had been offered by the Egyptian priests to Alexander, and no doubt such worship was offered to Ptolemy from the moment he became king. The Greeks had nothing to do with this Egyptian cult: what went on in Egyptian temples, what was written up in hieroglyphic script—all that lay outside their ken, though the court must have continued to make sure, through its native agents, that the Egyptian priests were giving the proper expressions of loyalty. There was (2) the worship offered privately by Greeks in Greek forms—whether by single individuals, who might erect a shrine or altar for the king or queen, or by voluntary associations who chose the king or queen as the deity, or as one of the deities, specially worshipped by the association. Such private worship might, of course, take any form the worshipper chose, and he was free to apply to the king or queen in question any epithets, "Saviour," "Benefactor," etc., which expressed his homage, whether they were the official epithets or not. There were (3) the cults established as city-cults by the nominally free Greek city-states in Egypt, Alexandria and Ptolemais, or by the Greek cities outside Egypt, which were within the Ptolemaic sphere of power, or which, like Athens and Rhodes, wished to show honour to the Greek rulers of Egypt. Lastly (4) there was the cult of Alexander established by the Ptolemaic government as a state institution for the whole of Egypt, with the annual priest by whom each year was dated in legal documents, of which we shall have more to say hereafter. During the reign of Ptolemy I there was as yet no officially established cult of the reigning king—none, that is to say, for the Greeks, though Ptolemy was worshipped as a god by individual Greeks and by Greek cities.
The Rhodians, we read in Diodorus, after the frustration of Demetrius' attempt to take the city of Rhodes in 304, showed their gratitude to Ptolemy in this manner. They sent an embassy to the Oasis of Siwah, "to ask the oracle of Ammon whether he advised the Rhodians to honour Ptolemy as a god. The oracle answering Yes, they consecrated in their city a rectangular precinct and built along each side of it a called a stadium long; this precinct they named the Ptolemaeum."
Pausanias says that it was now that the Rhodians attached to Ptolemy, in his character of god, the surname by which he was afterwards to be known in history, Soter, "Saviour." But the credit of having been the first to worship Ptolemy as a god is claimed in an inscription by the Confederation of the Cyclad Islands, over which Ptolemy, as we have seen, had established a kind of protectorate in 308. And if the dedication made by Arsinoe, really belongs to the years between 308 and 306, Ptolemy must already have been styled "Saviour and God" before he lost control of the Aegean by his defeat at Salamis, and before he assumed the title of king. When a member of his family is found giving him the style of deity, we may be sure that courtiers in Alexandria did so too. In an inscription recently published, three Greeks who have been delivered from danger of some kind, do homage to king Ptolemy and queen Berenice as "Saviour Gods," in fulfillment of a vow.
In 285 Ptolemy felt that the time was come for him to set his successor upon the throne. He was then an old man of eighty-two, whose life, since he went forth as a young man from his Balkan home, had been full of incredible adventures. He had led men to battle in Central Asia, amongst the hills of Afghanistan, and by the rivers of India; he had married a Persian princess in Susa, and he ended up as a Pharaoh to the Egyptians and a god to the Greeks. He had numerous children by his various wives and concubines. His first recorded wife is the Persian princess Artacama, whom he had married at that strange marriage festival at Susa in 324, when, at Alexander's desire, a large number of his Macedonian and Greek officers took Persian wives. We never hear of Artacama again. Probably Ptolemy quietly discarded her after Alexander's death, when he left Babylon for Egypt. If so, his action was a contrast to that of his friend Seleucus, whose Persian wife, Apama, married also on that occasion, remained with him permanently, and became the ancestress of the kings of the Seleucid dynasty— ancestress also, through a future dynastic marriage, of the last Ptolemies and Cleopatras. Soon after Alexander's death (perhaps not till after the settlement of Triparadisus in 321) Ptolemy made a political marriage with Eurydice, the daughter of old Antipater, who then held Macedonia. She bore him two sons, one of whom (probably the elder) was called Ptolemy, and at least two daughters, Ptolemais and Lysandra. If Ptolemy did not marry her till 321, as Mahaffy supposed, she is not likely to have borne him more than four children, since Ptolemy must have married Berenice before 316—unless, indeed, Ptolemy continued to have children by Eurydice after he had married Berenice. In that year at latest, he married Berenice—a love-match this time. She was a Macedonian lady, who had come to Egypt in Eurydice's retinue, and had three children already by a former husband. We know of two children born to Ptolemy by Berenice—Arsinoe, born at latest in 315, since she was married to Lysimachus about 300, and a son called, like his elder half-brother, Ptolemy, born in 308 at Cos, when his father's fleet ruled the Aegean. It seems probable, from the position given to her later, that Philotera was also a daughter of Ptolemy and Berenice. Ptolemy had no legitimate wives in Egypt beside Eurydice and Berenice. Whether he divorced Eurydice before he married Berenice, or whether after 315 he had two wives concurrently, our sources do not say. The later kings of the dynasty are never found with more than one legitimate wife at the same time, according to the universal practice of the Greek world. But the Macedonian kings before Alexander were apparently polygamous, and amongst Alexander's successors Demetrius and Pyrrhus were polygamous; hence it is possible that the first Ptolemy was in this respect rather Macedonian than Greek.
He probably had numerous concubines beside his legitimate wives. He had at one time a liaison with the celebrated Thaïs of Athens, a star of the Greek demi-monde, who had been present, according to one very doubtful story, at a celebrated banquet in Persepolis in 330, when the palace, at her instigation, was set on fire. Ptolemy's children by Thaïs were Leontiscus, Lagus, and Irene. Possibly the text should be read "Leontiscus also called Lagus." Irene married Eunostus, king (or dynast) of Soli in Cyprus. Beside the children mentioned there are two sons named, whose mother we do not know—Meleager and Argaeus. Since Meleager afterwards joins Ptolemy Keraunos in Macedonia, he might be conjectured to have been a son of Eurydice's. In that case he must either have been a twin with one of Eurydice's other four children, or Eurydice must have been married to Ptolemy before 321 or have borne him children after 316.
If Ptolemy had followed the practice of Alexander and of ancient Egyptian kings who started new dynasties, he would have married an Egyptian of royal lineage to legitimatize his rule in the eyes of his native subjects. He did not do so. We only once hear of a Ptolemy having a native Egyptian woman even among his mistresses.
Ptolemy at the age of eighty-two wished to pass his power on to his successor, less, probably, because he desired rest than because he wanted to see his favourite son securely established upon the throne before he died. He had loved Berenice more than Eurydice, and although Eurydice's son Ptolemy was the elder of the two, it was Berenice's son Ptolemy whom his father determined to make king. Possibly Eurydice had made herself odious, when her waiting-woman, Berenice, was exalted into her place. In 286 we find that Eurydice had left Egypt and was living at Miletus, her daughter Ptolemais with her. It was here that Demetrius, driven from the throne of Macedonia, came at this time with his fleet and married Ptolemais, whom Ptolemy had promised to him some thirteen years before.
Eurydice's son Ptolemy remained in Egypt, still hoping to be his father's successor. The distinguished Athenian refugee, Demetrius of Phalerum, used the influence he had with the old king, in the elder son's favour. No doubt a strong party amongst the Macedonians preferred the grandson of old Antipater to the son of Berenice. But the old king's attachment to Berenice and her children, even if Berenice herself was dead at this time, as seems probable, resisted all pressure from the other side. Early in 284 BC the young Ptolemy, Berenice's son, was proclaimed king in Alexandria. It seems more likely that the old Ptolemy associated his son with himself on the throne than that he divested himself of his own royalty. The son of Eurydice, Ptolemy nicknamed later on Keraunos, "Thunderbolt," found Egypt no longer a healthy place for him, and took refuge at the court of Lysimachus, who had now become king in Macedonia. Lysimachus' queen was full sister to the young king of Egypt—Arsinoe, daughter of old Ptolemy and Berenice. But the full sister of Ptolemy Keraunos, Lysandra, daughter of Ptolemy and Eurydice, was the wife of Agathocles, Lysimachus' eldest son by a former wife, and heir apparent to the Macedonian throne. In order to secure the throne for her own son, Arsinoe, then a young woman of about twenty-one —one of those Macedonian princesses of masterful and daring spirit, shrinking from no violent deed which might further their purposes, a type of whom the famous Cleopatra was the last specimen—caused Agathocles to be put to death on a false charge, soon after Ptolemy Keraunos arrived in Macedonia. Lysandra, widowed, fled to the court of Seleucus, and Keraunos, her brother, went with her, or joined her there. The ambition of the old Seleucus to make himself lord of the whole empire of Alexander drew, at this time, the Macedonian court and the Egyptian court together. It was, perhaps, at this moment that Agathocles' sister or half-sister, a daughter at any rate of Lysimachus, herself called by the same name as her stepmother, Arsinoe, came from Macedonia to Egypt, to marry the young king.
A fresh storm was gathering in the world. But the old Ptolemy did not live to see it burst. He died, aged eighty-four, in 283 or 282—the only one, of all those great Macedonian chiefs who had fought over the empire of Alexander, to die a natural death in his bed. So sure had been his foresight in Babylon forty years before, when he asked for Egypt.