Thursday, 23 September 2021

Ptolemy, son of Lagos

Bust of Ptolemy in the British Museum. Of all the successors of Alexander the Great, the family of Ptolemy, son of Lagos, was the most successful, ruling Egypt for nearly three centuries (305 – 30 BCE). The story of that success begins with a hijacking. When Alexander died in Babylon on 10 June 323 BCE, his corpse, embalmed by a team of Egyptian morticians, was placed in an elaborate cart for travel back to Macedon in northern Greece for burial. Ptolemy was one of Alexander’s boyhood companions and trusted bodyguards. He seized the body and diverted it to Memphis, capital of Egypt, where he had been appointed satrap (governor).

Alexander’s body became a trophy and symbol of legitimacy for Ptolemy’s dynasty.

The dynasty shared just three names – at least seven Cleopatras, four Berenikes and four Arsinoës.
The earliest coins of Ptolemy I followed the pattern of Alexander’s coinage. At an uncertain date (c. 316 – 312), Ptolemy issued a new type of silver tetradrachm bearing a portrait of the deified Alexander wearing an elephant head-dress (symbolizing his conquest of India). On the reverse, the goddess Athena.

Ptolemy had three official wives and numerous liaisons, fathering at least 11 children. In 289 BCE he appointed his son, Ptolemy II as co-ruler. He died in 283 or 282, aged 84, the only one of Alexander’s successors to die peacefully in his own bed.