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Ptolemaeus Vii. or Ptolemaeus Physcon or Ptolemaeus Euergetes :ii. or Ptolemaeus Apion

*Ptolemai=os king of EGYPT, bore the surname of EUERGETES, whence he is styled EUERGETES II., to distinguish him from Ptolemy III., but he is more commonly known by the name of PHYSCON (Φύσκων), an appellation bestowed on him by the Alexandrians on account of his bloated and unwieldy appearance. He was the second son of Ptolemy Epiphanes, and continued in a private station during the regency of his mother Cleopatra and the first years of the reign of his brother Philometor. But when the latter had fallen into the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Alexandrians declared the younger brother king, and he assumed the title of Euergetes, together with the royal diadem, B. C. 170. The subsequent events--the repulse of Antiochus, the reconciliation of the two brothers, their joint reign, and their subsequent dissensions -- have been already related in the preceding article. From the time of his last defeat in Cyprus, B. C. 154, Ptolemy Physcon appears to have acquiesced in the arrangement then concluded, and remained quiet in the government of Cyrene until the death of his brother Philometor, B. C. 146. On that event Cleopatra, the sister and widow of the late king, proclaimed her infant son king of Egypt, by the title of Ptolemy Eupator, and assumed the reins of government in his name. But her brother immediately assembled an army, and marched against Alexandria. Hostilities were, however, prevented by the intervention of Roman deputies, and it was agreed that Euergetes should obtain the crown of Egypt, and marry his sister Cleopatra. Their nuptials were solemnized accordingly, and on the very day of their celebration the king caused his unfortunate nephew to be put to death. (Just. 38.8.)

A reign thus commenced in blood was continued in a similar spirit. Already during his former brief rule at Alexandria, as well as in his separate kingdom of Cyrene, Euergetes had given abundant proofs of his tyrannical and cruel disposition, which had alienated the minds of his subjects, and led them to term him in derision Kakergetes. But when he found himself established on the throne of Egypt, he gave free scope to his sanguinary disposition. Many of the leading citizens of Alexandria, who had taken part against him on the death of his brother, were put to death without mercy, while the populace were given up without restraint to the cruelties of his mercenary troops, and the streets of the city were repeatedly deluged with blood. Thousands of the inhabitants fled from the scene of such horrors, and the population of Alexandria was so greatly thinned that the king found himself compelled to invite foreign settlers from all quarters to re-people his deserted capital. At the same time that he thus incurred the hatred of his subjects by his cruelties, he rendered himself an object of their aversion and contempt by abandoning himself to the most degrading vices. In consequence of these, he had become bloated and deformed in person, and so enormously corpulent, that he could scarcely walk. (Justin. l.c. ; Diod. xxxiii. Exc. Vales. p. 594; Athen. 4.184c., vi. p. 252e., xii. p. 549. d.)

His union with Cleopatra was not of long duration. At first, indeed, he appears to have lived on good terms with her, and she bore him a son, to whom he gave the name of Memphitis. But he afterwards became enamoured of his niece Cleopatra (the offspring of his wife by her former marriage with Philometor), and he did not hesitate to divorce the mother, and receive her daughter instead, as his wife and queen. By this proceeding he alienated still more the minds of his Greek subjects ; but the abilities and vigour of his general Hierax enabled him for a time to defy the popular discontent. Meanwhile he was careful still to court the alliance of Rome, and received Scipio Africanus and his colleagues, when they visited Egypt, with every demonstration of respect. (Just. 38.8; Diod. Exc. Vales. xxxiii. pp. 593-595, 598, 34.602, Exc. Leg. p. 630 ; Liv. Epit. lix.; Oros. 5.10; Athen. 12.549d.)

At length, however, his vices and cruelties became too much for his subjects to bear. His palace was burnt in a popular tumult, and he deemed it expedient to give way to the fury of the people, and make his escape secretly to Cyprus, B. C. 130. On this the Alexandrians declared his sister Cleopatra queen. Irritated at this, but unable to assail her by open force, Euergetes had recourse to the barbarous expedient of putting to death Memphitis, his son by Cleopatra, and sending his head and hands to Alexandria, where they were presented to his unhappy mother on her birthday. This atrocious act excited the most violent indignation among the Alexandrians, who took up arms for Cleopatra; but that princess had the indiscretion to apply for assistance to Demetrius II., king of Syria, and by so doing alienated the minds of her subjects to such a degree that she was soon after compelled in her turn to fly from Alexandria, and Ptolemy found himself unexpectedly reinstated on the Egyptian throne, B. C. 127. (Liv. Epit. lix.; Just. 38.8, 9 ; Diod. xxxiv. Exc. Vales. pp. 602, 603; V. Max. 9.2, ext. § 5.)

From this time he appears to have adopted a milder and more moderate system of government. His first act of clemency was to pardon Marsyas, who had been the general of the revolted Alexandrians (Diod. Exc. Vales. p. 603); and though we have little information concerning the remaining events of his reign, we do not find that it was again disturbed by any civil disorders. His attention was principally directed to the affairs of Syria, where Demetrius had espoused the cause of Cleopatra, and advanced as far as Pelusium to her support, but was compelled, by the disaffection of his own troops, to retire without effecting anything. In order to revenge himself for this attempt, Ptolemy now set up against him a new pretender in the person of a youth named Zabinas or Zebina, who assumed the title of Alexander II., and with the forces furnished him by the Egyptian king, was able to establish himself for a time on the throne of Syria. But inflated with this success, the usurper forgot his obligations to Ptolemy, and behaved with such haughtiness to his benefactor, that the latter suddenly changed his policy, became reconciled to his sister Cleopatra, whom he permitted to return to Egypt, and gave his daughter Tryphaena in marriage to Antiochus Grypus, the son of Demetrius, whom he also supported with a large auxiliary force. Antiochus was thus enabled to recover possession of the throne of his forefathers, B. C. 125, and from this time the friendly relations between Syria and Egypt continued uninterrupted until the death of Ptolemy. (Just. 39.1,2; J. AJ 13.9; Euseb. Arm. pp. 167, 168.) This took place in the year B. C. 117, ten years after his restoration to the throne, and twenty-nine after the death of his brother Philometor. But he himself reckoned the years of his reign from the date of his first assumption of the regal title at Alexandria, in B. C. 170, and according to this mode of computation, his death took place in the fifty-fourth year of his reign. (Porphyr. apud Euseb. Arm. p. 115; Clinton. F. H. vol. iii. p. 386.)


The character of Ptolemy Physcon has sufficiently appeared from the foregoing narrative. But stained as he was at once by the most infamous and degrading vices, and by the most sanguinary and unsparing cruelty, he still retained in a great degree that love of letters which appears to have been hereditary in the whole race of the Ptolemies. He had in his youth been a pupil of Aristarchus, and not only courted the society of learned men, but was himself the author of a work called Ὑπομνήματα, or memoirs, which extended to twentyfour books. It is repeatedly cited by Athenaeus (ii. p. 43e., 71, b., ix. p. 387, x. p. 438, xiv. p. 654, &c.), but the quotations refer to minute and miscellaneous points from which it is impossible to judge of the general character of the work. It would seem, however, to have been a sort of general natural history, rather than an historical narration of events.

Impact upon Literary Life

But even in his patronage of literature Ptolemy displayed his capricious and tyrannical character: and during the first years of his sole reign his cruelties appear to have produced a general consternation among the philosophers and men of letters at Alexandria, many of whom fled from Egypt, and took refuge in other countries, where they opened schools, and thus introduced the learning and science of Alexandria (Athen. 4.184). Ptolemy endeavoured in the later years of his reign to repair the mischief he had thus caused, and again draw together an extensive literary society in his capital. To him also is ascribed, with some probability, the prohibition of the export of papyrus, a measure which was dictated by jealousy of the growing literary riches of the kings of Pergamus, and led, as is well known, to the invention of parchment (Plin. Nat. 13.11 (21)). Some writers, however, refer this statement to Euergetes I. (See Parthey, Das Alex. Museum, p. 48.)


Euergetes II. left two sons; Ptolemy, afterwards known as Soter II., and Alexander, both of whom subsequently ascended the throne of Egypt ; and three daughters: I. Cleopatra, already married to her brother Ptolemy; 2. Tryphaena, the rife of Antiochus Grypus, king of Syria; and 3. Helene, who was still unmarried at her father's death. To his natural son Ptolemy surnamed Apion, he bequeathed by his will the separate kingdom of Cyrene [PTOLEMAEUS APION].


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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 13.9
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 13.11
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 9.2
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