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Ptolemaeus Iii. or Ptolemaeus Euergetes

*Polemai=os), king of EGYPT, surnamed EUERGETES, was the eldest son and successor of Ptolemy II., Philadelphus. When a mere child he was betrothed to Berenice, the daughter of Magas; but it was not till after the death of Magas, and the assassination of Demetrius the Handsome, who had made himself master of Cyrene [BERENICE, p. 483], that their nuptials were solemnised. The date of these events is uncertain ; but the marriage cannot have long preceded the death of Philadelphus. B. C. 247. On that event Ptolemy succeeded quietly to the extensive dominions of his father; to which he now rennited Cyrene in right of his wife. But a still wider field was soon opened to his ambition. On a learning the death of Philadelphus, Antiochus II king of Syria, put aside his wife Berenice, the daughter of the Egyptian king, and recalled his former wife, Laodice, who soon sacrificed to her resentment both her faithless husband and her rival, Berenice, with her infant son. Ptolemy appears to have taken up arms on receiving the first news of the danger of his sister; but finding that he was too late to save her, he determined at least to avenge her fate. and invaded Syria in person at the head of a numerous army. The cruelties of Laodice, and the unhappy fate of Berenice, had already excited general disaffection ; and many cities voluntarily joined Ptolemy, and neither the youthful Seleucus nor his mother were able to oppose the progress of the Egyptian king, who advanced apparently without opposition as far as Antioch, and made himself master of the whole country south of Mount Taurus. But instead of crossing that ridge, and pursuing Seleucus himself, he turned his arms eastward, crossed the Euphrates, advanced as far as Babylon and Susa, and after reducing all Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Susiana, received the submission of all the upper provinces of Asia as far as the confines of Bactria and India. From this career of conquest he was recalled by the news of seditions in Egypt, and returned to that country, carrying with him an immense booty, comprising, among other objects, all the statues of the Egyptian deities which had been carried off by Cambyses to Babylon or Persia. These he restored to their respective temples, an act by which he earned the greatest popularity with his native Egyptian subjects, who bestowed on him in consequence the title of Euergetes (the Benefactor), by which he is generally known. While the arms of the king himself were thus successful in the East, his fleets reduced the maritime provinces of Asia, including Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Ionia, as far as the Hellespont, together with Lysimachia and other important places on the coast of Thrace which continued for a long period subject to the Egyptian rule. (Monutm. Adulitan. apud Clinlzo. F. H. vol. iii. p. 382; Hieronymv. ad Daniel. 11.7; Justin, 27.1; Appian. Syr. 65; Plb. 5.58.) Concerning the events which followed the return of Euergetes to his own dominions (probably in B. C. 243) we are almost wholly in the dark; but it appears that the greater part of the eastern provinces speedily fell again into the hands of Seleucus, while Ptolemy retained possession of the maritime regions and a great part of Syria itself. He soon obtained a valuable ally in the person of Antiochus Hierax, the younger brother of Seleucus, whom he uniformly supported in his wars against his elder brother, and by this diversion effectually prevented Seleucus from prosecuting active hostilities against Egypt. The war was at length terminated, or rather suspended by a truce for ten years; but the contest between the two brothers soon broke out afresh, and continued until the total defeat of Antiochus compelled him to take refuge in Egypt. Here, however, he was received rather as a captive than an ally; probably because it did not suit Ptolemy to renew hostilities with Syria. (Just. 27.2, 3.)

In regard to the remainder of the reign of Euergetes we have scarcely any information. It appears, however, that in his foreign policy he followed the same line as his father. We find him generally unfriendly to Macedonia, and on one occasion at least in open hostility with that power, as we are told that he defeated Antigonus (Gonatas) in a great sea-fight off Andros (Trog. Pomp. Prol. xxvii.); but the date and circumstances of this action are wholly uncertain. (See on this subject, Niebuhr, Kl. Schrift. p. 297; Droysen, vol. ii. p. 364.) With the same views he continued to support Aratus and the Achaean league, until the sudden change of policy of the former, and his unnatural alliance with Macedonia, led to a corresponding change on the part of Ptolemy, who thenceforth threw all the weight of his influence in favour of Cleomenes, to whom he afforded an honourable retreat after his decisive defeat at Sellasia, B. C. 222. (Plut. Arat. 24, 41, Cleom. 22, 32; Paus. 2.8.5.) We find him also maintaining the same friendly relations as his father with Rome, though he declined the offers of assistance made him by that powerful republic during his war with Syria. (Eutrop. iii. J.) During the latter years of his reign Euergetes took advantage of the state of peace in which he found himself with his neighbours to turn his arms against the Ethiopian tribes on his southern frontier, whom he effectually reduced to submission, and advanced as far as Adule, a port on the Red Sea, where he established an emporium, and set up an inscription commemorating the exploits of his reign. To a copy of this, accidentally preserved to us by an Egyptian monk, COSMAS INDICOPLEUSTES, we are indebted for much of the scanty information we possess concerning his reign. (See Buttmann's Museum f. Alterthumswissenschaft, vol. ii. pp. 105-166 ; the inscription itself is also given by Chishull, Antiq. Asiaticae, p. 76, and by Salt in his Travels in Abyssinia (1814), p. 453, as well as by Clinton, F. H. vol. iii. p. 382, note.)

Ptolemy Euergetes is scarcely less celebrated than his father for his patronage of literature and science : he added so largely to the library at Alexandria that he has been sometimes erroneously deemed its founder, and the well-known anecdote of the stratagem by which he possessed himself of the original manuscripts of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, sufficiently attests the zeal with which he pursued this object. (Galen, Comm. ad Hippocr. lib. iii. Epidem. p. 411; Parthey, Das Alex. Mus. p. 88.) Among the distinguished men of letters who flourished at Alexandria during his reign, the names of Eratosthenes, Apollonius Rhodius, and Aristophanes, the grammarian, are alone sufficient to prove that the literature and learning of the Alexandrian school still retained their former eminence.

The reign of Euergetes may undoubtedly be looked upon as the most flourishing period of the Egyptian kingdom. (See Plb. 5.34.) His brilliant military successes in the first years after his accession not only threw a lustre over his reign, but added some important and valuable acquisitions to his territories; while his subjects continued to enjoy the same internal tranquillity as under his predecessors. He appears also to have shown more favour than the two former monarchs towards the native-born Egyptians; and he evinced a desire to encourage their religious feelings, not only by bringing back the statues of their gods out of Asia, but by various architectural works. Thus we find him making large additions to the great temple at Thebes, erecting a new one at Esne, and dedicating a temple at Canopus to Osiris in the names of himself and his queen Berenice. (Wilkinson's Thebes, p. 425; Letronne, Recueil, pp. 2-6.) On the other hand, his foundations of new cities and colonies were much less numerous than those of his father, though that of Berenice in the Cyrenaiica may in all probability be ascribed to him. (See Droysen, vol. ii. pp. 723-726.) Among the last events of his reign may be mentioned the magnificent presents with which he assisted the Rhodians after their city had been overthown by an earthquake; the amount of which is in itself a sufficient proof of the wealth and power which he possessed. (Plb. 5.89.)

The death of Euergetes must have taken place before the end of B. C. 222 : it is clearly ascribed by Polybius (2.71) to natural causes; though a rumour followed by Justin (29.1) asserted that he was poisoned by his son, a suspicion to which the character and subsequent conduct of the young man lent sufficient countenance. He had reigned twenty-five years in uninterrupted prosperity. By his wife Berenice, who survived him, he left three children : 1. Ptolemy, his successor; 2. Magas ; and 3. Arsinoe, afterwards married to her brother Ptolemy Philopator.

Trogus Pompeius twice designates Ptolemy Euergetes by the epithet of Tryphon (Prol. xxvii. and xxx.), an appellation which is also found in Eusebius (p. 165, ed. Arm.). Neither this nor the title of Euergetes appears on his coins, which can only be distinguished from those of his two predecessors by the difference of physiognomy.


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222 BC (2)
247 BC (1)
243 BC (1)
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  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.8.5
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.71
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.89
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.34
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.58
    • Plutarch, Aratus, 24
    • Plutarch, Aratus, 41
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