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Ptolemaeus Iv. or Ptolemy Philopator or Ptolemy Philopator

*Ptolemai=os), king of EGYPT, surnamed PHILOPATOR, was the eldest son and successor of Ptolemy Euergetes. He was very far from inheriting the virtues or abilities of his father : and his reign was the commencement of the decline of the Egyptian kingdom, which had been raised to such a height of power and prosperity by his three predecessors. Its first beginning was stained with crimes of the darkest kind. Among his earliest acts, on assuming the sovereign power (B. C. 222), was to put to death his mother, Berenice, and his brother, Magas, of whose influence and popularity with the army he was jealous, as well as his uncle Lysimachus, the brother of Ptolemy Euergetes. In all these murders his minister Sosibius was his ready and dextrous instrument, and probably the first to advise their perpetration. Cleomenes, the exiled king of Sparta, of whose influence with the mercenary troops Sosibius had skilfully availed himself, soon became in his turn an object of suspicion, and was placed in confinement, from which he sought to escape by raising a revolt in Alexandria, and failing in this put an end to his own life. (Plb. 5.34-39; Plut. Cleom. 33-37.)

Having thus, as he conceived, secured himself from all danger from domestic enemies, Ptolemy gave himself up without restraint to a life of indolence and luxury, and to every kind of sensual indulgence, while he abandoned to his minister Sosibius the care of all political affairs. The latter seems to have been as incapable as his master : the discipline of the army was neglected, and the kingdom was allowed to fall into a state of the utmost disorder, of which Antiochus the Great, king of Syria, was not slow to avail himself. The defection of Theodotus, the governor of Coele-Syria under Ptolemy [THEODOTUS], afforded the first opening to the ambitious designs of the Syrian king, who turned his arms in the first instance against Seleucia in Pieria; and after reducing that important fortress (which had been held by the kings of Egypt since the invasion of Syria by Euergetes) advanced into Phoenicia, where the two strong fortresses of Tyre and Ptolemais were betrayed into his hands by Theodotus. These tidings at length aroused Ptolemy and his ministers from their apathy, and while they sought to amuse Antiochus with pretended negotiations they began to assemble Greek mercenaries, as well as to arm and train Egyptian troops after the Macedonian fashion. With the approach of spring (B. C. 218) they were able to oppose an army under Nicolaus and a fleet under Perigenes to the arms of Antiochus ; but Nicolaus was defeated near Porphyreon, and the Syrian king made himself master, with little difficulty, of great part of Coele-Syria and Palestine. But the next year (B. C. 217) Ptolemy in person took the command of his forces, and set out from Alexandria at the head of an army of 70,000 foot and 5000 horse. He was met by Antiochus with a nearly equal force at Raphia, on the borders of the desert, and a pitched battle ensued, in which the Egyptian army was completely victorious, and Antiochus lost more than 14,000 men. This decisive success was followed by the immediate submission of the whole of Coele-Syria; and Antiochus, apprehensive of farther defections, hastened to sue for peace, which was readily granted by the indolent Ptolemy, who was anxious to return to his life of ease and luxury at home. (Plb. 5.40, 58-71, 79-87; Just. 30.1.)

It was on his return from this expedition that he visited Jerusalem; on which occasion the refusal of the high priest to admit him to the sanctuary of the temple, is said to have excited in his mind an implacable animosity against the Jewish nation, which led him on his return to Alexandria not only to withdraw from the Jews of that city the privileges they had enjoyed under his predecessors, but to subject them to the most cruel persecutions. (iii. Macc.) The tranquillity of Egypt was further disturbed at the same period by a revolt of the native Egyptians - the first that had occurred under their Greek rulers - which appears to have lasted a considerable time, and not to have been suppressed without much bloodshed. (Plb. 5.107, 14.12.)

Meanwhile, the king, after his return from his Syrian expedition, gave himself fip more and more to every species of vice and debauchery. His mistress Agathoclea, and her brother Agathocles, became not only the abandoned ministers of his pleasures, but were admitted to a large share in the direction of affairs, and divided with Sosibius the patronage and distribution of all places of honour or profit. The latter minister, however, continued till near the close of the reign of Ptolemy to preside over the chief administration of the state ; and as he had been the instrument of Ptolemy in the murders which disgraced the early part of his reign, so he again lent him his assistance in putting to death his queen Arsinoe, who had become obnoxious to her profligate husband. (Plb. 14.11, 12, 15.25, 33; Just. 30.1,2.) After her death Ptolemy gave himself up without restraint to the career of vice which probably contributed to shorten his life. He died in B. C. 205, after a reign of seventeen years, leaving only one son, a child of five years old. (Euseb. Arm. p. 114 ; Just. 30.2.)

The character of Ptolemy Philopator-feeble, effeminate, and vicious-is sufficiently attested by ancient authorities; and from his reign may be dated the commencement of the decline of the kingdom of Egypt, which thenceforth proceeded by rapid strides. Externally, however, its decay was not yet visible : it still retained all its former possessions and commanded the respect of foreign powers. We find Ptolemy, during the earlier years of his reign, still following up the policy of his predecessors; in Greece, cultivating the friendship of the Athenians, and interposing his mediation to bring about a peace between Philip and the Aetolians. (Plb. 5.100, 106.) He continued also stedfastly attached to the alliance of the Romans, to whom he furnished large supplies of corn during their struggle with Carthage. (Plb. 9.44 Liv. 27.4.) Philopator is also mentioned as striving to display his wealth and power by the construction of ships of the most gigantic and unwieldy size, one of which is said to have had forty banks of oars. (Athen. v. pp. 203-206.)

Plunged as he was in vice and debauchery, Philopator appears to have still inherited something of the love of letters for which his predecessors were so conspicuous. Not only did the literary schools and institutions of Alexandria continue to flourish under his reign, but we find him associating on familiar terms with philosophers and men of letters, and especially patronising the distinguished grammarian Aristarchus. (D. L. 7.177; Suid. s. v. Ἀρίσταρχος.) He even carried his admiration for Homer so far as to dedicate a temple to him as a divinity. (Ael. VH 13.22.)


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222 BC (1)
218 BC (1)
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205 BC (1)
hide References (19 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (19):
    • Polybius, Histories, 14.11
    • Polybius, Histories, 15.25
    • Polybius, Histories, 15.33
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.106
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.34
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.39
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.40
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.71
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.79
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.87
    • Polybius, Histories, 9.44
    • Polybius, Histories, 14.12
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.100
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.107
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.58
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 4
    • Plutarch, Cleomenes, 37
    • Plutarch, Cleomenes, 33
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 13.22
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