Ptolemy I Soter  [366-282 BCE]

Close companion & personal bodyguard of Alexander the Great who played a pivotal role in molding the Hellenistic kingdoms into which Alexander's empire was partitioned after his death. It was Ptolemy's arguments that convinced other Macedonian generals that they should divide the newly conquered sprawling territory among themselves to make it more governable.

Ptolemy himself took control of Egypt, which he sought to give symbolic preeminence by intercepting Alexander's body as it was being transported to Macedonia from Babylon & diverting it to Memphis. Instead of vying for supreme power with other generals, however, he concentrated on developing Alexandria into the most important city on the Mediterranean, founding the Museion & great library there & starting construction of the Pharos, the lighthouse that became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  An effective administrator, Ptolemy won the support of the native Egyptian populace by restoring ancient Egyptian temples destroyed by the Persians & establishing the syncretistic cult of Serapis, which blended Egyptian & Greek religious elements.  After his own death his subjects worshipped him as a god.

The successful strategic coalitions Ptolemy formed in the wars among Alexander's successors are evidence of his diplomatic skills.  A cautious, defensive strategist, his compromise with Seleucus I, the Macedonian ruler of Babylon, split greater Syria, giving Egypt control of Judea & the rest of Palestine (301 BCE) for almost a century.  Though he occupied Jerusalem on a Sabbath & took hostages to Egypt, later Hellenized Jews recalled him as a benefactor, since he granted rights & privileges to Jews in Alexandria.

Like Alexander's other generals Ptolemy assumed the title of "king" (basileus) to counter Antigonus' use of that title (305 BCE). His success in defending Rhodes against Antigonus' assault (304 BCE) earned him the by-name "Savior" (Soter). Assuming the role of protector of the league of islands in the Aegean, Ptolemy used his superior navy to liberate Athens from Macedonian occupation in the last coalition war among Alexander's successors (288-286 BCE). The dynasty he founded lasted about 300 years, almost a century longer than that of any of Alexander's other generals. Yet perhaps Ptolemy's most lasting historical legacy was his memoirs detailing Alexander's campaigns, which-- though no longer extant-- were the source of the detailed account written by the later (2nd c. CE) Hellenistic historian, Arrian.

References: Josephus, Antiquities 12.2-11. 
                   ______, Against Apion
1.183-186, 210; 2.37, 44.
                   Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.6.2-8.

Other resources on line:

Ptolemy I introduced the use of coins to Egypt.  This silver tetradrachma, minted at Alexandria after 305 BCE bears a remarkably realistic portrait of the ruler. Unlike the coins issued by Alexander & his Seleucid rivals the currency issued on Ptolemy's own authority bore no Hellenistic mythological figures.  Rather, befitting the stark vigilence of this wary martial strategist,  they portrayed an eagle grasping a thunderbolt with the simple inscription Ptolemaiou Basileos ["of Ptolemy, King"]. This coin with Ptolemy's profile became standard currency under the Ptolemaic dynasty & was reproduced with little change by his successors.

For high resolution images of this and other coins of Ptolemy I, see Ancient Coinage of Egypt, Ptolemy I in Dane Kurth's ancient coins website: Wildwinds.

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