Skip to content

Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – The First Ptolemies

  • by

In episode 11 of Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, Dr. Brier relates the rule of the Ptolomies, descendants of Alexander’s friend and general. Now while the Ptolomies seem more like actual pharaohs than Alexander did – after all, they are living in Egypt as they rule it – it seems like at this point, Egypt isn’t really Egyptian any longer. Again, I wonder that Dr. Brier couldn’t have found a few other pharaohs whom he would consider great in the almost 3000 years leading up to the Ptolemaic Period. We get three episodes for the 300 years of the Ptolomies against the nine episodes for the 3000 years before it.

Okay, so my issues with focusing on the Greeks in an Egyptian history lecture series aside, I really did like the discussion of the what the first two Ptolomies – and all the Greek pharaohs were named Ptolomy, which both simplifies the issue but creates problems as well – brought to the table, since this was the time when both the Library at Alexandria and the Great Lighthouse were built. Dr. Brier relates that these two wonders would certainly never have been built by Greeks, as both were directed outward rather than inward. The Library gained new volumes through a requirement on visitors to Alexandria while the Lighthouse was built specifically to assist in navigation for those travelling to Egypt.

But the Ptolomies never did assimilate into Egypt. Alexandria was a city of Greeks, with a bureaucracy run by Greeks, in an administration that used Greek as the language of commerce and government. Many previous foreign rulers – specifically, the Nubians and the Libyans – were very Egyptian dynasties, either assimilated into Egypt due to service there (as with the Libyans) or culturally dominated (as with the Nubians). The Ptolomies maintained their distance and so I would argue again, were not pharaohs of Egypt even were they pharaohs in Egypt.

Later Ptolomies provide plenty of decadence and misrule, and that’s always interesting. The dynasty’s decline might very well have been due to their insistence on intermarriage within the family. You know that can’t end well. Oddly enough, it actually did, with the last Ptolomaic ruler, Cleopatra, providing another bright spot, even if she were married to her little brother.

It’s sad that there is only one episode left. I really like this series as an introduction to some high points in Egyptian history. And if you dig Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, Dr. Brier has a 36-lecture series: the History of Ancient Egypt.