Ptolemy III Euergetes: Family, Reign, Achievements, & Notable Facts
Ptolemy III Euergetes was the third ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire and descendant of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. He is regarded as one of the best Ptolemaic rulers and was responsible for reuniting Egypt and Cyrenaica, as well as waging a successful war against the Seleucid Empire.
Who was the man and how did he ensure Egypt remained prosperous during his reign?
Family: Early Life & Ascent
Ptolemy III Euergetes was the eldest son of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Arsinoe I, who was from the Kingdom of Thrace (modern-day area located in sections of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkiye) and whose father was King Lysimachus. Ptolemy III was born two years after his father ascended the throne.
He must have roughly been at least a year old when King Lysimachus’ – his grandfather – kingdom fell apart. As a result, Ptolemy III’s aunt, Arsinoe II, who was married to Lysimachus, returned to Egypt. However, during that period, Arsinoe I and Arsinoe II failed to get along and were in constant conflict. Around 275 BC, Arsinoe I was accused of plotting a conspiracy and was sentenced to live the rest of her life in exile in Coptos. Ptolemy II ended up marrying Arsinoe II.
It appeared this conflict between his mother and aunt was likely a strategy the latter had planned. With Arsinoe I out of the way, Ptolemy III and his other siblings were no longer in line to succeed their father. It is also probably why he was sent away to be raised on the Greek island of Thera. While there, the scholar Apollonius of Rhodes served as his tutor.
Around 267 BC, Ptolemy the Son, who was probably Arsinoe II’s son with King Lysimachus, was named co-regent. He initially fought in the Chremonidean War against the Greeks but revolted against Ptolemy II in 259 BC, which resulted in him being stripped of his co-regency title. Ptolemy II then officially recognized his children with Arsinoe I, ensuring that Ptolemy III and his siblings were posthumously adopted by their aunt. Now, Ptolemy III was next in line for the throne.
He was engaged to Berenice II, who was his cousin. Berenice was the daughter of King Magas of Cyrene and her father and Ptolemy II were half-brothers. After his father passed, Ptolemy III Euergetes became king in January 246 BC.
Reign of Ptolemy III
Ptolemy III Euergetes’ reign was primarily noted in these key events:
The Reunification of Egypt and Cyrenaica
Ptolemy’s engagement to Berenice was intended for the reunification of Egypt and Cyrenaica. Before then, King Magas led a revolt against Ptolemy II and named himself King of Cyrenaica. After Magas’ death, his wife Apame decided against honoring the agreement between the two kingdoms and instead planned for Berenice to marry the Antigonid prince, Demetrius the Fair. Demetrius took over Cyrenaica but was assassinated by Berenice.
Once Ptolemy III became king, he married Berenice and took control over Cyrene, with two new port cities named after the couple.
The Third Syrian War
Events in Ptolemy’s family sparked the start of The Third Syrian War. Antiochus II had reigned over the Seleucid Empire until his death in 246 BC. He had a son named Seleucus II whom he had with his first wife, Laodice I. Around 253 BC, Antiochus decided to renounce his marriage to Laodice in favor of Ptolemy III’s sister Berenice (also called Berenice Phernophorus or Berenice Syra). The new couple welcomed a son together called Antiochus.
When the King of the Seleucid Empire died, Antiochus was still a baby and it brought about a succession dispute. Upon hearing the news, Ptolemy III decided to invade Syria in support of his sister and nephew. The Egyptian king was initially successful, capturing cities like Seleucia and Antioch. Sadly, he discovered that Berenice and Antiochus had been murdered.
Ptolemy continued his invasion, this time to avenge his sister’s death and conquered Babylon around 246 or 245 BC, possibly earning him the title “Great King of Asia.” However, internal problems back in Egypt compelled him to leave Syria and return home. A flooding caused by the River Nile led to a famine and Egypt’s former alliances with Macedonia, Rhodes, and Seleucid Syria had begun to turn hostile.
Following his return, Ptolemy embarked on a project to convince his people that he had been successful during his quests. In 243 BC, he ensured both him and his wife, Berenice were deified due to him returning some Egyptian statues from the Seleucid Empire.
The war against the Seleucids continued; this time with Ptolemy Andromachou in charge. Andromachou was the half-brother of the king. He captured Ephesus and invaded Thrace. However, he was later killed by Thracian soldiers in Ephesus. The war continued until 241 BC when Ptolemy decided to make peace with the Seleucids. The war was considered to be successful, especially since he had successfully expanded the Ptolemaic Empire into Northern Syria, Ephesus, Thrace, and Antioch.
Ptolemy maintained the same diplomatic relations his father had. He continued to foster relationships with his allies, who were mostly enemies of Macedonia. He funded the Achaean League, which was a confederate group of cities that shared the common interest of opposing Macedonia. However, Ptolemy took a more strategic decision against the League when it came into conflict with the Greek city of Sparta. He switched his alliance to Sparta, believing that the Spartans would make better allies.
Achievements chalked by Ptolemy III
Ptolemy III Euergetes died in 222 BC of natural causes and was succeeded by his son Ptolemy IV. Although his reign was marked with domestic and international problems, he was still regarded as one of Egypt’s best kings.
One of his most notable achievements was the Canopus Decree, which recognized Ptolemy and Berenice as Theoi Euergatai, or Benefactor Gods for their efforts towards sustaining Egyptian cults and also ensuring peace within the kingdom by building a strong defense system and caring for the overall good of Egypt.
Ptolemy also financed many temple construction projects throughout Egypt. He is mostly noted for the construction of the Temple of Horus at Edfu during his tenth year as ruler. However, it was Ptolemy IV that completed construction of the temple. The Temple of Horus officially opened in 142 BC under Ptolemy VIII. Some of the other temples built include the Serapeum of Alexandria, the Temple of Osiris, and the Temple of Khnum.
He also continued the work of his father, particularly in the areas of academia. He expanded the Great Library of Alexandria by building the Serapeum. He also ordered for every book entering Alexandria to be withheld until they were fully copied. The new copies were then given to the rightful owners and the originals were kept at the library. It is believed that he kept the manuscripts of renowned playwrights like Sophocles and Euripides in the library. Additionally, many scholars served in his court, including Eratosthenes, who calculated the earth’s circumference, as well as the notable mathematicians Apollonius of Perge and Conon of Samos.
Other Notable Facts
Ptolemy’s wife, Berenice, was an accomplished equestrian and had won many chariot races during her time. The ancient poet, Callimachus wrote about a lock of her hair in the poem “The Lock of Berenike.”
He had four sons: Ptolemy IV, Magas, Alexander and an unnamed one. He also had two daughters called Berenice and Arsinoe III. During Ptolemy IV’s reign he married Arsinoe III.
Ptolemy was 30 years old when he became ruler and was given the Egyptian name Iwaennetjerwysenwy Sekhemankhre Setepamun meaning “Son of the divine brother and sister, Living power of Ra, chosen by Amun.”