Ptolemy II Philadelphus or Ptolemy the Great, who served as the pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt (283 – 246 BC) was one of the impressive leaders of the Greek Empire. As the son of a Macedonian Greek general, Ptolemy I, he was trained to fight and rule. In this article, we discuss Ptolemy II achievements as well as his life, his marriages and his rule of Egypt. If you’re fascinated by the mystery of pharaohs, read on!

An Overview of Ptolemy II Philadelphus

The father of Ptolemy II was a general of Alexander the Great who established the Ptolemaic Kingdom after Alexander and Queen Berenice I passed away.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus pioneered a highly sophisticated lifestyle in Alexandria in terms of economic and literary development. He also expanded the foreign policy of Egypt. The competence of Ptolemy at war and in leading the government was outstanding, as he was endowed with wisdom and confidence to rule a nation and fight the enemies.

You can give him credit for expanding the Ptolemaic rule throughout Cilicia. He also led the fight of the Ptolemaic Kingdom against the Seleucid Empire. Ptolemy II was the commander when his soldiers led the fight against the enemy in the First and Second Syrian Wars.

Who Was Ptolemy II Philadelphus?

The name Philadelphus means brother-loving in Greek, an epithet that he was given for marrying his sister Arsinoe II. Ptolemy II Philadelphus was born in 308 BC and ruled as the second king of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.

He gifted his kingdom with his strategic leadership, proactive diplomacy, agricultural development and commercial advancement. In addition, you should know that he promoted the development of Alexandria as a center of arts and sciences.

– The Early Life of Ptolemy II Philadelphus

Ptolemy II was born on the island of Kors. Interestingly, he was born when his father was at war in the Aegean in the Fourth Diadochi War. He had two younger sisters, Arsinoe II and Philotera. His education came from the most respected educators of his time, such as Philitas of Cors and Strato Lampsacus.

Aside from his sisters, he came from a huge family. While his father had two sons from his first marriage to Eurydice, his mother had two children to Philip in her first marriage. Ptolemy Keraunos and Meleager were his brothers, who ruled Macedonia from his father’s side. Magas of Cyrene and Antigone were his siblings on his mother’s side.

He married Arsinoe I, but the relationship did not last because the young bride left him. Later on, he married his sister, Arsinoe II. This incestuous act was permissible in Egypt, but such news made the Greek people shocked.

– Ptolemy II Philadelphus Rule of Egypt

He developed his leadership with the help of his father, Ptolemy I Soter. Then, he proclaimed his independence as a ruler in 283 – 282 BC. He was engrossed in his leadership, which resulted in the development of his passion to be in positions of power.

His government was faced with the challenges of rival kingdoms, such as Seleucids and Antigonids. Consequently, he had to upgrade his rule in Syria, Asia Minor, Aegean, India, and Rome.

He established an alliance with Greece, but he also made foes to Antigonid Macedonia. You can recount that this happened when the Macedonian forces were hampered in Greece, and Ptolemy renewed his friendship with the Aegeans. He later sealed his friendship by asking the daughter of King Magas of Cyrene to marry his son, Ptolemy Euergetes.

Ptolemy II in Egypt

Ptolemy II Philadelphus had an impact on many facets of Egyptian society. In the next sections, you can find out how his rule affected the economy, religion and culture of Ptolemaic Egypt.

– Economy

Historians said that Ptolemy II King of Egypt did not make a good impression in his domestic leadership. Egypt was predominantly an agricultural country albeit having skilled workers and artisans.

When Ptolemy Philadelphus arrived to command the local businesses, he changed it into a planned economy. For example, he began the use of cheap labor and the exploitation of workers. He turned out to be an expert in manipulating people.

– Religion

He kept his religious practice by visiting sanctuaries and providing large donations of money for the construction of temples. He was perpetually in prayer, petitioning for the security of his title and the expansion of his kingdom. He invoked God for his family, name and wealth. He was ardent in his prayers and a genuine follower of the Hellenistic cult.

– Poetry, Arts and Sciences

You can also witness his particular interest in arts and science. This put Alexandria in the limelight because he pursued his love of poets and scholars, earning him much recognition. Needless to say, ever-present in his court were poets, including Callimachus and Theocritus.

Ptolemy was generous to agents of education. Thus, he also invested money for the expansion of libraries and museums. He reinforced research centers and established various Athenian schools.

Just like the arduous learning that the Athenians practice, Ptolemy, King of Egypt, instituted a love of learning in Alexandria, particularly on philosophy, literature, math, and natural sciences.

He embodied a clear vision for education and research. He was a brave soldier who would defend his nation at all costs, but first and foremost, he had wisdom and passion to enlighten people. You already expect that, with his love for diplomacy, Ptolemy supported a strong relationship with his neighboring countries.

Ptolemy’s Wives

The family life of Ptolemy II Philadelphus was less than linear. As such, he entered more than one marriage during his lifetime. Read about his controversial affairs in the next sections.

– Arsinoe I

Pharaoh Ptolemy II got married to Arsinoe I, but their union did not prosper because of their lack of common ground with regard to his political and military plans. Arsinoe was the youngest daughter of King Lysimachus and Queen Nicaea of Macedon.

As the reigning queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, their union was primarily about the alliance between her father and Ptolemy against Seleucus I Nicator. They had three children named Ptolemy III Euergetes, Lysimachus of Egypt, and Berenice, their only daughter.

– Arsinoe II

Between 279 and 274 BC, Ptolemy’s sister, named Arsinoe II, arrived in Egypt. When a plan to kill his brother was thwarted, all charges and responsibilities fell on Arsinoe I, probably due to the instigation of Arsinoe II. Arsinoe II made stories that destroyed the name of Arsinoe I, the first wife who was hurt and quickly banished from Egypt, as mentioned earlier.

Arsinoe I was later charged with conspiracy against Ptolemy and banished. She is thought to have been exiled to Coptos, in Upper Egypt. Meanwhile, Ptolemy married his sister, Arsinoe II. As the first daughter of Ptolemy I Soter and his second wife, Berenice I of Egypt she probably received a good education, which is also confirmed by her way of speaking.

The king adopted the only living son of Arsinoe II, Ptolemy Epigonos, as his child. Later, he would become king. Arsinoe II won against Arsinoe I, showing how she acquired power by conniving with the right people and pushing her dreams. You can tell that her character was very contradictory.

The War in Nubia

Ptolemy II staged a war against the kingdom of Nubia, a region in the south of Egypt, probably in the year 275 BC. The Egyptian troops invaded Nubia, entering 12 miles into its territory. The reason they took control of this region was because of its rich gold mines.

Ptolemy established a city called Berenice Panchrysus. Then, he spearheaded a large-scale mining project. You could say that it was the nation’s richest gold mine and the source of a great treasure for the kingdom. In the third century, gold production was a key factor in the economic development of the Ptolemaic empire.

Ptolemy’s Government

The government formed by Ptolemy was made with a complicated structure. It was likely that the previous government had already established bureaucratic rules to form an organized government, but the implementation of such rules was started with Ptolemy’s administration. Ptolemy II acted as the sovereign god in the hierarchy. He was followed by several groups of leaders, such as kings, scribes and other commanders.

Taking a closer look at Egypt, it had 39 districts. These districts were called nomes, with names that had been almost the same since the time of the pharaohs. Each nome was ruled by three officials, assigned to a different section of the government.

For example, there were the officials for agricultural production, the officials for finances, and the officials for land surveying. These officials were all equal in rank, but they had the power of check and balance. You must know that they had separate functions, but they were all equal in power.

Explaining the Structure of the Government

Ptolemy’s government worked on this system to avoid overlapping of tasks and maintain order. The system was dominated by the authority of the king on top, but power was shared with all the other officials until the lowest ranking official in every nome.

This form of leadership aimed at assuring the goal of the leadership to ambitious people, but it was also instrumental in finding a way to extract as much wealth as possible from the land.

The income generated by the nomes could be used for the various operations of the monarchy, particularly for military activities. Officials were tasked to work hard and generate income from the agriculture sector to the fullest extent. Fortunately, Ptolemy’s government made profitable income from farming.

Coupled with the income generated from farms were taxes gathered from industries, such as the production of wine, fruit and castor oil. Private individuals paid cash to the king for taxes. Aside from the measures applied in agriculture, gold mining activities were also taxed to secure an income for the government.

How Did Ptolemy II Die?

Ptolemy II death happened without any trouble. He died serving his country, and the people honored him for his numerous achievements. Having fought several battles, Ptolemy decided to retreat and refocus his mission on Greece.

The Egyptians had won against Antigonus in a naval battle, so he hosted a festival in Delos. Ptolemy II was convinced to pay a grant to the Achaean League. Aratus of Sicyon, the ambassador of the league, was instrumental in convincing him.

The Achaean League was an association of small city-states in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese. They convinced Ptolemy II that his investment could pave the way for the expansion of the area, so that it could be a formidable nation to face the forces of Antigonid in Greece.

He also reached out to his brother, Magas of Cyrene. They both agreed to send his heir, Ptolemy III, to marry Berenice, the only child of Magas. However, Magas died, and his wife did not want to honor the agreement.

Magas’ wife invited an Antigonid prince, Demetrius the Fair, to marry Berenice. This led to a political intervention that resulted in the marriage of Ptolemy III and Berenice in 246 BC. Soon after that, Ptolemy passed away, on January 28, 246 BC.


Ptolemy II Philadelphus brilliantly led Egypt toward a future as an economically, politically and culturally developed country. Having been raised in a complicated family, Ptolemy II proved that one’s commitment to honor makes a nation.

He grew up with courage, a vision, and a determination to accomplish something for Egypt. He was also responsible for the conversion of the cult of Alexander the Great that was made by Ptolemy I. Meanwhile, Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II assigned themselves a divine status as Sibling Gods in 272 BC.

Needless to say, Ptolemy II made significant changes in the lives of Egyptians during his time because of the wars of expansion he undertook. He ruled Egypt with great accomplishments and the grandeur of the Greek legacy. More interestingly, he served the people, who were honored for their faithfulness to their gods, the government and the military.


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