The History of the Ptolemaic Period: The Last Dynastic Era of Ancient Egypt

Ptolemaic dominions in 200 BC

The Ptolemaic Period began with the invasion of Ancient Egypt by the Macedonian King Alexander the Great in 333 BC. It is called the Ptolemaic Period as the first Pharaoh of the dynasty was Ptolemy, whom was one of Alexander the Great’s most trusted generals.

The premature death of Alexander the Great meant that the massive empire that he had conquered was divided up between his generals, with Ptolemy quickly securing his control over Egypt.

Ptolemy I and the Construction Of Alexandria

At first the emergence of the Ptolemaic Period seemed to renew the vitality of Ancient Egypt, as demonstrated by the construction of the new city and port of Alexandra, named after Alexander the Great himself. Alexandra quickly became an extremely busy port and centre for international trade. Egypt was taken over by the Macedonian general Ptolemy who became the Pharaoh Ptolemy I.

The onset of the Ptolemaic period for a time apparently restored the military standing and status of Ancient Egypt, with the Egyptian armies being based on the weapons, tactics, and strategies of the Macedonians. The problem was that the many wars and conflicts between Alexander the Great’s former generals and the territories that they controlled weakened them all in the long-term.

The Hellenisation of Society, and Eventual Collapse

Ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period managed to maintain its independence for longer than Greece, Macedonia, as well as other former parts of the empire built up by Alexander the Great. The Macedonian hegemony over the Middle East and parts of North Africa did not last for long, and the new dominant power would eventually prove to be Rome.

Inside Ancient Egypt itself the Ptolemaic Period witnessed the Hellenisation of society, or at least the royal and the aristocratic sections of it. For the royal family and the richest sections of ancient Egypt the Greek language, cultural customs, as well as religious practices replaced the long-standing Egyptian language, culture, and religions. However the lower sections of Ancient Egyptian society clung on to their traditional language, cultural customs, and religious practices.

In reality the Ptolemaic Period witnessed a long era of decline despite the Pharaohs still apparently being rich, and the Egyptians still seeming to have substantial military power. It was the increasing power of the Romans that would end the Ptolemaic Period, especially as Cleopatra VII made the mistake of siding with Mark Anthony instead of Augustus Caesar.


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