Ptolemaic Dynasty,Macedonian family that ruled Egypt during the Hellenistic period, from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC until Egypt became a Roman province in 30 BC. At various times the Ptolemies also controlled Cyrenaica (now northeastern Libya), Palestine, and Cyprus.
The dynasty was founded by Alexander's general, Ptolemy. Named governor of Egypt by Alexander, he established himself as an independent ruler in 305 BC, adopting the name Ptolemy I Soter. The kingdom prospered under him and his successors, Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Ptolemy III Euergetes, who vied with another Macedonian dynasty, the Seleucids of Syria, for supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean.
The capital of the Ptolemaic state was Alexandria-a cosmopolitan city with a large Greek and Jewish population-which became one of the great commercial and intellectual centers of the ancient world. Although not of Egyptian origin, the Ptolemies observed many of the country's traditional customs. Like Alexander, they had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and they participated in Egyptian religious rituals. They preserved Egypt's ancient architectural traditions, erecting temples to the Egyptian gods at Edfu, Dandarah,and other places. Nevertheless, their government, dominated by Greek and Macedonian officials, was not popular. Egyptian nationalism remained strong among the people, manifesting itself in frequent rebellions.
The power of the dynasty declined under a succession of weak kings in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, when Rome began to intervene increasingly in Egyptian affairs. The last and probably the most famous Ptolemaic ruler was Cleopatra, who ruled independently first through the support of Julius Caesar and later that of Mark Antony. With her death and that of her son, Ptolemy XV, called Caesarion, in 30 BC, the dynasty came to an end.
For further information on individual members of the dynasty, see biographies of those whose names are not followed by dates.
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