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The Greek Egyptians
by Wayne Blank
"And the he-goat is the king of Greece; and the great horn between his eyes is the first king. As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power." (Daniel 8:15-22 RSV)
Ptolemy was the Macedonian general who, as one of the Diadochi, or Successors, of Alexander, acquired Egypt. From him was established the Ptolemaic Dynasty that ruled for three centuries, until the murder of Caesarion (Ptolemy XV), the 17 year old son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, by order of Octavian in 30 B.C.
Although Ptolemy and his successors were and remained Greeks, they adopted many Egyptian customs, ruling in the tradition of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. They also involved themselves in incestuous marriages in a like manner of the Pharaohs. The Ptolemaic kings, all fifteen of whom were named Ptolemy, often married their sisters, who were commonly named Cleopatra, from the Greek kleos patris meaning famous parents.
One Egyptian custom that they did not adopt however was the language - the Ptolemies were avid Greek speakers. They made Greek the official language of Egypt, and many cities were given Greek names. The name Egypt is itself derived from Greek.
Ptolemy moved the capital of Egypt from Memphis to Alexandria - the city founded by Alexander the Great himself. From there, the Ptolemies ruled an empire that extended beyond Egypt to Israel, Cyrenaica, Cyprus and as far north as western Asia Minor (Turkey) and The Aegean Sea.
Alexandria became one of the greatest ancient centers of knowledge and trade. A great library was founded there (see Libraries). Many Jews also lived in the city and adopted Greek ways and language. The Septuagint, the Old Testament translation into Greek, was made by Jewish scholars in Alexandria.
Eventually the Ptolemaic kingdom was weakened by both internal struggles for control and the growing power of the Romans. Cleopatra VII was the last and generally most well-known of the Ptolemaic rulers. Although there were numerous Cleopatras, she is the one that made the name famous.
Cleopatra reigned with the political support of the Roman leader Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son. After Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome, Cleopatra became involved with the Roman general Marc Antony - a love and power relationship that lasted for 10 years. It ended when the forces of Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian in the battle of Actium. After Cleopatra, 39, and Antony, 53, both committed suicide (she by having a poisonous snake bite her), Egypt was absorbed by the Roman Empire (see Ancient Empires - Rome).
Fact Finder: Octavian is famous for his defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra. What census that he ordered, after he became Roman emperor under the name of Caesar Augustus, is he also famous for?