The Ptolemies, Rise of a Dynasty: Ptolemaic Egypt 330–246 BC

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Review

Arienne King
by
published on 17 June 2024
The Ptolemies, Rise of a Dynasty: Ptolemaic Egypt 330–246 BC
Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Title: The Ptolemies, Rise of a Dynasty: Ptolemaic Egypt 330–246 BC
Author: John D. Grainger
Audience: General Public
Difficulty: Easy
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Published: 2022
Pages: 309

The first volume of John D. Grainger's trilogy on the Ptolemaic Kingdom provides an overview of Ptolemaic history from 330 to 246 BCE. It explains the formation of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, focusing on the reign of Ptolemy II. A new overview of the Ptolemies is a timely idea but the result is underwhelming. The book adequately covers the dynasty's development and interactions with neighboring states. Yet, Grainger's shallow grasp of politics and society in Ptolemaic Egypt decreases its value.

In the introduction, Grainger makes the disconcertingly false claim that Ptolemaic Egypt’s political and military affairs were solely the province of Greek immigrants. He further states that no native Egyptian held office “above the level of the village headman.”(xii) This statement seemingly ignores the plethora of evidence for Egyptian governors, ministers, scribes, and priests who helped to run Egypt during the reign of Alexander the Great and his successors. Strangely, Grainger contradicts himself later in the book by briefly touching on Egyptian participation in the Ptolemaic military and political administration.

This book shines in its description of Mediterranean power struggles.

This initial flawed premise may be excused as a pretext for Grainger to focus on the historical accounts of Greek authors rather than on evidence from Ptolemaic Egypt. This would be an understandable decision on its own merit, as Greek history should be closer to the author's area of expertise. Unfortunately, the book falls short of even this limited goal. The usual primary sources are cited to build the basic framework of Ptolemaic history, but there is little critical analysis of these sources. The Ptolemies, Rise of a Dynasty is primarily a succinct summary of ancient authors such as Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Justin, Pausanias, and Curtus Rufius, although it is not usable as a sourcebook.

Grainger succeeds in explaining the creation of fundamental Ptolemaic institutions, such as the royal cult, sibling marriage, and the cleruchic system of landed settler-soldiers. His grasp on Ptolemaic bureaucracy and fiscal policy is somewhat weaker, but this is fortunately not a focus of the book. Grainger makes the case that the foundational dynastic policies established under Ptolemy II, whose reign is often considered a high point in Ptolemaic history, actually paved the way for the dynasty's demise. He states that “the autocratic, extravagant, and unmilitary choices of Ptolemy II contributed directly to his empire’s eventual collapse.” (p. 260) This is an interesting idea, although it is never fully developed or expanded upon.

This book shines in its description of Mediterranean power struggles, guiding readers through Ptolemy I’s wars against the other Diadochi and Ptolemy II’s coastal wars from Asia Minor up to the Aegean. The Ptolemaic Kingdom's connections with the broader ancient world, from India to the Black Sea, are also mentioned. The first two Syrian Wars feature prominently, establishing the central conflict between the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire. The book closes with a brief period of peace during the end of Ptolemy II's reign, though readers are left with a good impression of how the seeds of future conflicts had already been shown.

The book has a handful of basic maps at the beginning, which are sufficient to help readers visualize where the action takes place. There is a collection of mostly public-domain images in the middle of the book. Grainger is at his best in the endnotes, when he is pointing readers in the direction of better books such as Gunther Hölbl’s A History of the Ptolemaic Empire (2001).

John D. Grainger is a former teacher and independent scholar. He has authored numerous books on Classical history, including multiple volumes dealing with the Hellenistic period and the Diadochi.

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About the Reviewer

Arienne King
Arienne King is a writer and historical consultant specializing in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. She has written for publications such as Ancient History Magazine, and Ancient World Magazine. She is also a panelist on AskHistorians.

Cite This Work

APA Style

King, A. (2024, June 17). The Ptolemies, Rise of a Dynasty: Ptolemaic Egypt 330–246 BC. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/review/455/the-ptolemies-rise-of-a-dynasty-ptolemaic-egypt-33/

Chicago Style

King, Arienne. "The Ptolemies, Rise of a Dynasty: Ptolemaic Egypt 330–246 BC." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 17, 2024. https://www.worldhistory.org/review/455/the-ptolemies-rise-of-a-dynasty-ptolemaic-egypt-33/.

MLA Style

King, Arienne. "The Ptolemies, Rise of a Dynasty: Ptolemaic Egypt 330–246 BC." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 17 Jun 2024. Web. 19 Jul 2024.

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