Ptolemy VIII Physcon

Ptolemy VIII Physcon


Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II ( _el. Πτολεμαῖος Εὐεργέτης, "Ptolemaĩos Euergétēs") (c. 182 BC–26 June 116 BC), nicknamed _gr. Φύσκων, "Phúskōn", Physcon ("Sausage", "Potbelly" or "Bladder") for his obesity, was a king of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. His complicated career started in 170 BC, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Egypt, captured his brother Ptolemy VI Philometor and let him continue as a puppet monarch. Then Alexandria chose Ptolemy Euergetes as king.

After Antiochus left (169 BC), Euergetes agreed to joint rule with his older brother Ptolemy VI Philometor and Cleopatra II. This arrangement led to continuous intrigues, lasting until October 164 BC, when Philometor went to Rome to gain support from the Senate, who were a little helpful, but Physcon's sole rule was not popular, and in May 163 BC the two brothers agreed to a partition that left Physcon in charge of Cyrenaica.

Although the arrangement lasted until Philometor's death in 145 BC, it did not end the sparring. Physcon convinced the Senate to back his claim on Cyprus, but Philometor ignored this, and after Physcon's attempt to conquer the island failed, in 161 BC] the Senate sent Philometor's ambassadors home. Sometime around 156 BC/155 BC Philometor tried to have Physcon assassinated, but this failed, and Physcon went to Rome, displayed the scars of wounds he received in the attempt, and despite the opposition of Cato the Elder, received the Senate's support and some resources for another attempt on Cyprus. (An inscription records that Physcon had bequeathed Cyrenaica to Rome if he died childless, an act not mentioned by any literary source.)

The second attempt on Cyprus also failed, and Philometor captured Physcon, but spared him, offering him the hand of his daughter Cleopatra Thea, and sent him back to Cyrenaica.

When Philometor died on campaign in 145 BC, Cleopatra II had her son proclaimed Ptolemy VII, but Physcon returned, proposed joint rule and marriage to Cleopatra II, his sister. He then had the unlucky youth assassinated during the wedding feast. He then took the throne as "Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II", the name deliberately recalling his ancestor Ptolemy III Euergetes, and had himself proclaimed as pharaoh in 144 BC.

Physcon took his revenge on the Jews and intellectuals of Alexandria who had opposed him, engaging in mass purges and expulsions that included Aristarchus of Samothrace and Apollodorus, leaving Alexandria a changed city.

He then seduced and married Cleopatra III (who was his wife's daughter) without divorcing Cleopatra II, who was infuriated, and by 132 BC or 131 BC, the people of Alexandria rioted and set fire to the royal palace. Physcon, Cleopatra III, and their children escaped to Cyprus, while Cleopatra II had their twelve-year-old son Ptolemy Memphitis acclaimed as king. Physcon was however able to get hold of the boy and killed him, sending the dismembered pieces to Cleopatra.

The ensuing civil war pitted Cleopatra's Alexandria against the countryside, who supported Physcon. Cleopatra offered the throne of Egypt to Demetrius II Nicator, but he got no further than Pelusium, and by 127 BC Cleopatra left for Syria, leaving Alexandria to hold out for another year.

After further intrigues, Cleopatra II ended up back in Egypt in 124 BC, and about this time Physcon sent his second daughter by Cleopatra III, Cleopatra Tryphaena, to marry Antiochus VIII Philometor. A formal amnesty decree followed in 118 BC, but it was insufficient to improve government, and the Romans would soon be forced to intervene after his death in 116 BC.

When he died, he left the throne to Cleopatra III and one of her sons, whichever she preferred. She would have chosen her younger son Alexander to have reigned with her. However, the Alexandrians wanted her older son Philometer Soter, governor of Cyprus, to co-reign. She reluctantly complied, with Philometer taking the name Ptolemy IX, though her younger son would also rule at one point.

External links

* [*.html Ptolemy Euergetes II at LacusCurtius] — (Chapter X of E. R Bevan's "House of Ptolemy", 1923)
* [ Ptolemy VIII Physcon] entry in historical sourcebook by Mahlon H. Smith

Print references

* Peter Green, "Alexander to Actium" (University of California Press, 1990) ISBN 0-520-05611-6
* Peter Nadig, "Zwischen König und Karikatur: Das Bild Ptolemaios’ VIII. im Spannungsfeld der Überlieferung" (C.H. Beck, 2007) ISBN 978-3-406-55949-5

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