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definition - Ptolemy_VIII_Physcon

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Ptolemy VIII Physcon

  Silver didrachma of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II (Physcon) - obverse
Numbering the Ptolemies is a modern invention; the Greeks distinguished them by epithet (nickname). The number given here is the present consensus, but there has been some disagreement in the nineteenth century about which of the later Ptolemies should be counted as reigning. Since older sources may give a number one higher or lower, epithets are the most reliable way of determining which Ptolemy is being referred to in any given case.

Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Εὐεργέτης, Ptolemaĩos Euergétēs) (c. 182 BC – June 26, 116 BC), nicknamed 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 older brother Ptolemy VI Philometor and let him continue as a puppet monarch. Then Alexandria chose Ptolemy Euergetes as king.

  Monumental stele attributed to Ptolemy VIII, glorifying his rule and describing his support of Egyptian gods. The stele was written in Egyptian hieroglyphs as well as Greek.

After Antiochus left (169 BC), Euergetes agreed to joint rule with 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 somewhat helpful with the arrangement, 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. 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. However 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. During this time he met Cornelia Africana, who was recently widowed following the death of her husband Tiberius Gracchus Major, and asked for her hand in marriage, which she refused. (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 intellectuals of Alexandria who had opposed him, engaging in mass purges and expulsions that included Aristarchus of Samothrace and Apollodorus of Athens, leaving Alexandria a changed city. In 145 BC, "he expelled all intellectuals: philologists, philosophers, professors of geometry, musicians, painters, schoolteachers, physicians and others, with the result that these brought 'education to Greeks and barbarians elsewhere,' as mentioned by an author who may have been one of the king's victims" (Menecles of Barca, FGrHist 270 F 9).[1]

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, 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.


  1. ^ Christian Habicht, Hellenistic Athens and her Philosophers, David Magie Lecture, Princeton University Program in the History, Archaeology, and Religions of the Ancient World, 1988, p. 9.

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Preceded by:
Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II
Ptolemaic King of Egypt
First Reign
with Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II
Succeeded by:
Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II
Preceded by:
Ptolemy VII and Cleopatra II
Ptolemaic King of Egypt
Second Reign
with Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III
Succeeded by:
Cleopatra II
Preceded by:
Cleopatra II
Ptolemaic King of Egypt
Third Reign
with Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III
Succeeded by:
Ptolemy IX and Cleopatra III



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