The Sources Speak: Diodorus on Ptolemy Pt 4

  • An index of the other posts in this series can be found here
  • I am using the Loeb Classical Library’s edition of Diodorus’ Library of History (Harvard University Press, 2004) for this post.

320 BC
IX. 18. 33 – 36
PP. 105 – 115
We left Ptolemy at the end of the last post preparing for war with Perdiccas. Diodorus tells us that arriving at the Nile river, Perdiccas tried to ‘clear out an old canal’ only for his work to be destroyed when the Nile broke through his barriers. This prompted a number of desertions from his army. The deserters did not just drift away but joined Ptolemy’s army. I wonder what else had happened that they decided to do this.
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Diodorus calls Perdiccas ‘a man of blood’, a usurper who ‘wished to rule all by force’. By contrast, Ptolemy ‘was generous and fair’ and even something of a democrat as he permitted all his commanders ‘the right to speak frankly’. Furthermore, he was a very intelligent general, having ‘secured all the most important points in Egypt’. This would help save his life when Antigonus and Demetrius attacked him in 306. Diodorus rightly considers that Ptolemy’s good character and strategic common sense gave him ‘the advantage in his undertakings, since he had many persons who were well disposed to him and ready to undergo danger gladly for his sake’.
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Putting his setback at the canal behind him, Perdiccas continued on his way. Following an overnight march, he arrived on the other side of the Nile opposite the Fort of Camels. At daybreak, Perdiccas crossed the river and began his assault. Ptolemy and his troops arrived to defend the position and battle was joined.
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As I read Diodorus’ account of this engagement I was not only struck by how favourably he treats Ptolemy – I am used to that now – but by how heroic he makes him. It reminded me of someone else. This is what he says,

  • Ptolemy… had the best soldiers near himself
  • [He] wished to encourage the other commanders and friends to face the dangers[, so posted] himself on the top of the outwork
  • … with utter contempt of the danger, [he struck and disabled] those who were coming up the ladders
  • Following [Ptolemy’s] example, his friends fought boldly…
  • … many heroic conflicts were occasioned by the personal prowess of Ptolemy and his exhortations to his friends to display both their loyalty and courage

I don’t know about you, but for me it is almost like reading about Alexander all over again. I have no trouble believing that Ptolemy was a brave and noble man but I feel sure now that Diodorus had some sort of pro-Ptolemaic agenda. Perhaps I am reading too much into the above passages but their similarity to how the sources talk about Alexander is inescapable.
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The siege of the Fort of Camels lasted all day. At nightfall, the two sides withdrew. Perdiccas must have returned to the far side of the Nile because that night he marched to another crossing point, this time opposite the city of Memphis. There, he attempted another crossing. It ended in disaster as the movement of his elephants, horses and men displaced the river bed, making a hollow that caused the river to become too deep to be traversed. Perdiccas ordered the men who had managed to make the crossing back. Those who could swim returned, but many were swept away and either drowned or were killed further downstream by crocodiles.
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In keeping with his noble character, Ptolemy gathered the bodies of the dead on his side of the river and cremated them according to Greek custom. The Perdiccan soldiers now not only had a reason to hate their general but a positive reason to like Ptolemy. No wonder then that they now revolted. This lead a group of senior officers – lead by or simply including Peithon and Arrhidaeus – to assassinate Perdiccas.
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Perdiccas was killed at night time. The next day, Ptolemy entered the camp ‘and spoke in defence of his… attitude’. I suspect he could have told them he was a dog and started woofing for all that they cared. Not because he was the winning general and could do what he liked, but because he brought with him grain and other supplies; for as well as being demoralised, Perdiccas’ men were hungry.
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On the day that Ptolemy entered the Perdiccan camp – rather bravely, I have to admit, as there must have still been soldiers loyal to the defeated general there – an event took place that changed the course of history: Ptolemy turned down the chance to become Alexander IV’s and Philip III Arrhidaeus’ guardian. Instead, although Ptolemy,

… was in a position to assume the guardianship of the kings… he did not grasp at this, but rather, since he owed a debt of gratitude to Pithon [sic] and Arrhidaeus, he used his influence to give them the supreme command.

Diodorus does not dwell on this moment but it is surely worthy of contemplation. Had Ptolemy gained control over the two kings he would have been de facto king of Macedon and Alexander’s empire. But only for as long as the other successors accepted his authority, which, of course, they wouldn’t have – no more than Ptolemy bowed to Perdiccas when he came knocking on Egypt’s door. By letting Peithon and Arrhidaeus take on the burden of looking after the kings, Ptolemy surely did as much for the safe keeping of his satrapy and possibility of a Ptolemaic dynasty with all that that gave us than any fight.
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Diodorus’ next few references to Ptolemy are very short and not particularly enlightening in terms of his character, so let’s quickly run through them.
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320 BC
IX. 18. 39
p. 121
The Triparadeisus Conference.

To Ptolemy [Antipater] assigned what was already his, for it was impossible to displace him, since he seemed to be holding Egypt by virtue of his own prowess as if it were a prize of war.

Well, Diodorus, it was a prize of war – Alexander’s; with all due respect to Perdiccas, Ptolemy himself had not yet fought a full-on battle to defend his territory.
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320 BC
IX. 18. 43
p. 133
In the aftermath of his defeat of Perdiccas.

As for Egypt, Ptolemy, after he had unexpectedly rid himself of Perdiccas and the royal forces, was holding that land as if it were a prize of war. Seeing that Phoenicia and Coelê Syria, as it was called, were conveniently situated for an offensive against Egypt, he set about in earnest to become master of those regions.

This is more the Ptolemy that I am used to reading about – the pragmatist who moves because he needs to not because he wants  – much less because has a pothos. Actually, that makes him sound really counter-cultural. We’ll see how well that view stands up in the rest of this series.
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319 BC
IX. 18. 49
p. 147
Before his death, Antipater appointed Polyperchon to the regency of the two kings. This angered his (Antipater’s) son, Cassander, who thought that the role should have gone to him. He built a secret alliance against Polyperchon comprising of his Macedonian friends.

He also sent envoys in secret to Ptolemy, renewing their friendship and urging him to join the alliance and to send a fleet as soon as possible from Phoenicia to the Hellespont.

Ptolemy may have sent a positive response to Cassander but he didn’t give him a fleet. With no chance of success for his plot in Macedon, therefore…
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319 BC
IX. 18. 54
PP. 161 – 63
… Cassander travelled to Asia Minor, and the court of Antigonus Monophthalmus. There, he told the one-eyed general ‘that Ptolemy also had promised to be an ally’. Back in Macedon, Polyperchon knew that,

... Cassander would also gain as allies Ptolemy the ruler of Egypt, and Antigonus, who had already openly rebelled against the kings, and each of them possessed great armies and abundant wealth and was master of many nations and cities of consequence.

Well, yes, Ptolemy had rebelled against the kings (i.e. when he had fought Perdiccas), and he probably did have a pretty decent and big army; I am sure that he even had ‘abundant wealth’ but Diodorus is surely exaggerating over the extent of his domain. Many nations? Also, ‘cities of consequence’?  I hope he is not talking about Alexandria here; surely it was still being built.
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318 BC
IX. 18. 62
p. 181
Eumenes called a meeting of the diadochi. After breaking his alliance with Antigonus, he needed soldiers, and they would not be forthcoming unless he could get the support of the other successors. He called a meeting, claiming that he had seen Alexander giving orders to his senior officers in a dream, and that the successors should imitate what had happened; the meeting went well, but not all were convinced…

Ptolemy, who had sailed to Zephyrium in Cilicia with a fleet, kept sending to the commanders of the Silver Shields, exhorting them not to pay any attention to Eumenes, whom all the Macedonians had condemned to death.

By ‘all the Macedonians’ he means the Perdiccan soldiers who had sentenced Eumenes to death after hearing of his victory over Craterus and Neoptolemus.
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318 BC
IX. 18. 73
p. 211

After Eumenes had news of Antigonus’ move, he thought to recover for the kings Phoenicia, which had been unjustly occupied by Ptolemy…

Antigonus’ move was to Cilicia in south-eastern Asia Minor to complete his take over of the region by destroying Eumenes before the Cardian could build up his army. Diodorus rather gives the impression that Eumenes decided to attack Phoenicia after hearing that Antigonus was coming after him, which would be a little odd. At the same time, though, he says that the news of Antigonus ‘forestalled’ Eumenes’ invasion and that he then marched north to make contact with the upper satrapies of Syria. The reason why Diodorus says Ptolemy was occupying Phoenicia unjustly is because Ptolemy seized it from Laomedon (320), who he then took captive (this is described on p. 133).
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That brings us to the end of this post. Ptolemy’s next appearance in Diodorus’ history is in 316 when he gives shelter to Seleucus who had been forced out of his satrapy of Babylonia by Antigonus. We’ll learn more about that and what happened next in the next post.

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