The Sources Speak

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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The Sources Speak: Diodorus on Ptolemy Pt 3

  • 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.

322/21 BC
Antipater and Craterus were fighting Aetolia when Antigonus joined them. He brought bad news – Perdiccas intended to overthrow Antipater and use his regency of Alexander IV and Philip III Arrhidaeus to make himself master of Macedon.
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Antipater and Craterus summoned their senior officers and held a meeting with them to discuss this unpleasant development. Fortunately, there was total agreement on what needed to be done: 1. Make peace with the Aetolians. They could be left for another day. 2. Antipater and Craterus to take their armies to Asia Minor as quickly as possible thereafter so as to meet the threat posed by Perdiccas. 3. An embassy to be sent to Ptolemy,

… to discuss concerted action, since he was utterly hostile to Perdiccas but friendly to them…
(IX. 8. 25. p. 85)

This is Diodorus’ first reference to Ptolemy since his account of the help that Ptolemy gave to the Cyrenian exiles (as mentioned in the last post).
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While Antipater, Craterus and Antipater were holding their council, Perdiccas was in a meeting of his own with his ‘friends and generals’ (Ibid, p. 87). During it, he asked them,

… whether it was better to march against Macedonia or first to take the field against Ptolemy.
(IX. 8. 25. p. 87)

Perdiccas’ counsellors favoured fighting Ptolemy first so that ‘there might be no obstacle in the way of their Macedonian campaign’ (Ibid). Given Ptolemy’s enmity, and the fact that Antipater and Craterus had decided to ask him for his help, this was a wise move.
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Having said that, in this age of fluid alliances and friendships, I must admit that a part of me is a little surprised that Perdiccas did not make any effort to form an alliance with Ptolemy. Not only would it have removed any danger that he posed but it would have also isolated Antipater and Craterus that little bit more.
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322/21 BC
Diodorus tells us that Arridaeus (a Macedonian officer, not Philip III) ‘spent nearly two years’ making Alexander’s funeral carriage. It was a vehicle of great splendour and, it seems, even quite technologically advanced on account of being fitted with some kind of suspension system.
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Once the vehicle had been finished, he led it out of Babylon along with its bodyguard and ‘a crowd of roadmenders and mechanics’ (p.95). According to Diodorus, Arrhidaeus,

… brought the body of the king from Babylon to Egypt. Ptolemy… doing honour to Alexander, went to meet [the cortege]… receiving the body [he] deemed it worthy of the greatest consideration. He decided for the present not to send it to Ammon, but to entomb it in the city that had been founded by Alexander himself…
(IX. 8. 28. p. 95)

He decided… not to send it to Ammon‘. By Ammon, I presume that Diodorus means Siwa.
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I have always understood that the intention was to send Alexander’s body to Macedon but now that I think about it I don’t know the origin of this view. Arrian and Plutarch don’t seem to mention what happened to his body at all, while Curtius says simply that ‘Alexander’s body was taken to Memphis by Ptolemy’ and from there transported to Alexandria.
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Have I got it wrong? I don’t thinks so, because Livius says,

In December 322, Perdiccas sent the remains of Alexander to the tomb that had been prepared in Macedonia’s religious capital, Aegae.
Livius

Where did Livius get its information? Perhaps it is Justin. I don’t have a copy of his Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus so can’t check. If you know the answer to this question, I’d be delighted to hear it; do leave a comment in the combox.
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Once Ptolemy had taken Alexander’s body to Egypt, he had to prepare for Perdiccas’ coming. The following passage from Diodorus will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read the previous two posts in this series.

… men, because of [Ptolemy’s] graciousness and nobility of heart, came together eagerly from all sides to Alexandria and gladly enrolled for the campaign, although the army of the kings was about to fight against that of Ptolemy; and, even though the risks were manifest and great, yet all of them willingly took upon themselves at their personal risk the preservation of Ptolemy’s safety. The gods also saved him unexpectedly from the greatest dangers on account of his courage and his honest treatment of all his friends.
(IX. 8. 28. p. 95)

At this point, I have to remind myself that Diodorus wrote his history three hundred years after Ptolemy’s death, based it mainly on Cleitarchus (not Ptolemy’s more self-serving work as used by Arrian) and had no reason that I can think of to praise Ptolemy so highly, except because that is how he is presented by his sources who – ultimately – were Macedonian soldiers. Can you think of another reason?
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Counterfactual
Ptolemy’s popularity gives me an excuse to mention the following. If Hephaestion had lived, he rather of Perdiccas (his successor as chiliarch) would have divided the empire up at the Babylon Conference. Whether or not the senior officers and phalanx still (almost) came to blows, I think that Hephaestion would eventually have become the latter’s natural leader. The phalanx was pro-Argead; Hephaestion was the philalexandros, how could they not join together? But as Diodorus indicates, Ptolemy was the man with the bravery and grace. He and Hephaestion would have made either very interesting (powerful) allies, or sharply contrasting and yet alike, enemies.
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Sadly, Hephaestion didn’t live, so we have to return to what actually happened. Namely, that seeing how powerful Ptolemy had become (Ibid) Perdiccas decided that he would lead the war against him himself. Perhaps it was Ptolemy’s popularity that caused Perdiccas to reject any possibility of a rapprochement with him: he feared that if they joined up he risked his authority being undermined by the more popular man. That fear was justified, as we’ll find out in the next post.

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The Sources Speak: Diodorus on Ptolemy Pt 2

  • 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.

Introduction
In the last post we saw how Ptolemy was only mentioned twice by Diodorus in Book 8 of his Library of History. Firstly, when Alexander saved his life after Ptolemy was poisoned. Secondly, when Alexander split his army into three to lay waste to the low, middle and high country of the land on the border of Oreitis. Alexander gave himself responsibility for attacking the upper (hill) country, Leonnatus the responsibility for despoiling the interior, and Ptolemy responsibilty for devastating the land by the sea.
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The second mention of Ptolemy is made without further comment in respect of his character or how (well) he carried out his orders. The mission was a success, though, for as Diodorus records,

… much country was wasted, so that every spot was filled with fire and devastation and great slaughter. The soldiers soon became possessed of much booty, and the number of persons killed reached many myriads.
(Diodorus VIII. Bk. 17. p. 421-2)

The first mention of Ptolemy is much more interesting as Diodorus tells us that Alexander was very close to him, and that Ptolemy himself was much loved by the Macedonian soldiers on account of his ‘character and kindness to all’.
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323 BC
We pick up the story in Babylon, just two years after the events described above. Alexander is dead, and his senior officers are in the Royal Palace listening to Perdiccas tell them which satrapies he has decided to allocate to who.

… he gave Egypt to Ptolemy, son of Lagus…
(IX. 18. p. 17)

Diodorus makes no further mention of Ptolemy here. But in a way, he doesn’t need to; not when it comes to Ptolemy’s capability as a general, anyway. Had he not been a very good one, I very much doubt that Perdiccas would have entrusted such an important country to him.
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But what about Ptolemy’s character? We know, of course, that the men liked him – could that have played a part in Perdiccas’ considerations? I think so, but only alongside Ptolemy’s perceived loyalty to the Argead cause. Remember, the phalanx and senior officers had already almost come to blows over what should happen to Alexander’s empire. The phalanx wanted Alexander’s mentally disabled brother, Arrhidaeus, to be made king; but the senior officers disagreed. The two sides prepared for a fight until conciliators managed to bring them both together. As a result of the proceeding ‘Babylon Conference’, Arrhidaeus was indeed named king, but only with Perdiccas as his regent. I would like to suggest that Ptolemy was given Egypt, in part or in whole, as part of an attempt by Perdiccas to assure the Argeads that they had a place at the high table of power. A kind of quid pro quo for Perdiccas holding the regency.
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323/22 BC

In Asia, of those who had shared in the division of the satrapies, Ptolemy took over Egypt without difficulty and was treating the inhabitants with kindness. Finding eight thousand talents in the treasury, he began to collect mercenaries and to form an army. A multitude of friends also gathered about him on account of his fairness. With Antipater he carried on a diplomatic correspondence that led to a treaty of co-operation, since he well knew that Perdiccas would attempt to wrest from him the satrapy of Egypt.
(IX. 18. p. 51)

Once again, Diodorus highlights Ptolemy’s kind character. It is hard not to believe, however, that at least a few of those ‘friends’ were attracted to the 8,000 talents Ptolemy held as much as they were to Ptolemy himself.
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Ptolemy’s ‘kindness’ towards the Egyptians is still noteworthy as imperial powers are not generally known for treating the their subjects with respect. One imperialist did, though – Alexander. Was Ptolemy, then, emulating his standard of rule? Possibly, although maybe he really was just a very kind natured person; I suspect, though, that as with all human beings, Ptolemy had mixed motives for ruling in the way he did. After all, by treating his subjects well, he made friends with the powerful priestly class who could, had it wanted, made his life very difficult.
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Diodorus’ observation that Ptolemy ‘well knew that Perdiccas would attempt to wrest… the satrapy of Egypt’ from him suggests to me that Perdiccas did indeed appoint Ptolemy to his post for political reasons rather than because he thought Ptolemy was the best choice.
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322/21 BC
Ptolemy’s arrival in Egypt appears to have taken place around the same time as the Lamian War. Not long after his arrival, he received a visit from a group of rich Cyrenians who had been thrown out of Cyrene by the commoners as a result of Thibron’s siege, which was causing the city great hardship.
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The exiles asked Ptolemy for his help in restoring them to their city. Seeing the opportunity to extend his power and influence in the region (Cyrenaica was in eastern Libya, right next to Egypt), Ptolemy sent,

… a considerable force, both infantry and naval, with Ophellas as general.
(IX. 18. p. 75)

The new leaders of Cyrene were so dismayed by the return of the exiles that they agreed terms with Thibron and made common cause with him against the Ptolemaic army. It was to no avail, however; Ophellas defeated the joint army, captured Thibron and took Cyrenaica, which he then ‘delivered… to Ptolemy the king’ (Ibid, p. 77). In actual fact, it would be another 17 or so years before Ptolemy would claim that title.
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Ptolemy’s opportunism was not a characteristic that was unique to him. All of Alexander’s Successors had this trait. For his part, Ptolemy used it alongside his natural cautiousness, a trait we will see more of in the future. Thus, while he never sought to empire build like people such as Antigonus and Seleucus, he would where he was able, grab land and power, releasing both quickly if circumstance turned against him, only to return later.

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The Sources Speak: Diodorus on Ptolemy Pt 1

An index of the other posts in this series can be found here

Ptolemy I Soter

Ptolemy I Soter

Introduction
Now that I have finished my series of posts on the Wars of the Successors I would like to look at how some of them are represented in the individual sources from the beginning of the source writer’s narrative until the subject’s death or 301 BC when Diodorus’ history of the successor period ends. My first subject is Ptolemy Lagides.
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A Surprise
As I am already reading Arrian for my Letters posts, I thought I would start this series of posts with another source – Diodorus Siculus.
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To begin then; when I opened up the Index to Book VIII of his Library of History this morning, I expected to see any number of references to Ptolemy. Much to my surprise, however, Diodorus mentions him only twice. In April 325, Alexander attacked the city of Harmatelia (AKA Harmata). The Brahminic army fought with weapons smeared with a deadly drug. Here is Diodorus’ description of its effect – not for the faint hearted!

The power of the drug was derived from certain snakes which were caught and killed and left in the sun. The heat melted the substance of the flesh and drops of moisture formed; in this moisture the poison of the animals was secreted. When a man was wounded, the body became numb immediately and then sharp pains followed, and convulsions and shivering shook the whole frame. The skin became cold and livid and bile appeared in the vomit, while a black froth was exuded from the wound and gangrene set in. As this spread quickly and overran to the vital parts of the body, it brought a horrible death to the victim.

Depending on how you look at things, you could say that this was an early form of chemical warfare.
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Ptolemy’s Deadly Injury
Diodorus doesn’t tell us how many Macedonians were injured fighting the Brahmins’ army, only that ‘some of [his] forces were’. One of those wounded, though, was Ptolemy. Here are two interesting snippets of information that Diodorus has to say about him.

  1. … Alexander was not so much concerned [for the other wounded], but he was deeply distressed for Ptolemy… who was much beloved by him
  2. [Ptolemy] was loved by all because of his character and his kindnesses to all

(1) I am quite sure that Alexander was concerned for all his injured men and that Diodorus, rather crassly, is suggesting otherwise simply to foreground the king’s love for Ptolemy. If I’m right, it is the same kind of simplification that Oliver Stone makes in his film of Alexander for the sake of the story. Nothing new under the sun, as they say!
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(2) In case you are wondering, Diodorus doesn’t use Ptolemy as a source for his work! Actually, this was my second surprise. Given how close Ptolemy was to Alexander, I would have thought his memoir would have been required reading for historians.
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According to Livius, Diodorus’ source is Cleitarchus. The latter’s source is said by the chart to be soldiers in the Macedonian army itself. If this is so, it would give credibility to Diodorus’ second statement above, which does seem rather over-the-top otherwise.
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The King Has Healing Hands
How did Ptolemy survive his horrible injury? According to Diodorus, Alexander himself came to the rescue.

The king saw a vision in his sleep. It seemed to him that a snake appeared carrying a plant in its mouth, and showed him its nature and efficacy and the place where it grew. When Alexander awoke, he sought out the plant, and grinding it up plastered it on Ptolemy’s body. He also prepared an infusion of the plant and gave Ptolemy a drink of it. This restored him to health.

It’s easy to be cynical about these kind of dreams that we read so much about in antiquity but if there is a god or gods why wouldn’t they use them to communicate with their people? Admittedly, Diodorus doesn’t say that that is what happened here; I am just assuming that the dream did not come from Alexander’s subconscious. Although, now that I think about it, perhaps he was once told about the plant and its healing powers, so that now, in his dream, as he worried over his dying friend, he remembered it again.
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Otherwise, I can only wonder why Diodorus uses the dream trope to explain Alexander’s knowledge. I presume it must add something to his character as he is generally favourable to the king. Unfortunately, I just don’t know enough about the matter to say.
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One final point – Arrian, whose chief source is Ptolemy, does not mention this incident. Did Ptolemy decide not to mention it (and if so, why, as it shows he had Alexander’s close friendship), or was it Arrian who chose to omit it?
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Ptolemy the General
Ptolemy’s second appearance in Diodorus’ History follows on from the first. Upon reaching ‘the frontiers of Oreitis’ Alexander ‘divided his force into three divisions and named as commander of the first, Ptolemy’. The son of Lagus was given orders to ‘plunder the district by the sea’. Leonnatus and Alexander himself led the other two divisions and the country was laid waste to.
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And that for Ptolemy, as far as Diodorus is concerned, is that. We won’t meet him again until the Wars of the Successors, which the Diodorus covers in Books XI – XII. So that is where we will go next.
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  • My edition of Diodorus is the Loeb Classical Library (1963). The quotations can be found in Book VIII pp. 415-21
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