Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.02

R. A. Hazzard, Imagination of a Monarchy: Studies in Ptolemaic Propaganda (Phoenix Supplementary Volume, 37).   Toronto:  Univ. of Toronto Press, 2000.  Pp. xii, 244.  ISBN 0-8020-4313-5.  $60.00.  

Reviewed by Peter C. Nadig, Ancient History, RWTH-Aachen
Word count: 1485 words

R.A. Hazzard is an expert on Ptolemaic numismatics and has written numerous contributions to Ptolemaic studies in the past years. Naturally he draws heavily on coinage throughout his book that is under review here. Its main theme concerns the gradual transformation of royal power in the Ptolemaic dynasty by which the queens reached a stronger position towards their male associates during the second and first centuries BC. The author intends to prove the origins for this development in the propaganda of Ptolemy II, which had the aim of glorifying the king's sister Arsinoe II and also to introduce a more civilian style of kingship. The aim for Ptolemy's propaganda was to influence his subjects, friends at court, and allies in Greece and Asia Minor. As a consequence of, the Ptolemaic queens obtained an increasingly powerful role. So by the middle of the second century, the queen had equal power with the king (as was the case with Kleopatra II and her brother Ptolemy VIII), and some of the later queens gained dominance or absolute power over their fellow rulers. With each of the six main chapters of "Imagination of a Monarchy" Hazzard intends to support his general thesis.

The first chapter ("When did Ptolemy II Style his Father as Ptolemaios Soter?") proposes that the second Ptolemy started calling his late father Ptolemaios Soter in his 23rd year (263/62 BC). Hazzard compiles and discusses the documentary evidence. A key element for his thesis is derived from the dating of the famous procession of Ptolemy II. It is described by Kallixeinos of Rhodes (FGrH 627 F 2) and in Athenaeus. Hazzard and M.P.V. FitzGerald have dated it to the year 262. This conclusion is based on astronomical data and, according to the author, has remained unchallenged so far.1 The chapter concludes with two tables. The first (p. 18 f.) shows the development of the Soter-name in the (mostly Coile-Syrian) coinage under Ptolemy II; the second (p. 20-24) lists the change in the royal protocols in inscriptions and papyri (including the equivalents in Phoenician and demotic Egyptian). Its noteworthy that the term "Ptolemaios, (son) of Ptolemaios Soteros" seems evident only after the year 259 BC.

In the following chapter (p. 25-46) Hazzard presents the evidence for a "Soter Era", which according to him is either ignored or not believed by scholars of Ptolemaic Egypt. This era is supposed to have started by 262 BC. To support this the author infers his first point of reference from the Marmor Parium (FGrH 2B, 239) and goes on to glean the numismatic and literary sources (basically Kallixeinos) for further support. He also draws on astronomical references found in the sources to argue that the king intended to fix the four-year cycle of the Ptolemaia festival (which originated in 282) to the winter from 262 onwards. Since the Macedonian calendar had a year with 354 days, he added a thirteenth month of 30 days every two years to accommodate his aims (p. 33-36). In a subchapter the political motives of Ptolemy II are analyzed. Here the scholarly view derived from the ancient authors (patron of the arts and benefactor to those in his service) is contrasted with that of the documentary evidence (industrious ruler who is gathering facts, giving orders and making inspections). It is also pointed out that the king was not very popular as a result of his heavy taxation, his murder of family members and his incestuous marriage to his sister Arsinoe II during the first two decades of his reign. So by introducing the Soter era, thus celebrating his divine parents, he intended to draw a line and "saying in effect 'all the murders, scandals, and disappointments of the past are now behind us. This is the beginning of a new age" (p. 44).

A small chapter (p. 47-58) is devoted to the Nikouria decree (SIG 1.390 = IG XII.7). Hazzard gives a detailed discussion of the content of this stele found on the small island of Nikouria in 1893 and the subsequent debate regarding its date. This inscription contains the reply by Ptolemy II to a previous appeal that the Island League send delegates to Samos to discuss its participation in games and sacrifices honoring his father. While most earlier scholars have dated this decree around the year 280 BC., Hazzard postulates the year 263 and investigates the role of the Ptolemaia festival during the Chremonidean war (267-262 BC).

The Grand Procession as described by Kallixeinos is the subject of the fourth chapter (p. 59-79). After a brief introduction to the subject, Kallixeinos as source is being investigated. In the past the exact date of Ptolemy's celebration has been debated and was usual set between 285/84 and 275/74 BC., but Hazzard suggests the year 262. In the sub-paragraph "The Pageant as Propaganda" (p. 66-75) he looks at several elements in the parade which seem to indicate that Ptolemy II introduced the Soter era in Alexandria. A further aim of this procession was "to justify and popularize" a more civilian style of monarchy, and this apparently succeeded.

Some of the most important innovations of the second Ptolemy concerns his incestuous marriage with his full-sister Arsinoe II and its subsequent impact of the dynastic cult. This pattern of marriage was followed by most of Ptolemy's successors. Chapter 5 "Arsinoe II and the Importance of Perception" (p. 82-100) deals with this issue. Arsinoe had married her brother before 274 and had died in the year 268 (the conventional date is 270). During the years of her brief reign as co-regent of the Ptolemaic empire, she had exercised an influential though not uncontroversial role. Soon after her death she was made into a goddess. While the marriage to her brother found some backing in Greek mythology (the legend of Zeus wedding Hera), it found little sympathy among the Greek population of the empire and even aroused opposition, the native Egyptians had naturally less problem with that. After a detailed summary of the incestuous marriage (p. 90-93), Arsinoe's role at court (p. 93-96) and the scholarly discussion on her real influence (p. 96-99) is evaluated. Even though the question how far the Queen exercised a dominant role over her sibling during her lifetime continues to be debated, Hazzard argues against a domineering impact and suggests that at least two points can be agreed upon: the 'perception' of Arsinoe's powers was common to those outside the court during the reign of Ptolemy II, and this 'perception' was influential in shaping the role of the Ptolemaic queens during the following two centuries.

The concluding main chapter "Monarchy as Imagination: Propaganda and the Role of the Ptolemaic Queen" (p. 101-159) covers the gradual rise of the female co-rulers over time. Here each reigning constellation is discussed in chronological order down to Kleopatra VII and her sons. Hazzard starts this chapter with a family tree of the dynasty.2 One guiding principle emerges from the history of the Ptolemies: the piety towards their ancestors. Here Arsinoe II stands out as a precedent that was evoked in later times after Kleopatra I when the queens gained more power.

Four appendices are added: The first explores the date and purpose of the Marmor Parium (p. 161-167); Appendix 2 deals with Ptolemaic officials in the Nikouria decree (p. 168-175); Appendix 3 (p. 176-179) takes a look at an inscription dedicated to Ptolemy IV Philopator found in Jaffa 1961 (cf. SEG XX, 467). For this last Hazzard offers a new reading and challenges the original restoration by Lifchitz, who saw it as evidence for the introduction of a cult to Ptolemy II after the battle of Raphia in 217. The fourth Appendix (p. 180-188) provides a Ptolemaic chronology until the year 105 BC, in which new dates and submissions are marked with an asterisk. The book closes with a bibliography and several very practical indices sorted by ancient authors, inscriptions, Greek papyri and ostraka, demotic papyri and ostraka, and person and subjects.

Hazzard's main thesis concerns the re-dating of several events and sources from the time of Ptolemy II: 1. The styling of Ptolemy I as Ptolemaios Soter after 263/62, 2. the introduction of Soter Era in 262, 3. the dating of the Nikouria Decree to the year 263, 4. the fixing of the Ptolemaia to the winter and the grand Pompe in 262. These are indeed challenging conclusions, which the author presents very convincingly while citing numerous sources. Its remains to be seen how far his theses will be accepted, as they surely will be debated. This book, however, is not the ultimate work on Ptolemaic propaganda and self-representation. The ruler cult is not wholly covered after Arsinoe II and the Egyptian (i.e. Pharaonic) elements of Ptolemaic ideology are mentioned only in passing. This notwithstanding Hazzard's contribution is one the most important books on Ptolemaic studies in recent years, which no one can ignore who is writing on Ptolemy II.


1.   Cf. R.A. Hazzard/M.P.V. FitzGerald, The Regulation of the Ptolemaia: A Hypothesis Explored, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 85 (1991) 6-23. Only Huß, Aegypten in hellenistischer Zeit, München (Beck) 2001 (cf. p. 320-323) has reacted so far, but he does not follow Hazzard.
2.   Hazzard follows the older convention of regarding a supposed son of Ptolemy VI, Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator, as sovereign ruler briefly after his father's death in 145 (cf. especially p. 129 n. 143 for an older interpretation of coin issues cited in support for this king). A ruler by that name is no longer accepted; the epiclese Neos Philopator was posthumously used in the ruler-cult after 118 BC, probably for a son of Ptolemy VIII.

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