Ptolemy IV Philopater

It’s high time I continued posting the series about the Ptolemies. I’ve gotten distracted posting about so many other subjects!

Ptolemy IV Philopater

Excerpted from Olympos in Egypt


Ptolemy IV was born in 245 or 244 BCE. Already as a young man he was being called Philopater, “He who loves his father”. I couldn’t find out for sure why, so I’m assuming he idolized his father Ptolemy III. It could be that

He did issue coins to commemorate his father after his death. Ptolemy IV reigned 221-205 BCE. In 220 BCE Philopater married his sister Arsinoe III. They only had one child, a boy, Ptolemy V, who would be called Ptolemy Epiphanes. He may have had his mother murdered when he became king. His advisers could have done it on their own, but it seems that his advisers may have cajoled him into it.

His Egyptian title was Iwaennetjerwymenkhwy Setepptah Userkara Sekhemankhamun; andkhdjet meryese, meaning, “Son of the divine benefactors, Chosen by Ptah, Mighty Ka of Ra, Living power of Ammon; may he live forever, beloved of Isis[1]”. The benefactors refer to Ptolemy III Euergetes and Berenike. (the Egyptian titles seem to get longer and longer with each generation!!).

Two years before Philopater became Pharaoh of Egypt, at age twenty-three in 221 BCE, Antiochus III became the Seleucid king at age eighteen. In Makedonia, Philip V succeeded to the throne in 220 BCE, aged seventeen. The three major powers of the Greco-Makedonian world were now in the hands of three young, ambitious men.

The first skirmishes of the Fourth Syria War began in 221, when Antiochus III began attacking the Ptolemaic lands in Syria. Antiochus re-conquered the port of Antioch, which had been captured in the Third Syrian war (the Laodikean War) by Ptolemy III. Antiochus continued south, where he proceeded to capture the walled island city of Tyre.

Ptolemy IV Philopater marched to meet the Seleucid army at Raphia on the 13th of June, 217 BCE. Ptolemy’s army consisted at least partly of native Egyptian soldiers trained to fight in the Makedonian style. Ptolemy’s sister/wife Arsinoe accompanied him and was instrumental in the war, helping to organize, train, and command the troops in battle. Ptolemy also used forest elephants, a much smaller breed of elephants from Somalia. Antiochus III also used war-elephants, the much larger Indian breed. Ptolemy’s smaller elephants were scared by the bigger ones, and at first it looked like they were going to lose.  But Antiochus III overextended himself, and Ptolemy’s troops were victorious.

Philopater spent three months trying up loose ends in the area. This is really a short period of time, and some historians have suggested that “better” men would have stayed and campaigned longer, and that Philopater was eager to return to the luxuries and excesses of Alexandria. Jimmy Dunn, the author of’s essay on Ptolemy IV Philopater, points out another possible reason for the shortness of these military campaigns:


However, his reluctance to pursue these military matters may have been somewhat more complex. A fall in population and a shrinkage of overseas trade had brought about an acute shortage of silver in Egypt and only seven years after Raphia, silver seems to have been abandoned altogether as Ptolemaic Egypt’s standard currency. It might have been understandable that Ptolemy IV balked at hiring the extra mercenaries needed to pursue an aggressive foreign policy, and the financial considerations may have even dictated his later disastrous enrollment of Egyptian troops[2].


In October of that same year, a peace treaty was reached, that allowed the Seleucid Empire to keep the port of Antioch and others lands they had annexed. Arming and training some of the Egyptian populace backfired, though. A portion of Upper Egypt seceded under the self-appointed Pharaohs Harmachis (or Hugronaphor) and Ankmachis (also known as Chaonnophris), creating a separate kingdom that lasted nearly twenty years before being re-absorbed. There is some debate among scholars as to whether these men were native Egyptians with ambition, or Ethiopian chiefs from the south who took advantage of the situation and raided Upper Egypt.

Many say that the decline of the Ptolemaic dynasty began under Philopater. I don’t entirely agree. Sure, under his reign several foreign possessions of the Ptolemaic dynasty were lost; but they were not originally part of the Ptolemaic empire – they had been captured by Philopater’s father, Ptolemy III Euergetes, after his sister had been murdered. Ptolemy was a great patron of literary works and culture. He sponsored poets and playwrights and even composed his own plays, including one about Adonis. He built a Temple to Homer, the epic poet who wrote the quintessential Greek books, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He also funded work on and festivals at the Temple of Isis at Philae and at Tanis, the Temple of Montu at Medamud, the Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor on the West Bank of Thebes (modern Luxor), and the Khonsu Temple at Karnak, and probably at the Temple of Horus at Edfu. I think that the other reason modern historians may say this is probably because Philopater was a fervent Dionysian who celebrated the orgiastic mystery religions. Even some of the ancient historians, particularly Romans, looked at this kind of drunken, Dionysian revelry with some suspicion. Another reason classical historians called him “weak” may have been that he listened to the political advice of his mistress, Agathoclea (Agathocles’ sister). Ptolemy IV Philopator fell ill in 205 BCE and died in 204 BCE.

While researching this class, I had difficulty finding sources that weren’t completely biased against Philopater. I remembered that Sannion had said in an interview with Eternal Haunted Summer that Philopater was one of his favorite of the Ptolemies (along with Philadelphus, Auletes, and Marcus Antonius). So I asked him to tell me in a few paragraphs what it was that he liked so much about Philopater, and if he could recommend any online sources since I couldn’t afford to go buy books right now.

(He recommended 2 sites to me. If you’d like to look at them, they are : and )

He also told me this:


In a nutshell I’d say that I like Philopator because he was a
complicated man. He was cultured and religious and man of incredible
sensual appetites. I think he would have been much happier as a
philosopher, a poet or a priest than a king. But Fate had other things
in store for him and he did his best. He was never going to be as good
as Soter, Philadelphos or Euergetes and I think he was well aware of
that. But he did what he could, and frankly I think people are often
much too harsh in their judgment of him. I mean, he snatched victory
out of sure defeat and did so by rather ingenious methods ie
militarizing the Egyptian populace. Granted, this created a rather
problematic situation for his successors since once the Egyptians were
properly trained and armed they began to rebel, but what else was he
going to do, ya know? I also love the legends that have attached to
him – such as his interest in the occult, his sleeping with a brother
and sister at the same time (my comment: that’s Agathoclea and

Agathocles, I believe), etc. And he was probably the single most
devoted of all the Ptolemies to Dionysos, so that goes a long way for
me. Plus, after Marcus Antonius, he’s probably the one I have the
greatest experience with. As stuffy and conservative as Soter tends to
be – Philopator is the complete opposite.


Historians tend to be harsh in general, I think. People tend to lose sight of the fact that history is about, well, PEOPLE. Not everyone can be a great hero. History is just about normal, everyday people who get swept up in events they can’t entirely control, and they didn’t know where they were heading any more than we do now. Hindsight is 20/20. They didn’t have the benefit of history’s eye.



This entry was posted in Egyptian, Greek and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s