Centre for Continuing Education

Alexander's Heirs Course: The Ptolemies of Egypt

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

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We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

Join us in examining the rise and fall of the Ptolemaic Dynasty from Alexander the Great to Cleopatra VII.

Ptolemy I was the Macedonian general of Alexander who took possession of Egypt and founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty. He created the lighthouse and mouseion, a centre of learning with associated library in Alexandria. The Ptolemies created an Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean and contested against the Hellenistic period Seleucid rulers in Syria. After Ptolemy V the Kingdom of Egypt came increasingly under Roman influence but created many stunning temples including Edfu, Kom Ombo, Dendera and Esna. The last ruler of the Dynasty was Cleopatra VII who attempted to resist Roman annexation by forming alliances with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. When Cleopatra and Antony were defeat by Octavian (the future Augustus) at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire.

This course follows on from Michael Birrell’s Alexander the Great Course: Conqueror of the World, however it is not a prerequisite for this course.


This course aims to provide you with an understanding of the rise and fall of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, with emphasis on the conflict between Egypt and Rome that culminated with the death of Cleopatra VII.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • describe the creation of the Ptolemaic Empire
  • identify the evolution of Egyptian architecture during the Ptolemaic Period
  • list the military accomplishments and failures of the Ptolemaic period
  • describe the primary evidence for changes in Ptolemaic culture.


Foundation: Alexander and Ptolemy I

The death of Alexander the Great saw the General Ptolemy established as satrap of Egypt from 323 BC. He defeated his military opponents and extended Egyptian control in the eastern Mediterranean. Ptolemy declared himself pharaoh in 305 BC and ruled till 283 BC. He developed the port of Alexandria as a centre of Greek culture by founding the famous library and built the famous lighthouse.

Empire: Ptolemy II and III

Ptolemy II (283-246 BC) consolidated his father’s kingdom and promoted scholarship through the Mouseion and the Library of Alexandria. He married his full sister Arsinoe to take possession of her territories. Ptolemy III (246-222 BC) promoted Egyptian religion and established the temple of Edfu in 237 BC. The library of Alexandria was promoted by purchase and confiscation of books.

Decline: Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy V

The decline of the Ptolemaic Empire is associated with the reign of Ptolemy IV (221-04 BC). He murdered his mother and indulged his pleasures, but in 217 BC he successfully secured his kingdom’s border at the Battle of Raphia. Ptolemy V (204-181 BC) succeeded at the age of 5 and was a pawn of his regents. A native rebellion was suppressed with great cruelty.

Civil Wars: Ptolemy VI to Ptolemy XI

The reign of Ptolemy VI (180-145 BC) saw on-going war with Seleucid Syria. His brother Ptolemy VIII (169-116 BC) plotted to take control of the throne and the civil wars that ensued saw Rome increasingly involved in the country. Cleopatra III would share rule with her sons Ptolemy IX (116-81 BC) and Ptolemy X (110-88 BC) but the state was in decline. Ptolemy XI (80 BC) would rule for just a few days.

The end of the Ptolemies: Ptolemy XII to Cleopatra VII

Ptolemy XII (80-51 BC) completed Edfu temple but he was increasingly beholden to the Romans. He was succeeded by his daughter Cleopatra VII who attempted to withstand Roman annexation of Egypt by allying herself first with Julius Caesar and then Mark Antony. Her defeat at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the death of Cleopatra’s son Caesarion Ptolemy XV saw Egypt lose its independence.

Intended audience

Anyone interested in the rise and fall of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, with an interest in Alexander the Great and Cleopatra.



Delivery style

  • One-day interactive lecture
  • Talks and discussion
  • Q&A time


You will be provided with course handouts in class.

Recommended reading

Holbl, G 2001, A History of the Ptolemaic Empire, Taylor & Francis Ltd, London, UK.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • Interesting subject, and well-paced with a knowledgeable lecturer.
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