When Alexander died in Babylon in 323BC, the Macedonian leadership reassigned the Satrapies (governorships) of the empire. Ptolemy son of Lagos, Alexander’s childhood friend and one of the inner circle of “Bodyguards” and generals, was appointed Satrap of Egypt.
Ptolemy arrived with no soldiers and no treasury of his own. But he used the riches of Egypt to hire a large force of mercenaries; and wasted no time in stealing the body of Alexander as it passed through Syria on the way to burial in Macedonia. He took it first to Memphis and then to rest in the newly constructed capital of Alexandria. This act was a declaration of revolt against the regency of Perdiccas in Babylon; and set off the subsequent Wars of the Diadochi. Throughout the next 50 years of near-continuous conflict, Ptolemy alone showed no interest in reuniting the Empire of Alexander; but single-mindedly worked to build a self-sufficient kingdom centered on the Lower-Nile.
Ptolemy I Soter
After Alexander, the Eastern Mediterranean was awash in unemployed fighting men. These mercenaries were of various types; the most desired being Macedonian or others trained to fight like Macedonian phalangites. These were the battle-winners in the wars of the Diadachi. Cavalry were also prized, particularly the heavy cavalry lancers of Macedonian or Thessalian origin. These were in vary short supply, and when available served usually in the bodyguard regiments of the various Satraps, Successor kings and generals.
Light infantry were more readily available. Of these, Cretan archers, Rhodian slingers, and javelin-and-spear armed Peltasts/Thureophoroi (particularly those from Thrace) were the most valuable. In the 3rd century, after the Celtic invasion of Greece and Anatolia, these “Galatians” also became much sought after soldiers-for-hire.
With the wealth of Egypt to draw on, Ptolemy I was able to not only hire an army of such mercenaries and hold onto Egypt; he succeeded in creating the longest-lasting of all the Successor Kingdoms. He was remembered by his people and history as Ptolemy Soter (“The Savior”).
His first test came in 321 BC, when Egypt was invaded by Perdiccas, the Macedonian Regent for Alexander the Great’s infant child. Perdiccas led the “Grande Armee” of the Macedonian Empire, and should have had little trouble in unseating Ptolemy from his newly-held stronghold. However, he was daunted by the Nile; unable to cross in the face of resistance. Delay led to disaffection among his troops (who took particular exception to seeing comrades drown or eaten by Nile crocodiles!), who could see no reason they should be fighting the popular Ptolemy to further the ambitions of the haughty Perdiccas. The impasse was solved by Perdiccas’ subordinate generals: Seleucus (the future founder of the Seleucid Dynasty), Peithon, and Antigenes (commander of the elite “Silver Shields” regiment) murdered the Regent in his tent.
The two armies joined as one, and peace between Macedonians was (briefly) restored. Some of the soldiers of the Imperial Army stayed in Egypt to serve Ptolemy; many of which settled in the country, becoming the nucleus for a Macedonian colony.
In 312 BC Ptolemy faced yet another Diadachi foe at the Battle of Gaza; this time an Antigonid army led by the son and heir of Antigonus “One Eyed” (Monophthalmus), 23 year old Demetrius (not-yet Poliorcetes, “the Besieger”). Ptolemy (and his now-ally and guest, Seleucus) was triumphant, routing Demetrius and capturing all 43 elephants and some 8,000 infantry. Many of the latter were Macedonians or Greek mercenaries. These were taken back to Egypt as prisoners of war.
Demetrius’ Agema fighting Ptolemy’s Companions at Gaza, 312 BC
Throughout his reign, Ptolemy I Soter settled both discharged mercenaries and Macedonian and Greek prisoners-of-war in Lower Egypt (mostly in the Nile Delta region) as kleruch/military settlers. They and their descendents provided the “Macedonian” kleruch phalanx that was the infantry home guard of the Ptolemaic kingdom in its first two centuries; and the Kleruch cavalry. They were also recruited into the Royal Guards of the Ptolemaic kings. Fresh drafts of mercenaries from Greece, Thrace, and Anatolia were ever recruited to garrison far-flung outposts, provide marines for Egypt’s superb navy, and to bolster the fighting effectiveness of the indigenous Ptolemaic army.
Unlike the Seleucids, who were a land power and had a large pool of European military settlers to draw upon, the Ptolemies were primarily a naval power. Their wealth (in part) and power derived from their overseas’ interests in the Eastern Mediterranean (particularly Cyprus) and the Aegean islands, and from….
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