The Ptolemaia

In 279 BC, the first Ptolemaia were celebrated in Alexandria. The new games were established by king Ptolemy II in honor of his deceased father. With Greek games and splendid festivities, the king wanted to show the Greek charakter and power of his to kingdom everyone in and outside Egypt.

The Ptolemaia are of great importance in the history of the games because as the first is-Olympic games, they functioned as a model for hundreds of similar games in the Hellenistic East. Just like all organizers of big contests, the king sent out ambassadors throughout the Greek world to invite participants and official representatives of foreign cities to partake in the festivities. New was that he made his ambassadors ask the Greek cities to recognise his new games as equivalent to the Olympic games. Victorious athletes would then receive on their return in their home city the same rewards as victors at Olympia. The positive answer of the Greek islands (the Cyclads, which at that time were controled by the Ptolemies) and of the Delphic amphictyony is preserved on stone, and also Athens has given her assent. This was a diplomatic triumph for the king.

Ptolemy not only promoted the games outside his kingdom, he also supported the participation of Greeks living in Egypt: they received exemption from taxes. Nevertheless, the success of the Ptolemaia was relatively brief. Unlike the Olympics which continued for more than a millennium, the Ptolemaia seem not even to have continued for two centuries.

© KU Leuven, 2012