The Ptolemies

Of all Hellenistic dynasties, the Ptolemies in Egypt were probably the most successful in the games. They sent their best athletes to Greece, as is clear from the famous boxing match between Kleitomachos and Aristonikos. In 279 BC Ptolemaios II organised the first Ptolemaia, new international games in Alexandria, the first is-Olympic games. He gave fiscal privileges to athletes in Egypt who won at these games.

The royal family itself was active in the horse races at the most important Greek games, where the kings and the queens won numerous victories. Ptolemy I and his wife Berenike I, their son Ptolemy I and his wife (and sister!) Arsinoe II, their daughter Berenike and the mistress of Ptolemy II, Bilistiche were all Olympic victors. The court poet Poseidippos celebrates these victories in several poems. He has special attention for the achievements of the women. Arsinoe II won in a single day at Olympia the races for chariots with four adult horses, with four foals and with two horses. Princess Berenike, daughter of Ptolemy III, won in one day all equestrian events at Nemea. In one epigram Poseidippos lets king Ptolemy speak himself, in Doric, the dialect of the Macedonians but also of the great poet Pindar.

Queen Berenike II, the wife of Ptolemy III, won the Nemean games and also participated in the Olympic games - we don't know whether she won here. When she was divinised, her priestess was called  "trophy bearer" (athlo-phoros), becauseshe carried a victory crown in the procession.

© KU Leuven, 2012