The Ptolemaic dynasty* was composed of members of the Macedonian Greek family that ruled Egypt from shortly after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. until its defeat by the Romans in 31 B.C. The dynasty is named after its 15 kings, all of whom were named Ptolemy. The last ruler in the dynasty, the brilliant queen Cleopatra, became famous for her relationships with the Roman statesmen Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony).
After the death of Alexander, the generals of the Macedonian army divided Alexander’s empire among themselves. Ptolemy I Soter, a childhood friend and wartime companion of Alexander, established himself as satrap* of Egypt. He named himself king in 305 B.C., the first monarch of the Ptolemaic dynasty. During the 200s B.C., the Ptolemies had numerous conflicts with the Seleucid dynasty of Syria in an attempt to extend their rule into Asia Minor and Syria. Until around 200 b.c, the Ptolemies controlled Judaea and southern Syria as well as Egypt. Domestic strife and civil war disrupted the reigns of the later Ptolemies. With the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C., the dynasty ended, and Egypt became a part of the Roman empire.
Because the Ptolemies were not Egyptian themselves, they often exploited the people for their own personal gain. The dynasty held monopolies on linen, papyrus*, beer production, and other industries. They claimed all Egyptian land as their own and then had it farmed by peasants. But the dynasty also supported the arts and scholarship, founding the famous Library and Museum of Alexandria, making the city a center of Hellenistic* culture. (See also Hellenistic Culture; Rome, History of.)
* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group
* satrap provincial governor in ancient Persia
* papyrus writing material made by pressing together thin strips of the inner stem of the papyrus plant
* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.