2 – The Great Rebellion (207? – 186 BC)
Ptolemy, I was succeeded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (who was co-ruler with Ptolemy the Son for 12 years) and Ptolemy III Euergetes. They were great pharaohs by all accounts but the glory years of the dynasty ended with the death of Euergetes in 222 BC. Virtually every remaining ruler in the dynasty was either incompetent or tyrannical and often both.
Ptolemy IV Philopator began his reign with the murder of his mother, uncle and younger brother. His general weakness allowed the Syrians, under Antiochus III, to invade Egyptian territory. A surprising victory at Raphia in 217 BC enabled Ptolemy IV to retain control of Palestine, but internal strife started to take its toll and the skills learned by Egyptian soldiers during this battle gave them tremendous self-confidence. Whether the poor rule of Ptolemy IV or economic factors was the cause of the revolt is open for debate. When the emboldened Egyptians found a leader they believed in, they were ready for rebellion.
Historians place the beginning of the revolt to 207 or 206 BC in Edfu. A man called Haronnophris was crowned ‘Pharaoh’ in Thebes in 205 BC. Ptolemy IV died in 204 BC, so Ptolemy V Epiphanes was forced to respond. A counteroffensive in 200-199 BC led to the death of Haronnophris but another rebel named Chaonnophris assumed the mantle of Pharaoh. The rebellion is not particularly well documented, but it appears that Ptolemy V regained the title in Thebes only for his rival to once again take the throne in 194 BC. In September 191 BC, a Ptolemaic army took Thebes and forced Chaonnophris to flee to Nubia. He was finally defeated by General Conanus in 186-85 BC. It should be noted that Ptolemy V never officially ‘lost’ his crown throughout the rebellion.
The uprising took a huge toll on the Ptolemaic Empire as it almost emptied the royal treasury. Perhaps more importantly, this in-fighting weakened the empire sufficiently to allow the Syrians to take Palestine.