Ptolemy (name)

For this name in Hebrew, see Talmai.
Look up Ptolemy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Look up Πτολεμαῖος in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Look up תלמי in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

The name Ptolemy or Ptolemaeus comes from the Greek Ptolemaios, which seems to mean warlike or son of war. There have been many people named Ptolemy or Ptolemaeus, the most famous of whom are the Greek-Egyptian astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus, and the Macedonian founder and ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Ptolemy I Soter. The following sections summarise the history of the name, some of the people named Ptolemy, and some of the other uses of this name.

Etymology and history

According to Georg Autenrieth the English name Ptolemy comes from the Ancient Greek name Πτολεμαῖος (Ptolemaios),[1] "warlike" or "son of war". Autienrieth renders the meaning of the name to be an adjective from πτόλεμος (ptólemos), explained as a Homeric form of πόλεμος (pólemos), "war".[2][3] A nephew of Antigonus I was called Polemaeus,[4] the normal form of the adjective. Ptolemaios is first attested in Homer's Iliad and is the name of an Achaean warrior, son of Piraeus, father of Eurymedon.[5]

The name Ptolemaios varied over the years from its roots in Ancient Greece, appearing in different languages in various forms and spellings. The original form, and some of the variants, are listed here in the languages relevant to the history of the name.

Greek Πτολεμαῖος (Ptolemaîos)
Latin Ptolemaeus
German Ptolemäus or Ptolemaios
Italian Tolomeo
English Ptolemy
Egyptian ptwȝlmys

wA l
i i s

Hebrew and Aramaic Talmai
Arabic Batlemos

The name Ptolemy spread from its Macedonian origins to enter other languages in the Middle and Near East during the Hellenisation that followed the conquest of the known world by Alexander the Great.

The Aramaic name Bar Talmai (Greek Bartolomaios and English Bartholomew) may be related.[6] Alternatively, it may have a Hebrew derivation.

Ptolemais is formed from this name by the Greek feminine adjectival ending -i(d)s (found also in Iliad, Aeneid).

Early Greek rulers and generals named Ptolemy

Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty (rulers)

wA l
i i s
in hieroglyphs

The Ptolemaic dynasty, of Macedonian origin, ruled Hellenistic Egypt for nearly 300 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC. The kings of this dynasty were all named Ptolemy.[7] See Ptolemaic dynasty for details of their reigns and other ruling members of the dynasty. See also: Legacy of Ptolemy I Soter.

Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty (descendants)

There were several members of the Ptolemaic dynasty that did not become senior rulers of Egypt. Some of them became rulers of other kingdoms. Many of the dates and other details about these Ptolemies are uncertain.

Other Ptolemies

Legacy of Claudius Ptolemaeus

Legacy of Ptolemy I Soter


A non-exhaustive list of other, generally later, uses of the name Ptolemy includes:


  1. Πτολεμαῖος. The meaning of the name Ptolemy seem to be a matter of strife; in accordance with Georg Autenrieth, A Homeric Dictionary, on Perseus
  2. πόλεμος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. The change from polemos to ptolemos is an example of a type of linguistic compounding called terpsimbrotos. The pt- in ptolemos (vs. earlier polemos) "war" is thought to arise from a re-analysis of the compound word *phere-t-polemos, metathesised to phere-ptolemos. George Dunkel, "Two old problems in Greek: ptolemos and terpsimbrotos", Glotta 70 (1992).
  4. Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel
  5. Homer, Iliad, 4.228, on Perseus
  6. The disciple Nathaniel Bar-Talmai (Bartholomew) is thus thought to have been the son of a Ptolemy.
  7. Numbering the Ptolemies is a modern invention; the Greeks distinguished them by nickname. The number given here is the present consensus; but there has been some disagreement about which Ptolemies should be counted as reigning. Older sources may give a number one higher or lower, but the same epithet.
  8. Billows, Kings and colonists: aspects of Macedonian imperialism, p.110
  9. Bengtson, Griechische Geschichte von den Anfängen bis in die römische Kaiserzeit, p.569
  10. Ptolemaic Genealogy: Ptolemy ‘the Son’
  11. He is also identified as Ptolemy ‘the Son’ or Ptolemy Nios, Ptolemy son of Lysimachus, Ptolemy of Telmessos and Ptolemy ‘the Brother’
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