Ptolemy Ceraunus (c. 319 BC – January/February 279 BC

Ptolemy Ceraunus (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Κεραυνός Ptolemaios Keraunos; c. 319 BC – January/February 279 BC) was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty and briefly king of Macedon. As the son of Ptolemy I Soter, he was originally heir to the throne of Ptolemaic Egypt, but he was displaced in favour of his younger brother Ptolemy II Philadelphus. He fled to King Lysimachus of Thrace and Macedon where he was involved in court intrigue that led to the fall of that kingdom in 281 BC to Seleucus I, whom he then assassinated. He then seized the throne of Macedon, which he ruled for seventeen months before his death in battle against the Gauls in early 279 BC. His epithet Ceraunus is Greek for "Thunderbolt" and referred to his impatient, impetuous, and destructive character.

The origin
Ptolemy I the Savior was a descendant of Alexander the Great, who reigned in Egypt after the dissolution of the vast empire of the latter. He founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty and laid the foundations for its rule in Egypt for about three centuries. He was married to at least four wives. The third of them was called Eurydice and she was the daughter of Antipater, Alexander's general who reigned in Macedonia. She bore him six children: Ptolemaeus Keraunos, Meleager, Lysandra, Argaeus, a son whose name we do not know, and Ptolemais. The succession belonged from the beginning to Ptolemy Keraynos, however towards the end of his life his father chose as successor his son by his fourth wife, Berenice. He would go down in history as Ptolemy II Philadelphus and was crowned pharaoh on January 7, 282 BC. He was mentioned as co-regent as early as 285 – 283 BC. in the official documents of the state.

The Young Years & the Flight from Egypt
Ptolemy the Lightning was a restless character and as a young man at his father's court, he was unable to earn the favor he eventually bestowed on Berenice and her son. In fact, it has been said that one of the reasons that Ptolemy Sotir chose a successor from Berenice's family rather than Eurydice's was the violent and uncontrollable spirit of Ptolemy the Lightning. Be that as it may, Lightning quarreled with his father and left Egypt. He found refuge in the court of the king of Thrace, Lysimachus, Alexander's old general. Ptolemy's sister by Eurydice, Lysandra, was married to Agathocles, the king's son. The king himself had been married to their mother-hater Arsinoe's half-sister. Lysandra and Arsinoe were constantly in competition and trying to push each other away. As queen, Arsinoe was temporarily more influential than Lysandra. But the latter's husband, Agathoklis, was the Successor. And indeed he was particularly popular with the army and the people thanks to his victorious campaigns and military victories. Fearing that after Lysimachus's death she and her children would be at Lysandra's mercy, Arsinoe tarnished Agathocles' good reputation by convincing his father that he was plotting a coup. We cannot know whether these accusations were valid or not, what matters is that Lysimachus believed them. He imprisoned and poisoned his son, leaving Lysandra in despair. It was then that with her brother Ptolemy Keraunos, her children and other disaffected people left Thrace for the court of King Seleucus of Syria, who was in Babylon.

Ptolemy Keraunos & Seleucus
Seleucus was another of Alexander's descendants, the only one besides Lysimachus who was still alive. Like Lysimachus, he was over seventy-five years old by the standards of the time. One would expect that the aging rivals would have put their feuds aside and would like to live out the rest of their lives in peace. However, this was not the case. Seleucus was very pleased with the opportunity Lysandra offered him, as it gave him an occasion for new wars. The dissidents who had followed her along with Ptolemy the Lightning began to plot to invade Lysimachus' territory and avenge Agathocles' gruesome death. Seleucus was willing to follow them and so war was declared. Before they departed, Seleucus nominated Antiochus as his successor.

Lysimachus did not sit back and wait for his enemies. He organized an army, crossed the Hellespont and advanced against Seleucus in Asia Minor. The two armies met in Phrygia, on the plain of Kouropedium, not far from Sardis. In the ensuing conflict in February 281 BC, Lysimachus was defeated and killed.

Seleucus, determined to cross the Hellespont in turn, planned to advance to Thrace and Macedonia, so as to annex these kingdoms to his own lands. Ptolemy Keraunos accompanied him. Despite their victory as allies, the two men had conflicting interests from here on out, and as one might expect, the plans of each did not include the visions of the other. At first glance, Ptolemy had no argument to claim the Macedonian crown. However, his mother Eurydice was the daughter of Antipater, to whom Macedonia had been officially assigned when Alexander's state was divided by his generals. Antipater had for years ruled with glory and recognition, and his memory was still warm in the hearts of the Macedonians. Ptolemy could therefore receive the throne as the grandson and successor of the monarch who in turn was Alexander's direct successor.

Seleucus, however, had different plans in mind. He did not see himself obliged to campaign in defense of the interests of Ptolemy, nor of some son of Lysandra and Agathocles. His plan was to enlarge his own territory. As for Lightning, he only saw him as an adventurer who was just following him. Maybe quite useful, but by no means a main character of the game. Lightning, when he realized the true intentions of Seleucus, without much qualms, decided to kill the king at the first opportunity.

Seleucus must not have suspected this plan, as he continued his march through Thrace with the aim of reaching Macedonia, without taking special precautions. Then he arrived at a certain city which he was told was called Argos. He was greatly alarmed on hearing the name, as formerly an oracle had told him to beware of Argos, for it was supposed to be a place which would conceal a mysterious and pernicious danger for him. He had believed that it was Argos in the Peloponnese. He had no idea that there was a city of Argos in Thrace. If he had known, he would have given orders that his army should not pass through there. Even then he prepared to leave as soon as possible. However, fate overtook him before he could: Ptolemy Keraenos, at an opportune moment in Argos, stabbed the aged king in the back with a textbook. Seleucus died instantly. It is said that for this incident Ptolemy was then named "Lightning". The incident must have taken place between August 26 and September 24, 281 BC.

The Claim to the Macedonian Throne
Ptolemy organized an army and proceeded to Macedonia, where he claimed the throne. He found the country torn by strife, as many political camps had formed, each of them ready to promote its own candidates and its own interests. With an iron fist, Ptolemy swept them all aside. He wanted to secure the support of all those who were friendly to the old house of Antipater, saying that he was his grandson and successor. On the other hand, he approached the supporters of Lysimachus, claiming that he had avenged his death. If one excludes the fact that he himself was among the instigators of the campaign against Lysimachus, the claim was correct since he killed Seleucus. But above all, he relied to secure his rule, not so much on logical arguments, as on his troops. He came into the country more as a conqueror than as an heir peacefully claiming the ancestral throne. As for his soldiers, they recognized him as a king since he had served as an officer in both the armies of Lysimachus and Seleucus.

He soon acquired significant competitors in this claim. The three main ones were Antiochus, Antigonus and Pyrrhus. Antiochus was the son and successor of Seleucus. His argument was that his father was the one who conquered Macedonia, so he had the right to rule it. How Ptolemy Keraunos, by killing Seleucus, did not deprive him of his rights, but how they were passed on to his son. Antigonus II Gonatas was the son of Demetrius the Besieger, who had previously reigned in Macedonia, before Lysimachus invaded and conquered the kingdom. He therefore argued that his right was superior to that of Ptolemy, as his father had been recognized as ruler in a period subsequent to the reign of Antipater. The third claimant was Pyrrhus of Epirus. He had conquered Macedonia before the invasion of Lysimachus, and now that he was dead, his claims came to the surface again. In a word there were four claimants to the throne, each with arguments concerning conquests and hereditary rights, so complicated and interwoven that a peaceful settlement was impossible. The only question that remained was which of them was capable of taking the throne and keeping it.

The first test for Ptolemaic Keuranus came from Antigonus, who invaded with a fleet and an army. The conflict was violent and short: Antigonus was defeated by land and sea, and Cereunus remained master of the kingdom. This triumph strengthened him and earned him the respect of his other competitors. He even suggested to them that the issue be resolved by signing a treaty, which recognized him as king. Pyrrhus agreed, on the condition that military aid be sent to him in the wars he had then opened in Italy and Sicily. Thus he received, five thousand land soldiers, four thousand cavalry men, and fifty elephants.

Ptolemy & Arsinoe
That seemed to settle things. There was, however, another pending matter. Arsinoe, the widow of Lysimachus, was still alive. When her husband was killed, instead of stoically accepting the change in the political situation, she shut herself up in Cassandria, a rich and well-defended city. She also had with her her children by Lysimachus, who were also legitimate contenders for the throne. She herself knew that at the moment she had no means in her hands to support the rights of her children, but it was worth while to protect them in anticipation of some future opportunity. Lightning recognized her as an opponent to be reckoned with, and having triumphed over Antigonus and completed the signing of peace with Antiochus and Pyrrhus, he moved towards Cassandria, turning in his mind how he might bring Arsinoe and her children under his rule .

He concluded that it would be better to try cunning and treachery first, before resorting to armed conflict. He sent a message to Arsinoe suggesting that instead of fighting over the kingship, they should join their rights and asking her to be his wife. He would marry her and adopt her children as his own. That way the issue would be resolved peacefully.

Arsinoe gladly accepted the proposal. Indeed, Ptolemy Keraunos was her brother by another mother, but this was no bar to a marriage union, according to the ideas that existed in those days in the world about royal houses. Arsinoe gave her consent and opened the gates of the city. Lightning killed two of her three sons almost immediately. Arsinoe managed to escape and Lightning did not pursue her since she no longer had a basis to claim the throne. Arsinoe, after wandering, returned to Alexandria, to her old home. She eventually married her half-brother and king, Ptolemy II, banishing his first wife, her namesake Arsinoe, in the same way he had once gotten rid of Agathocles and Lysandra.

The Period of Peace
Lightning was now peaceful and happy. He was able to enjoy the fruits of his labors as he was now in a secure position in a strong and rich kingdom. He wrote a letter back home in Egypt to his brother King Ptolemy – with whom he had clashed over their father's throne – announcing that he was renouncing any claim to the throne of Egypt as he found another, better kingdom in Macedonia. He went on to organize his state and his army. He fortified his cities and now considered himself the secured Lord of Macedonia. However, his dreams of peace and security were soon shattered.

The Invasion of the Gauls
The Gauls appeared on the banks of the Danube. They belonged to the La Ten culture, whose cradle was northeastern France and southern Germany. In the fifth and fourth centuries they spread westward into lands where people spoke a language that modern scholars call Celtic. Because the Greeks used to call all the inhabitants of the west (except the inhabitants of the British Isles) Celts, modern scholars call various of these peoples Celts even if they did not live in the west and did not speak the Celtic language.

At that time they lived north of Macedonia and Thrace and for some time they gathered forces. Their movements were of little interest to Ptolemy Keravnos. However, suddenly an embassy appeared before him announcing that they would go to war with him, asking how much money he would give them in exchange for peace. Keravnos, having recently achieved his great achievements, did not consider the threat serious. Instead he sent these men back, threatening that he would not leave them in peace unless they sent him their generals as hostages and sureties of good behavior. He even made the mistake of not helping the Thracian tribes he knew, hoping that the barbarians would weaken them for his own benefit. Eventually the Thracians were forced to participate in the battles on the side of the Gauls. In the spring of 279 BC, their leader Volgios invaded Macedonia.

Of course, after these events, conflict was inevitable. Lightning mustered all the forces he could muster, advanced north to meet his enemies, and then a terrible battle ensued. Keravnos was himself personally in command of his forces. He rode an elephant into the battlefield with his soldiers. At one point he was injured and his elephant gave way, perhaps he too from injury, and threw his rider down. The Gauls who were fighting nearby captured him and without hesitation beheaded him. Nailing the head to a paluki they carried it around the battlefield. The spectacle cost the Macedonians so much that the lines soon broke and the soldiers retreated disorderly, leaving the Gauls victorious.

The Successors
The death of Ptolemy Kerainos gave the signal to the old claimants to the throne to reappear. A period of conflict and mismanagement ensued, during which the Gauls terrorized North Macedonia. Ptolemy's brother by Eurydice, Meleager became king, replaced by a man named Antipater, followed by Sosthenes. The latter repelled Volgios, but young Gauls led by Brennus moved towards Central Greece. However, this storm once came to an end, when Antigonus Gonatas defeated the invaders and became king of Macedonia. Thus begins the period of the reign of the descendants of Antigonus Gonatas, the Antigonides, which lasted over a century, until the conquest of Greece by the Romans.

Year (BC) Event
Birth of Ptolemy Keraynos, son of Ptolemy Sotiros and Eurydice.
282 BC The half-brother of Ptolemy Keraynos, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, succeeds their father depriving the former of the throne. Keraunos departs for Thrace, at the court of Lysimachus.
282 BC Keraunos' sister, Lysandra, is at loggerheads with Lysimachus' wife, Arsinoe II, since she contributed to the events that led to her husband's execution. The two brothers end up in the court of Seleucus, who agrees to help them.
281 BC Lysimachus dies at the Battle of Kuropedi in February. At the end of the summer the Thunderer kills Seleucus seeking to rule Macedonia himself.
Keravnos manages to impose his claims with various arguments, but also with the force of arms. Win the battle or sign peace treaties with the other would-be suitors to the throne. He puts Arsinoe out of contention for the throne as well, killing her children.
279 BC Invasion of Gauls in Northern Greece. Lightning loses his life in battle, leaving behind political chaos.
Coin of Ptolemy II, depicting Arsinoe II

Cause of death decapitation
Spouse of Arsinoe II of Egypt
Parents Ptolemy I Sotir and Eurydice of Egypt
Ptolemais brothers
Arsinoe II of Egypt
Ptolemy II Philadelphus
Meleager of Macedonia
Family Ptolemaic Dynasty

Ulrich Wilken-Ancient Greek History, Papazisi Publications, Athens 1976
Hans Joachim Gerke - History of the Hellenistic World
The Family of Lysimachus., project for Pyrrhus of Epirus.
Biography at Archived 2015-04-27 at the Wayback Machine.
Biography Archived 2006-08-27 at the Wayback Machine. by Chris Bennett.