The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Female Pharaoh Arsinoë and her royal title "King's daughter, sister, and wife"

While working through the original manuscript presented in my doctoral thesis, and preparing for an edited version to be printed next year, I thought I could share with you some of the topics discussed in it. Also, I have to admit that I am inspired by the current focus of the month of House of Vines, dealing with Cleopatra VII and Marc Anthony, as well as the entire Ptolemaic Dynasty! To start with, I would like to adress Arsinoë's royal titles, starting in this blog post with her designation "King's daughter, sister, and wife".

Children received birth names immediately after birth to ensure the safety of their souls if something would go wrong in an early stage of life. Regarding female royalties, titles could be given to a queen or princess through their dynastic and divine legacy, but also as a merit. Queens were provided with designations based on religious positions, including Arsinoë’s epithet Philadelphos – the brother-loving. Traditionally, a queen received a name that was connected with the pharaoh’s title when they were united in marriage.

The symbolic value of the individual titles of a queen was equivalent to the king’s designations throughout all pharaonic periods. The most important title for a royal woman was “Great wife of the king”. This designation separated her from concubines, officially illuminating her position as a sole queen. Similarly, the title “Mother of the king” was greatly valued: it indicated status, pure royal blood and legitimacy. Together with the previous title, “Mother of the king” placed a royal woman at the top of the social hierarchy. Equally, it was an honour to be called “Sister of the king”. Among other reasons, these titles regulated and established the dualistic harmony of male and female.

The titles of Arsinoë II Philadelphos are numerous (41 designations as listed in the reliefs), and they appear in many variants. Here, we will look into her titles expressing a royal woman’s connections with the pharaoh, including “Daughter of the king”, “Sister of the king” and “Wife of the king”.

Arsinoë is described as “King’s daughter, sister and wife” (=Royal daughter, sister and wife) 13 times in Egyptian reliefs. The full title also occurs in the following alternations: “King’s daughter, sister, his greatly beloved wife”, “Sister, daughter of the King of Upper Egypt, greatly beloved wife of the King of Upper Egypt”, “Daughter, sister of the King of Upper Egypt, king’s great wife”, “King’s daughter, sister of the King of Upper Egypt, king’s great wife”, “King’s wife, sister [and daughter]”. These titles can also be compared to the designations listed in the two Tanis stelai, BM 1056 and BM 1057: “She who is in the heart of the king” (alternative reading: “The one who is united with the heart of the king”).

The first title, “King’s daughter”, was frequently used among royal women throughout the pharaonic periods. The royal position indicated by it could make possible a queen’s accession to the throne based on her bloodline, combined with a temporary lack of male heirs. Compare, for example, the circumstances when Queen Sobeknefru ascended the throne. As the last ruler of the 12th Dynasty, the daughter of Pharaoh Amenemhet III ruled Egypt in her own right.

The social position indicated by the title could, however, also constitute a risk during the Ptolemaic period. As Ptolemaic descendants, the princesses were often caught up in political affairs, as they sealed alliances through marriage. One can here recall the fact that Arsinoë’s mother, Berenice I, was far from the only one of Ptolemy I’s wives. In fact, she became his third wife and queen after pushing away her own cousin Eurydice. Similarly, Arsinoë I, daughter of Lysimachus (to whom Arsinoë II was married), was married off to Ptolemy II in order to cement the alliance between Thrace and Egypt – later to be exiled to Koptos after being found guilty of plotting against Ptolemy II, who as we know married his sister Arsinoë II.  

If she did not become a queen, the daughter of the king most likely became a priestess of Hathor. Princesses were housed in the royal harem. There, this title separated the princess from other women, accrediting her higher rank and status

“Sister of the king” was introduced at a far later date (12th Dynasty: an epithet of Queen Dedyt, the sister-wife of Amenemhet I) compared to “King’s daughter”. In the case of Arsinoë, we can include also “Sister of the king of Upper Egypt”; “Sister-wife of Ptolemy”; and “Divine sister of Ptolemy”. The title strengthened a queen’s dynastic bonds, but it was not necessarily connected with queenship. Interestingly, this title was also used by wives outside the royal house during the New Kingdom.

The third title, “Wife of the king, separated the main spouse from any mistresses or harem women. The title appears in records during the Old Kingdom when it was used to designate Queen NyMa’athap, the wife of Khasekhemwy, and the mother of Djoser. Arsinoë’s titles include also variants such as “His greatly beloved wife”; “Greatly beloved wife of the king of Upper Egypt”; “King’s great wife”; and “Sister-wife of Ptolemy”. It was eventually strengthened by an additional prefix, ‘great’, thus stating “Great wife of the king”: the position of the main spouse was no longer questionable and the children of a main spouse were always regarded as the legitimate heirs of the throne.

The three amalgamated titles, “King’s daughter, king’s sister and king’s wife, were applied as an epithet of queens between the 17th and the 25th Dynasties, reintroduced c. 750 years later as an epithet of Queen Arsinoë. The merged title connects a queen with at least two male generations of the royal house as it associates her with her father and brother. The queen enters a mythological role as Hathor in her relationship with Ra and Horus by combining the three titles.

All scenes that designate Arsinoë as “King’s daughter, sister and wife date to the reign of Ptolemy II, including also two scenes dated to Arsinoë’s lifetime. “Daughter, sister and wife” places Arsinoë in a direct royal lineage, explaining her royal ancestry and her relation to the ruling king. I regard the titles to describe a royal woman, a queen, rather than a goddess. The title ultimately legitimated the true queen as she claimed her authentic bloodline, legacy and rank.

Arsinoë is described as “King’s daughter, sister of the King of Upper Egypt, king’s great wife” in the lintel scene on the eastern gate of Karnak, corresponding to the traditional queenly title. It does, however, also provide further evidence to support my hypothesis, presented in my thesis, of Arsinoë’s socio-political position as Ptolemy II’s co-regent. The basis of this statement is found in the description of the king, underlined in the title above. The pictorial scene presents Ptolemy II as the King of Upper Egypt in the left lintel section, indicated by the white crown. Suggestively, the title “Sister of the King of Upper Egypt” could relate to Ptolemy’s figural position in this left section since he represents this role there. It is, however, crucial to recognise the pictorial structure of the full scene, and combine the left section with its right counterpart. There, Ptolemy II wears the red crown, symbolising his regency of Lower Egypt. The full scene consequently illustrates Ptolemy II as the ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt simultaneously. The titles of Arsinoë are identical on both sides of the lintel, neither one describing Arsinoë as the sister of the King of Lower Egypt, therefore excluding an obvious association with Ptolemy II in any given side. Based on the Egyptian concepts of symmetric harmony and the symbolic arrangement of the figures in the full scene, Arsinoë’s title cannot refer to only one of the two figures of Ptolemy II. Instead, I connect this scene with previous examples of scenes indicating co-regency between Ptolemy II and Arsinoë. The queen is described as in a socio-political position as a pharaoh of Lower Egypt. The title is, furthermore, connected with her figural position as a ruling queen behind Ptolemy II in the left section.

All scenes listed with the title, “King’s daughter, sister and wife”, date to the reign of Ptolemy II. Arsinoë is foremost illustrated as a beneficiary, standing on an opposite side from her husband-brother, indicating a divine role. However, the Mendes and Pithom stelai as well as the left section of the Karnak lintel also refer (directly or indirectly) to Arsinoë’s lifetime. Similarly, a stele – now in the archaeological institute of Trier university – pictorially places her as a living queen.

I interpret the merged title “King’s daughter, sister, and wife”, as referring to a living queen, with or without the aid of an active temporal adjustment. I regard the title, when describing Arsinoë after her death, as a powerful political statement, in which the queen functions as a binding link between the pharaoh, deities, and the royal dynastic ancestors.

As an example of comparison from another artistic medium, a fragment of a sculptured crown relates to Arsinoë’s title “King’s daughter, sister and wife”. It is a fragment of a statue crown of Arsinoë from the temple of Isis in ancient Koptos, modern Qift, now located in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College, London, inv. no. 14521. The fragment dates to the Ptolemaic period, and includes the title “King’s daughter, sister, wife, great royal wife, she who satisfies the heart of Horus”. The full title is equivalent to Arsinoë’s designations, especially in the Trier stele and the main text in the Mendes stele. Except for its royal symbolism, the crown-text is associated with Hathor and her relations with Ra and Horus. This elaborated title portrays Arsinoë in a complete Hathoric role, indirectly placing Ptolemy II as the earthly manifestation of Horus.

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