The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Monday, August 22, 2011

theoi Adelphoi - the sibling gods

Theoi Adelphoi

The Egyptian form of the title “Sibling gods”, ntr.w sn.w, is a direct translation of the original Greek form, ΘΕΟΙ ΑΔΕΛΦΟΙ. I have chosen to refer to this title as “theoi Adelphoi”, a transliteration of its original form, since it is the most commonly recognised form describing the divine couple Arsinoë and Ptolemy II. Egyptian relief scenes lists this title only when the couple are depicted together. It is recorded in ten scenes: all postdate the couple and date instead to the reigns of Ptolemy III, Ptolemy IV, Ptolemy V and Ptolemy VIII. Two scenes are illustrated on stelai, the Nubayrah stele and the scene above the Canopus decree from Kom el-Hisn, while remaining scenes are situated within the Temple of Edfu and on the Gate of Euergetes, Karnak. Additional titles that surround “theoi Adelphoi” generally connect them with one of the main gods of the temple (or local shrines) as temple sharing deities. They are described as “Lords of the house of Hathor”, “Lords of the house of Ra”, “Lords of Mesen (= Edfu)”, or as “Dwellers of Mesen”, “Dwellers of Karnak”, and “Dwellers in the Temple of Horus”.

The Nubayrah stele textually describes Ptolemy II and Arsinoë as “theoi Adelphoi” in the main text below the figural scene, as a part of the official dating protocol, listing the appointed eponymous priests and priestesses. The active benefactors, Ptolemy V and Cleopatra I, present a captured enemy in front of the divine couple Shu and Tefnut, followed by the Ptolemaic dynastic ancestors, theoi Philopatores, theoi Euergetai and theoi Adelphoi. The latter couple is pictorially separated from the other dynastic ancestral couples, indicated mainly by their crowns, combined with Arsinoë’s Hathoric position. The scene exemplifies dynastic propaganda, showing a ruling couple reconnecting with their ancestors in order to gain their power. The ruling couple associate themselves also with the mythological children of Ra, Shu and Tefnut, in an act where Shu hands over a khepesh sceptre of Horus to the pharaoh.

The Nubayrah stele

A comparison between the main text and the pictorial scene shows an inadequacy. The text lists names of the priest of Alexander, theoi Soteres, theoi Adelphoi, theoi Euergetai, theoi Philopatores and the theoi Epiphanes, also documenting the official priestesses of Berenice II and Arsinoë, the athlophoros and canephoros (Urk II, 171 (l. 6-8). The text refers to the official Alexandrian eponymous ruler cult, while the pictorial scene excludes Alexander and the theoi Soteres. The scene, furthermore, follows Egyptian conventions exclusively. Combining text and imagery, the Nubayrah stele indicates an assimilation between the Alexandrian eponymous cult and the native Egyptian ruler cult. The figural arrangement of the theoi Adelphoi (as the last couple of the scene) suggests that Ptolemy II and Arsinoë retained their official role as the founders of the dynasty, regardless of the textual information. It limits the official religious position of the theoi Soteres as the founders of the dynasty to the reign of Ptolemy IV, since the stele dates to the reign of Ptolemy V, which emphasises Ptolemy II and Arsinoë as the founders.

Detail of the theoi Adelphoi on the Nubayrah stele

Dating to the reign of Ptolemy III, also the Canopus decree from Kom el-Hisn describes Ptolemy II and Arsinoë as “theoi Adelphoi” placing the hieroglyphic designation, ntr. w sn. w, above the head of Ptolemy II, between the individual cartouches of the couple. The title also occurs in the main text, where it is used to describe Ptolemy II and Arsinoë as Ptolemy III’s parents. The following textual section states their cultic title in connection with the eponymous priesthood, similar to the Nubayrah stele, also including the name of Arsinoë’s canephoros (Urk II, 126 (l. 5). The text in the Canopus decree indicates an assimilation of the Alexandrian eponymous cult with the native Egyptian worship of ancestors, although it is, again, separated from the pictorial scene. Based on the nature of the text, as an official dating formula, it is difficult to make any assumptions of an assimilation of the two alternative ruler cults. The scene focuses on the deification of Ptolemy III and Berenice II, and expresses their induction to the traditional Egyptian royal cult. The main event described in the pictorial scene refers to the writing of the annuals, performed by Thoth and Seshat.

The Canopus decree of Kom el-Hisn

Seven scenes are located in the Temple of Edfu, dating to the reigns of Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy VIII: all scenes illustrate a ruling pharaoh who presents offerings to his dynastic ancestors. Arsinoë is depicted throughout in a standing position behind Ptolemy II. The couple is generally described with individual titles located in their personal registers of text, and with their shared title in the board-register that crowns the scene. Thus, they kept their individuality simultaneously with their divine royal position as Hathor and Horus. The scene on the Gate of Euergetes concurs with previous scenes as Ptolemy II and Arsinoë are described with individual titles in the personal register of text and as a couple in the top register. This scene dates to the reign of Ptolemy III. Also, the lintel frieze on the same gate dates to Ptolemy III, but places the shared title above the head of Ptolemy II, between their individual cartouches.

The Canopus decree: detail of the theoi Adelphoi

The scenes indicate that the theoi Adelphoi were regarded as the founders of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The pictorial material follows Egyptian conventions, and the scenes are located mainly in Upper Egypt. The combination of these two factors is important, since native Egyptian ruler cult is traditionally differentiated from the Alexandrian ruler cult. Stelai with a dynastic setting seem to have functioned as a link between the two. All scenes that describe the couple with this title postdate their lifetime, and always in a conventional dynastic setting that expresses the transfer of power from one generation to the next. In terms of iconographic arrangement, the theoi Adelphoi are separated from other ancestral couples. Arsinoë is frequently illustrated as the tallest figure of the scene based on an item which also distinguishes this couple from the others – the crown. Arsinoë wears her personal crown, and Ptolemy II either an Osirian atef or an anedjti crown. All other females, without any exceptions, wear a traditional female crown. All other males wear one of the above mentioned crowns, the atef or anedjti, opposed to the one worn by Ptolemy II (i.e., if Ptolemy II wears the anedjti, the other males are dressed in the atef, or vice versa). These scenes show Arsinoë standing behind Ptolemy II, raising her hand in a protective manner. Her hand’s pose combined with her position as the last figure of the left side, suggestively indicates a socio-religious position as the protectress of the entire dynasty, also including the ruling royal couple.

Edfu scene

I classify all scenes mentioned above as dynastic regardless of their figural arrangement. The main symbolic theme of these scenes is a ruling pharaoh who claims his right to the throne, and demonstrates his pure dynastic legacy and royal blood. The Gate of Euergetes presents a scene of comparison, as it provides Queen Berenice II with a title that places her as the heiress of the theoi Adelphoi. This title underlines the importance of not only an individual scene, but also the full setting or composition of scenes under one associated theme. It has been argued elsewhere that the link between a ruling pharaoh and his ancestors is too unclear if placed on an opposite side. I, however, believe that such a separation was necessary in order for the king to claim his right to the throne. This claim would be available only through the death of the previous ruler (rulers).

Edfu scene

Exceptions include scenes that express crowning or rejuvenation themes, such as the Canopus decree, which provides further examples of pictorial adjustment, and emphasises that time is not a main subject, but instead the ceremony itself. All figures in the Canopus decree are equally illustrated as sons and daughters of Ra. The scene is unique due to its dualistic arrangement, depicting all figures in pairs/couples, including the gods on the right side. The first Hathoric goddess on the right is coupled with Amun-Ra; Hathor with Horus; Tefnut with Shu, and the forth female figure with a male counterpart now missing. The scene clarifies a divine legacy and places the Ptolemaic couples in a direct line with the primeval constitution of Egyptian religion. Ptolemy III and Berenice II clarify their dynastic legacy through the association with the deceased ancestors and emphasise their right to rule as they connect themselves with the divine rulers, Horus and Hathor, as husband and wife. The ruling monarch gains strength and emphasises his divine royal heritage, while he claims his true right to the throne.

Edfu scene

Edfu scene

Edfu scene

Note: The dynastic relationship was stressed also through the introduction of the couples as temple sharing deities long after their initial deification. Isis Arsinoë Philadelphos, the theoi Adelphoi and the theoi Euergetai were introduced as temple sharing gods in the temple of Hermonthis in year 149/148 BC Although of an unknown origin, P.Yale.46 describes a priest who was active in a temple of Amun and Arsinoë, including also the theoi Adelphoi and the theoi Euergetai. The text underlines a clear separation between the official dynastic cult, i.e., that of the theoi Adelphoi, and the individual cult of Arsinoë. Here, yet again, Arsinoë is associated with Amun, possibly as his divine wife. An inscription documented on a small sandstone altar found in the precinct of the Sarapis temple at Hermopolis Magna further describes the theoi Adelphoi as sharing a temple with the theoi Euergetai to whom statues and shrines were dedicated by the cavalry located in the area.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Queen Arsinoë - Daughter of Amun - God's wife of Amun

Daughter of Amun

Continuing down the line of Arsinoë’s hieroglyphic titles, today we shall deal with one that places our queen in direct hereditary line with one of the main Egyptian gods, Amun.

Amun-Ra, Karnak

Overall, thirteen Egyptian relief scenes designate Arsinoë as “Daughter of Amun”. This title is always placed as a prefix to the name “Arsinoë”. As such, it is placed above or in front of Arsinoë’s Birth name cartouche. Harvard Art Museum relief of Arsinoë, however, places “Daughter of Amun” within a second cartouche, thus symbolising a Throne name. All scenes illustrate Arsinoë as a beneficiary, although the lintel scene above the Gate of Nectanebo at Karnak shows her simultaneously as a benefactor standing behind Ptolemy II. “Daughter of Amun” is represented in both stelai and temple scenes, limited to the reigns of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III. The assumption of the title “daughter” in connection with Amun was a clear political and religious statement, which connected Arsinoë with older Egyptian traditions, and with Alexander the great, who was appointed as the son of Zeus-Amun.

Arsinoë, Daughter of Amun, Gate of Nectanebo, Karnak

Gate of Nectanebo, Karnak: double lintel scene
To my knowledge, the title is never recorded in pictorial temple reliefs prior to Arsinoë. It does, however, occur in other artistic media, describing a few previous queens, such as Hatshepsut and the Divine Adoratrices of the 25th and 26th Dynasties. As such, “Daughter of Amun” occurred in variations such as “Daughter of Amun whom he loves” and “Daughter of Amun who is on his throne”.

Scene from the Chapel of Amenirdis at Medinat Habu showing God's wife Shepenwepet with Amenirdis on the divine side

A combination of Arsinoë’s figural position in the Khonsu Temple scene (Karnak), where she is paired with Khonsu, and the current title directly associates her with the most important (local) deity, Amun. Figurally and textually, the scene places Arsinoë and Khonsu as siblings, fathered by Amun. Through his dynastic kinship with Arsinoë, also communicated by additional epithets in Arsinoë’s designation, the scene expresses also Ptolemy II’s divinity (who is depicted as their benefactor). In terms of an active artistic adjustment, and based on the figural arrangement, Ptolemy II becomes an earthly manifestation of Khonsu.

Khonsu Temple, Karnak

Khonsu Temple, Karnak, facing the Gate of Euergetes
The Khonsu Temple scene, accompanied by two scenes on the Gate of Euergetes and the one on the Gate of Nectanebo, is located within the Temple complex of Karnak, the main cult centre of Amun (-Ra). This official designation, “Daughter of Amun”, places Arsinoë in a most prominent socio-religious position, valid for both a queen and goddess.

Gate of Euergetes

The two scenes that date to the reign of Ptolemy III are located in the proximity of the other scenes that describe Arsinoë with this title. The artist suggestively copied already listed designations of Arsinoë when he created the scenes of the Gate of Euergetes nearby. The larger scene expresses the transit of royal power from one generation to the next, and surrounding scenes describe Ptolemy III and Berenice II as the royal heirs. The theoi Adelphoi (sibling gods = Ptolemy II and Arsinoë) are placed on an opposite side from the ruling pharaoh, but they are described with royal titles appropriate for a living couple. Suggestively, the scene expresses a socio-religious sphere where divine and human meet.

Gate of Euergetes: small frieze depicts the theoi Adelphoi
Mid section of the frieze showing the object of veneration
Right side of the frieze showing Ptolemy III and Berenice II as the last couple
This hypothesis is supported by the pictorial structure of the smaller scene (a miniature frieze placed above the main lintel scene), which shows the theoi Adelphoi standing on the very left side behind a long line of deities, and the theoi Euergetai on the right side in an equal, but mirrored, position. The left section is separated from the right by a large solar disc, to which the scene’s totally 46 figures express their praise. The scene is located on the southern face of the southern gate of Karnak (Gate of Euergetes), opening up in full alignment with the Khonsu Temple. The right royal couple has been identified elsewhere as the theoi Soteres (saviour gods = Ptolemy I and Berenice I), but I dispute such an identification based on surrounding pictorial scenes, all of which depict Ptolemy III (occasionally including Berenice II). The socio-religious situation during Ptolemy III is also to consider, since the first Ptolemaic couple was excluded from the official (Alexandrian) eponymous cult and dynastic ancestral worship until the reign of Ptolemy IV. The overall theme of the Gate of Euergetes visualise the transfer of dynastic power, handed over from Ptolemy II and Arsinoë to Ptolemy III and Berenice II. The right royal couple in the minor lintel scene lacks official cultic titles corresponding with the theoi Adelphoi on the left side. In my opinion, the lack of such divine titles alludes to a period of time when the ruling couple attended official crowning ceremonies, and received access to the dynastic power by their divine ancestors and traditional Egyptian deities in order to become the theoi Euergetai (benefactor gods = Ptolemy III and Berenice II). It is more plausible that Ptolemy III and Berenice II chose to be illustrated in person rather than to be excluded in favour of their deceased grandparents. The Gate of Euergetes, constituting the architectural medium of these two scenes, communicates a message of royal continuation of power, and the significance of the inherited divine bloodline. Based on the general theme of the gate, I interpret the smaller lintel scene as a part of the commemoration of Ptolemy III’s and Berenice II’s official deification. Arsinoë’s title, “Daughter of Amun”, verifies a royal divine connection, enabling the ruling couple to link themselves with Arsinoë as her dynastic divine children.

Ptolemy III commemorating his divine parents, Gate of Euergetes, Karnak
As an object of comparison, a statue base (Oriental Institute of Chicago, inv. no. 10518) provides further information about Arsinoë’s title (cf. LdR IV, 241; Urk II, 73). The front section of the base reads ΑΡΣΙΝΟΗΣ ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΟΥ, whereas an hieroglyphic inscription translates as follows (titles that describe Ptolemy (I and II) are placed within brackets):

“Great Bat, Daughter of Amun, God’s wife, Sister of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, (Lord of the Two Lands, Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. Great splendid One, Beloved of Ra, Wife of the king, (son of Ra, Lord of the Crowns, Ptolemy,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. The respected, Beloved of Ptah, Sister of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, (Lord of the Two Lands, Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. The intelligent, Beloved of Thoth, Daughter of the king, (Lord of the Two Lands, Chosen by Ra, Beloved of Amun, Lord of the Crowns, Ptolemy,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. Beloved of Amun-Ra, the Lord of the Throne of the Two Lands, who is on the top of Karnak (?), (Beloved of) Mut, the great Lady of Asheru, (Beloved of) Khonsu-in Thebes-Neferhotep.”

Arsinoë is described as Amun’s daughter five times, combined with “Beloved of Amun-Ra”.  Her connection with other deities, including Thoth, Ptah, Ra, Mut and Khonsu, places her on an equal status with all gods. Arsinoë is furthermore described as the Great Bat, which associates her with the most ancient cow goddess, who eventually merged with Hathor. This syncretism, between Arsinoë and Hathor (Bat), has traditional values and parallels with a designation translating “God’s wife”.

Block fragment, Karnak, showing Arsinoë's name and epithets, including Daughter of Amun

The religious position of God’s wife

The titles “Beloved of Amun”, “Beloved of the ram” (Mendes stele) and “Beloved of (all) the gods” (Pithom stele, BM 1056, BM 1057) are associated with “Daughter of Amun”. They allude to a Hathoric role, referring to a daughter, sister, wife, and mother of the god. The titles correspond to a religious position traditionally referred to as ‘God’s wife (of Amun)’, stressing cultic responsibilities held by a high priestess. Designations that describe the God’s wife were given to living queens, simultaneously linking her with the pharaoh and god, establishing a dynastic legacy.

“God’s Wife” has its cultural roots in a female cultic role that was initially described as “musician priestess”, dating to the 4th Dynasty. Female priestesses were regarded as earthly manifestations of Hathor. Primarily, the queen held the office as high priestess, which associated her with the main deity of the temple. She was appointed personally by the king. As high priestess, the queen unified with the king in his role as high priest, symbolising the unification of the divine essence of dualism. Any given male god could reach out to a priestess, connecting himself with the human world in order to receive daily offerings and perform his tasks. This unification indirectly symbolised the coming together of the earth and sky.

The queen, as high priestess, used titles such as “Wife”, “Protectress”, and “Mother of the God/Divine mother”, initially being epithets and descriptions of Hathor. Arsinoë is described with these titles both during and after her lifetime. A queen became the God’s earthly wife when she assumed the religious position as high priestess. She was synchronised with Hathor as the eye of Ra, as the mother, daughter, wife and sister of the solar deity. As God’s wife, the queen was also regarded a political representative of royal authority, thereby becoming equally powerful as the king. Priestesses worshipped and aroused the god by the application of instruments, chants and dance. They vibrated the menit collar and rattled the sistra in order to evoke the divine spirit. From the New Kingdom the titles of high priestess increased to also include “God’s Hand”, “God’s wife of Amun”, “Divine Adoratrice”, and “Daughter of Amun”, the latter being one of the most common epithets of Arsinoë. (“God’s Hand” symbolised the hand of Atum, who by masturbation gave birth to Shu and Tefnut. The myth describes the hand as a feminine element, Hathor. The title is associated with the sexual role of Hathor, which in turn played an important role in the life of the queens, in securing true heirs to the throne.)

A title of comparison translates “Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc (=Aten)”, alternatively “Lady of all that the sun disc encircles” (Blackman 1921, 28f.; van Oppen 2007, 5), or “Mistress of the whole circuit of the solar disc” (Troy 1986, 196). This title describes Arsinoë in the lintel scene on the Gate of Nectanebo. It has previously been documented as a title of only three queens, all from the 25th -26th Dynasties: Amenirdis I, Shepenwepet II and Ankhnesneferibre. These three queens were inducted as “God’s wives”. The correlation between Arsinoë and the god’s wives of the Third Intermediate Period/Late Period has been observed elsewhere, but to my knowledge it has not been investigated properly by modern scholars. Interestingly, in the list of titles compiled by Troy (1986), Arsinoë shares nine (identical) official titles with Ankhnesneferibre and 13 with Amenirdis I, to which can be added various additional titles of a similar nature.

God's wife of Amun in the Chapel of Amenirdis, Medinat Habu

Karnak Temple, where Amenirdis became God's wife of Amun
An older Egyptian text describes the initiation of a God’s wife, directly connecting Arsinoë’s title on the Gate of Nectanebo with such a traditional religious role:

“...went into the house of Amun-Ra-Sonther, the prophets, weaeb-priests, lectors – the temple staff of Amun – following her, the great courtiers in front. She did all that was customary at the induction in the Temple of a God’s Adorer of Amun. The scribe of the God’s book and nine weaeb-priests of this temple helped her fastened the amulets and all the ornaments of a God’s wife, the God’s Adorer of Amun. (She was crowned with the double-plumed diadem and) was appointed Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc (after which her titular was enunciated.) All the customary were done for her as they were initially done for Tefnut.”

The epithet applied for Arsinoë on the Gate of Nectanebo, which is identical to the underlined text above, identifies her with previous queens known as “God’s wife” and “Adorer of the God/Divine Adoratrice”. This text validates the cause for including the double feather plume in the crown of Arsinoë, and, suggestively, “Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc” may equally confirm the solar disc as a particular in the crown of Arsinoë. As described, the solar disc was mainly an attribute of Ra, placing a “Lady of the solar disc” in a Hathoric personification of a protectress, associating with the earthly role manifested in the priestess, also including Arsinoë. 

Another association with the religious position as God’s wife is demonstrated in an additional title of Arsinoë in the Mendes stele, which describes her as “High priestess of Banebdjedet”. This title determines Arsinoë as an earthly wife of the local ram god of Mendes, i.e., a God’s wife. Arsinoë’s induction to this role was certainly a strong socio-religious claim. Both king and queen gained a stronger and more respectful socio-religious position as they called on the most important roles of Egyptian culture. With Arsinoë in this position, they were able to jointly rule Egypt since the high priestess was considered a representative of the royal power in case the pharaoh was absent. (Compare the political situation during the 25th Dynasty when Amenirdis I “ruled” Upper Egypt in her role as the God’s wife of Amun, cantered in Karnak, while her brother, Shabaka, ruled Lower Egypt with his centre in Memphis.)

Archaeological remains in the ancient city of Mendes

Overview of Mendes during Prof. Redford's excavations
The Mendes stele describes Arsinoë as “She who belongs to the Lord. Traditionally, “Lord” has been interpreted as referring to Ptolemy II. However, I identify “Lord” with Banebdjedet, as the Lord of Mendes, based on Arsinoë’s additional titles and the theme of the scene, throughout associating Arsinoë with the ram god. The sentence “She who belongs to the Lord” is placed in the first section of the main text. This initial part describes the marriage of Ptolemy and Arsinoë, and their time together while Arsinoë was alive. I interpret this title as referring to Arsinoë as a queen alive. Thus, the designation “She who belongs to the Lord” places Arsinoë as God’s wife already during her lifetime. Arsinoë’s role as high priestess, an earthly manifestation of Hathor, is further emphasised in her lower hieroglyphic register, as she states “I protect you in (= wearing) your crown...”. I do not regard this statement to address King Ptolemy II, but as a direct promise to Banebdjedet. With these words, Arsinoë usurped the Hathoric role as protecting her father, brother, son and husband, all manifested in Banebdjedet.

Block fragment at Mendes showing the local ram-god Banebdjedet
Arsinoë is furthermore described as “Beloved of the ram”, comparable to the titles mentioned above. This title strengthens the bonds between the god and his human protectress and wife. It has been concluded elsewhere that when a royal figure is described as beloved of a god, he or she becomes a form of that deity. Such a syncretism relates with Arsinoë’s title in the small (copy) Mendes stele, which describes her with a royal title, a personal name, and the name of Banebdjedet. I interpret her full assumption of his designation as assimilating them as a divine couple with similar characteristics as documented between Hathor and Ra/Horus/Amun. 

Arsinoë’s Hathoric role as God’s wife is underlined also by additional titles listed in the relief scenes, such as “Sweet of love” (Mendes and Pithom stelai, a scene on the Gate of Philadelphos in Philae), “Lady of sweet love” (inner sanctuary Philae), “Lady of loveliness” (Pithom stele), ”Great of sweetness” (Trier stele), “Beautiful in appearance” (Mendes stele), “She who fills the palace with her beauty” (Mendes stele) (compare the title of Arsinoë in the Alexandrian triad, Graeco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, inv. no. 11261: “An appearance more beautiful than the sun and the moon”). All these titles are informatively valuable since they place Arsinoë in a traditional mythological position, which emphasises the relationship between a king and his wife, comparable to Horus and Hathor. The listed titles have a rather erotic nature, since sweetness, beauty, love and fragrance symbolise the female scent. These titles connect Arsinoë with the Holy Wedding, in which the god impregnates the God’s wife to bring forth the next pharaoh. Female scent, the queen’s sweetness, and the priestess’ beauty are all connected with a religious position that was associated with Hathor as the divine eye, the eye of Ra.

Each designation listed above establishes a righteous and respectable position for Arsinoë within a conventional Egyptian society. The divine lineage indicated by the titles strengthened the social positions of any given queen employing them. The role of Arsinoë as a God’s wife (of Amun) can be summarised by the words of Sander-Hansen (1940, 21): “...die Grundlage denn auch vorhanden, da “die Gotteshand”, d.i. Hathor, allgemein als Gemahlin wie als Tochter des Allherrn angesehen wird.”

Note: Troy (1986, 196) translates the word Hnw.t as “lady” (here translated as “mistress”) and nb as “all”, which in this study is translated as “lady” due to its placement within the sentence. Troy (among others) further translates Snw as “encircles”, while I interpret it as Sn “eternity”. The sign Sn can be translated “eternity” or “protection”, and is depicted sometimes held in the claws of a falcon/vulture stretching out its wings protecting the pharaoh. Also, it is depicted in connection with the “reckoning of time-symbolism”. The sign Snw has the circular form of a cartouche, and can be translated “everything that the sun encircles”. Since the Snw-sign in itself can be translated as “everything that the sun encircles” I do not believe that there would be a need to add the nb-sign in the present sentence, especially not when written directly in front of itn – Aton, or the solar disc. Thereby there are two female epithets in the full sentence, “Mistress of Eternity” (or Eternal Mistress) and “Lady of the solar disc”. The general symbolism, however, remain similar.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Arsinoë - King of Egypt

King of Upper and Lower Egypt

Arsinoë is described as “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” or “King of Lower Egypt” in six Egyptian relief scenes. Such (male) royal titles have previously been dismissed based on the traditional dating of the reliefs as belonging to the period following Arsinoë’s death. For many years, scholar J. Quaegebeur unsuccessfully debated for a kingly position of Arsinoë, mainly basing his arguments on textual reference. I intend to continue Quaegebeur’s imperative work by shedding some new light on the dating quandary. In order to do so, the scenes are investigated also according to their pictorial context, including the correlation between pictorial and textual frameworks. Therefore, I investigate the possibilities to revaluate the date of the scenes where Arsinoë is designated as the King of Egypt in order to see if they possibly could belong to her lifetime instead.

Labelled as cat. no. 5 in my thesis, a smaller copy of the more renowned Mendes stela depicts Arsinoë as a goddess and places her on the divine side exclusively (cf. the main Mendes stela, which places her also on the royal side). Similar to the main Mendes stele, the main theme is the celebration of the newly incarnated ram god, combined with the deification of Arsinoë. The minor Mendes stela dates to the reign of Ptolemy II. Similar to the main Mendes stela the minor one manipulates size, position, and time in order to capture the full written context also in the pictorial setting. Supposedly, the communicated message of the minor stele concurs with the original (main) stela. Arsinoë’s complete individual designation in the minor stele reads:

“King of Upper and Lower Egypt (Banebdjedet)| Lady of the Two Lands (Arsinoë Philadelphos)|”.

The titles “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” and “Lord of the Two Lands” (here translated “Lady”) traditionally describe male pharaohs, but these titles are listed in Arsinoë’s personal register of text. The importance of this placement must be considered and comprehended. Egyptian conventions structured and regulated the registers of text, the personal designations and epithets were attached directly to the figure. The minor stele retains such conventions since it lists Arsinoë’s name and personal epithet. The overall title associates Arsinoë with the local ram god, Banebdjedet. According to the principles, male names were incorporated in female titles as emphasising a family-oriented relationship, such as father-daughter or brother-sister. The minor stele lacks such a family-oriented connection. Instead, I consider the text placed in her personal register of text to refer exclusively to Arsinoë. Banebdjedet’s name was possibly incorporated in Arsinoë’s title in order to stress an intended aspect of Arsinoë, and can as such be compared with “Beloved of the ram”, which describes her elsewhere. Suggestively, it refers to Arsinoë’s lifetime role as the high priestess of Banebdjedet. This religious role emphasises Arsinoë’s royal position, places her as a living queen and links her with the ruling power, not only as a female royal spouse, but as a King of Egypt.

The original Mendes stele

The minor copy of the Mendes stele

Pictorially, the minor Mendes stele differs from the main stele in the overall scene. The smaller stela illustrates Ptolemy II presenting offerings to Banebdjedet, Isis and Arsinoë. As noted above, Egyptian conventions placed deities according to family relations, generally illustrating a father, mother and child of a local triad. The minor stele depicts Arsinoë as the triad’s child, as an adult daughter parented by Banebdjedet and Isis. Arsinoë is indirectly also represented in a Hathoric position as the daughter of Ra since Banebdjedet is textually described as the “Living soul of Ra”. Arsinoë is the tallest figure of the scene according to the crown line, which emphasises and indicates her thematic role in the scene. The central theme is rebirth, which is also indicated by the field-offering brought forward by Ptolemy II. The theme of rejuvenation/rebirth relates to the newly incarnated ram god, but simultaneously also to the deification of Arsinoë as she enters the Underworld as a completely developed goddess. This message/theme is correlated with the main stele. The simultaneous divine rebirths of Banebdjedet and Arsinoë are stressed in Arsinoë’s title which synchronises them. However, in terms of time, the minor stele provides no information to conclusively suggests a date of creation. Therefore, the minor stele cannot assist in reassessing the dating quandary regarding Arsinoë’s assumption of the kingly titles. 

Moscow stele 5375 illustrates Arsinoë in a standing position on the left side of the scene, as a beneficiary receiving offerings from Ptolemy II. A horned altar is placed between them. Arsinoë is the tallest figure of the scene based on the crown line. She is designated “King of Upper and Lower Egypt (Arsinoë Philadelphos)|”. Her eminent position on the left side, opposite Ptolemy II, and the illustrated altar between them, suggest that Arsinoë is referred to as a fully developed goddess. Based on Arsinoë’s clarified divine role, the Moscow stele cannot answer the question if Arsinoë received the title of kingship prior to her death.

Drawing of the Moscow stele

Trier stele, however, can possibly shed some light on this issue. Arsinoë alone is depicted in a benefactor’s position. As noted in my thesis, I regard such an active position to indicate a living king or queen. She is dressed in an elaborated sheat and wears sandals, indicating a queen alive.  The very fragmentary image of the deity, to which she presents offerings, is crowned with a crescent and a lunar disc, according to previous scholars linking the figure to Thoth or Khonsu. Suggestively, this crown could also connect with the Apis bull. The bull is generally depicted with shorter bovine horns, smoothly following the outlines of a solar disc. Harvard stele of Arsinoë supports such an identification and places Arsinoë in a Hathoric maternal role, as she is textually described as “Mother of Hep (Hep = Apis)”. Furthermore, the prominent scale of the cow horns and solar disc in Arsinoë’s crown in the Trier stele may indicate an association with Hathor as the mother of Apis.

Arsinoë’s full title in the Trier stele reads: “Great of Sweetness, Great of Praise, King’s daughter, King’s wife, Great daughter, King’s sister, (the king) who loves her and she loves him, King’s great wife, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, (Arsinoë Philadelphos)|, the Rightful. Several of these epithets suggest a living and ruling queen, which strengthen the iconological interpretation of the relief as dating to Arsinoë’s lifetime. In general Arsinoë is described with royal titles ranking her higher than any other contemporary royal woman. The title “Great daughter” provides and secures her with a higher social rank. It determines her as the firstborn daughter in a legitimate royal marriage, comparable to “Great wife” mentioned in a previous blog post. This title places Arsinoë socially above her younger sister, Philotera, who received a posthumous cult similar to Arsinoë. Furthermore, “Great daughter” allowed Arsinoë to claim her legitimate royal ancestry and her own right to descend the throne, indicated also by her last title as “the Rightful”.

All her epithets in the Trier stele underline Arsinoë’s socio-political position as a rightful heir of the throne of Egypt. Considerably, Arsinoë was raised as the future ruler of Egypt during her first eight years, thus prior to the birth of Ptolemy II. Returning to Egypt as an adult, Arsinoë could claim power through her legacy. As the “Great wife”, Arsinoë underlined her social position mainly against the former wife of Ptolemy II. Arsinoë I, the daughter of Lysimachus, who was expelled from the Alexandrian court of an unknown date in close connection with the return of Arsinoë (II). In terms of social status, I regard the titles listed in Trier stele as more significant for a living queen than for a posthumous goddess. Consequently, I interpret Arsinoë’s designations in Trier stele as concurring with the iconographic interpretation noted above, dating to Arsinoë’s lifetime.

As another scene that includes the title currently under study, BM stele 1056 describes Arsinoë as “King of Lower Egypt, the Two Lands (she who is in the heart of the king, Beloved of (all) the gods)| Daughter of Amun, Lady of the crowns, (Arsinoë Philadelphos)|”. The scene also shows Ptolemy II, textually referred to as “King of (?) Egypt, (Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun)| Son of Ra, Lord of the Two Lands (Ptolemy)|”. Structurally and symbolically, these titles agree apart from their personal Birth names. Ptolemy’s title is damaged and in parts indistinguishable. He is arguably described as “King of Upper and Lower Egypt”, but in respect of Arsinoë’s title, it is possible that Ptolemy’s title correspondingly reads “King of Upper Egypt”. Ptolemy and Arsinoë equally employ full royal titles, including Birth names and Throne names. Arsinoë’s “(she who is in the heart of the king, Beloved of (all) the gods)|” is equivalent to Ptolemy’s “(Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun)|”. Further, there is a gender oriented distinction between the designations, describing Arsinoë as “Daughter of Amun”, compared to Ptolemy’s “Son of Ra”. Moreover, Arsinoë’s “Lady of the crowns” correlates with Ptolemy’s “Lord of the Two Lands”.

BM 1056

So far, the hieroglyphic titles listed in BM 1056  have provided fully comparable hierarchic ranks between Arsinoë and Ptolemy II. Both are regarded as rulers of Egypt. The pictorial context places Arsinoë on the left side of the scene, standing in an inactive position, being the tallest figure of the scene. Based on her inactive position as a beneficiary, BM 1056 cannot date to Arsinoë’s lifetime. If, however, considering her individual deification to have taken place during her lifetime such a date becomes plausible.

Corresponding with BM 1056, Arsinoë’s full title in BM 1057 reads “Daughter of Amun, Lady of the crowns (Arsinoë Philadelphos)| King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Two Lands, [(she who is in the heart of the king/Shu] Beloved of [(all) the gods)|]”. Although it is partially damaged, the title once more describes Arsinoë in a hierarchic position equivalent to her brother-husband. Her association with Amun-Min is noticeably emphasised in the pictorial as well as textual scene. BM 1057, similar to BM 1056, cannot provide substantiating evidence that could connect Arsinoë’s kingship title with her lifetime.

The figural arrangement in Stockholm architrave MM 10026 has been analysed in great extent in my thesis, and the scene has been redated to Arsinoë’s lifetime based on her active role as a benefactor (active religious expression equals living person). This iconographic determination proves its importance once more, as Arsinoë is textually described as “King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Arsinoë”. Ptolemy’s title is different from this conventional kingship title, and instead reads “Lord of the Two Lands (“Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun)| Lord of the crowns (Ptolemy)|”. Arsinoë’s designation stresses a direct superiority, while Ptolemy’s more elaborated complete title emphasises his broad register of divine associations. Both titles describe kingship, assumingly revealing equal social ranks.

The title “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” is a highly debated issue also in regard to other queens than Arsinoë.  Listed in Egyptian relief scenes, six scenes designate Arsinoë as a King of Egypt. All scenes date to the reign of Ptolemy II, arguably including two scenes dated to Arsinoë’s lifetime based on her active position. All scenes illustrate Arsinoë as the tallest figure in the scene apart from BM 1057, placing her as the second tallest figure after Amun-Min. Arsinoë is described with this title exclusively on stelai.

As an object of comparison, a statue of Arsinoë now located in the Vatican Museum  (Museo Gregoriano Egizio, inv. no. 22681) holds another key to understand Arsinoë’s political position during her lifetime. Its hieroglyphic text describes the queen as follows: “Princess, Daughter of Geb, Governess, Daughter of the Merhu bull, Great of Completion, Great of Praise, Daughter of the King of Lower Egypt, the Sister and Wife, Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, Image of Isis, Beloved of Hathor, Lady of the Two Lands, Arsinoë Philadelphos, Beloved of Atum, the Lord of the Two Lands”. Various titles listed on the statue obviously have a great symbolic value, but most importantly it describes Ptolemy I as the King of Lower Egypt (“Daughter of the King of Lower Egypt). In my opinion, this geographical limitation of rule could relate to the last stage of Ptolemy’s regency, when he co-ruled with Ptolemy II, suggestively dividing their responsibilities in accordance with Upper and Lower Egypt. As I have argued above, such a co-regency was practiced later, between Arsinoë and Ptolemy II, and I consider Arsinoë as Ptolemy I’s successor, taking over his responsibility of Lower Egypt.

Vatican Arsinoë


Arsinoë’s title “Ruler of (Upper and Lower) Egypt” obviously relates to “King of Egypt”. Two, possibly four, scenes describe Arsinoë with this title, all located in the Temple of Philae. The full titles of the two scenes from the inner sanctuary describe Arsinoë as “King’s wife, daughter, his sister, Daughter of Amun, Lady of the Two Lands, (Arsinoë)| the divine Philadelphos, Princess, Great of Praise, Lady of Sweet Love, Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ruler of Egypt, Lady of the Two Lands (Arsinoë)|” (one scene includes: “may she live forever”). Arsinoë was the only royal person ever to be described with the combination of hieroglyphs,  HqAt  aAt  Kmt, “Ruler of Egypt”, highlighted in the text above.

Inner sanctuary Philae

Inner sanctuary Philae

My discretion in only possibly including the titles listed in the two scenes located on the gate of Philadelphos is based on their current state of preservation, and due to their contextual composition. The text is fragmentary, only partially readable, and the signs are placed asymmetrically and outside the traditional registers. They are not as elaborated as the scenes in the inner sanctuary, as they individually read “King’s wife, daughter, and his sister, Daughter of Amun [][...], ruler [...], Lady of the Two Lands (Arsinoë)| Philadelphos” (left side of the gate), alternatively “Princess, Great of praise, Lady of (all) the people, Sweet of Love, Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, King’s wife, sister [...], Daughter of Amun, Lady of the Two Lands (Arsinoë)| the divine Philadelphos” (right side of the gate).

Gate of Philadelphos

Gate of Philadelphos

The partial title “King’s wife, daughter, (his) sister, Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë” is identified in all four scenes. However, when combining the text that is presented individually in the gate scenes it corresponds with the designations in the inner sanctuary. This combination is plausible when regarding their structural location and the theme of surrounding scenes. The fragmented scenes are situated on the Gate of Philadelphos, illustrating Ptolemy II with the red crown on one side and the white crown on the other side. Each side independently correspond to Ptolemy’s socio-political position as King of Upper Egypt and King of Lower Egypt. Consequently, the scenes have to be combined in order to understand the overall communicated message, which symbolises Ptolemy’s rule of a united Egypt. Therefore, when combined, the two gate scenes suggestively relate with the titles listed in the inner sanctuary.

All Philae-scenes connote rulership and power. I interpret the titles in Philae as expressing Arsinoë’s royal position rather than a purely divine role, regardless of the fact that they postdate Arsinoë’s lifetime. They communicate, I argue, a message of Arsinoë’s individual royal power which subsequently was handed over to Ptolemy II.

To conclude, eight scenes (nine figures) describe Arsinoë with male royal titles, including “King” and “Ruler of Egypt”. The titles of Ptolemy II and Arsinoë are frequently comparable. The two reassessed scenes, here dated to Arsinoë’s lifetime, indicate co-regency, shared between Arsinoë and Ptolemy respectively as the King of Lower Egypt and King of Upper Egypt. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ptolemaic princesses - royal instruments in marriage alliances

As I currently spend much of the days editing the original dissertation manuscript on the crown of Arsinoë, preparing for a less ‘brick-like’ format (!), I thought I share with you some thoughts on Ptolemaic politics of marriages and how Ptolemaic princesses could be used as political tools. I have chosen three princesses, providing three different representations for Ptolemaic royalties for 1) those who were married off by their father or brother, 2) those who played an important and active roll themselves in establishing an alliance, and 3) those who remained unmarried.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, it is important to remember that Hellenistic women in general enjoyed a much greater personal freedom, thus power, compared to Classical Greek women. However, contemporary with the late Classical period in Greece, royal women of Macedonia began their way up the political hierarchy, possessing more and more influential power not only on their husbands, but also the court and population in general. This took place at the time of the Argead Dynasty – especially noticed in one of the most characteristic wives of King Philip II, the mother of Alexander the Great – Olympias.


or in a more recent shape ...
 When Alexander died in Babylon, 323 BC, the largest empire so far was placed in the hands of a hungry group of generals, and it faced continuous battles, which soon resulted in fractions and a total split into smaller kingdoms governed by the former generals – the diadochi (successors). One by one Alexander’s generals pronounced themselves king over the geographic area they were supposed to guard while awaiting a true heir of Alexander. The newly declared kings worked for and against each other, described in history as the diadochi wars, in order to gain ground, strength and safety for a continuation of their own bloodline. They all wished to control as much land as possible, including all local natural assets, thus wealth.

Alexander the Great

Alexander and Olympias
Alexander's empire during the diadochi
 Let us then proceed to the princesses, and as a first example I will use my favorite queen. Arsinoë II was born c. 316 BC. She was the daughter of Ptolemy I, at the time satrap of Egypt, some years later becoming the first Ptolemaic pharaoh of Egypt, and Berenice I, Ptolemy I’s third official wife, and first Ptolemaic queen.  Already at the age of 16 Arsinoë was married off by her father with the 60 year older monarch of Thrace, Lysimachus – another former general of Alexander. She gave birth to three sons, all of which are listed in the previous blog post. Contemporary coins and other archaeological sources paint a picture of a generally accepted and well liked queen, loved by her king, and it is clear that she received some political influence, gaining the trust and respect from the majority of the Thracian people.


However, Lysimachus was an old man, which supposedly pushed Arsinoë to seek new possibilities for allying in marriage. Such possibilities were found in Lysimachus’ son from a previous marriage, Agathocles, whom Arsinoë is said to have tried to seduce. However, Agathocles, who was married to Arsinoë’s half sister, declined the ‘offer’, resulting in his death by the wish of Arsinoë.

The death of Agathocles, by the hand of his father Lysimachus, resulted in various confrontations within the court, eventually leading to full battle, in which Lysimachus himself died, leaving Arsinoë and their sons to be openly judged by the people of Thrace. Forced into a political corner, she chose to enter an alliance with her half brother, Ptolemy Keraunus, who at the time acted King of Macedonia. Lasting not longer than a wedding day, Keraunus revealed his true colors, soon thereafter killing two of Arsinoë’s tree sons. Arsinoë managed to escape, and with her oldest son she returned to Egypt via Samothrace. There her brother, Ptolemy II, ruled as King of Egypt, joined at court by Lysimachus’ daughter, also called Arsinoë, who (as mentioned previously) was removed from court, sent in exile, leaving room for Arsinoë (II) to enter the royal position as queen once more. As part of the overall propaganda, Arsinoë adopted Ptolemy’s three children from his previous marriage, and all later sources regard Arsinoë (II) as their dynastic mother.

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, it is my opinion that the marriage between Arsinoë and Ptolemy was based on a joint socio-political decision. The ancient sources – textual and pictorial – portray Arsinoë in a social position more or less equal to Ptolemy – some even raise her far above her husband. I consider Arsinoë as a good example of how a Ptolemaic princess could act in accordance with her own wishes and that the alliance was not purely based on an agreement between men. Ptolemy was already married at the time when Arsinoë returned (or at least in connection with her plans of returning), but by marrying his full sister he could secure the dynastic continuation, maintaining power within the bloodline without additional threats from outside. Arsinoë’s initial marriage, with Lysimachus, however, must be placed as an alliance between two men, her father and her husband to be, in which Arsinoë was used as a political tool to bring together two powerful kingdoms. Her second marriage, with Keraunus, could have been nothing other than a shared wish to secure mutual interests, which was profitable for both parties.

Two sides of the coin: the theoi Soteres (Ptolemy I and Berenice I) and theoi Adelphoi (Ptolemy II and Arsinoë II)
Turning now to another historical person and equally a different matrimonial situation – or shall I say lack of it. Philotera was the second daughter of Ptolemy I and Berenice I, thus younger sister to Arsinoë. Her date of birth remains debated, similar to her date of death. However, the ancient sources tell us that Philotera died shortly before Arsinoë did, suggestively placing the younger sister’s death in the late 270’s. What makes Philotera special among her contemporaries is the fact that she died unmarried, thus without any heirs, a social position uncommon not only within the Ptolemaic family, but also the entire Hellenistic world.

Ptolemy I

The Ptolemaic Eagle

The sources dealing with Philotera are limited to say the least, making it very difficult in establishing not only who she was in person (other than by her name and dynastic kinship), but also what the reasons were for her to remain unmarried. One of my favorite poems (named “Arsinoë’s apotheosis”), written by court poet Callimachus, describes the death of Arsinoë, how she was lifted to the sky by the Dioscuri to reunite with her divine ancestors. The majority of the preserved 75 lines of text described how the already deified Philotera leaves the sanctuary of Demeter at Sicily to visit Hephaestus’ home at the Greek island of Lemnos. The poem describes how Philotera notices heavily dark smoke coming from her home town of Alexandria, whereupon she asks Hephaestus’ spouse Charis to find out what has happened. When Charis returns Philotera learns that the black smoke is that of grief as the people of Alexandria publically mourn the death of their queen, Arsinoë, Philotera’s sister.

The poem shows that Philotera was deified in connection with her death, similar to Arsinoë. The question is if Philotera was deified prior, at the same time, or post Arsinoë’s apotheosis. While such a topic of discussion would be most interesting to develop, the sources restrain any attempt of reaching any further – at least so far! Obviously Philotera had an important position within her family since she was deified in her own right. The question remains, however, how come she was never married off with either one of surrounding kingdoms’ regents or heirs. In my opinion I would like to think of Philotera in a religious position as priestess, dedicating her entire life to one of the various deities worshiped within the great country of Egypt. As an official priestess she would gain influence and remain respected not only by her own family members, but within the larger society. Therefore, she played an equally important role as a political tool as did a princess who was married off to cement an alliance. As priestess Philotera played an active role in the royal propaganda, which was so important during the early days of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. We know that the Ptolemies worked actively with respecting and when possible assimilating cultural aspects, and by engaging Philotera in religious matters they could demonstrate true Ptolemaic pious devotion, strengthening their overall ideological position within the larger kingdom. Philotera is the only adult unmarried Ptolemaic princess recognized in ancient sources.

As a third example I would like to use Berenice, biological daughter of Ptolemy II and Arsinoë I, later adopted by and recognized ever since as the daughter of Arsinoë II. Berenice was given away by her father in marriage to the Seleucid monarch Antiochus II most probably to cement an alliance between the two countries of Egypt and Seleucia; two countries previously engaged in continuous battles against each other. At the time of their wedding, Berenice brought with her such a gigantic dowry that she would be nicknamed Phernophorus, loosely translated ‘bringer of dowry’. However, like so many other Hellenistic rulers, Antiochus already had an official spouse, Laodice, which he was forced to divorce in order to please Ptolemy II and bring peace to the two countries. The consequences of the new marriage would naturally result in the rejection of the previous royal heirs, and the acceptance of any future children of Antiochus and Berenice as the true royal successors.


In accordance with the ancient writers Polybius and Athenaeus Ptolemy II sent barrels of Nile water to his daughter, symbolizing his hopes and prayers that she would become with child, who eventually would become the ruler of Seleucia – a Ptolemaic descendant ruling the enemy’s landscape! Answered by the fertile forces of the Nile god, Berenice gave birth to a son, brining hope and pride to her father. However, only a few years later, thereabout year 247 BC, Antiochus chose to return to his first and beloved wife, Laodice, declaring their firstborn son as rightful heir of the Seleucid throne. Once he signed the official declaration, Laodice had her husband poisoned to make sure that he never would change his mind, handing over the power once more in the hands of the enemy – at least if one should believe Egyptian sources.

The Nile god with a single cornucopia - symbolising fertility

So what happened to Berenice? Well, after murdering her husband, Antiochus, Laodice murdered Berenice’s son and finally managed to also get in hold of Berenice herself, who up till then had found refuge in the Temple of Apollo in Daphne. Berenice had to face the same fate as her son and previous husband: all by the hands of a jealous and power hungry first lady, Laodice. 

When the news of Antiochus’ death reached Egypt Ptolemy II was already dead, and it was his son, Ptolemy III Euergetes, who was the new King of Egypt. Ptolemy III, brother of Berenice, quickly gathered an army, immediately heading to Antioch to save his sister. He was too late. The drama that took place at the Seleucid court might not have been the main reason, but rather one of many, but soon thereafter followed the outbreak of the Third Syrian War between the Ptolemies and Seleucids.

Ptolemy III

Laodice is described by the ancient writers, and still is considered by a great majority of modern scholars, as a person who committed an unjust action. However, Laodice was far from the only one as similar stories can be found within each generation of Hellenistic dynasties. Berenice was married off to create peace between two great powers, and to secure the future of Ptolemaic control. While the action itself provided effective, no one had estimated the influence and deeds of a reviled previous queen.

The majority of the Ptolemaic princesses are known to the modern world based on their marriages to either one of the Hellenistic rulers, princes, or powerful heirs, not to mention the later associations with Roman rulers. Ptolemaic consanguineous marriages are relatively well documented in Egyptian sources, but the marriages between Ptolemaic princesses and foreign monarchs are less noticed in contemporary sources, although occasionally documented by later ancient writers. Berenice, however, is an exception as there are various ancient sources mentioning her unfortunate fate.

Cleopatra Thea

Ptolemaic princess

Ptolemaic princess

Ptolemaic princesses were used by their fathers and brothers as political instruments in cementing an alliance and therefore establish security for their own dynasty. The marriage between Berenice and Antiochus served its purpose for the time being, although another war was inevitable. The princesses could have had very little to do with the decision of whom to marry, and had to accept the rules provided by their male guardians. However, as always history provides exceptions, and while the princesses had little to say as to whom they married, they could use their influence and create a political security for themselves by promoting their situation, in their turn using their male relatives to gain ground. Thus, mothers used their sons, sisters their brothers, and daughters their fathers when possible. All for the sake of securing one’s legacy!

Berenice II mourning her (deceased) deified daughter

Ptolemaic princesses and their husbands

Husband (-s)
Contemporary source

Ptolemy I
& Thaïs
& Eurydice

& Berenice


Arsinoë II


Demetrius I

Alexander V Agathocles

*Ptolemy II 



Paus. 1.9.6

Paus. 1.10.3
Just. 24.3
Paus. 1.7.1

Strabo 16.769



CCG 22183

P.Berl. 13417a
Ptolemy II
& Arsinoë I


Antiochus II

Schol. Theoc. 17.128

P.Cair.Zen. 59251
Ptolemy III
& Berenice II

Arsinoë III
Berenice (died while still a child, deified)

Ptolemy IV

Polyb. 15.25

IG IX 56d
Ptolemy V
& Cleopatra I

Cleopatra II

*Ptolemy VI


Just. 38.8

Just. 38.8

P.dem.BM. 10589
P.Gen. II 87
Ptolemy VI
& Cleopatra II

Cleopatra Thea

Cleopatra III

*Alexander I

* Demetrius II
* Antiochus VII

Ptolemy VIII

Joseph.AJ 13.4.1

Joseph.AJ 13.4.8
Joseph.AJ 13.4.8

Just. 38.8

ANS 0000.999.46369

P.dem.Amherst II 51
Ptolemy VIII
& Cleopatra III

& unknown


Cleopatra IV

Cleopatra Selene


Antiochus VIII

* Ptolemy IX
* Antiochus IX

*Ptolemy IX
*Ptolemy X ?
*Antiochus VIII
*Antiochus IX
*Antiochus X

Psherenptah II

Just. 39.3

Just. 39.3
Just. 39.3

Just. 39.3
Just. 39.4 ?
App. Syr. 69
App. Syr. 69
App. Syr. 69




ANSMN 5 (1952) pl. XII 4

Stele i Wien nr.82
Ptolemy IX
& Cleopatra Selene ?

Berenice III

*Ptolemy X

*Ptolemy XI

Euseb.Chron. I 165
Euseb.Chron. I 165

P.Adler 12

SEG XLI 1608 ?
Ptolemy X
& Berenice III

Cleopatra V**

Name unknown

Ptolemy XII

Name unknown

Euseb.Chron. I 165


OGIS 180 ?
Ptolemy XII
& Cleopatra V

Berenice IV

Cleopatra VII

Arsinoë IV


  XIII ?
  XIV ?
*Marc Antony


Dio.Cass. 39.57
Strabo 12.3.34

Suet.Caesar 52


Plut. Ant. 25

ps-Caesar, B.Alex. 4



P.Oxy 1629

Cleopatra VII
& Marc Antony

Cleopatra Selene

Juba II

Plut.Ant. 36

Mazard 357

. * = when more than one husband.
** = the sources describing Cleopatra V are fragmentary.

Abbreviations in accordance with OCD3
Photos other than those provided by the Sirius Project are provided with links below each image