The Sirius Project

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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. 

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