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.
|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.
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.
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
Alexander V Agathocles
& Arsinoë I
Schol. Theoc. 17.128
& Berenice II
Berenice (died while still a child, deified)
IG IX 56d
& Cleopatra I
P.Gen. II 87
& Cleopatra II
* Demetrius II
* Antiochus VII
P.dem.Amherst II 51
& Cleopatra III
* Ptolemy IX
* Antiochus IX
*Ptolemy X ?
Just. 39.4 ?
App. Syr. 69
App. Syr. 69
App. Syr. 69
SEG IX 5
ANSMN 5 (1952) pl. XII 4
Stele i Wien nr.82
& Cleopatra Selene ?
Euseb.Chron. I 165
Euseb.Chron. I 165
SEG XLI 1608 ?
& Berenice III
Euseb.Chron. I 165
OGIS 180 ?
& Cleopatra V
Plut. Ant. 25
ps-Caesar, B.Alex. 4
& Marc Antony
. * = 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