Some Thoughts on the Early Ptolemaic Dynasty

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”
Charles Dickens Hard Times

Facts are all well and good but contrary to what Mr Gradgrind thought they do not ‘form the minds of reasoning animals’. Questions do those. Questions form the mind and answers settle it. And by answers I mean the truth. As for facts, they are uninterpreted answers, staging posts where we stop to consider what we know so that we might discover what is true.
Why are this philosophising? Yesterday, I posted some bullet point facts about the family of Ptolemy I Soter. Doing so threw up some new questions about him and the first generations of his dynasty.
Three or Four?
I don’t know about anyone else but I tend to view the great figures of antiquity as essentially political beings. So much so that whenever I come across a personal act it surprises me. Ptolemy had three confirmed wives – Artakama, Euridike and Berenike I. He may have had a fourth – Thaïs, but we don’t know if they married. Either way, the lack of information about Thaïs in the diadoch period indicates that she was content to stay in the background. This is in a marked contrast to other women who played a more active role on the political stage.
Why might Thaïs have decided to live a private life? Was she not  concerned that if Ptolemy fell in love with another woman her life and those of her children might be in danger – look at how Arsinoē II plotted against and secured the conviction of Arsinoë I.
Contrary to Athenaeus, I don’t think Thaïs did marry Ptolemy. Rather, the two came to an understanding about her place in his household: he would not marry her but he would protect her and her children. Both kept their sides of the agreement and lived happily (one hopes) until the end of their days.
Game, Set and Match
Ptolemy married Artakama because Alexander told him to. He married Euridike because she was Antipater’s daughter and he wanted to seal an alliance with him. But Berenike I-? She was the daughter of two obscure parents. True, Antipater was her grand uncle but he was two years dead by the time Ptolemy and Berenike I married. And even if he wasn’t, Ptolemy could not have imagined that marriage to a more distant relation of Antipater would please the old man more than marriage to his daughter.
On this point, I like to think that Ptolemy married Berenike I for love. She came with Euridike, he took a fancy to her, it got serious, they married.
Simple Understanding
If there is one thing I really don’t like in ancient texts are authors’ simplifications. Recently, I read about how Alexander’s favourite eunuch, Bagoas, engineered the death of a Persian named Orsines. All it took was a few words in Alexander’s ear and Orsines was dead. I refuse to believe that Alexander could have been so easily manipulated.
Even worse, though, is when the historical figure themselves act in what appears to be completely non-logical fashion. For example, what was Arsinoë II thinking of when she agreed to marry Ptolemy Keraunos? As Kevin Waterfield says, the marriage was something that

… even the ancient authors found puzzling, since [it] was so obviously doomed from the start.
(Dividing the Spoils, p. 208)

The truth is, though, we should not be so hard on Arsinoë II and anyone like her. A man without motives has not yet been born. Arsinoë had hers. If we are tempted to doubt this we might profitably look at our own lives and at the occasions when we have done things that were ‘non-logical’. We’ll be lucky if we avoid finding a justification for them as well, over and above a simple motive. Further to a tradition that Waterfield mentions, I imagine that Arsinoë’s ambition fooled her into thinking that she could be a queen and that Keraunos would accept her children by Lysimachus.
Love Power
Arsinoë II is a reason why I wonder about Thaïs’ decision – if so it was – to stay in the background of Ptolemy’s court. Ptolemy married Arsinoë off to Lysimachus in 300 BC when she was still a teenager (by our understanding, of course). As mentioned above, Arsinoë went on to marry Ptolemy Keraunos (c. 28o BC) and then, four years later, her brother Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
The marriage to Lysimachus was a matter of dynastic politics. I suspect Arsinoë got a taste for queenship in Thrace and this informed her desire to marry Ptolemy Keraunos. But what can be said of her marriage to Ptolemy II?
The idea of a pharaoh marrying his sister was a well established one in Egypt but – to the best of my knowledge – was unknown in Greece and Macedon (in the atmosphere of which Ptolemy II and Arsinoë II would have grown up). It must surely have seemed an unnatural one at first to Ptolemy II and Arsinoë. Yet, in 276 BC, they went ahead with it, anyway. I imagine the idea came from a priest. Ptolemy considered it, Arsinoë accepted it, and they married. Was it a difficult decision for them to take? Did they regret it afterwards?
Well, they stayed married, but as far as I am aware Ptolemy II and Arsinoë I never had any children. If this is correct, it is – perhaps – a sign that while they accepted the usefulness of brother-sister marriage, they were not yet ready to accept the idea of having sex with one another.
On that point, I have done a quick check on Wikipedia and as it appears to me now, the Ptolemies took much longer than I realised to become a dynasty built on incest. Ptolemy III Euergetes was Ptolemy II’s son by Arsinoë I who was no relation to her husband. Ptolemy III married Berenike II who was also no relation to her husband. Their son, Ptolemy IV Philopator married his sister Arsinoë III, and it is at this point that the brother and sister marriage produced its first child: Ptolemy V Epiphanes.
Turning to the Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayton, I note that Ptolemy IV married Arsinoë III in 217 BC. May we say that it took the Ptolemies a century, therefore, to accept the idea of a brother-sister marriage (after all, Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV did not marry their sisters)? Perhaps, but I note that Ptolemy IV ‘led a dissolute life’ (p. 211) so maybe his decision to not only marry his sister but have sex with her was informed as much by his character as it was by his philosophy or acceptance of Egyptian pharaonic norms. Coincidentally or otherwise, the reign of the hedonistic Ptolemy IV marks the beginning of the decline of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
I have digressed. What I really meant to say was after marrying Ptolemy II, Arsinoë II brought about the exile of her husband’s first wife Arsinoë I. This, for me, is the risk that Thaïs was running by not marrying Ptolemy I or – at the very least – building a power base for herself in his court. She must have been supremely confident in Ptolemy.
For every Arsinoë II there is a Philotera. Her dates are uncertain, we don’t know if she married or had children, she may have died relatively young. Despite this, her brother, Ptolemy II, had Philotera deified, a temple raised in her honour and a town built in her name. Whatever else one thinks about Philadelphus, these gestures seem supremely personal to me, also reverent, and very loving. I would be surprised if there was no political element to his actions but very few men have ever lived who did not have mixed motives. This is why facts are only staging posts and need to be interpreted in order for the truth to be discovered.
When I wrote the bullet points on Ptolemy I Soter’s family I tried to use Wikipedia as a last resort. I want to train myself to rely as much as possible on published works rather than open source. As a result, I missed the fact that Ptolemy I’s entry includes two more sons by Euridike – Meleager and Argaeus. Having now noticed them, I have added both to the post for completion’s sake but am a little wary as I haven’t seen their names anywhere else. Argaeus doesn’t have an entry on Wikipedia while Meleager has a ‘stub’. Meleager’s entry links to a website called Ancient Library but it no longer seems to work. If you know any primary source that mentions Meleager and/or Argaeus please do let me know.

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