Posts Tagged With: Arsinoë II

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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The Bullet Point Alexander: Ptolemy I Soter’s Family

Blog posts for the interested and rushed
read a section at a time

  •  Read more bullet points here

Ptolemy I Soter

  • Ptolemy Lagides was born in the Macedonian province of Eordaea
  • His father was named Lagus and his mother Arsinoë
  • Ptolemy had one known sibling – Menelaus
  • The date of Ptolemy’s birthdate is not known with certainly. Pseudo-Lucian places it c. 367/6 BC but this is disputed by scholars who believe Ptolemy to be Alexander the Great’s (b. 356 BC) contemporary
  • During the Wars of the Successors that followed Alexander’s death in 323 BC it was rumoured that Ptolemy was Alexander’s half-brother. This was probably no more than propaganda
  • In 305/4 BC, Ptolemy helped the island of Rhodes in its fight against Demetrios Poliorcetes. The Rhodians won the day. To thank Ptolemy for his help, they gave him the title of Soter (Saviour)
  • Ptolemy died in 283 BC

Ptolemy’s Women

  • Ptolemy married either three or four times and had eleven children (six sons and five daughters)
  • The uncertainty in the above figure is caused by the fact that we don’t know if he married Thaïs or not


  • Date of birth and death are both unknown
  • Thaïs was an Athenian hetaera (courtesan)
  • Nota Bene Today, courtesans are commonly regarded as escorts or high-class prostitutes. This understanding does no justice to the hetaera of ancient Greece. Hetaerae were highly educated and cultured women whose company was sought for their intellect and artistic skills. They may also have been hired for sexual services but, unlike prostitutes (pornai), not for this purpose – or for this purpose – alone
  • We do not know when Ptolemy met Thaïs but it may have been through Alexander as Athenaeus (fl. late AD C2nd – early C3rd) states Alexander “liked to keep Thaïs with him”
  • Thaïs is most (in)famous for inciting Alexander to burn the Royal Palace in Persepolis down
  • This story appears in Diodorus’ history, which is based on Cleitarchus’ account of Alexander’s expedition (which draws from the memories of eye witnesses)
  • Unlike Ptolemy, Cleitarchus did not take part on the expedition
  • For his part, Ptolemy mentions what happened at Persepolis only briefly
  • Was he protecting Thaïs’ reputation? Possibly – but be warned, although Cleitarchus spoke to soldiers in the Macedonian army for his history his is not a wholly reliable account. As Livius notes, Cleitarchus ‘delights in fantastic tales and he sometimes sacrificed historical reliability to keep the story entertaining and to stress the psychological development. Therefore, Cleitarchus’ History of Alexander contains many errors (some serious)
  • Thaïs gave birth to three children. Two sons and a daughter: Lagus, Leontiscus and Eirene

Ptolemy’s Children by Thaïs


  • Date of birth/death unknown
  • Won a chariot race at the Arcadian Festival in 308/07


  • Date of birth/death unknown
  • Taken prisoner in Cyprus by Demetrios Poliorcetes in 307/6 (and sent home to Egypt)


  • Date of birth/death unknown
  • Married Eunostus, king of Soli (in Cyprus)

II. ARTAKAMA (aka Apame)

  • Born c. 355-345
  • Daughter of Artabazus (Satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia under Artaxerxes II and Bactria under Alexander)
  • Sister of Alexander’s mistress, Barsine
  • Married Ptolemy in Susa, 324 BC
  • No further mention is made of her in the histories. Possible/likely that Ptolemy divorced her after Alexander’s death
  • No known issue


  • Date of birth and death are both unknown
  • Daughter of Antipater
  • Sister of the diadoch Cassander
  • Married Ptolemy in 321/0 as part of an alliance between Ptolemy and Antipater
  • Gave birth to (at least) one son: Ptolemy ‘Keraunos’ and two daughters: Ptolemais and Lysandra
  • Divorced/became estranged from Ptolemy at an unknown date
  • In 280 BC, Keraunos took his mother to live in Cassandreia in Macedon
  • Appears to have had a festival (the Euridikeia) created in her honour by someone named Apollodorus
  • Aunt of Euridike, daughter of Lysimachus (b. ?362/1 – 282/1 BC) and Nicaea (b. ? – ?)

Ptolemy’s Children by Euridike

Ptolemy Keraunos

  • Born c. 319 BC
  • Keraunos means ‘Thunderbolt’ not because of ‘…”his unpredictable and sinister character,” as hostile propaganda claimed, but for the power he wielded‘ (Waterfield, p. 194)
  • In c. 287 BC Ptolemy I named Ptolemy II Philadelphus as his successor
  • In response to this and on an unknown date Keraunos left Egypt
  • He made his way to Lysimachus’ court in Thrace, perhaps because his half-sister, Arsinoë II, was at that time married to Lysimachus there
  • On an unknown date Keraunos left Thrace after Arsinoë II had Lysimachus’ son, Agathocles (who was married to Arsinoë’s sister, Lysandra), killed
  • They went to the Seleucid court
  • In 281 BC, Seleucus defeated Lysimachus in the Battle of Corupedium. Keraunos took part in the battle on the side of Seleucus
  • In 281/0 BC Seleucus crossed into Thrace to take the Macedonian throne. Wanting it for himself, Keraunos killed the last surviving diadoch
  • Keraunos became king of Macedon. He married his step-sister, Arsinoë II
  • Not long after the marriage, Keraunos murdered three of Arsinoë II’s sons by Lysimachus (a fourth, the eldest, survived)
  • She fled to Egypt where she would marry her brother, Ptolemy II
  • In 279 BC, Keraunos died fighting Celtic invaders


  • Date of birth and death unknown
  • In c. 298 BC, she was betrothed to Demetrios Poliorcetes as part of a friendship pact between Ptolemy and Seleucus
  • Ptolemais finally married Demetrios in 286 BC at the behest of her mother, Euridike, who was now estranged from Ptolemy


  • Date of birth and death unknown
  • Married to Alexander V in c. 298/7 BC. He was murdered by Demetrios Poliorcetes in 294 BC 
  • Married to Agathocles son of Lysimachus in c. 293 BC as part of an alliance between Ptolemy and Lysimachus
  • Fled to the Seleucid court after Arsinoë II had Agathocles killed


  • Date of birth and death unknown
  • Succeeded Ptolemy Keraunos as king of Macedon for two months in 279 BC before being forced to abdicate by his army


  • No details of Argaeus’ life are known to me


  • Born c.340s BC
  • Daughter of Magas and Antigone
  • Granddaughter of Cassander who was Antipater’s brother (uncle of the diadoch with that name)
  • Married a man named Philip on an unknown date and gave him a son and daughter – Antigone and Magas
  • The father of a third child, Theoxene, is not known with certainty
  • Philip appears to have died by 320/19 when Berenike travelled to Egypt with her cousin Euridike who was on her way to marry Ptolemy
  • Not long after their arrival, Berenike became Ptolemy’s mistress
  • Married Ptolemy in 317 BC
  • Gave birth to three children – one son – Ptolemy II Philadelphus and two daughters: Arsinoë II and Philotera

Ptolemy’s Children by Berenike

Ptolemy II Philadelphus

  • Born 309 BC on Cos
  • Ruled Egypt as Joint-King with Ptolemy I between 285-283 BC
  • Married i. Arsinoë I, daughter of Lysimachus ii. his own sister, Arsinoë II
  • Continued the building of the Lighthouse of Pharos
  • Continued the translation of the Septuagint Bible
  • Continued the building of the Museum of Alexandria (incl. temple and library)
  • Deified his mother and father as ‘Saviour Gods’
  • Ptolemy II and Arsinoë II were worshipped as the Theos Adelphoi (‘Sibling Gods’)
  • Died in 246 BC
  • Succeeded by Ptolemy III Euergetes (son of Arsinoë I)

Arsinoë II

  • Born c. 317/15
  • Married Lysimachus in 300 BC
  • Married her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos c. 280 BC
  • Fled to Egypt c 280/79 BC after Keraunos murdered three of her sons by Lysimachus
  • In Egypt, she was reunited with her eldest son
  • Married her brother, Ptolemy II Philadelphus c. 276 BC
  • Date of death unknown
  • Callimachus wrote a poem in her honour after her death


  • Lived c. 315/09 – c. 282/68 BC
  • Not known if she married or had children
  • After her death, Ptolemy II had Philotera deified, and a temple built in her honour in Alexandria. He also built a new town and named it after her. This town is modern day Safaga

Dividing the Spoils 
by Robin Waterfield (OUP, 2011)
Ptolemy of Egypt by Walter M. Ellis (Routledge, 1994)
Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)
When I say that something is ‘unknown’, I mean principally that it unknown to me. Therefore, if you know any information regarding Ptolemy’s family (or anything else you read on this blog) do feel free to let me know!

Categories: The Bullet Point Alexander, The Ptolemaic Dynasty | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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