The Early Life
Arsinoe II, born in 316 B.C.E, was the daughter of Ptolemy I Soter and Berenice I. She was the youngest of 4 children, her other siblings included Ptolemy II, Philotera, and Argaios. Her life as a female Hellenistic power house began early at the age of 15 with her marriage to Lysimachus.
After the battle of Ipsos, Arsinoe was married off to Lysimachus in order to create an alliance between Lysimachus’ kingdom with the Ptolemies. At the time Lysimachus was 51 years old and Arsinoe only 15. Since Lysimachus was getting older Arsinoe was able to rule behind her husband and have her hand in political affairs. She was given control of the area of Anatolia, or modern day Turkey. The people of Anatolia stayed faithful to Arsinoe so long as Lysimachus was still alive. Their marriage resulted in three children: Ptolemy Epigone, Lysimachus, and Philip. Arsinoe’s father, Ptolemy I, had previously been married to Eurydike. Together they had a son Ptolemy Keraunos, also known as Arsinoe’s half-brother. Eurydike wanted her son Keraunos to succeed the throne one day so she married the son of Lysimachus. Arsinoe wanted her own sons to take the throne next so she convinced Lysimachus that his son was plotting his death. Lysimachus, possibly becoming paranoid in his old age, believed her and had his son assassinated. From there Keraunos and his mother fled to Syria. During the battle of Koroupedion in 281 B.C.E. Lysimachus was killed leaving Arsinoe to face rejection from her territories. Seleucus came in and took control of the territories with she fled to Kassandreia.
Arsinoe II married her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos at an unknown date. This was purely based on two people who were hungry for power. Arsinoe was able to rule jointly with Keraunos over the territory that use to be Lysimachus’ after the death of Seleucus. Arsinoe began to believe that her husband was trying to overshadow her and gain more power so she began to conspire to have him assassinated. Keraunos found about her plans and had her 2 sons, Lysimachus and Philip, murdered. Arsinoe fled and eventually ended up in Egypt. Shortly after she left Keraunos was over taken and killed by Gaulic invaders.
After Arsinoe II ended up in Egypt she spread rumors and managed to have her brother, Ptolemy II, banish his wife Arsinoe I. After her banishment Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II married and took the name Philadelphus, sibling-lovers. Arsinoe’s father Ptolemy I had claimed the family descended from Zeus through his son Heracles. This propaganda helped to correlate Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II with Zeus and Hera as sibling rulers. Any decisions that were to be made about the kingdom was done by both of them together. This is partly due to the idea that Arsinoe was not only Ptolemy II’s wife but also his older sister and the idea that you must listen to your older siblings was extant in the Egyptian world. Arsinoe was able to have dealings in court protocol as well as the affairs of the state. Because of her other two marriages she was able to deal with foreign affairs as well. Ptolemy II gave the Fayuum region to Arsinoe to rule over. The Greeks attribute her actions to events leading to the Chremonidean War, even though it took place after her death. Arsinoe had convinced Ptolemy II to co-rule with her remaining son and join the Chremonidean Alliance against Antigonus II Gonatas. She also influenced an alliance with Athens and Sparta. The couple never had children of their own but they both had children from previous marriages that were able to be heirs to the throne. The circumstances surrounding Arsinoe’s death are unknown but she passed away in 270 B.C.E. only 7 years after her marriage to Ptolemy II.
The Cult of Arsinoe Philadelphus
In honor of Arsinoe II Philadelphus a cult was started and spread all over Egypt. Regions and cities were renamed in her honor as well. There were temples built for her cult and priestesses appointed. There were processions held in her honor in which a basket-bearer would carry the sacred basket containing items that were sacred to her cult. Sacrifices were made on peoples’ front porch consisting of birds and other animals except for goats. Alters to Arsinoe had to be made out of sand or if it was made of brick it needed to be covered in sand. Depictions of her were minted onto coins relating her to Egyptian and Greek culture. It order for the cult to be funded Ptolemy II put taxes on fruit as well as took money from other cults to put towards her. The lists of gods that Arsinoe was associated with consisted of Amun, Aphrodite, Zephyrus, Hathor, Hera, Demeter, Isis and much more. It was acceptable to associate her with gods that deemed necessary for the situation.
Arsinoe II shows that women in the Hellenistic world could be powerful, but they had to fight to get it just as much as the men would. Her power shows that marriage was important for a woman to be noticed. Her strive for power lead her to be one of the most loved Egyptian queens by the people, which is shown by the high response to her cult after her death. Arsinoe II was not the first powerful woman in the ancient world and her legacy would eventually carry down all the way to Cleopatra VIII.
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