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What’s new on Arsinoe II: A review of research in 2013

Egyptian stele from private collection (Caneva 2013)
Egyptian stele from private collection (Caneva 2013)

New studies:

Caneva S.G., “Arsinoe divinizzata al fianco del re vivente Tolemeo II. Uno studio di propaganda greco-egiziana”, Historia 62.3, 280-322.

Carney E.E., Arsinoë of Egypt and Macedon: A Royal Life, Oxford.

Hauben H., “Callicrates of Samos and Patroclus of Macedon, Champions of Ptolemaic Thalassocracy”, in K. Buraselis, M. Stefanou, D.J. Thompson (eds), The Ptolemies, the Sea and the Nile: Studies in Waterborne Power, Cambridge, 39-65.

Meadows A., 2013, “The Ptolemaic League of Islanders”, in K. Buraselis, M. Stefanou, D.J. Thompson (eds), The Ptolemies, the Sea and the Nile: Studies in Waterborne Power, Cambridge, 19-38.

Olivier Julien, Lorber C., “Three Gold Coinages of Third-Century Ptolemaic Egypt”, RBN CLIX, 49-150.


– Carney’s biography of Arsinoe II between Macedon and Egypt fills a gap in scholarship by providing the first comprehensive study of the figure of this Ptolemaic queen since the study of G. Longega.1 For the first time, both the Greek and Egyptian side of the evidence is taken into account in an encompassing study, which has the merit of combining a broad overview of topics and up-to-date bibliography with a clear, easy-reading style. Carney wisely keeps from devoting long discussion to a fetish of scholarly debate on Arsinoe II: whether the queen died in 270 or 268 BC.2 For most respects, as Carney aptly observes (p. 169 n. 2.), this alternative date is irrelevant for our appreciation of her figure because we do not have precisely dated events concerning the career of Arsinoe, which could fit in this time span. Chapter 6 (Arsinoë’s Afterlife, p. 106-134), which deals with cults for the queen, provides a useful overview of the debate on the topic.

New Documents

– Caneva provides the first photograph and edition of a small Egyptian stele (22.5 x 20.5 cm) in a private Belgian collection, previously known only from a sketch published by J. Quaegebeur in 1978.3 The stele represents Pharaoh Ptolemy II in the act of presenting a bb collar to Arsinoe, depicted with her composite crown. A “horned” altar is represented in the center of the scene. The altar is of the same type known from the Alexandrian oinochoai and from two similar stelae preserved in Toronto (ROM 979.63) and in Moscow (I.1.a 5375). This specimen is omitted in the catalogue of scenes depicting Arsinoe II published by M. Nilsson in 2012.4

Social and political networks

– Meadows and Hauben offer two related studies in the role of the League of the Islanders and of Ptolemaic officials during the reign of Ptolemy II. The Aegean league and the careers of individual figures such as Kallikrates of Samos and Patroklos the Macedonian stand out at the crossroads of political and religious history: their action appears deeply intertwined with the organization of the Ptolemaic ruler cult in general, and in particular with the construction of the religious figure of the deceased Queen Arsinoe as the goddess Philadelphos, the divine patron of the Ptolemaic naval forces and of the Empire.

– Caneva’s reappraisal of the Chremonidean decree fits in this framework. The reference to Ptolemy II’s sister, who was dead by the time of the issue of the decree, as a forerunner of the living King in the philo-Hellenic policy of the Ptolemies must be read against the ideological background of the early 260s. In this period, Greek and Egyptian evidence shows that Ptolemy II centered his propaganda on the motif of dynastic continuity by representing himself together with his deceased and deified sister, who became the protectress of the Ptolemaic Empire. Thus the reference to the King’s ancestors and sister in the Chremonidean decree does not shed light on an assumed diplomatic role played by Arsinoe in her lifetime (a point which escapes us almost entirely), but on the religious and ideological figure that Ptolemy II and his court attributed to the deceased queen.

Chronology, ideology, cults

– Olivier and Lorber provide a new study of three golden Ptolemaic emissions from the 3rd century, which is destined to become the new reference on this subject. Of great importance for the present purpose is the treatment of the golden mnaieia with the jugate portraits of the Theoi Adelphoi and the ones depicting Arsinoe Philadelphos with the dikeras on the reverse. By fixing the beginning of the jugate bust coinage before August 272 BC, the authors confirm what already proposed by A. Cavagna,5 i.e. that this type was not issued after the death of Arsinoe II, but during her joint reign with Ptolemy II, thus as a part of the celebration of the deified ruling couple. The dynastic continuity suggested by the double couple of the Theoi Adelphoi and of the Theoi Soteres finds significant parallel in the court literature of the period.6 The beginning of the issue of the Arsinoe Philadelphos coinage can be plausibly dated to the end of the 260s, yet Troxell’s explanation that their emission coincided with the reformation of the apomoira to support the installation of Arsinoe’s cult in Egyptian temples is proved wrong.7 Rather, the increment of these mnaieia in the second half of the 250s is more convincingly put in relationship with Ptolemy II’s need to settle the veterans of the Second Syrian War in the Arsinoites nome. As a consequence, Arsinoe’s image on Ptolemaic golden coins continued to play an ideological function in her widowed brother Ptolemy’s plans down to the end of his reign.

– While the possibility that Arsinoe already received cultic honors in her lifetime cannot be excluded, especially as regards the Greek milieus close to the Alexandrian court, no evidence proves that she received a centralized cult as the goddess Philadelphos before her death. Caneva’s study of the sources mentioning or representing the living King Ptolemy on the side of Arsinoe Philadelphos shows that none of them can be surely dated to the joint rule of the Theoi Adelphoi. On the contrary, all the dated documents belong to the period after the death of Arsinoe. A plausible explanation is that the death of Arsinoe made the Theoi Adelphoi a somewhat obsolete configuration of the royal couple. Pre-existing cults of the Theoi Adelphoi, as well as the mnaieia representing them together with the Theoi Soteres, did not disappear, yet the formula “King Ptolemy and Arsinoe Philadelphos” was introduced as a more up-to-date solution to represent the royal couple as still symbolically unified at an ideological and religious level.

  1. G. Longega, 1968, Arsinoe II, Roma. []
  2. In recent scholarship, the early date is defended by H. Cadell in P.Sorb III, p. 14-21. The late date is reconsidered by B. Van Oppen, 2010, “The Death of Arsinoe II Philadelphus: The Evidence Reconsidered”, ZPE 174, p. 139-150, and by the late Ch. Bennett in the webpage []
  3. J. Quaegebeur, 1978, “Reines ptolémaïques et traditions égyptiennes”, in H. Maehler, V.M. Strocka (Hg.), Das Ptolemäische Ägypten, Mainz, p. 245-262, esp. 251-252, fig. I. []
  4. M. Nilsson, 2012, The Crown of Arsinoë II: The Creation of an Imagery of Authority, Oxford. []
  5. A. Cavagna, 2008, “L’oro dei Theoi Adelphoi”, in G. Zanetto et al. (eds), Nova Vestigia Antiquitatis, Milan, p. 161-182. []
  6. Cf. S. Müller, 2009, Das hellenistische Königspaar in der medialen Repräsentation Ptolemaios II. und Arsinoe II, Berlin, esp. p. 353-362. []
  7. H.A. Troxell, 1985, Arsinoe’s Non-EraANSMN 28, p. 35-70, esp. 55. []