ptolemy egypt


Octagonal Tomb of Arsioe IV

Ephesus, Turkey

~41 BCE

15 m. in height, 5 m. in width

the Octagon was a vaulted burial chamber placed on a rectangular base with the skeleton of a 15 or 16 year old woman in a marble sarcophagus. According to an interpretation Octagon was a monument to Ptolemy Arsinoe IV, the youngest sister of the famous Cleopatra VII, that was murdered in Ephesus in 41 BC.

 Arsinoe IV (ca. 68/67 – 41 BC) was the fourth daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, sister of Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII, and one of the last rulers of the Ptolemaic dynasty of ancient Egypt. When their father died, he left Ptolemy and Cleopatra as joint rulers of Egypt, but Ptolemy soon dethroned Cleopatra and forced her to flee Alexandria.

When Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria in 48 BC and sided with Cleopatra’s faction, Arsinoe escaped from the capital with her mentor Ganymedes and joined the Egyptian army under Achillas, assuming the title of pharaoh. When Achillas and Ganymedes clashed, Arsinoe had Achillas executed and placed Ganymedes in command of the army. Ganymedes initially enjoyed some success against the Romans, negotiating an exchange of Arsinoe for Ptolemy, but the Romans soon received reinforcements and inflicted a decisive defeat on the Egyptians.

Arsinoe was transported to Rome, where she was forced to appear in Caesar’s triumph. Despite usual traditions of prisoners in triumphs being strangled when the festivities were at an end, Caesar spared Arsinoe and granted her sanctuary at Ephesus. Arsinoe lived in the temple for many years, always keeping a watchful eye for her sister Cleopatra, who saw her as a threat to her power. Her fears proved well-founded; in 41 BC, at Cleopatra’s instigation, Mark Antony ordered her executed on the steps of the temple. She was given an honorable funeral and a tomb pictured here.

Crown suggests Queen Arsinoë II ruled ancient Egypt as female pharaoh
Date: November 29, 2010 Source: University of Gothenburg

Queen Arsinoë II in the Philae temple, Aswan, Egypt.

Researchers are largely agreed on Queen Arsinoë II’s importance from the day that she was deified. She was put on a level with the ancient goddesses Isis and Hathor, and was still respected and honoured 200 years after her death when her better-known descendant Cleopatra wore the same crown. But the reasons behind Arsinoë’s huge influence have been interpreted in many different ways.

Maria Nilsson has studied her historical importance by interpreting her personal crown and its ancient symbols.“My conclusion instead is that Arsinoë was a female pharaoh and high priestess who was equal to and ruled jointly with her brother and husband, and that she was deified during her actual lifetime,” says Nilsson. “It was this combination of religion and politics that was behind her long-lived influence.”

The thesis is clearly structured around the crown and includes its wider context in the reliefs. Nilsson paints an all-round picture of the queen, how she dressed, the gods she was depicted with, the titles she was given, and so on.

Source: University of Gothenburg. “Crown suggests Queen Arsinoë II ruled ancient Egypt as female pharaoh.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 November 2010. <>.

Parchment origins, according to Pliny

According to Pliny the Elder, there was a rivalry between King Ptolemy from Egypt and King Eumenes from Pergamon. They both constructed libraries and wanted their own one to be the best (Alexandria library and Pergamon library, respectively).

This conflict led Ptolemy to prohibit the exportation of papyrus to Pergamon. As a result, Eumenes and his city developed a new writing material: Parchment, made of skins of animals, and not plants.

The word parchment comes from French parchemin, and this comes from Latin pergamenun (from Pergamon). So, you can see that the name itself shows this mythical origin.


Tetradrachm of Ptolemy II, from Alexandria, Egypt, C. 285-246 BC

Obverse: Diademed head of  Ptolemy I to right, wearing aegis around his neck; behind head, Β. Reverse: ΠΤΟΛΕΜΑΙΟΥ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ Eagle, with closed wings, standing left on thunderbolt; between legs, X.

The importance of  this coin stems not from its elegant portrait on the obverse, but from the special legend on the reverse. Instead of  the usual Basileos Ptolemaiou, which was the official regnal name of  all the Ptolemaic kings of  Egypt, this one has Basileos Soteros, which solely refers to the deified founder of  the dynasty, Ptolemy I. The aegis that the king wears makes the connection with the divine quite clear: it was not worn by mere mortals but by the gods, as Athena, or other deified heroes, such as Alexander the Great himself.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus, (309–246 BC) was the king of Ptolemaic Egypt from 283 to 246 BC. He was the son of the founder of the Ptolemaic kingdom Ptolemy I Soter and Berenice, and was educated by Philitas of Cos. He had two half-brothers, Ptolemy Keraunos and Meleager, who both became kings of Macedonia (in 281 BC and 279 BC respectively), and who both died in the Gallic invasion of 280–279 BC. Ptolemy was first married to Arsinoë I, daughter of Lysimachus, who was the mother of his legitimate children; after her repudiation he married his full sister Arsinoë II, the widow of Lysimachus.

During Ptolemy’s reign, the material and literary splendor of the Alexandrian court was at its height. He promoted the Museum and Library of Alexandria, and he erected a commemorative stele, the Great Mendes Stela.


Cleopatra belonged to a dynasty that descended from Ptolemy one of the Macedonian generals who carved up the empire created by their leader, Alexander the Great. By the time of her birth in 69 B.C., all the other Greek dynasties had long since died out; only the Ptolemies, a name they used as a title like “pharaoh,” remained. They ruled from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, the most famous of the many cities so founded and named by Alexander.

The Ptolemies’ endurance is surprising, since the aspects of Egyptian culture that they adopted tended to separate them from the Egyptians rather than bring them closer to the people. Like the pharaohs, they claimed to be gods, but the pharaohs were powerful rulers and the Ptolemies were not. Also like the pharaohs, they practised intermarriage. (Cleopatra’s first two husbands were her brothers.) Intermarriage only kept their bloodline more Greek and more cut off from the Egyptians.

Ancient Civilizations Reference Library - Judson Knight and Stacy A. McConnell


On this day in history, August 12th, two thousand and forty six years ago, Cleopatra VII, the last active ruler of Ancient Egypt, committed suicide.

Eleven days previously, her husband Marc Antony had already done the same. The couple had been engaged in a civil war against Octavian, the great nephew of Julius Caesar who had been declared his legal heir. During the final battle in Alexandria, Antony suffered serious desertions among his troops and lost the fight. Upon his return, he falsely heard Cleopatra had killed herself and fell on his sword.

After Antony’s death, Octavian arrived in Egypt and effectively took Cleopatra and her children by Antony prisoner. She had sent her eldest son Caesarion, her only living child with Caesar, away for his own safety. She knew that Octavian planned for her to march in chains behind his chariot during his triumph parade, and would very likely have her killed afterwards. Rather than suffer such humiliations and indignity, she chose to take her own life.

Popular history and mythology leads us to believe that she was killed by inducing an asp to bite her, after having locked herself in her mausoleum with her two handmaidens. However, many modern scholars believe that she instead took a mixture of poisons, since the venom of an asp does not cause a quick or painless death. Octavian and his men found her too late to do anything, Cleopatra was already dead and one handmaiden, Iras, was nearly dead on the floor. The second, Charmian, was straightening the Queen’s diadem. According to legend, one of the men asked if this was well done of her mistress, and she shot back “Very well done, as befitting the descendant of so many noble Kings.”

Upon her death, Octavian honoured her wish to be buried in her mausoleum at Antony’s side. He took her children with Antony, the twins Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios, along with their younger brother, Ptolemy Philadelphus, to Rome with him as prisoners of sorts. They were fated to march in his triumph parade in their mother’s place, the chains so heavy they could hardly walk. After this they were given to Octavian’s sister Octavia, who had been Antony’s third wife, to look after.

Cleopatra’s son with Caesar, Caesarion, was nominally sole ruler of Egypt after his mother’s death. Eleven days after her suicide, he was found after being lured back to Alexandria under false pretenses of being allowed to rule in his mother’s place. Octavian ordered his murder, on advice that “Two Caesar were too many.”

With Cleopatra’s death, and Caesarion’s subsequent murder, the rule of the Ptolemaic Dynasty came to an end and Egypt became a mere Roman Province.

Ptolemaic Rhodolite Garnet bust, late 3rd century BC

Carved as a miniature relief bust of the head of a woman, her hair rolled and bound in a fillet, drawn back to a bun, and largely covered by a veil. The subject is probably Berenike II of Egypt (ruled 246-221 BC), wife of Ptolemy III (ruled 246-221 BC).


As to the scene, it must be remembered that the Egypt of those days was not Egyptian as we understand the word, but rather Greek. Cleopatra herself was of Greek descent. The kingdom of Egypt had been created by a general of Alexander the Great after that splendid warrior’s death. Its capital, the most brilliant city of the Greco-Roman world, had been founded by Alexander himself, who gave to it his name. With his own hands he traced out the limits of the city and issued the most peremptory orders that it should be made the metropolis of the entire world. The orders of a king cannot give enduring greatness to a city; but Alexander’s keen eye and marvelous brain saw at once that the site of Alexandria was such that a great commercial community planted there would live and flourish throughout out succeeding ages. He was right; for within a century this new capital of Egypt leaped to the forefront among the exchanges of the world’s commerce, while everything that art could do was lavished on its embellishment.

Famous Affinities of History - Lyndon Orr