It’s safe to say that the Ptolemy’s were not like other families. Rulers of Egypt for three hundred years, they were of Macedonian Greek heritage. Every male was called Ptolemy (pronounced ‘toll-uh-mee’) and every woman in the family was named Cleopatra, Berenice or Arsinoë (Ahh-seen-oh-way).
And it wasn’t just names they kept in the family. The Ptolemy’s were notorious for intermarrying.
Arsinoë II was the eldest daughter of Ptolemy II ‘the Saviour’, founder Greek rule in Egypt. A high ranking princess, she was married to King Lysimachus of Macedonia at the age of fifteen. She had three sons – Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Philip. However, Lysimachus had a son from an earlier marriage, meaning than Arsinoë’s boys were second in line for the throne. To improve their chances, Arsinoë had the first son poisoned for treason.
Lysimachus died in battle in 281, leaving Arsinoë widowed at thirty-five. The queen acted quickly and went to Cassandreia to marry her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos (Thunderbolt). The couple proclaimed themselves joint rulers of Lysimachus’ territories; Macedonia and Thrace.
The marriage was not a happy one. Displeased with the amount of power her brother-husband was amassing, Arsinoë conspired against him with her sons. Unfortunately, Ptolemy Keraunos found out and had the two younger boys killed.
Arsinoë fled back home to Egypt, while her eldest son escaped to northern Greece. Ptolemy Philadelphus (sibling-loving) was Arsinoë’s brother and King of Egypt. He granted his sister protection and she was soon conspiring again. First, she had her brother’s first wife, Arsinoë I exiled. Then she married him herself.
Now Arsinoë II was co-ruler of Egypt, the wealthiest country in the world at the time. She had all of her brother’s titles and became hugely influential, having towns dedicated to her, her own cult (as was Egyptian custom), and appearing on coinage.
Arsinoë did not rest once she was queen. She contributed to foreign policy,
including Ptolemy II’s victory in the First Syrian War (274-271 BC) between Egypt and the Seleucid Empire in the Middle East.
According to Posidippus, she won also three chariot races at the Olympic Games, probably in 272 BC.
Even after her death, Ptolemy II continued to refer to Arsinoë on official documents, as well as supporting her coinage and cult. He also established her worship as a Goddess, a clever move, because by doing this he established also his own worship as a god.