Arsinoë III – 220 – 204 BCE – Alexandria, Ptolemaic Egypt

Ancient Egypt


Arsinoë III Philopater (father loving) embodied many of the traits common among the women of the Ptolemy family. Strong willed, intelligent, fearless and a born leader, Arsinoë was easily the most powerful woman in the world in her lifetime.

She and her brother Ptolemy IV were the fourth generation of Macedonian Greeks to rule Egypt since Alexander the Great – and things were getting ugly.

After the death of Arsinoë’s father, Ptolemy III, her brother quickly had their mother Berenike killed in order to rid himself of her influence in government. According to Ptolemaic royal tradition, Ptolemy then married his sister, proclaiming Arsinoë queen.

At 26, Arsinoë proved herself a formidable leader. She ruled on equal terms with her brother-husband, taking an active role in government, as her mother had. Arsinoë did not stop there; when Syrian king Antiochus the Great declared war on her family Arsinoë stepped forward.

She dressed for battle and rode at the head of the Egyptian cavalry in the 217 BCE defeat of Antiochus at the battle of Raphias.

Unfortunately, not everyone was impressed with the hands on queen. The reign of Ptolemy IV and Arsinoë III was beset by factions and in-fighting at court.

When Ptolemy IV died in 204 BCE, his two favourite politicians feared that Arsinoë would attempt to claim the throne as regent for her five year old son. Threatened, Agathocles and Sosibus had Arsinoë murdered before she even heard the news of her brother-husband’s death.


The House of Ptolemy: A History of Hellenistic Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty – Edwyn R. Bevan

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