The queens in the Ptolemaic period of Egypt, demonstrate a level of power and influence in royal women that has not been seen before the Hellenistic Age (323 BCE – 30 BCE). The power of Ptolemaic queens reached level of reverence on par with the pharaoh of Egypt, and the queens not only maintained the direction of the Hellenistic Period, but set the fashion for upper-class Alexandrian women (Pomeroy, 1984, 40). The cult worship of these queens begins with Arsinoe II, and is continued with later queens that adopt the trappings of pharaonic power until the death of Cleopatra VII (30 BCE); these ruler-cults are direct results of the influence of women in this age, and the dynasties need to use royal ideology to legitimize their rule as foreign conquerors. In this paper I will analyze primary and secondary evidence relating to the rise of power of these queens and its use of royal ideology legitimize their reign.
The rise of power in the women of the Ptolemaic dynasty is first seen with the marriage of Arsinoe II to her full brother Ptolemy II. These sibling-rulers began a tradition of monogamous endogamy that would secure succession in the dynasty, and ward consolidate the power of the bloodline. The worship of Ptolemaic queens was not simply a by-product of divine worship of the king, but of an establishment of worship separate from the king himself.
As conquering rulers in the Hellenistic Age, an assimilation of Greco-Macedonian kingship and the ritual practice Egyptian Pharaohs legitimized the rule of the Ptolemies. The incestuous nature of the marriages between the Ptolemies has been directly linked in poetry to the divine marriages of Zeus and Hera (Theoc. XVII, 128-130), as well as Isis and Osiris. J. Andrew Foster discusses the poetry of Theocritus; he discusses the Egyptianized tones in the poetry, and how this is likely because of the Ptolemies need to legitimize their rule as foreign conquerors by portraying themselves as Egyptian. He states that the poetry “[emphasizes] Arsinoe’s Egyptian identity while depicting her in terms of semi-divine female hosts” (Andrews, 1974, 136). The poet in his Idylls compares Arsinoe to great beauties such as Helen of Troy and she is commonly associated with the goddess Aphrodite; these associations present her as a benevolent figure who will bring good fortune. Arsinoe in this poetry is also paralleled to Circe in the Odyssey, doing this reflects her role as a Greco-Macedonian queen as well as an Egyptian consort who walks the lines of the divine (138; Theoc. Id. XV, 72-3; Od. 10.221-3). this imagery presents Arsinoe as a protector and supporter of her husband, and is similar to the nurturing relationship between an Egyptian king and a goddess. The Egyptianization of foreign rulers is a concept we see recurring in Egyptian history, with examples that include the Hyksos and the Theban rulers of the twenty-fifth dynasty.
Ptolemaic rulers were legitimized through royal ideology in a number of ways....