Arsinoe IV of Egypt

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Arsinoë IV
Queen of Egypt
Jacopo Tintoretto - The Liberation of Arsinoe - WGA22667.jpg
Rescue of Arsinoe, by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1555-1556
Reign September 48 BC
with Ptolemy XIII (December 48  – January 47 BC)
Successor Ptolemy XIV of Egypt and Cleopatra VII
Born betw. 68  – 62 BC
Alexandria, Egypt
Died 41 BC
Burial Ephesus
Dynasty Ptolemaic
Father Ptolemy XII Auletes
Mother Unknown

Arsinoë IV (Greek: Ἀρσινόη, betw. 68 and 62 BC – 41 BC) was the fourth of six children and the youngest daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, and queen and co-ruler of Egypt with Ptolemy XIII from 48 BC – 47 BC, making her one of the last members of the Ptolemaic dynasty of ancient Egypt. Arsinoë IV was the half-sister of Cleopatra VII[1][2][3][4] and also a sibling of Ptolemy XIII.


When Ptolemy XII died in 51 BC, he left his eldest son and daughter, Ptolemy and Cleopatra, as joint rulers of Egypt, but Ptolemy soon dethroned Cleopatra and forced her to flee from Alexandria. Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria in 48 BC pursuing his rival, Pompey, whom he had defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus. When he arrived in Alexandria, he was presented with Pompey's head, the execution of his longtime friend and foe ended the possibility of an alliance between Caesar and Ptolemy, and instead he sided with Cleopatra's faction. He declared that in accordance with Ptolemy XII's will, Cleopatra and Ptolemy would rule Egypt jointly, and in a similar motion restored Cyprus, which had been annexed by Rome in 58 BC, to Egypt's rule and gifted it to Arsinoë and her youngest brother, Ptolemy XIV.[5][6] Caesar had Ptolemy's regent, the eunuch Pothinus, executed while the general Achillas escaped and began besieging Alexandria. Arsinoë escaped from the capital with her mentor, the eunuch Ganymedes, and joined the Egyptian army. Achillas then assumed the title of pharaoh.

When Achillas and Ganymedes clashed, Arsinoë had Achillas executed and Ganymedes placed in command of the army and had herself proclaimed queen.[7][8] Under Ganymedes' leadership, the Egyptians enjoyed some success against the Romans, they drew water from the sea and poured it into the canals that supplied Caesar’s cisterns, which caused a panic among Caesar’s troops. Caesar countered this measure by digging wells into the porous limestone beneath the city that contained fresh water, outwitting the Egyptians,[9] but the leading Egyptian officers were soon dissatisfied with Ganymedes, and under a pretext of wanting peace, they negotiated with Caesar to exchange Arsinoë for Ptolemy XIII, who was subsequently released.[10][11] However, Ptolemy continued the war until the Romans received reinforcements and inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Egyptians.

Captive, Arsinoë was transported to Rome, where in 46 BC she was forced to appear in Caesar's triumph and was paraded behind an effigy of the Lighthouse of Alexandria.[12] Despite the custom of strangling prominent prisoners in triumphs when the festivities concluded, Caesar was pressured to spare Arsinoë and granted her sanctuary at the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Arsinoë lived in the temple for a few years, always keeping a watchful eye on her sister Cleopatra, who perceived Arsinoë as a threat to her power; in 41 BC, at Cleopatra's instigation, Mark Antony ordered Arsinoë's execution on the steps of the temple. Her murder was a gross violation of the temple sanctuary and an act which scandalised Rome,[13] the eunuch priest (Megabyzos) who had welcomed Arsinoë on her arrival at the temple as Queen was only pardoned when an embassy from Ephesus made a petition to Cleopatra.[14]

Her tomb at Ephesus[edit]

In the 1990s, an octagonal monument situated in the centre of Ephesus was proposed by Hilke Thür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences to be the tomb of Arsinoë.[13] Although no inscription remains on the tomb, it was dated to between 50 and 20 BC; in 1926 a female body estimated to be between the ages of 15–20 years at the time of her death was found in the burial chamber.[15] Thür's identification of the skeleton was based on the shape of the tomb, which was octagonal, like the second tier of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the carbon dating of the bones (between 200 – 20 BC), the gender of the skeleton, and the age of the young woman at death,[16][17] it was also claimed that the tomb boasts Egyptian motifs, such as "papyri-bundle" columns.[13]

Others remain less certain regarding her identification, for example, if the skeleton does belong to Arsinoë, she would have been between the ages of 8–14 at the time of Caesar's arrival in Alexandria, too young for someone to have led an uprising against Rome.[18] Her actions in the brief war that followed had suggested she was older than that,[17] as a result of the earlier assumption that she was older, her date of birth was usually placed between 68 BC and 62 BC,[19] which would have made it impossible for her to be the woman buried in the octagon. The date of Arsinoë's birth is unknown, however, and the possibility remains that she was in fact younger than had previously been assumed, and that she may just have been a figurehead rather than an active participant in the war.

A DNA test was also attempted to determine the identity of the woman. However, it was impossible to get an accurate reading since the bones had been handled too many times,[20] and the skull had been lost in Germany during World War II. Hilke Thür examined the old notes and photographs of the now-missing skull,[21][22] which was reconstructed using computer technology by forensic anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson to show what the woman may have looked like.[23] Thür concluded that it shows signs of African and Egyptian ancestry mixed with classical Grecian features[13] – despite the fact that Boas, Gravlee, Bernard and Leonard, and others have demonstrated that skull measurements are not a reliable indicator of race.[24]

A writer from The Times described the identification of the skeleton as "a triumph of conjecture over certainty".[25] If the monument is the tomb of Arsinoë, she would be the only member of the Ptolemaic dynasty whose remains have been recovered.[26] Forensic and archaeological analysis of the origins of the skeleton and tomb are ongoing.

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Grant, Michael. Cleopatra. p. 35. 
  2. ^ Kleiner, Diana E. E. Cleopatra and Rome. p. 102. 
  3. ^ Roberts, Peter. HSC Ancient History. p. 125. 
  4. ^ Beard, Mary "The skeleton of Cleopatra's sister? Steady on." Times Literary Supplement, March 16, 2009
  5. ^ "Arsinoe IV". Retrieved 2017-04-07. 
  6. ^ "Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt: Cleopatra VII". Retrieved 2017-04-04. 
  7. ^ "Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt: Cleopatra VII". Retrieved 2017-04-07. 
  8. ^ Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Civili 3.112.10-12; De Bello Alexandrino 4; Cassius Dio, Roman History 42.39.1-2; 42.40.1; Lucan, Pharsalia 10.519-523
  9. ^ "The Internet Classics Archive | The Alexandrian Wars by Julius Caesar". Retrieved 2017-04-14. 
  10. ^ De Bello Alexandrino 23-24 and, with some deviations, Cassius Dio, Roman History 42.42
  11. ^ "E. R. Bevan: The House of Ptolemy • Chap. XIII". Retrieved 2017-04-14. 
  12. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 43.19.2-3; Appian, Civil Wars 2.101.420
  13. ^ a b c d BBC One documentary, Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer
  14. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15.89; Josephus, Contra Apion 2.57; inaccurate Appian, Civil Wars 5.9.34-36 and Cassius Dio Roman History 48.24.2
  15. ^ Josef Keil (1929) Excavations In Ephesos
  16. ^ Dr. Fabian Kanz, "Arsinoe IV of Egypt: Sister of Cleopatra identified?" April 2009
  17. ^ a b[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Mary Beard, "The skeleton of Cleopatra's sister? Steady on." A Don's Life, March 16, 2009.
  19. ^ "Arsinoe IV". Archived from the original on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  20. ^ "Have Bones of Cleopatra's Murdered Sister Been Found?". Live Science. Retrieved 2017-04-07. 
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-29. Retrieved 2010-04-15. 
  22. ^ Cleopatra's mother 'was African' - BBC (2009)
  23. ^ rogueclassicist, David Meadows ~ (2009-03-15). "Cleopatra, Arsinoe, and the Implications". rogueclassicism. Retrieved 2017-04-14. 
  24. ^ Clarence C. Gravlee, H. Russell Bernard, and William R. Leonard. "Heredity, Environment, and Cranial Form: A Re-Analysis of Boas’s Immigrant Data" American Anthropologist 105[1]:123–136, 2003.
  25. ^[dead link]
  26. ^ Hilke Thür: Arsinoë IV, eine Schwester Kleopatras VII, Grabinhaberin des Oktogons von Ephesos? Ein Vorschlag. ("Arsinoë IV, a sister of Cleopatra VII, grave owner of the Octagon in Ephesus? A suggestion.") In: Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts, vol. 60, 1990, p. 43–56.

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