Arsinoe: Dynastic Origins



Arsinoe1, daughter of Meleager, and descended from the kings of Macedon2, of unknown maternity and chronology, said to have been a concubine of Philip II king of Macedon3, married to Lagus4, mother of Ptolemy I5 and probably of Menelaus6.

[1] Not in PP. Gr: Arsinoh. Ý

[2] The ancestry shown is based on that given in an extract from Satyrus (FGrH 631 fr 2), preserved in Theophilus 2.7. This gives a complete patrilineal descent for Arsinoe from Heracles and then onwards to Ptolemy IV. A copy of a portion of this, covering the generations down to Aeropus, and also giving some female ancestry, was found in pOxy 25.2465. The generations from Perdiccas I to Amyntas I are also supplied in Herodotus 8.139.1, where they are represented as the genealogy of the Macedonian kings; the number of kings preceding Archelaus, grandson of Alexander I, is stated to be 8 in Thucydides 2.100.2, and their claim to descent from the Argive Temenos in Thucydides 2.99.3. The list is also given in Justin 7.2 (omitting Alcetas) and Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 229, who also presents reign-lengths, though the basis for these is uncertain.

Evidently Satyrus was a contemporary of Ptolemy IV. However, the claim of royal Macedonian descent through Arsinoe appears to be older. Ptolemy III, in the Adulis inscription (OGIS 54, trans. E. R. Bevan, The House of Ptolemy 192f., M. M. Austin, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest 365 (221)), which is believed to date from early in his reign, states that Ptolemy I was descended on his mother's side from Dionysos. Theocritus Idyll 17, written under Ptolemy II, says that that king was descended from Heracles, who was also an ancestor of Alexander, though Theocritus gives no indication as to how this came about.

In later times, Arsinoe was said to have been a concubine or a prostitute at the royal Macedonian court (Curtius 9.8.22). W. W. Tarn, JHS 53 (1933) 57, in discussing the story that Ptolemy I was a son of Philip II, dismisses the possibility that Arsinoe was of royal ancestry for this reason. His argument was that if the story was true her status would have been such that Philip II would simply have married her. But this assumes that Philip II really was the father of Ptolemy I, which is almost certainly false. Yet, whatever her morals, she was evidently connected well enough that Ptolemy I could be launched on his career as a companion of Alexander. There is no suggestion that Lagos had any such connections -- instead, he is in some sources made to carry the burden of giving respectability to Arsinoe's bastard son by marrying her when she was pregnant with him (see the discussion of Ptolemy I's paternity). In fact this is exactly what one might expect to happen if a girl of good family became pregnant while unmarried. So the picture presented in the genealogy of Satyrus, that she was the daughter of a minor branch of the royal family, is eminently plausible, if not directly verifiable.

The generations from Heracles to Perdiccas I are omitted from the chart as being universally agreed to be legendary. For completeness they are: Heracles the son of Zeus had by Deianira daughter of Dionysos and Althea, the daughter of Thestius Hyllus; who had by [name lost] Cleodaios (or Cleodemos); who had by [name lost] Aristomachos; who had by [name lost] Temenus; who had by Dor[...] Ceisus; who had Maron; who had Thestrus; who had Acous; who had Aristodamidas; who had Caranus; who had by Lan[ike] Coenus; who had by Kleonike Tyrimmas the father of Perdiccas. Heracles has his own complex genealogy connecting him to the legendary dynasties of the Mycenean age, but this is far beyond the scope of this webpage.

From Perdiccas I onwards the traditon is today regarded as "proto-historical". The following remarks give brief commentary on the ancestry as presented here. Additional remarks may be found online by E. Badian, Studies in the History of Art 10 (1967), and W. S. Greenwalt, AHB 10.2 (1996) 47. See also N. G. L. Hammond and G. T. Griffith, A History of Macedonia II 13.

i) Perdiccas I: He is presented as founder of the kingdom of Macedon in Herodotus 8.137.1. This evidently represents Macedonian tradition of the time of Perdiccas II of the mid 5th century BC, and probably at least a generation earlier. While Perdiccas I may have been named for Perdiccas II, it is more likely to be the other way round, since the latter's father, Alexander I, had had to produce an Argive ancestry that was sufficiently convincing to have allowed him to compete in the Olympic games (Herodotus 5.22.2), probably before his accession. Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 229 gives Perdiccas I 48 years.

In later times, the origins of the kingdom were pushed back to his supposed great-grandfather Caranus, then said to be the 16th generation from Heracles and brother of Pheidon king of Argos. This story is recorded by Theopompus of Chios and by Justin 7.1. Caranus is said to have driven Midas of Phrygia out of those parts of Macedon which he occupied. Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 229, gives Caranus, Coenus and Tyrimmas 30, 28 and 43 years respectively. At root, the name "Caranus" means "lord" or "chief". However, A. Daskelakis, The Hellenism of the Ancient Macedonians, points out that it is also attested as the name of a 6th century Spartan general. He suggests that "Caranus" was orginally a title used by the founder of the Macedonian royal house, but that in later times its original meaning was lost, and that, since the term had by then become a proper name, it was supposed that Caranus was a separate person from Perdiccas. Daskelakis therefore proposes that Caranus and Perdiccas I are the same man. Where this theory leaves Coenus, Lan[ike], Tyrimmas and Kleonike is unclear. However, it does seem to square reasonably well with the traditional chronology of Pheidon, who reigned in the early part of the 7th century, and who may well have been a contemporary of Perdiccas, whether or not they were in fact related.

ii) Cleopatra: N. G. L. Hammond and G. T. Griffith, A History of Macedonia II 13, regard the name as an anachronism, noting that Perdiccas II also had a wife called Cleopatra. J. E. G. Whitehorne, Cleopatras 9ff., argues that the name is historical, noting that Satyrus had clearly not provided maternal names in every generation (though all this really proves is that Satyrus was careful in respecting the limitations of his sources). Whitehorne identifies this Cleopatra with the Cleopatra named by Tzetzes, Schol. Lycophron Alexandra 1397, as the sister of king Midas of Phrygia. He links this to the "Garden of Midas" mentioned in Herodotus 8.138.2, and with the story of Justin 7.1 that Caranus, founder of Macedon, drive Midas out of Macedonia. He conjectures that in fact Perdiccas dispossessed a local chieftain called Midas, whose sister (Cleopatra) he had previously married.

iii) Argaeus: Omitted by Theophilus, presumably in error. He is named in Herodotus 8.139.1, pOxy 25.2465, Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 229, and presumed in Thucydides 2.100.2.

iv) Argaeus to Alcetas: These generations are names only. Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 229 gives them reign-lengths as follows: Argaeus: 38 years; Philip I: 33; Aeropus: 20; Alcetas: 18. As noted by W. S. Greenwalt, AHB 10.2 (1996) 47, later Macedonian history suggests that it is highly unlikely that the succession was anything like as smooth as this list implies. However, that does not mean the ancestry is substantially wrong. While the Macedonian succession was chaotic in the fourth century, in the fifth the kings were quite long-reigned, even though they often had to struggle to maintain their position. This may well represent the reality of earlier times. So, the ancestry may well be substantially correct, even if the actual succession of kings has been sanitised -- that is, each king was the dominant king of his generation, and gave rise to the next. Alternatively, since we cannot prove that any of these individuals actually acted as king, we may have here the ancestry of the cadet branch that finally resulted in Amyntas, which was later promoted as a succession of kings. A more serious complaint against this portion of the genealogy is the fact that the number of generations given here has the effect of making the Macedonian house as old as the Achaemenids of Persia, so it is quite possible that this section of the list was doctored, probably by Amyntas I, in order to produce this effect. If we are correct that the list was first publicised by Alexander I before his accession, or early in his reign, then Alcetas at least will have been in living memory, so Aeropus and Philip are likely to have been correctly remembered.

v) Amyntas I: The first apparently historical king of Macedon. He is mentioned in Herodotus 5.17.1 as having received the envoys of Darius I on the occasion of Darius' invasion of Greece. His daughter Gygea married the Persian Bubares (Herodotus 5.21.2, 8.136.1, Justin 7.4), son of Megabazus who had commanded that invasion of Greece, and had a son Amyntas who was an adult at the time of the invasion of Xerxes. Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 229 gives him 42 years.

The genealogy as preserved by Theophilus jumps straight from Amyntas to Balacrus, but this cannot be right. Amyntas I was a contemporary of Darius I, i.e. in the late 6th century, but Balacrus apparently lived only three generations before Ptolemy I, i.e. in the mid-late 5th century. There appear to be two missing generations. K. J. Beloch, Griechische Geschichte IV.2 177, noted that the youngest son of Alexander I was another Amyntas (Syncellus 500), father of Arrhidaeus father of Amyntas III, the father of Philip II (Diodorus 14.92.3, 15.60.3). According to Syncellus, Amyntas was the youngest son of Alexander I and lived a private life, not taking part in the dynastic feuds that took place at Alexander's death. Beloch suggested that Theophilus had elided Alexander I and this Amyntas, and that Satyrus' original genealogy showed Amyntas father of [Alexander father of Amyntas father of] Balacrus. We know from the case of Argaeus that Theophilus is capable of such omissions. Unfortunately, pOxy 25.2465 breaks off before reaching this portion of the genealogy, so the conjecture cannot as yet be verified. However, it is plausible and widely accepted.

vi) Balacrus: The name as given by Theophilus is "Bokros", which is otherwise unknown in the Greek onomasticon. However, the name "Balakros" is quite well known, including Balacrus son of Amyntas, a commander of Alexander's. The existence of this Ba[la]crus is not independently attested.

vii) Meleager: The existence of this Meleager is not independently attested, however a younger, probably second, son of Ptolemy I by Eurydice, briefly king of Macedon in 279, bore the name, which he may well have taken from his father's maternal grandfather. Ý

[3] Curtius 9.8.22. Ý

[4] Aelian fr 285.17 in Suda, LagoV. Ý

[5] Satyrus FGrH 631 F 2; Aelian fr 285.17 in Suda, LagoV. It is doubtful that Lagus was the father of Ptolemy I. Ý

[6] See discussion under Menelaus. Ý

Update Notes:

12 Feb 2002: Add individual charts
18 Feb 2002: Split out into separate entry
18 May 2003: Kill dead links to AHB
23 Aug 2003: Add links to online editon of Justin
24 Feb 2004: Added Xref to texts of Curtius and Theocritus
6 April 2004: Added discussion of Tarn's argument against Arsinoe's connection to the Macedonian royal family
6 April 2004: Restored AHB link via Internet Wayback Machine (thanks David Meadows). THIS IS SLOW.
19 May 2004: Back out AHB links again, since the thought police have got to the IWM. Found a new site for Theophilus Xref
16 Sept 2004: Added Xrefs to Suda
11 Mar 2005: Added Greek transcription, link to Bevan
12 Sep 2006: Link to Packhard Humanities epigraphical database
6 Sep 2010: Fix broken Perseus links, kill dead links, add Diodorus and Lycophron (but not the scholia) links

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