Berenice II


Berenice II1, daughter of Magas, king of Cyrene and Arsinoe/Apama2, born c. 267/63, probably not queen of Cyrene on the death of her father 250/494.

Berenice II first married or was engaged to Demetrius the Fair, son of Demetrius Poliorcetes and Ptolemais5, c2496, as his second marriage7, terminated shortly thereafter by his murder when he was caught in flagrante delictu with her mother Arsinoe/Apama8. By him she had no children.

Berenice II second married Ptolemy III, king of Egypt9, probably in early 24610, by whom she had Ptolemy IV, Magas, Arsinoe III11 and Berenice12, and is presumed to have had an unknown son, here restored as Lysimachus, and Alexander13.

Berenice II's official birthday was 5 Dios (Mac.)14. She was incorporated in the dynastic cult with Ptolemy III between Artemisios year 4 (Mac.) = 7 July 244 and 30 Epheiph year 5 (Mac.) = 17 September 243 as the Benefactor Gods, Qeoi Euerghtoi15, was a victor at the Nemean Games in 245, 243 or 24115.1, and competed in an Olympic Games15.2, died early 221 allegedly from poison16, posthumously honoured from at latest year 12 of Ptolemy IV = 211/0 onwards by a priestess in the dynastic cult at Alexandria, the athlophore ("prize-bearer")17.

Berenice II held titles as queen of Egypt as follows:18

Horus               zAt-HoA jrt-n-HoA19
Nomen              brnikt nTrt mnx(t) mr(t)-nTrwt20

[1] PP VI 14499. Gr: Berenikh. Ý

[2] Justin 26.3; paternity Polybius 15.25.2 and confirmed on the Exedra of Thermos IG IX, I, I2, 56c. On official inscriptions, e.g. the Canopus Decree (OGIS 56) she is described as the sister of Ptolemy III. This reflects maturation of the theological position of the royal cult that the king and queen were children of the preceding royal couple; thus almost all subsequent queens are described as the sisters of their husbands even though in many cases, such as this one, it is provable that this was not so. Ý

[3] Based on Magas' date of death and the statement of Callimachus in the Coma Berenice that she was a young girl when she committed the act (inferred to be the murder of Demetrius the Fair) that won her a king (i.e. Ptolemy III). Ý

[4] At some point after the murder of Demetrius the Fair Cyrene was ruled for a period, at the invitation of Cyrenean citizens, as a republic under the Megalopolitan philosophers Ecdelos and Demophanes, mentioned in Plutarch, Philopoemon 1 and Polybius 10.22. The duration of this episode, the circumstances of its end, and what happened to Berenice while this regime was in place are alike equally obscure, but it seems a reasonable inference that it ended with the Ptolemaic state taking control, probably very shortly before the death of Ptolemy II. See the discussion in A. Laronde, Cyrène et la Libye hellénistique 381f.

W. W. Tarn, Antigonos Gonatas 449f., argued that certain coins of Berenice II showing her with diadem but no veil and naming "queen Berenice" and "king Ptolemy" represent her as the unmarried queen of Cyrene under the suzereinty of Ptolemy II, in the period between her father's death and the establishment of the republican regime. These coins are more usually interpreted as showing her as the regent of Ptolemy III while he was campaigning in the Third Syrian War. Ý

[5] Parentage: Plutarch, Demetrius 53.8. According to Plutarch, Demetrius ruled in Cyrene, which implies that he and Berenice were married. Justin 26.3 provides a narrative which suggests that Demetrius was only betrothed to her. Ý

[6] Dead-reckoning from Justin 26.3, assuming Magas' date of death to be 250; according to Justin, the betrothal and death of Demetrius happened shortly afterwards. Porphyry in Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 237 dates the death of Demetrius to Ol. 130.2 = 259/8. This is held to be as a result of confusion with Demetrius II of Macedon. Ý

[7] His first marriage had been to the Thessalian Olympias, daughter of Polyclitus, by whom he was the father of Antigonus III, king of Macedon 229-221 -- Porphyry in Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 243. Ý

[8] Justin 26.3. Ý

[9] Justin 26.3. Ý

[10] Based on the statement of Callimachus in the Coma Berenice that Ptolemy III left her in her wedding bed when he went to the Third Syrian War. Although there was clearly at least 6 months between the accession of Ptolemy III and the start of the war, the statement does imply that they were married around the time of his accession, or at worst not long before.

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)) states that Ptolemy III had inherited Libya from his father, which leads H. Hauben, AfP 36 (1990) 29, to believe that the marriage had occurred some time earlier, but I see no reason to conclude this. Since Magas had rebelled against Ptolemy II there is no reason to suppose that the Ptolemaic court had ever recognised his complete independence. In any case, there are grounds to suppose that direct rule was imposed as a result of conquest, not the marriage, in which case the Adulis statement would be completely correct but totally irrelevant to the date of the marriage.

L. Criscuolo, Chiron 33 (2003) 311 at 325, suggests that the marriage actually occurred in 249. She conjectures that the resultant reconstitution of the kingdom of Ptolemy I is the reason, otherwise unknown, why Ptolemy II instituted a second Ptolemaieia festival in that year in honor of Apollo, Artemis and Leto. She argues that this hypothesis would also allow us to explain what happened to Berenice between the collapse of the engagement to Demetrius and the accession of Ptolemy III. She notes that the "wedding bed" statement is only known from Catulllus' translation, not from any surviving fragment of the Callimachean original, and argues that, in any case, if poetic licence can stretch to a few months it can equally well stretch to two years and some months. Finally, noting my calculations on the spread of the birth dates of her children (as published in C. J. Bennett, ZPE 138 (2002) 141), which are certainly tight, she argues that the extra years would also give Berenice more time between births.

This is all perfectly possible, but it does not seem to me to be at all convincing. First, while it is certainly true that Apollo was the mythical founder of Cyrene (Herodotus 4.155.3), the transition from the Magan monarchy to direct Ptolemaic rule was anything but smooth, and, while the duration of the Cyrenean republic is unknown, it seems unlikely that it was so brief as to justify a celebration of reunification as early as 249. Second, as noted above it is quite likely that reunification did not directly result from the marriage, but from suppression of the Cyrenean republic, so even if her conjecture is correct it does not necessarily imply that the marriage had taken place by that same time. Third, while it is demonstrable that Catullus did, to some extent, rework the Callimachean original, it is hard to imagine what kind of trope would have been replaced by the "wedding bed" image unless the original was almost completely unrelated. Fourth, while I agree that poetic licence could allow the time frame of a "wedding bed" to be stretched, the most distinguishing feature of a new bride is that she is not yet a mother. The phrase seems to preclude the birth of children between the marriage and Ptolemy's departure. But, given the number of known children, at least two of whom were certainly born before 243, it seems unlikely that there were no children by the time the marriage was nearly three years old.

Criscuolo has also not considered the implications of a marriage in 249 for Ptolemy II's control of the dynastic succession. At that time he was nearly 60 years old, but his father had lived to be well over 80, so it was quite unsafe to assume that the succession was fixed. His own ascent had been attended by a serious succession dispute with Ptolemy Ceraunus, and he had already replaced at least two heirs -- Ptolemy III by Ptolemy "the Son", and Ptolemy "the Son" himself. Although Ptolemy III was surely heir apparent at this time, he had a legitimate younger brother (Lysimachus) and at least one bastard brother (Ptolemy Andromachou) who was apparently being groomed for a public life. Nor had Ptolemy II taken any steps to assure dynastic continuity beyond the next generation by marrying the heir apparent, despite having had plenty of opportunity to do so. Presumably this is because such an action would have implicitly confirmed the immediate succession. He had created the policy of sibling marriage, yet his own daughter Berenice Phernophorus was not married to either of his heirs, but was reserved for a marriage to Antiochus II. Indeed, except for Ptolemy IX, there is no evidence that any later Ptolemaic king married before his succession -- and that marriage created a dynastic crisis.

There was absolutely no certainty in 249 that Ptolemy III would actually succeed, let alone that he would succed any time soon, and Ptolemy II had established a clear track record of maintaining tight control over the succession. By marrying Ptolemy III to a dynastic heiress -- even a dispossessed one -- Ptolemy II gave him a potential opening to a power base in Cyrene that was not firmly under his own control. In light of his past experience, replete with serious crises of succession, it seems to me very unlikely that he would have relinquished an ounce of control on the matter that he didn't have to.

Crisculo is certainly right to point out that the date of the marriage can only be restricted to the interval 249-246, and that the direct evidence for 246 is not as strong as we might like. But her case for 249 is speculative, and not strong, while what evidence exists, both direct and circumstantial, is completely compatible with a 246 date, and in my view favours that date. Ý

[11] Polybius 15.25. Ý

[12] Decree of Canopus (OGIS 56, trans. E. R. Bevan, The House of Ptolemy 208ff.) Ý

[13] Exedra of Thermos: IG IX, I, I2, 56f, g. While Berenice II is not explicitly named as their mother she is the only option known to us, and the presence of these two sons in the exedra in association with her tends to support this view. Ý

[14] pCairZen 3.59358 refers to the "birthday of the king and queen." For the date, see discussion under Ptolemy III. Ý

[15] See discussion under Ptolemy III. Ý

[15.1] Callimachus, The Victory of Berenice. The poem is only known from fragments published in 1976 and analysed by P. J. Parsons, ZPE 25 (1977) 1.  The identification as Berenice II is explicit, since a scholion embedded in the poem explains that she was really the daughter of Magas, even though she was said to be the daughter of Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, just as Ptolemy III was said to be the son of Arsinoe II. Since she is described as a numfa -- bride or new wife -- it is clear that Berenice was already married, and that the poem was written before Callimachus' death, which is generally dated to c. 240 since he was at least 70 by that date. A. C. Cameron, Callimachus and his Critics 106, notes that only 245, 243 and 241 are possible, and rules out 245 because of the domestic unrest in Egypt that forced Ptolemy III to return from the Syrian Wars. He favours 243 because she is described as numfa, though P. J. Parsons, ZPE 25 (1977) 1 at 8 notes that Arsinoe II could be so described after several years of marriage. Ý

[15.2] Hyginus (De Astronomia 2.24). We do not know if she was victorious, though it seems a safe assumption, nor the date of the Games. On the proposal to identify her as the Berenice whose Olympic victory is celebrated in Posiddippus' epigram AB78, see discussion under Berenice Phernophorus. Ý

[16] Polybius 15.25.2; the detail of poisoning is in Zenobius 5.94. Ý

[17] The exact meaning of the term AqloforoV is unknown -- the translation suggested here is that used in S. B. Pomeroy, Women in Hellenistic Egypt 55. As with the canephores, the athlophores were changed annually, hence the mention of an athlophore by name is often sufficient to date a papyrus. The athlophore was given precedence over the canephore in the listings of the dynastic priests and priestesses for a given year. Additionally, athlophores usually later became canephores; until at least the middle of the reign of Ptolemy V, an athlophore almost always was the canephore of the following year, a phenomenon known as "Bell's Law" (S. R. K. Glanville & T. C. Skeat, JEA 40 (1954) 45).

For a list of athlophores as known in 1983, see W. Clarysse & G. van der Veken, The Eponymous Priests of Ptolemaic Egypt. This starts in year 12 = 211/0. W. Spiegelberg identified an earlier athlophore, Horme, on CCG 31088, the Raphia Decree. However, it is clear from the Greek text that the priestess named was actually the canephore. Ý

[18] Transliterations follow J. von Beckerath, Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen (2nd edition) 235 (3a). She is occasionally named in dating formulae as ruling queen, though apparently in an unsystematic fashion (see P. W. Pestman, Chronologie égyptienne d'après les textes démotiques (332 av. J.-C. - 453 ap. J.-C.) 28). Ý

[19] "The daughter of the ruler, created by the ruler". H. Brugsch, Receuil des monuments égyptiens II 85 and LXXV(3) = H. Gauthier, Livre des Rois IV 259 (LXB). This inscription is inside the temple of Philae, showing Berenice II together with Ptolemy III. Ý

[20] "Berenice the beneficient goddess, beloved of the Gods". For the reasoning associating this name with Berenice II, see discussion above. Ý

Update Notes:

10 Feb 2002: Added individual trees
21 Feb 2002: Split into separate entry
20 May 2002: Corrected Egyptian date equations as necessary
29 July 2002: Corrected discussion of the "athlophore" on CCG 31088 to note that Speigelberg was in error.
18 May 2003: Added Xrefs to the Lacus Curtius edition of Polybius
23 Aug 2003: Added Xrefs to online Justin
23 Oct 2003: Added Xref to online translation of Canopus Decree
13 Sep 2004: Add Xref to online Eusebius
30 Nov 2004: Added notice of her Nemean and Olympic victories
2 Dec 2004: Added discussion of Criscuolo's proposal to date the marriage to 249.
19 Feb 2005: Corrected Olympic "victory" to competition and expanded notes on the Nemean victory.
11 Mar 2005: Added Greek transcription, links to Bevan
13 Sep 2006: Added link to Packard Humanities DB
1 Feb 2009: Added link to online Hyginus, Xref to Hippika discussion on Olympic competition
26 Nov 2010: Fix broken links to Perseus+DDbDP

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