Bilistiche1, probably a Macedonian or possibly an Argive2, probably daughter of Philo3, possibly wife of Andromachus4 by whom she was probably not the mother of Berenice, canephore in year 18 (Mac.) = 268/75, mistress of Ptolemy II6 in the early 260s7, by whom she may have been the mother of Ptolemy Andromachou8; victor in the quadriga for colts probably at the 128th Olympics of 2689 and in the pair on its introduction at the 129th Olympics of 26410, probably to be identified with Bilistiche, canephore in year 35 (Mac.) = 251/011, died in Canopus on an unknown date before 246 and was buried in the temple of Serapis at Rakotis by Ptolemy II12, and was deified by him as Aphrodite Bilistiche13.

[1] PP VI 14717. Gr: Bilistich. The spelling is given variously as "Belistiche" (Pausanias 5.8.11); "Belestiche" (Plutarch, Moralia 753e); "Blistichis" (Clement, Protrepticus 4.42); "Philistaikhus" (Eusebius, Chronicorum (ed. Schoene) I 207). The spelling "Bilistiche" is contemporary, given in pCairZen 2.59289.

The name is unusual. It is generally supposed to be a Greek name, based largely on this example. O. Masson in Fs Iiro Kajanto 109 at 110, notes that Dindorf, in 1833, had suggested that it is a Macedonian dialectical form, noting that Philip II knew himself as "Bilippos" (Plutarch, Moralia 292e); Masson pointed out other examples of this phonetic shift -- "Bilos"/"Philos", "Bilis" / "Philis". Dindorf suggested that there should be a normalised form similar to "Philistiche"; this is borne out by the "Philistaikhus" of Eusebius. Masson pointed out that this hypothetical form is now known from SEG 31.477, dating from the 1st century BC, and that it is a perfectly acceptable Greek name.

On the other hand, it has also been argued that the name is not Greek. E. Bevan, The House of Ptolemy 77 n. 4, notes that Petrie had suggested that it was possibly Iberian (cognate to a "Bilistages" recorded in Livy 34.11) or Phoenician ("Ba'al-yishthag"). pHibeh 2.261, pHibeh 2.262 record a "Belistiche" making loans in Oxyrynchus in 239/8. This Belistiche is identified as a Tyrian, the daughter of Me[....]. It is sometimes suggested that this is the same woman, but this cannot be the case, in view of the date -- several years after the death of Ptolemy II. For the same reason, this example does not prove that the name was Phoenician. The Tyrian lived in the generation following, and may well have been named after, the concubine; perhaps her father Tyrianised a Greek name.

O. Masson in Fs Iiro Kajanto 109 at 112, while doubtful that "Belistiche" is actually an authentic variant of the name, notes that, nevertheless, it has a perfectly reasonable Phoenician form. He conjectured that, if the name was in fact Phoenician, it might have actually been the original version of the name, possibly implying that Bilistiche was actually of Phoenician origin. Based in part on this, E. Kosmetatou, AfP 50 (2004) 18 at 24, speculates that Bilistiche may originally have been a Phoenician who adapted her own name to a phonetically similar form that, while rare (or even non-existent up to that time), was or (could be) authentically Greek in order to better her career. She notes that another mistress of Ptolemy II, Didyme, took a Greek name that was a translation of a known Egyptian name, and suggests that Bilistiche did something similar.

To my mind, the case for Greekness is much stronger than the case for a Phoenician origin (let alone Iberian). The only evidence for the latter is the Tyrian "Belestiche", but she occurs in a context where a non-Phoenician explanation of her name is perfectly viable. The dialectic shift F => B in names of this type is well-documented, and the text of Eusebius suggests that it was regarded by the ancients themselves as an explanation for this name. As to Kosmetatou's suggestion, although one can certainly imagine answers (e.g. to explain an ineradicable accent), one still has to wonder why a social-climbing Phoenician courtesan would have retained a version of her name that still reflected an outsider origin when she could so easily have adopted the educated form of the name. Ý

[2] Macedonian: Pausanias 5.8.11; Argive: Athenaeus, 13.596e, who further says she claimed to be descended from the Atreides. F. Jacoby, Simblos 4 (2004) 193, is inclined to think that the Argive is a different woman, noting that Athenaeus claimed to know of the Argive Bilistiche through unspecified local historians and that he includes no detail which requires her to be placed in the Hellenistic epoch. These are fair points, but it is also true that the two claims are not inconsistent. The Macedonian royal house claimed to be of Argive descent, so it is quite possible that Bilistiche's claims were similar in nature but were only noted by Argive historians out of parochial interest.

Plutarch (Moralia 753e) calls her "a barbarian from the marketplace", which suggests a non-Greek, possibly slave, origin. E. Kosmetatou, AfP 50 (2004) 18 at 20 suggests this was taken from a lost satire that Sotades is known to have written about her. She also notes that Pausianias describes her origins vaguely as "coastal Macedonia", rather than a specific locale as was usual, and argues that in this period outsiders might claim a Macedonian origin to gain social acceptance, citing as an example the historian Istros, who is variously described as a native of Cyrene, Alexandria, Macedonia or Paphos. Further arguing that satires often contained a kernel of truth, that the name "Bilistiche" is possibly Phoenician in origin, and that Ptolemy II had at least one mistress of non-Greek origin who had adopted a Greek name (Didyme), Kosmetatou suggests that Bilistiche was a courtesan, possibly of Phoenician origin, who had reinvented herself as a Macedonian aristocrat. She suggests that the vagueness of her "Macedonian" origin was intended to indicate that she was a second-generation immigrant to Egypt.

Several of the same points had already been made by F. Jacoby, Simblos 4 (2004) 193 (this paper was written in the early 1940s but not published in his lifetime), though he gives no credence to the Phoenician connection. He notes the vagueness of her origins as "coastal Macedonia" is unique. He also notes that Alexander's admiral Nearchos was universally considered as a Cretan, because his father was one, although he himself was a Macedonian from Amphipolis, so that the description of Blistiche as "Macedonian" actually tells us very little about her ethnicity. Nor does her participation in the Olympics prove that she was Greek, since Macedonians, including non-royal Macedonians, had provably taken part in earlier Games.

While I agree that Bilistiche (or her father) could well have had low or obscure social origins, and that use of the ethnic "Macedonian" is not necessarily proof of being Macedonian, I think Kosmetatou goes too far in her conjecture. Satires contain as much outright slander as truth, I don't see any reason to doubt that her name is actually Greek, and the Argive story, if it does indeed apply to her, can readily be explained on the assumption that she was in fact Macedonian (cf. A. Cameron, GRBS 31 (1990) 287 at 302). Pending evidence to the contrary, I think it is most likely she was a Macedonian in Egypt; probably second-generation, daughter of a man whose family was of obscure and possibly Greek origin. Ý

[3] If she is identical with the canephore of 251/0, Bilistiche daughter of Philo. The canephores of year 29 = 257/6 (pHibeh 1.95) and year 38 = 248/7 (PSI 5.521), Demonike and Meniste, also daughters of Philo, might then be her sisters, as was first suggested by C. C. Edgar, ASAE 19 (1919) 81 at 99.

The name Philo or Philon is quite common (there are over 40 Philons in the index in PP VIII), but if this man was indeed the father of three canephores, he was, so far as I know, the only man to achieve this feat. The fact requires some explanation. If Bilistiche herself was of low social origin it probably reflects her continuing influence as the king's mistress rather than her father's influence. Alternately, it might suggest the opposite: that Philo was of very high standing at the Alexandrian court, as was proposed by C. C. Edgar, ASAE 19 (1919) 81 at 99. If the canephore is not the mistress, this last explanation is almost certain.

E. Kosmetatou, AfP 50 (2004) 18 at 22, 33 mentions a suggestion that Philon should be identified with a known admiral of Ptolemy II (and that Bilistiche was his illegitimate daughter); the same proposal had been made in the 1940s in a then-unpublished paper by F. Jacoby, Simblos 4 (2004) 195 at 200 n. 27. This Philon brought back topazes from the Red Sea which he presented as a gift to the king's mother, Berenice I (Pliny, NH 37.32); evidently he was prominent early in the reign. While the suggestion refers to the father of the canephore, who may only be a homonym, this chronology seems very consistent with Bilistiche's, so there appears to be no chronological objection to it, if she was in fact the canephore (though I see no reason to suppose she was not legitimate).

The suggestion is certainly attractive. However, in view of the widespread use of the name Philon I am hesitant to accept it without further evidence. Ý

[4] Inferred from the conjecture that Bilistiche was the mother of Ptolemy Andromachou together with pHaun 6, which describes Ptolemy Andromachou as "so-called". The most likely, though not the only, possible interpretation of this is that Ptolemy Andromachou was really the son of Ptolemy II but was politely called the son of Andromachus, i.e. that his mother (here identified as Bilistiche) was in fact the wife of an Andromachus. The eponymous priest for 251/0, Ptolemy Andromachou, named in pCairZen 3.59318, 3.59325, certainly claimed to be the son of an Andromachus.

Independent proof of the existence of a senior Ptolemaic courtier called Andromachus emerged from E. Van't Dack, CdE 36 (1962) 179, in publishing PSI 6.639 + pColZen II 114j = pZenPestman 38, who argued that he was eponym of a newly founded village mentioned in the documents, dated to 253 and 249, and, by comparison with similar eponyms, must therefore be one of the highest ranking members of the Alexandrian court. He therefore conjectured that he is the Andromachus associated with Ptolemy Andromachou. More recently, another Andromachus has emerged in pSorb. 2440 as the father of Berenice, the canephore of 268/7 (H. Cadell in H. Melaerts (ed.) Le culte du souverain dans l'Égypte ptolémaïque au IIIe siècle avant notre ére, 1). Since this Andromachus was clearly a courtier, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that he is the same man, although proof is lacking.

J. Crampa, Labraunda III.1, 107, while not accepting that "Andromachou" refers to any Andromachus, suggests that, if it does, one possible candidate is the Seleucid distaff prince Andromachus, father of Achaeus the younger, who was a prisoner in Egypt in the 220s (Polybius 4.51). He supposes he adopted "the Son" when he went over to the Seleucid camp in the 250s. This is hardly likely because it fails to explain how Andromachou was eponymous priest in 251/0, at a time well after he had supposedly turned coat. Ý

[5] pSorb. inv. 2440 names Berenice, daughter of Andromachus, as canephore in year 18 = 268/7; to date, she is the earliest securely-dated canephore. What evidence we have on the age of canephores suggests that they were usually adult. Since Bilistiche was almost certainly the king's mistress in this year, she is very unlikely to have the mother of an adult canephore. Even supposing Bilistiche to have been the wife of Berenice's father, Berenice's mother was probably a different woman, most likely an earlier wife. For the same reason, it is very unlikely that Berenice was a sister of Ptolemy Andromachou, i.e. an otherwise-unknown daughter of Ptolemy II by Bilistiche. Ý

[6] Memoirs of Ptolemy VIII, quoted in Athenaeus 13.576e-f; Plutarch, Moralia 753e. Ý

[7] Since she is first clearly attested as a victor at Olympia in 268. Ý

[8] See discussion under Ptolemy Andromachou. Ý

[9] pOxy 17.2082 fr 6+7 (imaged here). The number of the Olympiad is lost, and the name of the victor and, in part, the event is reconstructed by A. S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri XVII 91, 95: [BilistichV M]aketidoV pwlik[o]n/[teqrippon] auth Ptolema[iou/Filadelfou et]ai[r]a estin.

The papyrus is a fragment of a lost history, believed to be that of Phlegon, a contemporary of Hadrian. These fragments form part of a segment that listed Olympic victors, introducing the history of the following four years, of which only a few words survive. The normal order of victors ended with the equine events: the quadriga for horses, the horse race, the pair for horses and the quadriga for colts. The first three events are clearly listed immediately before the victory in question, so there is no doubt that it covers the quadriga for colts. Fragment 7, which is an introduction to some historical narrative for the Olympiad, is placed immediately after this line, based on fiber matches, though Hunt notes that the edges are too broken for certainty. On this basis he concludes that the list of events did not include the pair for colts. Since this event was introduced at the 129th Olympics, the Olympics in question must be earlier. Assuming the victor to be Bilistiche, it is universally accepted that it must refer to the preceding Olympics, the 128th, held in 268.

L. Criscuolo, Chiron 33 (2003) 311 at 320, notes that both the identity of the victor and her association with the king depend on Hunt's restoration, and that even if the Ptolemy involved was a king the name could have been that of any member of the royal family. Against this, E. Kosmetatou, AfP 50 (2004) 18 at 21 notes that the Ptolemy involved is named in an informal explanatory note explaining the identity of the victor, and so the restoration of Ptolemy Philadelphos seems virtually certain. She also points out that all known women of the dynasty bore the title basilissa. In official lists, such as the Panathenaic victor list published in S. V. Tracy & C. Habicht, Hesperia 60 (1991) 187, which records a victory of Cleopatra II, titles of victorious royal women are recorded. Assuming -- as seems eminently reasonable, though not certain -- that the list here is a copy of such an official list, we would expect to see the title basilissa if the victor was a female member of the family, but there is no room to fit both the title and the name. Moreover, if the date of 268 is correct, Kosmetatou also notes that no woman of the dynasty was available to win an Olympic victory at this time. (Additionally, no woman of the dynasty would be described as a hetera; while the word is largely a restoration, it seems to be universally accepted as the most likely one.) So, regardless of the date, I have no problem in accepting, with Kosmetatou, that the victor was a hetera of Ptolemy Philadelphus.

As to the identity of the hetera, Kosmetatou notes, against Criscuolo, that Bilistiche is known from other contexts to have competed in the Olympics, and to have claimed to be Macedonian; the size of the lacuna is also consistent with the name (E. Kosmetatou, pers. comm. Dec. 2004). For these reasons she is the most plausible candidate. I completely agree, though in principle the lacuna could name another woman, so the argument remains circumstantial.

It seems to me that the date of 268 is perhaps less certain than is usually supposed. With the recent discovery of a collection of epigrams by (presumably) Posidippus, it is now clear that it was a prerogative of female members of the dynasty in the third century to enter teams into Olympic chariot events (see Berenice I, Arsinoe II, Berenice Phernophorus and Berenice II), so it is reasonable to argue that any royal hetera, however favoured, is not likely to have been permitted to enter them unless there was no member of the family available -- though such an argument cannot be regarded as certain. Nevertheless, it does tend to suggest that the Olympics concerned occurred after the death of Arsinoe II, i.e. 268 or later. Yet, since there is a fragment break immediately following the line in question, it is not impossible that the list originally did mention the pair for colts, in which case the 129th Olympics of 264, or even the 130th Olympics of 260, are possible. This would require the annotation explaining who the hetera was to have been inserted between the listing of her two victories, which is perhaps a little awkward but not unreasonable. One possible clue is that the surviving words of fragment 7 show that it dealt with Roman matters. In 268, little of consequence happened in Italy (Livy, Per. 15.4-5), while by 264 the First Punic War was in full swing. However, we know too little about the organisation of Phlegon's work for me to be confident in concluding that 264 (or later) should be preferred over 268. In summary, while noting the issues, I have no solid grounds for preferring this solution over Hunt's and defer to his judgement unless new evidence merges. Ý

[10] Pausanias 5.8.11, dated to the third Olympics before the 131st. Depending on whether the count is exclusive or inclusive, this refers to the 128th or 129th Olympics (= 268 or 264 respectively). Older authors (e.g. A. S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri XVII 95) assumed an exclusive count, i.e. the 128th. That the count is inclusive is clear from Eusebius, Chronicorum (ed. Schoene) I 207 who assigns this victory to "Philistaikhus" in the 129th Olympics. Both authors state that the pair for colts was introduced at this Olympics. For a woman to have sponsored the winning team in this race she must have been exceptionally prominent, so it is generally agreed that this Bilistiche is to be identified with the mistress of Ptolemy II. A. Cameron, GRBS 31 (1990) 287 at 296ff. plausibly suggests that the epigram Anth. Pal. 5.202 is a lampoon by Posidippus on Bilistiche's Olympic victories, though D. Ogden, in in P. McKechnie & P. Guillaume, Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, 353 at 374ff., strongly objects to this reading.

F. Jacoby, Simblos 4 (2004) 193 at 194 n. 7, makes the interesting suggestion that Bilistiche did not actually sponsor the winning team, but that the true owner ceded the glory to her as an act of flattery. He supposes that the flattery was connected to seeking Ptolemaic support in the ongoing Chremonidean War. In support of this, he notes that Pausanias 5.8.11 says that the victory in the first race of ridden single foals at the 131st Olympics, in 256, was "proclaimed" on behalf of Tlepolemus of Lycia, who is otherwise known as a high Ptolemaic official, but that the victors list at Eusebius, Chronicorum (ed. Schoene) I 207 credits the same victory to a certain Hippokrates. Since Pausanias says that Bilistiche's victory was similarly "proclaimed", Jacoby considers that the true victor may well have been someone else.

However, I think this is unlikely. While Eusebius mangles the name (and gets the gender wrong), his source list clearly credited the victory to Bilistiche, yet he did not credit the victory in 256 to Tlepolemus. Moreover, it is almost certain that Bilistiche had already been victorious in the previous Olympics. Finally, Jacoby was not to know of the participation and victories of Arsinoe II, Berenice Phernophorus, Berenice II and Cleopatra II in Greek Games that have been revealed by subsequent discoveries. Ý

[11] pCairZen 2.59289; pdem Zeno 6b. C. C. Edgar, ASAE 19 (1920) 81 at 99, suggests that the canephore is not the mistress of Ptolemy II but a namesake, the daughter of a courtier; he is followed by L. Criscuolo, Chiron 33 (2003) 311 at 319 and E. Kosmetatou, AfP 50 (2004) 18 at 20. It is certainly true that we do not have positive evidence to identify the two, but it seems likely to me.

E. Kosmetatou, AfP 50 (2004) 18 at 20, argues that the canephore is unlikely to be the mistress since the latter was most likely in her thirties or older at this time, while a canephore is most likely to have been a young girl. However, she adduces no evidence to support this proposal.

There are very few canephores whose age we can place limits on. Two of them are Agathoclea daughter of Theogenes and Arsinoe daughter of Sosibios. Agathoclea can very probably be identified with the homonym who was already registered as the owner of a boat used for grain shipment two years earlier (and with the mistress of Ptolemy IV). Arsinoe's father was eponymous priest 20 years before her canephorate and was already a prominent minister at that time. In all these cases, the canephore was very probably an adult woman, and was certainly not a young girl.

That an eponymous priestess need not even be a young woman is shown by the case of Hermione, daughter of Polykrates of Argos, athlophore of 170/69 (PP 17209) and possibly canephore of 169/8 under Bell's Law, though the latter office is not yet documented. She is listed with her sisters, Zeuxo (PP 17212) and Eukrateia (PP 17210), both otherwise known, as victors in the Panathenaia in IG II2 2313. This inscription is dated by the style of the stone-cutter to 190 or earlier (S. V. Tracy & C. Habicht, Hesperia 60 (1991) 187 at 218, 229). Since Hermione is named in the first of the two games reported on it, her victory should be dated to 194 or earlier; Tracy & Habicht tentatively date it to 202. Hence she was at least in her forties when she became athlophore.

Another likely case is Iamneia daughter of Hyperbassos, canephore of 243/2 (PP 5151), who is very probably to be identified with Iamneia daughter of Hyperbassos, athlophore of 196/5 (PP 5153), based on the rarity of the names. (T. B. Mitford, ABSA 56 (1961), 1 at 15 no 39). The latter, under Bell's Law, was almost certainly canephore (for the second time) in 195/4, though the latter office is not yet documented. She was also very probably the sister of Myrsine daughter of Hyperbassos, wife of Pelops governor of Cyprus under Ptolemy IV, himself the son of Pelops son of Alexander, Macedonian, who had been a general of Ptolemy II and eponymous priest in 264/3; they had a son Ptolemy (T. B. Mitford, JEA 46 (1960) 109). If this biogrophy is correct, Iamneia was indeed quite young for her first canephorate, but must have been at least 55 for her athlophorate and her presumed second canephorate.

If the father of the canephore Bilistiche was indeed the admiral Philon, as Kosmetatou accepts, he was prominent over two decades before the canephorate, and his daughter -- whether or not she was the king's mistress -- was almost certainly an adult, and quite probably a mature woman.

It is still possible that the canephore was distinct from the mistress. A girl born at the beginning of the 260s, when Bilistiche apparently first achieved prominence as the royal mistress, would have been a young woman by the end of the 250s. Nevertheless, given the rarity of the name, and given that the canephore was very probably an adult woman, it seems to me more likely than not that the two are identical.

Additrionally, the eponymous priest of that year was Ptolemy Andromachou, who is very probably the son of Ptolemy II by a mistress, quite likely Bilistiche. While the fact that he was paired with a canephore called Bilistiche suggests that Bilistiche, the king' mistress, was his mother regardless of whether she was also the canephore or only a homonym, there seems no obvious reason why she could not have been canephore if she was still alive at the time. Ý

[12] Clement, Protrepticus 4.42. Ý

[13] Plutarch, Moralia 753e. Ý

Update Notes:

10 Feb 2002: Added individual trees
20 Feb 2002: Split into separate entry
4 Jan 2003: Expanded the discussion of her name and her origin; added Clement's information about her death and burial.
24 Feb 2004: Added Xref to online Athenaeus
13 Sep 2004: Add Xref to online Eusebius
26 Nov 2004: Discussed inclusive vs exclusive accounting of Olympiads
2 Dec 2004: Added discussions of Kosmetatou and Criscuolo papers -- my thanks to Elizabeth Kosmetatou for offline debate
2 Dec 2004: Expanded discussion of pOxy 17.2082
16 Dec 2004: Revised and refined discussions on issues raised by Elizabeth Kosmetatou; added Hermione to the canephorate age discussion.
11 Mar 2005: Added Greek transcription, links to image of pOxy 17.2082, Bevan
1 Mar 2006: Factor in Jacoby's comments in his rediscovered paper published in Simblos 4.
12 Sep 2006: Link to Packard Humanities epigraphical database
15 Mar 2008: Note Iamneia daugher of Hyperbassos as another likely canephore of mature age.
26 Nov 2010: Fix broken Perseus & DDbDP links
3 Mqy 2011: Note Crampa's suggestion on the identity of Andromachus

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