Thais1, Athenian hetera of unknown parentage2, began a liaison with Ptolemy I probably before 3303, probably married him c. 3234, bore him three children5, Lagus, Leontiscus and Eirene; date of death unknown.
 Athenaeus 13.576e. E. R. Bevan, The House of Ptolemy 53 n. 3 reports a suggestion of Letronne that she was actually Egyptian, the name representing the Egyptian "Ta-Isis", but correctly rejects this as coincidence in light of Athenaeus' testimony. Ý
 Plutarch, Alexander 38.2, describes her as Ptolemy's mistress at the time of the burning of Persepolis in 330; since he immediately says that Ptolemy "later" became king, it seems unlikely that the statement is anachronistic. While the veracity of the story that she instigated the fire is sometimes doubted, there seems no reason to doubt her presence. While Athenaeus 13.576d says that Alexander "[kept] Thais about him", this does not necessarily imply she was his mistress, let alone to Ptolemy's exclusion, as is suggested by D. Ogden, in P. McKechnie & P. Guillaume, Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, 353 at 355. As Plutarch, Alexander 38.1, makes clear, the mistresses of Alexander's companions were welcome at his table. Hence the relationship almost certainly well-established by 330. Given her Greek origin, it may well have began before the Persian campaign.
The careers of their children suggest a terminus ante quem. Athenaeus 13.576e says that Ptolemy I married Thais after the death of Alexander. However, it is difficult to believe that his children by her were born so late. Since Alexander died in June 323, the eldest would then be born in 322 at the earliest. Assuming him to be Lagus, he would then have been no older than 15 on his victory in the Lycaean games of 308/7, making his brother at best the same age at the time of his capture in the battle of Salamis in 306. Moreover the most likely context for the marriage of Thais' daughter Eirene to Eunostos king of Soli would seem to be early in Ptolemy's relationship with the kings of Cyprus, i.e. some time between c.320 and 315. Unfortuately we can't date it more precisely, but on this basis Eirene was born, at the very latest, within a couple of years after the burning of Persepolis, and very possibly some time earlier.
Athenaeus' statement is perhaps best understood as referring to the legitimation of a long-standing camp relationship between Ptolemy and Thais, made possible only by Alexander's death.
In earlier versions of this page, I estimated the most likely date of Eirene's marriage as c. 320, i.e. around the time that Ptolemy first established alliances with the Cypriot kings. D. Ogden, in P. McKechnie & P. Guillaume, Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, 353 at 354, in commenting on the above discussion, accepts that the known biographical data for Lagus and Leontiscus implies they were born before c. 326. However, he regards my argument for the estimated likely date of c. 320 for the marriage of Eirene as "compromised by too many weak speculations". He does not say specifically which ones he regards as weak. Although the postulated scenario for the marriage is, of course, conjectural, I still think it is by far the most likely one, given the evidence available. However, I accept, on more careful review, that it allows the marriage to have occurred a few years later than I had initially estimated.
As noted above, Ogden supposes that Alexander "transferred" Thais to Ptolemy shortly after the burning of Persepolis in 330. On this theory, Eirene must have been born in 329 or later, which dates her marriage to about 315 or later. This is, just, consistent with the scenario conjectured here, although a little late, and only on the assumption that Eirene really was only about 15 at the time of her marriage.
While I must therefore concur with Ogden that the marriage is not strong evidence for a relationship between Ptolemy and Thais before 330, it still seems to me that the most reasonable interpretation of the evidence is that it was already well-established at the time of the burning of Persepolis.
8-9 Feb 2002: Added individual trees
17 Feb 2002: Split out into separate entry
4 Jan 2003: Add note on Letronne's conjecture that Thais was actually an Egyptian
11 Mar 2005: Added Greek transcription, link to Bevan
18 Sep. 2010: Note chronological implications of Thais' role in the burning of Persepolis
14 Jan 2011: Reorganize discussion and respond to Ogden's objection to a date of 335 or earlier for the start of the relationship.
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