Berenice1 fiancee of Attalus III king of Pergamum2, parentage unknown, possibly daughter of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II3, date of birth unknown, here estimated to be c. 163/1604, engaged to Attalus III5 at an unknown date, here estimated to be c. 154/06, died, possibly murdered7 at an unknown date, here estimated to be shortly after c. 1508.

She has no known husband or descendants.

[1] Not in PP. Gr: Beronike. Justin 36.4 gives her name as "Beronice", evidently an error for "Berenice". Ý

[2] Justin 36.4 Ý

[3] The only things we know for certain about her are her name, that she was a fiancee of Attalus III, and that he later accused people of murdering her. The only evidence for supposing that she was a Ptolemaic princess is her name. The suggestion was first made by E. V. Hansen, The Attalids of Pergamon 144, but the most detailed proposal is that of D. Ogden, Polygamy, Prostitutes and Death 208. He proposes that Berenice was a daughter of Ptolemy VIII, Attalus III's contemporary as king of Egypt.

The onomastic argument for making Berenice a Ptolemaic princess is very weak, if considered in isolation. While "Berenice" is certainly a typical Ptolemaic name, such names were hardly unique to that dynasty in the annals of Hellenistic royalty. For example, one may note Berenice of Chios, a wife of Mithridates VI of Pontus, and his daughter Cleopatra, both named by Plutarch, Lucullus 18.2 & Lucullus 22.5, respectively, who were certainly not Ptolemaic princesses. The name "Berenice" also occurs amongst the descendants of Ptolemy of Telmessos, although this line had, as far as we know, died out some time before Attalus III.

Supposing, nevertheless, for the sake of argument, that she was a Ptolemaic princess, it is extremely unlikely that she was a daughter of Ptolemy VIII. Since Attalus III died in 133 she would have been at the very most only 12 years old at his death, unless she was born while Ptolemy VIII was king in Cyrene. Hence the proposal almost certainly requires that she be a daughter of Ptolemy VI, presumably by Cleopatra II, since she was of suffiicient status to be engaged to the heir to a major Hellenistic kingdom.

While the actual evidence for regarding Berenice to be a Ptolemaic princess is almost non-existent, the conjecture itself is not unreasonable, since her parentage is only one (and in fact the least) of several circumstantial details that seem to fall into place quite easily if we suppose that she was. Ý

[4] Assuming she was in fact a daughter of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II, engaged to Attalus III in the runup to the Syrian wars of the early 140s, we are looking for a place amongst their children that would allow her to be old enough to be engaged to Attalus III in the late 150s but not old enough to have married him immediately. Attalus himself is described in Polybius 33.18.2 as still a boy on visiting Rome in 153/2. This suggests a date in the late 160s.

Cleopatra II's oldest three children were probably born in 166 (Ptolemy Eupator), c. 164 (Cleopatra Thea) and in the early 150s (Cleopatra III). A daughter born in the late 160s fits well into this sequence. Ý

[5] Justin 36.4.

E. V. Hansen, The Attalids of Pergamon 144 n. 56 suggests that Vitruvius 4.1.4, which states that Smyrna was admitted to the Ionian League as a favour to "king Attalus and Arsinoe", is a reference to the same woman. D. Ogden, Polygamy, Prostitutes and Death 208, accepts this and points out that if Hansen is right then Berenice/Arsinoe must be considered a wife of Attalus rather than merely a fiancee.

However, it is virtually certain that this passage is actually a reference to "king <Lysimachus> and Arsinoe (II)". C. J. Cadoux, Ancient Smyrna 105, points to a decree of the Ionian League, SIG 368, copies of which were found in Miletus and Smyrna. It names king Lysimachus, and the Milesian copy is dated to "the year of Telesias". SIG 322 is a Milesian eponym list starting from 313, the date when "the city became free and autonomous through Antigonus"; from this we know that Telesias was the eponym for 289/8. Hence Smyrna became a member of the Ionian League before 288, and Vitruvius cannot be referring to Attalus III. Apparently an original "LusimacoV" was corrupted to "AttaloV" in Vitrivius or his source. We therefore have no good reason to identify the "Beronice" of Justin's account with the "Arsinoe" of Vitruvius. This leaves us with no reason to suppose that Attalus III ever married his fiancee Berenice, which is in any case not implied by Justin's account. Ý

[6] Her most probable parentage, if she was indeed a Ptolemaic princess, is as a daughter of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II. However, this does not in itself preclude an engagement in the reign of Ptolemy VIII, especially since he married Cleopatra II to secure the throne and initially adopted Ptolemy VI's younger son Ptolemy as his heir. (It is interesting to note that Attalus III himself was the son of Eumenes II, whose wife Stratonice had married his younger brother Attalus II on his death; but it appears that Attalus III was always the recognised heir to Attalus II.) But the circumstantial evidence is against it. There is no indication that Ptolemy VIII adopted an expansive diplomatic strategy in his early years; indeed, it appears he withdrew from the last Ptolemaic possessions in the Aegean shortly after his accession. Rather, he seems to have been entirely focussed in these years on consolidating his power domestically and manoeuvring to replace Cleopatra II by Cleopatra III as his wife.

If the engagement occurred before the accession of Attalus III in 139, new possibilities open up. A marriage alliance between Egypt and Pergamum makes much more sense in the late 150s or early 140s, under Ptolemy VI, than in the late 140s or early 130s, under Ptolemy VIII. We know that Ptolemy VI had a marriageable daughter who he engaged to his brother in 154. In the late 150s, Attalus II of Pergamum began to promote Alexander Balas as a candidate for the Seleucid throne (Diodorus 31.32a), a candidacy later supported by Ptolemy VI (Justin 35.1), who married Balas to his daughter Cleopatra Thea. While the date of birth of Attalus III is much disputed, Polybius 33.18.2 describes him as still a boy on visiting Rome in 153/2. Thus, the heir to the Pergamene throne was just coming of age at a time when Ptolemy VI had at least one marriageable daughter, and was supporting a Seleucid candidate also supported by Attalus II. A diplomatic engagement between the future Attalus III and a daughter of Ptolemy VI at this time and in these circumstances seems to me to be a very reasonable conjecture. Ý

[7] Justin 36.4. Attalus III certainly thought she was murdered. However, if the circumstantial biography conjectured for her on this page is correct, it seems likely that she died a decade before Attalus' ascension. While it is very possible that she was murdered as part of an intrigue against him even though he was still a boy at the time, it is also true that Justin depicts him as being rather unbalanced. If, as seems likely, she died while her conjectured father Ptolemy VI was still alive and in active alliance with Attalus II, the putative murderers were certainly taking a considerable risk. All in all, I think it is perfectly likely that she simply died young, and that the charge of murder is a paranoid delusion of Attalus III. Ý

[8] Justin 36.4 does not give any indication. In particular it does not say whether Berenice had died before or after Attalus' accession to the throne in 139. Attalus is also depicted in it as taking revenge for the murder of his (possibly ex officio) mother Stratonice, and Justin tells us he was building a mausoleum for her at the time of his death. This rather suggests that his mother died after his accession, in which case the same well might be true for Berenice. However, in the scenario conjectured here, this supposes a very long engagement -- over 10 years. Moreover, since his reign was fairly short, it is still perfectly possible that either or both of his mother's death, and his engagement to Berenice and her death, had actually occurred some time before his accession. Indeed, his purge may well have had cause: since he was his predecessor's stepson, succession intrigues in the final years of Attalus II that are not otherwise known to us are very possible.

The only basis we have to go on is the conjectural date of the engagement in the late 150s or early 140s. Ptolemy VI died in 145, and a couple of years before had switched horses in the Syrian wars from Balas back to Demetrius I. If she was still alive but unmarried when the initial alliance changed, the engagement might well have been broken off. After his death, with Ptolemy VIII abandoning an activist foreign policy, any remaining political value she had would have plummeted. But if we have correctly estimated the date of her birth, we would expect her to have been married before any of these events occurred. Hence we may guess that her death actually happened sometimes in the early 140s, within a couple of years of her engagement, before she was old enough for the marriage to be consummated. Ý

Update Notes:

22 Feb 2004: Split page out from Cleopatra II since Berenice certainly existed, whether or not she was a Ptolemaic princess. My thanks to Glenn Trezza for pointing out the conjecture.
11 Mar 2005: Added Greek transcription

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