Friday, August 20, 2010

The queen, the gold coin, and everything

ARSINOË II, the queen on that newly excavated gold coin, is profiled by Judith Weingarten in a long post at her Zenobia: Empress of the East blog:
The Uppity Queen Arsinoë II

Who's the Woman Behind this Giant Coin?

The news that a rare Ptolemaic gold coin was found in Israel -- weighing just under one ounce (27.71 grams) of almost pure gold -- seems to have overshadowed the woman whose portrait is literally heads-up on it.* The coin -- more a medallion, really, than money meant to be spent -- is worth a cool $1,184 at today's price just for its gold (never mind a premium of $$$$ for antiquity and rarity). It commemorates Queen Arsinoë II -- one of the feistiest Hellenistic queens ever.

And, believe me, the competition for 'feistiest Hellenistic queen' was stiff.

In many ways, Arsinoë II was their role model.

The following episode in her life reminded me of a related story I'd been reading about for my new course on the Book of Daniel:
Arsinoë and son then sailed to Egypt where her younger brother, Ptolemy II had succeeded to the throne. Ptolemy II was married to Arsinoë I (I know this is confusing, but I can't help it), a daughter of Lysimachus -- presumably by a wife or two before he had married Arsinoë II. It didn't take long for Arsinoë II to get the better of Arsinoë I and boot her out: though the mother of his three children, Ptolemy II found her guilty of plotting against his majesty and exiled her to Coptos in Upper Egypt, where she vanishes from history.
To add insult to injury, Arsinoë I was the daughter of Arsinoë II's ex-husband Lysimachus, so Arsinoë I was dumped by her husband for her ex-stepmother who was also his own sister. That had to have hurt. One of those three children of the hapless Arsinoë I is mentioned in passing in Daniel 11:5-6:
5"Then the king of the south shall be strong, but one of his princes shall be stronger than he and his dominion shall be a great dominion.

6After some years they shall make an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the south shall come to the king of the north to make peace; but she shall not retain the strength of her arm, and he and his offspring shall not endure; but she shall be given up, and her attendants, her child, and he who got possession of her. (RSV)
The king of the south and the "one of his princes" in v. 5 are, respectively, the two generals of Alexander, Ptolemy I and Seleucus I, who founded large empires after Alexander's death. The king of the south in v. 6 is Ptolemy II and his daughter is one of Arsinoë I's children, Berenice. Poor Berenice shared her mother's bad luck. Perhaps she had hers coming more than her mother did, although it's not clear how much choice she had in the sad course of events summarized in this Berenice (Seleucid queen) Wikipedia entry:
Berenice, also called Berenice Syra, was the daughter of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his first wife Arsinoe I of Egypt.

In 261 BC she married the Seleucid monarch Antiochus II Theos, who, following an agreement with Ptolemy (249 BC), had divorced his wife Laodice I and transferred the succession to Berenice's children.

In 246 BC, when Ptolemy died, Antiochus II took up again with his first wife, Laodice. The Syrian King died shortly after, many suspect from poisoning. Queen Berenice claimed the Regency for her son, Seleucus and conquered Soloia with her army, however, she and her son were both poisoned by Laodice as well. Berenice's brother, Ptolemy III Euergetes succeeded their father and set about to avenge his sister's murder by invading Syria and having Laodice killed. This is also mentioned in the Book of Daniel 11:6.