Arsinoe I – Ptolemaic Era Queen and Wife of Ptolemy II
Queen Arsinoe I was the wife of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Queen of the Ptolemaic Empire. Her reign was eventually cut short when she was exiled to the land of Coptos after a conflict with her former stepmother and sister-in-law, Arsinoe II. But was Arsinoe truly guilty of plotting against her husband?
Early Years: Family & Childhood
Arsinoe was born to King Lysimachus and Nicaea of Macedon. Lysimachus was the King of Thrace and succeeded Alexander the Great after his death. She had two older siblings called Agathocles and Eurydice.
She was a descendant of a very noble and powerful family line. Her grandfather, King Lysimachus’s father, was Agathocles of Pella, who served as a contemporary to King Philip II of Macedon. On her mother’s side, she was also the granddaughter of Regent Antipater, who had been made regent by Alexander the Great.
Arsinoe might have gotten her name from either one of her grandmothers and much of her childhood is not known until she became queen.
Marriage to Ptolemy II and Reign
Around 289/288 BC, Arsinoe married Ptolemy II Philadelphus. Her marriage to the king came as a result of a conflict between Ptolemy II and his brother Ptolemy Keraunos.
Her father, Lysimachus had been placed in a delicate situation due to the conflict, as on one hand, he and Ptolemy II were brothers-in-law through his second marriage to Ptolemy’s sister Arsinoe II. On the other hand, Arsinoe’s brother, Agathocles, was married to Keraunos’ daughter Lysandra. Eventually, he decided to lend his support to Ptolemy II and sealed his decision by giving Arsinoe’s hand in marriage to the Egyptian king.
As a result of their union, Arsinoe became Queen of Egypt. She and Ptolemy II had three children together: Ptolemy III Euergetes, Lysimachus of Egypt, and Berenice.
Conflict with Arsinoe II & Exile
Not much is known about Arsinoe’s marriage and relationship with Ptolemy II but it seemed that their relationship crumbled upon the return of his sister, Arsinoe II.
Back home, the Kingdom of Thrace fell apart and Arsinoe’s brother, Agathocles, was executed after a conflict. Arsinoe II returned to Egypt around 279 BC after Lysimachus’s death. She had initially married her half-brother, Ptolemy Keraunos, but later fled after a dispute.
With Ptolemy II’s sister back home, things started to change for Arsinoe. The two women clashed bitterly, with Arsinoe II accusing Arsinoe of plotting to assassinate Ptolemy. As a result of these allegations, the king had Arsinoe exiled to Coptos to live out the rest of her life. He later married Arsinoe II.
Perhaps it had been a plot by Arsinoe’s sister-in-law to ensure that her children succeeded Ptolemy II after his death. However, after he died, his children with Arsinoe were regarded as the children of Arsinoe II. Arsinoe’s son, Ptolemy III ended up succeeding his father with no issues.
Life in exile was blissful for the former Egyptian queen and she lived a lavish lifestyle in Coptos due to her status. She stayed on the island for twenty years. Later archaeological evidence showed that she did live in Coptos. A stele, which is a wooden or stone slab, described Arsinoe as the “king’s wife.” Another inscription was found in Lapithos, Cyprus written during Ptolemy II’s reign, referring to her as “the legitimate scion and his wife.”
It’s remains unclear as to whether Queen Arsinoe II was truly guilty for plotting against Ptolemy II or if she’d been a pawn in an elaborate plot.