This week I am looking toward the end of Egyptian history at the Ptolemaic Era. Let’s talk about the second Greek Queen of Egypt, Berenice I.
Life Prior to Egypt
Berenice was born in Eordaea, which is an area in Northern Greece, around 340 BCE. She was the daughter of Princess Antigone of Macedon, and a Greek Macedonian nobleman called Magas. Her maternal grandfather was a nobleman called Cassander, who was the brother of Antipater, the regent for Alexander the Great’s empire.
In 325 BCE she married a local nobleman and military officer named Philip. He had been previously married and had other children. They had three children: Magas, future King Magas of Cyrene, Antigone, wife of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, and Theoxena. Magas dedicated an inscription to himself and his father when he served as a priest of Apollo and Pyrrhus named a city after his mother, Berenicis.
Life in Egypt
In 323 BCE, after conquering the Persian empire and almost reaching modern-day India, Alexander the Great died in Babylon. Because of this, Alexander’s empire was split into four main sections. Egypt was then ruled by one of Alexander’s generals Ptolemy, who was later known as Ptolemy I Soter.
Berenice moved to Egypt with her children in 321 BCE as a lady in waiting for the wife of Ptolemy, Eurydice, who was also Berenice’s mother’s first cousin. It is unclear if her husband came with her, but Philip seemingly died around 318 BCE, which would have been after she traveled to Egypt.
Shortly after Berenice’s arrival (and possibly after her husband’s death?), Ptolemy I took her as his concubine and married her in 317 BCE. It must be noted that he was still married to Eurydice, but this was typical. Apparently, because she was not of royal blood, a genealogy was fabricated to make her a half sister of the king.
In 308 BCE, Berenice gave birth to a son, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, as well as two daughters Arsinoe II and Philotera. Berenice was crowned Berenice I, Queen of Egypt in 290 BCE.
Interestingly, her son was recognized as his father’s heir in preference to Eurydice’s children and he was made coregent by his father in 285 BCE. Ptolemy II’s second wife was his sister Arsinoe II, as we can see from this gold coin (British Museum, 1964, 1303.3) which marks them “Adelphon,” or Siblings. On the opposite side of these coins, Ptolemy I and Berenice I are marked with “Theon,” meaning Gods.
Although it is not clear, Berenice I most likely died in 277 BCE. After she died, her son and grandson decreed divine honors to her and her son named a port on the Red Sea, Berenice.
Gold Coins and Cameo – British Museum
Ptolemy I statue in the Louvre – Wikimedia Commons (Marie-Lan Nguyen)
Berenice I drawing – Wikimedia Commons (Guillaume Rouille)
Coin of Magas, as King of Cyrene – Wikimedia Commons (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.)
Coin of Arsinoe II – Wikimedia Commons (MET)
Bust of Ptolemy II, National Archaeological Museum, Naples – Wikimedia Commons (Marie-Lan Nguyen)