Arsinoe as Pharaoh?

Interesting thesis by Maria Nilsson out of the University of Gothenburg. Here’s the abstract:

Nilsson, M., The crown of Arsinoë II. The creation and development of an imagery of authority. 760 pp. 158 pls. Written in English.

This study deals with a unique crown that was created for Queen Arsinoë II. The aim is to identify and understand the symbolism that is embedded in each pictorial detail that together form the crown and how this reflects the wearer’s socio-political and religious positions. The study focuses on the crown and its details, while also including all contextual aspects of the relief scenes in order to understand the general meaning. This crown was later developed and usurped by other female figures; the material includes 158 Egyptian relief scenes dating from Arsinoë’s lifetime to Emperor Trajan, c. 400 years. In order to show the development of the crown’s symbolism, this work includes a large number of later scenes depicting the Egyptian goddess Hathor wearing a crown almost identical to Arsinoë’s.
The results of this study suggest that the crown of Arsinoë was created for the living queen and reflected three main cultural positions: her royal position as King of Lower Egypt, her cultic role as high priestess, and her religious aspect as thea Philadelphos. It indicates that she was proclaimed female pharaoh during her lifetime, and that she was regarded the female founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The results of the study of the later material suggest that the later Hathoric crown was created in a time of political instability, when Ptolemy IV needed to emphasise his ancestry – underlining his lineage from Arsinoë II and Ptolemy II. The comprehensive study of the contextual pictorial setting indicates that this is a plausible explanation: the crown of Arsinoë became a symbol of authority worthy of continuation.

… and here’s how Science Daily covers the story:

A unique queen’s crown with ancient symbols combined with a new method of studying status in Egyptian reliefs forms the basis for a re-interpretation of historical developments in Egypt in the period following the death of Alexander the Great. A thesis from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) argues that Queen Arsinoë II ruled ancient Egypt as a female pharaoh, predating Cleopatra by 200 years.

Researchers are largely agreed on Queen Arsinoë II’s importance from the day that she was deified. She was put on a level with the ancient goddesses Isis and Hathor, and was still respected and honoured 200 years after her death when her better-known descendant Cleopatra wore the same crown. But the reasons behind Arsinoë’s huge influence have been interpreted in many different ways.

Maria Nilsson has studied her historical importance by interpreting her personal crown and its ancient symbols. The crown, which has never been found but is depicted on statues and Egyptian reliefs, was created with the help of the powerful Egyptian priesthood to symbolise the qualities of the queen. The thesis questions the traditional royal line which excludes female regents, and defies some researchers’ attempts to minimise Arsinoë’s importance while she was still alive.

“My conclusion instead is that Arsinoë was a female pharaoh and high priestess who was equal to and ruled jointly with her brother and husband, and that she was deified during her actual lifetime,” says Nilsson. “It was this combination of religion and politics that was behind her long-lived influence.”

But it was not only Cleopatra who wanted to re-use Arsinoë’s important and symbolic crown. Male descendants — all named Ptolemy — used her crown as a template when creating a new crown which they gave to the goddess Hathor to honour the domestic priesthood and so win its support when Egypt was gripped by civil war.

The thesis is clearly structured around the crown and includes its wider context in the reliefs. Nilsson paints an all-round picture of the queen, how she dressed, the gods she was depicted with, the titles she was given, and so on.

The source material comes from Egypt and can be used as a basis for understanding the country’s political and religious development. At the same time, Nilsson paves the way for future studies of Egyptian crowns as symbols of power and status, and of the development of art in a more general sense.

“The creation of Queen Arsinoë’s crown was just the beginning,” she says.

The abstract and thesis (both in pdf)  are available at:

… definitely worth a look …

 

 

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