Arsinoe IV of Egypt

For other Arsinoes, see Arsinoe (disambiguation).
Arsinoe IV
Queen of Egypt

Rescue of Arsinoe, by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1555-1556
Reign September 48 BC
with Ptolemy XIII (December 48 - January 47 BC)
Successor Ptolemy XIV of Egypt and Cleopatra VII
Born Unknown
Alexandria, Egypt
Died 41 BC
Burial Ephesus
House Ptolemaic dynasty
Father Ptolemy XII Auletes
Mother Cleopatra V of Egypt?

Arsinoë IV (Greek: Ἀρσινόη, betw. 65 and 58 BC – 41 BC) was the youngest daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes and queen and co-ruler of Egypt from 48 BC-47 BC, making her one of the last members of the Ptolemaic dynasty of ancient Egypt. Arsinoe IV was the half-sister of Cleopatra VII[1][2][3][4] and also a sibling of Ptolemy XIII.


When Ptolemy XII died in 51 BC, he left his children, Ptolemy and Cleopatra, as joint rulers of Egypt, but her brother soon dethroned Cleopatra and forced her to flee from Alexandria. When Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria in 48 BC and sided with Cleopatra's faction, Arsinoë escaped from the capital with her mentor, the eunuch Ganymedes, and joined the Egyptian army which, under Achillas, was besieging Alexandria. Achillas then assumed the title of pharaoh. When Achillas and Ganymedes clashed, Arsinoë had Achillas executed and Ganymedes placed in command of the army.[5] Ganymedes initially enjoyed some success against the Romans, but the leading Egyptian officers were soon dissatisfied with him. Under a pretext of wanting peace, they negotiated with Caesar to exchange Arsinoë for Ptolemy XIII, who was subsequently released.[6] However, Ptolemy continued the war until the Romans received reinforcements and inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Egyptians.

Captive, Arsinoe was then transported to Rome, where in 46 BC she was forced to appear in Caesar's triumph.[7] Despite the custom of strangling prominent prisoners in triumphs when the festivities were at an end, Caesar was pressured to spare Arsinoe and granted her sanctuary at the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Arsinoe lived in the temple for a few years, always keeping a watchful eye on her sister Cleopatra, who perceived Arsinoe as a threat to her power. In 41 BC, at Cleopatra's instigation, Mark Antony ordered Arsinoë executed on the steps of the temple, a gross violation of the temple sanctuary and an act which scandalised Rome.[8] The eunuch priest (Megabyzos) who had welcomed Arsinoë on her arrival at the temple as Queen was only pardoned when an embassy from Ephesus made a petition to Cleopatra.[9]

Her tomb at Ephesus

In the 1990s an octagonal monument situated in the centre of Ephesus was proposed by Hilke Thür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences to be the tomb of Arsinoë.[8] Although no inscription remains on the tomb, it can be dated to between 50 and 20 BC. In 1926 a female body estimated at 15–20 years old was found in the burial chamber.[10] Thür's proposed identification of the skeleton was based on the shape of the tomb (octagonal, like the Lighthouse of Alexandria), the carbon dating of the bones (between 200- 20 BC), the gender of the skeleton, and the age of the young woman at death.[11][12] It is also claimed that the tomb contains Egyptian motifs, such as "papyri-bundle" columns.[8]

Others remained less certain regarding the identification, for example, pointing out that she would have been between 8 and 14 at the time of Caesar's arrival in Alexandria, too young for someone to have led an uprising against Rome.[13] Her actions in the brief war that followed had suggested she was older than that.[12] As a result of the earlier assumption that she was older, her date of birth was usually placed between 68 BC and 62 BC.[14] which would have made it impossible for her to be the woman buried in the octagon. The date of Arsinoe's birth is unknown, however, and the possibility remains that she was in fact younger than had previously been assumed, and that she may just have been a figurehead rather than an active participant in the war. A writer from The Times described the identification of the skeleton as "a triumph of conjecture over certainty".[15]

The skull was lost in Germany during World War II. However, Hilke Thür examined the old notes and photographs of the now-missing skull,[16][17] and concluded that it shows signs of an admixture of African and Egyptian ancestry mixed with classical Grecian features[8] – despite the fact that Boas, Gravlee, Bernard and Leonard and others have demonstrated that skull measurements are not a reliable indicator of race.[18]

If the monument is the tomb of Arsinoë, she would be the only member of the Ptolemaic dynasty whose remains have been recovered.[19] Forensic/archaeological analysis of the origins of the skeleton and tomb is ongoing.

References and sources

  1. Cleopatra, By Michael Grant, pg 35, at
  2. Cleopatra and Rome, By Diana E. E. Kleiner, pg 102, at
  3. HSC Ancient History, By Peter Roberts, pg 125, at
  4. The skeleton of Cleopatra's sister? Steady on. by Mary Beard – Times Literary Supplement, March 16, 2009; at
  5. Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Civili 3.112.10-12; De Bello Alexandrino 4; Cassius Dio, Roman History 42.39.1-2; 42.40.1; Lucan, Pharsalia 10.519-523
  6. De Bello Alexandrino 23-24 and, with some deviations, Cassius Dio, Roman History 42.42
  7. Cassius Dio, Roman History 43.19.2-3; Appian, Civil Wars 2.101.420
  8. 1 2 3 4 BBC One documentary, Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer
  9. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15.89; Josephus, Contra Apion 2.57; inaccurate Appian, Civil Wars 5.9.34-36 and Cassius Dio Roman History 48.24.2
  10. Josef Keil ‘Excavations In Ephesos’ 1929
  11. Dr. Fabian Kanz, ‘Arisnoe IV of Egypt: Sister of Cleopatra identified?’ April 2009
  12. 1 2[]
  13. Mary Beard, "The skeleton of Cleopatra's sister? Steady on.", A Don's Life, March 16, 2009.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
  17. Cleopatra's mother 'was African' - BBC (2009)
  18. Clarence C. Gravlee, H. Russell Bernard, and William R. Leonard find in “Heredity, Environment, and Cranial Form: A Re-Analysis of Boas’s Immigrant Data” (American Anthropologist 105[1]:123–136, 2003)
  19. Hilke Thür: Arsinoë IV, eine Schwester Kleopatras VII, Grabinhaberin des Oktogons von Ephesos? Ein Vorschlag. (Arsinoë IV, a sister of Cleopatra VII, grave owner of the Octagon in Ephesus? A suggestion.) In: Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts, vol. 60, 1990, p. 43–56.

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