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The life of Arsinoë II (c. 316-c.270 BCE), daughter of Ptolemy Soter, the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty, is characterized by dynastic intrigue. Her marriage to her full brother Ptolemy II, king of Egypt, was the first of the sibling marriages that became the "dynastic signature" of the Ptolemies. With Ptolemy II, she ended her days in great wealth and security and was ultimately deified. However, in order to reach that point she was forced to endure two tumultuous marriages,both of which led her to flee for her life, leaving war, murder, and bloodshed in her wake. Throughout much of her life, Arsinoë controlled great wealth and exercised political influence, but domestic stability characterized only her last few years. Arsinoë was the model for the powerful role Ptolemaicwomen gradually acquired as co-rulers of their empire. Her image continued to play a role in dynastic loyalty and solidarity for centuries to come. Despite the fact that Arsinoë was the pivotal figure in the eventual evolution of regnal power for Ptolemaic women, and despite a considerable body of recent scholarship across many fields relevant to her life, there is no up-to-date biography in English on the life of this queen. Elizabeth Carney, in sifting through the available archaeological and literary evidence, creates an accessible and reasoned picture of this royal woman. In describing Arsinoë's significant role in the courtsof Thrace and Alexandria, Carney dicusses the role of earlier Macedonian royal women in monarchy, the institution of sibling marriage, and the reasons for its longstanding success in Hellenistic Egypt. Ultimately, this book provides a broader view of an integral player in the Hellenistic world.
Elizabeth Donnelly Carney is Professor of History and Carol K. Brown Endowed Scholar in Humanities at Clemson University.