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Ch. IV § 6
This webpage reproduces part of
The House of Ptolemy

by E. R. Bevan

published by Methuen Publishing, London,

The text is in the public domain.

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Ch. V § 1


The People, The Cities, The Court

 p127  § 7. The State Worship of the King and Queen

Under the second Ptolemy the state worship of the human rulers had further development. One of Ptolemy II's first acts was to declare his father and mother to be gods, and erect temples for their worship. Ptolemy I had been worshipped, as we have seen, by some Greek states and individuals as "Saviour" during his lifetime. The new thing now was that his worship was established officially in Egypt as an act of the king's. Shrines in which Ptolemy I and Berenice were worshipped with incense and the sacrifice of bulls were erected by royal order, probably in connexion with the place where their bodies rested, near that of Alexander, in the Sema. The surname conferred upon Ptolemy by the Rhodians became permanently attached to him as an immortal. He and Berenice were coupled together as the "Saviour Gods" (θεοὶ Σωτῆρες). The cult of dead men as "heroes" was, as we have seen, nothing new in the Greek world; the cult of a man recently dead as a god was seen in the case of Alexander; but Theocritus says that Ptolemy II was the first person to institute a worship of his deceased parents as gods.

In honour of the deified Ptolemy Soter, a festival with games was instituted at Alexandria — the Ptolemaeia. The festival was a "penteteric" one, i.e. took place, like the Olympic games, every four years; and, as in the case of the great games of Greece, envoys (theōroi) were sent to it by Greek city-states overseas, and athletes came from many Greek lands to compete. It seems probable that the first institution of the festival took place in June or July 278, on the fourth anniversary of the first Ptolemy's death. The celebrated description by Callixenus of a festival procession in Alexandria​101 refers, almost certainly, to the second celebration of the festival in 274, when the deified Berenice had been  p128 associated with her husband. "The details are so voluminous, and have so often been given elsewhere,​102 that it will not here be necessary to do more than appreciate the general character of the display . . . The whole feast has a distinctly Bacchic tone. It reminds us strongly of the poetical story of Alexander's triumphal return through Karamania to Babylon after he had escaped the horrors of the Gedrosian desert. . . . In general the whole pomp has a non-Egyptian air, discounting the small detail that some of the gilded pillars of the banqueting-room had floral capitals, and even this might be in accordance with Dionysiac ornament. If we except the curious products of Nubia and Ethiopia in ivory, giraffes, antelopes, hippopotami, etc., there is nothing Egyptian in the whole affair. We seem to see a Hellenistic king spending millions upon a Hellenistic feast" (M.). Callixenus says that the festival took place "on that occasion" (τότε) in the middle of winter. Ernst Meyer reconciles this with the theory that the normal time for the festival was June or July by supposing that, in 274, the time had been put off till midwinter because of the troubles consequent upon the attack of Magas during the summer of 274.103

The Papyrus Halensis gives us the name of another festival with games celebrated at Alexandria under Ptolemy II in honour of Ptolemy I — the Basileia — commemorating probably Ptolemy's assumption of the style of king. This festival was already known from an Attic inscription in honour of the athlete Nicocles, who won a prize in it.​104 The name of a third Alexandrine festival with games mentioned in the Papyrus Halensis is torn away; the editors conjecture that it was a festival in honour of Alexander, the deified Founder.

Towards the end of the lifetime of Arsinoe, the Egyptian court took the further step of establishing a cult of the living, the reigning king and queen. Ptolemy II is deified, it is true, only in association with the goddess Arsinoe, who  p129 dominated him in his lifetime, and whose surname of Philadelphus was later on extended to him in popular speech in the 2nd century B.C., when people wanted some way of distinguishing the second Ptolemy in the roll of kings, the one king of the dynasty who had no surname of his own. Ptolemy II and Arsinoe were worshipped together as the "Brother-and‑Sister Gods" (θεοὶ ἀδελφοί). The worship must have been instituted before Arsinoe's death, since the earliest papyri discovered which refer to it belong to the month of June 270 B.C.,​105 and Arsinoe did not die till the month of July 269. This cult of the "Brother-and‑Sister Gods" was combined with the cult of Alexander at Alexandria, one priest having now the title "Priest of Alexander and of the Theoi Adelphoi." Curiously, the cult of the Theoi Sotēres (Ptolemy I and Berenice) remained for the present distinct; the priest of it does not appear as yet in the dating of documents. That a special temple was erected at Alexandria to the Theoi Adelphoi is shown by Herodas (I.30).

When Arsinoe Philadelphus died in 269, a worship of her as "the goddess Philadelphus" was established as a state institution, with a special priestess, who had the title of kanēphoros (from the basket, kaneon, which the priestess carried in the ritual processions). The kanēphoros of Arsinoe appears in the dating of documents, together with that of the priest of Alexander and the Theoi Adelphoi, from January 266 onwards. Arsinoe had her special temple at Alexandria, in which she was identified with Aphrodite — Arsinoe Aphrodite. This is the first instance known to us in Ptolemaic Egypt of a practice of which we find numerous other instances, not only in Ptolemaic Egypt, but in the house of Seleucus and in the case of Roman Emperors — the practice of identifying some deified human being with one or other of the old classical deities.​106 In the case of Arsinoe Philadelphus the honour may have lost some of its distinction from the fact, noted in the last chapter, that the king's mistress, Bilistiche, was also deified at Alexandria as Aphrodite. It was probably the state temple of Arsinoe at Alexandria which  p130 Pliny speaks of as having an image of Arsinoe in topaz, four cubits high, and an old Pharaonic obelisk in its precinct, which Ptolemy had had specially brought from the quarry where it had lain since the time of Nekhtnebf.​107 A scholiast tells us that Ptolemy also established a cult of his other sister Philotera,​108 but this cannot have had the same importance, since it was never used for the official dating of documents.

In Alexandria, Arsinoeia, i.e. shrines of Arsinoe, were probably numerous.​109 Strabo mentions a small shrine (naīskos) of Arsinoe Aphrodite on the promontory called Zephyrion (near the modern Abukir).​110 A slab from a temple in the Thebaid is inscribed, "Satyrus to Arsinoe, the goddess Philadelphus."​111 In the Fayûm especially, which bore the name of the Arsinoite nome, the worship of Arsinoe by individual Greeks must have been common. In the following reign, a soldier, a Hellenized Libyan, is found bequeathing in his will a shrine he has consecrated to Berenice and Aphrodite Arsinoe.112

Distinct from the Greek worship of Arsinoe was her establishment by the king's order as an associated deity (synnaos) in all the Egyptian temples of the land. Hieroglyphic evidence of this Egyptian cult has come to light at Mendes, Thebes, Saïs, Memphis, Hermonthis, and in the Fayûm.113

With the official deification of the rulers was connected the use of their names in the "Royal Oath" — that is, the oath prescribed for legal proceedings throughout the kingdom. Later on the Royal Oath enumerated all the kings of the house, beginning with the reigning one: "I swear by king Ptolemy, son of Ptolemy and Arsinoe, Father-loving Gods,  p131 and by the Father-loving Gods, and by the Brother-and‑Sister Gods, and by the Benefactor Gods, and by the Saviour Gods, and by Sarapis and by Isis and by all the other gods."​114 But under Ptolemy II the form was simpler: "I swear by king Ptolemy and by Arsinoe Philadelphus, Brother-and‑Sister Gods." The earliest form of oath by the king so far found, belonging to 251‑250, is not an official oath: it runs, "I swear to you by the daimon of the king and by the daimon of Arsinoe."115

One point, still obscure, regarding the deification of the Ptolemies, is the origin of their official surnames, by which they were specially called as gods ("Saviour Gods," etc.). It seems hardly questionable that the sovereigns themselves decided what surnames they would bear; yet the king seems in some cases to have taken officially surnames already attached to him by others. Ptolemy I, for instance, was first called "Soter," as we have seen, by a voluntary act of homage on the part of Rhodes. Ptolemy III is said by Jerome to have been hailed as Euergetes (Benefactor) by his subjects, after he had brought back the captured images to Egypt. In the case of Ptolemy IV there is some indication that he bore the name of Philopator before his accession, as the heir-apparent, though this appears hardly credible.116

As has been pointed out, all worship offered to kings and queens of the house of Ptolemy in Greek forms by Greeks must be regarded as quite distinct from the worship offered in Egyptian temples by Egyptians. The deification of Arsinoe affected the Egyptian worship principally in the matter of the apomoira, of which we shall have to speak more particularly in the next chapter.

The Author's Notes:

101 Athenaeus, V.196 ff.

102 Mahaffy, Greek Life and Thought, pp216 ff.; Empire of the Ptolemies, § 74.

103 Untersuchungen, pp66 ff. Other references to the festival: Dittenberger, Sylloge (3rd ed.), No. 390 (first institution, 278 B.C.); P. S. I. IV No. 364; Freiburg, No. 7 (250 B.C.); Zeno Pap., No. 54 (246 B.C.); Halensis, I l. 263 (end of reign of Ptolemy II); Mitth. Arch. Inst. XLIV (1919), pp25 ff. (242 B.C.?); Pap. Gradenwitz, No. 6 (222 B.C.).

104 Köhler, Inscr. Att. II No. 1367.

105 Hibeh, Nos. 99 and 128. Arsinoe died in the month Pachon; the papyri belong to the 20th of the Macedonian month Daesius, which in 270 corresponds with theº latter part of May and first part of June. See Ernst Meyer, Untersuchungen, p65. [But see p386.]

106 Perhaps the first instance of the practice in the Greek world is that of Clearchus, tyrant of Heraclea in Pontus (364‑352 B.C.), who had himself worshipped as Zeus.

107 Plin. XXXVII § 108; XXXVI § 68. "This obelisk, 85 cubits high, was the wonder of men in Roman days. I have sought to explain its unaccountable disappearance by the hypothesis that the extant pillar known as Pompey's pillar was constructed out of it." —M.

108 Schol. ad Theoc. XVII.121. We have no documents showing Philotera worshipped by Greeks, though she is found as an Egyptian deity in Egyptian temples (Otto, I p348). But that there was also a Greek worship of her seems probable from the notice of her deification by the Greek scholiast.

109 Dedication to Arsinoe at Alexandria; Strack, No. 24. Statue of Arsinoe at Alexandria erected by Thestor, son of Satyrus; Strack, No. 27.

110 It was erected by the chief admiral, Callicrates. A little poem of Posidippus referring to it has been recovered from one of the Serapeum papyri (H. Weil, Un papyrus inédit, pp30, 31).

Thayer's Note: The passage in Strabo is XIV.6.3.

111 Strack, No. 25.

112 Petrie, I No. 21; III No. 1.

113 Otto, I p349; II p334.

114 Chrest., No. 110.

115 P. S. I. IV No. 361, 4; cf. Archiv, VI p390.

116 Tebtunis, II p407.

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