Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Unique Crown suggests Arsinoë II ruled as King of Lower Egypt

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.

In the thesis 'The Crown of Arsinoë II', Maria Nilsson shows that Cleopatra VII was not the only Ptolemaic female pharaoh – Queen Arsinoë II came first, 200 years earlier. Nilsson argues that Arsinoë (316-270 BC) should be included in the official pharaonic king list as Ptolemy II's co-regent; her royal authority should be considered equivalent to Hatshepsut, Tawosret and Amenirdis II, as one of the most important royal women in Egyptian history.

Researchers largely agree on Queen Arsinoë II’s importance from the day that she was deified. The queen 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 explained in many different ways.

Maria Nilsson, from the University of Gotenburg in Sweden, has studied her historical importance by interpreting the Macedonian queen's 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 Egyptian priesthood to symbolise the qualities of the queen. In her thesis 'The crown of Arsinoe II. The creation and development of an imagery of authority' (available online here), Nilsson 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 Arsinoe 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.”

As early as Predynastic times, ancient Egyptian rulers depicted themselves, in line with their gods, wearing different crowns. Six main forms are documented from at least the early dynastic period, and still regularly depicted – although elaborated upon – in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods; the khepresh (or blue crown), the white crown, the red crown, the double crown, the double feather plume and the atef (or ostrich feather) crown. So far archaeologists have not found any physical royal crowns, and Egyptologists have to make do with studying depictions of the various crowns on tomb paintings and reliefs.

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