Amethyst head of Arsinoë II, Queen of Ptolemaic Egypt

Arsinoë II was a Queen of Ptolemaic Egypt, who also held the Egyptian titles of King of Upper & Lower Egypt, making her pharaoh.

Being wife of King Lysimachus; a Thessalian officer and successor of Alexander the Great, and King of Thrace, Asia Minor and Macedon, Arsinoë was also the Queen of Macedonia, Thrace, and Anatolia.

Through marriage to her brother, Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Arsinoë II, became ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire.

Amethyst head of Arsinoë II, Queen of Ptolemaic Egypt. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 42.190
Amethyst head of Arsinoë II, Queen of Ptolemaic Egypt. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 42.190

This head of a woman believed to be Arsinoë II, dates from around 300 B.C., and portrays the Queen with a golden veil draped over the back of her head, with her curled hair peaking through, typical of Greek dress of the time. Her face is carved from pure Amethyst, and she gazes outward to the left.

Arsinoë II was the Daughter of Ptolemy I from Berenice I, and the sister and wife of Ptolemy II. She was a mature woman of experience and intelligence and had great power as sister, queen, and co-regent. After the First Syrian War, won largely through her diplomatic skills, she was granted extraordinary honors and was deified as Arsinoë “Philadelphus” (She who loves her brother). She also formed around her a notable coterie of statesmen and men of letters. She was worshipped as a goddess before or after her death, and her ideas on foreign policy strongly influenced Ptolemy II.

Arsinoe seems to have been a genuinely popular goddess throughout the Ptolemaic period, with both Greeks and Egyptians, in Egypt and beyond. ‘Arsinoe’ is one of the few Greek names to be naturalised as an Egyptian personal name in the period. Altars and dedicatory plaques in her honour are found throughout Egypt and the Aegean, while hundreds of her faience oenochoae have been found in the cemeteries of Alexandria.

The piece was found in Egypt and acquired by Henry Walters. It is now on display in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 42.190.