Sunday, March 31, 2024

Why did archaeologists working in Pompeii designate rooms in some Roman houses as "gynaeceum"?

I've been working on images from rooms designated as a "gynaeceum" (women's quarters) in the House of the Vettii. Since Roman women were not sequestered like Greek women in the ancient world, I've wondered what archaeological attributes would prompt Roman scholars to designate such areas in a Roman architectural context.

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Triclinium “t”, detail of painted figure in medallion at the south end of the east wall (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Looking towards east wall of black triclinium “t” (Mau plan) courtesy of Giuseppe Ciaramella

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Detail from north wall of small courtyard peristyle garden “s” (Mau Plan) courtesy of Johannes Eber

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 North wall of small courtyard peristyle garden “s” (Mau Plan) courtesy of Johannes Eber

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Small courtyard “s” Detail (2) from upper center of north wall (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Small peristyle garden “s”, detail from center of south red panel in west wall at north end (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 1895 watercolor by Luigi Bazzani Looking north across the small courtyard garden “s” with portico (Mau plan)

From what I have learned, Roman archaeologists attempt to identify areas used primarily by women based on several clues:
Innermost part of the house: The women's quarters were often located away from the public areas of the house, like the atrium and peristyle. This would be the most private section of the villa.

Room Features:
Smaller rooms: These might be bedrooms for the mistress of the house, her daughters, and female servants.
Evidence of domestic activities: Archaeologists might find artifacts related to spinning, weaving, or childcare, like spindle whorls, loom weights, or toys.
Presence of personal items: Jewelry, cosmetics containers, or hairpins could indicate feminine use of the space.
Decorative elements: Frescoes or mosaics depicting mythological scenes featuring goddesses or family life could be clues.
Size and wealth of the villa: Larger, wealthier villas might have had more dedicated spaces for women's activities.
Comparison to other villas: Archaeologists would compare the layout and finds to similar villas to see if patterns emerge.
The rooms, designated on Mau's floorplan as "s", "t", and "u" are nestled more deeply in the residence so location may be one of the factors considered in the "gynaeceum" designation.

August Mau's 1907 floor plan of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii

I have not translated the portions of the Pompeianarum Antiquitatum Historia relating the types of artifacts found in this space when the house was originally excavated from 1894-1895 but German classicist E. Hartmann, in his paper, "Women in Antiquity", says:
"Despite the many methodological difficulties which artefact distribution analysis in Pompeii presents, the finds indicate a flexible use of rooms rather than separate women’s quarters. There is not only evidence for the coexistence of diverse activities within the house and its single rooms, but also for the concentrated storage of various domestic items..."
Luren McCardel in her article, Women on the Wall: The Roles and Impact of Women on Hadrian’s Wall, appears to agree with Hartmann stating:
"There is no archaeological evidence to suggest that the standard Roman domus had separate women’s quarters, and we can only speculate as to whether such spaces may have existed on the upper levels of the praetorium, perhaps functioning as nurseries or other necessary domestic spaces.
"Roman houses were generally organized so as to emphasize the visibility of the domina as she managed household affairs and carried out other domestic responsibilities. She would be the first sight a visitor might greet upon entering the atrium, where she might be seen spinning, a task associated with moral purity and one which allowed her to keep an eye on the running of her household. Visibility was the most important theme in classical Roman houses; in addition to the materfamilias being observable in the atrium, the paterfamilias had his own highly visible location in the home, the tablinum, an office or reception space in which he could often be seen working. Prominent houses were characterized by openness, with doors left open to allow passersby to witness the man of the house in his position of power, and his wife in her role of domestic management. In general, however, the spaces of a Roman house were not structurally reflective of men’s and women’s roles; rather, spatial dispositions were achieved through the organization of time, with activities carefully moderated to protect women from the sight of male strangers when necessary. Most rooms (excepting the tablinum) could change their purpose according to need or time of day." - Lauren McCardel, Women on the Wall: The Roles and Impact of Women on Hadrian’s Wall.

As for the imagery, the rooms, like many of the other rooms in the House of the Vettii, feature Dionysiac imagery, including floating maenads, which to 21st century eyes appear to impart a softer, more feminine motif.

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Triclinium “t”, detail of painted figure in medallion at the north end of the east wall (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

But art historian at the University of Bristol, Shelley Hales cautions:
"Few studies of Dionysiac iconography care to reflect on the god's unsavoury sides and the behavioural extremes between which Dionysos and his followers oscillated. In commenting on images of dancing maenads, we overlook their blood-soaked, god-inspired rages. The different sides of the maenad, however, might less easily be separated in ancient imaginations." Shelley Hales, "Diionysos at Pompeii."
Room "t" also features a painting of a drunken Hercules preparing to rape Auge - not exactly a pleasant theme for a space primarily occupied by women, in my opinion.

Hercules preparing to rape Auge from south wall of small triclinium "t" in area designated as a gynaeceum by late 19th century excavators

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Thursday, March 21, 2024

The House of the Vettii's exedra: The consequences of deception in Greco-Roman myth

Exedra "p" (Mau's floorplan) in the House of the Vettii is one of the most ornately decorated rooms in the residence. Its copious Fourth Style frescos include depictions of the myths of Ixion, Pasiphae and Ariadne's abandonment and discovery of Dionysus on the isle of Naxos. Other details include tragic theater masks that appear to depict Silenus along with baskets overflowing with fruit, dramatic groupings of hippocamps, scenes of war galleys in combat, and small panel paintings depicting human forms in various poses but without detail. 

As I contemplated these images, I realized that all of the main murals reflect the consequences of deception. In the case of Ixion, he lusted after Zeus's wife, Hera, even though he was warmly welcomed to Olympus by the god. After Ixion attempts to seduce Hera, Zeus creates the cloud goddess Nephele in the image of Hera to deceive Ixion, who lies with Nephele and their union creates the centaurs. As punishment, Zeus banishes Ixion from Olympus and orders Hermes to tie Ixion to a winged fiery wheel, which is to spin for eternity.

The mythological scene of Daedalus and Pasiphae, depicts Daedalus showing King Minos' wife  a wooden cow he has created so she could sleep with her husbands treasured bull. Her lust towards the bull was a consequence of King Minos refusing to sacrifice the bull to Poseidon, angering the god who punished King Minos by making Pasiphae lust after the bull. Pasiphae's deceptive cow is successful but she becomes pregnant with the fierce Minotaur.

The third mural depicting Dionysus' discovery of the abandoned Ariadne on Naxos, hints at the deception of Theseus who encouraged Ariadne to help him escape the labyrinth then abandons her on the island. However, this mural illustrates how there can be hope for a renewed life after suffering the consequences of deception.

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Detail of the wheel from painting of the torture of Ixion exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Hera (Juno) with gold crown and long sceptre is seated on her throne with Iris standing to her left, gesticulating p (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Detail of the figure seated on the floor, perhaps the cloud nymph Nephele or a personification of the underworld exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Detail of Mercury with his caduceus from central panel on north wall exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Central wall painting from east wall of exedra p (Mau plan) - the torture of Ixion on the wheel courtesy of Johannes Eber

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Central painting of Daedalus showing Pasiphae the wooden cow, from center of north wall of exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Johannes Eber

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Central painting on south wall Bacchus looking over the sleeping Ariadne after she was abandoned by Theseus exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Johannes Eber

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Detail from central wall painting from south wall of Bacchus looking over the sleeping Ariadne exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Detail from central wall painting from south wall of Ariadne sleeping exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

I wondered how Gemini would interpret this imagery so I asked it.

Gemini's interpretation was slightly different than mine:

"A strong common thread between the myths of Ixion, Pasiphae, and Ariadne's abandonment is the theme of transgression and its consequences.

Here's a breakdown for each figure:

Ixion: He attempted to seduce Hera, the wife of Zeus. This act of hubris (excessive pride) against a god landed him eternally bound to a flaming wheel in the underworld.

Pasiphae: Consumed by lust, she had an unnatural affair with a bull, resulting in the monstrous Minotaur. This transgression against the natural order led to suffering for both her and her family.

Ariadne: While not directly committing a transgression herself, she is deeply affected by Theseus's betrayal. He promised to marry her after she helped him escape the Labyrinth, but then abandoned her on Naxos.

In all three stories, a character oversteps boundaries or makes a poor choice, and faces severe consequences. This theme reflects a core belief in Greek mythology: the importance of respecting the gods and maintaining order."

I'm not sure I agree with all of this interpretation. Certainly Ixion transgressed but in my view was deceived into transgression by Zeus. Pasiphae was certainly instrumental in ordering the construction of the deceptive cow but only because she was influenced to do so by the god Poseidon who was punishing her husband. Ariadne was merely a victim of Theseus' deception. She simply aided him in his quest to defeat the Minotaur although I guess if you consider the existence of the Minotaur to be the will of Poseidon then she was beguiled by Theseus enough to assist him in his act of hubris. So, I think a possible message to diners viewing the murals was to beware of deception as it can take many forms. However, if you fall victim to deception, all is not necessarily lost.

I also asked Gemini about the significance of the tragic theater masks depicting Silenus with baskets of fruit. 

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Painted detail from above navel scene on south wall of exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Johannes Eber

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 North wall of exedra p (Mau plan), painted panel of naval scene, with basket and mask above courtesy of Johannes Eber

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 North wall of exedra p (Mau plan) with detail of basket and mask courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 North wall of exedra p (Mau plan), from east side of central painting, panel with naval scene with mask and basket above courtesy of Johannes Eber

"The tragic expressions on the Silenus masks in the House of the Vettii's exedra add another layer of intrigue to the overall message. Here's how it changes the interpretation:

Deepening the Theme:  Silenus, while associated with revelry, was also a wise teacher and advisor. A tragic expression on his mask could be a reminder that even a life filled with pleasure can have moments of sadness or consequences. This strengthens the connection to the tragic myths depicted and the theme of transgression.

Irony and Contrast:  The juxtaposition of a drunken, jovial figure (Silenus) with a tragic expression creates irony.  Perhaps it's a commentary on how appearances can be deceiving, or how even those who seem carefree can experience hardship.

The overflowing baskets of fruit, traditionally symbols of abundance and celebration, create a strong contrast with the tragic expressions on the Silenus masks. This further emphasizes the theme of irony and the fleeting nature of pleasure.  Even amidst plenty, there's a sense of underlying sadness.

Symbolism of Mortality:  In some cultures, fruits can symbolize life and mortality. The overflowing baskets could represent the abundance of life, while the tragic masks depict the inevitability of death or loss.

A Reminder of Consequences:  Perhaps the overflowing fruits, associated with indulgence, are meant to be a reminder that overindulgence (like Silenus's association with wine) can lead to negative consequences, represented by the tragic masks.

A Juxtaposition of Themes:  The fruit baskets could represent the Dionysian aspect of life - revelry, pleasure, and abundance. The tragic masks could symbolize the Apollonian aspect - order, moderation, and awareness of mortality.  This juxtaposition reflects the balance between these two forces in life.

A Symbol of Hope:  Despite the tragic expressions, the overflowing baskets could offer a glimmer of hope.  Life, with its hardships, still offers abundance and the potential for joy.

(Gemini also points out that the mural portraying Dionysus discovering Ariadne on Naxos also emphasizes hope with the arrival of Dionysus symbolizing a new beginning for her, a chance to be "reborn" into a happier life.)

Adding Complexity:  The tragic masks might suggest a more nuanced view of Silenus.  Maybe the owner was using them to portray him as a figure who understands the fleeting nature of pleasure and the potential for suffering in life."

I also asked about the depictions of naval battles.

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 North wall of exedra p (Mau plan), painted panel of naval scene courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 North wall of exedra p (Mau plan) with wall painting of naval scene, with basket and mask above courtesy of Miriam Colomer

"Naval battles represent conflict and potentially the disruptive nature of war. Myths were often used to reflect societal values. The owner might be highlighting the dangers of overstepping boundaries or the consequences of war."

Then I asked about the hippocamps.

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Detail of painted decoration below central painting on south wall of exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Johannes Eber

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 North wall of exedra p (Mau plan) detail from below central painting (2) courtesy of Klaus Heese

"The inclusion of dramatic depictions of hippocamps in the House of Vettii's exedra adds another interesting layer to the overall message and its connection to the other mythological scenes. Here's how hippocamps might be interpreted in this context:

Symbolism of Power and Majesty: Hippocamps are often associated with Poseidon, the god of the sea. Their dramatic depiction could symbolize the power and majesty of the ocean, a fitting theme for a lavishly decorated room.

Connection to the Sea:  Perhaps the hippocamps represent a connection to the sea and the world beyond. This could be a way to evoke a sense of wonder and adventure, or maybe it reflects the Vettii family's potential trade connections that relied on maritime transport."

Gemini asked me how the hippocamps were depicted and I explained that they are shown in a cluster of three rearing dramatically from the sea.

Gemini pointed out rearing up is often associated with victory or triumph.  Perhaps the hippocamps represent a sense of overcoming challenges, which could connect to the story of Ariadne finding a new beginning after her abandonment.

There are also a number of small panel paintings of human figures without detail in various poses. Gemini observed the generic nature of the figures could represent the universality of human experience, where everyone faces consequences for their actions, regardless of their specific identity.

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Upper north wall of exedra p (Mau plan), detail of painted figures on panel towards east end courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 pper south wall, detail of painted panel towards west end exedra p (Mau plan) courtesy of Klaus Heese

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Upper north wall of exedra p (Mau plan), detail from painted panel courtesy of Klaus Heese

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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Was sibling marriage really a royal tradition in ancient Egypt?

The article entitled Last Stone Age hunter-gatherers avoided inbreeding:
made me curious about the development of sibling marriage within the royal families of Egypt if strategies to avoid inbreeding appears to have developed as far back as the Stone Age.

Image: Beautiful bust of a Lagid queen, either Cleopatra II or Cleopatra III, with the braids characteristic of Isis and the headband of royal status now in the collection of The Louvre courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen.

So I asked Gemini about this phenomena.
Mary: "When did sibling marriages begin between members of Egypt's royal families?"
Gemini: "While there's documented evidence of sibling marriage among Egyptian royalty, pinpointing an exact date for its beginning is challenging. Here's a breakdown of what we know:

"Evidence exists: We have historical records and depictions suggesting instances of sibling marriage among pharaohs and their kin.
Not consistent: This practice wasn't consistent throughout Egyptian history. It occurred more frequently during specific periods like the 18th and 19th dynasties (roughly 1570-1070 BC).
Uncertainties: Determining the exact nature of some relationships is difficult due to changes in language usage over time. For example, the term "sister" could sometimes refer to a wife or lover during the New Kingdom."
I'm always a stickler for details so I began to ask Gemini about the practice of sibling marriage within specific historical periods and learned it is thought sibling marriage may have been practiced in a limited way during the Old Kingdom period but more frequently during the New Kingdom period.
Gemini:"There is some evidence of sibling marriage among Egyptian royalty during the Old Kingdom (2686 - 2181 BC):
Pharaoh Khufu: The builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Khufu, is believed to have married his half-sister, Meritites. This belief is based on interpretations of inscriptions and titles used for Meritites, though some debate exists around the exact nature of their relationship.
Pharaoh Khafre: Khufu's son, Khafre, who built the second-largest pyramid at Giza, also has some evidence suggesting marriage to his sister, Khamerernebty I. However, similar to Khufu and Meritites, the specific details of their relationship remain debated by scholars.
It's important to note:
Compared to later periods like the New Kingdom, sibling marriage seems to be less frequent during the Old Kingdom.
While the existing evidence points towards the possibility of sibling marriages, conclusive proof for all cases is often lacking. Additionally, due to the complexities of ancient Egyptian language and interpretations, debates and uncertainties still surround specific relationships.
The evidence for sibling marriage within the Egyptian royal family during the Middle Kingdom (2055 - 1650 BC) is scarcer and less conclusive compared to other periods like the New Kingdom.
Here's why:
Limited evidence: Unlike the Old and New Kingdoms, where documented instances of sibling marriage exist among pharaohs, no clear-cut proof of such marriages has been found for the Middle Kingdom.
Debated interpretations: Some scholars, based on specific genealogies and interpretations of titles, suggest the possibility of marriages between siblings or half-siblings during this period. However, these interpretations face significant challenges and are not widely accepted by the Egyptological community.
Alternative explanations: The use of terms like "sister" in ancient Egyptian texts could sometimes have broader meanings beyond the specific biological relationship. This adds to the difficulty of confirming the exact nature of relationships based solely on titles.
Therefore, while the possibility of isolated cases of sibling marriage during the Middle Kingdom cannot be entirely ruled out, the current evidence doesn't provide convincing or widely accepted proof of such practices within the royal family during that specific period.
Due to ambiguities in interpreting historical records and titles used in ancient Egypt, determining definitively which pharaohs of the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BC) engaged in sibling marriage remains a complex and debated topic among scholars.
Here's why:
Limited evidence: We rely on interpretation of ancient texts and artifacts, which can be incomplete or ambiguous. Terms like "sister" could have broader meanings beyond strict biological relationships.
Differentiation challenges: Distinguishing between biological siblings and individuals considered close relatives or even adopted children based solely on historical titles is challenging.
However, some pharaohs of the New Kingdom are often cited as potentially having married individuals closely related to them:
Thutmose III: Some evidence suggests he might have married his half-sister Hatshepsut, based on titles used and their close working relationship. However, this interpretation is not universally accepted by scholars.
[My clarification: Hatshepsut only served as regent for Thutmose III because she was the queen and half-sister of his father, Thutmose II]
Amenhotep III: He is believed to have married his half-sisters Sitamun and Gilukhepa. [My clarification: But Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) was not an offspring of either of these relationships]
Akhenaten: He is believed to have married his half-sister Kiya. While not definitive, some scholars theorize the surviving daughter from this union, Ankhesenamun, later married Akhenaten's successor, Tutankhamun, who was also likely her half-brother.
It's crucial to remember:
These are not definitive conclusions and remain subjects of ongoing scholarly debates.
Even if these pharaohs married individuals referred to as "sisters," it doesn't guarantee they were biological siblings.
Other pharaohs of the New Kingdom did not engage in sibling marriage.
The Late Period of Egypt (664 - 332 BC) saw a significant increase in the practice of sibling marriage among the royal family compared to earlier periods.** This practice became more frequent and documented compared to the Old and Middle Kingdoms. However, it's crucial to remember several key points:
Not widespread: While more common than in previous periods, sibling marriage was still not the norm within the Late Kingdom royal family. Many pharaohs and members of the royal family married individuals who were not their siblings.
Shifting context: The Late Period also saw the influence and rule of foreign powers like the Persians after 525 BC. This changed the political and cultural landscape of Egypt, potentially influencing the practice of sibling marriage.
Increased documentation: The Late Period has left behind more extensive archives and documents compared to earlier periods. This allows for a better understanding of the practice of sibling marriage during this time.
Here are some examples of documented instances of sibling marriage in the Late Period:
Nectanebo I (380-362 BC): Married his sister or half-sister.
Nectanebo II (360-343 BC): Married his niece.
It's important to note that this is not an exhaustive list and there are other examples. However, it highlights the increased frequency of sibling marriages compared to earlier periods.
Thinking of the periods when Egypt was ruled by the "Sea Peoples" and the Persians, I asked "Did any civilizations of the ancient Levant engage in sibling marriage?"
Gemini: "While there's limited and inconclusive evidence for widespread sibling marriage among major civilizations of the ancient Levant, some information exists regarding specific instances and cultural practices. Here's a breakdown:
Major Civilizations:
Mesopotamia: Evidence for consistent sibling marriage within Mesopotamian royal families, like the Babylonians and Assyrians, is currently lacking. However, there are isolated instances mentioned in some texts, though the exact nature of the relationships and the prevalence of the practice remain unclear.
Canaan: Similar to Mesopotamia, the picture for Canaan is uncertain. Some scholars suggest the possibility of occasional sibling marriage based on interpretations of specific texts and cultural practices, but conclusive proof is absent."
I had also read an article suggesting the ancient Nuragic civilization of Sardinia may have sent raiding parties out that may have been attributed to the Sea Peoples, so I asked about sibling marriage in that culture.
Gemini replied: "Due to the limited and fragmentary nature of the available evidence, conclusive proof of sibling marriage within the Nuragic culture (1800 – 238 BC, Sardinia, Italy) is currently unavailable. Here's a breakdown of the challenges and what we know:
Limited written records: The Nuragic people lacked a writing system, making it difficult to directly document their social customs and marriage practices. This leaves us relying on indirect evidence, like archaeological findings and comparisons with other cultures.
Interpretation difficulties: Even with archaeological findings like burial sites, interpreting familial relationships with certainty is challenging. DNA analysis, which could potentially provide definitive answers, is often not possible due to the degradation of organic materials over time.
Available information:
Indirect evidence: Some scholars have drawn comparisons between the Nuragic culture and other ancient Mediterranean societies, where sibling marriage was practiced in some cases. However, these comparisons are not conclusive and cannot be directly applied to the Nuragic context without further evidence.
Absence of counter-evidence: While there's no concrete proof of sibling marriage, there's also no evidence explicitly prohibiting it. However, this absence of explicit prohibition doesn't necessarily mean it was practiced.
The possibility of sibling marriage within the Nuragic culture cannot be entirely ruled out, but there's currently no definitive evidence to confirm it.
Further research and discoveries are needed to gain a clearer understanding of Nuragic social customs and marriage practices."
So, what about the Persians?
Gemini: "The practice of sibling marriage within the Persian royal line is a complex and debated topic due to various factors:
Evidence suggests:
Existence of the practice: There are documented instances of sibling marriage among members of the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BC), which ruled the Persian Empire during its peak.
Zoroastrian context: The religion of Zoroastrianism, which was prominent in ancient Persia, had a concept called xwedodah. This term has been interpreted by some scholars as referring to marriage between close relatives, including siblings, though the precise meaning and historical practice remain controversial.
Challenges in interpretation:
Uncertainties: Determining the exact nature of some relationships based on ancient texts and titles is difficult. For example, the term "sister" could sometimes refer to a wife or lover.
Limited evidence: While some possible instances exist, conclusive proof for all cases is often lacking.
Debates among scholars: The interpretation of xwedodah and its historical practice is heavily debated among scholars, with some arguing it did not necessarily involve sibling marriage.
While there is evidence suggesting the possibility of sibling marriage within the Achaemenid dynasty, the evidence is not definitive and the specific details remain open to interpretation and scholarly debate.
It's crucial to avoid making generalizations and remember that the practice wasn't consistent throughout the history of the Persian Empire.
The practice of sibling marriage was not as widespread in the Persian Empire compared to some other ancient cultures like the Ptolemies in Egypt.
Political considerations also played a role. While some rulers married siblings, others married outside the family for political alliances or other reasons."
So, that brings us to the Ptolemies. First, I asked if the Macedonians of the 4th century BCE practiced sibling marriage?
Gemini: "No, there is no evidence that the Macedonians of the 4th century BCE practiced sibling marriage. This custom was not part of their cultural norms and was actually considered taboo.
Here's why:
Historical accounts: Writings from prominent historians like Plutarch and Arrian, who documented the lives and deeds of figures like Alexander the Great, make no mention of sibling marriage being practiced within the Macedonian royal family or society at large.
Cultural context: The ancient Greeks, of which the Macedonians were a sub-group, generally frowned upon sibling marriage. It was seen as an unnatural and morally reprehensible act.
Macedonian customs: While some practices differed between various Greek city-states, the available evidence suggests that the Macedonians followed the wider Greek cultural norms regarding marriage, which excluded siblings."
So, then I asked, "Did Ptolemy I Soter marry a sibling after becoming the first Ptolemaic pharaoh?"
Gemini responded with: "No, Ptolemy I Soter did not marry a sibling after becoming the first Ptolemaic pharaoh. He had several wives throughout his life, but none of them were his sisters:
Eurydice: His first wife, daughter of the Macedonian regent Antipater.
Artakama: A Persian noblewoman, married on Alexander's orders.
Thaïs: (possibly) His mistress during the life of Alexander.
Berenice I: His final wife, who became his queen and had several children, including Ptolemy II, his successor.
It's important to note that while Ptolemy did not personally engage in sibling marriage, the practice became established later in the Ptolemaic dynasty. Some of his successors, like Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, did marry siblings, which became a characteristic of the dynasty, though not consistently practiced by all rulers.
So, the practice of sibling marriage within the Ptolemaic dynasty began with Ptolemy II. I then asked, "If sibling marriage was not a common feature of Late Period Egyptian royalty and Ptolemy I Soter did not practice sibling marriage, what could have influenced Ptolemy II to resurrect the practice from the New Kingdom period?"
Gamini: "While it's true that sibling marriage wasn't a major feature of Late Period Egyptian royalty and Ptolemy I Soter didn't participate in it, his son Ptolemy II did marry his sister Arsinoe II. There are several possible influences that might have contributed to this decision:
1. Political Consolidation:
Securing power: By marrying Arsinoe II, Ptolemy II could have aimed to consolidate his power by keeping the royal bloodline and wealth within the immediate family. This could have been particularly relevant if his claim to the throne was contested or if he faced internal opposition.
[Mary's note: Ptolemy II's reign was both contested and fraught with both internal and external opposition. At Ptolemy II's birth, his older half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos, his father's son by a previous marriage to Eurydice, Anitpater's daughter, was the heir presumptive. As Ptolemy II grew older a struggle for the succession developed between them, which culminated in Ptolemy Keraunos' departure from Egypt around 287 BCE. On 28 March 284 BCE, Ptolemy I had Ptolemy II declared king, formally elevating him to the status of co-regent. However, the fall-out from the succession conflict between Ptolemy II and Ptolemy Keraunos continued even after Ptolemy II's accession resulting in Ptolemy II"s execution of two of Ptolemy Keraunos' brothers. Keraunos himself fled to the court of Lysimachus, king of Thrace and western Asia Minor, and husband to Ptolemy II's sister, Arsinoe II. Lysimachus' court was divided on the question of supporting Keraunos. Lysimachus' heir, Agathocles, was married to Keraunos' full sister Lysandra. But, Lysimachus chose to support Ptolemy II and sealed that decision at some point between 284 and 281 BCE by marrying his daughter Arsinoe I to Ptolemy II. Continued conflict over the issue eventually led to the execution of Agathocles and the collapse of Lysimachus' kingdom in 281 BCE. Around 279 BCE, Arsinoe II returned to Egypt, where she clashed with her sister-in-law Arsinoe I. Sometime after 275 BCE, Arsinoe I was charged with conspiracy and exiled to Coptos. Probably in 273/2 BCE, Ptolemy then married his older sister, Arsinoe II."]
Limiting external influence: Marrying outside the family could have introduced new external influences and potential alliances that might have threatened Ptolemy II's control. By marrying his sister, he potentially maintained complete control within the royal family.
2. Continuity with the New Kingdom:
Symbolic gesture: The revival of sibling marriage could have been a deliberate attempt to connect with the legacy of the earlier New Kingdom (1570-1070 BC), a period of significant power and cultural prominence for Egypt. This connection could have served to legitimize Ptolemy II's rule and enhance his prestige.
Religious justification: Some speculate that Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II might have used religious justifications, possibly drawing parallels with myths or deities associated with sibling marriages in the New Kingdom. However, concrete evidence for this is lacking.
3. Personal motivations:
Genuine affection: While less likely considering the political nature of the time, it's possible that Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II genuinely desired to marry each other, regardless of their familial connection. However, due to the paucity of personal records, it's impossible to confirm this definitively.
It's important to remember that determining the exact reasons behind Ptolemy II's decision is difficult due to the limited historical records and the complexities of interpreting past motivations. The factors mentioned above are possible explanations, but they should not be considered definitive or exhaustive."
But sibling marriage was not practiced by all pharaohs after Ptolemy II. Ptolemy III was married to Berenice, the sole child of Ptolemy II's half-brother King Magas of Cyrene. Their son, Ptolemy IV, after a brutal purge of the royal family, ended up marrying his older sister, Arsinoe III,
Ptolemy V broke with tradition and married the daughter of Seleucid king Antiochus III, Ptolemy VI, however, did marry his sister-wife Cleopatra II. Ptolemy VI died on campaign in Syria in 145 BCE. Cleopatra II then agreed to marry her younger brother, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II Physcon, who ascended the throne at that time. According to Justin, Ptolemy VIII murdered Ptolemy, the surviving son of Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II, but new evidence shows he survived as a potential heir and served as eponymous priest of Alexander the Great in c. 143 BCE; However, he was eliminated by his uncle sometime later Cleopatra II then bore Ptolemy VIII a new heir, Ptolemy Memphites, in c. 143 BCE. When Ptolemy VIII fled Alexandria in 132 BCE, he took Ptolemy Memphites with him to Cyprus. According to Diodorus and Justin, here Ptolemy Memphites was murdered and dismembered on the orders of his father, who sent the remains of the boy to his mother Cleopatra II as a gruesome birthday gift.
Between 142 BCE and 139 BCE Ptolemy VIII married Cleopatra II's younger daughter, his niece Cleopatra III. She quickly produced two sons, the future kings Ptolemy IX Soter and Ptolemy XI Alexander, and three daughters. These developments are assumed to have increased the pre-existing rivalry between Cleopatra II and Ptolemy VIII. Cleopatra II ruled during two different periods alternating with Ptolemy VIII until her ultimate death in 116 BCE. Ptolemy IX, son of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III, became the heir apparent after the murder of his half-brother Ptolemy Memphites in 130 BCE, during a civil war between Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II. On his father's death in 116 BC, he became co-regent with Cleopatra II (until 115 BC) and with his mother, Cleopatra III. He eventually quarreled with his mother and she deposed him and replaced him with his younger brother, Ptolemy X. However, Ptolemy IX succeeded in seizing control of Cyprus. From there he invaded Judaea, but was prevented by Ptolemy X from invading Egypt (103–102 BCE). In 88 BC, the Alexandrians expelled Ptolemy X and restored Ptolemy IX to the throne. Ptolemy IX was briefly married to his sister, Cleopatra IV then another sister, Cleopatra V Selene. Both women survived to marry other Middle Eastern monarchs. Ptolemy XI was ordered by Rome to marry Berenice III, who was his stepmother, cousin, and possible half-sister. Nineteen days after the marriage, Ptolemy murdered his bride for unknown reasons, an unwise move since Berenice was very popular. Ptolemy was soon lynched by the citizens of Alexandria. Cicero and other ancient sources refer to Ptolemy XII as an illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX; Pompeius Trogus called him a "nothos" (bastard), while Pausanias wrote that Ptolemy IX had no legitimate sons at all. Ptolemy XII Auletes married one of his relatives, Cleopatra V, which modern scholarship often interprets as a sister, but Christopher Bennett argues was a daughter of Ptolemy X. These rather hazy incestuous relationships ended of course when both Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV were killed during Cleopatra VII's rise to the throne.
It appears to me that most of what would now be considered incestuous marriages of the Ptolemies were the by-product of political aspirations and power struggles internally within the royal family and externally due to the conflicts of the Diadochi and had little to do with sibling marriages established by any royal ritual in preceding Egyptian dynasties.
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