Becoming Kleopatra: Ptolemaic Royal Marriage, Incest, and the Path to Female Rule
Sewell-Lasater, Tara LaVonne
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This dissertation provides the first overarching and comparative study of Hellenistic Egyptian queens, from the origins of the dynasty to the final ruler, Kleopatra VII. It explores the ways in which the Ptolemies developed a practice of royal incest, which was supplemented by the institution of a dynastic cult, during the reigns of the first three pharaohs of the dynasty. Their consorts and the later queens of the dynasty, who have been largely overlooked in the history of the Hellenistic world, used their position as one half of the deified, ruling couple to gain increasing access to power, culminating in several instances of co-rule, regency, and female sole-rule, the most notable being Kleopatra VII. While the pharaohs of the dynasty have been comprehensively studied, the queens are neglected and relegated to the academic trope of the “powerless woman,” one which this study disproves by verifying that these queens did, in fact, act with ruling interests. This dissertation overturns the antiquated interpretations of these queens, which characterized them as either good (obedient/docile) or bad (ambitious/conniving), that have persisted into modern scholarship, much to the detriment of both the legacies of these women and ancient history in general. Overall, this dissertation will provide both a rehabilitation of the reputations of these queens and the first informed and comprehensive overview of their ability to gain and wield public power. It will, ideally, also provide a methodology for similar studies that could be conducted on royal women elsewhere in the ancient world.