A R S I N O E  I V  -  C L E O P A T R A   VII's   H A L F   S I S T E R



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Cleopatra VII in popular culture - a Scooby-Doo animated feature film




ArsinoŽ IV (Greek: Ἀρσινόη) was born between 68-63 BC and executed 41 BC. She was the fourth of six children and the youngest daughter of the Macedonian King, Ptolemy XII Auletes, her mother unknown. She was Queen and co-ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt with her brother Ptolemy XIII from 48 BC Ė 47 BC, one of the last members of the Ptolemaic dynasty of ancient Egypt.

ArsinoŽ IV was also the half sister of Cleopatra VII, and the kings Ptolemy XIII and XIV. Arsinoe attempted to lead the native forces against Cleopatra VII, who had allied herself with Julius Caesar.

Upon landing in Alexandria in 48, Caesar captured the members of the Ptolemaic royal family, but Arsinoe managed to escape with the aid of Ganymedes, her mentor, and joined the Egyptian army headed by Achillas. Following a feud between Ganymedes and the Egyptian commander, Arsinoe ordered Achillas executed. Ganymedes pressed Caesarís forces hard and negotiated an exchange of Arsinoe for Ptolemy XIII, but the Romans, with reinforcements, defeated the Egyptian army, and Arsinoe was sent to Rome to be led in Caesarís triumph by way of humiliation. Later a factor in Cleopatra VII's suicide.

For her role in conducting the siege of Alexandria (47 BC) against her sister Cleopatra, ArsinoŽ was taken as a prisoner of war to Rome by the Roman triumvir Julius Caesar following the defeat of Ptolemy XIII in the Battle of the Nile.

ArsinoŽ was then exiled to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Roman Anatolia, for she quite rightly feared her ambitious sister, Cleopatra, after securing the affections of the Roman triumvir Mark Antony. She was indeed was executed there by orders of Mark Antony in 41 BC at the behest of his lover Cleopatra VII.


Stacy Schiff, who places ArsinoŽ's age at around seventeen during the events of 48-47 BC, notes that ArsinoŽ "burned with ambition" and was "not the kind of girl who inspired complacency," writing that once ArsinoŽ escaped the royal palace she became more vocal against her half-sister and that she assumed her position as head of the army alongside anti-Caesar courtier Achillas.








In the 1990s an octagonal monument situated in the centre of Ephesus was hypothesized by Hilke ThŁr of the Austrian Academy of Sciences to be the tomb of ArsinoŽ. Although no inscription remains on the tomb, it was dated to between 50 and 20 BC. In 1926 the skeleton of a female estimated to be between the ages of 15 and 18 years at the time of her death was found in the burial chamber. ThŁr's identification of the skeleton was based on the shape of the tomb, which was octagonal, like the second tier of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the carbon dating of the bones (between 200 and 20 BC), the gender of the skeleton, and the age of the child at death. It was also claimed that the tomb boasts Egyptian motifs, such as "papyri-bundle" columns.

A DNA test was also attempted to determine the identity of the child. However, it was impossible to get an accurate reading since the bones had been handled too many times, and the skull had been lost in Germany during World War II. Hilke ThŁr examined the old notes and photographs of the now-missing skull, which was reconstructed using computer technology by forensic anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson to show what the woman may have looked like. ThŁr alleged that it shows signs of African ancestry mixed with classical Grecian features Ė despite the fact that Boas, Gravlee, Bernard and Leonard, and others have demonstrated that skull measurements are not a reliable indicator of race, and the measurements were jotted down in 1920 before modern forensic science took hold. Furthermore, ArsinoŽ and Cleopatra, shared the same father (Ptolemy XII Auletes) but had different mothers, with ThŁr claiming the alleged African ancestry came from the skeleton's mother.

Mary Beard wrote a dissenting essay criticizing the findings, pointing out that, first, there is no surviving name on the tomb and that the claim the tomb is alleged to invoke the shape of the Pharos Lighthouse "doesn't add up"; second, the skull doesn't survive intact and the age of the skeleton is too young to be ArsinoŽ's (the bones said to be that of a 15-18 year old, with ArsinoŽ being around her mid twenties at her death); and third, since Cleopatra and ArsinoŽ were not known to have the same mother, "the ethnic argument goes largely out of the window." Furthermore, craniometry as used by ThŁr to determine race is based in scientific racism that is now generally considered a pseudoscience that supported exploitation of groups of people to perpetuate racial oppression and distorted future views of the biological basis of race.

A writer from The Times described the identification of the skeleton as "a triumph of conjecture over certainty". If the monument is the tomb of ArsinoŽ, she would be the only member of the Ptolemaic dynasty whose remains have been recovered. It has never been definitively proven the skeleton is that of ArsinoŽ IV.


Ptolemy XII Auletes was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great.


Cleopatra V is thought to be mother to Cleopatra VII Philopator. The most famous of Egyptian queens, who Arsinoe battled for supremacy.




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