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The Ptolemaic Reign: Women Political and Religious Roles Essay


The Ptolemaic reign has captured the attention of many scholars and historians because of its peculiarities. For instance, studies have revealed that the dynasty managed to control Egypt for over two centuries. They reigned from 305 to 30 BC. Historians indicate that the Ptolemies and their followers tried their best so as not to become Egyptians. In order to achieve this goal, people were encouraged to marry their immediate relatives such as sisters, brothers, or nieces. However, past studies have pointed out that, towards the end of the dynasty, some members intermarried with Egyptians. Alexandria was the empire’s capital city. The kingdom is believed to have emerged after Ptolemy I Soter succeeded Alexander the Great. Women played a significant role in supporting the religious and political goals of the dynasty. This discussion focuses on the roles undertaken by women.

Brief Summary of the Ptolemaic Dynasty

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was based in Egypt from 305 to 30 BC. The first Ptolemaic was known as Ptolemy I Soter. The emperor declared himself Egypt’s Pharaoh after the death of Alexander the Great. With adequate resources and massive power, the Pharaoh established a dynasty stretching from Nubia to Cyrene. Soon, the region became famous for trade and Greek cultural practices. The use of Pharaoh’s title was an ingenious move that made the rule recognizable in Egypt.

As indicated earlier, the first Ptolemies discouraged people from marrying Egyptians. However, the practice changed later when they began to associate with one another. Most of the people would eventually embrace Egyptian values, religious beliefs, attires, and styles. However, this kind of interaction led to numerous civil wars and conflicts. The kings who controlled the empire before its collapse encountered rebellion from the natives. They were also involved in conflicts with different foreigners, including the Romans. The kingdom collapsed after Egypt was conquered by the Romans in 30 BC.

Political and Religious Roles of Women of the Ptolemaic Court

Historians have shown conclusively that the Ptolemaic dynasty was characterized by diverse cultural and political attributes that differed significantly from those of the Egyptians. For instance, many Egyptians did not accept women rulers. Those who managed to occupy senior positions had most of their roles trimmed. However, the situation was quite different in Macedonia, where Alexander the Great came from. The culture had always produced royal women who performed a wide range of religious and political roles in their respective capacities. Ptolemy, I also came from the Macedonian culture. As a result, more women were expected or empowered to perform various roles in the Ptolemaic court.

With this kind of cultural influence, most of the Ptolemaic leaders were keen to give superior positions to women in an attempt to achieve specific objectives. During the same period, the first and second emperors were keen to maintain the structure of their families. With intermarriage between the Greeks and the Egyptians discouraged, it was easier for more women to take up diverse roles in the dynasty. Such religious and political responsibilities appeared to widen as the empire’s population increased.

Political Roles

Although history does not present adequate information regarding the true status of women in ancient Egypt, some archeologists and scholars have observed that the Ptolemaic Period managed to transform the existing attitude towards women in Egypt. On one side, such women were required to nurture and take care of children. On the other, women could take up a wide range of roles, such as engaging in trade activities and operating businesses. This position of women in the Ptolemaic community transformed most of the political roles in the court.

It is agreeable that Ptolemy I and II managed to produce powerful women who pursued various political objectives. The wives of different leaders, including those of the emperors, were allowed to be part of the kingship. They took up administrative roles, whereby they monitored the ongoing events such as wars and the acquisition of land. Some historians have argued that most of the women in senior-most positions were at the heart of the dynasty. Although they were supposed to receive instructions from different superiors, they were keen to implement them and ensure the dynasty was run smoothly. Another unique observation is that the Ptolemies did not control the manner in which the empire was ruled. This nature of the organization was quite simple, with royal women having adequate power to influence a number of issues.

With this kind of power, more women managed to focus on various policies with the aim of supporting the welfare of more people in Egypt. A good example was the role played by women in ensuring that every person was in a position to own property or inherit the land. The culture of Macedonia was replicated in Egypt whereby more women were able to embrace the power of business activities. This development explains why many analysts acknowledge that the Ptolemaic Kingdom transformed the lives of many Egyptians.

As Greeks, Ptolemy I and II were observed to have their wives’ portraits on different coins. This means that such women were powerful and capable of controlling various political issues in the kingdom. They could dictate which son was to become an emperor. They were keen to offer political decisions or contributions in an attempt to dictate the manner in which the kingdom was governed. Their capabilities and strengths made it possible for more women in the empire to pursue their goals.

During the reign of Cleopatra VII, many people acknowledged that the queen was politically powerful. She could issue commands and dictate the manner in which different territories were led. The sudden rise of Cleopatra has been described by many historians as a clear indication of the political powers and roles associated with women during the first Ptolemaics.

Ptolemy II is believed to have established a national cult that was aimed at honoring his wife by the name Arsinoe II. She was also the emperor’s sister. It was evident that Arsinoe II, as a queen, was a very powerful woman. She could make numerous decisions in an attempt to ensure the dynasty was successful. Her superiority and success as a political leader became a model for future queens in the dynasty. Some of these queens became rulers as regents or even in their personal rights. Some women such as Arsinoe II were observed to ensure their sons were placed on the throne in Egypt or Macedonia.

Ptolemy III managed to extend the dynasty by annexing different regions across Egypt. He used his position to build a temple in Alexandria known as the Serapeum. Berenice II, the king’s wife, was observed to engage in various conquests. It has been observed that she was a charismatic woman who made it easier for the dynastic to form strategic alliances with different regions in the country. Similarly, this king celebrated Berenice II by commissioning a work of art from a poet named Callimachus.

The fourth and fifth Ptolemies continued to portray the strengths of the dynasty. However, tendencies of ruin and self-destruction began to appear during the period. Ptolemy V became a king at a tender age. He chose to marry Cleopatra I, who would later become the first queen in a series of women bearing the same title. Despite being a powerful woman, most of her political roles were unsuccessful during the period. However, she managed to transform the dynasty’s leadership system. It was also during her reign when the empire lost most of its possessions and assets in foreign regions.

According to historians, the fall of Cleopatra marked the end of the political roles of women. After the collapse of the empire, scholars acknowledge that the positions of women changed significantly in Egypt that was now in the hands of the Romans. This change appeared to echo the collapse of the Greek culture in Egypt. A new order dominated by Rome had already been established in the region.

During the reign, royal women were honored through the use of cults. Such cults became powerful institutions that could be embraced by members of the kingdom. The emerging ideals were then integrated to become part of the Hellenistic cultural landscape. These royal cults appeared to occupy a unique political position in the dynasty. This is a clear indication that royal women had powerful roles and responsibilities.

The role of women played through coinage and cults in the kingdom made it possible for it to remain stable. Most of the people were encouraged by such cults to remain loyal to their respective leaders. Members of the society were required to respect and follow the teachings associated with these cults. The use of statutes in different cities and regions across the dynasty made it possible for more people to worship these cults. Consequently, the level of loyalty increased since more citizens were willing to support the agenda.

This argument shows conclusively that women played various political roles through their selfless ambitions and even after death. A similar process continued whereby future kings created cults of their respective royal queens. The death of such women became a new beginning whereby they managed to support various functions and activities that had significant political implications. Analysts and scholars have therefore acknowledged that some of the gains of this dynasty are attributable to the unique roles played by women throughout the period.

It is also agreeable that future scholars and archeologists should undertake more studies in an attempt to understand the roles much better. This happens to be the case because the achievements, governance structures, responsibilities, and attributes associated with the Ptolemaic are still being unearthed. This move will ensure more people are informed about the significant political roles played by both local and royal women during the reign of the first five Ptolemaics. This understanding can guide more researchers to explore a wide range of political attributes associated with this dynasty.

Religious Roles

As indicated earlier, Ptolemy II decided to create the cult of his wife. This move led to the statue of Philadelphus. It was evident that the strategy was aimed at legitimizing the religious attributes of the dynasty. The established cult encouraged the king to erect more statutes of Arsinoe in almost every temple. This approach made it easier for the leader to ensure every person in the empire followed the cult. Although this duty was intended to deliver political outcomes, it managed to establish a religious order that encouraged more people to remain loyal to the dynasty.

Arsinoe became a powerful religious image in the eyes of many individuals in Egypt. Similarly, these Greeks managed to support and focus on female deities. These goddesses were worshipped and believed to transform the lives and experiences of many people in the kingdom. The concept of syncretism emerged during the reign of the Ptolemies whereby royal women were seen as goddesses. This means that women were worshiped in what became cult-like following. The cult of Arsinoe was observed to become popular across the region. Consequently, it had to be followed by both men and women in the kingdom.

Women in the Ptolemaic court were required to worship such deities and encourage men to be part of the process. They were compelled to make appropriate contributions depending on their respective positions or economic strengths. This move was appropriate in an attempt to encourage more women to develop specific religious values. According to different analysts, this approach was embraced to ensure more people became submissive to the kings.

Although most of the chief priests in these courts were males, it was evident that some women were allowed to take up similar religious roles. Female priests were empowered to guide more people to worship various deities. The idea of priesthood, during the time, was observed to be passed from one generation to the next through hereditary means. This means that more women could take up religious responsibilities in the kingdom. This kind of practice continued for many years until the empire collapsed due to ineffective leadership and the intrusion of the Romans.

The eminence of royal women in the Ptolemaic Kingdom is something that has been studied widely over the past years. The society was able to create special priestesses depending on the targeted cult. This special role encouraged more women to pursue similar goals in order to support the kingdom’s religious agenda. This analysis shows clearly that the kingdom deified royal queens or women. This process led to the establishment of syncretistic cults that were supported by the kingdom such as that of Arsenie II.

Different leaders in the dynasty were able to institute Greek cults that were followed by different people. This approach was observed to encourage more priestesses to serve the royal cult. This move was embraced throughout the kingdom, thereby encouraging more people in Egypt to support similar practices. As a result, more women would be willing to support the kingdom than ever before. This achievement would be embraced in an attempt to establish new alliances across Egypt. The role of women in religious activities were embraced or developed in different societies. The support received from different kings explains why such religious functions increased throughout the period.

During various festivals, daughters of priests were required to design statues of specific mistresses. The next thing would be to perform various rituals and sacrifices depending on the nature or purpose of the festival. Such rites were executed to ensure the kingdom received adequate blessings and good harvests. The role of deities and gods were matched with the ones of the created cults. Every woman was also encouraged to participate in different religious functions. These prominent roles in the kingdom’s religious structure continued for several decades before it was captured by the Romans.


The reigns of the first Ptolemies succeeded because they were characterized by the inimitable attributes and practices borrowed from the Greeks. Following the footsteps of Alexander the Great, the first Ptolemy established a new dynasty that continued to support the powers and welfare of women in the society. More females were empowered to own land, engage in business activities, and pursue financial objectives. Women were guided to play significant political roles that made it easier for the Ptolemies to govern the dynasty. They could be part of various policymaking processes, address conflicts, and even promote the placement of their sons on the throne. After death, most of the royal queens were honored through the use of cults, thereby becoming centers of worship. Consequently, these cults played a major role in strengthening the population’s loyalty. Additionally, women of the Ptolemaic court had significant religious roles during the reigns of the first five Ptolemies. They were required to offer sacrifices and support the worship of special deities. Some of these women were able to inherit superior positions and become priestesses. In conclusion, these roles supported the dynasty’s religious pursuits and political obligations. Unfortunately, the collapse of the kingdom was followed by subsequent lose of such rights and roles.

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"The Ptolemaic Reign: Women Political and Religious Roles." IvyPanda, 10 Oct. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-ptolemaic-reign-women-political-and-religious-roles/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Ptolemaic Reign: Women Political and Religious Roles." October 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-ptolemaic-reign-women-political-and-religious-roles/.


IvyPanda. "The Ptolemaic Reign: Women Political and Religious Roles." October 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-ptolemaic-reign-women-political-and-religious-roles/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "The Ptolemaic Reign: Women Political and Religious Roles." October 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-ptolemaic-reign-women-political-and-religious-roles/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Ptolemaic Reign: Women Political and Religious Roles'. 10 October.

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