I love this stuff, and while a little weak in evidence, it’s a fascinating new look into historical events that many may not have been aware of. And in this case, highlights the influence of two women (with Cleo being very, very, bad) in major political and military events.
A Viennese archaeologist lecturing in North Carolina this week claims to have identified the bones of Cleopatra’s murdered sister or half-sister. But not everyone is convinced.
That’s because the evidence linking the bones, discovered in an ancient Greek city, to Cleopatra’s sibling Arsinoe IV is largely circumstantial. A DNA test was attempted, said Hilke Thur, an archaeologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and a former director of excavations at the site where the bones were found. However, the 2,000-year-old bones had been moved and handled too many times to get uncontaminated results. “It didn’t bring the results we hoped to find,” Thur told the Charlotte News-Observer.
Arsinoe IV was Cleopatra’s younger half-sister or sister, both of them fathered by Ptolemy XII Auletes, though whether they shared a mother is not clear. Ptolemic family politics were tough: When Ptolemy XII died, he made Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII joint rulers, but Ptolemy soon ousted Cleopatra. Julius Caesar took Cleopatra’s side in the family fight for power, while Arsinoe joined the Egyptian army resisting Caesar and the Roman forces.
Rome won out, however, and Arsinoe was taken captive. She was allowed to live in exile in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city in what is now Turkey. However, Cleopatra saw her half-sister as a threat and had her murdered in 41 B.C.
Fast forward to 1904. That year, archaeologists began excavating a ruined structure in Ephesus known as the Octagon for its shape. In 1926, they revealed a burial chamber in the Octagon, holding the bones of a young woman.
Thur argues that the date of the tomb (sometime in the second half of the first century B.C.) and the illustrious within-city location of the grave, points to the occupant being Arsinoe IV herself. Thur also believes the octagonal shape may echo that of the great Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. That would make the tomb an homage to Arsinoe’s hometown, Egypt’s ancient capital, Alexandria.