Manufactured nature of Ptolemaic royal representation and the question of agency: an analysis of the portraiture of Queen Arsinoë II
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Newman, Alana Nicole
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This thesis examines the portraiture of the Ptolemaic queen Arsinoë II (lived ca. 318- 268 BC), which appears on a variety of media including: coinage, intaglios, oinochoai (a type of wine jug), statuettes, sculpture-in-the-round, relief stelai, and temple reliefs. The overall aim of this study is to reveal the agency behind the portraiture of Arsinoë (labelled the ‘queen-image’) so as to show that her image was a fabrication of the Ptolemaic administration. In order to demonstrate this, a unique methodological approach is used that comprises elements from semiotics, Alfred Gell’s agency theory, and Richard Dyer’s star theory. This new theory is applied to the media portraying the queen that is collected into an accompanying catalogue composed of eighty-one entries, which includes both Greek and Egyptian-style representations for a holistic approach to the evidence. The material depicting the queen-image encompasses a large span of time: from the early 3rd into the 1st century BC. The first two chapters focus on the iconographic components making up Arsinoë’s portraits and categorise these elements based on the type of information – personal or public – that they convey about the queen. The iconographic elements of the queen-image are interpreted as embedded with conscious meaning: these pictorial signs are specifically chosen by the Ptolemaic administration because of the symbolism attached to them. Therefore, analysing their symbolic meaning provides insight into the royal ideology communicated by Arsinoë’s image. Chapter 3 considers the level of agency that the Ptolemaic administration had over individual portrait media in order to demonstrate the influence the administration had in the manufacture of the queen-image. Chapter 4 examines the display context of the portrait media so as to determine the accessibility of Arsinoë’s image to the population of Hellenistic Egypt thereby making it possible to characterise the audience of these works. The display context of the queen-image dictates both the types of people encountering her portrait and demonstrates the Ptolemaic administration’s success in promoting the queen to different groups. Finally, it is argued that the Ptolemaic administration used Arsinoë’s portraiture to propagate Lagid queenship, which incorporated concepts of legitimacy, authority, piety, attractiveness, fertility, and idealised femininity. As the first Ptolemaic queen to be depicted in portraitre, Arsinoë’s image becomes a model for queenship imitated by later royal women as well as a legitimising symbol for succeeding kings.