Ptolemaic queens: power wielders or power hungry? A study of Cleopatras I, II and III
The concept of queenship has never been easy to define. It is not, as many might assume, the female equivalent of kingship. The inequalities between genders means that acceptance of a queen as ruler does not necessarily mean acceptance equal to that of a king. In Ptolemaic Egypt it appears that the queens were mere placeholders, their role determined by their relationship to the king, or soon-to-be-king. This assumes that they were not considered rulers in their own right. It also assumes that by sheer proximity and importance to the king, queens might also wield some degree of influence and power. But what did this look like?
Ptolemaic propaganda generated grand titles and ornate temple reliefs, but these are not, of themselves, evidence of material or personal power and influence; and we should not mistake the appearance of power and authority for actual power and authority. Ancient sources have typically stereotyped women who wielded power as ambitious, unscrupulous manipulators, and modern scholarship has been distorted by an inclination to accept these assumptions. This has resulted in a limited perspective and understanding of women in power. The treatment and depiction of Cleopatras I, II, and III in ancient sources and modern historiography is no exception; they are castigated for desiring or acquiring power. However, an assessment of non-literary evidence suggests that sometimes, it is simply the perception of power, rather than actual possession or exercise of power. Therefore, it is imperative to consider all the available evidence, both literary and non-literary, pertaining to the study of Cleopatras I, II, and III in order to better recognise the difference between actual possession of power and the perception of power; and to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the relationship between gender and power.