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Gold coin from ancient Egypt engraved with Arsinoe's head The markings on Arsinoë II's crown on ancient Egyptian coins and hieroglyphics mean that she may have been a Pharaoh. (Jan Vinchon Numismatist Paris / Dagli Orti / The Art Archive)

New Female Pharaoh Discovered

Archaeologists believe a unique crown means Egypt had a powerful female ruler 200 years before Cleopatra

By Laura Leigh Davidson | null null , null
<br /><strong>TOP:</strong> Archaeologists think this statue may have been sculpted to look like Arsinoë II.<strong><br /><br />BOTTOM:</strong> Arsinoë ruled Lower Egypt, while her brother ruled Upper Egypt.<br /><br />(AKG Images / NewsCom / Jim McMahon)

TOP: Archaeologists think this statue may have been sculpted to look like Arsinoë II.

Arsinoë ruled Lower Egypt, while her brother ruled Upper Egypt.

(AKG Images / NewsCom / Jim McMahon)

Female pharaohs were rare in ancient Egypt. Cleopatra VII is the most famous female ruler from her line of pharaohs. But a new study of a unique crown belonging to another important woman in Egyptian history suggests that Cleopatra may not have been the first female in that line to rule the country.

Arsinoë II lived some 200 years before Cleopatra. She was the daughter of Ptolemy I, a general who served under Greece's Alexander the Great. Ptolemy [TAHL-oh-mee] later became ruler of Egypt, and started the Ptolemaic dynasty (line of rulers) to which Cleopatra belonged.


Pharaohs were the rulers of ancient Egypt, like kings and queens. But they were also considered living gods in the country's religion, making them even more important in the ancient world.

Archaeologist Maria Nilsson now believes Arsinoë was a pharaoh because of her crown. She says it is unique, or one of a kind. Nilsson studied many statues, coins, and hieroglyphics that showed Arsinoë wearing the royal headdress.

The crown was made of ram and cow horns, ostrich feathers, and other tokens from ancient Egypt's religion. Nilsson thinks these symbols mean the crown was made especially for a female pharaoh, a queen who was considered a goddess.

"It means that she was proclaimed female pharaoh during her lifetime," Nilsson says. Ancient Egypt was divided into two lands, Upper and Lower. Nilsson believes Arsinoë ruled Lower Egypt while her brother Ptolemy II was king of Upper Egypt.

"She was no ordinary woman," Nilsson told Discovery News. Arsinoë had a very interesting life, according to Nilsson. She had three husbands, fought in battles, and even won athletic events in the ancient Olympics.

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