Her father was Magas of Cyrene, half-brother of Ptolemy II Philadelphos,* her mother Arsinoe/Apama.** Her father betrothed her to Ptolemy III, possibly as part of a peace agreement with Ptolemy II, since Cyrene had belonged to Egypt during his father’s reign. This, however, was not to be. At least, not right away.
When her father died, Berenice’s mother betrothed and possibly married her in 249 BCE to Demetrius the Fair as his second wife. Their relationship was not a happy one, especially considering Demetrius’ arrogance and the fact that he was his mother-in-law’s lover. It ended abruptly when royal guards assassinated Demetrius in Arsinoe/Apama’s bedroom, possibly at Berenice’s instigation.
Three years later, Berenice fulfilled her father’s wishes and married Ptolemy III, becoming Queen and bringing Cyrene back into Egypt. This marriage went much better for her. The two of them ruled together harmoniously and had at least four children.***
Berenice herself took little part in the political part of ruling and focused her attention on religion and culture. She spent much of her significant wealth on building and repairing temples and used her influence to bring favored priesthoods to political prominence. She made an effort to collect a literary circle about herself, supporting poets in particular. The best known of these is Callimachos, who wrote “Lock of Berenice,” which was later translated into Latin by Catullus, about her dedication of her hair to Aphrodite for Ptolemy’s safe return from war. Sometime during her reign she entered both the Nemean Games and the Olympic Games.
Berenice died in 221 BCE, probably poisoned on the orders of her son Ptolemy VI. Her husband had died a year earlier and her son feared her political support for his brother Magas in the dispute over the succession. Ten years later, he had her deified.
*Through their mother, Berenice I of Egypt.
**Do these two names refer to the same person or did Magas marry twice? No idea.
***Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that when they lack other evidence, historians tend to judge how happy a marriage was by how many children the couple had?
Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History by Pompeius Trogus, Book 26 - Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum
Catullus 66 (Berenice's Lock) - Perseus
Polybius, Book 10, Book 15 - Lacus Curtius
E. R. Bevan "The House of Ptolemy," 1927 - Lacus Curtius
Berenice II - Egyptian Royal Genealogy
Clayman, Dee L. Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Berenice II - Wikipedia