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Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World

Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World

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Seleucid Queen (ca. 287–235 B.C.)

The Seleucid dynasty ruled in the eastern part of
the region that was once Alexander the Great’s
empire (shown in Map 6). In 261 B.C.Antiochus
II, son of Stratonice I, succeeded his father Anti-
ochus I to the throne. By this date, it was not un-
usual for the Hellenistic monarchs to marry their
relatives, and Antiochus married Laodice I, who
was either his sister or his cousin (the sources are
contradictory). She was a resourceful—and many
said ruthless—woman, and though historians
have had little good to say about this queen, she
was so famous that her name became the dynas-
tic name of princesses in the Seleucid family. Her
reputation for violence came from her fierce pro-
tection of her children’s right to rule in an age of
violence and almost perpetual warfare.
While the date of her marriage is not
recorded, it appears that Laodice married the
king shortly after he was made coregent with his
father in 267 B.C.She bore Antiochus four chil-
dren—two sons and two daughters. Eventually,
the daughters were married to kings, but the
sons had a more stormy life. The first problem
came in the family in 252 B.C., when Antiochus
II decided to settle a long war against the Egyp-
tian Ptolemy dynasty. To seal the peace, Anti-
ochus agreed to take Berenice—the Egyptian
king’s daughter—as his wife. She would bring
with her such a rich dowry that she was called
“dowerbringer” by her contemporaries, who
were astonished at such wealth. While it was
usual for Hellenistic kings to take several wives,
this high-born Egyptian princess was not to be a
“second” wife. The arrangement seems to have
called for Antiochus to set aside Laodice and
displace her sons as heirs to the throne. Laodice
was sent to live in her great estates near Babylon,

where her wealth would assure her of a comfort-
able life. But she would await her chance to re-
store her sons to power.
The Egyptian king Ptolemy sent his daughter
jars of Nile water to make her fruitful, so she
could produce an heir that could join the two
powerful dynasties. The charm seems to have
worked, for Berenice produced a son—although
he would not live long enough to take power.
After some years, Antiochus seems to have
tired of Berenice and returned to live with
Laodice on her estates. On his deathbed in 247

B.C., Antiochus named his elder son by Laodice
—Seleucus—as his heir, renouncing Berenice’s
son. Some sources claim that Laodice poisoned
Antiochus to prevent him from changing his
mind again and returning to Berenice, but there
is no other evidence of that. At the king’s death,
Laodice was again queen and coregent with her
son. Like Alexander the Great and other rulers,
she first had to ensure that her son would face
no rival for the throne. Berenice was living in
Antioch with her son, and her brother Ptolemy
was marching from Egypt to save them. He was
too late; Laodice sent assassins first to kill the
boy, then Berenice herself, who had fled to the
temple of Apollo.
The sources also report that Laodice was
fierce in defending herself—and her son—
against treason. In one instance, she called
Sophron, one of her soldiers, to her presence be-
cause she believed he had been disloyal. Danaë,
her lady-in-waiting, was the soldier’s lover, and
she warned him of the queen’s intention to kill
him. He escaped, but Danaë remained behind to
feel the queen’s wrath. Danaë refused to answer
questions, and in her death speech accused the
queen of murder. She said, despairing of justice
in this world: “No wonder men despise the

191

192

leah

gods. I have saved my lover, who has been a hus-
band to me, and this is my reward from heaven.
Laodice has killed the man who was her hus-
band and she receives all this glory” (Macurdy
86). Danaë was thrown from a cliff, and histori-
ans blame Laodice for a ruthless murder.
The queen was also reputed to have stirred
up a war between her two sons—supporting the
younger, Antiochus (who was only fourteen),
against the elder, Seleucus. By 236 B.C., the two
sons appear to have reconciled, and one of the
sources (the Roman historian Appian) says that
Laodice fell into Ptolemy’s hands and he killed
her. However she died, she lived as a typical Hel-
lenistic queen, fiercely guarding power and her
children against all threats.

See alsoStratonice I
Suggested Readings

Appian. Appian’s Roman History.Trans. H. White.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.
Macurdy, Grace Harriet. Hellenistic Queens.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1932.

Leah

Hebrew Matriarch
(ca. seventeenth century B.C.)

Leah and her sister Rachel are considered two
matriarchs of the Hebrew people because they
were married to Jacob—who later came to be
called Israel—the father of the Jewish nation.
The twelve Israelite tribes that occupied Canaan
traced their descent and their names back to
Jacob’s sons, and the Hebrews were referred to
collectively as the Children of Israel. Most of
these children were born to Leah, the first but
less-loved wife of the patriarch.
Jacob fell in love with Leah’s younger sister,
Rachel, who was more beautiful than Leah, who
was only described as having “weak eyes” (Gen.
30:17). Jacob worked for Leah’s father, Laban,
for seven years to win Rachel as his wife. On the
wedding night, however, Laban replaced Rachel
with Leah, who was wearing heavy veils. The
next morning, when Jacob discovered the sub-
stitution, he was angry, but Laban explained
that in his culture the elder daughter had to
marry first. Laban was also willing, however, to
give Rachel to Jacob as a second wife if he

worked for another seven years. Jacob so loved
Rachel that he was willing to do so.
Leah was in the position of being unwanted,
but as the Bible says, “When the Lord saw that
Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but
Rachel was barren” (Gen. 30:31). Leah quickly
bore four sons in succession, and after each, she
hoped that Jacob would love her more—“Surely
now my husband will love me”—she said
poignantly (Gen. 30:32). When Leah ceased
bearing children, she gave her maid, Zilpah, to
her husband as a concubine. Zilpah bore two
sons, who were also considered Leah’s children.
One year, in the days when they were har-
vesting wheat, one of Leah’s sons found man-
drakes in the field, which were said to stimulate
conception. The barren Rachel desperately
wanted the mandrakes, but Leah said, “Is it a
small matter that you have taken away my hus-
band? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes
also?” (Gen. 30:15). Rachel then traded one
night with Jacob for the mandrakes. Leah met
Jacob as he came in from the fields and said,
“You must come in to me; for I have hired you
with my son’s mandrakes” (Gen. 30:16). So
Jacob lay with her and she conceived another
son. Leah would bear two more children before
Rachel finally conceived a child.
In all, Leah bore Jacob six sons—Reuben,
Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun—
and one daughter—Dinah. In addition, her
maid Zilpah gave Jacob two sons—Gad and
Asher. As the Bible credits, these along with
Rachel’s sons would “build the house of Israel”
(Ruth 4:11). Leah died and was buried in the
family tomb in the Cave of Machpelah in He-
bron before Jacob went to join his sons in Egypt.

See alsoJewish Women; Rachel; Rebekah
Suggested Readings

Comay, Joan. Who’s Who in the Old Testament.
London: Routledge, 1993.

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