Sea Mosaics from Thmouis, Queen Berenice II and Mendesian Aromas: A New Look at the Old Problem
Keywords:Thmouis, Berenice II, Ptolemy III, Mendesian nome, mendesian aromas, Hathor, Hatmehit
In this article, I will be focusing on the two artifacts that are now housed in the Greco-Roman Museum of Alexandria. These are two Hellenistic mosaic compositions from the Egyptian city Thmouis, which was located in Mendesian nome (GRMA №№ 21.739; 21.736). Both mosaics depict an armed woman in royal purple and surrounded by the elements of marine entourage. The modern researchers offer three options for identifying this woman: 1) the allegory of Alexandria; 2) Arsinoe II, the second wife of Ptolemy II Philadelphus; 3) Berenice II, the wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes.
In the pages of this article, I offer several considerations and the arguments in favor of the identifying the woman from the mosaics of Thmouis as Berenice II. In particular, I assume the probability of the existence of a common denominator between Mendesian nome and the said queen. In my opinion, this common denominator was the production of the aromas. On the one hand, Mendesian nome was famous for making aromatic oils, that were known beyond Egypt. On the other hand, Berenice II showed a great interest in a perfume business. It was this interest that could be one of the reasons that prompted Ptolemy III to develop the southern coast of the Red Sea and to expand the Egyptian sphere of the influence beyond the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. As a result, Egypt gained access to a relatively cheap the vegetal raw materials, that were needed for the production of the perfume. The part of these raw materials, probably with the help of Berenice, could get to the Mendesean perfumers and, accordingly, helped to a improve the welfare of the nome.
Thus, the woman represented in the sea mosaics, that were popular in Tmuis, must be Berenice II, as Mendesians associated the supply of cheap overseas aromatic substances with her name. In the same time, it is likely that a Mendesian interpretation of the plot of these mosaics differed significantly from the author's idea, that was related to the promotion of a Ptolemaic naval power.