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The Daughter of the King of the South (Daniel 11:6)

In Daniel 11:6 it says,

After some years they will form an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to seal the agreement. She will not retain power, and his strength will not endure. She will be given up, together with her entourage, her father, and the one who supported her during those times. (CEB)

Who was this daughter? What do we know about her?

In this article, I look at this woman and at the events leading up to her violent death. (After the footnotes, I’ve added some information about another daughter mentioned in Daniel 11.)

Berenice Phernophorus: Daughter of the King of the South

There is a consensus among Bible scholars that the daughter of the king of the South was named Berenice and that her father was Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–247 BC). Ptolemy II was the second ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom which included, predominantly, Egypt. (See map here.)

Several ancient sources, including letters that have survived for more than 2000 years, give us some information about Berenice including her relationship with Antiochus II Theos (261–246 BC). Antiochus II, Daniel’s “king of the North,” was the second ruler of the Seleucid Kingdom which included, predominantly, Syria.

After years of war, known today as the Second Syrian War (260–253 BC), the two kings tried to broker peace. They made an alliance which was established with the marriage of Berenice to Antiochus II. Papyrus letters mention Berenice’s journey to Seleucid territory. From one of the letters, we learn that she was escorted to the Seleucid border in April 252.[1] She was probably married soon afterwards.

From Jerome, we learn that Berenice came to the marriage with an enormous dowry. This led to her being nicknamed “Berenice Phernophorus” (dowry bearer).[2] She was also known as “Berenice Syra” (a reference to Syria).

The marriage agreement wasn’t straightforward, however, as Antiochus was already married with children. The terms of the marriage included that Antiochus divorce his first wife Laodice and that the two sons of Laodice renounce any claim to their father’s throne.[3] 

“She will not retain power and his strength will not endure” (Daniel 11:6)

Berenice Phernophorus did not retain her position as queen for long and her father’s strength ran out completely. Ptolemy died two years after his daughter’s marriage from natural causes (January 246 BC). With Ptolemy gone, Antiochus took back Laodice as his queen and divorced Berenice who now had an infant son.

Appian of Alexandria described the marriage of Antiochus to Laodice as being “from love” (ex erōtos). (Appian, Syrian Wars, 10 §65). Antiochus’s love, however, appears to have been one-sided. He died from poisoning, and it is believed Laodice was the one who killed him. She did this in order to establish her son Seleucus II Callinicus as the next ruler of the Seleucid Kingdom. Laodice was now in a powerful position.

With the death of Antiochus, Berenice tried to claim the throne for her infant son, but Laodice wasn’t having it. “She will be given up” in Daniel 11:6 refers to the death of Berenice which was plotted by Laodice but carried out by Seleucus in late September or early October, 246 BC. Berenices’s son was also killed.

The Roman historian Justin wrote about Berenice’s murder.

[Seleucus] put to death his step-mother Berenice, the sister of Ptolemy, king of Egypt, together with his little brother, her son. By perpetrating this cruelty, he both incurred the stain of infamy, and involved himself in a war with Ptolemy. As for Berenice, when she heard that assassins were sent to despatch her, she shut herself up in Daphne [9 km south of Syrian Antioch]; and it being reported throughout the cities of Asia, that she and her little son were besieged there, they all, commiserating her undeserved misfortunes from their recollection of the high character of her father and her ancestors, sent her assistance. Her brother Ptolemy III, too, alarmed at the danger of his sister, left his kingdom, and hastened to her support with all his forces. But before help could arrive, Berenice was surprised by treachery, and as she could not be taken by force, she was killed. The deed was regarded by everyone as an atrocity … Justin 26.1 [4]

The enmity and violence which Ptolemy II and Antiochus II tried to stop escalated after their deaths resulting in the Third Syrian War (246–241 BC). Appian records that Ptolemy III [5] avenged the violence against his family by killing Laodice and that “he invaded Syria and advanced as far as Babylon.” (Appian, Syrian Wars, 10 §65). There was bloodshed and misery all round.

Scroll down for information on Cleopatra I Syra, the daughter mentioned in Daniel 11:17.


I got much of the information for this blog post from David Instone Brewer’s website.
The Livius website has a short but helpful outline of major events and significant people in Berenice’s life.

[1] See P.Cair.Zen 2.59242 and P.Cair.Zen 2.59251. A translation of P.Cair.Zen 2.59251 is under the heading “24. Berenike’s Journey to Syria” here: Columbia.edu.

[2] Jerome provides this information about her nickname in his commentary on Daniel. See Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, translated by G.L. Archer Jr (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958), 122. (Internet Archive) Jerome quoted from Porphyrus, 43.

[3] Three ancient letters survive that discuss Antiochus selling an estate with a “manor house” to Laodice, no doubt as part of the divorce settlement. He sold it to her at a minimal cost with the aim of releasing the property from royal ownership. See “25. Correspondence about a Sale of Land by Antiochus II to the Divorced Queen Laodike” here: Columbia.edu. 

[4] Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, translated, with notes, by the Rev. John Selby Watson (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853). Justin’s Epitome, written in the third century CE, is an abridged version of Pompeius Trogus’s history which was written in the first century BC. (Read it here.)
Polyaenus, a second-century CE author, also writes about the intrigues surrounding the death of Berenice, but he seems to confuse Ptolemy the brother of Berenice with Ptolemy the father. Polyaenus mentions that some women were killed trying to protect Berenice. Was this her “entourage” mentioned in Daniel 11:6? See Stratagems 8.50 under the heading “Laodice.”

[5] Berenice’s brother Ptolemy III is referred to in Daniel 11:7–8.

“In the place of the king of the South, one from her family [literally: “a branch of her roots”] will rise up, come against the army, and enter the fortress of the king of the North. He will take action against them and triumph. He will take even their gods captive to Egypt, with their metal images and their precious articles of silver and gold.” (CSB)

Cleopatra I Syra

Daniel 11:17 mentions another alliance between the Ptolemys and Seleucids cemented by a marriage. This was the marriage of Ptolemy V Epiphanes with Cleopatra I (nicknamed Syra), the very young and beautiful daughter of Antiochus III the Great. (An image of her on a coin is here.)

Daniel implies that Antiochus III was hoping his daughter would act as his spy in the Ptolemaic court so that the Ptolemies would be destroyed: “He will give him a daughter in marriage to destroy it, but she will not stand with him or support him” (Dan. 11:17). Cleopatra was 11 years old when she married Ptolemy V, who was then 17 years old, and she seems to have sided with her husband and not with her father.

Josephus claims that her dowry was the provinces of Coelo-Syria, Samaria, Judea, and Phoenicia which Antiochus had recently taken from Ptolemy. (Josephus, Antiquities 12.4.1 cf. Appian, Syrian Wars 1.5) But the Romans interfered and opposed this transaction. (Polybius, Histories 18.51; Livy, Roman History 33.40)

Cleopatra I Syra married Ptolemy V in 194 BC. After his death in 180, she ruled Egypt as regent until her own death in 176 BC. She was the first, but not the last, Ptolemaic queen named Cleopatra to rule without a husband. Cleopatra I managed to stave off war with the Seleucids through peaceful policies, but a few years after her death, the Sixth Syrian War began. Unlike Berenice Syra, Cleopatra Syra seems to have died of natural causes.

An outline of her life is on the Livius website. A lengthy article by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones is here. And there’s good information on David Instone Brewer’s website.

© Margaret Mowczko 2023
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Image Credit

Excerpt of wall painting from Room H of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, Naples, ca. 50–40 BCE (Public Domain) MetMuseum.org  Some suggest the seated woman is Berenice II who married Ptolemy III, Berenice Phernophorus’s brother.

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