PHRC056 : Dedication to Aphrodite Akraia Arsinoe, Alexandria (Cape Zephyrion?) - Egypt (125-75 BC) Rectangular plaque

This plaque was originally part of an altar or of another cult structure dedicated to Aphrodite Akraia Arsinoe in the surroundings of Alexandria. The dedicatory formula does not allow to conclude whether the compound denomination points to one or two recipients; in the latter case, we should assume that the two denominations are connected without a conjunction. A common epithet of Aphrodite, Akraia evokes a cult place situated on a high location, probably to be identified with the promontory (‘akra’) of Cape Zephyrion, where Arsinoe received a shrine associating her with Aphrodite. Moreover, in the Macedonian dialect, this adjective was used of young girls having reached their wedding age. All these aspects fit the cult prerogatives of Arsinoe, who was worshipped as a patroness of young virgins. It is therefore possible that the donors were a couple honouring Aphrodite Akraia (and?) Arsinoe soon before or after their marriage.

Permanent ID

Current location

Alexandria, Graeco-Roman Museum
Inv. No. 22351


The writing surface is worn on the right-hand top. The lower margin is broken and the left-hand corner is missing.
Material: Limestone
Height: 11 cm
Width: 20 cm


Text written in 4 lines aligned to the left marging and respecting the word ending.
Clear-cut letters with a slightly irregular ductus, causing the same letter to occasionally appear with different measures and shapes (see in particular Φ displaying a very flat triangle at line 1, a small arch at line 3). A few early palaeographic features (Σ with diverging outer strokes; thickening of the long hastae without apices) are combined with a later shape of A with broken crossbar. All in all, palaeography points to a plausible date between the late-2nd and the early 1st cent BC.


Date: 125-75 BC
Justification: Lettering
Provenance: From Hadra, eastern Alexandria.


Text constituted from: SEG VIII 361.

Other editions: CIP III 616 (forthcoming).

See also: Breccia 1931, p. 280 no. 5; SB V 7786. On the original location of the dedication, see Tondriau 1948, p. 173; Miranda 1989, p. 131, 139; McKenzie 2007, p. 52, 386 n. 153. On the dedicatory formula: Caneva 2015, p. 106-107; Bricault 2020, p. 29-30.

Images: A picture will be published in CIP III (we are grateful to K. Savvopoulos for sharing with us a preview of the stone).

Further bibliography: on compound epicleses in Greek religion see Parker 2005; Wallensten 2014. On the epiclesis Akraia used of Aphrodite, Fraser 1972, II, p. 390, nn. 398-399; Pirenne-Delforge 1994, pp. 181-183, 362-363. On the Macedonian meaning of this epithet, as testified by the Etymologicum Magnum, s.v. 'akraia', Hatzpopoulos 1994, p. 36-37. On the cult of Arsinoe Philadelphos at Cape Zephyrion and her role in the protection of girls in their wedding age, see Gutzwiller 1992; Barbantani 2005 and 2008; Demetriou 2010; Caneva 2012, 2014b and 2015.

Online record: TM 6275


Ἀκραίαι Ἀρσινόηι
[καὶ Ἑ]λλάγιον.


(J. Dechevez, S. Caneva)
To Aphrodite Akraia (and?) Arsinoe, (by) Philokrates and Hellagion.


(S. Caneva)
Ad Afrodite Akraia (e?) Arsinoe, (da) Philokrates ed Hellagion.


(J. Dechevez, S. Caneva)
À Aphrodite Akraia (et ?) Arsinoé, (par) Philokratès et Hellagion.


The plaque bearing this dedication was probably inserted into an altar or another cult structure. The dative formula mentions Aphrodite Akraia Arsinoe as the recipient(s) of the dedication: this raises the question of whether the name of Arsinoe should be interpreted as a qualification of Aphrodite or as a distinct recipient of the ritual act by Philokrates and Hellagion. With the possible exception of ‘Isis (?) Arsinoe Philadelphos’ in a dedication from Kanopos (PHRC 057, with commentary), compound denominations juxtaposing the name of the deified queen and a theonym have Arsinoe in the first position, occasionally followed by an individual epiclesis (see commentary to PHRC 009, from Chytroi, Cyprus; Caneva 2015, p. 103-104). The hypothesis that the sequence ‘Aphrodite Akraia Arsinoe’ constitutes a single compound denomination cannot be ruled out, but an alternative explanation is possible: the dedication may have been made ‘to Aphrodite Akraia (and) to Arsinoe’, the two theonyms being juxtaposed by asyndeton (on this syntactic solution, Wallensten 2014; on actual compound epithets, Parker 2005, p. 222-225).

The use of the epithet Akraia, which points to the high location of the deity’s cult place, is attested in various sanctuaries of Aphrodite (Fraser 1972, II, p. 390, nn. 398-399; Miranda 1989, p. 130-131; Pirenne-Delforge 1994, p. 362-363). The most plausible geographical match in the western Delta is Cape Zephyrion, the promontory located east of Alexandria where the Ptolemaic admiral Kallikrates dedicated a sanctuary of Arsinoe Aphrodite (cf. Strabo 17.1.16, using the term ‘akra’ in relation to the promontory). This topographic identification (for which see Miranda 1989, p. 131, 139) is preferable to that proposed by Tondriau 1948, p. 173, who unconvincingly speculates that a specific cult devoted to Arsinoe existed in Hadra. As observed by Hatzopoulos 1994, p. 36-37, however, the entry ‘akraia’ of the Etymologicum Magnum informs us that Akraia also had an additional meaning in the Macedonian dialect, where it described a young girl that has reached her sexual maturation and is therefore ready for marriage. This interpretation of Akraia is not alternative to a topographic explanation, but rather completes it as it perfectly suits the protection Arsinoe Philadelphos offered to girls on the threshold of their marriage in her shrine at Cape Zephyrion (Gutzwiller 1992; Barbantani 2005 and 2008; Demetriou 2010; Caneva 2012, 2014b, 2015). This suggests that Philokrates and Hellagion might be a young couple accomplishing a dedication to Aphrodite Akraia (and?) Arsinoe immediately before (or after) celebrating their marriage (on wedding offerings addressed to Aphrodite in association with a queen, see PHRC 043 concerning the cult of ‘Queen Aphrodite Laodike’ in Iasos).

Palaeographical features allow to date this dedication to a much later date than the introduction of the cult of Arsinoe Philadelphos (c 270 BC, or slightly later). If the identification of the cult place with Cape Zephyrion is correct, one may wonder why the donors adopted a word order inverting the normal primacy of Arsinoe in the compound denomination documented at Kallikrates’ sanctuary. Moreover, the epithet Akraia is not attested elsewhere in relation to this shrine. This dedication therefore may point to an evolution of the cult at Cape Zephyrion in the late Hellenistic period; perhaps the chronological distance from the foundation of the sanctuary accorded ritual agents a greater degree of freedom in selecting the denominations they used in their ritual initiatives.

Julien Dechevez, Stefano Caneva, on 09.06.2021

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Travocial - Social Travel & Storytelling Practicalities of Hellenistic Ruler Cults
Marie Curie PISCOPIA project no. PISC14IGRU, University of Padova (2015-2017)
FNRS project no. 98368 (2017-2020)
Stefano Caneva
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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Commission, Seventh Framework Programme, under Grant Agreement n° 600376 (2015-2017), and from the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS), Belgium (2017-2020).
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