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How did production of grain change with Hellenistic Egypt coming under Roman rule?

How did production of grain change with Hellenistic Egypt coming under Roman rule?

As far as I know Egypt, under the Ptolemies, became famous in Hellenistic world for vast agricultural production due to the strict and harsh administration installed there by Greeks.

Still I wonder - was the Roman administrative system different enough from the previous Greek one to cause changes in economy of Egypt? Was the Roman economic system in some ways more effective in the short- or long-term?

Of course, there must be some complications to that question posed by some level of political disturbance of Ptolemaic Egypt in II-I centuries BC which, I guess, coupled with the economic blunders of policy by the first Ptolemies, somehow affected productivity in general. But to keep things simple, let's compare production of main agricultural staples (grain) during relatively peaceful times (let's say III century BC for Hellenistic Egypt and I-II centuries AD for Roman Egypt).


Egypt (and in fact all of north Africa) was the granary of the Roman Empire.

This has only some to do with the way they controlled the area, far more important is the fact that the land was a lot less arid then than it is today.

When people see the pyramids and Roman ruins rise from the desert and wonder what people were doing building a vast civilisation in that hostile climate, they don't realise that at the time the climate wasn't hostile. It was a lush, green, land. It's just that the desert has encroached over the centuries, in no small part coinciding with the demise of those civilisations, at around the same time the little ice age destroyed agriculture in central and northern Europe. Europe recovered, north Africa did not, or to a far lesser degree.

So even if your assertion that the Greeks were harsh when ruling Egypt, I seriously doubt that had a major influence on the region's ability to produce a rich harvest.

And what makes you think the Romans were any less harsh with their conquered areas? Or in fact the Egyptian rulers themselves when independent?


How did production of grain change with Hellenistic Egypt coming under Roman rule? - History

Rathbone Dominic. Egypt, Augustus and Roman taxation. In: Cahiers du Centre Gustave Glotz, 4, 1993. pp. 81-112.

Egypt, Augustus and Roman taxation*

Egypt has often been viewed as an exceptionally peculiar province of the Roman Empire, in which the Ptolemaic system of centralized royal rule was maintained and where the right and duty of self-administration was not conceded to the urban-based communities until Septimius Severus' visit to Egypt in A.D. 200/1 . Although scholars have suggested that some individual principles and practices of Roman taxation were borrowed from the Ptolemaic system, the general view is that the fiscal system of Roman Egypt was quite different to the "standard" one found in other provinces1. This would mean that the rich papyrological documentation for taxation in Egypt could only be of local significance, and we could, with some relief, leave it as an optional side- dish at the banquet of Roman fiscal history. In recent years, however, there has been a trend towards arguing that the society and administration of Egypt underwent important changes as a result of Roman annexation, and that Egypt was not, after all, such a peculiar province2. In the context of this trend I wish to re-examine here the fiscal system established by Augustus in Egypt after its annexation in 30 B.C. Although there is not as much direct evidence for this early period as for Egypt in the later Principate, some back-projection from later evidence is possible, and, as I will try to show, there is much to be gained from considering the place of Egypt, which was arguably the first "imperial" province, in the Augustan revolution from Republic to Principate as it affected the administration and taxation of the provinces and established the standard of "normality" from which Egypt has been supposed to diverge. Although in what follows I will say something, albeit often nothing very original, about most aspects of the taxation of early Roman Egypt, I will pay particular attention to two areas, the raising of an annual poll-tax (the tributum capitis) on the basis of a provincial census, and the development of the imperial patrimonium and its rights. Philo thought it an extraordinary achievement that the Prefect Flaccus had managed to gain a better understanding of the fiscal

I am grateful to Professor Nicolet for his invitation to present this paper at the seminar of the Centre Glotz, and to those present, and also to Roger Bagnali, Dorothy Thompson and Willy Clarysse, for their comments. The time to write and revise it was afforded by the award of a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship for 1991/2. Papyri and ostraka are cited according to the conventions of J.F. Oates et al., Checklist of Editions of Greek Papyri and Ostraca (3rd edn., 1985).

1 Cf. the attempt of A.RMJones to combine the notion of 'peculiarity' with a plea for study of the 'analogies', (in) ed. S.R.K.Glanville, The Legacy of Egypt (1st ed. 1942) ch.l 1.

2 N. Lewis, "Greco-Roman Egypt" : fact or fiction ?", Proc. XII Int. Congr. Pap., Am. Stud. Pap. 7, 1970, p. 3-14 id., "The Romanity of Roman Egypt : a growing consensus", Atti XVII Congr. Int. Pap. 1984, III p. 1077-84.


Slavery in Roman Egypt/Ptolemaic Egypt

I'm curious as to how/if a slaves experience in Roman Egypt was unique compared to the rest of the Roman Empire, and also if the institution underwent any changes after coming under Roman rule as compared to the years preceding in Ptolemaic Egypt.

From what I've read it seems as if a slave's experience if in Roman Egypt wouldn't have been, and I'm speaking in very general terms, much different than if they were a slave elsewhere in the Roman Empire. I've heard that there may be some evidence to support the existence of a lower level of slavery in Egypt that did not exist elsewhere (for the most part. maybe?) in the Empire.

Generalizing about "slave's experiences" in the Roman world is a little difficult, because there were so many slaves in so many different roles.

At one extreme you had examples like Greek slaves used as tutors and educators who would have likely had a relatively comfortable life, and at the other you have slaves in the salt mines who would be worked to death from their labour in a fairly short period of time.

There were two categories of slaves in Ptolemaic Egypt: the natives and the Greeks, who had settled there after having accompanied their masters. Those who were in a position to have slaves of both categories were the rulers of the kingdom, the higher army and administration officials, as well as the gradually developing local aristocracy. Slaves were mostly occupied in household tasks, in trade and industry activities, wherever there was need of abundant working hands -mainly in Alexandria-, as well as in sanctuaries. There, mostly local slaves were used in agricultural tasks of the sacred lands, as workers in industrial production, as shepherds and manual workers in various tasks that had to do with the buildings of the temples and the religious rites.

The military activity of the Ptolemies developed a significant slave market in Egypt consisting of captives, which was increased by local people who were reduced to this category. However, in general the number of slaves in Egypt during the Hellenistic times must not have been large, since rulers set restrictions in slave trade too and did not encourage the spread of the Greek type of slavery.

It should be noted that in late Roman times, the easiest way to become a slave was to become indebted.

Was it actually the easiest way? From what I've read (I'll post links ASAP but I'm using my phone at the moment), there seems to be some discrepency regarding this. From my understanding it was originally asserted (in 1981 I believe) that reproduction accounted for 80% of the slave population but that estimate was far too wishy washy. Today, it's my understanding that there's still significant debate regarding where slaves came from. Some argue now that child abandonment was one very prominent way. Others state that the enslavement of the remaining populations of nations defeated by the Roman empire accounted for a significant portion.

I'm gathering that there's just not enough evidence to make an accurate estimate but from what I've been reading it doesn't seem as if being indebted is mentioned as much as being defeated in battle, being born into slavery, or child abandoment.

I'm not saying you're wrong at all btw, I'm just typing a senior seminar research paper for my undergrad degree and now your assertion is shedding new light on this topic and I need to get to the bottom of it now lol. Do you know of any sources I could check out that would help?


Military History vs. History

I have a friend who is a history major, but whenever I start talking about history, she says "I don't know much about military history".

Isn't it hard to separate history from military history?

For example, she is interested in Roman history, and knows little of the First Triumvirate, which undeniably was a political AND military alliance.

So second question. Is she invalidating the knowledge of military history to cover her lack of knowledge or is there another disconnect I'm missing.

This may not be the right page for this, but I wanted to see what anybody on this page thought. Thanks!

Perhaps you should ask her field of study and probe a bit more into because there a fuckload more to history than just warfare.

Cultural history, history ofy invention and developement, Social, agricultural, etc. Literally every facet of life. Theres alot to know. I mean some people literally just study language developement over time (which to be fair is incredibly complex)

So ask. Dont presume. Assumptions are what got lots of generals killed.

Yeah, I also started talking about Dan Carlin's run on the Japanese in the Pacific (I forgot the name), which does talk about a lot of military history, but other things too, and focuses on primary sources from all sides throughout their Imperialistic phase.

Of course there is plenty of military history in there, but isn't that all fairly important to the things you mentioned like social, agricultural, invention, culture, etc.

I think it's odd to feel superior about one (which it seems she does) and see the other as lesser.

I’d did a history degree (we don’t have majors here in the UK)

There is a difference between military history and ‘normal history’

In schools and universities (at least based on personal experience) wars are taught in broad strokes: this is why they started, these are the big events, these are the consequences. In school and university I was never taught the specific details of a specific battle whereas I would’ve been if I was studying military history.

Military history specifically talks more about the troop movements, specific commanders or the technical details of military equipment, or the tactics.

A little bit drunk so maybe my answer could be better

Ok, so what she describes as "military history" was actually more broad than I thought TBH.

Speaking as someone who fits the technical definition of a military historian (have been studying for 10-ish years, academic degree in history, working on primary documents etc.) military history can be two things A narrowly defined field focusing specifically on military engagements, what led to them, and their outcomes - OR (this is where I come in) - an entry point to understand broader causes and implications of conflict, and the socio-political, economic, industrial, and agrarian sources of said conflict.

I've heard it said by history professors that military history is a pointless examination of conflict (they're wrong, too, because what is history but a series of conflicts which effect change upon the world). That said, there are many, many more avenues of history that are not military history they are still valid, worthwhile avenues of study, and ignorance of military history isn't a drawback or hobble (one head cannot hold all knowledge).

That’s not what they necessarily mean though. Military history is often like beating a dead horse, it’s been done to death since it’s the most popular field for public consumption - and in conjunction with political history and great man theory, it was what 19th century academics was all about. I remember our professors told us jokingly, if you think you’ll be writing your masters on Napoleon, think again. They did not mean to discredit military history, but just warn us students that the studies will be a bit more complex.

Frankly, as you yourself said, it is more complex, we’d be equally wrong in stating ‘history is nothing but a series of conflicts’. That is as Braudel called it, l’histoire evenementielle - not any less important per se, but just a tiny fraction of the massive tale of human history.

That's kind of what I always thought to. Like it's one thing to know about Gettysburg and the troops movements on the days it was fought. (Buford's calvary, Reynolds getting shot, Pickett's Charge, etc.)

Then it is another thing to know it was the most Northern major engagement of the Civil War and a failure that turned the tide of the war and led to the end of the war which led to the end of slavery which led to Reconstruction which led to Jim Crow laws which led to.

So I think we're on the same page, and also I envy you. It sounds so cool!

Military history is just a sub-category of history, along with economic, social, environmental, etc. You can focus in on an era where military activity is important and not touch the military stuff if it isn't your focus. I study Civil War, for example, and I pretty much never touch military stuff unless it's incidentally relevant to the social issues I write about. If I need details about a military event (for instance, I'm hopping on a project that focuses on an area near Petersburg), I can always just pick up a book to give me an overview.

"Roman history" is still a broad umbrella, and it's possible to know some stuff without knowing other stuff. Iɽ argue it gets easier the more you specialize. More importantly, being a History major -- hell, even being a historian -- doesn't mean you know everything that ever happened, and being able to recognize and admit what you don't know is a valuable skill as you get deeper into research.

The "military history vs. every other kind of history" split in academia is definitely very real.

With some obvious exceptions, a lot of academics working in the historic field look down their noses at military history as being less useful/insightful/relevant/sophisticated/etc than other fields of historical study, like social history. And there are some valid criticisms of the way military history is done and has been done.

Military history can veer into dry recitations of the maneuvers of battalions and divisions, or the Hitler Channel's endless "Hitler's Deadliest Jet/Tank/Watercolor Paintings", or puffery about the Spartans or other "badass" warriors. A lot of military history, especially the pop history, can be shallow and outright untrue. It can also suck the air out of the room and get a lot more attention than drier, but often more important topics, like economic history. The period grumbling about there being too much "Spartans and tanks" from the r/Askhistorians mods comes to mind.

I think the best vision for what good military history has to offer is in Biddle and Citino's "The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy". Military history should inform the larger effort to understand history. It can also be a great gateway to get people, especially younger men, interested in the field. But it shouldn't be the only gateway, either.


Administration and economy under Rome

The Romans introduced important changes in the administrative system, aimed at achieving a high level of efficiency and maximizing revenue. The duties of the prefect of Egypt combined responsibility for military security through command of the legions and cohorts, for the organization of finance and taxation, and for the administration of justice. This involved a vast mass of detailed paperwork one document from 211 ce notes that in a period of three days 1,804 petitions were handed into the prefect’s office. But the prefect was assisted by a hierarchy of subordinate equestrian officials with expertise in particular areas. There were three or four epistratēgoi in charge of regional subdivisions special officers were in charge of the emperors’ private account, the administration of justice, religious institutions, and so on. Subordinate to them were the local officials in the nomes (stratēgoi and royal scribes) and finally the authorities in the towns and villages.

It was in these growing towns that the Romans made the most far-reaching changes in administration. They introduced colleges of magistrates and officials who were to be responsible for running the internal affairs of their own communities on a theoretically autonomous basis and, at the same time, were to guarantee the collection and payment of tax quotas to the central government. This was backed up by the development of a range of “liturgies,” compulsory public services that were imposed on individuals according to rank and property to ensure the financing and upkeep of local facilities. These institutions were the Egyptian counterpart of the councils and magistrates that oversaw the Greek cities in the eastern Roman provinces. They had been ubiquitous in other Hellenistic kingdoms, but in Ptolemaic Egypt they had existed only in the so-called Greek cities (Alexandria, Ptolemais in Upper Egypt, Naukratis, and later Antinoöpolis, founded by Hadrian in 130 ce ). Alexandria lost the right to have a council, probably in the Ptolemaic period. When it recovered its right in 200 ce , the privilege was diluted by being extended to the nome capitals (mētropoleis) as well. This extension of privilege represented an attempt to shift more of the burden and expense of administration onto the local propertied classes, but it was eventually to prove too heavy. The consequences were the impoverishment of many of the councillors and their families and serious problems in administration that led to an increasing degree of central government interference and, eventually, more direct control.

The economic resources that this administration existed to exploit had not changed since the Ptolemaic period, but the development of a much more complex and sophisticated taxation system was a hallmark of Roman rule. Taxes in both cash and kind were assessed on land, and a bewildering variety of small taxes in cash, as well as customs dues and the like, was collected by appointed officials. A massive amount of Egypt’s grain was shipped downriver both to feed the population of Alexandria and for export to Rome. Despite frequent complaints of oppression and extortion from the taxpayers, it is not obvious that official tax rates were all that high. In fact the Roman government had actively encouraged the privatization of land and the increase of private enterprise in manufacture, commerce, and trade, and low tax rates favoured private owners and entrepreneurs. The poorer people gained their livelihood as tenants of state-owned land or of property belonging to the emperor or to wealthy private landlords, and they were relatively much more heavily burdened by rentals, which tended to remain at a fairly high level.

Overall, the degree of monetarization and complexity in the economy, even at the village level, was intense. Goods were moved around and exchanged through the medium of coin on a large scale and, in the towns and the larger villages, a high level of industrial and commercial activity developed in close conjunction with the exploitation of the predominant agricultural base. The volume of trade, both internal and external, reached its peak in the 1st and 2nd centuries ce . However, by the end of the 3rd century ce , major problems were evident. A series of debasements of the imperial currency had undermined confidence in the coinage, and even the government itself was contributing to this by demanding increasing amounts of irregular tax payments in kind, which it channeled directly to the main consumers—army personnel. Local administration by the councils was careless, recalcitrant, and inefficient. The evident need for firm and purposeful reform had to be squarely faced in the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine.


Egyptian Women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt — The Economic and Legal Activities of Women in Demotic Texts

I propose to construct a model of the economic and legal activities of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt as represented in Demotic documentary texts. This will involve detailed study of economic and legal documents written in Demotic such as marriage agreements, annuity contracts, wills, documents of divorce, sale, receipt, and renunciation, as well as letters. Many of these documents come from family archives. Most of these will be from published sources. Such a model will be compared with the existing model of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt presently based on Greek sources. Greater knowledge of the lives of Egyptian women in these periods can also be used to add to knowledge of women in the Pharaonic period, due to the differing nature and greater quantity of the material surviving from later times.

The periods of Egyptian history under discussion here are Ptolemaic and Roman, i.e. from the conquest of Alexander in 332 BC to the end of the 1st/early 2nd Century AD after which time Demotic ceased to be used for writing official documents. The texts which are the focus of the study are written in Demotic. This form of Egyptian began to be used in the time of Psammetichus I of the 26th Dynasty (ca. 650 BC) and by the end of this Dynasty, Demotic was the chief means of recording business and everyday transactions. In the Ptolemaic period Demotic was also used to write literary texts. 1 Under the Romans, Demotic ceased to be used for business documents, probably because of government policy, although the production of literary, religious and scientific texts continued. 2 Thus most of the Demotic texts which will be used in this dissertation date to the Ptolemaic period, especially as these are chiefly of a legal and economic nature.

Problem and State of the Question

The materials we have at our disposal with which to reconstruct the social history of Ancient Egypt and its neighbours are written texts on papyrus and ostraca. There are also archaeological remains and formal inscriptions, but it is textual material which will be the focus of this project. This includes literary texts in which women appear, occasionally in economic roles. However the majority of remains are the by-products of legal and economic activity from the predominantly male, public sphere, rather than from the domestic realm of women. Much of this documentary material is in Greek and provides a huge amount of information which could benefit from comparison with the Demotic material. The study of texts giving information about women and their activities as legally and economically active persons would permit a more complete and coherent picture of the lives of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. A clearer picture of the lives of women, as represented in Demotic texts, will enhance the image we have of the lives of Hellenistic women, as manifested in Greek documentation from the same period. 3 Furthermore, the information gained from this (relatively) late period of Ancient Egyptian history will serve to provide a model for the, at least in some respects, much less detailed picture we have of women in the Pharaonic period. Although Deir el Medina has provided us with information on economic and legal issues, most of the documentation from this site is of an informal nature - notes scribbled on ostraca for personal rather than official use - and supplies us with more information of a "domestic" nature. There are far more papyri, especially formal documents, remaining from the later periods of Egyptian history.

At present I know of the following published scholarly works presenting a "comprehensive social model" for an Egyptian woman:

  • Desroches Noblecourt, C. 1986. La femme au temps des pharaons. Paris: Editions Stock.
  • Millard, Anne. 1976. The Position of Women in the Family and in Society in Ancient Egypt: with special reference to the Middle Kingdom. 3 vols. London: University of London.
  • Pomeroy, Sarah. 1990. Women in Hellenistic Egypt: From Alexander to Cleopatra. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  • Robins, Gay. 1993. Women in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum.
  • Wilfong, Terry G. 1994. "The Woman of Jeme" Women's roles in a Coptic Town in Late Antique Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago. 4

I am aware of two general surveys which attempt to give an impression of women in pharaonic Egypt:

  • Tyldesley, Joyce. 1995. Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Watterson, Barbara. 1991. Women in Ancient Egypt. Stroud: Alan Sutton.

Further issues involving Egyptian women have been studied topics such as marriage and inheritance, amongst others, have been well explored: law, 5 marriage and marriage contracts, 6 economy, 7 inheritance, 8 literature, 9 and religion. 10 The lives of Egyptian women have also received attention in surveys of Late Antiquity: whether in surveys of women in that period or of Late Antique Egypt. 11 There are published (family) archives which involve women from the Pharaonic period 12 as well as the Late, Ptolemaic and Roman. 13

However, rarely are such issues taken beyond the data and studied as aspects of the life of an Egyptian woman or with a view to producing a model for the life of an Egyptian woman: her roles as a member of a household, and her economic and legal activity whether on behalf of her family or in her own right, and how these differed from or were the same as those of an Egyptian man. Integrating these individual aspects would go some way towards providing a comprehensive model which could be compared with that existing for Ptolemaic or Roman period women in Greek texts 14 or women elsewhere in the Near East. 15 Indeed, women's history - whether in terms of representations of women in literature or women as legal and economic entities - has attracted considerable attention in the areas of classical and biblical studies, for example: 16 Jewish women in biblical studies, 17 in the Hellenistic world, 18 and in Egypt. 19

A considerable amount of work has been done on the social history of Egypt in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. 20 However, almost all of this is based on Greek material studied by Classicists and thus approached from the viewpoint of the Classical world. As Bowman and Woolf write, ". the Greek papyri from Ptolemaic Egypt have been very well served by Greek papyrologists whilst the far smaller number of Demotists has not been able to do justice to a corpus of demotic papyri which is very much larger than the published sample would suggest." 21

Comparison between Egypt and other Hellenized areas or elsewhere in the Roman Empire is productive and relevant Egypt was, after all, a part of the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire. However, without consideration of traditions and practices of native Egyptians, understanding of the Greek material cannot be complete. The relative inaccessibility of the Demotic material prevents its extensive use by Classicists, and, as Pomeroy writes, ". social historians interested in Ptolemaic Egypt. would welcome more studies of the indigenous women by Demotists." 22 Egyptologists themselves have lacked interest in the history of Egypt's later periods, tending to regard it as "degenerate." As Ritner writes: "Note how few Demotists there are in the world, how few contemporary Egyptologists extend their interests past Tutankhamen and the New Kingdom 'flowering.' In the past, Demotists have been considered almost 'suspect' to 'mainstream' Egyptologists." 23

Nevertheless, our picture of Egypt in the Hellenistic period is skewed by the continued inattention to Demotic sources and indeed, Egyptian traditions and history in general. It is probable that most of the population were Egyptians speaking Egyptian, 24 although there is ample evidence to show that Egyptians became Hellenized and learnt Greek. 25 However, as discussed below, the ethnic distinction is problematic. After the passing of the Roman Empire and the arrival of Christianity, Coptic was used as the language of everyday transactions by much of the population, 26 and thus Egyptian must have continued to be spoken, presumably by those for whom it was a "mother tongue." 27 It seems unlikely that many Greek speakers would have taken the trouble to learn to write Egyptian, although they may well have learnt to speak it, perhaps with a limited vocabulary, for everyday transactions. Varying degrees of competence in a language are reflective of the various uses to which it is put. A person's facility with a language depends on the needs of the individual concerned and a limited vocabulary in, for example, written Demotic, should not be seen as a defeciency as it may well have been quite sufficient for the purposes of a particular individual. 28 With Greek being the language of the ruling administration, ability to write Egyptian would have brought little benefit, other than perhaps on a personal level for those married to Egyptians or living in a largely Egyptian speaking community, outside the main Greek centers (such as Alexandria and the Fayum). An example of such a "mixed marriage" would be Dryton, the Greek cavalry officer, born in Ptolemais, a Greek city in Upper Egypt, who lived in the largely Egyptian town of Pathyris (modern Gebelein, south of Luxor 29 ). 30 His wife Apollonia also had an Egyptian name, Senmonthis, and conducted business in both Greek and Egyptian. 31 The couple had five daughters, each of whom had double names like their mother and like her, too, used both Greek and Demotic for their transactions. 32

The issue of ethnicity in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt is very problematic and not, ultimately, central to the present inquiry. 33 What is important is that there is ample documentation relevant to the study of women in Demotic as well as Greek, but these Demotic sources have hitherto not been considered in the study of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. The two corpora would appear to include a similar range of material: marriage documents, contracts involving various types of property and wills, amongst others. Thus, the distinctions are: the language in which the document was written, who wrote the document and the contents (the formulae of a contract, for example, which might vary depending on the language used). Such differences do not imply that a document written in a certain language had greater legal weight than one written in another language, rather that it might have been more effective in a given context.

Although ostensibly ethnic labels were at times used by individuals in reference to themselves in legal documents, it is hard to define what such labels actually meant to those involved and whether they served any purpose outside the legal sphere. In other words, were such labels, when used, purely legal terms or did this reflect a broader ethnic category applying to an individual in all circumstances and thus with possible effects on their daily life? The evidence suggests that the latter was not the case, at least not in the Ptolemaic period. 34 As Goudriaan points out, Preaux observed that "we do not have knowledge of any juridical definition of `Egyptians' in use during the Ptolemaic epoch," but this "did not prevent the inhabitants of Egypt from mutually labeling their compatriots in ethnical terms in other words what we might call a social definition of `Egyptian' and `Hellene' did exist and function." 35 Hellenes and Egyptians were not classes, nor professional groups nor were they distinguished by status. 36 It would also seem to be difficult to distinguish who exactly was "Hellene" or "Egyptian," as "nomenclature proved to be a wholly unreliable guide for establishing the ethnic identity of the persons mentioned in our sources, and this conclusion is valid from the end of the third Century BC onwards." 37 Under the Romans the issue of "ethnic identity" is somewhat different, due to their division of society into classes based on distinctions between Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians (various levels of citizenship of the Empire), at least until AD 212 when Caracalla extended Roman citizenship to almost every inhabitant of the Empire. 38

From the example of Apollonia and her daughters it would appear that the same person (i.e. man or woman) could conduct business in either Greek or Demotic. This causes one to ask, how did a person choose which language to use and why? Was a document treated differently depending on the language in which it was written, or was it merely a matter of an administrative difference, i.e. that it was treated the same way, but went to a different office to be dealt with by administrators who could read that particular language (after having been registered and summarized in Greek)? Or were all documents dealt with in the same office regardless of the language they were written in? In other words, did this represent a social or legal difference? According to the Amnesty Decree of Ptolemy VIII and the two Cleopatras of 118 BC, documents written in Egyptian were dealt with by Egyptian courts, i.e. according to Egyptian law, whereas documents written in Greek were dealt with in Greek courts. 39 In the case of Greek law a woman would need a kyrios (guardian) to act on her behalf, 40 and for Apollonia with a husband who may have been away much of the time, 41 this requirement might have proved problematic. Thus she conducted business in Demotic as, not needing to have to find a man to act as her guardian, it must have been more convenient to operate within that legal system. 42 It appears then, that a woman with access to both, chose that which was more advantageous to her. 43

With a possibly deliberate choice having been made as to whether to transact business in Demotic or in Greek, and with the fact that these documents were dealt with within different legal systems, depending on the language in which they were written, it should be possible to find differences in the way women appear in the documents. Detailed study of Demotic legal and economic texts involving women would allow us to determine some of the roles women were playing in society at this time: what they were and were not able to do legally and economically, and whether or not this differed from the activities of men, and if so, in what ways. The material available records a variety of transactions providing information on detailed issues: what kind of property did women receive as dowry, is there any evidence that this could include land or other immovables (such as houses or parts thereof) as well as movables? 44 Did the property a woman received at marriage in her dowry represent her entire share of the property she could inherit from her parents? From the evidence of the texts, women could own land. How did they acquire this (by means of dowry, inheritance or purchase)? As Pomeroy states of land ownership in Egypt under the Romans:

Thus, with Egypt being an agricultural economy, ownership of land was the key to a significant and powerful role in society. The degree to which women were landowners, and the freedom with which they could use and dispose of any land, or indeed any property, they owned would give some indication of the status of women in Egyptian society, their place in their families, and their abilities and powers within the economy at large, especially in relation to those of men. Furthermore, where did they stand in relation to joint property acquired in marriage and in relation to their parents' property? Did a woman lose all claim to her parents' property on marriage and receipt of her dowry? What happened to a woman's property or dowry on her death? 46 Who inherited these things? What happened in the case of a childless couple? What happened in the case of divorce? 47 How did these compare with the position of men?

As far as Pharaonic Egyptian women are concerned, the impression given in the surveys referred to above is that, although there may be a quantitative difference (there are far more texts involving men than involving women) there are few qualitative differences, the notable ones being the lack of evidence for women as scribes or only rare occurrences of them as witnesses to documents. 48 The following quote is an example of the undocumented statements frequently made in popular literature about women in Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Near East in general:

Some continuity in Egyptian practices from Pharaonic into Ptolemaic and Roman times is demonstrated in the Demotic documents where women continued to act for themselves without the need of a male guardian and undertook the same activities, with the same freedoms, in dealing with movable and immovable property, as men. 50 Although there is less documentation from before the Ptolemies, parallels can be found from earlier periods of Egyptian history, 51 as well as later. 52 Texts from elsewhere in the Near East provide informative parallels, for example, the archive of Babatha, 53 as well as somewhat earlier material from Elephantine (Mibtahiah's archive and other Aramaic texts), 54 Neo-Babylonian texts, 55 and Hellenistic Babylonian material, 56 all of which include a similar range of documents to that of the Demotic and Greek material: legal, economic and administrative texts (including marriage contracts, sales and loans).

Proposal

I propose to construct a model for the economic and legal capabilities of women in Demotic texts. Comparison with similar material from elsewhere in the Near East as well as both earlier and later Egyptian material will be used in constructing this model. This could then be integrated with the existing model for women derived from Greek texts to arrive at a more comprehensive overview of the status of women in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. 57 This will require the identification and collection of Egyptian language documents involving women from Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. I do not intend to prepare new editions of the texts in the corpus (most of which will be from published sources), but will re-edit documents when necessary for my own use. My plan is to enter transliterations and translations into a database in a searchable form which would enable me to look for words (e.g. names and titles). This can be done using the bibliographic programme, "Pro-Cite" using a modified method of transliteration based on the system used in Beinlich's Egyptian Wordlist. 58 I do not plan on making this database available as part of the final dissertation, rather it will be a tool used in analysis of the documents and in the production of tabular summaries of the database in an appendix of the dissertation. This will facilitate quantitative study of the texts an obvious starting point being the construction of indices of names, terms, and concepts occurring in the papyri (which, as said, will be summarized in appendices). I am also in the process of tabulating important information contained in the documents under the following headings:

  1. accession/catalogue or plate number of the document (depending on how it is identified in publication
  2. date (this would allow for tracing of possible changes over time)
  3. provenience (this would allow the tracing of any possible regional variations)
  4. type of document (i.e. the nature of the transaction recorded in the text)
  5. names of parties involved (where possible)
  6. number of witnesses (which in Demotic texts seem to be always male 59 )
  7. name of the scribe when recorded
  8. number of copies of the document
  9. note on any anomalies in the above categories, or any other detail of note. This provides a place for including information not covered by the above headings. These are limited to information included in all, or most, of the texts (this varies depending on the heading). Further headings would include more information but this would produce innumerable columns, due to the inconsistency of the details included in the texts and this would not necessarily be any more helpful in terms of quantitative analysis (as at times there may only be one example).
  10. where the text is published

The tabulation of the above information about these documents enables analysis of fundamental questions such as:

  • In what kinds of transactions were women involved and what role did they play?
  • Were women parties to contracts as individuals in their own right
  • without the male guardian (apparently) required for women in Greek documents? This question is asked as this seems to be the most striking difference, potentially, between Egyptian and Greek women. 60
  • Did women witness documents? There are only rare references to women doing this in texts from the Pharaonic period, 61 how does the situation in the Demotic material compare?
  • Were women scribes?
  • What details of parentage were included in the identification of parties (i.e. were matronymics included as well as patronymics)?
  • What differences are there between practices in the Ptolemaic and in the Roman periods? 62

In the body of the dissertation this material might be framed under the following headings:

  1. Women as primary agents in transactions
  2. Women as secondary and tertiary agents in transactions (e.g. in matronymics, or mentioned incidentally within the body of a document)
  3. Comparison of the Demotic model with that from the earlier periods of Egyptian history
  4. Comparison of the model produced from texts in Demotic and that produced from contemporary texts in Greek, perhaps here also comparison with other Near Eastern cultures.

The database would be used to research further questions, such as what titles did women have, how often and when did they occur, which officials did women have dealings with. Searching for occurrences of names would enable the tracing of the activities of particular individuals. It is possible that such searches will enable the reconstruction of archives, or collation of material regarding groups of related individuals. Collating texts in this way increases the value of the information found in them, as pointed out by Pestman. 63 Archaeological reports of sites from the period will illustrate important points in the texts (house layout, objects described as property, for example), 64 and would tie in with the provenience field in the database, where a text was found as part of an archaeological excavation. Detailed analysis of Demotic documentary texts as proposed above, with reference to the standard descriptive and analytical methodologies common in other historical analyses of women, 65 will provide a working model of the legal and economic abilities and undertakings of women in Demotic texts in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The value of such a model will be increased by comparison with similar material from other periods of Egyptian history and elsewhere in the Near East, as described above. It is inconceivable that indigenous Egyptian culture had no influence on immigrant populations, and thus, understanding the lives of women operating in the Egyptian language will increase the awareness of the influence of Egyptian traditions on the lives of Hellenistic women and the cultural milieu in which these women operated. This will go some way to countering the, at present, unbalanced (incomplete and thus, incorrect) picture of women in this period, which is based almost entirely on sources written in Greek.


Interest Rates in the Roman Empire

Our data on ancient Roman loans is based on a range of values. For example, the source material might mention rates were between 6 and 12% interest during a specific time period. In order to illustrate this in a chart the 6% end of the range would have an independent data point labeled as “normal (low%)” and the 12% end would have an independent data point labeled as “normal (high%). In reality, these values simply represent the boundaries on a range of interest rates for a given time period. The color of the bars in the chart refers to the century in which the data is relevant.

Interest rates remained within a range of 6-12% for centuries. The lone exception being the 50% rates charged in Egypt for grain loans. The relative political stability of the 1st and 2nd Centuries also affords us better information than we find later during more unstable periods.

The exact date of the fall of the Roman Empire continues to be hotly debated to this day, however, the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in 476, is widely accepted as the official end of the Roman Empire. That is the point at which the western part of the empire fell under the control of the Germanic tribes while the eastern part of the empire would continue and become known as the Byzantine Empire, which is where we will move for next weeks’ missive.


Christian Egypt (33 AD-4th century)

History of Egypt
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Prehistoric Egypt pre–3100 BC
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1st Intermediate Period 2181–2055 BC
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3rd Intermediate Period 1069–664 BC
Late Period 664–332 BC
Classical Antiquity
Achaemenid Egypt 525–332 BC
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Egypt portal

Egyptian Christians believe that the Patriarchate of Alexandria was founded by Mark the Evangelist around 33, but little is known about how Christianity entered Egypt. The historian Helmut Koester has suggested, with some evidence, that originally the Christians in Egypt were predominantly influenced by gnosticism until the efforts of Demetrius of Alexandria gradually brought the beliefs of the majority into harmony with the rest of Christianity. While the collective embarrassment over their origins would explain the lack of details for the first centuries of Christianity in Egypt, there are too many gaps in the history of Roman times to claim that our ignorance in this situation is a special case.

The ancient religion of Egypt put up surprisingly little resistance to the spread of Christianity. Possibly its long history of collaboration with the Greek and Roman rulers of Egypt had robbed its religious leaders of authority. Alternatively, the life-affirming native religion may have begun to lose its appeal among the lower classes as a burden of taxation and liturgic services instituted by the Roman emperors reduced the quality of life.

In a religious system which views earthly life as eternal, when earthly life becomes strained and miserable, the desire for such an everlasting life loses its appeal. Thus, the focus on poverty and meekness found a vacuum among the Egyptian population. In addition, many Christian tenets such as the concept of the trinity, a resurrection of deity and union with the deity after death had close similarities with the native religion of ancient Egypt . Or it may simply have been because branches of the native religion and Christianity had converged to a point where their similarities made the change a minor one.

By 200 it is clear that Alexandria was one of the great Christian centres. The Christian apologists Clement of Alexandria and Origen both lived part or all of their lives in that city, where they wrote, taught, and debated.

With the Edict of Milan in 313, Constantine I ended the persecution of Christians. Over the course of the 5th century, paganism was suppressed and lost its following, as the poet Palladius bitterly noted. It lingered underground for many decades: the final edict against paganism was issued in 435, but graffiti at Philae in Upper Egypt proves worship of Isis persisted at its temples into the 6th century. Many Egyptian Jews also became Christians, but many others refused to do so, leaving them as the only sizable religious minority in a Christian country.

No sooner had the Egyptian Church achieved freedom and supremacy, however, than it became subject to schism and prolonged conflict which at times descended into civil war. Alexandria became the centre of the first great split in the Christian world, between the Arians, named for the Alexandrian priest Arius, and their opponents, represented by Athanasius, who became Archbishop of Alexandria in 326 after the First Council of Nicaea rejected Arius's views. The Arian controversy caused years of riots and rebellions throughout most of the 4th century. In the course of one of these, the great temple of Serapis, the stronghold of paganism, was destroyed. Athanasius was alternately expelled from Alexandria and reinstated as its Archbishop between five and seven times.

Egypt had an ancient tradition of religious speculation, enabling a variety of controversial religious views to thrive there. Not only did Arianism flourish, but other doctrines, such as Gnosticism and Manichaeism, either native or imported, found many followers. Another religious development in Egypt was the monasticism of the Desert Fathers, who renounced the material world in order to live a life of poverty in devotion to the Church.

Egyptian Christians took up monasticism with such enthusiasm that the Emperor Valens had to restrict the number of men who could become monks. Egypt exported monasticism to the rest of the Christian world. Another development of this period was the development of Coptic, a form of the Ancient Egyptian language written with the Greek alphabet supplemented by several signs to represent sounds present in Egyptian which were not present in Greek. Coptic is invented as a means to ensure correct pronunciation of magical words and names in "pagan" texts, the so-called Greek Magical Papyri. Coptic was soon adopted by early Christians to spread the word of the gospel to native Egyptians and it became the liturgical language of Egyptian Christianity and remains so to this day.


General Overviews

Given the diversity discussed in the Introduction, it is unsurprising that no one book provides a comprehensive overview of all cities in the Roman world. Laurence, et al. 2011 uses different elements of the city to examine how provincial cities, west of the Adriatic, fit within processes of cultural change, especially given the fluidity of the concept of Romanness. The chapters in Erdkamp 2013 present an overview of Rome itself, but the aspects of urban life that are examined will, for the most part, be relevant to those working on Roman cities more generally. Anderson 2002 also focuses on Rome and Italy for the most part, and some of the elements that appear in Erdkamp 2013, such as the logistics of building work, are also considered assessments of provincial cities are perhaps less convincing than that of Rome. Goodman 2007 examines the nature of settlement on the urban periphery. The nature of Roman “cities” that encompassed suburban and rural areas within the polity makes Penelope Goodman’s analysis of the periphery as important as the far-more-numerous works that focus on the urban core. One problem of some approaches to the Roman city is that they divorce it from the wider historical perspective. Any number of histories of the city that embrace Rome within a wider context might be included here. Nicolet, et al. 2000 contains several important chapters on Roman-period cities but also many important chapters on Mediterranean cities across history Hall 1998 is an examination of the city and civilization across time that briefly considers Rome (and Athens) it has been criticized for being Western-centric (most case studies focus on the 19th and 20th centuries).

Anderson, James C., Jr. 2002. Roman architecture and society. Ancient Society and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

Examines builders, buildings and building materials (in Part 1), and different elements of the city: planning, public buildings, and housing and space (in Part 2). Focuses particularly on Rome and Italy and on the “society” element rather than on the evolution of building types. First published in 1997.

Erdkamp, Paul, ed. 2013. The Cambridge companion to ancient Rome. Cambridge Companions to the Ancient World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Focuses on the city of Rome rather than on Roman cities, although the chapters, which include examinations of urban life, logistics, ruler and ruled, the sacred, demography, and economics, will be helpful to the student of Roman urbanism in general.

Goodman, Penelope J. 2007. The Roman city and its periphery: From Rome to Gaul. New York: Routledge.

Points to the importance of the relationship between cities and their hinterlands. Settlement was a continuum from monumental urban centers through many gradations to rural settlements. Argues for little evidence of exclusion of economic activity from urban cores.

Hall, Peter. 1998. Cities in civilization: Culture, innovation, and urban order. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Examines Rome in the context of how societies maintain order and provide amenities in large urban centers.

Laurence, Ray, Simon Esmonde Cleary, and Gareth Sears. 2011. The city in the Roman West, c. 250 BC to AD 250. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Argues that one of the essential functions of the Roman city was to produce Romans and that differences can be attributed to differing priorities among elites and differential rhythms of development. A good starting point for those new to the study of the Roman city.

Nicolet, Claude, Robert Ilbert, and Jean-Charles Depaule, eds. 2000. Mégapoles méditerranéennes: Géographie urbaine rétrospective Actes du colloque organisé par l’École française de Rome et la Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l’homme, Rome, 8–11 mai 1996. Collection de l’École Française de Rome 261. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose.

Several chapters relate directly to the Roman world, including by Nicolet, Martine Boiteux, and Gramsci Sartre on Antioch Filippo Coarelli on Rome and Pierre Gros on Roman Carthage and on the Greek and Roman periods. Other chapters present approaches to the city in other eras.

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How did production of grain change with Hellenistic Egypt coming under Roman rule? - History

The Hellenistic era was defined by 19th century historians (the term "hellenistic" was defined by the German Historian Johann Gustav Droysen in Geschichte des Hellenismus in 1836 and 1843) as part of a linguistic and cultural criterion for the spectacular increase in the areas where Greek (ἑλληνίζειν / hellênízein) was spoken, and therefore a term for the phenomenal expansion of Hellenism.

However, according to Paul Veyne, the phenomena of Hellenization of large regions and of the meeting of ancient Eastern and Western civilizations continued under the "Greco-Roman Empire."

  • the existence and stature of great kingdoms led by dynasties of Greek origin (Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Antigonid, Attalid, etc.) and
  • the role of hundreds of cities whose importance, contrary to a long-held idea, was far from declining.

The Hellenistic period is conventionally said to extend from the accession of Alexander the Great to the throne of Macedon in 336 B.C. to the death of Cleopatra VII of Egypt in 30 B.C. Its beginning is marked by Alexander's successful invasion of the Persian Empire and its end by the redivision of the Near and Middle East between Rome and the new Iranian-ruled kingdom of Parthia. For much of the intervening three hundred years the territory of the former Persian Empire was dominated by a series of Macedonian-ruled kingdoms in which Greeks and Greek culture enjoyed unprecedented preeminence. Art and literature flourished, the foundations of Western literary scholarship were laid, and Greek scientists formulated ideas of theories that would remain fundamental to work in a variety of fields until the Renaissance.

There was also a dark side to the Hellenistic period. It was the first great age of Western imperial expansion in Asia, ushering in the beginning of the end of the great civilizations of the ancient Near East that had dominated the Near and Middle East for almost three thousand years. These two aspects of the Hellenistic period, the emergence of Greek culture as a significant factor in the culture of the old world and the decline of Greece's Near Eastern rivals, were intertwined, since it was Macedonian imperial domination in the east that facilitated the cultural hegemony of Greece.

This view of the Hellenistic period as one of the major creative periods of Greek history and a fundamental turning point in the history of ancient Eurasia is, however, comparatively recent. Prior to the nineteenth century the Hellenistic period attracted little scholarly interest. To scholars who identified the concept of Hellenism with the Greek republican tradition of the polis , or city-state, and with the restraint and balance of fifth-and fourth-century art, the "baroque" art and "oriental" monarchies of the Hellenistic period seemed decadent. Three factors were responsible for a more positive reassessment of the importance of these three centuries.
The first was the publication between 1833 and 1843 of J. G. Droysen's great three-volume Geschichte des Hellenismus (History of Hellenism), with its revolutionary interpretation of the Hellenistic period as the time in which Greek and Near Eastern cultures mingled in the lands conquered by Alexander the Great to form the cultural matrix from which Christianity emerged.2 The second was the archaeological revolution. Excavation of Hellenistic period sites in Europe and Asia provided--and continues to provide--extensive information concerning the physical setting and material culture of the inhabitants of the new Macedonian kingdoms and their neighbors. Archaeology has also furnished scholars with a wealth of new written evidence in the form of inscriptions on stone and especially papyri, both literary and nonliterary,3 which has made the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the most important period for the recovery of classical literature since the Renaissance. Equally important, the texts also provided scholars with a detailed view of the government and society of a major kingdom, Ptolemaic Egypt, through documentation unrivaled for its comprehensiveness before the late Middle Ages. The third factor that contributed to the reassessment of the Hellenistic period was the creation of new European empires during approximately the same period in the areas once dominated by the Hellenistic kingdoms. The opening of these regions to Western exploration encouraged scholars to see Alexander, his Macedonian successors, and their Greek collaborators as forerunners of their own people and imperial endeavors. The result was almost a century of creative scholarship in which three generations of the most talented European and American historians assimilated the new data and fleshed out Droysen's view of Hellenistic civilization as a mixed culture, Greek in its essential character but enriched by the admixture of elements derived from the ancient cultures of the Near East.

The "heroic age" of Hellenistic scholarship ended in the 1940s. Thereafter, for almost two decades the views of the founders of Hellenistic studies reigned almost unchallenged, becoming enshrined in textbooks and encyclopedias that are still in common use today. During the last three decades--but especially during the 1980s--a new generation of Hellenistic historians, building on the foundations laid by their predecessors but reflecting the changed perspectives of a different time, have re-examined the bases of the interpretation of Hellenistic history and civilization first proposed by Droysen over a century ago. The result has been disconcerting.
The disappearance of the nineteenth-century European empires has left late twentieth-century scholars skeptical of their predecessors' optimistic picture of Graeco-Macedonian invaders and their Near Eastern subjects harmoniously living together and cooperating in the creation of a brilliant new mixed civilization. Contemporary scholars have emphasized instead the colonial character of the Hellenistic kingdoms, the tendency of the Greeks and Macedonians to hold themselves aloof from their non-Greek neighbors, and the essentially Greek character of most manifestations of Hellenistic culture. Aided by the recent publication of new editions and translations of Hellenistic Egyptian and Babylonian literary and documentary texts, scholars have also begun to remedy the neglect of the cultures of the subject peoples of the Hellenistic kingdoms that characterized so much of nineteenth-and twentieth-century scholarship. A new and more complex Hellenistic history is beginning to emerge, one that recognizes both the achievements of Hellenistic civilization and the price paid for them.4 The purpose of this essay is to give a preliminary outline of this new history of the Hellenistic period.

The Hellenistic Age (336-30 B.C.)

Rarely has an epoch-making reign begun with such poor prospects as that of Alexander the Great. Prior to the early fourth century B.C., Macedon was hardly more than a geographical expression, designating the loosely organized kingdom that occupied a region in northern Greece extending along the southern foothills of the Balkan Mountains from the Chalcidic Peninsula westward to the borders of modern Albania. The kings of Macedon sat on uneasy thrones, their hold on power and the unity of the kingdom itself repeatedly threatened by Thracian and Illyrian invasions and the intervention of various Greek states on behalf of rival Macedonian dynasts. Almost three decades of unrelenting effort at home and abroad by Alexander's father, Philip II (359-336 B.C.), had been required to transform the once-weak kingdom of Macedon into the strongest military power in the eastern Mediterranean and the mistress of the Balkans. But Philip's assassination in 336 B.C. threatened all of his achievements with sudden collapse just when he was about to launch his most ambitious undertaking, a full-scale invasion of Persian-occupied Asia Minor. Alexander, barely twenty years old and virtually unknown outside Macedonia, succeeded to a kingdom threatened with civil war at home and rebellion by its Greek and non-Greek subjects in the Balkans. Not only did he survive against all expectations, but in the thirteen years of his reign he transformed the ancient Western world, carrying Macedonian arms all the way to western India and destroying the Persian Empire, which had ruled western Asia for over two centuries.

Alexander's unexpected death at Babylon in the summer of 323 B.C. prevented him from establishing a permanent political organization for his vast conquests. It also encouraged speculation concerning his character and ultimate goals that continues unabated even today. In antiquity, opinions on Alexander varied widely. To his Greek contemporaries he was a brutal tyrant and conqueror. Their feelings are well summed up by the Athenian orator Demades, who bitterly observed on hearing rumors of Alexander's death that they couldn't be true "because the world would stink from the stench of his corpse." Later authors, such as the Greek moralist Plutarch and the Greco-Roman politician Arrian, writing during the early centuries of the Christian Era and reflecting the sense of Greek cultural superiority characteristic of intellectuals in the Roman Empire, took a more positive view of his reign, emphasizing the heroic scale of his conquests and his role in facilitating the spread of Hellenism to the east.

The same dichotomy has marked modern Alexander scholarship. Until recently, most historians, following the lead of the Roman imperial writers, whose works dominate the surviving sources, propounded a similarly benign view of Alexander's reign. The Macedonian king's opponents, such as the Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes, were dismissed as provincial reactionaries who failed to see that the time had come for Greek unification even if it had to be imposed by force. The brutalities of Alexander's campaigns were ignored or glossed over. Actions viewed in antiquity as typical of a tyrant--such as Alexander's drunken rages or his demand late in his reign that he be deified--were explained away or given a positive interpretation. The climax of this scholarly trend came in W. W. Tarn's famous 1948 biography of Alexander with its romantic conception of the king as a chivalrous philosopher in arms who sought to use his conquests to realize the Cynic and Stoic dream of the brotherhood of man.5
In no other area of Hellenistic history has the revisionism of post-World War II historiography had more dramatic results. The idealistic interpretations of scholars such as Tarn have been subjected to a rigorously skeptical critique and discredited. In an important series of articles published in the late 1950s and the 1960s, historian E. Badian clearly established the apologetic character of the "official" tradition represented by sources such as Arrian's Anabasis Alexandri , and painstakingly reconstructed the fierce personal rivalries that dominated the political life of Alexander's court.6 The result has been the emergence of a deliberately "tough-minded" view of Alexander as a ruler who brooked no opposition in his drive to achieve personal autocracy and glory through conquest, a view neatly summed up by the title of the most recent major history of Alexander's reign, A. B. Bosworth's Conquest and Empire , published in 1988.7 Students of Alexander's reign are also increasingly doubtful that the king ever had a plan for his empire beyond its indefinite expansion. Perhaps most important of all has been the recognition that the ultimate significance of his spectacular reign was negative: the destruction of the existing state system in western Asia.

The Hellenistic Political World

It would require almost four decades after Alexander's death for a new state system to emerge in the Near and Middle East. During those four decades the hope of maintaining intact Alexander's empire proved to be a seductive will-o'-the-wisp. Efforts to hold the empire together were frustrated by alliances of Alexander's surviving generals. First Perdiccas, whom Alexander had designated to administer the empire after his death, tried to maintain the empire intact in his capacity as regent for Alexander's mentally retarded half-brother, Philip III (323-316 B.C.) and his infant son Alexander IV (316-312 B.C.). After Perdiccas's death in 321 B.C., Antigonus the One Eyed (306-301 B.C.), Alexander's Satrap (i.e., governor) of Phrygia, also attempted to defend the unity of the empire. Both, however, failed. The result was that by the end of the wars of Alexander's successors in 280 B.C., his empire had broken up into three major kingdoms ruled by Macedonian dynasties: the Ptolemies, whose realm included Egypt, Palestine, Libya, and Cyprus the Seleucids, whose territories extended from the Mediterranean to the borders of India and the Antigonids, in Macedon and northern Greece.

The kingdoms that constituted the Hellenistic political world had hardly come into existence when their survival was threatened by severe internal and external stresses. Particularly hard hit were the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms. The former, centered in Syria but having to guard against threats on fronts as distant as western Turkey and the borders of India, proved especially vulnerable to separatist tendencies. Even before the end of the fourth century B.C., Seleucus I (311-281 B.C.) had ceded his dynasty's claims to Alexander's conquests in India to Chandra Gupta (ca. 324-300 B.C.) , the conqueror of Northern India and founder of the Maurya dynasty. Seleucus I traded his Indian claims for a military alliance and peace on his far eastern frontier. By the mid-third century B.C. the bulk of Seleucid territory in Anatolia had been usurped by a series of small kingdoms of which the most important was that of the Attalids of Pergamum in the northwestern corner of the peninsula. At almost the same time, the migration into central Iran of the Parni (or Parthians), a nomadic people of Iranian stock from Central Asia, temporarily severed communications between the western heart of the Seleucid kingdom and its eastern marches. As a result, a strong Greek-ruled kingdom emerged with its capital at Bactra, modern Balkh, in Afghanistan. One of the Greek rulers of Bactria, Menander (ca. 155-130 B.C.), even conquered much of northern India and under the name Milinda became one of the most revered figures of Buddhism.8 Still, the Syrian and Mesopotamian core of the kingdom remained intact and provided a sufficiently strong base for Antiochus III (223-187 B.C.), a Seleucid, to launch a counteroffensive at the end of the third century B.C. that restored his dynasty's authority over most of its former territory.

The Ptolemies faced less severe problems in their Egyptian fortress, but even so, a combination of native revolts, military defeats by the Seleucids, and crises over the succession to the throne brought the kingdom to the verge of dissolution late in the third century B.C. The threatened collapse was averted, however, by the vigorous action of Ptolemy V (204-180 B.C.) in the early second century B.C., and the dynasty managed to retain its hold on its Egyptian heartland until the end of the Hellenistic period. Thus, for the better part of two centuries the political life of western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean took place within the framework provided by the three major Macedonian kingdoms. It was the advance of Rome in the west and Parthia in the east that finally put an end to the world created by Alexander's conquests.

Historiography Of The Hellenistic Period

If the outlines of the political history of the Hellenistic period are clear, its details are not. Indeed, compared to the history of fifth and fourth century B.C. Greece or the history of the Roman Republic, it has a disconcertingly kaleidoscopic character. The narrative of events shifts abruptly from one geographical locale to another, its chronology is vague and insecure, and the personalities and policies of even the most important rulers are frustratingly unclear. The cause of these problems is not in doubt. No comprehensive ancient narrative history survives to serve as a guide for modern historians. By a cruel stroke of luck, the last manuscript of such an account, a copy of books twenty-one to forty of the vast Library of History of Diodorus of Agyrium, the first century B.C. universal historian, perished in the Ottoman Turkish sack of Constantinople in A.D. 1453. Diodorus's history is the only significant ancient literary work known to have been lost in that tragic event.9 As a result of its loss, modern historians are forced to cobble together their accounts from disparate, fragmentary, and often intractable sources. This same fact explains the extraordinary volatility of Hellenistic as the constant discovery of new evidence through archaeology forces the revision or abandonment of even the most seemingly secure historical reconstructions. Not surprisingly, in these circumstances the perspective from which historians view their subject is especially important.
This is particularly clear with regard to the interpretations offered by the nineteenth-and early twentieth-century founders of Hellenistic studies. Obsessed by the analogy between the Hellenistic kingdoms and modern European imperialism in the Near and Middle East, they placed at the center of their works the problem of the ultimate failure of the Macedonian kingdoms and the possible implications of this failure for their own compatriots. The triumph of Greek political rationalism over Eastern theocratic absolutism, the most important result of Alexander's conquests, proved to be only temporary it was the unchanging East that won the lasting victory. Such was the central theme of the great early histories of the Hellenistic period. Their authors' interpretations of this theme were usually cast in terms of stereotypes typical of what the literary critic Edward Said has called "Orientalism."10 Scholars accepted as accurate the tendentious characterization of Hellenistic Greek society offered by European Greeks and Romans, who claimed that virile European Greeks degenerated into corrupt Asiatics. Evidence of interest in or sympathy for the traditional cultures of the Near and Middle East, particularly their religious cultures, was excoriated as a betrayal of Western values. Total collapse was averted only by the fortuitous intervention of the philhellenic Romans, which prolonged the survival of Western rule and the dominance of Hellenism in the western portions of Alexander's empire until the Arab conquests and the final victory of the East in the seventh century A.D.
The study of the political history of the Hellenistic period has been least affected by the contemporary reaction against imperialist and chauvinist interpretations, and for good reason. Progress in the study of ancient history has always gone hand in hand with the discovery of new historical sources, and, with the exception of inscriptions, no significant new sources for Hellenistic political history have been discovered. Almost every archaeological expedition brings with it a harvest of new inscriptions, many of them of great interest. Epigraphical evidence is, however, by its very nature particularistic. It throws a bright light on isolated events, but it leaves their historical context in the shade. As a result, the general outlines of the account of Hellenistic political history sketched out in the great late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century histories of the period have remained essentially intact despite numerous modifications and corrections in their details.

The situation is different with regard to historians' views about the character of the Hellenistic kingdoms themselves. Recognition of the colonial nature of the Macedonian kingdoms, combined with intensive study of a steadily growing body of evidence bearing on their organization and social structure, has led to what can only be called a revolution in scholars' understanding of how these states actually functioned.

Descriptions of the organization of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the standard histories of the period are marked by a striking clarity and simplicity. The Hellenistic kingdoms were the result of conquest, and their organization was said to be based on two principles: first, that as spear-won land, the kingdom and its population essentially belonged to the king and second, that the conduct of the king's business and the performance of the king's work took precedence over all other economic activities. These principles were common to all the Macedonian kingdoms, but analysis of their practical application was based largely on the example of Ptolemaic Egypt. There, the rich papyrological evidence--including royal letters, decrees, government regulations, petitions, and similar sources rescued from the debris of long-abandoned Egyptian towns--seemed to provide a vivid picture of the day-to-day functioning of a state, whose elaborate organization would win approval from even the most demanding modern government planner.
In these historical reconstructions the barter-based economy of Pharaonic Egypt was seen as having been transformed and modernized by the introduction of coinage on a large scale. Land usage was rationalized by the introduction of a comprehensive classification system according to which all Egyptian land was divided into two broad categories: royal land for basic agricultural production and "released land." There were four functional subcategories of released land: cleruchic land to support the army, gift land to reward government officials, temple land to provide economic support for Egypt's numerous temples, and private land, which included personal house and garden plots owned by individuals. Each major economic activity of the state was organized as a separate monopoly so as to generate the maximum revenue from fees and taxes for the king with the least risk. Potential foreign competition for the profits of Egyptian commerce was neutralized by currency manipulation and strict import controls. Every detail of the functioning of the Egyptian economy was planned and managed by an extensive bureaucracy. This bureaucracy was headquartered in Alexandria but its agents--Greek at the upper levels and Egyptian at the lower--could be found in even the most remote village. To facilitate proper functioning of the system, every person from royal peasant to immigrant soldier was registered according to place of residence and economic function. Over the whole system presided the king. The king was, however, no longer merely the first among equals as he was and continued to be in the tradition of the Macedonian homeland. In the Hellenistic state he was an autocrat whose every word was law and whose supremacy over all levels of society was symbolized by the institution of an official cult of the living ruler and his royal ancestors. This picture of the Hellenistic state as an example of a planned society, which the early Hellenistic historians teased out of the evidence, was breathtaking in its completeness and apparent rationality--and hardly any aspect of it has remained unchallenged by recent scholarship.11
The new view of the Hellenistic state is, in part, the result of the contemporary scholarly reaction against "Eurocentric" interpretations. Nineteenth-and twentieth-century historians treated the Hellenistic state as an essentially Greek--that is, European--political form and saw in it, therefore, a sharp break with the past. Recent scholars, on the other hand, increasingly tend to emphasize continuity with the political traditions of the ancient Near East and view the Hellenism of the Macedonian kingdoms as a facade behind which traditional Near Eastern institutions continued to function much as they had under the Persians and even before. This trend is particularly clear in studies of the Seleucid kingdom. Examples are easy to find. For instance, an important series of late-third and early-second-century-B.C. Greek inscriptions from Caria, in southwestern Anatolia, revealed that the traditional ruler of the sanctuary of Labraunda, the high priest of the temple of Zeus Labraundos, continued to function much as his predecessors had under the Persian regime. All that had changed was that decrees issued in his name were now composed in Greek and couched in the terminology typical of a Greek polis . Recently published epigraphic and cuneiform sources have revealed similar continuities in landholding patterns and political institutions between Persian and Hellenistic Syria-Palestine and Mesopotamia.

Just as important in encouraging this revisionist trend has been contemporary scholars' interest in determining how the Hellenistic state actually worked on a day-to-day basis. The picture of the Hellenistic state found in the standard textbooks was the product of an enormous collective scholarly effort to assimilate and organize into meaningful patterns the huge mass of discrete and heterogeneous source material produced by modern archaeology. The result was the elaboration of schematic constitutional and administrative frameworks into which the abundant but all too often fragmentary evidence could be fitted. In this effort particular attention was devoted to documents such as the so-called Revenue Laws of Ptolemy II and P. Tebt. 703 : The Instructions of a Dioiketes (financial administrator) to his Oikonomos (steward), which were thought to be official digests of the rules governing the organization and administration of some of the most important governmental and economic institutions of Ptolemaic Egypt. Contemporary scholars, however, are more interested in determining how the Macedonian kingdoms functioned than in constructing abstract models of their administrative organization. Through the analysis of the growing mass of documents reflecting the actual operations of the Hellenistic states, they have almost totally deconstructed these simple and sometimes even simplistic reconstructions of their organization.

Most dramatically affected has been the understanding of the nature of the Hellenistic monarchies. Until comparatively recently, the Macedonian monarchy was characterized as a hereditary monarchy tempered by elements of popular sovereignty that included the right of the people represented by the army assembly to actively participate in the choice of king and to function as a court of first instance in cases of crimes against the state. Evidence of such extensive citizen rights is almost totally lacking for the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms, whose monarchs ruled as autocrats and were defined in their official documents as consisting of the "king, his friends [the king's personal entourage] and the army." Not surprisingly, earlier scholarship attributed the atrophy of supposedly traditional Macedonian rights to the pervasive "oriental" influence in the Hellenistic kingdoms.12 In an important series of studies R. M. Errington demonstrated that this contrast between the supposedly "constitutional" Macedonian monarchy and its autocratic Hellenistic successors is illusory since the actual behavior of the Macedonian kings as described in the literary sources and inscriptions makes it clear that they also ruled as autocrats and that the only significant limits on the extent of their autocracy were not constitutional but practical, namely, the loss of the support of the army and the potential resistance of the great nobles, who had the power to unseat a king if provoked too far.13
Hardly less dramatic have been the changes in the understanding of the way Hellenistic governments conducted their affairs. The changes are most apparent with regard to Ptolemaic Egypt, but similar developments can be seen in the scholarship dealing with the other kingdoms. Most striking is the almost total disappearance from the scholarly literature of reference to the idea that rational planned economies managed by large and efficient bureaucracies were characteristic of these kingdoms. Typical of the new view of Hellenistic governmental practice is the reinterpretation by the French historian P. Vidal-Naquet of one of the centerpieces of the traditional interpretation--the diagraphe sporou or "crop planting schedule."14 Formerly viewed as a comprehensive plan drawn up in Alexandria that set out in detail the crops to be planted in each area of Egypt for the next year, the diagraphe sporou is now seen instead as a document compiled by the central government from often arbitrary estimates by local officials of their areas' potential agricultural yields, which the administration used to calculate the government's future revenues.

Working independently, a young American scholar named D. Brent Sandy undermined another of the main supports of the traditional view of the Hellenistic central planning by showing that the Revenue Laws of Ptolemy II does not describe the actual management of the Ptolemaic oil monopoly but some administrator's unrealistic dream of how such a monopoly ought to work.15 At the same time, closer examination of the bureaucracy revealed that it lacked some of the key characteristics of any true bureaucracy, namely, defined career paths, clear chains of command, and clearly specified areas of responsibility for its officials. Instead, government officials were political appointees with often multiple and sometimes even overlapping responsibilities, who accepted whatever position the king posted them to, irrespective of their previous service. Instead of the smoothly running bureaucratic machines envisioned by their late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century predecessors, more recent scholars see the Hellenistic governments as vehicles whose primary purpose was to extract the maximum revenue from their rulers' subjects. Documents such as Ptolemy II's (282-246 B.C.) recently discovered order for a complete economic survey of Egypt, and his letter forbidding lawyers from assisting individuals in disputes concerning taxes, bear witness to the Hellenistic kings' insatiable need for money to support their ambitious foreign policies.16 The numerous royal orders forbidding government officials from exploiting the king's subjects for personal gain and frequent recourse in the second century B.C. to the issuance of philanthropa , blanket amnesties for unfulfilled obligations owed the government and for charges of wrongdoing by government officials, equally attest to the inherent inefficiency and corruption of the system in actual practice. The result has been the creation of a view of the Hellenistic kingdoms that is less clear and elegant than that held by the founders of Hellenistic historiography, but that is more nuanced and more accurately reflects the historical situation in which these states existed.

Greeks and Non-Greeks in the Hellenistic World

Any discussion of Hellenistic social history must begin with one fact. The lives of the vast majority of people--Greek and non-Greek alike--changed little, since the low productivity of the ancient economy as a whole meant that the bulk of the population continued to live in rural areas as subsistence farmers. Nevertheless, it is also clear that the conquests of Alexander brought expanded opportunities for many Greeks in Europe and Asia Minor. Economic opportunity and the variety of available social roles increased significantly, particularly in the colonial cities of Egypt and the Near East.

Not surprisingly, opportunities were greatest for the male members of the Greek elite. The wealth and influence exercised by the officials of the Macedonian kings and their supporters in the Greek cities are well documented in inscriptions and papyri. Less glamorous but equally real and more numerous were the opportunities created by the kings' incessant need for Greeks to serve in their armies and to fill the multitude of minor but potentially lucrative administrative jobs required to govern their kingdoms. Opportunities expanded for women also in the Hellenistic period.

As in the case of men, these opportunities were greatest for women of wealth. The great queens such as Arsinoe II and Cleopatra VII of Egypt are most prominent in the ancient sources, but even some Greek cities allowed women to hold minor public offices in return for their willingness to use their wealth for civic purposes. Education also created opportunities for some women, including both upper-class intellectuals such as the Cynic philosopher Hipparchia and women from more modest backgrounds such as the professional musician Polygnota of Thebes, whose career is documented in a series of inscriptions from Delphi.

Most historians believe, however, that the price paid for these new opportunities was high. In their view, that price included not only the loss of independence but also the death of the polis itself, that uniquely Greek form of city that had given birth to the great cultural achievements of the Classical period. Nor is this a modern opinion. Greeks of the Hellenistic and Roman periods never tired of looking back with nostalgia to the glories of Archaic and Classical Greece and urging their contemporaries to return to the ways of their glorious ancestors.

The centuries following the reign of Alexander were difficult, but it is not true that the polis and its culture died in the early Hellenistic period. The polis did, however, change. Already in the fourth century B.C., under the pressure of social and economic changes, the belief in the ability of the average citizen to play a decisive role in the government of his city had declined. Increasingly, specialists such as the Athenian financial experts Euboulus and Lycurgus and professional soldiers and their mercenary commanders--such as the Athenian Iphicrates and Memnon of Rhodes--tended to displace the amateur magistrates, generals, and citizen levies of the classical poleis . In the new political configuration of the third and later centuries this trend intensified. No longer significant militarily or politically in a world of great and not-so-great kingdoms, the poleis had to struggle to maintain a precarious independence in the face of continual efforts by the various kingdoms to subdue them or use them as pawns in their own diplomatic and military struggles. As time went on, democratic governments became little more than facades behind which aristocratic oligarchies governed, often with the tacit or open support of one or another of the great powers.

This bleak picture is, however, only part of the story. The political life of the polis narrowed and became harsher, but it did survive. Numerous inscriptions from all over Aegean Greece attest to the vigor and creativity of poleis and to the patriotism of individuals who were still willing to risk fortune and sometimes even life for the welfare of their polis and the reward of a decree of thanks passed by its assembly. For the first time in Greek history peaceful settlement of international disputes through arbitration became almost routine, while the Aetolian and Achaean Leagues managed for a time to overcome the particularism of the polis and build powerful federal states before both were crushed by Rome. Far from dying, the polis remained a vital part of Greek life until the last vestige of self-government disappeared in the great crises of late antiquity that mark the beginning of the Middle Ages throughout the Mediterranean basin.17

Egypt And The Near East

In Egypt and the Near East the situation was different. Throughout the late fourth and early third centuries Greeks moved east to populate Alexandria, Antioch, and the other new cities that Alexander and his successors, especially the Seleucids, founded in order to better control their new realms. These cities prospered. Alexandria18 and Antioch19 in particular grew to enormous size with populations in the hundreds of thousands and with splendid public buildings and amenities unknown to the cities of old Greece. Although little remains of Hellenistic Alexandria and Antioch, some idea of their splendor and prosperity can be gained from Ai Khanum, possibly Alexandria on the Oxus, in northern Afghanistan, where French archaeologists discovered a large city with broad streets, monumental temples, a large gymnasium and theater, and elegant mansions. It is not surprising that Heracleides Creticus, author of a brief travel guide to Greece, felt it necessary to warn travelers from the east against being disappointed at their first impressions of Athens and the other famous cities of the Greek homeland with their old-fashioned streets and shabby houses.20

Splendid though they were, the new cities of Asia were but islands of Greek domination and culture in a predominantly non-Greek world. The early Hellenistic historians viewed the Hellenistic cities as "melting pots" in which Greek and non-Greek cultures and peoples met and blended to form a new cosmopolitan civilization. In the 1970s and 1980s some scholars proposed a much harsher interpretation of Hellenistic social relations, one that is surprisingly close to the fourth-century B.C. Athenian rhetorician Isocrates's dream of a conquered Asia in which natives worked like Sparta's helots to support the new Greek colonists and their Macedonian masters. In this view, Greek and native societies tensely coexisted in the Macedonian kingdoms with little or no interaction instead of blending to form a new culture. For these scholars the Hellenistic world was one in which status was determined by ethnicity--and the ethnic affiliations that counted were Macedonian and Greek. It is not known for certain whether or not Alexander hoped that a mixed elite of Macedonians, Greeks, and non-Greeks would rule his empire. But in Ptolemaic Egypt and in Seleucid Asia, Macedonians and Greeks--who together comprised less than 10 percent of the total population--alone belonged to the ruling elite.21

Evidence that seems to support this interpretation of the social structure of the Hellenistic kingdoms is easy to find. As always, it is Egypt that provides the fullest evidence.22 There throughout the Hellenistic period separate legal systems were maintained for Greeks and Egyptians. Ethnic prejudices and tensions are well documented in the sources. The Ptolemaic court poet Theocritus characterizes petty street crime as an "Egyptian game" and an agricultural worker complains that his supervisors hold him in contempt and refuse to pay him "because I am an Egyptian." Similarly, the personal papers of a Greek recluse at Memphis are filled with stories of personal harassment by his Egyptian neighbors. Hellenistic Egypt also provides evidence both of the existence of a resistance literature that looked forward to the end of foreign rule and repeated rebellions intended to achieve that goal.

Although the evidence is less abundant, what there is suggests that the situation in the Seleucid kingdom was similar. An analysis of the origins of known Seleucid officials revealed that fewer than five percent were of non-European origin, and native rebellions in Judaea and Iran are well documented. Archaeological evidence suggesting actual physical separation of the Greek and native sections of Ai Khanum indicates that a similar strict division between privileged Macedonians and Greeks and subject natives existed even on the far eastern frontier of the Hellenistic world.

In spite of this evidence, contemporary Hellenistic historians are coming to believe that this picture of the Hellenistic world as divided into two almost totally isolated societies, one Greek and the other non-Greek, is almost as great a distortion of ancient social reality as the idealistic image of a harmoniously mixed Hellenistic civilization that it is intended to replace. The problems are threefold: first, the divided view of Hellenistic society is based primarily on Greek textual evidence, which tends to ignore non-Greek subjects second, it exaggerates barriers to contact between Greeks and non-Greeks in the Hellenistic kingdoms and third, it minimizes the social divisions and conflicts within the native populations of the Hellenistic kingdoms. Part of the problem is that substantial social isolation did characterize the life of the one portion of the native population that is most visible in the Greek sources, the rural poor. Studies of the population of Egyptian villages like Kerkeosiris and Soknopaiou Nesos reveal an almost total absence of either Greek residents or Greek influence on daily life, and the admittedly limited evidence for rural life in the Near and Middle East suggests a similar situation.

Egyptian and cuneiform sources draw a very different picture, however, of the life of the non-Greek aristocracies. In the theocratic monarchies of the ancient Near East, support of the gods and their priesthoods had been essential to the security of the state, and that continued to be true during the Hellenistic period. In Egypt the Ptolemies subjected the great temples to greater control than their Pharaonic predecessors had, but they also maintained and even expanded the scale of state subsidy of religion as can be seen from the vast extent of temple building sponsored by the Ptolemies. Study of the extensive Egyptian evidence for the Hellenistic period is only in its infancy, but already it has revealed that under the Ptolemaic regime the priestly families prospered, accumulating large estates and actively engaging in business transactions of all kinds, while expending large sums on the traditional Egyptian indicators of personal success: dedications to the gods and lavish tomb furnishings.23 Nor were opportunities limited to the religious elite. Analysis of the personal archives of village officials, individuals dismissed by early Hellenistic historians as lowly figures of little influence, has shown that such figures could grow rich by exploiting their role as essential intermediaries between the Greek-speaking central government and its Egyptian subjects.24 Not surprisingly, priests and local officials were loyal supporters of the Ptolemaic regime, and both were singled out for reprisal during the native uprisings of the late third and second centuries B.C. The 1981 study of the temples of Hellenistic Babylonia by Gilbert J. P. McEwan suggests that a similar pattern of royal patronage for the great temples and priestly prosperity characterized Seleucid policy also.25 The evidence is less clear for the Greek kingdoms in Bactria and India, but the small amount of evidence available--Hindu and Buddhist dedications by Greek officials26 and the classification of the Greeks as Kshatriya (warriors) by Indian thinkers27 --indicates that conditions were similar there as well.
Equally important is the increasing ease with which non-Greeks could join the Greek political elite as time passed. Membership in the political elite required certification as a Greek citizen, but obtaining that certification was not difficult. At the beginning of the Hellenistic period intermarriage was likely to have been relatively common since the bulk of Greek immigration was military in character and therefore predominantly male. Moreover, as Roger Bagnall has shown in a careful study of Greek immigration to Egypt, a kingdom that actively recruited settlers, the actual number of immigrants was relatively small. And most immigrants came in the early years of Macedonian rule,28 so the number of ethnic Greeks can never have been large. Similar studies are lacking for the other Hellenistic kingdoms, but there is little reason to believe that the results would be different. The implications are clear. Since apartheid was not characteristic of Greek society at any time, the need of the Hellenistic kings for a Greek elite to provide a reliable base of support for their rule meant in practice that as time passed, the citizen bodies of some so-called Greek cities in the Near East were more and more composed not so much of persons of Greek birth as of Greek culture: that is, of those who had received a Greek education and adopted a Greek lifestyle and often a Greek name. All others were subjects. Just as has happened with regard to the study of other aspects of Hellenistic history, therefore, the major achievement of contemporary Hellenistic social history has been to reveal the complexity of the Hellenistic world.

Culture in the Hellenistic Period

The colonial situation in which Greeks in the Macedonian kingdoms found themselves gave Greek culture in the Hellenistic East a different character and significance than it had in the poleis of old Greece, where Greek culture was the traditional heritage. No common bond of history united the heterogeneous citizens of Alexandria or the other cities and settlements of the East, or informed their culture with shared values and meaning. For them, Greek culture was a cherished badge of status, proof that one belonged to the privileged class, and as such it was eagerly sought by Greeks and ambitious non-Greeks alike.

From the Mediterranean to the borders of India, Greek culture was dominant and a traveler could expect to find in the new cities, just as in the old, many of the familiar institutions of Greek life. Not only was city life similar over this vast area but so also was much of cultural life. Everywhere Greek was the language of government and culture so that one could travel from Greece to India without fear of being misunderstood. Greek and Hellenized intellectuals shared a common reverence inculcated by their teachers for the works of the great authors of the Archaic and Classical periods whom they viewed as models of perfection that could never again be equaled, let alone surpassed. In their own works, Hellenistic intellectuals affirmed their status as Greeks and their role as upholders of the Greek tradition by studding their writings with learned allusions to the masterpieces of the past. The same purposefulness is evident in the use made of the Greek tradition in the visual arts. Thus, the reliefs of the great altar of Pergamum built by Eumenes II (197-160 B.C.) to commemorate his victories over the Galatians seem at first sight alien to the serenity of classical sculpture with their powerful straining and emotionally expressive figures. In actuality, the reliefs echo in their overall composition and detail the pedimental sculptures of that most classical of Greek monuments, the Parthenon, in the same way that Hellenistic poets alluded to their classical models. Through its stylistic and thematic links to one of the most hallowed monuments of the Greek past, the altar powerfully affirms both the Greekness of Eumenes and his dynasty.29

Education helped to reinforce the diffusion and dominance of Greek culture in the Hellenistic world. As Greek culture became more closely associated with the written rather than the spoken word, instruction tended to focus on a few great books, most notably the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, and emphasized memorization and the imitation of stylistic models over independent creation. Artists and writers, who, like soldiers, tended more and more to be professionals, wandered far from their homes in search of patrons and commissions and carried their views with them, thereby imposing a superficial uniformity on the cultural life of the Greek and Hellenized elites of the Hellenistic world. In a similar way, the new cities, with their institutions modeled on those of cities of old Greece, helped to impart a Greek tone to the social and political life of the East.

However, intellectual life in the Hellenistic world was uniform only on the surface. Even cursory study reveals significant differences between the culture of Aegean Greece and that of the new kingdoms of Asia and Egypt. Many factors were responsible for these differences, but the most important was the fundamental difference in the history of the areas. Greek culture was at home in the cities of Europe and the Aegean basin. In these cities writers and artists had at their disposal the whole repertoire of themes and motifs provided by a tradition with centuries of historical development behind it. Writers and artists in Asia did not share this tradition. In old Greece, the local dialects and traditional cults and festivals flourished throughout the Hellenistic period and beyond. In addition, major new festivals were founded, such as that of Artemis Leucophryene at Magnesia on the Maeander in western Asia Minor. Elsewhere in Greece old festivals gained new splendor and prestige, such as that of the healing god Asclepius, whose temple at Epidaurus in the northeast Peloponnesus attracted sufferers in search of a miraculous cure from all over the Greek world. Most important of all, the intimate connection between the polis and culture that had characterized Archaic and Classical Greece remained intact throughout the Hellenistic period and is readily apparent in the works of the writers and thinkers of European Greece.

Culture In Hellenistic Greece

In Athens, as elsewhere, the prevailing traditionalism of the Hellenistic period made itself felt, most notably in the area of drama where, instead of new plays, audiences preferred revivals of the works of the three master tragedians of the fifth century--Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Professional actors performed the plays on the basis of official texts maintained by the state and with the aid of subsidies from the Athenian government. Tragedy thus died, a victim of Hellenistic awe in the face of the achievements of the classical past, but comedy continued to thrive in the form of the so-called New Comedy.

Prior to the twentieth century judgments concerning the nature of New Comedy were based on the only sources then available--adaptations of New Comedy plays by the Roman Republican playwrights Plautus and Terence. To those who read these adaptations the dominant characteristic of the New Comedy seemed to be escapism, and as escapist literature the New Comedy seemed to fit the needs of the supposedly politically uninvolved and demoralized citizens of the Hellenistic Greek cities. The recovery during the course of the twentieth century of two complete plays and significant portions of several others by its most distinguished practitioner, the late-fourth-century B.C. playwright Menander, has forced a reassessment of that view. True, the wild comic invention of his great fifth-century B.C. predecessor Aristophanes is missing in Menander's elegantly crafted comedies with their emphasis on the pitfalls that must be traversed by young lovers en route to their inevitably happy marriage but the plays are set in a real Athens with specific locales. More important, although the fierce political satire of Old Comedy is lacking, comment on contemporary issues and ideas is not the issues, however, are now social and intellectual rather than political. Thus, Meander's interest in the problems of young lovers reflects a new concern for the affective aspects of marriage that is most clearly expressed in the observation of the second-century B.C. Stoic philosopher Antipater of Tarsus that "the man who has had no experience of a married women and children has not tasted true and noble happiness"30 and which found practical expression in the provision in some marriage contracts from Egypt allowing a wife to seek a divorce because of her husband's sexual misconduct.31 Similarly, there is gentle satire of fashionable theories of moral egoism in the Dyscolos or Grouch , the first complete Menandrian play to be rediscovered while the Samia or Samian Woman , casts a jaundiced eye on the recent revival of claims for the divine parentage of kings. Finally, the vivid opening scene of the Aspis or Shield targets a grimmer subject: the hollowness of the dreams of wealth and adventure offered to the youth of Athens by the recruiters of mercenaries for the armies of the new Macedonian kingdoms of the Near and Middle East.

In works of history, the most important genre of Hellenistic prose literature, the desire to maintain continuity with the Greek past is particularly clear. Felix Jacoby's great collection, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker , published between 1923 and 1958, includes fragments of more than eight hundred "lost" Greek historians who wrote during the Hellenistic period.32 Most of these historians followed the path laid down for them by the fifth-century B.C. founders of Greek historiography, Herodotus and especially Thucydides. Like Thucydides, many were political figures who wrote about the Greek cities and politics from the perspective of long careers in the service of their home cities or of one of the kings. Modern Hellenistic historians, influenced by their belief that the polis was not a significant factor in Greek life after the death of Alexander the Great, centered their histories on the great powers of the period--the kingdoms of Alexander's successors and the Romans. A few Greek historians did likewise. The late-fourth-century B.C. historian Theopompus of Chios made the career of Philip II the focal point of his huge fifty-eight-book history of the Greek world from 360 to 336 B.C., and two centuries later, Polybius of Megalopolis, the greatest of Hellenistic historians, wrote during his exile in Rome a history in forty books of the period from 220 to 146 B.C. to explain to his fellow Greeks how in less than a century Rome conquered the entire Mediterranean world.

But Polybius and Theopompus were exceptions. By far the majority of Hellenistic historians, whatever their background, followed the example of Thucydides and placed at the center of their works the Greek cities, their wars, and their politics. The identification of history with the history of the cities is most obvious in the numerous histories of individual cities written during these three centuries. A typical example is the Atthis of the Athenian patriot Philochorus, which provided a detailed year-by-year chronicle of the history of Athens from its mythical foundations to just before its author's execution on orders of the Macedonian king Antigonus Gonatas (283-239 B.C.). Philochorus's account served scholars for centuries as a standard reference work on the antiquities of Athens. In it and other similar works, patriotic authors treated at great length the origins, myths, and internal politics of their beloved cities while relegating the Macedonian kingdoms and Rome to the role of foreign interlopers whose policies and actions occasionally intruded on a city's affairs.

The same belief in the centrality and vitality of the polis also characterized the works of historians who focused on broader topics. Thus, the Athenian historian Phylarchus built his history of third-century B.C. Greece around the glorious but unsuccessful attempt by the Spartan kings Agis IV (244-241 B.C.) and Cleomenes III (237-222 B.C.) to restore Sparta to a leading position in Greece by reviving the ancient institutions of the Lycurgan constitution.33 Phylarchus's enthusiasm for the kings' cause and despair at their ultimate failure can still be seen in Plutarch's vivid life of Agis and Cleomenes and in Polybius's history, both of which made use of Phylarchus's now-lost work. By contrast, no historian from European Greece is known to have written on Alexander or his successors after the early third century B.C. In drama and historiography, the Greek tradition, as it had crystallized in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., lived on in Hellenistic Greece. Hellenistic historians constantly borrowed literary techniques from rhetoric and poetry to enhance the elegance of their writing and the emotional impact of their works, and they boasted of their superiority to their classical predecessors in this regard. But historiography itself remained, like comedy, embedded in the polis culture that had given it birth.

The situation is somewhat different in the case of philosophy, the other major area of intellectual activity in Hellenistic Greece. Of the basic continuity between Classical and Hellenistic Greek philosophy there can be no doubt.34 Epicurus, who founded the Epicurean school of philosophy, discovered the atomic theory that forms the basis of his philosophy in the writing of the fifth-century B.C. philosopher Democritus. Likewise, Zeno, the founder of the other major Hellenistic philosophical school, Stoicism, is said to have been inspired to become a philosopher by Xenophon's memoirs of Socrates his own writings included a Republic written as an answer to Plato's great work of the same name. Similar links with fifth-and fourth-century B.C. philosophy are evident in the lesser Hellenistic philosophical schools, such as Cynicism and Skepticism. Nevertheless, the relationship of Hellenistic philosophy to the preceding Greek philosophical tradition differs from the situation with regard to historiography in significant ways.

Hellenistic historiography was in every sense a continuation of the Classical tradition of historical writing inasmuch as the historians shared the same polis-centered viewpoint of their fifth-and fourth-century B.C. predecessors, treated similar subjects, used their predecessors' works as models, and even sometimes wrote continuations of them. By contrast, the case of Hellenistic philosophy is similar to that of drama, but more extreme in that the Hellenistic philosophers built upon only a small portion of the Classical philosophical tradition while discarding the rest.
Thus, except for Epicurus, Hellenistic philosophers showed little interest in the pre-Socratics or their speculations concerning the nature of the universe. They instead focused their attention on the so-called Socratic thinkers, most notably Plato, Aristotle, and Antisthenes, and even in the case of these thinkers the Hellenistic philosophers were more concerned with their ethical and epistemological ideas than with the social and political views that accompanied them. So, while the perfect societies in Plato's Republic and Laws are recognizable Greek poleis , Zeno in his Republic envisaged a perfect society of wise men free of any connection with existing forms of society or their problems. In other words, Hellenistic philosophers were concerned with man in the abstract their goal was to devise ethical systems that would enable him to find happiness by gaining such control of his internal life that he could accept with equanimity whatever blows the external world dealt him. It was unimportant whether he achieved this control through rigorous application of the Epicurean calculus of pleasure and pain or the Stoic wise man's recognition that true happiness comes only with the acceptance of one's place in the plan of the logos that pervades the universe. Plato's Socrates claimed in the famous allegory of the cave that the philosopher, once he has seen the truth, must go back into the cave to enlighten his fellows, to which an Epicurean might observe that he should do so "only if it gave him greater pleasure than pain" and a Stoic "only if that were his role in the divine plan."

The teachings of the Hellenistic schools, which were propounded by different masters for the benefit of the educated elite, were as much dogmas about the way to salvation as they were bodies of rational speculation about the nature of reality and knowledge. By severing in this way the link that bound Classical philosophy to the polis , Hellenistic philosophers inevitably narrowed the focus of philosophy and eliminated from it that vigorous concern for the problems of everyday social and political life that strikes every reader of Plato and Aristotle. However, Hellenistic philosophy did gain in compensation a universality in the application of its theories that made it accessible to men everywhere. As a result, Greek philosophy in its Hellenistic guise survived as a vital force in the Christian and Islamic cultures of the Middle Ages long after the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (A.D. 527-565) closed the philosophical schools in Athens in A.D. 529.

Culture Of Hellenistic Egypt And The Near And Middle East

By contrast, the culture of Hellenistic Egypt and the Near and Middle East was a colonial culture, that is, a simplified and incomplete version of Greek culture.35 It included only those components that were sufficiently common to all Greeks to withstand transportation to a new and alien environment. In their new environments, members of the comparatively small and heterogeneous Greek immigrant population shared only a vague sense of common Greekhood and their hopes of a better future in the conquered lands. Cults strongly identified with particular cities or regions, therefore, tended not to survive, but those without such local connections, like the cults of Dionysus and Aphrodite, flourished, as did such new deities as Tyche , or Chance, the personification of the hidden order that ruled the life of all men.
Similarly, the numerous local dialects of the mother country quickly faded in the new kingdoms with their heterogeneous populations. Koine , the common language, a simplified form of Attic Greek, became the language of government, literary, and religious culture in the Hellenistic East and remained so throughout the rest of antiquity and well into the Middle Ages.36 The process of cultural selection was even more rigorous in the area of intellectual culture, since in the Hellenistic East intellectual life had to be consciously re-created: books and art objects or their creators had to be imported, and a tradition of education had to be encouraged to perpetuate the culture. A recently discovered inscription from Ai Khanum vividly illustrates the kind of individual initiative that was required to transplant the Greek intellectual tradition to the remote new lands won by Alexander the Great. In the shrine of city's heroized founder, a certain Clearchus (possibly Aristotle's far-traveled student and colleague, Clearchus of Soli) proudly recorded his gift to the city and its founder of a collection of Delphic maxims, which he claimed to have transcribed personally at Delphi and transported to Bactria.37 The same sense of the precariousness of Greek culture on this far eastern frontier of the Greek world is suggested by the discovery of fragments of a treatise on Aristotelian philosophy and a page of Greek poetry in the ruins of the city's treasury building. But what of the settlers' relationship to the culture of their new homes?

At the heart of the traditional approach to Hellenistic history was the belief that Hellenistic civilization was the product of a synthesis of Greek and ancient Near Eastern intellectual traditions, and undoubtedly some interchange of ideas took place in the new cosmopolitan cities of the Hellenistic East, such as Alexandria, where Egyptians, Greeks, Jews, and Syrians, not to mention such exotic peoples as Nubians and Indians, mingled. Greeks did patronize the temples of Egypt and the Near East, and Egyptian deities like Isis and Osiris various forms of the Syro-Anatolian Great Mother, such as Cybele and the hybrid Graeco-Egyptian god Sarapis all found wide followings in the Greek world.

Efforts were also made to win the interest and sympathy of the Greek colonists for the cultures of their new homes by native intellectuals. In the early third century B.C. both the Babylonian priest Berossus and the Egyptian priest Manetho composed histories of Babylon and Egypt in Greek.38 Sometime in the reign of Ptolemy I (305-282 B.C.) Manetho also joined forces with an Athenian priest and theologian named Timotheus to create out of a mixture of Greek and Egyptian elements a new patron god for Alexandria, Sarapis. At about the same time, the Buddhist ruler of northern India, Ashoka (ca. 269-233 B.C.), commissioned Greek translations of his famous Rock Edicts for the edification of the Greek settlers in Afghanistan.39 A century later Jewish apologists and historians also tried to build bridges to their Greek neighbors by recasting the teachings of the Torah in terms of Greek philosophy and discovering supposedly ancient connections between Greek and Jewish history, such as the existence of bonds of kinship between Spartans and Jews! The potential for the development of a muticultural civilization based on the synthesis of the best of the Greek and non-Greek intellectual traditions of the peoples of the former Persian empire seems to have existed, but such a civilization was not realized.

The reasons for that failure were explored by the Italian historian Arnaldo Momigliano in an important book, Alien Wisdom . Momigliano pointed out that while non-Greek intellectuals made considerable efforts to learn Greek and to integrate Greek ideas into their work, no comparable effort was made by Greeks.40 In fact, Greek interest in the civilizations of the ancient Near East seems to have quickly faded in the new kingdoms. Few Greek writers appear to have been familiar with "barbarian" ideas those who were acquainted with them knew them only in a "translated" form that was compatible with Greek ideas and values. Greeks did, of course, recognize and worship the deities of their new homes--that was only prudent. But those non-Greek gods that attracted strong Greek followings, such as Isis, Osiris, and Mithras, did not do so in their native form but only after they had been made the center of mystery cults that emphasized purity, initiation, and salvation. Practices such as mummification and animal worship that too obviously conflicted with traditional Greek religious ideas were purged from these cults, and what few authentic native elements remained attached to the deities merely served to add an exotic flavor to what were essentially Greek cults.41 Only in Bactria and India was the situation different. Significant numbers of Greeks living in those regions, exposed for the first time to religious traditions with strong, well-articulated belief systems,42 embraced Indian religions, especially Buddhism. Unfortunately, the detailed history of the Greek encounter with Indian religion is now lost, but clear evidence of it is provided by a handful of surviving epigraphic and literary texts and the Greek-influenced art of the Gandhara school.

In spite of the Greek experience in Bactria and India, most aspects of Greek intellectual life in the Hellenistic East were relatively unaffected by contact with non-Greek cultural traditions. The intellectual life that did emerge in the East was influenced by two factors. The first was the comparative weakness of the polis tradition in the new kingdoms, particularly in Egypt, where there were only three Greek cities--Alexandria, the old colony of Naucratis, and Ptolemais in Upper Egypt--whose powers of self-government were sharply limited by the Ptolemaic government. The second factor was the strong role played by government patronage in determining the direction of intellectual activity in the various kingdoms.

The weakness of the polis tradition in the Hellenistic East is reflected in the comparative lack of literary and artistic forms connected with the polis and the tendency of writers and artists to address their works to patrons or other intellectuals rather than to the general citizen body. Thus, even though history was cultivated in Egypt and Asia, it primarily took the form of ethnographic studies in the manner of Herodotus. Hecataeus of Abdera's history of Egypt and Megasthenes's Indica are examples of such ethnographic studies. The political histories favored by the historians of European Greece did not attract the historians in the Hellenistic East. Similarly, although touring companies of professional actors could find ready audiences for productions of plays by the fifth-and fourth-century B.C. masters, the writing of new plays was limited to the composition of "closet dramas," literary exercises intended not for public production but for recitation before small audiences of cognoscenti. The only extant Hellenistic tragedy, the Alexandra of the third-century B.C. Alexandrian poet Lycophron, is a dramatic monologue spoken by Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, in a maddeningly obscure style appropriate to the utterances of a prophetess cursed with the gift of true prophesy but fated to have no one believe her. The pastoral, the only new poetic genre to emerge in the Hellenistic period, reached the level of great poetry in the hands of the Syracusan poet Theocritus. But with its idealization of rural simplicity, the pastoral suggests not merely isolation but even alienation from the polis tradition. In the visual arts the same sense of alienation from the traditions of the Classical polis can be seen in the interest in exploring novel subjects. There were, for instance, numerous sculptural studies of what, given the Classical emphasis on youth and physical beauty, can only be called the ugly--drunken old women, aged peasants, and broken-down athletes and slaves.

When Alexander included in his entourage Greek artists and intellectuals such as Aristotle's nephew, Callisthenes, his court historian, he was acting in accordance with a tradition of Macedonian royal patronage of Greek culture that reached back to the fifth century B.C. His example was followed by all his successors but by none to such effect as the Ptolemies. "Come to Egypt," sang Ptolemy II's court poet, Theocritus, because "Ptolemaios is the best paymaster for a free man."43 Theocritus's immediate reference was to Ptolemy's interest in recruiting soldiers in Greece and Greek Italy for his wars with his Seleucid rivals. With the enormous wealth of Egypt at their disposal, however, the Ptolemies could afford to subsidize intellectuals and to encourage their work by establishing cultural institutions of a new type. The principal institution of this sort was the Museum where distinguished scholars, supported by government stipends, pursued their studies in congenial surroundings. Connected to the Museum was the royal library, whose collection is said to have ultimately reached seven hundred thousand papyrus rolls and to have included copies of virtually every book written in Greek. The library offered unprecedented resources for scholarly research in every field of intellectual endeavor. An envious rival might sneer at the successful occupants of Ptolemy's "bird coop" (i.e., "the Museum"), and with some justification, since subsidized intellectuals were expected to earn their keep.44 Thus, doctors and writers receiving government stipends served as physicians and tutors to members of the royal family and celebrated its achievements, as did the scholar-poet Callimachus, whose The Lock of Berenice commemorated the naming of a constellation in honor of the wife of Ptolemy III (246-222 B.C.). In Idyll 17 the Syracusan poet Theocritus similarly praised in extravagant terms the first decade of Ptolemy II's reign.

In spite of any sneering that may have taken place, the roll call of Alexandrian intellectuals is long and distinguished, particularly in the fields of literary scholarship and applied science, where their achievements remained unmatched during the rest of antiquity. Scholars such as Callimachus and the philologists Zenodotus and Aristarchus founded the scholarly study of Greek literature and the Greek language and prepared standard texts of Homer and the other poets that are the ancestors of those we still use. The mathematician and geographer Eratosthenes, relying on evidence provided by Ptolemaic explorers, established the principles of scientific cartography and produced a strikingly accurate estimate of the circumference of the earth. According to the Roman medical writer Celsus, the Ptolemies aided the researches of the doctors Herophilus and Erisistratus by providing them not only with corpses to dissect but also live convicts for vivisection, thereby enabling them to make fundamental discoveries about the nature and functions of the human nervous and digestive systems. The physicist Ctesibius did pioneering work in the study of ballistics and the use of compressed air as a source of power. As in Greece, the Hellenistic period in the East was marked by significant cultural achievements, although it is true that subjects that did not receive royal largess tended to stagnate. Thus, apart from the works of Euclid, whose Elements was still being used to introduce students to geometry in the early twentieth century, the Alexandrian contribution to formal philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy, which were of limited interest to the Ptolemies, was undistinguished in quality and limited in quantity.

The general lack of interest among Greeks in the cultures of their native neighbors, and the affirmation of ties with the artistic and literary traditions of European Greece evident in the works of Greek intellectuals and artists living in the Hellenistic kingdoms, have numerous parallels in the behavior of colonial artists throughout history. Less clear is the situation concerning the non-Greek cultures of the Hellenistic world and the attitudes of their intellectuals to Greek culture.

Serious scholarly study of these cultures is only just beginning.45 Only in the case of Hellenistic Jewish culture does a long scholarly tradition exist, but many of the assumptions that have guided the study of Hellenistic Judaism are currently undergoing fundamental revision. Hellenistic Jewish literature can be divided into two broad categories. The first category includes the so-called Apochrypha and Pseudepigrapha , noncanonical books written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic and in traditional Jewish literary forms such as psalms, royal chronicles, wisdom texts, and apocalypses, but preserved only in Greek translations the second category encompasses works written originally in Greek and using Greek literary forms such as tragedy, epic, and history to treat Jewish themes. The bifurcated character of Hellenistic Jewish literature has traditionally been explained as being the result of literary activity by Jews living in two distinct environments, the former reflecting the traditional Jewish ambiance of Hellenistic Judaea and the latter the experience of Hellenized Jews living in the cosmopolitan environment of Ptolemaic Alexandria.46

This interpretation conforms closely to the model of cultural separatism that has dominated Hellenistic studies in recent years. It is supported by the prominence of themes critical of Greek culture in the Apochrypha and the Pseudepigrapha as well as in the recently discovered body of texts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls , on the one hand, and by the efforts to reconcile Greek and Jewish thought in the works of authors such as the second-century B.C. historian Artapanus and the early-first-century A.D. Alexandrian philosopher-theologian Philo, on the other hand. However, the outlines of a more nuanced interpretation of relations between Hellenistic Greek and Jewish culture has recently begun to emerge. This interpretation recognizes the existence of tension between the two cultural traditions but nevertheless allows for significant interaction between them. Central to this new approach to the study of Hellenistic Judaism is the demonstration by Ben Zion Wacholder47 and Martin Hengel48 that the sharp distinction between a Hellenized Jewish diaspora and a Judaean Jewish society ignorant of and hostile to Greek culture is false, and that evidence of familiarity with Greek literature comparable to that characteristic of diaspora authors is present also in works written in Hellenistic Judaea. The full implications of this discovery have yet to be completely worked out. An indication of the possibilities opened up by it, however, is provided by E. J. Bickermann's brilliant analysis of the Jewish school system created by the Pharisees in the third and second century B.C.--a development for which there was no precedent in previous Jewish history. Bickermann explains that the school system was developed as a direct response to the challenge to the survival and integrity of Judaism posed by the patronage of Greek schools by the Jewish elite of Hellenistic Judaea.49

The contrast between the Greek intellectuals' conscious effort to distance themselves from the native cultures of the Hellenistic kingdoms and the non-Greek thinkers' ambivalent attitude toward the dominant Greek culture is particularly well documented in the case of Hellenistic Judaism. The evidence is less clear with regard to the native cultures elsewhere in the Hellenistic world, but the general situation seems to have been similar. In Egypt the production of works critical of foreign rule in Egypt written in Demotic and in traditional Egyptian genres, such as the short story and the prophetic text, was balanced by the simultaneous appearance of new literary forms influenced by Greek literature, such as the epiclike prose narratives about the early-first-millennium B.C. king Petubastis, which show clear Homeric influence. An old literary form, the instruction text, was also revived and renewed through the incorporation of compositional strategies and themes borrowed from such popular Hellenistic literary forms as the gnomologia , or collection of maxims, and the diatribe.50 The gradual replacement of cuneiform by Aramaic, which was written in an alphabetic script on perishable materials, has deprived historians of most of the source material for the study of the cultural life of Seleucid Babylonia, but the little evidence there is points to a similar pattern of the revival of traditional literary forms combined with innovation sparked by contact with Hellenism.

How far this process of cultural appropriation and adaptation might have gone is unknown. Essential to the prestige of Greek culture in the Hellenistic period was the patronage it received from the Macedonian and Greek rulers of the Near and Middle East. That patronage ended with the disappearance of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the late second and first centuries B.C. The causes of this disappearance varied. The Bactrian and Indian Greek kingdoms fell victim to invasions by central Asian nomads fleeing the growing power of Han China the Ptolemaic and Seleucid states, weakened by bitter dynastic strife, succumbed to the aggresive new empires of Rome and Parthia. Whatever the particular circumstances may have been in each individual case, the results were usually the same. Deprived of political support, Greek culture gradually disappeared as a coherent cultural force over much of the Hellenistic world. The new rulers of the Near East and Middle East--Parthians, Saka, and Kushans--patronized local cultural traditions in an effort to rally support for their regimes from the non-Greek elites of their territories.51 Only in the western part of the Hellenistic world was the outcome different. There, the substitution of Roman for Macedonian rule in Egypt and Syria-Palestine abruptly ended the relative prosperity the native elites of those areas had enjoyed for much of the third and second centuries B.C.

Epilogue: Rome and the Transformation of Hellenism

The emergence of Rome as the preeminent power in the eastern Mediterranean basin was rapid. In the half century between the outbreak of the Second Macedonian War (200-197 B.C.) and the sack of the Greek city of Corinth (146 B.C.), Rome crushed the kingdom of Macedon, humbled the once mighty Seleucid kingdom, and reduced Ptolemaic Egypt and the other states of the region to little more than clients incapable of independent action. It is not surprising, therefore, that Roman domination of the Hellenistic East is predominantly associated with negative images that belied the promise of "freedom" held out to the Greeks at Isthmia in 196 B.C. Prominent among these images are the enslavement of 150,000 Epirotes by the army of Aemilius Paulus in 168 B.C. and the humiliation of Rhodes the same year Roman soldiers using valuable paintings as gameboards during the sack of Corinth in 146 B.C. Sulla's devastation of Attica in 86 B.C. and Plutarch's ancestors at Chaeronea being drafted as baggage carriers during the civil wars of the forties and thirties B.C. The magnitude of the disruption of Greek life during the almost two centuries required for Rome to consolidate its rule over the eastern Mediterranean should not be underestimated. But that reality should not be allowed to obscure the almost equally important fact noted by every observant tourist and increasingly recognized by scholars, namely, that a remarkable cultural renaissance took place in the Greek cities of old Greece and the Near East during the first two centuries of the Christian Era.52 Evidence of this renaissance is visible in the ruins of the splendid public buildings erected during the Principate that everywhere in the eastern Mediterranean dominate the ruins of Greek cities and in the innumerable honorary statues and inscriptions from this period that crowd our museums.
There was, therefore, considerable justice in the second-century A.D. orator Aelius Aristides's enthusiastic praise of the benefits of the Pax Romana , although a conscientious Roman governor like Pliny the Younger, who was sent to the province of Bithynia in northern Turkey by the Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117) in A.D. 110, might grumble at the fiscal chaos caused by the ambitious building projects undertaken by the cities in their constant struggle to outdo each other in public splendor and distinction.53 The renaissance was not limited to architecture and the visual arts. During the second and third centuries A.D., there was a remarkable upsurge of Greek literary activity that historians of Greek literature call the Second Sophistic. Although named after its most characteristic feature--the enormous cultural and sometimes even political prestige of the great public orators such as Aelius Aristides and Herodes Atticus54 --the renaissance was not confined to rhetoric. New works appeared in almost every genre of Greek literature, and many of them, including the biographies and essays of the moralist Plutarch and the histories of Arrian and Dio Cassius, were works of considerable distinction.

Science and philosophy also flourished during these centuries. Galen and Ptolemy compiled syntheses of Greek medicine, astronomy, and geography that remained authoritative for more than a millennium. The Egyptian Neo-Platonist Plotinus created the last great philosophical system of antiquity, a philosophical mysticism based loosely on the works of Plato that was Christianity's most formidable intellectual rival. Only in one area of Greek life--in the civic and political culture of Greek cities themselves--was there no renaissance. On the contrary. It was during these same two centuries that the last vestiges of the polis tradition of self-government began to disappear.


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