Egypt History – Roman Age Part II

By | January 11, 2022

Until very recently it was thought that at least the first century had constituted a period of renewed prosperity, but now a different opinion is gaining ground. It is undeniable that the changed conditions of Egypt, where the new conquerors never settled in notable groups and who never tried to Latinize, limiting themselves to occupying it militarily, considering it above all as Rome’s granary, could not in the long run favor the prosperity of the residents, to the detriment of which the heavy taxes conspired, the principle of collective responsibility towards the tax authorities and not limited to substances but extended to persons, the excessive zeal of some governors and the abuses of officials. However, it should not be forgotten that, if the annona was exported from Egypt at sheer loss, the Egyptian population, on the other hand, enjoyed the benefits of peace and that the emperors had an interest in keeping this source of wealth productive. Already under the second prefect, Petronius, the irrigation canals were drained and large areas of land were returned to agriculture; great public utility works were carried out by Augustus and several successors, up to Trajan, who restored the communication channel with the Red Sea. Nero, and he was certainly not the only one, was concerned with improving the old trade routes with the Indies and opening new ones; and not infrequently the emperors sent aid from Rome in cases of famine. Even the monetary system, whose title remained constant from Tiberius to Antoninus Pius, it does not reconcile with the permanent and growing economic crisis that would have started from the earliest times of the conquest. The economic crisis, already serious at the end of the century. II and gradually becoming almost desperate, it certainly has one of its causes in fiscal policy, exploitative in its essence, but the organization of Augustus would not have inevitably led to such ruin, if it had always been applied wisely and with measure. Even in ancient times the phenomenon of prosperity or economic decline in Egypt is not linked to a single cause, it is a very complex phenomenon, determined by internal and external causes. Therefore, we must not exaggerate, attributing a universal and absolute value to papyrus documents, often relating to individual and isolated cases, to affirm that the country has constantly declined since the

As for religion, the general trend of Roman politics was characterized, like that of the Ptolemies, by a great tolerance and a great spirit of conciliation towards the indigenous gods, not separated from great firmness to limit the economic and political influence of the clergy. The first care of the Romans, immediately after the conquest, was to remove from the Egyptian priests all those privileges and powers that they had regained under the last Ptolemies, and to closely monitor their activity by subjecting rites and even clothing to minute prescriptions. New cults, except that of Osiris Antinous, did not arise; the imperial one, rather citizen than state and in the Hellenistic forms, had great extension and development. The Greek gods almost disappeared at all, absorbed by the Egyptian ones and identified with them, but these Greek-Egyptian gods had great vitality: Serapis and Isis acquired an ever greater fame, and the cult of animals increased in extension and significance. If, despite Rome’s efforts to keep the Greeks and Egyptians separate, bastards or mestizos were growing in number, both physically and spiritually, even more remarkable intermingling and rapprochement took place in the religious field. Abstracting from the lower stages of superstition and magic, it is observed that particular religions are retreating in the face of those with universal aspirations, which transcend ethnic boundaries and bring eternal consolations and truths to all men.

According to, even in Egypt the Romans applied the system of ruling over vast regions and large human agglomerations with few people. Apart from the occupying army, not many were Roman citizens, traders, tax collectors and employees in the highest posts. They represented the element that in the previous age had been represented by the Macedonians, and indeed with greater authority. Far below were the Greeks and Egyptians, to whom, for a long time, Roman citizenship was rarely and individually granted, and only when they were already in possession of the Alexandrian one. The Romans were careful not to mix with the residents of different nationalities. Nonetheless, Greeks residing in Egypt were admitted to the occupying army. These, when they entered service in the legion or when they reached the leave of the auxiliary troops, they received citizenship. Thus, over time, a large nucleus of Romans of Greek origin was formed, completely unrelated to the Latin race and civilization. The new rulers relied mainly on the layer of the Greek population, at least officially. These Greeks were exempt from the capita tax. They formed their education and culture, as before, in the gymnasium. Even under Roman rule the scholars of Egypt continued to work and produce, while remaining at a great distance from the learned of the third century BC. C. But if Didymus, however precious to us, reveals neither genius nor scientific vigor, Origen in his research on the text of the Bible approaches the great of good times. Nor should we forget Plotinus and Grandfather among the creative minds, the last great Greek epic, which flourished at the end of the century. IV, both originating from Upper Egypt.

Egypt History - Roman Age 2