North Africa

Egypt History – Roman Age Part III

Since Alexandrian citizenship was the preliminary condition and like the vestibule of the Roman, the Alexandrians were fully aware of this privilege and asserted it, not only in front of the Egyptians and Jews, but also in their relations with the Roman officials. The Egyptians, who formed the vast majority of the population, fell into the condition of dedicated pilgrims., were subjected to the capita tax, excluded from employment, except in the administration of the villages, and from the army. This does not mean that among them there were no rich, cultured people, especially among the high priests. A considerable element of the population was made up of freedmen and slaves, trustees of the ruler of the world and therefore, not in law but in fact, powerful and feared. Of the other ethnic groups the most important was, even under the Romans, the Jew. The Jews remained in possession of their special organization as a separate community, but were subjected to capitation. Nevertheless, their prosperity and influence was such that the Greeks of Alexandria became extremely irritated and jealous. Mutual hatred often broke out in bloody conflicts,

The surest instrument of Roman rule was the occupation army. Under Augustus it was composed of three legions (the one destined for Alexandria was quartered in the suburb of Nicopolis [Sīdī Gāber-Muṣṭafà Pasha]) of nine cohorts and three squadrons of cavalry, in all about 23,000 men. From Tiberius to the beginning of the century. II the legions were reduced to two. Trajan created a third Egyptian legion, but he brought many militias stationed there out of Egypt to use them in the Parthian war. From Hadrian to Diocletian the 2nd Trajan legion, reinforced by auxiliary troops, had to be sufficient for the occupation and defense of the town.

It would not be conceivable that the Egyptians, so easy to revolt under the Ptolemies, had calmed down to the new state of affairs. Two insurrections broke out under the first prefect Cornelius Gallus, one in Lower Egypt, and one in the Thebaid, both of which were quickly suffocated in blood. Cornelio Gallo, probably intoxicated by the successes achieved, assumed attitudes and language that led Augustus to suspect his loyalty. Recalled, Gallus preferred suicide (26 BC). Under the successor Petronius, a revolt broke out in Alexandria. To tame it, the prefect was forced to clear the southern frontier, with the consequence that the queen of Ethiopia, Candace, entered Egypt and sacked the Thebaid. Rejected to its capital Napata, it sent ambassadors to Augustus, from whom it obtained be exempted from the tax that Petronius had forced her to pay. The southernmost place occupied by the Romans was established at Hierasykaminos; the region between this locality and Siene, called Dodekaschoinos, was organized as a fortified military frontier.

In the latter part of the reign of Augustus and under Tiberius, Egypt enjoyed a period of external peace and internal tranquility, but almost immediately after Caligula’s accession to the throne, it broke out in Ales. sandria a violent struggle between Greeks and Israelites. The struggle, a moment quieted after the dismissal of the prefect Flacco, was rekindled more violently under Claudio and we owe it to the aforementioned letter to the Alexandrians. A few years later a protest mission led by the Greeks Isidoro and Lámpone ended with the death sentence of these, therefore considered in the opinion of the Alexandrians as nationalist martyrs. The reign of Nero, to which we owe, among other things, an expedition in search of the sources of the Nile and intensified trade relations with the Indies, it constitutes a period of prosperous calm. The prefect Tiberio Giulio Alessandro recognized Galba and Ottone, but he showed himself hostile to Vitellius. Vespasian’s proclamation was, it can be said, his work.

According to, the new emperor, who was in Syria, was not long in coming to Egypt and visiting Alexandria, where he was welcomed with great feasts. But relations soon broke down, so great was the sovereign’s avarice and so pungent was the caustic language of the Alexandrians, so unstoppable their rebelliousness. Only the intervention of Tito mitigated the consequences of the imperial wrath. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the troubles between Greeks and Jews doubled and it was then that the closure of the temple built by Onias in Leontopolis in the Delta was decided. Trajan has also linked his name in Egypt to works of public utility; suffice it to mention Amnis Traianus and the prompt remedy opposed to a famine, by the dispatch of a fleet, laden with Egyptian grain which was stored in Rome. Trajan was responsible for the construction of the Babylon fortress, on the right bank of the Nile, at the apex of the Delta. New acts of anti-Semitism can be glimpsed through papyrus documents of 114; a very violent uprising of the Jews broke out in 115, an uprising degenerated into a real war, which lasted several months and was hardly tamed, with the virtual extermination of the rebels, by Marcio Liviano Turbo. Adriano had the task of repairing the damage of the disastrous conflict; and in fact we know that he had many buildings repaired in Alexandria and new ones built. The construction and economic reconstruction work was disturbed by a new revolt of the Egyptians, broke out about the consecration of the Apis ox. In 130 Hadrian visited Egypt with his wife Sabina and his court, going up the Nile to Luxor and implementing many good initiatives everywhere; but the most notable act in conjunction with this voyage was the founding of a new Greek-type city to honor his favorite who drowned in the Nile (v.antinous).

Antoninus Pius, although the prefect himself had been killed in one of the endemic uprisings, visited Alexandria, where he built a racecourse and the gates of the Sun and the Moon, at the two ends of the great road that crossed the whole city from east to west. Under Marcus Aurelius a rebellion with a truly indigenous nationalist character broke out in the marshy region of the Delta, inhabited by βούκολοι or shepherds. A priest, Isidoro, was its promoter and leader. The governor of Syria Avidio Cassius rushed and exterminated the rebels. His attempted insurrection led to his death and his son Meciano who had been placed at the head of Alexandria (175). The following year Marcus Aurelius visited Egypt showing himself generous, meek and indulgent; but severe punishments inflicted on all nationalist champions, although disguised as anti-Semites, his son Commodus. On the death of Pertinax (193), Pescennio Nigro, who was then a general in Syria, but had commanded a legion in Upper Egypt, gaining great popularity among the natives, was proclaimed emperor; but he perished the following year.

Egypt History - Roman Age 3