North Africa

Egypt History – The Ptolemaic Age Part IX

According to, the priests of the various divinities and places do not constitute so many isolated and completely independent groups, and this organization in a unitary group, although it does not imply unity of teaching at all, that is, the existence of a real Egyptian church, has nothing of analogous in the Greek cult, which was completely free. The priests involved in Egyptian or Egyptized cults were distributed in or tribes phylai (and within the ranks in five classes) led by a filarch. An epistate presided over the temple ; then came the archiereus, lower down were the prophets, the stolists (in charge of dressing the divine images), the pterophores (bearers of wings), the hierogrammati (sacred scribes), the shepherds (bearers of relics); in addition, those involved in the cult of the dead: the taricheuti (embalmers) and the paraschisti (specialized in opening corpses to be embalmed). The monotheistic Jewish cult, given the presence of a large number of Israelites in Alexandria and Egypt, from the earliest times of the Ptolemaic dynasty, was not only tolerated but was also in a certain sense favored. At the same time there is the presence of other oriental cults, such as Fr. ex. that of Astarte and Adonis.

After the Greek conquest, a large population emigrated to Egypt from all over the Hellenic world, but also from other regions, and especially from Palestine. The Jews have formed, since the third century, a very sizeable colony in Alexandria, although they are scattered in sizeable groups here and there in the interior of the country. Due to the particular conditions of their ethnic nature and their religion they always constituted a distinctive and differentiated nucleus. And since the other several elements that gave Alexandria the character of a cosmopolitan city are numerically insignificant taken each on their own, an examination of the evolution that the residents of Ptolemaic Egypt underwent, can target the two main nuclei, more directly in contact between them and more driven to exercise one a ‘ action on the other and to provoke a reaction on the part of this one: the Greeks, much smaller in number but conquerors, and the mass of the conquered Egyptians. Many of the immigrant Greeks settled in Alexandria conforming to its civic law. Alexandria had a character at first essentially, then predominantly Hellenic, of a Hellenism, of course, gradually transformed by the new environmental conditions but never overwhelmed either by the Egyptian elements that grafted onto that character, or by the cosmopolitanism that yet it becomes an eye-catching aspect of the great shopping center (v.Alexandria). In the villages of the interior the Greeks tried to live in the Greek style, meeting in leagues that preserved or created a civic law of the Hellenic type. These minor groupings, these politeumata, they first took place around the territorial companies of the militia (cleruchi, etc.) but then they broke away. Communities in this sense are the Hellenes of Arsinoite, of the Delta, of the Thebaid. Wherever there is a nucleus of these Hellenes, there is a gymnasium and a gymnasium; nor was it lacking sanctuaries, at least originally, purely Greek, and quarters, baths and buildings of the Greek style. Raised in the Greek way in the gymnasium and through ephebia, the most educated youngsters read Greek books, and to this love for national literature, rooted in the Hellenes of Egypt, we owe the fortunate chance that not only many copies of texts have come down to us already known but also several works and numerous fragments of works considered lost forever (see papyrology). It is evident, however, that in the towns and villages scattered along the Nile valley, these Greeks, who constituted a minority in the face of the indigenous mass, were much more exposed to the influence of the Egyptian environment than were the Greeks of the capital. In the second, third, and more in subsequent generations, children born of indigenous mothers abounded. In truth, the process of Hellenization of the Egyptian people was never very extensive and profound, while the reverse process was very vast and operative. There is no doubt that the Greek language imposed as the official language retained its dominance and gained, indeed, in extension; but it is equally certain that the Greeks gradually adapted to the new environment under the influence of customs, religious ideas, of the ways of life of the indigenous people. Thus, the aura of superiority that surrounded the conquering people was fading, distances were shortening and irritation at the privileges enjoyed by foreigners grew. After the victory of Rafia (217), the insurrections became more and more serious and frequent, forcing the dynasty to a policy of increasing compliance and concessions. These events induced the Greeks to huddle together, in order to oppose the dangers of isolation among the mass of Egyptians agitated by nationalist feelings and aspirations, and in truth it can be said that, on the turn from the third to the second century a. C., from the manifold varieties of individuals and groups that flowed from everywhere, the unity of the Hellenes was born in Egypt. But nevertheless, neither the formal barriers, nor could the purposes of differentiation for race pride stop the work of the inevitable side-by-side coexistence, of the thousand daily relationships, and much less suspend the mixing of blood. Starting from 200, the formation of that layer of mixed Greek-Egyptian population appears with increasing evidence, which constitutes the characteristic element of Egypt in the last two centuries of the Lagids and during the Empire. When the Romans became the masters of the Nile valley, they relied on that class of residents who qualified as Greek, but no one could have sworn that those Hellenes, constituting as an intermediate privileged class between Roman citizens and Egyptians, truly had pure Greek blood in their veins.

Egypt History - The Ptolemaic Age 9