North Africa

Egypt History – The Ptolemaic Age Part VI

In any case, the Egyptian apotheosis of the Lagids should not be confused with the Hellenistic cult of the sovereign since one and the other have very different form and scope. L’ use of marriages between brother and sister, initiated by Ptolemy II, fully responded to the ideas of the natives, but among the Greeks, in the early days, there was no lack of denigration and irony. The succession was determined by the hereditary principle and as a rule the eldest son of the deceased king was the successor, but the army, the surest support of the monarchy, intervened to acclaim and recognize the new king. Another guarantee of stability was constituted by the Hellenic emigrants, since, despite the mildness of the domination, the Egyptians considered the conquerors as intruders. Hence the need not only to attract as many Hellenes as possible to Alexandria and the Nile Valley, but also to make them a privileged class, placing them in positions of responsibility and direction.

Despite its advanced civilization, the country was still in a state of natural economy, and only the Greeks could organize its transformation, which in fact was mainly entrusted to them. The Greek language was the only one used in official acts; only the decrees that had to come to the direct knowledge of the deeper layers of the population were translated into demotic. All the various branches of the administration belong to the king and since no organism could have followed the handling of all the affairs, the king administered the state as personal or family property, through his close relatives and close friends, clients., or serve. It was inevitable that with these and these personal agents of the sovereign a whole chancellery would develop, a whole bureaucratic organism that did not take long to set up a real court. This court staff was the most powerful in the whole kingdom, and in honors and influence surpassed even the highest government officials who were not part of it.

According to, the Ptolemies were the masters of the whole territory of Egypt and of all that it contained. But if in principle the whole indigenous country, the χώρα, constitutes the patrimony of the sovereign, not all the arable land is royal land (βασιλικὴ γῆ), although it includes a lot of it. It will be seen below in the paragraph dedicated to the law, what were the relationships between the king and the various categories of people to whom it could be granted in concession, regarding arable land. Since Egypt’s main source of wealth has always had its base in agriculture, the Ptolemies reclaimed a large part of the Delta and Arsinoite (el-Fayyūm) to dispose of the largest possible extension of arable land. They placed Greek engineers at the head of the water services, assisted by Egyptian experts, they introduced new fruit trees, made better use of and extended the pre-existing crops (vines and olive trees); they increased the zootechnical patrimony by introducing the camel (3rd century BC), acclimating many hybrids and raising new species of poultry.

Even the desert, with its semiprecious stones, with its colored marbles, with its gold, constituted a source of wealth. Many of the agricultural products, such as flax, p. for example, and the papyrus, not to mention other plants, such as the olive tree and the vine, and several stones and minerals existing in the subsoil of the Sinaitic peninsula and the eastern desert, facilitated the development of industry: textile industries in the first place. line (linen, cotton, silk, the latter imported) favored by the invention of the horizontal loom which took place there, and then the ceramic, glass, leather, perfume industries and the very important one of papyrus paper. Some were directly, others indirectly, monopolized by the state. The commercial movement was not limited under the Ptolemies to provide for the importing the products that the residents of the Nile valley might need, and exporting overabundant products, but also assumed the function of intermediary between the Indies, Arabia and the Mediterranean regions. Therefore none of the old trade routes were abandoned and many new ones were opened. In addition to the reactivation, carried out by Ptolemy II, of the canal between the eastern branch of the Delta and the Gulf of Suez, the network of caravan routes between Upper Egypt and the Red Sea was restored and expanded, where the roads had ports such as Myos Hormos, Leukos Limen, Berenice, etc. The multiplied forms of activity, the frequency and speed of exchanges, the new type of economy, which was both cause and consequence of all this, the presence of a notable and predominant minority of Greeks and Macedonians meant that the Ptolemies were soon induced to worry about fixing the course of the circulating vehicle. The monetary unit was the silver drama; major units (two, four, eight, ten dramas) were minted as much gold as silver. In a later period, only the higher-value gold units and silver tetradrams remained in circulation. On the right of the coins the head of Alexander the Great was first reproduced in profile, later that of the founder of the new dynasty, or of the reigning sovereign or of the queen especially, and up to the fall of the dynasty, of Arsinoe Filadelfo; on the reverse mostly an eagle, sometimes two or, sometimes, one or two cornucopias; a inscription with the name of the king or queen in the genitive (Πτολεμαίου Βασιλέως ‘Αρσινόης Φιλαδέλϕου, etc.) and in the field letters and symbols. Gold and silver did not spread widely in the interior of the country, where copper was preferred, calculating that the copper coin was worth 1/120 (later 1/300) of the silver one. Many transactions, however, were made in kind. The exchange systems gave rise to complications and therefore the activity of specialized persons was necessary both for transactions in kind and for those in currency, the introduction of stockbrokers, that is to say the bank and bankers.

Egypt History - The Ptolemaic Age 6