Egypt History – The Ptolemaic Age Part VII

By | January 7, 2022

The Ptolemies preserved the division of the kingdom in Upper Egypt (Thebaid) and Lower Egypt, setting their borders at the southern limits of the Hermopolite, between 280 and 270 parallel, near today’s Mallawī. The administrative division was made by districts or names, which often changed boundaries, numbers and even designations. To try to tame the indocility of Upper Egypt. the Thebaid region was organized, from a certain moment, into a single epistrategy. Epistratego was usually a powerful figure very close to the king and often his relative. Foreign possessions, such as Libya, Celesiria, Cyprus, had governors designated by the king, and dependent on him (strategi): in command of the islands of the Archipelago was usually a navarco. Alexandria was distinct and separated from the country, so to speak, indigenous, by the chora (χώρα); almost to specify this distinctive character, the name of the city is often accompanied by the formula ad Aegyptum. The autonomy granted by the Lagids to Ptolemais, the only new city created by the founder of the dynasty in Upper Egypt, leads us to believe that Alexandria, Naucrati (and perhaps also Paraetonium) also had similar autonomy. It is now certain that under the last and probably under all the Ptolemies, Alexandria possessed (like Ptolemais and Naucrati) a senate, an assembly and a council of executive magistrates, in addition to those made necessary by judicial autonomy. These cities were removed from the competence of the officials of the name, and were divided, like a Greek polis, into tribes and demi, but they could not be removed from restrictions as an integral part of a monarchical state and dependent on an absolute sovereign. Particularly in the capital, residence of the king and court, there were royal officials who took a large part in the administration of the city. Each nominee had a religious and administrative center in the metropolis and, with the exception of the Fayyūm which was composed of three μερίδες, it was divided into villages (κῶμαι) and territorî (τόκοι). At the head of the nomo was a strategist, with civil and military powers, who had at his side a nomarch for public works and for the dominions of the crown, a secretary or royal scribe; assisted by an epistate for judicial affairs, by an epimelete and by a treasurer or treasurer and also by subordinate officials, interpreters and agoranomi, and also by the heads of the τόκοι (toparchi) and villages (comarchi) next to which were the laocrites or justices of the peace for the natives, and numerous elders.

According to, Greeks and Egyptians both depend on the power of the sovereign who can issue laws and rescripts at will, but the Ptolemies also followed the path of compromise in this field, letting the natives live according to their traditional laws and customs. Thus, there were two parallel judicial systems, which over time ended up exerting some influence on each other. (With regard to justice in particular, see the paragraph dedicated to law below).

The essential principle of internal politics in the kingdom of the Ptolemies, or at least in the main nucleus of it which is constituted by the Egyptian territory, since the situation in foreign possessions is different, was that each subject could exercise his activity and fulfill the obligations to which he was subject, only within the original community of which he was a part, a community that he was not allowed to leave. Each Egyptian belonged to a group and was firmly and permanently linked to it. Only with this system was an exact census of the population possible and the rigorous application of the complex tax mechanism. The Greeks were, like the Egyptians, albeit in a different way, dependent on the king and his officials, and were subjected to rules that limited their freedom. The residents of the province could not stay in Alexandria for more than twenty days. The workers who were employed in royal farms – the “crown farmers” in the fields, and the wage-earners (ὑποτελεῖς) in the monopoly workshops – were subjected to even stricter rules. Slaves exercised minimal influence in both industry and agriculture. They were, in general, domestic slaves and, more often, slaves or concubines.

The Ptolemies were masters in exploiting, for the benefit of the state, and, better, of the monarch who personified it, the wealth of the soil and that created by the productive activity of its residents. For this they created an ingenious, solid, accomplished system that proved to be very effective for the purpose pursued. Apart from the corvées little or no remuneration, apart from requisitions and gifts, imposed in certain circumstances, taxes of all kinds accompanied the authorization to carry out one or the other form of activity, protectionist taxes weighed on trade (there were even customs internal) and industries were largely, and in various ways, monopolized. In many cases the state worked the raw materials in its own workshops, then had the manufactured products sold by special dealers, in other cases it did not manage the workshops directly, but required that all production be delivered to the state at a specific price, or demanded a percentage, generally the fourth, of the total production.

Egypt History - The Ptolemaic Age 7