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The history of Ptolemaic Egypt has usually been doubly isolated—separated both from the history of other Hellenistic states and from the history of ancient Egypt. The Last Pharaohs, the first detailed history of Ptolemaic Egypt as a state, departs radically from previous studies by putting the Ptolemaic state firmly in the context of both Hellenistic and Egyptian history. More broadly still, J. G. Manning examines the Ptolemaic dynasty in the context of the study of authoritarian and premodern states, shifting ...
The history of Ptolemaic Egypt has usually been doubly isolated—separated both from the history of other Hellenistic states and from the history of ancient Egypt. The Last Pharaohs, the first detailed history of Ptolemaic Egypt as a state, departs radically from previous studies by putting the Ptolemaic state firmly in the context of both Hellenistic and Egyptian history. More broadly still, J. G. Manning examines the Ptolemaic dynasty in the context of the study of authoritarian and premodern states, shifting the focus of study away from modern European nation-states and toward ancient Asian ones. By analyzing Ptolemaic reforms of Egyptian economic and legal structures, The Last Pharaohs gauges the impact of Ptolemaic rule on Egypt and the relationships that the Ptolemaic kings formed with Egyptian society. Manning argues that the Ptolemies sought to rule through—rather than over—Egyptian society. He tells how the Ptolemies, adopting a pharaonic model of governance, shaped Egyptian society and in turn were shaped by it. Neither fully Greek nor wholly Egyptian, the Ptolemaic state within its core Egyptian territory was a hybrid that departed from but did not break with Egyptian history. Integrating the latest research on archaeology, papyrology, theories of the state, and legal history, as well as Hellenistic and Egyptian history, The Last Pharaohs draws a dramatically new picture of Egypt's last ancient state.
"Manning has produced a deep and meaningful study of the social and political relationships inherent in the Ptolemaic economy."—Timothy Howe, Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews
"Following his study of land tenure and use in Hellenistic Egypt, Manning presents a well-supported analysis of the formation of the Ptolemaic state in the fourth and third centuries BCE."—Choice
"Integrating the latest research on archaeology, papyrology, theories of the state, and legal history, as well as Hellenistic and Egyptian history, The Last Pharaohs draws a dramatic picture of Egypt's last ancient state."—Heritage Key
"This book, using latest archaeological technique combined with analysis of Ptolemaic documents, sets into a clear yet far ranging perspective the reality of Egypt in a 300 year span from the ancient to the Roman world."—Stephen Cox Trust
"The Last Pharaohs has a place alongside [the works of] Gunther Holbl and Werner Huss."—Paul McKechnie, Ancient West and East
When Egypt was reached in 332 BC, the Persian satrap surrendered without striking a blow. Alexander hastened upstream to Memphis, sacrificed to the Apis bull, was accepted as pharaoh, and then returned to the coast. Here on the shore of the Mediterranean near a village named Rhacotis he traced out the lines of the future great city of Alexandria before starting out on his famous visit to the oracle of Amun in the oasis of Siwa. -Gardiner (1961:381)
In this book I examine Ptolemaic rule of its core territory, Egypt, and explore the ways in which the Ptolemies shaped a government that would serve their own ends. The Ptolemaic kingdom, like most ancient states, was authoritarian. But unlike some modern authoritarian states, it was constrained by history, by an ancient institutional structure that gave little wiggle room for maneuver. Engaging with that ancient institutional structure was a deliberate policy decision taken by Ptolemy, the founder of the dynasty. Before moving ahead to discuss the Ptolemaic state and its institutions, it may therefore be useful to take a glance backward to first-millennium BC Egypt in order to situate ourselves in the historical experience that was to have so profound an influence on Ptolemaic policy.
From the End of the New Kingdom to the Assyrian Invasion
The New Kingdom and its Near Eastern and Nubian empire collapsed in 1069 BC with the death of Ramses XI. The last century of its history was wracked with political turmoil, some of it no doubt exacerbated by environmental stresses that may be inferred from the grain prices of the period (Janssen 1975b), evidence of the silting up of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, and references in these years to "the year of the hyenas, when there was hunger." There were also disruptive and worrisome incursions by Libyans into the Theban area. Earlier, under the reign of Ramses III, Egypt had lost its imperial territory under the pressure of another problematic migratory movement of groups of people whom the Egyptians called the "Sea Peoples" (Dothan 1992). The power of the central state declined significantly in these years, as royal prerogative yielded ground to hereditary elites. The Theban area was under the charge of one Panehsy, who had rebelled against royal influence in the south. He appears to have led at least one failed attempt at conquering the north. Eventually Ramses XI established a kind of federal power throughout Egypt, appointing Herihor, a general of very likely Libyan descent to control the south, and another general Smendes, to control the north. In governing the Thebaid, Herihor also took the title "high priest of Amun," which tied him into the Amun temple, the dominant political, economic, and religious center in the Nile valley.
The search for political legitimacy through religious institutions, and the strategy of using these institutions to achieve centralized control of Egypt, are major themes of post-New Kingdom times. It is no accident that so many of the official and literary texts produced during the first millennium BC are concerned with the selection and behavior of legitimate kings and with connections to a glorious royal past (Gozzoli 2006). Egyptian scribes and priests perhaps found their influence underscored because it was they who were the transmitters of (theological) history that lay at the foundation of political stability.
After the demise of the New Kingdom state, the political ideal of an Upper and Lower Egypt united under one king became a distant memory. Egypt split into as many as eleven political units, although a basic north-south divide continued, with a border between the regions established at el-Hibe. The chief northern center was at Tanis, in the eastern Delta, which had replaced the late New Kingdom royal city at Piramesse on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile. In the south, the dominant city was the ancient religious center at Thebes, which was under the control of warlords who carried priestly titles associated with the city's great Amun temple, a continuation of the practice seen earlier in Herihor's governorship (Kitchen 1986:16-23).
Libyans, probably in the main from Cyrenaica, increasingly dominated politics, and the army, in the north. Their political and cultural institutions differed substantially from Egyptian ones, yet they held sway over the north of Egypt for nearly four centuries. Three concurrent dynasties, Manetho's twenty-second, twenty-third, and twenty-fourth, were established in three separate urban centers in the Delta. Political events in the north are, thus, complex to reconstruct (Kitchen 1986).
The southern stretches of the Egyptian Nile valley were controlled by both the traditional authority of priesthoods centered on the Amun temple at Thebes, and by soldiers. Both institutions were effectively combined in the "great army commanders," descendants of the warlord Herihor, who ruled in the south. Eventually control of the Nile valley was divided into two polities, one centered at Thebes and the other at Herakleopolis.
The involvements of the New Kingdom in Syria-Palestine and Nubia also shaped events in the first centuries of the first millennium BC. Egypt was invaded from both. The Kushite (Nubian) king Piye (747-716 BC), having already gained nominal control of the Theban region through his sister's installation as "God's wife of Amun" in Thebes, invaded Egypt to check the halt of the northern ruler Tefnakhte's advances southward. The result was dynasty 25 in Manetho's chronicle. The 25th dynasty was characterized by halting Nubian control of Egypt and the resurrection of some very ancient features of Egyptian civilization as the Nubians attempted to take political control over the whole of Egypt. Nubian expansion northward met the Neo-Assyrian imperial expansion against the Babylonians in 701 BC, northwest of Jerusalem. The Assyrians eventually invaded Egypt briefly, and established an accord with local rulers in the Delta. It is from that agreement that the important Saïte dynasty sprang.
The Saïte Restoration
Psammetichus (Psamtek) was a ruler of the city of Saïs and an Assyrian client. He successfully established a new dynasty, Dynasty 26, and had consolidated his control of a reunited Egypt by 656 BC. The Saïte dynasty would become, especially during the reign of Amasis (570-526 BC), one of the great periods in Egyptian history. The details of political consolidation remain largely a mystery, but it is certain that both an iron fist and an acceptance of strong political and cultural traditions played a role; in today's parlance, Psammetichus deployed both "hard" and "soft" power. Interestingly, the formation of the Saïte state coincided with major adjustments to climate change during the early first millennium BC, seen throughout the Mediterranean and beyond (Bokovenko 2004).
Several trends of the seventh century BC are especially important in understanding the later Ptolemaic state reformation. The use of Ionian and Carian mercenaries was key for the consolidation of political power, especially in the Delta, and the (gradual) imposition of the demotic Egyptian script throughout Egypt was crucial in establishing greater administrative uniformity. We know from the discovery of some archaic Greek art at Memphis that Greek culture was not unknown in Egypt, and although Egyptian artists seem to have resisted Greek stylistic influence (Smith 1998:239), the Greek presence cannot have been without impact. Herodotus' treatment of Egypt served as an important Greek bridge between the Saïte kings and the Ptolemies, and we know from Necho II's exploration of the African coast with Phoenician sailors that the Saïte kings were engaged in trade and had an interest in the wider world.
Rather than conquering Upper Egypt by military force, Psammetichus I (664-610 BC) used diplomacy toward the important temple of Amun at Thebes. His daughter Nitocris was adopted by Shepenwepet II, who held the important priestly title "the God's Wife of Amun," in the temple, the priestly institution by which pharaohs, and Piye, had controlled the Theban temple, its priesthoods, and their resources. The text that documents this political solution, erected within a temple context and therefore overtly pious in its tone, shows how carefully the king couched the move in religious terms, acknowledging the tradition of the Theban theocratic state that arose out of the ashes of the collapse of political authority at the end of the New Kingdom. The adoption of Psammetichus' daughter into the family of the powerful, effective rulers of the Theban region must have involved more than their simple acceptance of the girl, but we are ignorant of details. Psammetichus also reached an accord with the powerbroker Montuemhat, whose family had fostered strong ties with both the Theban priesthoods and the Kushite (i.e., Dynasty 25, 747-656 BC) kings. These delicate political maneuvers by Psammetichus show the continuing economic and political power of both the temple of Amun and the civil authority, the majordomo Montuemhat. The administration of the south of the country appears, indeed, not to have been much disturbed by Saïte recentralization.
The Saïte kings quite intentionally stressed, through the use of image and language, their deep connection to Egypt's ancient history and their Egyptian origins (Lloyd 1983:289). But the political and economic power of the Saïtes was established on a new foundation. Both the employment of Greek advisors and pro-Greek policies are notable features of the age. The founding of the trading colony (emporion) at Naukratis in the western Delta by Psammetichus I was a major opening up of Egypt to Greek trade; and Amasis' alliance with Polykrates of Samos reveals the extent of Egyptian connections with the Aegean.
The projection of Saïte power in the Mediterranean into the Red Sea and Syria-Palestine, was supported by a navy. The Saïte kings were also involved in military campaigns into Nubia, notably under Psammetichus II in 595 BC. The use of iron, although it was not widespread apparently, was introduced.
Within a couple of generations, that is by the death of Psammetichus in 610 BC, Egypt was once again a unified state from the Delta to Aswan and a strong force in the eastern Mediterranean. How exactly this was accomplished we do not know, but we can make some educated guesses. Without doubt this period, and the following Persian period, were characterized by an extensive military presence throughout the country, as witness the fascinating Carian and Greek graffiti recorded in 591 BC on the famous monument of Ramses II at Abu Simbel.
Memphis was established again as the political center of the country; and foreigners settled there (and throughout Egypt) in large numbers. They included Greeks and Easterners-Carians and Phoenicians and Jews (Thompson 1988:82-105). Many in these diverse communities of immigrants assimilated to Egyptian culture to a remarkable extent during the Late Period.
In large part this interest in matters outside Egypt, especially to the East, was the result of Persian expansion, but it was also a continuation of second millennium interstate competition for the control of trade flows through Syria-Palestine. Trade is not easily measured in exact terms but it clearly increased in volume under the Saïtes and created new wealth among the capital's elite, a wealth that we see displayed in their tombs. It was also during the Saïte period that the use of coinage began.
Much has been made of the increase in private documentary records in Egypt beginning with the reign of Shabako (ca. 700 BC) and continuing through the Saïte period. Whether the increase signals real reforms or merely major economic adjustments, there can be no doubt that that Egypt's opening up to the Mediterranean and to the Red Sea brought about an increase of economic activity. The introduction and the diffusion of demotic Egyptian, carrying with it its distinct legal traditions, was no doubt one of the most important and long-lasting changes began by Psammetichus I. Demotic was a cursive script tradition, native to the Delta that was used by the new kings to assert central authority throughout Egypt. The script and its use reached southern Egypt, at Thebes, where it replaced the hieratic writing tradition there in the sixth century BC.
Saïte administrative structures appear to have been traditional (Lloyd 1983:332-33 provides a brief summary). "Governors" (nomarchs) were appointed over districts (nomes) and were responsible to the king primarily for fiscal and to a lesser extent judicial matters. Upper Egypt remained a distinctive region, with caution applied because of the sensitivities, and the great influence of the Theban temples.
Saïte reforms are crucial to an understanding of Persian and Ptolemaic governance. Strong Greek presence throughout the country, a quasi-independent Upper Egypt dominated by Thebes, the use of demotic, and a turn backward to the glorious past of ancient times would characterize the remainder of the first millennium BC.
Persian plans and preparations for the invasion of Egypt came to fruition in 525 BC, perhaps aided by some defectors from Amasis' army (Hdt. 3.4). This marked the first time in history that Egypt became part of an imperial state system-the Assyrian and Nubian invasions were short-lived and unhappy precursors. The Persian King Cambyses, despite the nasty personal reputation attributed to him by Herodotus, seems to have respected the Egyptians' royal and religious traditions. Where possible, the Persians attempted a synthesis between Persian and Egyptian traditions of kingship, but in fact the two systems were largely incompatible (Gozzoli 2006:111-25). The Persians were not especially interested in governing Egypt. They saw it, in the main, as territory through which valuable trade flowed to the oases and across North Africa.
Egypt's Persian imperial rulers maintained her well-developed state and local administrative structures and practices. "In general," Ray (1987:79) concludes, "the Persians seem to have governed the country with as light a hand as possible, relying on strategically placed garrisons and a good network of intelligence." Given the size of the Persian Empire, a basic continuity of local institutions and traditions would be unsurprising. Memphis served as the seat of the satrap and of the state treasury, the overseer of which was at least at times an Egyptian (Lloyd 1983:334). The Persian tributary system relied on the local elite to raise the required tribute. Darius seems to have centralized the system to great effect (Briant 2002:413-15).
One of the texts recorded on the verso of the Demotic Chronicle, an important historical source for the period, reports Cambyses' attempt at limited restructuring of some temples' finances, a move paralleled later by Xerxes and widely unpopular among the priesthoods. It may have been little more than an attempt at centralizing revenue, but the reaction to it, at least the reaction that the written record preserves, was harsh. Cambyses, deservedly or not, had a bad press, which was no doubt at least in part due to how bitterly the Persian invasion was viewed by some elements of the Egyptian priesthood. Throughout their history, the Egyptians disdained Asiatic rulers who attempted to control the Nile valley, and the Persians were no doubt seen as merely the latest in a line that begun with the Hyksos invasion in the eighteenth century BC and continued with the brief Assyrian incursion in the seventh century BC and, finally, the invasions of Cambyses and Artaxerxes. The Ptolemies, surely aware of this anti-Persian feeling and knowing the value of a good press, used pharaonic imagery and practices to minimize their own foreignness.
Persian rule relied on the Saïte fiscal structure, and Memphis remained the seat of governance. Donations to the temples continued, and Darius' respect for Egyptian kingship and the Egyptian gods is demonstrated in the famous biography of the Egyptian official Udjahorresnet inscribed on the Tell el-Maskhuteh stela that records Darius' construction of a canal, and by Darius' pious donation of land to the Horus temple at Edfu. In other respects as well, Persian rule left Egyptian institutions intact. The Persian king did however grant land to soldiers and administrators throughout Egypt, another ancient practice that would be continued by the Ptolemies.
Persian rule may have been broadly accepted, but there were revolts throughout the period. Some were probably the result of Greek involvement with certain elite families in Egypt, who made for good bedfellows in opposition to Persian rule. Others may have merely been opportunistic. The Persians were expelled by force of arms upon the death of Darius II in the revolt of Amyrtaios in 404 BC.
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List of Illustrations ix
CHAPTER 1: Egypt in the First Millennium BC 19
CHAPTER 2: The Historical Understanding of the Ptolemaic State 29
CHAPTER 3: Moving beyond Despotism, Economic Planning, and State Banditry 55
Ptolemaic Egypt as a Premodern State
CHAPTER 4: Shaping a New State 73
The Political Economy of the Ptolemies
CHAPTER 5: Creating a New Economic Order 117
Economic Life and Economic Policy under the Ptolemies
CHAPTER 6: Order and Law 165
Shaping the Law in a New State
CHAPTER 7: Conclusions 202
The Trial Record of the Property Dispute Held at the Temple of Wepwawet in Asyut, Upper Egypt, 170 BC before the Local Laokritai-judges
Index of Sources 263