[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Ch. IV § 1
This webpage reproduces part of
The House of Ptolemy

by E. R. Bevan

published by Methuen Publishing, London,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Ch. IV § 3


The People, The Cities, The Court

 p90  § 2. The Greek Cities

(a) Naucratis

Of the three Greek cities Naucratis, although its commercial importance was reduced with the founding of Alexandria, continued in a quiet way its life as a Greek city-state. During the interval between the death of Alexander and Ptolemy's assumption of the style of king, it even issued an autonomous coinage. And the number of Greek men of letters during the Ptolemaic and Roman period, who were citizens of Naucratis, proves that in the sphere of Hellenic culture Naucratis held to its traditions. Ptolemy II bestowed his care upon Naucratis. "He built a large structure of limestone, about 330 feet long and 60 feet wide, to fill up the broken entrance to the great Temenos; he strengthened the great block of chambers in the Temenos, and re-established them."21 At the time when Sir Flinders Petrie wrote the words just quoted the great Temenos was identified with  p91 the Hellenion. But Mr. Edgar has recently pointed out that the building connected with it was an Egyptian temple, not a Greek building. Naucratis, therefore, in spite of its general Hellenic character, had an Egyptian element. That the city flourished in Ptolemaic times "we may see by the quantity of imported amphorae, of which the handles stamped at Rhodes and elsewhere are found so abundantly" (Petrie). "The Zeno papyri show that it was the chief port of call on the inland voyage from Memphis to Alexandria, as well as a stopping-place on the land-route from Pelusium to the capital."22 It was attached, in the administrative system, to the Saïte nome.

(b) Alexandria

By the end of the reign of Ptolemy II the city of Alexandria, eighty-six years after its foundation, must have stood complete in its main features, the great city which succeeding generations of Greeks and Romans knew.

Alexandria with its territory was not considered as being in Egypt. It was regarded as adjacent to Egypt — "Alexandria ad Aegyptum." In the papyri people sometimes speak of making the journey from Alexandria "to Egypt." It formed, as we have seen, an oblong of about 4 miles long by three-quarters of a mile broad, with the sea to the north of it, and broad fresh-water lake of Mareotis to the south. Its principal street, the Canopic Street, ran lengthways from the Canopus Gate on the east to a corresponding gate on the west; it was crossed in the centre of the town at right angles by another street running from the sea to the lake. Both these two main thoroughfares were more than 30 yards wide. Even many of the lesser streets, parallel to the two main streets, were passable for wheeled traffic, unlike the ordinary narrow streets of old Greek towns. The names of several streets in Alexandria seem to be given us in a recently published papyrus.23 They are named in honour of Arsinoe Philadelphus, epithets characteristic of different Greek goddesses being attached to the name of the queen by that kind of identification already referred to, by which the person deified was assimilated to some particular deity of the traditional religion. So we find the epithets Basileia (Hera), Teleia  p92 (Hera), Eleēmon (Aphrodite, in Cyprus), Chalkioikos (Athena, in Sparta) attached to the name of Arsinoe, in order to get names for the streets in question.

The laws of the city prescribed that no one might build a house nearer than 1 foot to the next house, except by mutual agreement between the neighbours, who might, if they liked, have a partition wall in common.24 A canal, corresponding roughly with the Mahmudiehº Canal of to‑day, brought fresh water from the Canopic arm of the Nile; it was taken off at Schedia (Kôm-el‑Gîzeh) about 17 miles away. According to the Romance, this canal existed before the days of Alexander, and the future site of Alexandria was then occupied by sixteen native villages, including Rakoti, which were watered by twelve subsidiary canals connected with the great canal. The twelve subsidiary canals, it says, all but two, were filled in, and the parallel streets of the city were built over them. The Romance is a poor historical authority, but in what it says of local history and topography, modern scholars are inclined to think it may preserve traditions based on fact. It is certain that under the city there was an elaborate system of supply and drainage-conduits, by which fresh water was carried to private houses25 — a convenience perhaps unprecedented in an ancient city — and this system must presumably in its main design go back to the original plan drawn up for Alexander. The sites of different temples were also, Arrian tells us,26 marked out by Alexander himself — not only those of Greek deities, but the temple of Isis in the native quarter, which, as we have seen, was superseded under the first  p93 Ptolemy by the Serapeum. This native quarter, the old Egyptian town of Rakoti, south of the western end of the great middle thoroughfare, offered no doubt as striking a contrast to the stately and regular Greek city as old Cairo does to‑day to the European quarter, or as Stambul to Pera.

Alexandria, as a whole, was divided into five quarters, called after the first five letters of the Greek alphabet — the Alpha quarter, the Bēta quarter, and so on. Ancient authors mention a number of the great buildings and monuments of Alexandria, though it is exceedingly doubtful, for the reason indicated on page 7, on what site of the modern town they each stood. There was the Gymnasium, "a building of singular magnificence, with colonnades of more than a stadium long," stretching along the side of the Canopic Street27 — the social centre of the Alexandrian citizen-body — the Law Court (dikastērion), near the centre of the city; the Paneum, an artificial mound dedicated to Pan, with a fine view over the whole city from the top of it and a park round it.28 There was the celebrated Sēma, the Temple-tomb in which the body of Alexander the Great lay in a coffin of gold, its precinct shut off from the city by a wall. Gradually there grew up around the original Sēma other temple-tombs of the deified kings and queens of the house of Ptolemy. Ptolemy II had already begun by building the temple of his parents, and perhaps also the temple-tomb of Arsinoe  p94 Philadelphus, destined to receive his own body as well. The Stadium and the Hippodrome, which once the passion of the Alexandrines for games and chariot-races filled with excited crowds, were situated more on the outskirts of the city — the Stadium, apparently, beyond the Serapeum, to the south-west, and the Hippodrome on the south-east, not far from the suburb of Eleusis. The Theatre was in the Palace area, with a view high over the sea, beyond the stage, for spectators in the higher tiers.

"A quarter, or nearly a third, of the area of the city was occupied by royal edifices, an immense collection of palaces and gardens."29 The Sēma probably was included in this quarter, and the barracks for the Royal Guards, who were kept near the king's person. The Palace area, covering most of what was called the Neapolis ("New City"), was to the north-east, between the Canopic Street and the sea. The Palace had a front on the sea, and overlooked the Great Harbour. The Museum and Library were closely connected with it at its western end. Beyond the east of it, still near the sea-front, was the Jewish quarter, Delta.

The island of Pharos had been connected with the mainland by a causeway, called the Heptastadion. Through the accumulation of matter on each side of this artificial causeway in the course of the centuries, it has now become a neck of land about a third of a mile broad, and carries on it one of the populous quarters of present-day Alexandria. When the Heptastadion was first built, it divided the sea between Pharos and the mainland into two harbours. On the east of it was the "Great Harbour," and on the west the Eunostos Harbour, called probably after Eunostos, the Cypriot "king," Ptolemy I's son-in‑law, but called no doubt also by that particular name because Hormos Eunostos meant, in Greek, the "Harbour of Happy Homecoming." To‑day the old "Great Harbour" is practicable only for small fishing-boats; and the Eunostos Harbour has become the harbour for all larger ships. A portion of the Great Harbour by the Palace front was separated off for the use of the kings.

The harbour wharfs with their great warehouses (apostaseis) seem to have formed a district walled off from the city itself. Into this district, called the exhairesis, merchandise might be brought free of duty. If, however, the merchandise  p95 was carried into the city, it had to pay, at the gate between the exhairesis and the city, whatever duties were prescribed.30

On the island of Pharos, the famous lighthouse, reckoned one of the wonders of the world, was built by the architect Sostratus of Cnidos, begun, no doubt, under Ptolemy I and finished early in the reign of Ptolemy II. "The material used in its construction was chiefly nummulitic limestone. The sculptural decoration as well as other accessory ornamentation was partly in marble and partly in bronze. The innumerable columns were for the most part of Aswan granite. The lantern was formed of eight columns, surmounted by a cupola above which was raised a bronze statue (probably of Poseidon) about seven metres high. The flame was obtained by burning resinous wood.a It is believed that convex mirrors made of metal were used to give a longer  p96 range to the light."31 This huge building has perished so utterly that we can now guess what it looked like only by incidental inscriptions in ancient books, by coins, and by the analogy of ancient remains in other places. Putting all the available material together, Professor Thiersch has made a conjectural restoration of it, which is reproduced on page 95. The dedicatory inscription ran "Sostratus son Dexiphanes of Cnidos to the Saviour Gods on behalf of sea-farers." It is questionable who are meant by the "Saviour Gods" (Sotēres Theoi). That was the way in which Ptolemy I and Berenice were described officially after their deification, and one would naturally suppose that in a work of this kind, done by the king's order at Alexandria, Ptolemy I and Berenice were meant. On the other hand, "Saviour Gods" was also the way in which Castor and Pollux, the special gods of sailors, were regularly described, and it may be that the dedication was inscribed on the lighthouse before the official deification of Ptolemy I and Berenice. It may be again that there was an ambiguity which was intentional. It is certainly remarkable that the architect was allowed by the king to dedicate a work of this kind in his own name. A story was afterwards invented to account for the dedication. Sostratus, it was said, had covered his own name (sunk, like the rest of the inscription, into the stone in huge letters of lead) with a thin layer of plaster, which looked like the stone, and had inscribed on this plaster the name of Ptolemy. He had counted on the plaster scaling off after his death.

Outside the walls of Alexandria, both to the east and west, a tract of land was given up to cemeteries, and in time these two "cities of the dead" became considerable, in close proximity to the city of the living. To the east, the suburb of Eleusis was on the main canal, near Lake Hadra, and here Ptolemy II established a cult of Demeter with some features borrowed from that of the original Eleusis in Attica.32 Along this  p97 canal, too, between Alexandria and Canopus, were the villas and gardens of rich Alexandrines. The old Egyptian town Canopus became a favourite pleasure-city for the Alexandrines, and Strabo describes the scenes of riotous indulgence, music, and revelry on the boats, gliding day and night along the canal between Alexandria and Canopus.b

On the quays and in the streets of this great Levantine city, we should have found ourselves in a crowd which contained specimens of people from all over the known world — Greeks from every part of the Mediterranean, native Egyptians, Italians, Romans, Jews, Syrians, Persians, Indians, negroes. The total population of Alexandria in the latter years of the Ptolemaic dynasty may have been little short of a million. But the population of Alexandria, not counting strangers of passage, included a great multitude who did not belong to the body of those who proudly called themselves "Alexandrines." Diodorusc gives the numbers of the citizen-body at the end of the dynasty as 300,000. Of course, all the native Egyptian element in Alexandria was excluded from the citizen-body — perhaps also the Jews domiciled in the city, though the question whether the Jews were, or were not, included is still debatable. The citizen-body claimed to be  p98 a community of genuine Greeks, with the interests and the social organization which belonged to the free citizens of a Greek city, as such. The Alexandrines considered themselves Greeks and Macedonians. And, as a matter of fact, it does not seem likely that there was any considerable infusion of native Egyptian blood in the Alexandrines. At Naucratis marriage between a citizen and an Egyptian woman was illegal; probably this was also so at Alexandria and at Ptolemais. Both Polybius and Philo speak of the Alexandrines as "people of mixed blood" (migades), but it seems likely that what is meant is that the citizen-body was a medley of Greeks of all kinds — Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians, Greeks from Hellas and Greeks from all the outlying cities east and west — not that it had an admixture of Egyptian blood.33

But not even all the Greek population of Alexandria was included in the citizen-body of "Alexandrines." Schubart thinks, indeed, that the citizen-body included only a minority of the Greeks resident in Alexandria. The multitude of men who called themselves Hellenes, talked Greek, and lived like Greeks, but had not the privileges of citizenship — like the Greek metoikoi living in Athens or any other Greek town — were perhaps largely not Greek in blood — the offspring, for instance, of marriages between Greeks and Egyptian women in the country outside Alexandria who had come to settle in the city. Certain privileges probably belonged to all Greeks, as such, in distinction from natives. Egyptians, for instance, might be punished by bastinado, but the "Alexandrines," Philo tells us,34 might be beaten only with flat sticks (spathai). The Jews in this matter were classed with the "Alexandrines," and it is probable that by the "Alexandrines" we are here to understand all resident Greeks, not members of the citizen-body only.

In every city of Greek type the citizen-body was organized and small social groups. At Athens the citizens were divided into 10 tribes (phylai) and between 100 and 190 demes (dēmoi). A similar organization into tribes and demes existed for the Alexandrine citizen-body, though it does not, curiously, seem to have been extended to the whole citizen-body. There were numbers of people who were "Alexandrines," but not members of a deme. The members of the demes formed the social aristocracy of  p99 Alexandria, perhaps largely the descendants of the original citizen-body at the beginning of the 3rd century. Marriages, however, between members of demes and Greeks, or even "Persians," outside the demes were apparently quite in order.

A papyrus from Hibeh of the earlier part of the 3rd century indicates that in a city which must be either Alexandria or Ptolemais there were 5 tribes with 12 demes to each tribe and 12 phratries to each deme.35 The member of a deme is described in legal documents by his deme-name (e.g. "Antaeus, a Temenean," i.e. belonging to the deme called after Temenus), just as another man might be described as "Athenian" or as "Thracian." It was not necessary to put "Alexandrine," this being implied in the deme-name, and it was not the practice, till Roman times, for the tribe to be mentioned as well as the deme. The only names of Alexandrine tribes we know in the Ptolemaic period are: (1) that given us by Satyrus,36 the tribe Dionysias — called after the god from whom the house of Ptolemy claimed to be descended; and (2) the tribe Ptolemais.37 (Several more tribe-names are known in the Roman period, embodying a honorific reference to the Emperor and his titles.) Of deme-names belonging to the Ptolemaic period we have a longer list. They are usually formed from the name or epithet of a god or hero in Greek mythology or from a name in Alexander's family tree, which was also, for the greater part of it, Ptolemy's family tree.38 In the tribe Dionysias, the names were taken from characters connected in mythology with Dionysos — from Althaea, by whom Dionysos was the father of Deïanira, from Thestius, Althaea's father, from Deïanira herself, from Ariadne, Thoas, Staphylus, Evantheus, Maron. We know of an Alexandrine deme named after Herakles, of another named after Acacus, of another named after Temenus, the great-great‑grandson of Herakles in the royal pedigree. Some demes later on had names taken from the royal surnames — a man described as "Philometoreios" belongs to a deme named after Ptolemy Philometor, a man described as  p100 "Epiphaneios" to a deme named after Epiphanes.39 It is interesting to find one deme ("Leonnateus", no doubt one of the oldest) named after Leonnatus, Ptolemy I's old Macedonian companion-in‑arms in the wars of Alexander.

Certain people resident at Alexandria describe themselves in our documents (under Augustus) as "Macedonians," not as "Alexandrines," with no deme-name. This has led Schubart and Wilcken to believe that all through Ptolemaic times there was a distinct class of "Macedonians" at Alexandria, who served largely in the army and at court, and originally held themselves superior to "Alexandrines" of the citizen-body. In connexion with this we have the odd statement of Josephus, that the Jews at Alexandria counted as "Macedonians." (This is one of the arguments which modern scholars adduce to prove, against Josephus, that the Jews did not belong to the citizen-body.) We know that many Jews served in the army, and that the chief commands were sometimes held by Jews. It may be that some assimilation of the Jewish soldiers to the Macedonian soldiers is behind the statement of Josephus.40

In a well-known fragment of Polybiusd the population of Alexandria in the later days of the dynasty is said to consist of three elements: (1) the native Egyptian element, "sharp-witted and amenable to civil life";41 (2) the mercenary troops, insubordinate and apt to impose their will upon the government; and (3) the "Alexandrines," who showed some tendency themselves to break through the restraints of civil order, though less turbulent than the soldiery — "for even if they were mixed in stock, they were Greeks by origin and  p101 had not forgotten the general Greek mode of life." The classification is obviously not exact, but a rough statement of the impression made by the crowd in the streets of Alexandria upon a visitor about 100 B.C. Polybius says nothing of the regular army; one may gather that at this time the mercenary troops procured by the court from abroad were the conspicuous military element. And under the term "Alexandrines" Polybius apparently includes the whole free Greek civil population, whether they belonged to the citizen-body or not. He does not mention the Jews; possibly, Hellenized as they were in speech and dress, they were not easily distinguishable in appearance from the Greeks.

The Alexandrines in their social life, their intellectual and artistic culture, were Greeks: how far Alexandria had the political institutions which normally characterized the Greek city-state it is not possible to say with any certainty upon our present evidence. In a Greek city which was also the residence of a despotic court, even where the forms of autonomous government existed, they could not but be really under the control of the court, as we know was the case at Pergamon. But we do not know in the case of Alexandria whether the forms even of self-government existed. At the beginning of the Roman period we know that Alexandria had not a senate or popular assembly, but that does not exclude the possibility that under the Ptolemies, or during part of the Ptolemaic period, the citizens met to pass laws and psēphismata. One fragmentary inscription has been found which was thought by Plaumann to contain part of a psēphisma passed by the Alexandrine people.42 But it is uncertain whether the stone does not come from Rhodes.

In the Halle Papyrus (called Halensis I) we have a collection of extracts from the civil laws and regulations (the astikoi nomoi) of Alexandria — a document of very great importance for the study of Greek Law — but there is nothing to show whether the laws in question were passed by a popular assembly or whether they were imposed by the king.

Strabo gives, as the chief office-bearers the Alexandria "in the days of the kings," the exēgētēs, the hypomnēmatographos, the archidikastēs, and the Commander of the Night Watch (nukterinos stratēgos). But it is now generally held that he confused the civic authorities of Alexandria as an autonomous (or semi-autonomous) city-state with royal  p102 (and afterward imperial) officials who had their headquarters in Alexandria and might naturally attract the attention of a visitor, as persons of high consideration resident in the city. The only hypomnematographoi known in Ptolemaic times were the secretaries of the king and of the dioiketes.

The archidikastes is one of the stock problems of Greek and Roman Egypt. In Roman times it has long been obvious that, although resident in Alexandria, he was not an official of the City but a judicial authority for the whole of Egypt. It was supposed that in Ptolemaic times he had really been, as Strabo represents him, a civic official.43 Schubart, however, has argued forcibly that this was not so.44 The title given to the archidikastes in Roman times ("having oversight of the chrematistai and the other tribunals") must be a relic of the Ptolemaic régime, because in Roman times the chrematistai had ceased to exist. The Alexandrine documents relating to a form of legal procedure called synchōrēsis, since they belong to the earliest days of Roman rule, probably show the Ptolemaic system still in working. One of the tribunals in Alexandria is here called "the tribunal in the [royal] court" (τὸ ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ κριτήριον).45 The part played by the archidikastes does not appear in Ptolemaic papyri. The only mention of an archidikastes in Ptolemaic times is an inscription in which the people of Thera honours some one described as belonging to the "First Friends" of king Ptolemy and queen Cleopatra (it may be either Ptolemy V, VI, or VII) and archidikastes.46 But it is quite likely that this is a judicial authority appointed by the Ptolemaic government for the island of Thera, and has nothing to do with Egypt. Schubart suggests an explanation for the strange absence of the archidikastes in our Egyptian documents, by the supposition that, although his competence extended to the whole of Egypt, it was limited to selecting the judges who composed the various tribunals instituted to try particular cases, and was not concerned either with the trial as such or with appeals from the judgment given. In any case it seems likely, on our present data, that Strabo was wrong  p103 when he classed the archidikastes of Ptolemaic times amongst the civic authorities of Alexandria.

There remain, therefore, of Strabo's four only the exegetes and the nukterinos strategos as authorities of the City Alexandria. What the duties and competence of the former were is another problem. The term exegetes was ordinarily applied in Greek to the official experts retained in Greek cities for the interpretation of oracles and omens, but if the province of the Alexandrine exegetes had originally been a similar one, it must have come with time to be very much extended. Strabo says that it was his business to have "the oversight of things useful to the City" (ἐπιμέλειαν τῶν τῇ πόλει χρησίμων) — an exceedingly vague description. That the exegetes was in some sort the chief magistrate is indicated by his wearing a purple robe and "enjoying certain ancestral honours" — whatever that may mean.47 That the exegetes was also the annual eponymous priest of Alexander is proved, I think, by the passage of Pseudo-Callisthenes (III.33), which describes this priest as "overseer of the City" (ἐπιμελιστὴς τῆς πόλεως), and mentions that his insignia were a wreath of gold and a purple robe. Since the eponymous priesthood was conferred as a personal distinction upon persons whose active functions can hardly have been those of a city magistrate (e.g. upon members of the royal family or king's favourites), one may conjecture that the exegetes was really only a decorative president of the civic government, not a working official.48

With regard to the nukterinos strategos, we know nothing except what the name tells us, though it is possible that the office of the praefectus vigilum at Rome under the Empire was copied from Alexandria, and it is also possible that the nukterinos strategos was identical with the Commander of the City (stratēgos tēs polēos), a title found on a granite slab of unknown date which can doubtfully be assigned to Alexandria.49 If the strategos tes poleos was analogous to the praefectus urbi at Rome, he would not have been an official of the City but an officer appointed by the king to control the City.

 p104  One very important official of the City Strabo does not mention — the Gymnasiarch. As the Gymnasium was the centre of the social life of a Greek city, the Gymnasiarch was in a way the social head of the citizen-body. When in Roman times there are repeated outbreaks of violence between Greeks and Jews in Alexandria, it is the Gymnasiarch who represents the Greek citizen-body, who pleads the cause of the Greeks at Rome before the Emperor and stands for Greek republican freedom.50 The Gymnasiarch of Alexandria must have been a very important person under the Ptolemies.

A certain tract of country round Alexandria was marked off as territory belonging to the Alexandrines. In the matter of taxation this had immunities which distinguished it from ordinary Egyptian land.51 In Roman times it formed a nome, with Hermopolis for the administrative capital, but it is doubtful whether that arrangement goes back to Ptolemaic times.

Within this territory the zone immediately adjoining the City — the proasteion, or the district exō tou asteos — was subject to special regulations in the matter of building and digging trenches.52

To keep the population of Alexandria supplied with the necessaries of life was a concern of the king's. In a country where everything could be regulated with the precision made possible by such a system of bureaus and statistics as existed in Ptolemaic Egypt, it could be approximately calculated beforehand how much corn,º how much oil, would be required each year by Alexandria, and the right proportion of the corn and oil coming in from the royal treasuries all over the country could be allotted to this purpose.53

(c) Ptolemais

The second Greek city founded after the conquest in Egypt was Ptolemais, 400 miles up the Nile, where there was a native village called Psoï, in the nome called after the ancient Egyptian city of Thinis (modern Girgeh).54 If Alexandria  p105 perpetuated the name and cult of the great Alexander, Ptolemais was to perpetuate the name and cult of the founder of the Ptolemaic time. Framed in by the barren hills of the Nile Valley and the Egyptian sky, here a Greek city arose, with its public buildings and temples and theatre, no doubt exhibiting the regular architectural forms associated with Greek culture, with a citizen-body Greek in blood, and the institutions of a Greek city-state. If there is some doubt whether Alexandria possessed a council (boulē) and assembly, there is none in regard to Ptolemais. It was more possible for the kings to allow a measure of self-government to a people removed at that distance from the ordinary residence of the court. We have still, inscribed on stone, decrees (psephismata) passed in the assembly of the people of Ptolemais, couched in the regular forms of Greek political tradition: "It seemed good to the boulē and to the dēmos: Hermas son of Doreon, of the deme Megisteus, was the proposer: Whereas the prytaneis who were colleagues with Dionysius the son of Musaeus in the 8th year, etc."

The names of citizens of Ptolemais are good Greek names. No doubt they too, like the "Alexandrines" and the people of Naucratis, avoided intermarriage with Egyptians. Psoï will, no doubt, have formed a native quarter at Ptolemais, just as Rakoti did at Alexandria, with a native population excluded from the citizen-body.

The citizen-body at Ptolemais, too, was divided into tribes and demes. Schubart has made it seem probable that the deme-names at Alexandria and Ptolemais were so arranged — presumably by the court — that the same deme-name should never occur in both cities. This, however, did not apply to the tribe-names. There was a tribe "Ptolemais" at Ptolemais, as well as at Alexandria. But the deme-names of Ptolemais, although different from those of Alexandria, were of the same kind. One of the demes belonging to the tribe Ptolemais gave the deme-name Berenikeus. To the same tribe, presumably, belonged the other demes called after members of the royal family — Cleopatoreios, Philotereios. "Megisteus" is possibly taken from an epithet attached to Ptolemy I in the cult offered him, as Megistos Theos Soter ("Greatest God Saviour"). "Hylleus" and "Karaneus" are taken from the royal pedigree. "Danaeus" is taken from that mythological cycle which made out a connexion between Egypt and Greece in prehistoric times.

 p106  Formally Ptolemais was a free Greek city-state in alliance with king Ptolemy, to which the king sent ambassadors, whom the city received with public honours.55 It dealt directly with the court and was not subject to the strategos of the Thinite nome or the epistrategos of the Thebaid, though he might often reside in Ptolemais. No doubt, in reality Ptolemais was completely under the king's control. Such control might be secured in one way by the important offices in the city being given to royal officials, as seems to have been done in the 2nd century and afterwards. Callimachus, the epistrategos of the Thebaid, is also chief-prytanis and gymnasiarch of Ptolemais.56 Lysimachus, who appears in one inscription as "prytanis for life" and in another as grammateus of the boulē, is also a hipparch in the royal army.57

The inscriptions of the 3rd century B.C. from Ptolemais show us the city electing its own magistrates and judges, and altering the constitution at will. But the city had no power to strike its own coins, and in the latter part of the 2d century the chief camp for the king's forces in Upper Egypt seems to have been at Ptolemais. In the reign of Ptolemy Auletes (March, 75 B.C.) we indicate a communication sent from the court to the city of Ptolemais (to the prytaneis apparently) informing them that the king has conferred the privilege of asylia upon a temple of Isis erected by Callimachus the epistrategos in the territory of Ptolemais.58 This shows that the city could not itself confer privileges of this kind upon temples even in its own territory.

Ptolemais had its own cult, or system of cults, addressed to the persons of the royal house. Our earliest documents in regard to this matter belong to the reign of Ptolemy IV, Philopator, and show us an annual "Priest of Ptolemy Soter and of the Father-loving Gods" (i.e. the reigning king and queen). Documents in the Thebaid are dated both by the priesthood of Alexander and the Ptolemaic kings and queens at Alexandria (as documents are all over the kingdom), and by this priesthood at Ptolemais (as documents in other parts are not). Plaumann supposed that this eponymous priesthood at Ptolemais was a new institution of Ptolemy Philopator's, but that there was, quite distinct from it, a city-cult of Ptolemy I, as "Theos Soter" or as "Megistos Theos Soter" (without his proper name), and that this  p107 city-cult went back as far as the lifetime of Ptolemy I. The evidence upon which he built for this distinct city-cult is exceedingly slight, but it seems antecedently probable, or even certain, that Ptolemais must have had from the beginning some cult of its founder. If Rhodes, in the lifetime of Ptolemy I, instituted a cult of him as a Saviour God, his own city of Ptolemais can hardly have been behind. But whether a distinct city-cult of the founder still went on after the institution of the eponymous cult by the king or not, it is naturally the latter as to which our documents furnish information.

The eponymous cult of Ptolemais shows the following successive modifications:

1. Under Ptolemy V, Epiphanes, the eponymous priest is "Priest of Ptolemy Soter and of the God Epiphanes Eucharistus."

2. A (priestess) kanēphoros of Arsinoe Philadelphus is added in or before the twenty-third year of Ptolemy V (183‑182 B.C.).

Under Ptolemy VI, Philometor (as early as 179‑178 B.C.), a "Priest of king Ptolemy and of Cleopatra the Mother" is added to the "priest of Ptolemy Soter and the God Epiphanes Eucharistus" — two priests now, not one.

4. Between 161 and 148 a wholly new system is instituted. Every one of the Ptolemies has now an annual priest of his own. The list begins with Ptolemy I, then comes the reigning king (Philometor), then Ptolemy II, and so on: So‑and‑so being Priest of Ptolemy Soter, So‑and‑so Priest of king Ptolemy the Mother-loving God, So‑and‑so Priest of Ptolemy Philadelphus, etc.; and this system probably went on, with the list growing longer and longer, till the end of the dynasty; but our data fail, because as the list became long, the scribes had not the patience to write it all out in the dating of the documents, but took to writing simply "those being Priests and Priestesses in Ptolemais who were such" (τῶν ὄντων καὶ οὐσῶν).

5. Under Ptolemy VII Euergetes, a new Priest strangely called "Priest of the Golden Throne of King Ptolemy, the Beneficent God, the Great King, their own Eucharistos" is inserted in the third place, after the Priest of the reigning king himself.

6. Priestesses (hiereiai) of Cleopatra I, of Cleopatra II, and of Cleopatra III are successively added to the kanephoros of Arsinoe Philadelphus.

 p108  Before we leave Ptolemais, it is worth notice that one interest of Greek culture, the dramatic, was a living one in this far-away Greek community. As early as the reign of Ptolemy II we find Ptolemais the place where a guild of actors ("artists attached to Dionysos") has its headquarters, under the patronage of the Brother-and‑Sister Gods.59

(d) Memphis

In addition to the three Greek cities we may glance at the old Egyptian capital, where there was a royal palace (possibly the old palace of the Pharaohs still used by the Ptolemies) and royal gardens60 (ὁ βασιλικὸς κῆπος). Memphis, although essentially an Egyptian town, with the great temple of Ptah (whom the Greeks called Hephaistos), had now a more or less cosmopolitan character. Even before the coming of Alexander, there were bodies of Greeks and Carians — mercenaries or the descendants of mercenaries — settled in Memphis under the Egyptian kings. They were called Hellenomemphitae and Caromemphitae, and had probably intermarried with Egyptians. As at Naucratis, a temple-precinct called the Hellenion formed a centre for this Greek or half-Greek community. Under the Ptolemies they formed perhaps a politeuma with a kind of communal self-government and magistrates called timūchoi (though this rests upon a somewhat conjectural interpretation of one document). The different nationalities at Memphis were apparently locally separate in quarters of their own. Beside the Greek and the Carian quarter, Ptolemaic papyri have shown us a Syro-Persian and a Phoenicio-Egyptian quarter.61 An inscription of the 2nd century shows us a politeuma of Idumaean policemen at Memphis, which meets to pass resolution in "the upper temple of Apollo."62 No doubt, all these different peoples had introduced into Memphis the cult of their national gods. In the original Serapeum near Memphis, already described, there was a shrine of the Asiatic goddess Astarte, amongst the complex of buildings within the precinct. Herodotus had already in the 5th century spoken of a cult of Astarte ("the foreign Aphrodite") in Memphis. But Astarte had almost ceased to be foreign, since many centuries  p109 before the Egyptians had adopted her, identifying her with Sekhmet, the daughter of Ptah.

The Author's Notes:

21 Sir Flinders Petrie, Naukratis I (1881), p8.

22 Edgar, Annales, XXII (1922), p6.

23 H. I. Bell, Archiv, VII pp22 ff.

24 Halensis, I ll.91‑97; Partsch, Archiv, VI p47.

25 Caesar, Bell. Alex.

26 Anab. III.1.

27 According to Breccia, probably in the eastern section of the Canopic Street, north-east of the modern Kôm-el‑Dik quarter.

28 Identified with the hillock now called Kôm-el‑Dik.

29 Breccia, Alexandria ad Aegyptum (1914), p68.

30 Preisigke, Archiv, V pp306‑308; Wilcken, Chrest., No. 260.

31 Breccia, Alexandria ad Aegyptum (1914), pp107, 108.

32 That the cult of Demeter established by Ptolemy in Alexandria was a copy of the Eleusinian mysteries seem to have been rightly questioned by Otto, II p265, note 1. This is disproved further by Oxy. XIII No. 1612 — a rhetorical fragment in which the composer (apparently writing in Alexandria) gives the Eleusinian mysteries as the instance of a cult which it would be impious to celebrate anywhere but in Attica. All that the Scholiast on Callimachus, Hymn 6, asserts is that Ptolemy copied certain features of Attic ritual, such as carrying the kalathos in procession. See Deubner, Sitzungsb. d. Heidelberger Akad. d. Wiss. for 191, Abhandlung 17, p10.

33 Lumbroso, Archiv, V p400.

34 In Flacc., § 78.

35 Chrest., No. 25. It does not, of course, follow, even if we take the document as applying to Alexandria, that the number of tribes and demes continued all through the Ptolemaic period to be precisely five and sixty respectively.

36 F. H. G. III p164, Fragment 21.

37 Westermann, Vit. script. graec. min. p50.

38 See p120, note 2.

39 For tribes and demes at Alexandria and Ptolemais, see Kenyon, Archiv, II pp70 ff.; Breccia, Bull. de la Soc. Archéol. d'Alex., No. 10 (1908), pp169 ff.; Schubart, Archiv, V pp82 ff.

40 Two men who are apparently Jews, because their legal transactions are drawn before the "archeion (bureau) of the Jews," describe themselves as "Macedonians" (B. G. U., No. 1151. Cf. No. 1132).

41 This seems to be the meaning of πολιτικόν in this passage. A difficulty has been felt in what is apparently a term of praise being applied to the native population. R. Kunze has suggested πολύδικον, "litigious," as an emendation, and this is accepted by Lumbroso. But the later sentence ουδ’ αὐτὸ εὐκρινῶς πολιτικόν implies that the word πολιτικόν has been used already. The contrast in the passage is between military violence and turbulence on the one hand, and conduct belonging to orderly civil life on the other. The Egyptians at Alexandria might be rogues and cheats, but they did not violate the order of the city; they were "civil" rogues, with the qualities and defects of the town gamin.

42 Klio (1910), pp41 f.

43 So Mitteis, Grundzüge, II p27. Koschaker in Zeitsch. d. Savigny-Stiftung, XXVIII (1907), pp254 ff., an article dealing at length with the archidikastes of Roman Egypt.

44 Archiv, V pp61‑70.

45 B. G. U., vol. IV, No. 1098.

46 OGI 136.

47 I question whether Bouché-Leclercq's translation, "représente les traditions nationales," is possible.

48 That the exegetes was also ex‑officio Curator (epistates) of the Museum, as Mommsen held, seems not supported by any sufficient evidence. A particular individual might combine both offices, like Chrysermus under Ptolemy III (OGI 104).

49 Archiv, III p135.

50 Wilcken, "Zum alexandrinischen Antisemitismus," Abh. der sächs. Ges. d. Wiss., phil.-hist. Kl. XXVII (1909).

51 τὰ ἐξ αἰῶνος αὐτῆς δίκαια (OGI No. 669, line 62). For the extent of the Ἀλεξανδρέων χώρα, see Pseudo-Callisthenes, I.31.

52 HalensisI.

53 Revenue Laws, col. 60, 61.

54 For Ptolemais generally, see Plaumann's monograph, Ptolemais in Oberägypten (Leipzig, 1910).

55 OGI No. 49.

56 Klio, X (1910), p54.

57 OGI Nos. 51 and 728.

58 Plaumann, p35.

59 Strack, 35.

60 P. S. I. 488.

61 Wilcken, Grundzüge, pp18, 19; Chrest. 30; Archiv, VI pp397 f.

62 OGI II.737.

Thayer's Notes:

a This is pure conjecture, and probably not very good conjecture at that. There was almost certainly not enough wood in all of Egypt to keep the lighthouse beam going every night, and the logistics of feeding such a flame with it, a hundred meters in the air, would have been horrendous. The fuel by which the light was produced is unknown, and modern theories abound.

b XVII.1.16.

c XVII.52.6.

d XXXIV.14.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 8 Feb 13