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Bill Thayer

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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.
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Chapter I

 p. vii  PREFACE

Since the issue of Mahaffy's History of Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty twelve years ago, research and study have gone steadily on, and new material (papyri and inscriptions) have been brought to light. Mahaffy's volume no longer in 1927 suffices to inform an English reader what is known, or believed, about Ptolemaic Egypt by those who speak with authority in this field of studies. It appeared, therefore, to Messrs. Methuen that vol. IV in Sir Flinders Petrie's History of Egypt should be revised or re‑written so as to correspond more nearly with the present state of knowledge, and Dr. Mahaffy being no longer here to remodel his own work, they placed the volume in my hands, asking me either to modify and expand it, or write another volume to replace it in the series. It was almost immediately evident to me that to insert bits of my own writing into a book by Mahaffy was out of the question. Mahaffy's style is so fresh and personal that it would be like trying to insert into a living body new pieces of something different which it could not assimilate. There was no possible course but to write the whole story over again in my own way, bringing in occasionally phrases and paragraphs from Mahaffy's book, where they seemed appropriate; these I have put between inverted commas and distinguished by an M. One advantage of this course was that my new volume would so avoid any appearance of thrusting Mahaffy's aside. Mahaffy's work will still retain its individual value for students of Ptolemaic history. If  p. viii its statements and speculations may often have to be rejected in the light of more recent knowledge, the comments of his vigorous and realistic mind on the story, the living mode of presentation, will still probably twelve years hence make it worth while for students to turn back to Mahaffy's History, when my volume, issued in 1927, will be as out of date as Mahaffy's is to‑day. In the course of my book I have thought it right to note points on which Mahaffy seems definitely mistaken. That might give some readers the impression of a desire in the writer of the present volume to catch his predecessor out, which is far from my thoughts. If I oftener refer to Mahaffy's work to correct it than to express my obligations to it, that is only because a reader may be trusted to learn for himself from Mahaffy where he is right, and has need to be cautioned only where further inquiry has shown Mahaffy to have been wrong. No one who works in this field can help feeling how much all scholars must owe to‑day to the stimulus which a generation ago was given to the study of the Hellenistic age by Mahaffy's vivid intelligence and large discursive erudition.

To‑day those who are drawn to Ptolemaic Egypt may take as the foundation of their studies the great work of Bouché-Leclercq, the Histoire des Lagides, in four volumes (1903 to 1906), supplemented in some points by his later Histoire des Séleucides (1913‑14). Bouché-Leclercq gives us an indispensable summary of the results of research concerning the two great Hellenistic kingdoms up to the date at which he wrote, illuminated by his own fine critical judgment, and as a man of letters who inherits the tradition of French historical prose, he tells the story in a way which makes it a delight, and not a weariness, to read him. For the special department of the papyri, and the knowledge they give us of life and government in Egypt under the Ptolemies, students  p. ix have as their fundamental text-book the Grundzüge und Chrestomathie of Wilcken and Mitteis — the first volume, by Wilcken, giving a general exposition of papyrology and an account of the Ptolemaic system of government, the second volume by Mitteis dealing with law and justice. Ulrich Wilcken, one of the great scholars whom Germany has given the world in this generation, speaks with an authority which few other men possess, in anything which has to be with papyrological studies. The edition of the Ptolemaic papyri, chronologically arranged, which he is now bringing out, volume by volume (Urkunder der Ptolemäerzeit), embodies the results of a lifetime devoted to this special field. For questions of chronology the book by Max. L. Strack, Die Dynastie der Ptolemäer (1897), puts the data together so far as they were known twenty-nine years ago, and reference to this book is still essential in any further discussions of Ptolemaic chronology. Strack was one of the European scholars killed in the Great War. All the more important Greek inscriptions of Ptolemaic Egypt known twenty-one years ago were collected in Dittenberger's Orientis Graecae Inscriptiones. One of the most generally useful contributions to papyrological studies made in recent years is Schubart's Einführung in die Papyruskunde (1918); his Geschichte Ägyptens von Alexander bis Mohammed (1922) gives a readable and graphic account for the general public, without references or notes. No attempt could be made here to give a list of all the other living scholars who have edited new-found papyri or elucidated particular questions connected with Ptolemaic Egypt; those who desire a complete survey of papyrological literature may consult the bibliographies in the Grundzüge or in Schubart's Einführung, and supplement them, for more recent publications, by the surveys which Mr. H. I. Bell contributes to the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. One  p. x may only notice that there is a very active school of papyrological studies in Italy with which the names of many young scholars of distinction are connected, whilst Italy has only just lost the veteran Giacomo Lumbroso, whose book, Recherches sur l'économie politique de l'Egypte sous les Lagides, was published as long ago as 1870; that Russia is represented by a scholar of very great eminence, Michael Rostovtzeff, an exile from his country, because for men of this kind Bolshevik Russia offers no possible home; that America is worthily represented by the editor of the Zeno Papyri, C. C. Edgar; and that, finally, England has made a contribution second to none in the extensive editions of papyri by Sir Frederick Kenyon, B. P. Grenfell, S. Hunt, J. G. Smyly, and H. I. Bell.

One point — the attaching of numbers to the later Ptolemies — it may be as well to speak of here. The ancients did not habitually describe kings of the same name in a dynasty by numbers as we do — Edward the Seventh, etc. The Roman numerals attached to the different Ptolemies are a device of modern scholars, and it will be found that my numbering is not the same as Mahaffy's. A supposed elder brother of Ptolemy Philometor Mahaffy called Ptolemy VI, and the son of Ptolemy Philometor he called Ptolemy VIII. But the place in the dynasty of the two boy-kings who never really reigned, Ptolemy Eupator and Philopator Neos, has been very much debated; and I agree with Bouché-Leclercq that it is much the best plan to leave them out in the numbering, and go back to the old system which made Philometor Ptolemy VI, and Euergetes II Ptolemy VII. This also incidentally agrees with the ancient reckoning; for though the Greeks did not habitually designate Euergetes II as "the Seventh," Greek writers do sometimes refer to him as the seventh of the Ptolemies (Strabo, XVII p795; Athenaeus, IV.184B; V.252E; XII.549D).

 p. xi  It only remains for me to express my obligation to those who have helped me, and, in the first place, to the general editor of this History of Egypt, Sir Flinders Petrie, for the fullness with which he has given me light on points regarding which I consulted him, and the care with which he read through a rather untidy MS. The suggestions and criticisms which he made will be traceable in various footnotes. Sir Flinders Petrie has given, in writings to which reference will be made, very valuable accounts of the organization of government and society in Pharaonic Egypt. To examine in detail how far the Ptolemaic system corresponded with the older Pharaonic system, and again, where correspondences are evident, to determine how far these were due to borrowing, and how far due to the necessities of life in Egypt, or of despotic government, independently creating similar forms, would be an inquiry outside the range of this small volume. It will be enough here to refer those who desire to pursue it to Sir Flinders Petrie's authoritative exposition of the customs and institutions of Egypt in Pharaonic days. The story of Egypt through the thousands of years during which it carried on its distinctive culture under native kings, and of its later struggles for independence, ultimately vain, against the power of Persia, Sir Flinders Petrie has told in the three previous volumes of this series. My volume takes up the story at the point when the Persian gave way to the Macedonian, and carries it up to the point where the Macedonian gave way to Rome. On certain points regarding hieroglyphic inscriptions I received valuable help from Mr. S. R. K. Glanville, whom I consulted during Sir Flinders Petrie's absence abroad. To Mr. H. I. Bell I owe thanks for lending me various recent publications not yet to be had in the British Museum Reading-Room. I am especially grateful to Mr. G. F. Hill for not only advising me in regard  p. xii to the coins, but having fresh plaster casts made for me of some coins for better photographic reproduction. Finally, I ought not to omit thanks to my daughter for her help in the preparation of the Index.

E. B.

May 1927

[image ALT: An engraving of one side of a much damaged coin, depicting a 2‑story tower, each story tapering slightly and the second much smaller. The building is decorated with large circular bosses; from the base of the second story two oversized gargoyles project that may represent mermaids; the whole is surmounted by a statue of a standing person with one arm raised and other holding a disk-shaped object. At the base of the tower there is a single door, off center, with a ramp or staircase leading to it. On either side of the building the coin figures the initials L and H. It is the reverse of a coin of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and appears to depict the Lighthouse of Alexandria.]

Pharos at Alexandria
Enlarged drawing from the reverse of Alexandrian bronze coin
issued in the year 8 of the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus —
[from T. L. Donaldson's Architectura Numismatica, 345]

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Page updated: 9 Oct 12