Greek and Roman Influences

What interested me the most in the readings for this week were the differing approaches by the conquering Macedonians and Romans.  After King Alexander had taken over Memphis in Egypt, he founded the great city of Alexandria.  Under his rule, Governor Ptolemy, who later became King Ptolemy I set up his Ptolemaic kingdom.  This kingdom became the most powerful of Alexander’s empire of three kingdoms.  Ptolemy I founded a great library, which not only consisted of collected Greek works, but also of papyri in Egyptian.  Many Egyptian documents were also translated into Greek  Even though Alexandria’s dominant culture was Greek, the works of the Egyptians were still treasured and thought of as important.  The Ptolomies also even learned about the Egyptian gods and even adopted some of the local gods. However, the worship of Egyptian cults helped justify their dominance.

While the Ptolemies had much more in contact with Egypt, it was surprising to me that the Roman emperors never set foot in Egypt.  They had a well set up bureaucracy that was ruled by a governor.  The country was greatly exploited by the Romans.   Egyptians were expected to pay an annual poll tax and the country had a substantial military presence to enforce the tax laws and to prevent rebellions and to ensure Roman protection.  Even as early as the 1st century AD, the Romans persecuted the Jews for not sharing their polytheistic views, and later attacked Christians.  It’s interesting to me how poorly Jews and Christians were treated as the Roman Empire began expanding.  And then later in the 3rd century AD, Constantine made Christianity the official religion and every previous persecuted monotheistic believer seemed to be forgotten as the empire still rose in power. It boggles me how in a relatively short amount of time, under the influence of one leader, the belief system of a state can change and be accepted so quickly.

2 thoughts on “Greek and Roman Influences

  1. The differences between the actions of the Romans and Greeks are I think at least in part due to the ways in which they visualized Egypt and themselves in relation to Egypt. For the Greeks, Egypt was a fellow enemy of the Persians, and an ally. As you explain, the Greeks assimilate with the Egyptians, and must have, at least to some extent, seen themselves as Egyptians, or at least the continuation of Egyptian society. The Romans on the other hand saw Egypt as more of a conquest or a colony of Rome. This can be seen in the differences between classes of citizens, as well as in the military presence of the Roman Empire that you mention. The large number of rebellions during Roman rule and occupation of Egypt are also evidence of the unrest the average citizen felt. It is interesting though that even through all this the Egyptian culture still exists and holds substantial influence and power, in Egypt as well as abroad.

    I like the way you talk about Constantine declaring Christianity to be the official religion and how this changed the culture and belief systems of the state. I don’t think it’s a unique thing though. The same thing happened more or less with Akhnaten, as well as with the Ptolemy and the triad of Serapis, Isis and Hepocrates. I think part of the reason Christianity gained so much ground so quickly though was because of the Roman persecution and Greek acceptance. While the Egyptians were influencing the Greeks, the Greeks were also influencing the Egyptians, so the ways in which the Greeks and the Romans related to the Egyptians may have had something to do with the way in which Egypt accepted Christianity.

  2. My post for this week was commenting on the formation of Alexandria as a result of Alexander the Great’s triumphs through the Persians and into Egypt. The information that you have presented about the papyri that was kept in Alexandria is quite important. Many of these papyri were on subjects such as medicine and medical practices. They were most likely revered for their practical applications in everyday life of ancient Egypt. However, I would find it difficult, if for instance I was in the position of King Ptolemy I, to protect these documents from any harm that may come from enemy attacks. We have already seen throughout the course of this class that the Egyptians did an excellent job in preserving their culture in writings, but we never discussed the information that was truly lost over time. I would imagine some important facts about the reign of King Ptolemy I would have been lost since the timeframe we are in consisted of battles between neighboring countries. To address your topic on the change in religion, I find that given the lack of a democratic society, the change to a completely Christian based society would have been possible although difficult to maintain. Since there was such a strong military though, there were probably massacres to the people who would not succumb to the religious change.

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