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.