Ptolemaic Legitimacy

Empires amaze me.  The Roman Empire has always been my favorite to study.  I see several parallels between the way that Rome built empire in its own country, as well as in Egypt.  One method for controlling a large empire is to create yourself in the image of god.  For example, in the Roman Empire, Constantine made huge statues of himself.  Through these statues he became larger than life.  He became God-like.

When the Ptolemaic Empire takes control of Egypt, they go through some very similar steps.  They make themselves Gods by tracing their bloodline back to Zeus and they marry each other so as not to spread their divinity out.  They also adopt Egyptian Gods and make them Grecco/Roman.  This speaks to, not only the Egyptians (look, we are worshiping your Gods) but also to their own people (look, we still worship our Gods).  By adding a beard to Osiris, they were able to portray him as both Egyptian and Grecco/Roman.  By accepting the local gods, the Ptolemaic rulers became more than just the conquering rulers, they became Pharaoh, king and God.

The other step they took to ensure control was to allow Egyptians to hold offices of power in the local governments.  The culture of Greece really only prevailed in Alexandria and the nearby Faiyum region.  The rest of Egypt was very much still Egyptian and was ruled on a local level by Egyptians.  This left the people with a general feeling of satisfaction.  They still had a role to play and a voice in the rule of their country.  I am sure this helped the Ptolemaic rulers to stay in power and delegate to someone who would be respected on a local level.

My favorite part of the Ptolemaic rule of Egypt is the information.  In Alexandria, at the Mouseion, they worked to understand the intellectual capital of Egypt and Greece and to synthesize it together with current understanding of these subjects.  They studied science, medicine, geography, mathematics, engineering, philosophy and literature.  They also translated works like the Septuagint, adding to our understanding and memory.  The Rosetta Stone also came from this time, acting as a key stone to help us translate pieces of Egyptian text to this day.

~Cristina M. Cao

2 thoughts on “Ptolemaic Legitimacy

  1. I am also interested in the rule and governing of empires. I have studied them a bit and it seems to me that all the successful ones, the ones that stay in power at least, are the ones where the rulers do not try to change the basic beliefs of the people. I don’t think that the average person really cares who rules them, one king is much the same as the other to a peasant after all, and you really only run into trouble when you try to change their lives. As long as you don’t mess with basic things, such as people’s religion, you shouldn’t have to much trouble staying in power at least where the common folk are involved.

    When it comes to the ruling elite I think that there are a couple things you can do to make sure you remain in power. I think that they were smart to put Egyptians in control of most things because this took away some of the resentment of being controlled by a foreign power. I wonder how much control the Egyptians really had though. I find it hard to believe that they would allow Egyptians to have enough power that they could feasibly over throw them at some point. I just wonder how much was real trust and how much was all for show.

    I think that it was very smart of the Ptolemaic rulers to insert themselves into the religion of the region as their way of legitimizing their rule. The pharaohs had historically been seen as part god, or at least divine in some way, and this was part of the reason that people did not question their rule. It is hard to argue with a politician who is also your god. Cleopatra comes to my mind as a great example of how a pharaoh made herself into a deity. She represented herself as Isis reincarnated and this created a bond with the people of Egypt. She was not only a queen to them but also a religious icon. She was also the last great pharaoh of Egypt by many standards.

  2. I find it interesting the ways in which rulers tried to bring the people of a region to like them, kind of like campaigning for an office that they have already won. Like you said, religion was a major difference between the Greeks and the native Egyptians, and the Greeks cleverly adopted new Egyptian religious practices into their own culture, while also keeping with their traditional deities. This would have made the Egyptians feel respected instead of invaded and terrorized, and much more likely to cooperate. By keeping the Egyptians in charge of their local government, Greek presence was not too heavy handed, and no resentment would form, unlike the Hyksos who slowly took more and more control away from the Egyptians. However, after the death of Alexander, Ptolemy instilled an all Greek occupied government, making Greeks the governing elite amongst the Egyptian state. I wonder if there was an increase in any resentment or anti-Greek feelings? Perhaps by this time the Egyptians had accepted the rule of the Greeks, no matter how intensive their control over their region was. Many Egyptians saw the Greeks as liberators, and perhaps being ruled over by the Greeks was ultimately a better solution than being under the Persians.

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