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Ptolemaic Egypt Notes

Classics Notes > The Hellenistic World: societies and cultures 300 BC to 100 BC Notes

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Is it useful of 'mixed culture' when considering Ptolemaic Egypt?
Ptolemaic Egypt, unlike for example Antigonid Macedonia, was a mixture of different ethnic groups; the native Egyptians were by far the biggest ethnic group, but after the conquest of the country by Alexander the Greco-Macedonian population began to steadily grow throughout the dynasty of the Ptolemies. It is interesting to consider how far these two cultures mixed or by what means they stayed separate. It certainly seems that, at least during the initial generations, that Greek culture was maintained as separate from Egyptian culture by promoting the political and cultural institutions unique to the former. There would have certainly been a mixing of races which blurred this distinction socially but in terms of recognisable manifestations of culture there seems to have been no extensive mixing of the two. The main centres for Greek culture in Ptolemaic Egypt were the three cities of Naucratis, which pre-dated Alexander's conquest, Alexandria on the Nile delta and Ptolemais in Upper Egypt. Greco-Macedonian settlers would also have spread throughout the countryside, particularly after Ptolemy Soter gave allotments of land throughout Egypt to his demobilised soldiers; this accounts for the existence of smaller Greek settlements such as Philadelphia which, like the much larger principal cities, preserved Greek culture in the institutions which were founded there. Egypt had a thriving civic culture before the arrival of the Macedonian forces, centred on cities such as Memphis and Thebes, but in many cases the Greeks did not augment existing Egyptian civic institutions and structures they simply created their own, in which their Greek values could thrive separately and exclusively from the local population. This is particularly the case at the newly founded Alexandria, which became the capital after Ptolemy moved the body of Alexander there from Thebes; an act typical of the preference for Greek culture over the native Egyptian traditions. It is certainly important that Ptolemy say the need to move the capital away from the more central regions of Egypt were it always had been to the Nile Delta where it would be in close contact with the Mediterranean and the rest of the Greek world; Ptolemy wanted to open up the country to Greek immigration and establish Alexandria as a powerful cultural and economic centre in the newly forming Hellenistic world. The institutions of Alexandria, both political and cultural, were heavily biased in favour of the Greco-Macedonian population and it is almost certainly right that we cannot talk of a mixed culture when referring to this city. Politically the Greeks dominated;

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