Ancient Alexandria between Egypt and Greece

Ancient Alexandria between Egypt and Greece

Ancient Alexandria between Egypt and Greece

Ancient Alexandria between Egypt and Greece


As one of the greatest cities of antiquity, Alexandria has always been a severe challenge to its historians, all the more so because the surviving evidence, material and textual, is so disparate. New archaeological and literary discoveries and the startling diversity of ancient Alexandria (so reminiscent of some modern cities) add to the interest. The present volume contains the papers given at a conference at Columbia University in 2002 which attempted to lay some of the foundations for a new history of Alexandria by considering, in particular, its position between the traditions and life of Egypt on the one hand, and on the other the immigrants who came there from Greece and elsewhere in the wake of the founder Alexander of Macedon.


We publish here a collection of papers, cutting across a number of scholarly disciplines, concerning what may be considered the most elusive of the great cities of Mediterranean antiquity. In their original forms, the papers were almost all written for a conference entitled Alexandria between Egypt and Greece which was organized by the Center for the Ancient Mediterranean at Columbia on October 11th and 12th, 2002.

Scholars and students came to the conference for a variety of reasons. There is always something fresh to learn about ancient Alexandria, and recent excavations have provided ample new material for discussion. The city was always cosmopolitan, or more precisely heterogeneous—though that can of course be said about many cities and towns in the ancient world—which gives it a special interest in a world in which heterogeneous cities constantly multiply. It is probably also true that Alexandria is too little attended to by those who study the ancient world in the United States, and that added to our wish to have it more talked about in an open academic forum.

But what most impelled the senior of the two editors of this volume forward while he was putting the conference together was the hope that by bringing some leading Alexandrian scholars together, the Center for the Ancient Mediterranean could move us a step further towards the construction of a mature multi-faceted urban history of the second-largest city of classical antiquity. Having seen at close quarters the difficulties of writing a good history of the city of Rome (see Journal of Roman Archaeology 8 (1995), 365–75: 368), he was not in an optimistic frame of mind in this respect. This volume certainly does not claim to be that mature urban history. That would require a much more disciplined and a longer-term project, whether it was the work of one person or several.

We are convinced, however, that such a history will have to bring together all the themes broached by the contributors to this volume (as well as many others). It is obvious that it will have to include some up-to-date demography (see Scheidel). A central theme will be the relations between the Greek and the Egyptian cultural worlds as they evolved at Alexandria (see Baines, Bonacasa), and also the relations . . .

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