The appreciation amongst the international host of scholars of ancient Alexandria as a field of research has been growing these recent years and one can even suggest that it has been accelerating within the past three decades or more. The continued interest is manifested in increased knowledge of the material culture of Ptolemaic and Roman Alexandria, and the increase in the publication rate of papyri manuscripts and other evidence from Egypt continues to fuel scholarly debate. Moreover, the growing interest among scholars of the humanities worldwide in the mental aspects of past societies invites to develop the tenets of cultural history, language and religion within the wider frame of ancient Alexandria.
This project was conceived in 2002 as part of the continued discussion and charting of the current and future activities of Centre for the Study of Mediterranean Antiquity. The Centre board agreed to the simple observation that most of the partakers of the Centre were all somehow researching aspects of Egypt’s culture, history, or religions of the Graeco-Roman period. Further pondering suggested that this rather board scope should be narrowed down to just “Alexandria,” in particular those aspects of the Alexandrine past, which encompassed the aforementioned aspects of cultural history, history and religion. Thus, although previous research projects have successfully navigated the difficult waters of interdisciplinary research much reward was to be expected from the insistence upon the combination of a wide thematic scope examined within the confines of the wide chronological spectrum. Consequently, as several contributions demonstrate and observe, the Alexandrine past is notoriously marked by meeting of cultures and frequent and rapid development, which is quite difficult to grasp in its totality if the longer perspective is ignored. Additionally, the long-held insistence of the “fact” that Alexandria represented a world totally different from the parallel cultural and political construct of traditional Egyptian culture is also being challenged. And so are different aspects of the religious and philosophical milieus, which developed almost from the foundation of the city to Late Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages.
As the title of this volume suggests, throughout the entire span of Graeco-Roman antiquity Alexandria represented a meeting place for many ethnic cultures and the city itself was subject to a wide range of local developments, which created and formatted a distinct Alexandrine “culture” as well as several distinct “cultures”. Ancient Greek, Roman and Jewish observers communicated or held claim to that particular message. Hence, Arrian, Theocritus, Strabo, and Athenaeus reported their fascination of the Alexandrine melting pot to the wider world and so did Philo, Josephus and Clement.