Land and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Structure of Land Tenure

Land and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Structure of Land Tenure

Land and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Structure of Land Tenure

Land and Power in Ptolemaic Egypt: The Structure of Land Tenure

Synopsis

By revealing the dynamics between central and local power in Egypt, Joe Manning demonstrates that Ptolemaic economic power ultimately shaped Roman Egyptian social and economic institutions. His book offers a framework for understanding the structure of the Ptolemaic state and economy, as well as the relationship between the new Ptolemaic economic institutions and the ancient Egyptian legal traditions of property rights. Historians of Egypt and the Hellenistic world will welcome the volume.

Excerpt

This book has its origins in a time and place far from where I am now sitting. Yet despite those distances, these origins seem very close in my memory. My interest in demotic papyri was fired when, as a young high school student, I visited the office of Professor George Hughes at the Oriental Institute in Chicago. It was a “Members’ Day,” a time when faculty opened their offices to the public. I entered the interesting-looking office of Professor Hughes, a warm and kind man as I quickly discovered, who showed such exuberance for his work. He took me over to a table where a demotic papyrus was laid out, and he explained that it was a house sale contract dating from the Ptolemaic period from a place called Hawara, and he began to translate the document. I was hooked for life on demotic legal papyri.

It has often been a criticism of the documentary papyri that the texts proffer only local or, more biting, merely parochial evidence. Perhaps true. But history is a composite of local histories, and in the new regime of the Ptolemies, local village-based social networks continued to be a factor in, and at times a focus of resistance against, the new economic realities of the Hellenistic world. For Greek-based Classical historians, the history of the Hellenistic world has been the study of the triumph of Greeks and Greek culture in the “East.” For Egyptologists and demotists who focus on the language of Egypt at the time, the continuity of Egyptian culture is stressed. The demotic texts often, it seems, reveal a different world than the Greek papyri, more remote in time and place from the center of history, but this apparent difference can be misleading. The use of documents from Hellenistic Egypt requires more subtlety, and at the same time a broader context in which to understand them.

The supremacy of the text, establishing new text editions and improving old ones, has been the mainstay of both Egyptology and papyrology, the science upon which most historical studies have been based for Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. And up until very recently the fields of Greek and demotic papyrology have intersected only tangentially. The larger fields of Classics . . .

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