The Ptolomies Alexandria and Rome

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

Πτολεμαϊκὴ βασιλεία - Ptolemaïkḕ Basileía (The Ptolemaic Kingdom), was a Hellenistic kingdom based in Egypt.
It was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty which started with Ptolemy I Soter's accession, after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, and which ended with the death of Cleopatra VII, and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.
The Ptolemaic Kingdom was founded in 305 BC by Ptolemy I Soter, who declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt and created a powerful Hellenistic dynasty that ruled an area stretching from southern Syria to Cyrene and south to Nubia.
Alexandria became the capital city and a major center of Greek culture and trade.

The Pharos Lighthouse and Harbour - Alexandria
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great, King of Macedon invaded the Achaemenid satrapy of Egypt. He visited Memphis, and traveled to the oracle of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa. The oracle declared him to be the son of Amun. He conciliated the Egyptians by the respect he showed for their religion, but he appointed Macedonians to virtually all the senior posts in the country, and founded a new Greek city, Alexandria, to be the new capital. The wealth of Egypt could now be harnessed for Alexander's conquest of the rest of the Persian Empire. Early in 331 BC he was ready to depart, and led his forces away to Phoenicia. 

Alexandria was founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great. According to Plutarch, the Alexandrians believed that Alexander the Great's motivation to build the city was his wish to "found a large and populous Greek city that should bear his name." Located 20 miles (32 km) west of the Nile's westernmost mouth, the city was immune to the silt deposits that persistently choked harbors along the river. 
Alexandria - Agora
Alexandria became the capital of the Hellenized Egypt.Laid out on a grid pattern, Alexandria occupied a stretch of land between the sea to the north and Lake Mareotis to the south; a man-made causeway, over three-quarters of a mile long, extended north to the sheltering island of Pharos, thus forming a double harbor, east and west. On the east was the main harbor, called the Great Harbor; it faced the city's chief buildings, including the royal palace and the famous Library and Museum. At the Great Harbor's mouth, on an outcropping of Pharos, stood the lighthouse, built c. 280 BC. Now vanished, the lighthouse was reckoned as one of the Seven Wonders of the World for its unsurpassed height (perhaps 460 feet); it was a square, fenestrated tower, topped with a metal fire basket and a statue of Zeus the Savior.
The Library - Alexandria
The Library, at that time the largest in the world, contained several hundred thousand volumes, and housed and employed scholars and poets. A similar scholarly complex was the Museum (Mouseion, "hall of the Muses"). During Alexandria's literary golden period, c. 280–240 BC, the Library subsidized three poets—Callimachus, Apollonius, and Theocritus - whose work now represents the best of Hellenistic literature. Among other thinkers associated with the Library or other Alexandrian patronage were the mathematician Euclid (ca. 300 BC), the inventor Archimedes (287 BC – c. 212 BC), and the polymath Eratosthenes (ca. 225 BC).[16]
Cosmopolitan and flourishing, Alexandria possessed a varied population of Greeks, Egyptians and other Oriental peoples, including a sizable minority of Jews, who had their own city quarter. Periodic conflicts occurred between Jews and ethnic Greeks. 
The city enjoyed a calm political history under the Ptolemies. It passed, with the rest of Egypt, into Roman hands in 30 BC, and became the second city of the Roman Empire.

To gain recognition by the native Egyptian populace, the Ptolemies named themselves the successors to the Pharaohs.
The later Ptolemies took on Egyptian traditions by marrying their siblings, had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participated in Egyptian religious life.
The Ptolemies had to fight native rebellions, and were involved in foreign and civil wars that led to the decline of the kingdom, and its final annexation by Rome.


Augustus as  Pharaoh of Egypt
Roman Temple of Dendur
The Roman province of Egypt (Aegyptus) was established in 30 BC after Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) defeated his rival Mark Antony, deposed his lover Queen Cleopatra VII and annexed the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt to the Roman Empire. The province encompassed most of modern-day Egypt except for the Sinai Peninsula (which would later be conquered by Trajan). As a province, Egypt was ruled by a uniquely styled 'Augustal Prefect', instead of the traditional senatorial governor of other Roman provinces. The Prefect was a man of equestrian rank, and was appointed by the Emperor. In effect, therefore, Egypt became the personal property of the Princeps (Emperor) - and subsequently his successors - providing much of the wealth of the Imperial treasury. The Roman Emperors continued most of the organizational policies of the Ptolemies - and also, like the Ptolemies, styled themselves as Pharaoh, and continued to build and endow temples in the Ptolemaic (Egyptian) style (see above - and the Kiosk of Hadrian - below).
Hellenistic culture continued to thrive in Egypt throughout the Roman period.

The Ptolemaic dynasty (Πτολεμαῖοι, Ptolemaioi), sometimes also known as the Lagids (Λαγίδαι, Lagidai, after Lagus, Ptolemy I's father), was a Macedonian Greek royal family.Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC. They were the last dynasty of ancient Egypt.
Ptolemy, one of the seven 'somatophylakes' (bodyguards), who served as Alexander the Great's generals and deputies, was appointed 'satrap' (governor) of Egypt after Alexander's death in 323 BC. In 305 BC, he declared himself King Ptolemy I, later known as "Soter" (Saviour). The Egyptians soon accepted the Ptolemies as the successors to the pharaohs of independent an Egypt. Ptolemy's family ruled Egypt until the Roman conquest of 30 BC.
All the male rulers of the dynasty took the name Ptolemy. Ptolemaic queens, some of whom were the sisters of their husbands, were usually called Cleopatra, Arsinoe or Berenice. The most famous member of the line was the last queen, Cleopatra VII, known for her role in the Roman political battles between Julius Caesar and Pompey, and later between Octavian and Mark Antony. Her apparent suicide at the conquest by Rome marked the end of Ptolemaic rule in Egypt.

When Ptolemy I Soter made himself king of Egypt, he created a new god, 'Serapis', which was a combination of two Egyptian gods: Apis and Osiris, plus the main Greek gods: Zeus, Hades, Asklepios, Dionysios, and Helios.

Serapis had powers over fertility, the sun, corn, funerary rites, and medicine.
Many people started to worship this god.
In the time of the Ptolemies, the cult of Serapis included the worship of the new Ptolemaic line of pharaohs.
Alexandria supplanted Memphis as the preeminent religious city.
The Cult of Σέραπις Serapis was introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I (Soter) of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography from a great many cults, signifying both abundance and resurrection.
The Serapeum - Alexandria.
A serapeum (Greek serapeion) was any temple or religious precinct devoted to Serapis. The cultus of Serapis was spread as a matter of deliberate policy by the Ptolemaic kings, who also built an immense Serapeum in Alexandria. Serapis continued to increase in popularity during the Roman period, often replacing Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt. Serapis was among the international deities whose cult was received and disseminated throughout the Roman Empire, with Anubis sometimes identified with Cerberus. At Rome, Serapis was worshiped in the Iseum Campense, the sanctuary of Isis built during the Second Triumvirate in the Campus Martius. The Roman cults of Isis and Serapis gained in popularity late in the 1st century when Vespasian experienced events he attributed to their miraculous agency while he was in Alexandria, where he stayed before returning to Rome as emperor in 70. From the Flavian Dynasty on, Serapis was one of the deities who might appear on imperial coinage with the reigning emperor.
The wife of Ptolemy II, Arsinoe II was often depicted in the form of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, but she wore the crown of lower Egypt, with ram's horns, ostrich feathers, and other traditional Egyptian indicators of royalty and/or deity.
She wore the vulture headdress only on the religious portion of a relief.
Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolemaic line, was often depicted with characteristics of the goddess Isis.
She often had either a small throne as her headdress or the more traditional sun disk between two horns.
The traditional table for offerings disappeared from reliefs during the Ptolemaic period. Male gods were no longer portrayed with tails in attempt to make them more human-like.
The wealthy and connected of Egyptian society seemed to put more stock in magical stela during the Ptolemaic period.
These were religious objects produced for private individuals, something uncommon in earlier Egyptian times.


Ptolemaic art was strongly influenced by both the art of Ancient Egypt, and Hellenistic art.
Ptolemaic art was created during an age characterized by a strong sense of history.
For the first time, there were museums and great libraries, such as those at Alexandria and Pergamon. 
Hellenistic artists copied and adapted earlier styles, and also made great innovations.
Representations of Greek and Egyptian gods took on new forms.
The popular image of a nude Aphrodite, for example, reflects the increased secularization of traditional religion.

Also prominent in Hellenistic art are representations of the god Dionysus (the god much favored by Mark Antony), the god of wine and legendary conqueror of the East, as well as those of Hermes, the god of commerce.
In strikingly tender depictions, Eros, the Greek personification of love, is portrayed as a young child.
Most of the Ptolemaic magical stele were connected with matters of health.
They were commonly of limestone; the Greeks tended to use marble or bronze for private sculpture.
The most striking change in depiction of figures is the range from idealizing to nearly grotesque realism in portrayal of men.
Previously Egyptian depictions tended toward the idealistic but formal, with little attempt at a true likeness.
Similarly, likeness was still not the goal of art under the Ptolemies.
The influence of Greek sculpture under the Ptolemies was shown in its emphasis on the face more than in the past.

'Tousled Hair'
Smiles suddenly appear, and toward the end of the Ptolemaic period, the headdress sometimes gives way to tousled hair.
One significant change in Ptolemaic art is the sudden re-appearance of women, who had been absent since about the Twenty-sixth Dynasty.
Some of this must have been due to the importance of women, such as the series of Cleopatras, who acted as co-regents, or sometimes occupied the throne by themselves.
Although women were present in artwork, they were shown less realistically than men in the this era.
Even with the Greek influence on art, the notion of the individual portrait still had not supplanted
Egyptian artistic norms during the Ptolemaic Dynasty.
Ways of presenting text on columns and reliefs became formal and rigid during the Ptolemaic Dynasty.


In addition to the 'minor arts', the Ptolemies were prodigious builders.
Practically all of Ancient Alexandria now lies under the crowded streets of the present city, or alternatively in the Bay of Alexandria.
However, many of the temples that are regularly visited by tourists in Egypt, rather than being Egyptian, are in fact Ptolemaic Greek, or in some cases, even Roman.

Hadrian's Kiosk
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016
Philae Temple
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016
One exceptional example, on the island of Philae, is the Kiosk of Hadrian - built by the Roman Emperor (Princeps) Hadrian, but in the Egyptian style, while the other temples on the island are of an earlier date, but while appearing to be Egyptian, are in fact Greek.Other Ptolomaic building may be found at Edfu, Dendera, and Kom Ombo - while even the great temple at Karnak (Luxor) has a sanctuary built by Alexander.
Temple of Hathor - Dendera
The whole complex covers some 40,000 square meters, and is surrounded by a hefty mud brick enclosed wall. Dendera was a site for chapels or shrines from the beginning of history of ancient Egypt. It seems that pharaoh Pepi I (ca. 2250 BC) built on this site and evidence exists of a temple in the eighteenth dynasty (ca 1500 BC). But the earliest extant building in the compound today is the Mammisi raised by Nectanebo II – last of the native pharaohs (360–343 BC). 
Cleopatra VI and  Caesarion
The all overshadowing building in the complex is the main temple, namely the Hathor temple (historically, called the Temple of Tentyra). The temple has been modified on the same site starting as far back as the Middle Kingdom, and continuing right up until the time of the Roman emperor Trajan. The existing structure was built no later than the late Ptolemaic period and includes wall carvings of Cleopatra VI and her son Caesarion. The temple, dedicated to Hathor, an subsequent additions were added in Roman times.
Edfu Temple - Screen Walls
Most Ptolemaic temples may be identified by the absence,in many cases, of the traditional entrance pylons, and in the use of long colonnades, partially filled in by screen-walls.
It was often the case that buildings, sculpture and hieroglyphics in the Egyptian style, created by the Ptolemies, were denigrated as uninspired pastiches of the true Egyptian style.
This, misguide opinion, is now slowly changing, as further study has revealed a subtlety of design, and a superb level of execution and craftsmanship, which raises theses works, along with works of the Saite period to the same level as works from the Old Kingdom.
to be continued....