Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review: The Last Pharaohs: Egypt under the Ptolemies, 305-30 BC

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Timothy Howe)

J. G. Manning, The Last Pharaohs: Egypt under the Ptolemies, 305-30 BC. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010.

In The last pharaohs, J. G. Manning attempts to bring Ptolemaic Egypt, and the economic policies of the Ptolemaic state, out of isolation from other fields of ancient Mediterranean history. Often seen as "a place apart," especially by classicists focused on Greece and Rome, Ptolemaic Egypt has entered historical conversations tangentially, as a stage for wider Roman policy, for instance, or as a counterpoint to classical, polis civilization. Here, Manning is reacting against the scholarly tendency to assess the Hellenistic experience from the perspective of Greece.1 Using a social science models, Manning suggests that Ptolemaic Egypt be seen as an intentionally constructed hybrid of Greek and Egyptian elements, wherein Ptolemaic policies encouraged a fertile interaction of cultures and ideas, an interaction that produced complex native and immigrant responses, ranging from rejection to acceptance. By examining the Ptolemaic state from an Egyptian perspective, Manning seizes an opportunity to rethink terms like "hellenization" and "Hellenistic" and demonstrate how, by adopting a native Egyptian, pharaonic mode of governance, the Ptolemies fit their institutions into long-term Egyptian history. As Manning puts it, "This book offers a new perspective on the connections between Greek and Egyptian civilization, by trying to understand Egyptian civilization in its own terms, examining the manner in which the Ptolemies established themselves within Egyptian traditions, and the dynamic interactions between the two cultures during Ptolemaic rule" (205). And such a new perspective is now possible, Manning argues, because of the material uncovered in the past 100 years.2 Because of its rich literary records, Ptolemaic Egypt is at present the only well-documented state of the ancient world that allows such a quantitative approach.

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