Greatness and decline of planned economy in the Hellenistic world
Tipologia : Paragrafi/Articoli
Data pubblicazione : 01/01/1948

Greatness and decline of planned economy in the Hellenistic world

«Kyklos», 1948, n. 3, pp. 193-210; n. 4, pp. 289-316[1]

 

 

 

A new book by the celebrated Russian historian is a boon for students of both political and social history. While holding the chair at Yale he has given the world, after his Economic and Social History of the Roman Empire, a second great book on the Hellenistic World.[2] It seems like an introduction to his previous book; for indeed, these three centuries B.C. treated therein, immediately precede those which are the subject of his great book on the Roman Empire – that is, the three centuries after the birth of Christ.

 

 

Not all the ancient world from the death of Alexander the Great (323 B.C.) down to the battle of Actium (31 B.C.) can be considered Hellenistic in the proper sense. Rostovtzeff excludes from his treatise the so-called Barbarians of Europe, Africa and Asia, i.e. the Scythians, Sarmatians, Thracians, Illyrians, Celts and Iberians on the one hand, and in the Far East and West, two groups of civilised and well-organised states, the first of which comprises, in the West, Italy, nearly all Sicily and Carthage; the second turning from East to South includes China, India, Parthia, Southern Arabia, Nubia and Meroe. The main subject of his treatise is the Hellenistic World as created by the conquests of Alexander, which lasted as long as the states formed through the disintegration of Alexander’s Empire remained independent and dominated by the Greek element of their population; in other words, the Empires of the successors of Alexander the Great, the kingdom of Bosporus, the kingdom of the Sicilian Hieron II and a number of Greek city-states.

 

 

2. A number of introductory chapters first take up the political history of the world from the time of Alexander the Great down to the victory of Caesar Octavianus over Antony and Cleopatra, describing the Ancient World of the fourth century B.C. and giving a portrait of Alexander and his successors. Then the work of R. falls into four chapters; first, the period of the balance of power, when the three states – the Antigonids in Macedonia, the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids from Asia Minor to Syria, Mesopotamia and India – succeeded in maintaining a certain equilibrium among their forces; secondly, the period of disintegration of this equilibrium which favoured the intervention of the Romans; thirdly, the initial stages of the Roman occupation; and lastly, the Roman domination. In each of these period-chapters, the author leads the reader right through the various parts of the Hellenistic World; the Greek towns, Macedonia, Egypt, the Empire of the Seleucids, the smaller kingdoms of Pergamon, Bithynia, Pontus, Paphlagonia, Galatia, the kingdom of Bosporus – and takes up in detail the results of the latest research from all extant sources, authors, papyri, inscriptions, etc. An eighth chapter, a summary and epilogue, condenses the preceeding investigations in about 300 pages by putting them before the reader in systematic order, and concludes with a sketch of what R. calls the legacy of the Hellenistic World to the Roman Empire.

 

 

This treatise of 1312 pages is followed by the third volume, a book containing more than 300 pages of extensive bibliographical notes (p. 1313-1631), giving proofs and sources for the conclusions reached in the text, and four appendices. One of these, written by Dr. J. G. Milne, deals with Athenian coins found in Egypt; the second, by Professor R. P. Blake, with the Egyptian mines of the Sinai Peninsula; a third, by Mr. E. S. G.

 

 

Robinson, of the British Museum, with the changing coin standards of Ptolemy I; and a fourth by Professor Frederick O. Waage (pp. 1632 – 42) with pottery at Pergamon. There are also some Addenda and Corrigenda (pp. 1643-57). A list of abbreviations used in quoting names of periodicals, important modern publications, and the main sources (pp. 1750-1779), concludes this monumental work in a fitting manner.

 

 

If it is added that it has been presented by the Clarendon Press on paper of peace-time standard, type and shape, and that it contains 11 illustrations in the text and 112 plates apart from the text itself, showing coins, vases, paintings, sculptures, architectural monuments and reconstructions of towns and harbours, each accompanied by a page of explanations, some idea can be obtained of the care with which this work has been presented to the scholarly world.

 

 

I speak deliberately of the world of scholars, because such a work is not easy literature and is not addressed to the public at large. The pages of narrative and historical representation form a small section of their own-perhaps hardly a sixth part of that imposing mass of 1800 pages of which the work consists. The rest is taken up by a discussion of sources, of hypotheses and the publication of minute details – all of which might lead to the conclusion that it is impossible to come to a solution on the points in question, or to obtain exact information about a contested fact. Since the work of R. is, however, the first comprising summary of the research of several generations of philologists, archeologists and historians on one of the most significant periods of the social and economic history of mankind, it is quite likely that it will find enthusiastic readers even beyond the circle of professional scholars.

 

 

3. R. has called his book a social and economic history. What did he actually intend to write?

 

 

«Nor have I thus limited the scope of my book because I regarded these features as more important for an understanding of Hellenistic life than those which belong to the political, constitutional, cultural, or religious sphere. While appreciating the importance of the social and economic aspect of human life in general, I do not overestimate it, in the Marxian fashion. My reason for restricting this field of my investigations is purely personal; I imagine that I am more competent in this field than in others. I have, however, kept before me as a guiding principle, in this as in the other historical works which I have written, the maxim that the complexity of life should never be forgotten and that no feature should ever be regarded as basic and decisive» (p. VII). Considering that R. has conformed to his own rule, the book does not give that somewhat annoying impression of unreality, which histories subjected to the canon of materialistic interpretation usually do give, and about which an expert in economic science can but declare, that they have not been written by a scholar in that particular subject. Those who possess a true insight into the nature and limits of economic science are free from the danger of giving their ways of writing the significance of an economic interpretation of history. They aim only to a provisional analysis of the economic, financial or monetary sides of life; an analysis which they or others will perhaps be able to utilize when attempting to write history in general. Surely contemporary economic facts and problems are better understood if analyzed by scholars familiar with economic theory; and it is not clear why economic theory should not be just as useful in the interpretation of economic problems connected with earlier ages.

 

 

4. The interpretation which R. gives to economic facts is not always the same as that which would be given by an economic theorist. For instance, the weight given by the author to the money factor, which he understands as materialised in coinage, the number of pieces of gold or silver issued by one mint or other, seems to me somewhat overstressed. Coins are, indeed, one of the richest sources for ancient history. From the importance of coin hoards found in excavations, from their economic and geographical distribution, from the beauty of the coins themselves and the symbols struck upon them, from the type preserved intact, deteriorating in weight or changing its denomination – from all these facts R. correctly deduces the extent of political power, economic wealth and artistic capacity of the town or king to whom each particular mint belonged. But occasionally, from the consideration of the importance of a mint as an indication of the political power and economic pattern of a state, acquired by force of arms, the position of its banking, the skill of its citizens in trade, industry and agriculture, its governments, and provisions for roads, ports and merchant navy, and its fight against piracy, R. seems to go further and to consider money as the means which alone produces political power and economic prosperity. This is however only applicable when money is used to make, out of dependent allies, bona fide customers, or, when the issue of good money at a constant value is improving the credit of the state owning the mint; whereas the decline in monetary value is a sure indication of a states decline. But here one should stop. The anticipation of the Egyptian Ptolemies of certain monetary practices of to-day – e. g. the use of copper money for internal circulation like modern paper money, leaving gold and silver (coins) for a reserve in wartime and for international transactions – is certainly worthy of note. But it does not follow from this that such a division of functions was accepted intentionally by the Ptolemies as a means to enlarge the range of foreign trade, of conquering markets, or to enrich the treasury in this manner. This was just one of the inventions of the fertile minds of the Greeks, as was payment by current accounts and cheques, which served to enrich Hellenised Egypt at a time when the Greeks were actively engaged in procuring riches for themselves. But when political and social conditions changed in the first century B.C. and the spirit of enterprise and initiative became weaker, the distinction between internal and external money policy had no effect whatsoever in arresting the decline.

 

 

5. Another doubtful inference which is dealt with at intervals by R. – without systematic reasoning, based on economic theory – is, that the growth of any one city, port or region is, with necessity, the consequence of, or the reason for, the decline or ruin of other cities, ports or regions. «It is natural to assume that the establishment of a porto franco at Delos had the same effect on Athens as it had on the trade at Rhodes» (from p. 741). The hypothesis, which R. derives from historically certain facts in the interconnection of Rhodes and Delos, should also be verified from other sources. Only an accurate analysis of the sources in each individual case can lead to such definite conclusions on the subject. I cannot believe that the principle of «what is advantageous to one man is disastrous to another» can generally be applied to economic research in history. Here we have a common error in economic reasoning before us, well-known as «the mistaken idea of the constancy of work available». This particular idea, unfortunately, is deeply rooted in the minds of men up to the present day. Some politicians and columnists in Great Britain, for example, believed, in earlier decades of this century, that the growth of German industry and exports was disadvantageous to her; organised workers hope to gain from preventing new-arrivals (apprentices or immigrants) to enter a certain industry or specialised work. U.S.A. has restricted immigration and, with many other countries, the imports of foreign goods.

 

 

It is widely believed that there is a fixed amount only of goods which can be produced, a fixed amount of work to be done – and it is the professed intention of most vested interests to maintain that amount by preventing others from taking part in its production, or distribution. The fact, however, is, that each new arrival creates, with his work, his own market; the economic progress of Germany before 1914 might have promised a corresponding economic advance in Britain; the development of the port of Marseilles does not harm the port of Genoa; Turin and Milan are complementary to each other; and the potential decline of one is not due to competition of the other, but to its own inefficiency; and the best customers of industrial countries are not the inhabitants of distant and agricultural regions, but those of neighbouring rich and industrial lands. Present experience certainly shows the truth of the principle that the wealth of one country is the cause and conditioning agent of the wealth of all others; and as the opposite opinion is held mainly by statesmen intent on driving their own peoples to revolution and war, there is no justification for applying, to ancient times, an interpretation different from the one, which, either by reasoning or experience, has been assumed correct. Even if one does not exclude the opposite theory completely, one must still employ the correct assumptions of economic theory for the past too, and one must investigate, in each doubtful case, the existence of certain facts and probable data which would indicate that a historic consequence, which normally appears unlikely, has been proved. «The economic prosperity of Delos brought about the decline of Athens» is only a simple post hoc. The propter hoc does not follow. The decline of Athens, if it actually can be proved, was probably the consequence of other circumstances in Athens. The discovery of native pottery-products in Syria, Egypt and Pontus, – all regions where in former periods pottery mostly imported from Athens had been found – does not prove that the development of local industries caused a decline in Athenian industry. There also we find an application of the theory of the constant quantity of labour; a certain product put on the market by one producer cannot be presented simultaneously by another. Present experience proves the contrary. No industrial country has suffered a decline because a former agricultural and colonial country has itself started its own industry, ceasing to purchase that certain product. A decline is not the inevitable outcome; we have to find a different explanation for such a trend, e. g. the inability of a state to adjust its industry, to modify its own productivity, to change and adapt its products to the various often lucrative requirements of a country changing over from agriculture to industrial development. Again, one cannot see why the reasoning employed in the explanation of modern commercial trends should not be applied to the ancient world. In some cases a different judgment may be indicated, but such a general application cannot be accepted; it requires confirmation by circumstantial evidence.

 

 

In the pages of R. we cannot, however, speak of errors of interpretation; but only of an out-dated mode of economic expression. The statement that the port of Athens declines after that of Delos becomes more important is not the same thing to R. as a definite relation of cause and effect between the two facts – but merely a simple declaration that there is a relation of a purely chronological nature. Anyone realising that the theory of a fixed amount of goods or employment is wrong, will not be inclined to admit that the prosperity of the port of Delos caused the decline of the port of Athens. So as not to exclude the propter hoc the historian has to find the existence of other circumstances to explain the fact, that is, if the fact is actually correct. If one has doubts one makes hypotheses, consults old documents and sources, regarding them in a new light and sometimes comes upon the truth. These are, however, minor criticisms, which I felt bound to make, surely from a supercilious professional point of view. R. assimilates with faultless precision most aspects of economic and historic logic, giving the reader the impression that he is nearing the comprehension of the truth as nearly as is humanly possible.

 

 

6. The aspects of Hellenistic life, which the author has compiled country by country, town by town, are so rich and various that they leave to his reader the embarrassment of the choice. I restrict myself therefore to three points; what does the Hellenisation of the Ancient World mean; who were the people of the old Greek towns who undertook the actual task of Hellenisation; what was their work in the country of Egypt, where the climate has preserved the papyri and therefore left ample testimonials of its existence?

 

 

7. In the three centuries B.C. between the reigns of Alexander and Augustus a new and extraordinary situation becomes apparent – the unity of the Hellenistic world. Ancient Greece, the isles of the Aegean, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Asia Minor, with the shores of the Bosporus and the Black Sea, Mesopotamia and Syria – all were unified spiritually, if not politically as a result of a common language, literature, common institutions, religions, habits, and mode of life. The Greek, once he had left Athens, travelled in Greek ships, touched upon and disembarked in ports, Alexandria, Miletus, Rhodes or Delos, where a Hellenised merchant fleet was active, penetrated the interior by long roads protected by local police, all Hellenised, talked to the people by means of the common Greek language (koin‚), which had become the lingua franca of the Orient, went into temples where not only the deified Alexander and his successor-kings, but also the old gods of ancient Greece were worshipped. He also found familiar forms of local government. He traded with the same currency at similar prices, was tried according to common jurisdiction. He took part in games well known to him, promoted by Greek religious societies. He lived in a town built according to a familiar plan in houses of the Greek type modified only for climatic reasons. Not all the Greeks he met, however, came from ancient Greece, like the soldiers of Alexander or his generals or traders who had followed the army, or the adventurers, the capitalists in search of good investment, artisans, and professional people, exiled by poverty from their native soil; some were Macedonians, partly Hellenised, some were natives of the upper classes who had married Greek wives or learned the koin‚ and adopted Greek dress. A number of Greeks and a number of other Hellenised individuals had no great spiritual interests, but instead occupied themselves chiefly with business, activated by the desire for wealth and social standing. All were to some degree specialised in tekne, they were technicians. Above allthere were the kings, the generals of Alexander, genuine self-made-men and their sons, highly educated, having been made co-rulers at an early age; and also women, like the famous Arsinoe, sister and wife of Ptolemy Philadelphus and the seven Cleopatras, the last of whom became the wife of Mark Antony. Next to these came the generals and officers brought up in the gymnasiums and the hard school of war, not too much with the help of their books on military science-at best, lists of stratagems. Then there were the officials, who, superimposed their own Greek ingenuity on the oriental traditions of centralised administration and created a new type of administration and book-keeping, which became an example to others and thus in turn brought about a new tradition. There were technicians-gunners, engineers of fortifications, and shipbuilders, who applied in practice all the teaching of the great theorists of mathematics and physics, notably Archimedes; there were doctors, educated in scientific schools like the one of Hippocrates in Cos and called in by town officials or the king himself on such occasions as epidemics, or sometimes employed on actual health-service as in Alexandria, under a chief medical officer; other physicians were appointed to render free medical service to the army.

 

 

There were law experts, sometimes specialised in dealing with intricate legal cases; there were scientists engaged on research, humanists dedicated to their studies, staff members of the Museum at Alexandria, poets and composers who lived by reciting at special meetings or musical performances, – always with some form of financial remuneration – artists of the theatres, dancers, who were entertaining at festivals and games and who were organised in unions, like the actors; and acrobats, wandering musicians, snake-charmers, and athletes.

 

 

8. These Hellenes had the right attitude towards colonisation. After the times of Philip and Alexander they lost their liberty, but had lost no time in bewailing the fact. They had a most optimistic outlook: king, generals, poets, engineers, farmers and merchants – all felt that they were engaged on creative work. It was their intention economically to change the country they had conquered. In that they were subjects equal in status to the natives under the successor-king of Alexander, but they formed a ruling class and occupied the higher posts in the army, administration, finance, commerce and agriculture. The figure of Apollonius is a typical one, the prime minister (disikets) in financial and economic affairs of Philadelphus, and of his assistant Zenon, administrator of the minister’s farming concessions at Philadelphia in the Fayum of Middle Egypt; the so-called correspondence[3] of Zeno forms a wonderfully rich testimonial for all this. It shows an achievement in colonisation not unlike those created in the 19th century, i. e. the white plantations in Africa and Brazil of this period.

 

 

9. The spread of Hellenistic civilisation in the Middle East gave rise to changes the effects of which were still noticeable when the Hellenistic rule gave way to that of the Parthians, Bactrians and Romans. Hellenistic civilisation did not succeed in creating political unity. Man continued to live in factions, the whole enormous territory divided into about a hundred kingdoms of varying sizes, small local tyrannies and city-states; as before, the Greeks failed to achieve national unity. They recognised instinctively the danger of fratricidal conflict and, accordingly drew up treaties, for international arbitration, to solve such matters affecting them all; for isopoliteia, by giving the inhabitants of the city-states, which had signed the treaties, certain mutual constitutional privileges; to give a guarantee for the immunity of famous temples from pillage and reprisals, and a refusal to reduce the Greek peoples to slavery. Famous judges and doctors from other Greek cities came visiting periodically. When Rhodes was destroyed in 227 B.C. by the famous earthquake there was a great manifestation of brotherly help throughout the Hellenistic world. The idea of Hellenism was wedded to that of humanitarianism, brotherly love among men, and the interest in man himself. These ideas were current, and especially the Stoics and Cynics felt obliged to declare how artificially conventional and philosophically irrelevant were the distinctions between the sexes, between a barbarian and a Greek, between a slave and a freeman.

 

 

This idea does not lead up to complete emancipation of women, but admits that women should cooperate with men as regents, poets, scholars, in certain workships and in money transactions. Slavery was not abolished, but the right of certain legal holidays – something akin to school-holidays – was recognised for slaves; generous men did not differentiate in their wills between slaves and freemen, and some physicians made it a boast that they had treated slaves as carefully as freemen. Manumissions became more frequent and slaves were admitted into religious societies. The origin of Greek unity was not in a desire to set itself apart from the barbarians; it was rather the result of an overwhelming intellectual and spiritual need: these technicians of the new world; physicians, engineers and artists liked to travel, to flee from the poor and restricted life of their polis, to prove their aptitude as teknitai in freer circumstances. The ancient world owes to this movement the creation of the new common language, the koin‚which was not artificially superimposed on Greek dialects, but which was the natural result of the new conditions of Greek life.

 

 

10. The principal class from which the new Hellenic masters of the Middle East are drawn is called by R., using a modern name, the bourgeoisie. They are, in order to avoid any misunderstanding about this word, in fact the middle class.

 

 

«This typical citizen for whom Menander wrote his comedies and whom he and Theophrastus chiefly portrayed in their works is not an aristocrat by birth and wealth, nor is he a pauper, a proletarian. He is a middle-class landowner, a businessman, or a rentier, well-to-do, but not extremely rich. He draws his income from his farm, which he manages personally, in a rational way with the help of slaves or hired labour, from his commercial operations, mostly marine ventures, or from money-lending. To these sources of income we may, basing ourselves chiefly on Demosthenes, certainly add industrial workshops, silvermining at Laurium and hiring out slaves. The poor are not absent from Menander’s picture, but they play a secondary part. Menander’s audience consisted not of them, or at least not mainly of them, but of middle-class folk. Nor do nouveaux riches, enterprising mercenary soldiers or other adventurers, figure largely in the picture of Athenian society. They are there just to show the enormous difference between these upstarts and fortune-hunters, and the respectable Athenians. Such members of the higher Athenian aristocracy as still existed and the millionaires of the day (if there were any) are not accepted as typical Athenians and therefore do not appear in Menander’s comedy.

 

 

The Athenian bourgeois is well-to-do. He lives in a small comfortable residential house, and owns one or two domestic slaves. He is not stingy, and on great occasions spends money freely; but he is careful about his affairs. His family is not very large; he generally has one or two children. To the girls he gives a decent, but not excessive dowry, usually of one, two, three, or four talents of silver, sixteen being the maximum. He likes his daughter to be well dressed and buys imported frocks for her. His sons while young – and before they acquire the mentality of their father – have a good time; banquets and parties, wine and courtesans, some of these very highly paid (e.g. three minae a day)» (pp. 163-64).

 

 

Such was the Athens of the end of the fourth century B.C., at which period of time the free city state drew to a close and Alexander conquered the Eastern World. The wars, the revolutions, and the troubles of the end of the third and the beginning of the second centuries, when the great monarchies of the successors of Alexander fell to pieces and Roman intervention assumed catastrophic aspects, changed the appearance of the Greek cities. The middle-class suffered under the uncertainty of the future and the dangers of the present; and the newly-rich prospered instead. Wealth tended to accumulate in the hands of some few shrewd men, who took advantage of scarcity and general instability to enrich themselves at the expense of others. The spectre of famine forced the towns to impose extraordinary contributions (liturgiae), on their wealthy citizens. Now the picture which Antiphanes paints of the feelings which troubled the average leisurely citizen became increasingly applicable.

 

 

«Any human being who counts on having anything he owns secure for life is very much mistaken. For either an extraordinary tax snatches away his fortune, or he becomes involved in a law-suit and loses all, or as a former commander he is mulcted in the surplus expense, or, chosen to finance a play, he has to wear rags himself after supplying the golden costumes for the chorus, or, having been appointed trierarch he hangs himself or sailing his ship somewhere he is captured (presumably by enemies or pirates) or in walking or sleeping he is murdered by his slaves. No, nothing is certain…» (p. 620).

 

 

Not only the forced contributions, however, but also the public offices gave rise to misgivings among the average citizens; the sitonia, according to which the rich citizen was obliged to buy at his own expense – without restitution – the corn needed by the population and to ensure, at his own responsibility, a just distribution; and the agoranomia (the supervision and provision of the markets), of a city with the goods in abundance which were needed for the daily life, which the rich had to undertake, were not greatly cared for. Even if the wealthy citizens were not forced by a straightforward order to give loans or to make gifts to the town to secure the corn, wine, olive-oil, or fish-supply, or to repair or even to build temples or public buildings, the moral and social obligations were much stronger than a law, imposing themselves on to the middle-class and forcing upon it expenses to the utmost of its capacity. The consequence, according to Polybius, was a decline in the number of marriages and births. The ordinary family at the end of the third and the beginning of the second centuries B.C. had no more than one or two male and only one female off-spring. Abortions, exposures and similar means assumed the aspect almost of racial suicide and were regarded with apprehension by contemporary writers. Polybius, among the reasons for this deplorable state of affairs, gives great weight to the desire for luxury, money and comfort. Modern writers, however, attribute it to the poverty of the soil, and to the difficulties in the way of emigration. R. does not think these last reasons very important; the soil of Greece had always been poor, but the Greeks had nevertheless succeeded in acquiring adequate means for subsistence or barter; nor did the Greeks lack inducement to become part of the Hellenistic armies as mercenaries.

 

 

The true reasons for the decline, according to R., were the continuous wars, the revolutions, as well as piracy which put before the eyes of the average citizen the image of violent and sudden death, or perhaps worse in his eyes, of loss of property or even personal liberty. The danger of becoming poor or a slave was always imminent to the Greek of the middle classes. «Excited people saw their own fortune gradually diminish, threatened by the general economic conditions, through devastations and confiscations during wars and owing to pressure of the town government which exacted more from the wealthy, than they could have possibly afforded to give. It is obvious that they did not desire the same fate for their sons. The Athenians in fact limited the number of their children or had none at all. This egotism can be called – so does Polybius – lack of patriotism; I prefer however to consider it a type of preoccupation with ones own fate and in some cases desperation. It was certainly not pure egotism. When conditions improved at Athens after 166 B.C. families were brought back to normal size. A period of tranquillity in the late second century B.C. gave the middle class a chance to recover to a certain extent. It is no accident that in an Amphictionic decree of 125 B.C. Athens is praised as «established leader of all things deemed good by men» and held up to general admiration «as having converted man from savage to a more civilised life», and as the founder of social relations… I may quote the famous utterance of Cicero «here are the Athenians, in whose country, we think, were born culture (humanitas), learning, religion, fruits of the earth (fruges), law and statutes (jura, leges), to spread from here over the world!» (from p. 755).

 

 

11. The insecurity brought about by the social revolutions was even more disquieting than the wars themselves. The Roman occupation, if it gave a temporary peace to Ancient Greece, at the same time did not stop the concentration of wealth. Rome intended to crush all beginnings of revolts, which had spread all over Greece by the end of the third and the beginnings of the second centuries B.C., or ideas of social equality before they even appeared.

 

 

«With the help of the Cretans, Nabis seized the crown in Sparta and applied the extremist programme in its entirety-spoliation, proscription, systematic destruction of the upper classes, confiscation of private fortunes (ostensibly for the state). Moreover, he enfranchised many Helots, who were made citizens, assigned land to these same Helots and to the poor, and distributed among mob leaders and mercenaries the goods and even the wives and daughters of the proscribed» (p. 611).

 

 

At the beginning of the second century the common people were in power in Boeotia. At their head stood the strategoi who took measures in the interest of the proletariat and who, of course, were annually re-elected. The most outstanding of these measures was the abolition of repayment tribunals for 25 years. This meant a general abolition of debts. Another even more radical measure of the strategoi was the payment of a regular stipend to the poor or rather to all unemployed citizens out of the public treasury (pp. 611-12).

 

 

The aristocratic governments as well – as the one of Rhodes – provided regular distributions of grain to poor citizens in order to avoid disaffection. But as this measure at Rhodes was the outcome of a sound social policy, it was kept within the limits of sound economics applicable in a wealthy state (p. 684). In other instances it provided a source of insecurity and demoralisation and a general lowering of the standard of moral life and the family ideal (p. 612).

 

 

The pitiless methods of the Romans in dealing with attempts of social revolutionaries were encouraged by the supremacy of the wealthy. These, no longer afraid of revolts of the poor, knew no limits to their avarice. In Athens, in the second half of the second century pratically all power was concentrated in the hands of a few families. At Delphi, about 125 B.C., there were instances of embezzlement and dishonesty in the administration of the funds of the temple. The number of slaves grew, who quick to conspire tried revolts like the one in Attica in 134-133 or in 100-99 contemporaneous with similar outbreaks in Sicily, Italy, Delos and Macedonia.

 

 

12. Nevertheless, in spite of the growth of the number of the very wealthy in troubled times and in the cavalry wars of the third and second centuries B.C., the typical Greek town in the Hellenistic world inclined towards the prevalence of the middle class. It was composed chiefly of people living on their own money-incomes, land-owners, moderate and small industrialists and artisans, bankers (trapezitai) and money lenders. Eventually there grew up by their side the class of professional people specialised in some technical branch, and officials of some branch of civic government, some of them being slaves (demotioi), mercenary soldiers and officers, teachers, overseers of public taxes, scholars, doctors, whether free or not, engineers and architects, sculptors and painters, artists and jurists; all people who had to live, just the same as the artisans, on payment received from customers, on small salaries scarcely better than those of the manual worker (p. 1117). The middle-class citizen continued to be a homo politicus, just as he had been in the days of Greek liberty.

 

 

«No Hellenistic monarch, still less the Greek cities themselves, regarded the Greek homo politicus dead, or confined to a very modest role in contemporary affairs. Every Hellenistic king looked upon the Greek cities as a factor in politics not less powerful than his rivals, the other Hellenistic monarchs. Such was the opinion also of the Romans, when they first appeared on the political horizon of Hellenism» (from p. 1120).

 

 

The middle class were devoted to their traditional gods; they built new temples and repaired the old ones, kept festivals and games, organised religious processions, they made pilgrimages to Panhellenic shrines, sent embassies to famous festivals in other towns, created new foundations in their temples, they were deeply moved at the danger which Delphi had run at the approach of the Gauls; they beautified their towns, increased the number of gymnasia for the education of their youth, the gymnasiarch was made one of their highest town-officials, they adorned their houses and the tombs of their ancestors with examples of the most beautiful works of art of their times; and they forced the Hellenistic kings, showing great tenacity and powers of resistance, to respect their civic institutions and traditional customs.

 

 

13. The influence of the middle class on the social structure of the Greek towns did, however, not succeed in solving the problems of poverty of the slaves or the free. They never succeeded even in providing continuous work or regular salaries. From time to time the poor voted demagogues into power, who promulgated laws in their favour. But besides some attempts at revolts, sudden and not lasting, and which were determinedly suppressed by the middle class, there were no attempts at real social revolutions. The problem was, however, nowhere merely theoretical. The attacks of the Stoics against the rich had an exclusively moral character. They did not propose any remedies. The philosophical schools looked little towards the social life, but proposed instead to guide the individual in his inner life by telling him how to live in order to achieve an inner peace and the individual perfection which is called wisdom. The Stoics and Epicureans looked on wealth as a matter without importance; but they did not condemn it if it was limited to such an extent that it secured such liberty and leisure, without which their highest aims could not be realised.

 

 

«Free life does not tolerate the accumulation of goods in large quantities, since this is difficult without serving mobs or rulers, but the free man (as such) possesses all things in unfailing abundance; and if by chance he acquires large means (in addition), he will readily give a share of them to those near to him in order to win their benevolence» (p. 1130).

 

 

The social problem was considered by the Greek philosophers as a moral problem imposed upon those, who intended to achieve the eudaimonia and the autarchia.

 

 

14. The most prominent historic experiment in the Greek Diaspora outside of the Greek motherland was Hellenistic Egypt. The Ptolemaic kings considered themselves to be Macedonian kings and successors of Alexander. Egypt conquered by the sword had become the private possession of the Pharaohs, and recognised as such by the priests of the national gods, and therefore, the son of Ammon-Ra, as a god living temporarily on earth. Since the god – or better the gods – were the owners of Egypt and had the right to dispose of the country and its inhabitants at their own free will, the Egyptian kings were considered the supreme masters and owners of land and people. The official cult of the ruler and his predecessors was not only imposed on the natives, but also on the Greeks. For these the philosophers substituted or superimposed instead of the theory of the divine king, master of everything that existed and lived on Egyptian soil, a more ethical theory in which the king was the incarnation of the law, the better being. To be sovereign meant to be owner of the land and of everything on and under the ground. The state was the house (oikos) of the king, and his territory his patrimony (chora ousia), which he administered in very much the same way as a Greek or Macedonian would have administered his own private property. The minister of finances was the chief administrator of the king (dioiketes); in the provinces the royal interest was looked after by stewards (oikonomoi).

 

 

The Greek who considered strange the idea that state property should belong to one individual accepted this on condition that the interest of the state came first and foremost before the private interests of its ruler; he finally came to identify the state with the king under the new conditions. The king as master of the state in the Egyptian world had the right not only of disposing of his material resources, but also of the labour of his subjects. The two main supports of the Egyptian state were the ownership of the soil by the king and forced labour for his benefit as the representative of god and the state, and therefore usually to the good of the whole society. The idea of forced labour was not new to the Greeks, who in an emergency and chiefly in war had to come to the aid of the state with all their means to execute all demands made upon them by the state (leitourghia).

 

 

15. In order to make Egypt politically independent and economically self-contained and to make it a leading power in the ancient world, the Ptolemies soon came to the conclusion that national production could and had to increase considerably. This could be achieved either by reorganisation in a more rigid and logical manner, or by calling in skilled craftsmen who were already known in other parts of the world. The idea of planned economy by the ruler was not unknown in the monarchies of the Orient; but it was more or less limited by the power of the priests, towns and aristocrats and by the tendency to transform public into feudal property. Nowhere in Hellenistic civilisation planning economy was carried through to such an extent, to its logical consequences as in Egypt. Of course the fundamental principles of the Greek economic system could not be altogether ignored; private property recognised and protected by the state as the basis of society, and free play of economic forces and private initiative were both rarely modified by the state. There was indeed little possibility of changing these principles, but their scope was limited and regulated when they were put in tune with the Ptolemaic system of centralised state control. Within the system there remained a contrast which grew sharper in time, owing in part to the clumsy and fragmentary formation of the system, which did not grow out of systematic theoretic or philosophical ideas, but was the result of the varied changing demands of each branch of the economic life.

 

 

16. It is obvious that the Ptolemies inherited from the Pharaohs and Achaemenidic rulers the care for the system of irrigation in connection with the Nile floods and also the tradition of forced labour by peasants for the maintenance of dykes and canals. The cultivated ground had to be accurately surveyed and entered into a register of lands; in order to facilitate the distribution of taxes and other imposts incumbent on the land, additional information had to be collected, e. g., which of the farms were irrigated or which farmers cultivated the royal domain, all this had to be noted down carefully. Precise contracts were concluded with the farmers, who were all freemen and no slaves, to regulate the land revenues for sound agriculture, e. g., if the ground-rent should be determined on a pars quota or a pars quanta, variable according to the state of the land after the yearly inundation of the Nile. These provisions, of course, were modelled from traditional standards perfected in the course of time. The obligation of the farmer, however, to receive the seed-corn, animals and agricultural instruments from the king was typical of a regulated economic system, by which the farmer was forced to remain on the farm until the harvest was over and he was freed from any obligation towards the king. He could not sow his own corn; for the king wanted to be sure of its good quality and at the same time avoid that the land remained untilled owing to lack of seed. This system also made sure that the corn designed for culture should not be used for any other purpose. The farmer was not free to cultivate the soil as he liked, but he had to obey the instructions from above. A diagrafè sporon regulated the cultivation of the fields of Egypt according to a general national plan. In the course of a year inspectors watched that the fields were cultivated in the proper manner. The threshing took place under the careful eyes of responsible guards, and only after the quota of the king and various other imposts had been levied, the farmer was allowed to keep the remainder for his own use. The share of the king was first taken to local granaries and there entrusted to appointed storemen (sitologoi). A special royal diagramma regulated the further transport into provincial granaries and from there to the great store-houses at Alexandria. The lands belonging to the temples were administered by a president (epistates) appointed by the king, who looked after them in very much the same manner as the royal estates were governed. When religious expenses and the sustenance of the priests had been deducted he sent the remainder of the harvests to the royal granaries. The farmers were forced in this manner to employ the most suitable methods in agriculture in order to ensure the greatest returns for the state.

 

 

17. In order to ingratiate themselves with their soldiers and officials the Ptolemies granted concessions to them, mostly of smaller farms, the extent of which depended largely on the grade of the official; these grants rarely exceeded 100 arourae; the highest officials, however, received large grants, like the one near the new Greek city of Philadelphia, which was assigned, as a present, to Apollonius, the principal dioicetes of Philadelphus, under Zenon’s administration. Such grants, called cleroi if small and destined for the soldiers and smaller officials, and doreai if larger and for higher functionaries, generals and relatives of the sovereign, were revocable ad nutum by the king. The first type of grant was usually tenable till the death of the holder and did not readily pass on to his sons. The king used his right of overlordship over all dominions to make the best use of the lands.

 

 

The cleruchs were not absenteeists; from the Zenon correspondence, and other Ptolemaic papyri, we can see how they showed interest in their houses, animals, poultry, and the general cultivation of their lands. The spirit of initiative and energy of the colonizer showed themselves particularly on the large estates. Besides the homo politicus we now notice in Apollonius and in Zenon the homo oeconomicus and the homo technicus. These Greeks of the diaspora wanted above all to get wealthy, yet they did not neglect to give their sons a Greek education; read Greek texts, liked the theatre, music and sport. In the town of Philadelphia new temples were founded, both Greek and Egyptian, public buildings, baths, private gardens (like the great park of Apollonius paradeisos) full of ornamental plants, vineyards, orchards, flowers. New and beautifully decorated houses rendered the place pleasant for all the Greeks. In the great concession of Apollonius and in the smaller cleroi of the officials, soldiers and officers, Greeks broke up the land, improved it, produced a large quantity of various types of corn, and herbs from which oil could be obtained, hemp, flax, and grass. The holders of concessions, helped by farmers, often of Greek extraction, created on the soil they had now made fertile vineyards, plantations of olives, orchards and gardens; they started to raise bees by new methods; they bred cattle for agriculture and for work, flocks of sheep, and a large number of pigs and fowl. They added new types of plants, crops and animals to the already existing kinds and so very nearly changed the farms into experimental stations. They founded and organised factories and workshops of a novel type and employed the services of experts some of whom were natives, some Greeks and in some cases even slaves. They employed a large number of men to sell their produce. All these people collaborated with the Greek and Egyptian functionaries to organise the administrative and economic life of town and country (p. 421).

 

 

18. The outstanding characteristic of Egyptian state economy under the Ptolemies was that, together with a spirit of enterprise based on the energy of the pioneers, who were moved by the desire to become wealthy and to better their social position, there existed a sense for systematic organisation and subordination of the individual in the interest of the common weal, as personified by the king. A planned economy, controlled from above, for the benefit of the king, and organised by a minority of colonisers; this is how the Ptolemaic economy of the third century B.C. can be defined. The Ptolemies had no ideological intention of making agriculture and industry collective. They fomented on the contrary the growth of private property not only by making temporary and revocable grants of the cleroi and doreai, which in fact were easily made more or less permanent; but also by recognising the private ownership of lands, which had already in the times of the Pharaohs and the Persians been owned by individuals, and by favouring the farming and the private ownership of soil made fertile, covered of houses, planted with vineyards and gardens. These lands known as ktemata could be bought, sold, rented, mortgaged or inherited; whilst the lands called ghe idioktetos were sold directly by the government and other ones were given on long lease. Here it was the aim of the Ptolemaic government to create a class of hardworking and energetic landowners who had an interest in raising the standard of cultivation and in the transformation of the kingdom into one of vineyards and gardens. The kings were in need of a landowning middle class from which they could draw functionaries, officers, contractors and men acting as security for these contractors, all able to guarantee for the treasury the accomplishment of the state contracts with their own possessions. Grantees and landowners were submitted to canons, services and taxes, which often absorbed more than a half of the product; they had to follow, as far as the choice and execution of types of cultivation were concerned, the rules established by the Government; but, as a result of the productiveness of the egyptian soil once made fertile, the product gave a sufficient revenue both to the king and to the private owners.

 

 

19. State interference in the economic organisation – apart from the plans concerning cultivated land – was especially noticeable in distributing and utilising the harvests. The monopoly imposed on vegetable oils was characteristic. We know the section of the statute (nomos) of Philadelphus (259-58 B.C.) which regulated (nomos elaikes) the production of vegetable oils; sesame, castor-oil, saffron and linseed oil. Every year the government fixed the area of land to be devoted to the cultivation of each of these vegetable oils in every province (nome); the local administration, on their part, apportioned out the provincial allocation among the villages, and finally among individual farmers. No one was allowed to use any more land for the cultivation of these vegetables than that assigned to him and the farmer received seed from the government and was obliged to pay its price for it. The harvest was gathered the supervision of the officials, contractors and bailsmen responsible for the harvest. A quarter of the harvest was taken by the king as a tax and the remaining three quarters were bought by the contractor at the price quoted in the public tariff (diagramma). The contractor delivered the harvest to the government by transporting it into public store-houses and oil-presses in the villages and towns. It was not permitted, with the exception of the temples, to own private presses; the temples were allowed, under the supervision of officials and contractors, to produce only a certain quantity of sesame oil during two months of the year, their presses being sealed for the other ten months. If they had need of castor oil they were obliged to buy it from the contractors; nor could they sell their own oil to strangers. All the king’s oil presses were strictly supervised by the administration and by the contractor. All presses were registered and those not in use were sealed like any other inactive machinery. Labour was directed to them by the contractors and the administration. Raw material was delivered to each press to fill its capacity and no more.

 

 

The workers (elaiurgoi), were freemen, neither slaves nor serfs, and yet they were strictly controlled. During the season they were bound to the site of the oil press, and were under the charge of the contractor and administrative officials. Paid on a piece work basis, at so much for each artaba of grain, they could receive a free allowance, if there was a surplus at the end of the season. Who these oil workers actually were is not quite clear, perhaps former owners of oil presses to whom the state had forbidden the free exercise of their industry.

 

 

The vegetable oils were sold in the villages and towns, including Alexandria, only by licensed merchants, who had bought them from the government and sold them to the consumers. The retail price was strictly fixed and no one could sell at a lower or higher rate. Each trader received a certain allocation of oil; the retail distribution and control was entrusted to a specially appointed responsible contractor, who had to prevent any attempt to sell above the fixed price and suppress any smuggling.

 

 

The price of oil was excessively high, much higher than better quality oil in Greece; in such a way, that the king who was drawing a huge profit, had to impose an import-duty of 40% on all oil imported from abroad and also on that imported from the Ptolemaic dominions. The contractors in the meat trade who had much fat of which to dispose were for the same reasons just as strictly watched and submitted to special rules. Not content with the profits made out of his monopolies, the king called upon the public to pay a special tribute (elaikè) a kind of poll-tax for the right to buy the monopolised oil.

 

 

It is obvious that such oppressive rules provoked continuous trespassing against the law, spying, denunciations, searches in private houses and acts of violence. The papyri found in the Fayum give a lively picture of the way in which the monopoly worked (pp.302-05).

 

 

20. It appears that other monopolies existed besides the one on oil. The cultivation of flax was probably also limited and regulated; and the king had the right to purchase any amount which served the needs of the state, probably also a surplus for sale and export. There was a special class of experienced weavers, the majority of whom worked on home looms, although there were some in government factories; they received an allocation of yarn, colours and other materials required for washing and weaving. When the work was finished and approved they were paid according to tariff, with deductions also stipulated in the same list in case of shortcomings in quality or quantity. The looms not used were taken away from the weavers and stored in warehouses in the capitals of the provinces. The right to produce fine linen was reserved to the temples, this material being called byssus.

 

 

A part of the byssus produced by the temples had to be delivered to the king who was very strict in demanding the exact amount prescribed, both in quality and quantity, and imposing fines in proportion to any deficiency. The temples also may have the right to sell the byssus to foreign merchants. The rules for the weaving of wool must have been less severe, for it was only used by Greeks and fabricated by them at home. The king had only cloth for military use produced by specialist weavers and the rest of the industry seems to have been free. In any case, Apollonius produced in his mills at Memphis and Philadelphia a large quantity of woollen cloth for the use of his dependents and for sale on the market (pp. 305-08).

 

 

21. The production of beer, the national beverage of the Egyptians was similarly monopolised; only the production for home use being probably free, after perhaps a payment for this right. Making beer for public use was the privilege of the king. The brewers received from the king a certain quantity of barley and sold the brewed beer to retailers or the public itself. They, in addition to having to pay dearly for the beer, had also to pay for the right to buy it (p. 308). The monopoly of salt too was rigid and comprehensive. The government owned the salt-mines and sold the salt through authorised merchants or, wholesale, to privileged bodies, like the army, the priests or the civil service. Every Egyptian, with the exception of a privileged few, had to pay a salt tax (alikè) which was very much resented (p. 309).

 

 

In addition, salpeter, alum, leather and scents, such as incense, myrrh, cinamon and cassia were monopolised and severely regulated. All these imports from abroad in their raw state were privately bought and resold by the king, either in the same state, or used to produce perfumes, ointments etc. (pp. 309-13).

 

 

The use of papyrus grew considerably under Soter and Philadelphus, among other reasons because increased production allowed the sale at a reduced price.  oboli a scroll was the very low price in an account of Zenon and Apollonius of 258-7 B.C.; and for that reason papyrus was also used to wrap up other wares; the demand for papyrus had also grown abroad, and the temple at Delphi provided for an yearly supply for its accounts. The fabrication of papyrus had to take place locally; since its fibre could not be transported over great distances, it had to be utilised in the paper mill as soon as the plant had been cut. We know that in 159 B.C. there existed a special paper-department (oné karterà); and an official called supervisor of the sale of royal papyrus dealt with the sale through special traders who had purchased the exclusive right of sale of the royal papyri. These traders had a certain compulsory clientele, like the public notaries to whom it was forbidden to make purchases from private producers. Besides the partial state monopoly in paper there existed a private industry, which however, was supervised by the paper-department. It is not certain yet whether the monopoly already existed in the third century B.C.; Apollonius and Zenon bought paper in the free market. It is, however, described as being in force in the second century (pp. 310-12).

 

 

Since the public baths also had to pay heavy taxes, we can assume that the king considered the exercise of this practice as a privileged source of income, except that he allowed some private citizens to take the risk of running such a business, a risk which was considerable since baths were frequented mainly by Greeks (pp.312-13).

 

 

Private transport, except for taxes on animals, especially donkeys, was free; private individuals used to run transport at their own expense on canals or on the Nile. Public transport, however, was by far the most important, since it had to provide for the needs of the army, the royal family and the transport of enormous quantities of corn and other goods from the country to the storehouses of the king in Alexandria and in the provincial towns. A special royal service normally looked after all this, but in times of war and during the harvests, when millions of bushels of corn had to be transported along roads, canals and rivers, these royal means were insufficient and the Ptolemies made full use of the immemorial right to requisition men, animals and ships. They preferred, if they could, to deal with the owners of the transport, but otherwise they had recourse to forcible means.

 

 

22. The centralised and coordinated economy described here worked owing to the co-existence of two social classes; the leading one, mainly Greco-Macedonian, and the working class, composed chiefly of Egyptians under the first two kings of the Ptolemaic dynasty, Soter and Philadelphus. To the large mass of workers belonged above all the farmers who tilled the royal estates, workers in the factories, small traders, cattlemen and shepherds, professional hunters and fishermen, sailors, carters and workers in the mines and quarries. Besides their ordinary work they had to supply forced labour for the maintenance of the canals and dykes, for the plantations of vines, fruit-trees and olives, and for transport in general. But the obligations towards the king fell heavier on those who had to supervise the work of others, particularly in agriculture, or those who held the minor offices of headmen or scribes of villages. These, mostly natives, enjoyed the benefits of some gains and of a certain amount of authority; but the gains were small and the heavier responsibilities towards the superiors offset that authority. One cannot speak of slavery of the workers and their overseers nor of a compulsion to remain in one place. They were free to move, worked under contracts, and were paid for the forced labour performed, but they did on the whole depend on the government for their daily bread. Slaves were relatively scarce, for only the Greeks and the Hellenised natives could afford the luxury of owning them; and, outside of Alexandria, the increase of their numbers in the country side was not regarded with great favour by the kings, who did not like this competition with native labour.

 

 

In addition to the smaller officials there also belonged to the native element of the ruling class, the priests who were exempt from forced labour and comparatively free in the execution of their functions and also in the management of the estates and industries connected with the temples. Near to the priests and subject to them were the servants of the gods (ieroduloi) who worked on the land and in the workshops, looked after the cattle and sheep and carried on the internal and religious services in the temples. If some landowners and a selected number of artisans are added it can be said that these were all the Egyptians who belonged to the ruling class. This, therefore, was chiefly drawn from Greco-Macedonians in the first century of the Ptolemaic rule; although they were legaly subjects of the kings on equal status with the natives, they enjoyed the privileges pertaining in fact to the officers and men of the conquering army, and to the inhabitants of Alexandria and other old and new Greek towns enjoying to a certain extent of a self government. Even more, the Greeks in the country side (cora) found ways of uniting themselves in associations like the politeumata who possessed their own houses of worship and their own courts or the clubs of young men who administered gymnasia, those fundamental institutions of Greek life. The Greeks had the right to be judged by their own courts according to their national law, unless special royal decrees to the contrary existed, while the Egyptians were judged in their turn by native judges under Egyptian laws; the Greeks could not be held to forced labour. Under the first kings, especially, foreigners were very nearly living encamped in Egypt. «It was not the army of Egypt, but the army of one or the other of the Ptolemies. As regards the foreign civilians, the greater part of them, or at least of those about whom we have information, belonged to the private household (oikos) of the king. They were his private servants, and each of them had his own oikos, again with a set of dependents. Apollonius, the dioicetes, had at his disposal his own men, (oi parà Apollonion); the manager of his gift-estate at Philadelphia, Zenon, had in turn his own oikos; and the same his own subordinates. Except for the Greek cities, it is hard to detect in the cora foreigners who did not belong to one oikos or another, and were not under the protection (skepe) of their employers» (p. 325).

 

 

The foreigners had much more opportunities to enrich themselves than the Egyptians, as functionaries, military men, grantees of land, contractors, tax-inspectors, tax-collectors, and bankers, in very much the same way as white men among coloured races in the early period of modern colonisation.

 

 

23. But even the position of these rulers had its draw backs. «The higher officials had, of course, great influence in the affairs of the country, but they were entirely dependent on the king or on their superiors. Their responsibility both personal and material was great. The demi-god of today might be disgraced, imprisoned, executed to-morrow, and his accumulated wealth confiscated by the king. Even the scanty records that we have contain many examples of such downfalls. The same might be the fate of officials of the second rank, as we see from instances in the Zenon correspondence. They were stewards of the king, and if they proved dishonest or inefficient the king never hesitated to indemnify himself by confiscating their property. How often this happened we cannot say. For it might happen to any official at any moment» (p. 326).

 

 

The majority of these members of the upper class belonged to the army and to the financial administration. Veterans, officers and men, in periods of peace, could reside on lands held as concessions (cleroi). They could improve them, undertake plantations, and add pieces of private grounds to them (ghe idioktetos). They could achieve, by hard work, a certain moderate amount of wealth. At the same time they ran heavy risks; during their absence under arms their estates could be granted to others or managed by strangers. They were not free to cultivate land at will, and they, together with the natives, suffered for the dishonesty and inefficiency of overseers and for the regulations of the planned economy of the Ptolemies. The intermediate class was numerous and powerful, owing to the centralised economic life in Egypt. Millions of producers, consumers and contributors, some of the first class tied to the kings by contract, augmented his great wealth. The tributes which they paid to the king’s treasury (Basilicon), his banks (trapezai), and his storehouses (thesauroi), were collected by thousands of officials of various grades, down to the humblest, the logheutai. The officials were responsible to the king for the execution of the obligations prescribed by contract to the farmers and other classes of artisans and producers.

 

 

Between the contributor and the collector of ground-rent and other kinds of taxes, a special class of guarantors was interposed in Egypt, guaranteeing the collection of a certain amount in money or kind to the king. If there was a deficiency, the guarantor, his associates and those who had offered security were obliged to pay the difference. In default of this the lands and properties of these men were sold for the state. If the result of the collection came up to expectation, the surplus belonged to the guarantors, and they received a salary in addition. The existence at the same time of tax-collectors, royal officials, and private guarantors created an efficient mutual control. Those who really suffered were the tax-payers caught between the tax-collectors and the guarantors. The king recommended that they should not be defrauded, maltreated or robbed, but indeed, the king was far away. The necessity of knowing the country well, its capacity for paying, and the valuation of each individual tax-payer involved a great number of guarantors. There was one attached to each small district. Since they had to assist in numerous small transactions and supervise the ascertainment and collection of small sums, the office of a guarantor was not exactly a sinecure. It necessitated the possession of a substantial fortune which in most cases consisted of cultivated land, vineyards and gardens. These people formed, as it were, the nucleus of a middle class, which was about to be formed in Egypt and which consisted also of merchants and industrialists of Alexandria and the new Greek towns, in addition to those previously mentioned (pp. 322-31).

 

 

Below this middle class there were modest artisans and workers, who were put in a position similar to that of their native Egyptian rivals; but the majority of the Greeks, under the first Ptolemaic rulers of the third century B.C. tended to be a part of the ruling class. They had the opportunity for self-advancement and to make money even in an economy which was planned to increase the task of the king and the power of the state. «Not only men of high position such as Apollonius and the other holders of the gift-estates, prominent civil and military assistants of the king, but men of more modest station, such as Zenon, the faithful steward of Apollonius, and probably many other members of his staff, were either rich or well-to-do. All these Greek civil officials belonged to the oikos of the king or to the oikoi of his assistants. We have seen how they invested their property during and after their term of service. They became land owners, progressive farmers who bought or rented large tracts of land or took a share in some form of business connected with the new economy of the Ptolemies; in building contracts of one kind or another, in contracts connected with taxation and with the king’s monopolies, in banking business or in money lending. We have no direct means of knowing how far they were successful in these ventures. But since we never hear in the time of Philadelphus of any lack of contractors willing to collaborate with the government we may infer that on the whole their business was not unremunerative. Zenon, as revealed by the letters he wrote in his retirement during the reign of Euergetes I, was a typical representative of a wealthy man of this period: first a member of an influential oikos, then a successful farmer, breeder of sheep, contractor, money-lender» (p. 411).

 

 

24. The good fortune of the Greco-Macedonian ruling class was, however, not accompanied by general content of the Egyptian subjects. Perhaps they were materially better off than in the times of the Pharaohs, but they were certainly not satisfied. Even if we have no knowledge of open revolts during the rule of the first Ptolemies, discontent was certainly widespread. Delations and punishments of people who were openly discontented were frequent and in turn caused more dissatisfaction. R. does not attribute this to poverty. The fact that the general level of prices was higher in Egypt than in Greece does not necessarily imply a state of misery. The reasons lay much deeper. The system of forced industrialisation of the country with systematic planning, at the same time controlling the economy of agriculture, manufacture and trade, did not function without causing some friction, especially in these early times. The priests could certainly not have viewed these methods with favour, since these deprived them of their former wealth and power.

 

 

The farmers and workers of Egypt were, indeed, accustomed to blind obedience to the king and his officers; but in Pharaonic times this had been a matter of patriarchal domination, executed by members of the same race, who spoke the same language, worshipped the same gods and had the same way of living.

 

 

With the Ptolemies there was a complete change. Nothing had changed, juridically and socially, in the natives situation. But above them an administrative machinery was created, huge and bureaucratic, complicated and impersonal, a machinery worked by foreigners, who considered themselves to be superior to the natives, did not speak the same language and, instead of learning it, forced the natives, or at least some of them, to learn their own. They had brought their own gods with them, and worshipped them in their own temples; they observed a different way of living and had different habits from those traditional to the natives. Above all, the government with its plans, controls and heavy taxation wanted to extract much more from the native population than had been the custom before. They applied foreign ideas of work to Egypt. The natives had to work hard and laboriously, not for the gods and kings of their own country, but for a foreign conqueror, surrounded by foreigners who had the best posts assigned to themselves, and who had the best opportunity to increase their wealth. Nearly all these foreigners were comparatively rich while the natives were poor. If a native had to borrow money or corn, he had usually to apply to a foreigner; if he wanted to rent a plot of land, in most cases it was the land of a foreigner. This foreigner was not always a hard and overpowering master; the kings were kind to the natives and so were their ministers. The natives felt nevertheless that they were not in their own country in Egypt, but that they were obedient tools in the hand of strangers (pp. 411-13).

 

 

The reaction was typical of the Eastern World, the anacoresis or secessio, the retreat of the farmer into the temples or in the desert. Perhaps not even a growing prosperity could have removed the historic and psychological causes for the conflict between the rulers and the ruled, nor relieved the country from the bureaucratic machinery created by the Ptolemies for the scientific and systematic exploitation of Egyptian soil. The wars of prestige waged by the successors of Philadelphus, Euergetes I, and Philopator procured fleeting power and glory and produced gold and silver for the royal treasury, but they did not stop – or maybe they even caused – a certain economic decay in the second half of the third century B.C. The unceasing wars forced Euergetes I frequently to call to arms the native Egyptian milita (maximoi), and Philopator (221-203 B.C.) was forced to call up a regular combatant phalanx, composed of Egyptians, in the wars against Antiochus III. The natives were obliged to undergo a hated naval service, and excessive ground-rents were levied (ekforia). During the war of Euergetes I with Syria (which lasted until 240 B.C.) we can, for the first time, speak of a revolt of the Egyptian farmers (p. 414). The economic rule of the country became even more strict. Some land concessions survived (doreai) and some few new ones were granted; many, however, were revoked, or were administered by royal employees. The servants of the kings were no longer rewarded with concessions of land for improvement; but with the right to levy royal taxes or other privileged rights, which naturally irritated the people. With the confiscation of concessions, the field for development of energy and enterprise became smaller and the old system of patriarchal government was substituted, to a large and increasing extent, by a bureaucracy, which was impersonal, and which therefore exasperated the people owing to this very impersonality (p. 415).

 

 

The result of giving the natives arms and raising their pride – owing to the ephemeral success of a doubtful victory – was chaotic rebellion throughout the whole of Egypt, accentuated by economic despair, and characterised by sacking of property of the oppressors, temples not being spared. The war, by overburdening the country through heavy taxation, revealed to its veterans the misery of their fate, and incited them to armed revolt against such an oppressive system of forced economy.

 

 

Under the succeeding kings (Epiphanes 203-181 and Philometor 181-145) economic conditions became worse. The famous Rosetta-stone (196 B.C.) decreed by the priests to honour the Epiphanes, gives a testimonial of acts of kindness, on the part of the king to the priests. But such benevolence, the philantropa, was not spontaneous. Behind it one has visions of heavy taxes, the accumulation of arrears, of confiscations and the prisons full of delinquents and debtors of public and private money, of bands of fugitives living in the country on robbery, of forced recruitings into the army and navy, the lack of workers, of gradual depopulation of lands, of neglect for dykes and canals. We have some documents which throw light on this situation. In the documents of a law case between two members of the family of one Petetum, priest of Siut in Upper Egypt, one can read of two inventories, one of the year 181/80 (the 25th of Epiphanes) and the other of 174/73 B.C. (the eighth of Philometor). The few intervening years were not years of war; yet a warehouse, which was new in 181 lies in ruins in 174; a house in the necropolis, other houses and gardens, in all, five out of a total of eighteen real estate items in the inventory, are in ruins. Did the civil war, finished in 184, still drag on in Upper Egypt? Were the houses abandoned owing to the general bad state of affairs? It is impossible to answer these questions, but the documents illustrate the living conditions of members of a priestly family, typical of Egypt, a country not lacking in temples (p. 716).

 

 

25. The desertion of the land forced the government to institute terms of forced cultivation. They originally started with advice and friendly pressure. Hippalus, who appears in documents between 185 and 169 B.C. as high priest of Ptolemy Soter in Ptolemais and as epistrategos or governor general apparently of all Egypt, writes – according to Herodes, minister of finance and economy under Philometer – in detail instructions to his subordinates, the wealthier large farmers, the land owners and the royal officials, inviting them to take the responsibility for payments due on untilled land, i.e. to till them at their own risk. Perhaps this invitation is one of the first examples of the epibolè of untilled land, i. e. the obligation imposed upon members of the wealthier classes to till land, an institution destined to become the dominant factor of the agricultural system in succeeding centuries (pp. 717-18).

 

 

Besides this compulsion there were prizes. In the old dorea of Apollonius, which flourished so well during his lifetime, an ample extension of land was offered by the government to those, who wanted to improve them under conditions of a most favourable lease; without any payment of ground-rent for ten years (aforos) and at a nominal rent of one drachma for one aroura thereafter.

 

 

A new revolt led by one Dionysius Petosarapis in 165-64 B.C. at the time of the dynastic struggle between Philometor and Euergetes II, increased the desertion of the land by farmers and thus the extent of the untilled soil. An order of the king in 164 B.C. demanded that all (pantes) had to take a share in the cultivation of abandoned lands, and the forced repatriation of all those, who were capable of undertaking the task. For their encouragement a reduction in the ground-rent was promised. The order was obeyed to the letter by the officials, but since the wealthy could evade it to a large extent by corruption or by intimidation, the whole burden fell upon the smaller men, the farmers of the royal estates, the smaller employees, the soldiers, chiefly natives, whose cleroi consisted of eight, seven, five, or less arourae and were hardly sufficient to keep their own families. The soldiers stationed at Alexandria, together with the guardians of the Nile, sent a petition to the king. The dioicetes Herodes should give to the officials a better interpretation of all; pantes, indeed, but only all those who were in a position to sustain the burden, the rich and well-to-do, not the simple labourers (p. 721). In fact the system of forced cultivation had the final result of overcharging mainly the lower classes. The king anxious to receive rents and taxes in full, exerted pressure upon the dioicetes; the dioicetes in his turn pressed subordinates, public servants and so on. All of them, who were aware that they were responsible, as sureties, with their own persons and their possessions to ward the king, took alarm and exerted pressure in their turn upon the people with all means at their disposal (p. 724). A Serapeum papyrus from Memphis of 156 B.C. describes the sad position of the tax-payers pressed by the contractors of taxes (telonai): – «Compulsory exactions (diadeismoi), trickery (paralogheiai), and denunciations (sucofanteiai) of the tax-payers alleged to be recalcitrant and dishonest, were of common occurence. Complaints to the local administration proved ineffective. The tax-payers in their sorry plight had recourse to the king and his dioicetes, setting forth their grievances against the local administration and the tax-farmers. Alexandria was full of these petitioners. To stop this flow of malcontents the dioicetes Dioscurides sent a circular letter to his subordinates in the cora reminding them of the desire of the king and queen that justice should be done and of his own policy directed to the same end, and forbidding acts of oppression and denunciation. The intentions of the king and his dioicetes were excellent, their principles of government benevolent and humane, but I doubt very much whether any positive improvement resulted from the letter … Compulsion was of course not the only means at the disposal of the government nor the only one adopted. It was a dangerous weapon. The reactions of the population to it were many and various. Bitter complaints were only one of them, and the most harmless. More dangerous were the strikes, secessions, (anacoreseis) … mostly collective, but often individual. A man hard pressed would simply disappear from his home (idia) and vanish. Finally, behind the secession stood the perpetual spectre of armed revolt, of civil war» (from p. 725).

 

 

26. Consequently the kings were obliged to employ conciliatory measures other than those methods of force: «… reduction of rents (koufismos); privileges granted to farmers in consideration of their reclaiming waste and abandoned land – total exemption from rent for the first five or ten years, followed by a nominal and finally a full rent (emphyteutic contracts); assessment of the rent of certain parcels of land not according to their nominal value (i.e. the class to which they belonged in the land registers), but to their actual value (katà ten areten ex axias), and that sometimes for a long or even an indefinite term. In some documents we find combinations of several of these methods. The results were sometimes satisfactory. In the land registers and other documents we find instances of land reclaimed and restored to its former status. But such cases are rare. In general the measures described above did not arrest the gradual, sometimes rapid growth of the area of uncultivated land (upologos) which produced no revenue for the king» (from p. 726). In order to resist the progressive desertion of the land, the king found himself obliged to relax the strictness of the economic system. The priests succeeded in obtaining greater liberty for the temples and themselves in the administration of the sacred lands (ghe ierà) and full independence concerning such lands, as were obtained by donations from private benefactors or from the king himself (ghe anieromene). The veterans and the Greco-Macedonian soldiers acquired the recognition of the right to hand over their concessions (ghe clerochikè) to their sons and perhaps even other relatives. The seizure by the government of sacred land – cultivated by priests and cleruchies – ceased. Also the native laoi managed to extricate themselves from the position of mere farmers of the king, working on crown property. Since the Ptolemies of the second century were little inclined to increase the aristocracy of the Greco-Macedonian soldiers, who quickly became arrogant pretorians, they tended to enlist side by side with the Greco-Macedonian phalanx no longer known as clerucoi, but as catoicoi, a number of phalangi of native soldiers, to whom parts of the concessions had necessarily to be assigned. The cleroi of the native soldiers were small and needed hard work; but they could be enlarged by other lands on long lease, which had to be reclaimed or improved (pp. 728-29).

 

 

The Ptolemies therefore had to open wide breaches in their own system of planned economy, in the second century B.C., and the number of those who enjoyed a certain amount of economic liberty, particularly the old farmers of the king (laoi basilikoi) were increased. In addition to new concessions of land to officials and members of the royal house during the reigns of Epiphanes, Philometor and Euergetes II, we find numerous free land owners mentioned (ghe idioktetos). These owners united themselves in associations which had the means of acquiring or building gymnasia for their own use and entertainment.

 

 

27. If the improvement in the position of the laoi (royal farmers) to the level of the cleruchoi (soldiers, among them natives, holders of the lands) appeared to be a rise in status for the natives, the higher class of the catoicoi of the Greco-Macedonian soldiers although provided with much more extensive lands, was not always free from oppression and misery. The great temple of Sarapis near Memphis was an oasis of tranquillity in the tempestuous sea of troubled and oppressed life in Ptolemaic Egypt. We know of this oasis through documents relating to a voluntary recluse called Ptolemy who had fled there a long time before 165-64, the date of the revolt of Petosarapis. Ptolemy was the son of a catoicos and probably subject to military service. His father Glaucias had been killed at Psichis around 164 B.C., possibly by rebels. Ptolemy had sought refuge in the peribolos of the sanctuary and in spite of opposition and alleged persecution on the part of the priests (because he was Greek), he had preferred to continue his life as encatocos (consecrated to the god), while his brother Apollonius, after a period of being a voluntary recluse, had preferred to enlist as a soldier. Refuge to the temple and enrolment as soldiers appear to have been the only two opportunities of life for educated Greeks without powerful protection, the only ways to save themselves from dangers which menaced life and possessions in the troubled times of revolution and dynastic struggles. The temple of Sarapis was one of the few places recognised as asylum by the government, and many people took shelter there from the adversities of life. A little more information about some of these refugees has come down to us: Twin sisters who persecuted by their mother after the flight and death of their father, found refuge and later employment in the sanctuary under the protection of the recluse Ptolemy; a girl Heracleia who tried to save herself from slavery, under the protection of Sarapis and of the same Ptolemy; perhaps another girl of the name of Tathemis who earned her living as a temple beggar; some factory workers who ran the risk of being crucified for some mistake made at work, or who had just tried to run away; convicts escaped from prison; Macedonian soldiers returning from the campaign in 168 B.C. (probably after the war of Philometor against Antiochus III), who locked themselves into the temple on their way home, perhaps to thank the god for having saved them from great peril. Most of them returned home, but one of them, Hephaistion, remained, at least for a while, hesitating to leave such a quiet place where one could earn onès living without danger. Hephaistion was aware that life in the temple was not easy and at times he was discouraged; but the letters from his wife Isias and his brother Dionysius described to him the life at home as even harder:

 

 

«But about your not coming home … I am ill pleased, because, after having piloted myself and your child through such bad times and having been driven to every extremity owing to the price of corn, I thought that, with you at home, I should enjoy some respite… Remembering how I was in want of everything while you were still here, not to mention the long lapse of time and these critical days during which you have not sent us anything» (from pp. 735-36).

 

 

One does not know whether Hephaistion decided to leave the temple and return home, but the letters are proof of the bad conditions against which families of the privileged class of Greek land-owners (clerucoi), such as that of Hephaistion and his wife, had to contend (pp. 734-36).

 

 

28. The dynastic struggles excited by the Rome authorities and culminating in the reduction of Egypt to a Roman province[4] show the progressive disintegration of the social economic system created by the Ptolemies. There had, indeed, been a gradual mutual penetration between the two classes of Greeks and natives. Many Egyptians became completely Hellenised, and, owing to a completely Greek education, spoke and wrote the Greek language fluently. Some of them had acquired considerable fortunes and had been raised to high offices under the last Ptolemies. Others, not so wealthy, were smaller officials filling quite important departments. The high priests of the Egyptian temples were adequately respected by the government and the Greeks of Egypt. On the other hand, many Greeks had become altogether assimilated, spoke the Egyptian tongue, took a lively share in local life, and had accepted with true devotion the native deities, though slightly Hellenised. There were many mixed families using both Greek and Egyptian names. Many Greeks had fallen into a lower social condition than the Hellenised Egyptians and even than the not Hellenised ones. The line which separated the upper class from the lower was no longer identical with that which separated the Greeks from the Egyptians. Many Egyptians were known to be among the rich and there was no lack of Greek poor. A Greek mother writes to congratulate her Greek son on having learned the Egyptian language, and thus obtained the job of becoming a tutor in the family of an Egyptian iatroclustes (physician of internal diseases). But the difference between a mixed upper class and a more numerous lower class of natives remained. On his arrival in a catoikia, the governor, on his tour of inspection, was welcomed according to the rank, in the first place, by the high priest and his attendants, then by Greek military colonists, then by the clients of the oikia, perhaps that of the governor himself; next by the families of soldiers under arms, by soldiers on leave (catoicoi), their families, and by foreigners not resident in the catoikia; and lastly, after a fitting interval, the native laoi came to render their homage (p. 884).

 

 

29. The fusion between the Greeks and the Egyptians failed to abolish the difference between the classes, the dynastic struggles and the wars of the second half of the second, and the first half of the first centuries B.C. even aggravated the general misery and the social struggle. Strikes in the tradition of Ancient Egypt, the anacoresis or the ecchoresis (secessio), became more frequent. Discontented people left their work and their homes and retreated into the temple under the protection of the god, or moved to another village and lived there in obscurity, assisted by their comrades in misery. If the striker was in danger of his life, or completely despairing, he fled into the marshes or the desert, and became a brigand. The number of temples possessing the right of asylum increased. In the first century B.C. and particularly under Ptolemy Alexander I and Ptolemy Auletes, the right of asylum was extended to temples both old and new, large and small, and sometimes even to several in the same district. The priests had the power to grant asylum only to a chosen few, and they tried to protect themselves, by posting an official notice at the entrance gates, against any one committing acts of violence against the refugees in the protection of the god or even against themselves: «fi me pragma, me eisienai» «There is no admittance for those who have no business in the temple». But the working classes could not easily be restrained in the use of this right – which they considered sacred – to find asylum against oppression in the temples. Although driven away by the priests they forced an entry, and once installed in the sacred precincts, they demanded food and shelter. The government did not altogether object to the exercise of the right of asylum since it gave the temples prestige, the right to distribute work on their own initiative together with the right to protect refugees from the petty illegal tyrannies of their officials, which they were unable to check. By their refusal to do an essential job and by their flight to the temples, the natives succeeded in obtaining a partial recognition of their civic rights (p. 903).

 

 

Where protection was not forthcoming from the temples, it was sought from those in power, i. e. the very wealthy people of the upper class. Diodorus mentions a Hierax, a general of Euergetes II, who by granting a loan enabled the king to conduct a campaign against the rebel Galaistes, another Nabob of Alexandria. Many Egyptians belonged towards the end of the second century to an oikos and were under the skepe of some person of importance. Those involved in law suits, debtors and tax-payers turned to the protector to defend them, or to obtain justice for them. A department defended his dependents even against the state. Had somebody been imprisoned for private debt, and was therefore unable to cultivate the land conceded to him by the state? A farmer in royal service had fled to the temple to protect himself against some imminent danger? The state gave him a pistis, a temporary safe-conduct, to enable him to carry out a certain task for the state. Safe-conducts were not only issued by the king, but also by his officials. A priest received a decree for his house declaring it inviolable (asulos), and thus making it almost equal to a temple. It also happened under the title of counter protection, that private citizens whishing to obtain money by loan, or to undertake a contract, were obliged on oath to refrain from making use of the right of asylum, or of the protection by the king or by private citizens (pp. 905-06).

 

 

30. The system of economy, however, forced to a technical advance through a rigid government control, maintained by a middle class of Greco-Macedonian colonisers, consisting of enterprising men in search of wealth and fortune, and suitable, at the same time, to fill the royal treasury, by forcing farmers and native workers in industry to undertake an endless task, in a manner alien to local custom, such a system was bound to break up gradually. «Not only did the authority of the king, undermined by these factors, decline rapidly, but his wealth diminished concurrently. His principal sources of revenue – the rent of the royal land and the revenue from the monopolies and taxes, constantly decreased. The estates of the temples, the private lands, including that of the settled soldiers, and the gift estates grew mainly at the expense of the royal domain, and their growth, despite heavy taxation of private land, contributed to the decline of the royal revenue. Even more detrimental were the rapid decreases in the area of cultivated land – royal and other – and the increased difficulties of renting it, which have been described above, and the concomitant depopulation of the villages. Finally, the growing dishonesty of the royal officials and their neglect of royal interests conduced to a marked degree to the impoverishment of the king. All efforts of the government to arrest this decline in its revenue proved in most cases unsuccessful … If the milder measures failed, the final resource was the confiscation of the property of the persons responsible for the cultivation of the land, for the management of industry or trade, or for tax-collection. This responsibility, whether of the persons bound to the state by some form of contract (tenants, industrial workers, retail traders, contractors of various kinds), or the agents of the state for the full collection of the revenues, was a tradition from the ancient, pre-Ptolemaic financial administration. But never had it been enforced so frequently and systematically as under the Ptolemies, especially in the second and first centuries B.C. It was at this time, for instance, that a momentous innovation in this respect was introduced. Alongside of individual responsibility, an experiment was tried in collective responsibility. This collective responsibility was applied first, not to the government agents, but those who paid rent and taxes to the crown, for instance the villages of royal tenants … Another peculiar feature of the royal economy of that time … was the rapid growth of ownerless property (adespota) … The most typical adespota were the property of private persons who died intestate and without heirs. Much more important, however, were res derelictae, abandoned property… especially common in troubled times when the owners fled from their place of residence and left their property behind them. To the same class, substantially, belonged the confiscated property of insolvent debtors of the state; defaulters in payment of rent and taxes, officials and state contractors (including their sureties) responsible for the collection of revenue and for the management of monopolies … But it is worthy of note, as I have mentioned above, that a special department called idios logos and a special official of the same name, first appear in documents of the second century B.C.» (from pp. 906-08).

 

 

There was no simple solution to the problem. The large increase in territory which had become property of the king since it had been abandoned, did not enrich the patrimony of the state, but was, indeed, a source of annoyance and anxiety. Desertion of the land and depopulation of the villages went together. A petition from farmers of the village Oschyrhynchos, in the late second century, to the epistates of the village declares that, while the population had once been 140, it was now reduced to a mere 40, owing to acts of injustice. In a priest’s report on a temple at Hiera Nesos, in the year 51-50 B.C. anxiety is expressed about the treasures of the temple, since all the inhabitants had moved and left only the priests (monotatus). The excavations at Caranis in the Fayum have shown that the area occupied by the village in the late Hellenistic period had become smaller than during the reign of the first Ptolemies. The discovery of the papyri of Zenon in the wine-cellar of a private house in Philadelphia shows that the house of Zenon in all probability was in ruins during the last years of Ptolemaic rule (pp. 908-09).

 

 

Egypt, therefore, lived in poverty, a poverty both of the state machine and of the majority of its inhabitants in the late second and in the first centuries B.C. A sure indication of this fact is the spasmodic and almost feverish rise in prices. The increase was caused by the devaluation of money in circulation. Inflation was rife, with its issues of copper money, and the adulteration of silver coins.

 

 

31. To explain this decline, it is not sufficient to put on record the defects of the last Ptolemies, it is not enough to observe that the last kings were degenerate descendants of the founders of the monarchy. The system of government had remained unchanged from the third to the first centuries B.C. The last kings, like the first, did not like oppression for its own sake, and tried to suppress any abuse of power by their officials thus protecting the more numerous classes. Why should these sentiments appear sincere in Ptolemy Philadelphus, asks R., and yet sound mere empty formulae in the utterances of his last successors? The machinery of government created by Philadelphus had never ceased to be operated in the same manner, and with the same power, by men of good intentions. One cannot even say that this decline was due to an increase of nationalistic tendencies on the part of the Egyptian masses. The Ptolemies had tried to appear, in the eyes of the natives, descendants of the Pharaohs, and had avoided any offence against the local gods – on the contrary, they courted and protected them. The laoi were not enemies of the foreigners as such, but of anybody who was a member of the ruling class. Nor could the Romans be considered responsible for the decline. Roman power was only felt during the reign of Auletes (80-51) and by then the country had already declined considerably. Rome had been first to respect the independence of Egypt and then actually saved it in the time of Antiochus IV.

 

 

32. All these might have been secondary reasons contributing to the egyptian decline. The main cause, according to R. the deciding factor, was the mood of the people, and particularly of the working class. Since we find ourselves coming to the final conclusion of the book, it is necessary to reproduce the page in full: «The main features of Egyptian life are here recapitulated: the economic oppression of the working classes; the division of the population of Egypt into two groups, one socially and economically privileged and consisting to a large extent of foreigners, and the other treated by the government mainly as a source of revenue, as labour necessary for the production of goods; the antinomy between the economic, social and political structure of life of the two classes, which found its expression in the division of Egypt into polis and cora, into ghè basilikè and ghè en afesei into laoi and Ellenes; and the coexistence of two types of economic life, one reserved for the Ellenes, another for the laoi, one based on a certain amount of freedom and initiative, another regulated from above and subject to a far reaching state-control. Now these predominant features, which could not remain unnoticed and unresented by the natives and which affected their private life and their prosperity, were all of them creations of the early Ptolemies and were inherited from them by their successors. Add to this, that the private law of the natives, which was individualistic and opposed to state-control, but in spite of this was never altered by the Ptolemies, accentuated the antinomy inherent in the Ptolemaic organization. It is not exact to say that the people began to resent this state of things late in the history of Ptolemaic Egypt. It did so from the outset, at first tacitly through strikes, later openly by revolts.

 

 

But it took some time for the natives to feel the oppression of the new system, more to realise that they could not hope to better their situation by petitions and complaints, and still more to become conscious of their strength and to organize open resistance. On the other hand, the system, so long as it was new and not yet rigid, worked comparatively smoothly. It took time again for the government to become an inhuman machine, and for the bureaucracy to learn how the population might be oppressed without too much danger to the oppressors. The bureaucratic system became indurated and developed an inflexible routine just at the time when the political conditions became complicated and threatening and the series of native revolts began» (from pp. 973-74). This conclusion regarding the decline of Egypt is opposed by well known scholars, because they consider it based on the personal opinions of the author on social questions, and on erroneous analogies with recent events of present history. Criticism has been evoked particularly by an article published by R., in the «Journal of Egyptian Archeology» in 1920, in which some of the opinions developed in the present volume were expressed. But R. reminds us that the same opinions were already maintained by him since 1902 in two works (the Staatspacht of 1902 and the Kolonat of 1910), published before the event to which the critics referred (the Russian Revolution) was even thought of; and that they remained unchanged, since they were based exclusively on historical material collected and scrutinised by him personally.

 

 

33. If I close the review of this great work of the Russian historian at this point, I am fully aware that I am committing an injustice. For there are a great number of problems dealt with by him, which I must leave without comment, from discussions on the devaluation of the Egyptian coinage to the most careful research on the development of industry, technical knowledge, agriculture, commerce and navigation in the Hellenistic world, researches on the economic position of single regions and towns, their relations with Rome, Parthia, with the barbarians of Southern Russia, with China, India and Ethiopia; the picture of the heritage received from the Persian Empire, and the legacy of Hellenistic civilisation to the Roman world. I have tried only to summarise, in a sketchy synthesis, some of the fundamental points made by the author: the essential task of the middle class of the Greek cities in the colonisation and Hellenisation of the Hellenistic world as it was then, and also the characteristic picture of the structure of Egyptian economy, coordinated according to plan by higher authority.

 

 

34. What judgement can a layman, as the author of these lines confesses to be, give on the work of R., regarding the history of the ancient world? Leibnitz writes: «Tria sunt quae expectimus in historia, primum voluptatem noscendi res singulares, deinde utilia imprimis vitae praecepta at denique origines praesentium a praeteritis repetitas, cum omnia optime ex causis noscantur».[5]

 

 

The desire to learn rare and scholarly new facts is completely satisfied by R., so rich and variegated is the harvest of particular sidelights on ancient life from monuments, inscriptions, objects of art and collections in the museums, from papyri and literary sources. He could make a delightful little book out of his 1800 pages, a book after the manner of Gaston Boissier or Carcopino.

 

 

What does the book teach us? Here the answer is not so certain; and it depends on the other question, what answer we give to the following problem: Has R. really produced something fundamentally important on the problem of the book, the causes of the greatness and the decline of the Hellenistic world?

 

 

35. That the Hellenistic world was a great creation; that the unity of that world was cultural and not political, and that this singular achievement was the work of the middle class, the backbone and centre of activity of the poleis since the days of Pericles; that the greatness of the Hellenistic world was due to the moving spirit of initiative, of colonisation and construction – including the tilling of lands, the building of towns, temples, schools, institutes and administrative centres by the Greeks of the middle class – this appears to me a conclusion historically proved. The Greek citizen in his home town had been a homo politicus, had lived the life of his polis, had taken part in its debates, had taken the side not only of certain political chiefs, but also of certain philosophical schools and had not stopped short before any conclusion, if it was well thought out. He now became, as soon as Alexander gave him the opportunity of world conquest, above all a homo oeconomicus and a homo technicus. He did not renounce the right of discussion or political strife he had enjoyed in the town of his origin, but in the empire conquered by the sword of Alexander, he adapted himself quickly to substitute the idea of the king for that of the city. Since he wanted to serve the king, instead of the town, he quickly changed from the status of citizenship to that of a member of a larger state organisation of new dynasts, and cooperated thus with his intelligence and with hard industry to create the bureaucratic machinery intended to utilise the native masses for the economic and political improvement of the state. By doing this, the Greek dug the abyss into which the ruins of the Hellenistic world were to fall. The Hellenistic world died politically under the iron fist of the Romans, because the Greeks had not solved the social problem of cooperation in the conquered countries between a ruling minority and a labouring majority, just as they had failed to do so in their own towns of origin. In the cities of the Greek motherland, the poor, proportionally less numerous, after some fleeting victories under demagogues, who had made themselves tyrants, were oppressed by the weapons of word, of charity and, finally, of force; similarly in the conquered countries, and particularly in Egypt, the technical economic machinery pressed upon native labour and sought to reduce it to be a mere obedient instrument of the sovereign power. This mechanism, growing gradually stiffer (as has been historically proved, this is fatal to any bureaucratic mechanism), caused in turn the mummification of the whole society, destroyed the spirit of enterprise, and provoked discontent among the frustrated classes. Therefore, was the fall due to the mechanism itself or to the exploitation of natives, considered mere tools in all undertakings, just like any other invention of the fertile mind of the Greeks, whose purpose was to increase man’s production power? The page, which I have produced above in its entirety, tells us something of this: The system of economy planned from above, which the Ptolemies introduced in Egypt, perfecting old incomplete institutions of the Pharaohs, widened the breach between native subjects and Greek conquerors, between the country, inhabited by Egyptian farmers, and the Greek towns. In this growing contrast, the Greeks necessarily lost, little by little, their original quality of intelligent and creative enterprise, that spirit which had made them promoters of economic advancement and political greatness, and, in spite of their tendency to Hellenise the better and more energetic individuals of the Egyptian masses, in spite of their yielding in matters of religious cults, their respect towards local customs and traditions, they had gradually to reduce themselves to a bureaucracy of tax-gatherers and contractors of imposts and monopolies. Their hands lay heavily both upon the natives and upon themselves. What independence and creative spirit they had, in the ruling class, was eventually lost owing to the necessity of executing a programme dictated to them by their superiors, and at the same time of delivering to the state what it needed in its defence against outside competitors and the discontented masses at home. The Hellene became an official; the land owner no longer conquered desert territories by ditch and irrigation to make them fertile, or to build vineyards and gardens. He was instead forced, in accordance with state planning, to till, to produce, to pay tribute to the king, at first as an individual and then en bloc in a group, perhaps a village. At that point living societies, working independently from the state, cease to exist. The necessity of subjecting the Egyptian masses of workers had enslaved the Hellenised ruling class itself. A society consisting solely of a mass of subjects forced to obey the mysterious powers of an oppressive economic machinery and a state bureaucracy, both military and civil, is no longer a society, but a dead organism. The Romans did not destroy anything. The Ptolemaic state, deprived of its sap, simply no longer existed.

 

 

36. This analysis seems to be true. One problem remains unsolved: when economy planned from above had become inelastic because it involved the exploitation of the masses for the benefit of a class of conquerors, it provoked in that mass a feeling of hate and a desire for revolt, and, as a reactionary measure, had to turn to the artificial maintenance of social and political order.

 

 

Such a purpose of exploitation had not been intentional. R. observes repeatedly, and justly, that neither the first nor the last Ptolemies desired the misery of the native labourers, farmers and artisans in the towns. Nor would the natives have revolted because they had to pay high taxes and had to do hard work, if their material conditions had not deteriorated since the time of the Pharaohs. On the other hand, the contrast would have become less apparent in time, owing to the gradual mixture of the two races, and the slow but effective Hellenisation of the cultured Egyptian minority. Why should the working classes look with less desire of imitation and with less respect upon the new ruling class, which presented itself with religious, cultural and political attributes, not unlike those of the former rulers?

 

 

37. There is, in the Ptolemaic system of planned economy, an essential characteristic, to which great importance should be attached, as R. gave it great prominence in his analysis of the decline of the middle classes in their own country: that is, its insecurity. In the Greek town (cf. paragraphs 10 and 11), the fear of war, of piracy, of revolutions, of confiscations, of liturgies, of forced public services and reduction to slavery weighed like an incubus on the members of the middle class during the last three centuries B.C. This state of affairs is taken by R. to be the reason for the weakening of the spirit of enterprise, the decline in the birth-rate, the decadence of the middle class, the widening gulf between rich and poor, and the decline of political life within the towns. The system of controlled economy was peculiar to Egypt, or at least was applied there in its complete form; and there it supplemented the other factors of insecurity which were plentiful in the Hellenistic world. At first sight this statement sounds paradoxical. Regulation, programme, plan of cultivation, diagramma, are they not, beyond the scope of doubt, are they not the opposite of insecurity? But this order, indeed, appears often in opposition to reason and justice, if, as R. notes with some insistance, espionage, fines and imprisonment were frequent; if, as we are told by extant texts of petitions, tyrannical acts were common; if the interior of the country was in the hands of petty tyrants, contractors and tax-collectors, who executing the will of the king and his ministers, derived particular private advantages for themselves. This is the worst form of insecurity, worse than the fear of war, revolution and famine and piracy, because instead of the inscrutable will of the gods, it must be attributed to the evil will of Man. The insecurity derived from the system of planned economy, in Ptolemaic Egypt, was synonymous with arbitrary power. This arbitrary power was also called concession: concession of lands (doreai, cleroi), of public monopolies, of running factories and trades: all these institutions, created for the benefit of state and society, in the end favoured the enslavment of the masses.

 

 

Against arbitrary power the Egyptians resorted to anachoresis, i.e. flight into the desert which naturally meant the dissolution of society. Against arbitrary power, fatally inherent to any kind of planned economy, what can human beings find to-day, now that there are no more deserts and little by little disappear the frontiers dividing civilised and planned countries from unknown lands, where men might look for liberty? What will men be able to find within themselves, in substitution of the flight beyond the frontiers?



[1] Anche in estratto Greatness and decline of planned economy in the Hellenistic world, Berne, A. Francke publishers, 1950, pp. 48

[2] The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World by Michail Rostovtzeff, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1941, Three Volumes, I. pp. XXIV-602, II, pp. VIII-603-1213, III, pp. 8 s.n. 1313-1799.

[3] The correspondence between Zenon and Apollonius falls into three parts. The first dates from the time when Zenon helped in Apollonius’ department, directing affairs in Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, and assisting him in Alexandria and during his tours of inspection: in the second he has been appointed grand-administrator of the concession at Philadelphia in the Fayum by Apollonius and dedicates all his energies to the development of his estates. The third part, Zenon being now old, deals chiefly with affairs of his private patrimony. The records of Zenon, scattered in many archives and collections both private and public of the old and new worlds, form one of the most valuable sources of knowledge of Hellenistic Egypt. When they are fully published and interpreted it will be worth while, for any economic theorist, to examine them ex professo. New additions may well supplement the already rich material of R. and of other scholars.

[4] Death of Philometer on the battle field in Syria in 145 B.C.; reign of his younger brother Ptolemy under the name of Euergetes II, together with two women, Cleopatra II, officially his sister, and her daughter and sister of Euergetes, Cleopatra III, officially his wife, both ambitious, very cruel and most hostile to each other (145-116 B.C.); the reign of Cleopatra III, associated against her will with her first born son Soter II, to whom she preferred her youngest son Alexander (116-101); of Soter II, reigning on his own, in opposition to his brother Alexander and the bastard Apion, to the latter of whom his father had left Cyrenaica which in turn was later inherited by Rome; the reign of Auletes, half-brother of Soter II (80-51), a puppet in the hands of the Romans and his own friends, hated by the population of Alexandria; and the last brilliant moment, a dream of independence and greatness, the reign of Cleopatra, ended by the Roman annexation in 30 B.C.

[5] Arcessiones Historicae, quoted from J. Huizinga in Wege der Kulturgeschichte, p. 26.

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