Monday, November 03, 2014

More on When the Greeks Ruled Egypt

EXHIBITION REVIEW: When the Greeks Ruled Egypt (James Romm, New York Review of Books). Excerpt:
Egypt was a melting pot of languages as well as of religious traditions. Aramaic arrived in the sixth century BCE as the lingua franca of Egypt’s Persian conquerors, joining the Greek, Carian, and Hebrew tongues already spoken there by pharaoh’s foreign mercenaries. A superb set of Aramaic papyri displayed in this show provides a kind of biographic sketch of one Ananiah, a Jewish garrison soldier stationed at Elephantine (modern Aswan) who married an Egyptian slave named Tamet, acquired property, refurbished his home, and passed on his estate to his children, Pilti and Jehoishema. Though they precede the Ptolemies by a century, and have no connection either to the Greeks or their rule, these perfectly preserved documents illustrate one family’s journey through time in the polyglot, multiethnic valley of the Nile.

Ananiah lived in an Egypt that chafed under Achaemenid Persian conquerors who ruled from afar and disdained local traditions. Small wonder then that the Ptolemies, who made themselves at home in Egypt and embraced much of its culture, proved such a long-lived and successful dynasty, overthrown in the end not by revolt or rebellion but by the armies of the rising power of Rome.
Background on the exhibition is here. More on the Elephantine papyri is here and links.