This article discusses the Ptolemaic legacy and Egyptian independence; the annexation of Egypt; and the first Roman prefects in Egypt. In contrast to earlier changes of ruler, the annexation of Egypt by Octavian represents a particularly lasting break in the country's history. Octavian was quickly able to stabilize Roman authority in the newly created province. As in the other provinces of the empire, a new, well-designed, and effective administration was speedily introduced. It was headed by the prefect, the direct representative of the emperor. To secure his rule, Octavian-Augustus also sought engagement with the priests, the elite of the country. This is evident in the numerous temples that were built, particularly in areas of strategic and economic importance.
Roman Egypt is the only part of the ancient world where documentary evidence for the age composition of the general population has survived. Pertinent information is provided by extant census returns from the first three centuries of Roman rule. Gathered every fourteen years, these documents list the members of individual households with their names, familial status, and ages. Knowledge of the age distribution enables us to track mortality rates and infer average life expectancy, which is a critical measure of overall well-being. This article discusses mortality patterns, causes of death, and disease and physical well-being.
Marjorie S. Venit
Distinguished in the first century
This article reviews archaeological studies in the Nile Delta. It discusses problems of archaeological work in the Delta; previous work in the Delta; current research and survey; survey and recording; and excavation. The Nilotic landscape of Egypt was a fantasy place in the Roman imagination. For the people who lived there, the archaeological remains suggest a vibrant society with new towns springing up to manage the agricultural lands. The old Pharaonic temple cities were reinvigorated as metropoleis, with all of the trappings of Roman life from a monetized economic system to marble statuary brought from Italy, and with industrial areas manufacturing goods for local consumers and visitors.
This article discusses the archaeology of the Fayum region, covering land reclamation projects; discoveries and archaeological excavations; layout of Graeco-Roman settlements; and houses of the Roman period. The Fayum was developed in Hellenistic and Roman times to maximize agricultural output, which also led to the foundation and development of several settlements. Although many sites were known by name following the discovery of papyri in the late nineteenth century, early explorations were not well documented or published by the excavators, and considerable damage was wrought by illicit digging and sebakhin activity. Fortunately, a number of ongoing projects, combining archaeology, papyrology, and archival research, are constantly improving our knowledge of Fayum settlements, and in particular the interrelationship between the temple, its dromos, and the residential areas of the towns and villages.
The First Nile Cataract, an outcrop of the granite bedrock, interrupts the course of the Nile and creates many small islands between Philae and Syene, ancient Swnw ('Trade'), modern Aswan. The First Cataract was a natural, ethnic, and symbolic frontier between Egypt and Nubia. From the early third millennium onwards, Egypt repeatedly invaded Nubia with the intention of fixing her southern frontier at the Second Cataract, i.e., the southern end of the Lower Nubian Nile Valley. The possession of Lower Nubia secured unlimited control over the river trade between Egypt and Upper Nubia. It also meant the ownership of the resources of the adjacent desert areas — above all the goldmines of the Eastern Desert — as well as control over the desert roads connecting Egypt with the interior of Africa. Egypt conquered Lower Nubia first around 2800
Over the past twenty years, the topic of agriculture and husbandry has been of rising interest among historians and archaeologists of the ancient Mediterranean, and notably of Roman Egypt. Our knowledge of Roman Egypt's rural life relies heavily on documentary papyri. Their abundance and the wealth of information they contain allow unparalleled insights into the socio-economic life of a Roman province. This article discusses three main issues: agro-fiscal management policies, land use and food production, and religious landscapes. The agro-fiscal management of Roman Egypt was oriented towards the maximization of its agrarian yields and, hence, fiscal revenues. In this regard, particular attention was dedicated to the promotion of agriculturally marginal land, as Mendesian agrarian terminology shows. Overall, the province's agricultural life was mainly dedicated to wheat cultivation.
This article discusses Christianity in Egypt from its origins down to the martyrdoms under Diocletian in the early fourth century. It looks at three key areas: the establishment of the church community and hierarchy in Alexandria, the manifestation of Christianity in the chora, and the Roman government's response to Christianity. The period closes with the development of the monastic tradition, one of Egypt's major contributions to Christianity and to Western culture.
This article begins with an overview of the history of excavations and exploration at Tuna el-Gebel. It then discusses the site of Tuna el-Gebel; the necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel before Roman rule; the development of the urban structure in the early Roman period; the tombs of the second and third centuries
Donald M. Bailey
This article looks at the evidence for classical architecture in stone in the urban centres of Middle Egypt, including one new Greek city and three metropoleis. These are Antinoopolis, the city of the deified Bithynian youth Antinoos, which is known mainly from the illustrations and descriptions compiled by Edmé Jomard and the Napoleonic expedition, the Description de l'Égypte; Hermopolis Magna, the great city of the god Hermes (Egyptian Thoth), known from surviving structures and the evidence of the Napoleonic expedition; Oxyrhynchus, the city of the sacred mormyrus fish, which is known from sketches by Vivant Denon, leader of the Napoleonic expedition, from Jomard's description, and from a few extant buildings or photographs of ruins; and Herakleopolis Magna, the great city of the Greek god Herakles, which is known from two surviving groups of buildings, Jomard's notes, and some modern plans.
This article reviews the various methods that private individuals employed in Roman Egypt to secure protection and assistance from supernatural entities in their daily lives. The strategies and methods were applied to protect the body against disease, shield the self from public dishonour, and acquire control over competitors in various agonistic contexts, both public and private. In short, people resorted to such methods in situations of personal crisis and interpersonal conflict.
Coptic denotes both a written and a spoken stage of the Egyptian language. In scribal terms, it refers to the last written stage of the ancient Egyptian language, when the Egyptians finally gave up their predominantly phonographic and logographic systems in favour of the Greek alphabet. This article traces the development Coptic in the Roman period, navigating over several centuries and through various religious milieus, beginning with native Egyptian religion and ending with Christianity and its competitors. Christianity did not 'invent' Coptic; both the idea, and elements of the system, had long existed when Christians began to use Coptic in the third century. But it was Christianity that brought Coptic out of the cloistered environments in which it had been used by non-Christians, which eventually enabled native Egyptians in towns and villages across the province to write literary works, personal letters, and documents in their own language.
This article offers an overview of current scholarship on the Eastern Desert and highlights some of the contributions that this material makes to our understanding of Roman Egypt more generally. It discusses archaeological and documentary sources for the Eastern Desert, international trade and mining, and current and future work in the region.
Martin Andreas Stadler
This article begins with a discussion of the Egyptian cult and Roman rule. It then covers practitioners of religion and cult; cult and magic; the reality of the temple cult in Roman imperial times; and the end of the written tradition of the Egyptian cult.
This article discusses the sources for Egyptian hieroglyphs, language and epigraphy, and 'Egyptomania' in Egypt and Rome. Egyptian scribes continued to compose lengthy and stylistically complex hieroglyphic texts on temple walls and other media well into the early third century
This article focuses on architecture, decoration, and certain questions of cult topography. In a rather smooth transition from the Ptolemaic to the Roman period, Egyptian temples continued to be built and decorated well into the second century
More than any other part of the Roman empire, Egypt offers data such as census returns, contracts, and tax receipts that reveal much about family relationships and household structures — but also raise a number of questions and may present some situations unique to Egypt. This article draws chiefly on papyrological sources to discuss family matters in Roman Egypt, but also incorporates some of the archaeological and art-historical evidence. It covers marriage and divorce; houses and households; and reproduction, parents, and children.
Evidence suggests that the cost of wrapping and decorating a mummy was an expensive enterprise, and considering the wide range of people involved and the materials required, one would expect transactions concerning such costly items to have generated some paperwork. However, textual evidence for the production of mummies, burial assemblages, or tombs in Roman Egypt is almost non-existent, so much so that funerary art could almost be defined as art without artists, created by invisible hands. This article collects the available evidence and attempts to understand better the working life of the funerary artists and craftsmen of Roman Egypt.
Martin Andreas Stadler
This article discusses Egyptian funerary religion during the Roman period. During this period, there was a greater diversity of modes in which individuals could be commemorated and at the same time envisage the afterlife — as Egyptian, Hellenized Egyptian, Egyptianized Greek, and so on, depending on personal and local circumstances. The textual sources superficially show a similar variety: some compositions survive in numerous copies, while other, quite extensive texts are unique and may represent an individual creation. By the start of the Ptolemaic period, funerary compositions adapted from temple ritual texts began to appear, highlighting a connection between tomb and temple functions that became increasingly evident in the Roman period but no doubt reflects long-standing practices as well.
This article discusses government, taxation, and law in Roman Egypt. The most striking feature of the Egyptian provincial government remains its overall structure, in particular the geographically defined division into many smaller, relatively independent, but nevertheless tightly run administrative units, and above all the strict hierarchy of offices with a proper chain of appeal and the prefect at the top. In the area of taxation, there was a plethora of varieties in Egypt itself. This is why it is by no means easy to determine which structural features (if any) may also be observed in other regions of the Roman empire. In the field of jurisdiction, the Romans apparently refrained from intervening too rigidly in the law and customs of the population.