Already under the Ptolemies, the coinage of Egypt circulated in a closed currency system: foreign money had to be exchanged for the local currency at the borders, and Egyptian currency remained in Egypt. This closed system continued intact under Roman rule until the end of the third century. The coins were “Alexandrian coins” after the city Alexandria, where they were minted. Two metals were used for coins in circulation in Egypt: billon, a silver alloy, was used for tetradrachms; and bronze for smaller denominations. Oversight of the coinage probably fell either to the idios logos, the highest financial official of Egypt, or to the dioiketes, head of the treasury in Alexandria. Since these provincial coins, with their great variety of types, are official documents of Roman rule, they are considered as excellent sources for study of the monetary, political, religious, artistic and cultural history of Greco-Roman Egypt.
Catharine C. Lorber
The coinage of the Ptolemies stands apart from other royal Hellenistic currencies in interesting respects, including the prominence of gold and bronze coins vis-à-vis silver and the role of coin types in promoting royal cult. The Ptolemies have also been credited with a policy of controlling monetary supply to maintain price stability in the chôra (countryside). The reforms of Ptolemies by definition expanded the monetary supply. While the immediate purpose of the first weight reduction was to finance particular royal objectives, ultimately the reforms served to support the growth of the court, the administration, and Greek-style capitalism. The vast library of surviving papyri and ostraka includes many financial documents that shed light on an evolving and unusually complex currency system, and on its role in the Egyptian economy.
Caitlín Eilís Barrett
This review article addresses current controversies and opportunities in research on the roles, uses, and meanings of “Egypt” in ancient Roman visual and material culture. Accordingly, the article investigates problems of definition and interpretation; provides a critical review of current scholarly approaches; and analyzes the field’s intersections with current intellectual developments in the broader fields of archaeology and art history. It is argued that research on Roman Aegyptiaca can gain much from, and is poised to contribute substantially to, (1) 21st-century archaeology’s “material turn”; (2) the construction of new interpretive frameworks for cross-cultural interactions and “hybridization”; and (3) increased attention to the relationships among artifacts, contexts, and assemblages. Roman visual representations of Egypt provide a rich testing ground for research on intercultural exchange, the lived experience of empire, and the complex entanglement of people, things, and images.
Sitta von Reden
This article examines developments in money and prices in Egypt during the Ptolemaic period based on numismatic and papyrological evidence. It first considers the introduction, spread, and circulation of coinage in Egypt and how money and coins were used for transactions throughout the country. It then discusses the administration of coinage in Ptolemaic Egypt, from the reduction of the weight of the gold and silver coinage under Ptolemy I to the monetary reforms of Ptolemy V. It also explores the use of cash and kind as a mode of payment for rents and wages; the possibility of commuting cash into kind (and vice versa) as a condition for Ptolemaic taxation principles to work in practice; and three different categories of wheat prices in the papyri. It ends by drawing some economic conclusions from prices in the papyri.