Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Ptolemies became Egyptian; The Egyptians Did Not Became Ptolemaic | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

There can be no doubt that the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty is considered one of the most important eras of Egyptian history. This dynasty lasted for nearly 300 years, and the early Ptolemaic rulers put in place the foundations and rules by which to govern the country. The Ptolemies governed Egypt under the principle that not only was Egypt their homeland and country, but that it was their only homeland.

Therefore, the Ptolemies considered themselves Egyptian; they wore Egyptian clothes and worshiped Egyptian gods, and began to learn the ancient Egyptian language, which remained the official language of government correspondence, in addition to ancient Greek. Royal decrees were first written and recorded in ancient Egypt, in both Hieroglyphic script (sacred engravings) and Demotic script (more common ancient Egyptian script), and then recorded in ancient Greek.

It was this practice that was unanimously credited with the unlocking of the ancient Egyptian language and the deciphering of its symbols. This was after young French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion was able to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics by studying the Rosetta Stone, which was written in the three aforementioned scripts. He compared the hieroglyphic texts to the ancient Greek text, particularly the names of royalty that are recorded within a cartouche [oblong enclosure of hieroglyphic name with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name], enabling him to unlock the Ancient Egyptian alphabet.

Getting back to the Ptolemaic Kings – who were keen to depict themselves on ancient Egyptian monuments, and have their names recorded within the royal cartouche – they were well aware that one of the most important traits that the ancient Egyptians possessed was their strong religious beliefs, and so they sought to nurture this by establishing a series of religious celebrations for different religious occasions. They also sought to construct monuments and renovate ancient temples, bringing together the Egyptian and Greek gods, with the Egyptians accepting the Greek pantheon.

Although Egypt entered the Ptolemaic era, and the Ptolemaic Pharaonic tradition; the Egyptians themselves were aware that the essence of their civilization was based upon the idea of the Pharaoh as the son of God who would return to the realm of the Gods after his death via his earthly tomb, which became a national Egyptian project under each new king. This idea died out under the Ptolemies, and the Egyptians did not view the Ptolemaic kings in the same way that they viewed early pharaohs. This was even evident in ancient Egyptian art, with Ptolemaic kings and queen not being depicted with the same spirit or greatness as early ancient Egyptian pharaohs.

In addition to the difference in the way that pharaohs were depicted in the Ptolemaic era, we also find that sciences and traditions like the science of mummification slowly disappeared. The people at this time were no longer concerned with mummifying bodies, instead wrapping bodies in meters of linen that was soaked in embalming fluid, and placing a gold or coloured mask over the face of the deceased, depending on their status. It was through this mask that the ancient Egyptians of the time believed that the spirit of the departed would be able to identify the body.

However what was most dangerous of all was that during the Ptolemaic era ancient Egypt did not advance and develop to the same extend that it did during previous eras, whilst newly emerging civilizations like the ancient Greek, and later the ancient Roman civilizations, were making great strides towards civilization. Egypt was a source of scientists and philosophers for these emerging civilizations, and became an important country with a magnificent and ancient history!