The Last Pharaohs Analysis

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J. G. Manning, The Last Pharaohs: Egypt under the Ptolemies, 305-30 BC. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010. Pp. xvi, 264. ISBN 9780691142623. $39.50. Reviewed by Timothy Howe, Saint Olaf College (howe@stolaf.edu) In The last pharaohs, J. G. Manning attempts to bring Ptolemaic Egypt, and the economic policies of the Ptolemaic state, out of isolation from other fields of ancient Mediterranean history. Often seen as "a place apart," especially by classicists focused on Greece and Rome, Ptolemaic Egypt has entered historical conversations tangentially, as a stage for wider Roman policy, for instance, or as a counterpoint to classical, polis civilization. Here, Manning is reacting against the scholarly tendency to assess…show more content…
Manning sees two main trends in Ptolemaic scholarship, the optimists who focus on the literary and cultural accomplishments of Alexandria, and the pessimists who point to over-exacting policies of the Ptolemaic fiscal system and its prioritization of the Greek language. This dichotomy arises, according to Manning, because the myopic focus on tax collection produces dualities of success/failure, opportunity/exploitation, Greek/Egyptian. Manning observes that the resulting attempts to characterize Ptolemaic rule through models of despotism, dirigisme, and colonialism have not adequately explained the social dynamics of the Ptolemaic system, especially in rural Egypt. These three prevailing models focus on the ruler and his close (usually Greek) elite, and as such downplay the negotiation between ruler and ruled on lower (or non Greek) levels. In addition, theses models are steeped in the modern colonial and post-colonial experiences and consequently both obscure ancient realities of Greek-Egyptian cooperation and elide the fact that the Ptolemies had no conscious policy of "hellenization." Manning contends that there were more factors than the king and his directives at play, and that there were limits on the king's ability to direct either the economy or social hierarchies, especially on the local levels, simply by the strength of his own will. The…show more content…
In order to frame the discussion, Manning introduces the concept of "bargained incorporation," where the political economy is formed by a system of bargaining between ruler and invested constituent groups. In Ptolemaic Egypt this bargaining was a complex game between two ethnic groups, Greeks and Egyptians, in which no real victor emerges. For the Ptolemies there were two goals: mobilize support and mobilize revenue. This bargaining created a state designed to control - policing, rather than organizing - a large, ethnically mixed population. Manning sees four phases in the Ptolemaic takeover of Egypt: (1) Continuation of Persian state structure (323-305 BCE); (2) Equilibrium formation, and the building of a new, bureaucratic empire (305-220 BCE); (3) Institutional consolidation in Egypt (250-180 BCE); and (4) Rupture, reconsolidation, and the Roman takeover (217-30 BCE). In all of their negotiations the Ptolemies looked to the New Kingdom pharaohs, the great military conquerors, for inspiration and legitimization. Throughout every phase, Egyptian history was used to justify and to broadcast Ptolemaic rule. "The Ptolemies wrote their own history in an
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