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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

288                          Egypt and Rome
still amuse oneself by picking out on the walls of Egyptian
temples representations of such prosaic figures as Vespasian or
Antoninus Pius, arrayed in the Double Crown and adorned with
the many picturesque titles of the Pharaohs, But this was a
ritual matter only; the religious life of .Egypt was built up round
its divine king, and without a king the whole mechanism of
Egyptian life would have stopped. In the public law of Rome,
however, Egypt was a province of the Roman people, and even
the exceptional power of the prefect was ratified by a law passed
in the comitia. And if the emperor's will was in fact absolute,
was it not equally so in any of his provinces ?
The first pair of adjectives with which Egypt is qualified
sufficiently account for the anomalous position of the province.
The career of Ptolemy, son of Lagus, was proof enough how
easily a governor of Egypt could, secure behind his desert fron-
tiers and commanding the vast economic resources of the
country, defy his overlord, and it was probably these considera-
tions, which are stressed elsewhere by Tacitus, that moved
Augustus not to entrust Egypt to a senator, who might cherish
political ambitions, but to a man of too humble a station to
hope for independent power. But the choice of a knight was
probably dictated by other reasons also, suggested in the third
pair of epithets. Egypt was 'ignorant of laws' in the sense in
which a Greek or Roman understood laws; it was governed by
administrative regulations enacted by the Crown. And it was
Unacquainted with magistrates' who owed their authority to
the people and were responsible to them for their exercise of it;
it obeyed the officials of the king. Egypt was in fact a bureau-
cratic state, and as such required of the governor a business-
like grasp of administrative detail which was more likely to be
found in the equestrian order, with its long financial and com-
mercial experience, than in the Roman nobility.
This bureaucratic absolutism, which had been from time
immemorial characteristic of Egypt, remained throughout the