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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

Egypt and Rome                         289
Hellenistic and Roman periods its salient feature. Ptolemy, son
}f Lagus, when in 323 B.C. he came to Egypt as satrap of the
leirs of Alexander, found the system in working order: we know
it any rate that under the rebel Pharaohs who ruled the country
for much of the fourth century B.C. the nomarchs, who governed
the several departments or nomes, were appointed by the Crown
and operated an elaborate fiscal system which can only have been
based on detailed statistical data provided by those officers so
characteristic of Egypt, the royal scribes. Ptolemy accepted the
system, and he and his successors gradually elaborated and refined
it, till it became one of the most perfect examples of a totalitarian
state that the world has ever seen. The whole life of the country
was regimented down to the minutest detail with the single
object of securing to the government, and the government alone,
the control of its vast material and human resources, in order
that with these resources the dynasty might maintain the armies
and the fleets and pay the subsidies and bribes whereby it con-
ducted its ambitious and expensive foreign policy. Augustus,
when in 30 B.C. he annexed Egypt, again preserved the system
in its main outlines, only too thankful to acquire a means of
rehabilitating the tottering finances of the empire. And the
later emperors did their best to maintain it, until their own
excessive exactions and the incompetence of their officials forced
them gradually to modify it.
The bureaucratic absolutism of the Ptolemies undoubtedly
had some influence on the other Hellenistic monarchies, and,
both through them and directly, on the Roman Empire. How
far this influence is to be accounted distinctively Egyptian it is
more difficult to say. We know so little of pre-Ptolemaic Egypt
that it is in many cases impossible to say whether a given institu-
tion is of native origin or a Greek invention, and some of the
most characteristic features of the Ptolemaic system were un-
doubtedly transplanted from the Greek cities. But they were
so profoundly modified in their new environment that they may
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