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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

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Egypt and Rome                          293
Egypt, though the tenure of the military settlers became heredi-
tary, and certain classes of land were granted on perpetual leases,
the theory seems to have survived intact until the Romans came:
and though they modified it, allowing to the gods and to the
privileged classes full ownership of their estates and claiming as
the property of the Roman people only the royal land proper,
their general conception of land tenure was probably influenced
by it. A modern authority on the subject has suggested that
the example of Egypt was an important factor in the growth
of the famous doctrine current under the principate, that all
provincial soil was in the ultimate resort the property of the
Roman people.
Besides appropriating the products of the soil the Ptolemaic
government exacted a heavy toll from commerce, both foreign
and internal, by a complicated system of customs dues, levied
on the frontiers and at various points within the kingdom. It
furthermore absorbed the greater part of the profits of industry
by a comprehensive series of monopolies, which covered almost
every article of common use from textiles to beer, the normal
drink of the natives, and the vegetable oils which served them
for lighting, for cooking, and for soap. Whether monopolies
were exercised by the Pharaohs is uncertain; but they were a
familiar, if rather disreputable, financial device in the Greek
cities, and it was probably from them that the Ptolemies
borrowed the idea. The method whereby they were operated, the
farming system, was certainly of Greek origin. This system was
in the Greek cities merely a lazy device for fobbing off on to a
private entrepreneur the troublesome task of collecting the public
revenues, and it has so frequently been abused that it is often
regarded as something evil in itself. But it could "be, and in the
hands of the Ptolemies was, an effective and legitimate device
for securing to the government the full return from a source of
revenue whose exact value could not be calculated in advance.
Its purpose can best be seen in the regulation of the oil