Later Period and Ptolemaic/Hellenistic Period in Ancient Egypt

The Late period and Hellenistic period in the history of ancient Egypt were marked by the considerable changes in the political and social life of the country. Basically, this epoch was characterized by the growing dominance of external power in Egypt to the extent that the country could hardly preserve its independence and gradually became a subject of international politics when the dominant powers defined the future of Egypt and its development. In such a situation, the question concerning the changes in the cultural life of Egyptian people naturally arises. To put it more precisely, the political and social changes enforced by the domination of foreigners in the ruling elite of the country could not fail to affect Egyptian culture, but, on the other hand, it is obvious that ancient Egyptian traditions were deep-rooted in the consciousness of Egyptian people and constituted an essential part of Egyptian civilization.

Consequently, the Late period and Hellenistic period in the history of ancient Egypt was marked by the clash of the old traditions of Egyptian civilization and new trends brought by foreigners and control of other powerful states over Egypt. In this regard, it should be said that old traditions outweighed new trends and, even though cultural life of Egyptian people changed, it was rather the natural evolution of Egyptian traditions than the change imposed by foreigners and new trends brought from abroad.

First of all, it should be said that the Late period and Hellenistic period may be characterized as the period of the decline of the power of ancient Egypt. In this respect, it should be said that the Late period started with the defeat of Egyptians in their struggle against Assyrians who defeated Egyptian army. In the result of this defeat, the country was ruled by two client kings established by Assyrians. Basically, this period is characterized by the gradual decline of ancient Egypt since the country grew weaker and weaker and could not maintain its competitive position in the ancient world. In fact, it should give in to new powers, Assyrians, which were later substituted by Persians. During the Persian rule, Egypt was united but it did not changes its inferior position.

Obviously, the military defeats and the loss of political power of ancient Egypt in the Late period was accompanied by the aggravating economic situation. The country was gradually degrading and socio-economic crisis caused by the loss of the power of Egypt and permanent flow of gold and goods from controlled regions had stopped. In such a situation, the cultural development of the country was in a decline too because the culture could not develop normally in the context of political and socio-economic problems that struck the country at the epoch.

Moreover, some old traditions were neglected and the traditional norms and rules were violated in ancient Egypt in the Late period. For instance, this was the period when royal tombs were robbed. Many specialists (Grimal, 214) argue that this fact could be viewed as an evidence of the total degradation of the traditional Egyptian culture and the strong influence of foreign culture which actually changed the traditional values of Egyptian people. In this respect, it is necessary to agree with the fact that the robbery or even penetration in the tomb of a member of a royal family was one of the most serious crimes in ancient Egypt and in the past periods such cases were exceptional. However, it should be said that there were cases when robber penetrated in the tombs, but in the Late period this became a common trend, atypical to the past epochs.

In this respect, it is necessary to understand the reasons for such vandal actions of Egyptians people in the Late period. In actuality, the idea that it was the impact of foreign culture that totally changed local traditions is apparently erroneous or, at least, it was not the main reason for violation of old rules and traditions. As the matter of fact, there are several objective reasons which perfectly prove the fact that it was rather the continuation of the cultural development of Egyptian people than an external influence. To put it more precisely, the socio-economic problems and growing poverty forced people to violate norms and rules and, in this regard, the robbery of royal tombs was just a crime that could provide people with an opportunity to improve their socio-economic position in a short period of time. On the other hand, there was another very important factor which originated from the epoch of the New Kingdom. What is meant here is the fact that traditional views and sacred fear of ancient Egyptians in face of the potential punishment from the part of gods for the penetration or robbery of royal tombs were weakened by Akhenaten’s revolutionary changes implemented long before the beginning of the Late period. This Pharaoh attempted to establish monotheism in the country promoting the cult of Aten (Grimal, 231). As a result, all other gods were viewed as unimportant and insignificant. Such a change resulted into the development of more realistic art and more pragmatic views among Egyptian people who could not really appreciate gods which were once rejected by the Pharaoh. As a result, religions feelings and fears of Egyptian people became less significant that led them to the robbery of sacred royal tombs. In such a way, such a cultural degradation of Egyptian people did not contradict to the past experience of Egyptian people, but, instead, is a logical continuation of the changes initiated in the epoch of the New Kingdom and it is the proof of the continuity of the development of Egyptian culture the Later period.

In fact, this trend of continuity of Egyptian culture persisted in Hellenistic period too. In this respect, it is possible to refer to probably the most symbolic event which actually marked the beginning of Hellenistic period in Egypt. It was the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great, though he did not even invade this country but was invited by Egyptians as a kind of liberator from Persian oppression. It is extremely important to underline that Alexander did not attempt to impose some rules or traditions of his world, Hellenistic world to Egyptian people. In stark contrast, he followed the example of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and, after the pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa, he proclaimed himself the son of Amun, one of the principle ancient Egyptian deity (Green, 183). In such a way, the new actual ruler of Egypt, which became a constituent part of Alexander’s Empire, demonstrated that he honored ancient Egyptian traditions and, therefore, it was the proof that foreign rulers readily accepted local traditions and culture and contributed to its development.

The followers of Alexander, Ptolemaic dynasty, that took the control over Egypt after Alexander’s death, also maintained the local traditions and culture. To put it more precisely, they accepted local gods as the official gods of Egypt and traditional religious beliefs were maintained, while all the changed that occurred in this field were basically the result of common trends and they constituted a part of the evolutionary, continuous development of Egyptian culture. Moreover, the Ptolemies even took on the ancient Egyptian tradition by marrying their siblings. In this regard, it is possible to name probably the most famous Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII who married her brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. In such a way, they maintained old traditions of Egyptians pharaohs, which, by the way, totally contradicted to the traditional Greek beliefs and norms because such marriages were absolutely unacceptable to Greeks and were viewed as a crime or, at any rate, as an immoral act (Lloyd, 137).

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the development of ancient Egyptian culture in Late period and Hellenistic period was characterized by the growing political and economic impact of foreign countries and the establishment of the foreign control over the country. However, it did not make the development of Egyptian culture in these periods contradicting to the old Egyptian traditions. In stark contrast, the local traditions were maintained by the official rulers of Egypt originating from foreign countries. In such a way, these rulers were rather assimilated by the local culture and traditions than contrasted their own cultural norms to Egyptian ones.

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