Paper Example on Ptolemaic Settlements

Published: 2021-06-29
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Sewanee University of the South
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After the death of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I acquired a large area previously ruled by Alexander and established a kingdom. The kingdom thus found by Ptolemy I was named the Ptolemaic Kingdom. It is on of the most prosperous Hellenistic Kingdoms that was characterized by rapid development of cities and the active immigration of Greeks from other parts of the Greek Empire. The Ptolemaic Kingdom spanned the area around Egypt, Asia Minor, Syria, Cyrene, and Nubia (Llyod 396). In its three years of existence, the Ptolemaic Kingdom was accentuated by rapidly developing urban and rural settlements that successively resembled each other in naming and formation.

Katja Mueller documents very important facts about the Ptolemaic settlements in his book. He, for instance, says that Ptolemaic foundations followed any of the three city planning models. The first model, which he calls the National Urban System, is characterized by a central metropolitan center that is followed by gradually decreasing settlements. In this system, the number of sites increased but their sizes decreases as the settlements moves away from the central foundation. The new settlements are numerous, but their population is scarce. The other system, called the Regional Urban Subsystem, resembles the national structure. However, the sizes are much smaller and drops off much quicker (41). The last system, Daily Urban System, refers to an urban space which extends to the neighboring territory and into the hinterland beyond. The cities in the Ptolemaic kingdom comprised of these systems singly or in combination.

Besides Alexandria that was founded before the Ptolemaic period, this Hellenistic dynasty constituted the cities in Egypt, Red Sea Coast, Coele Syria, Nubia, Cyprus, Cyrenaica, Cicilia, Crete, Aegean Island, Ionia, Lycia, Pamphyla, Aetolia, Caria, and Thrace (Mueller 56). In most of these cities, there is evidence of Ptolemaic system of urbanization. In Aetolia and Thrace, however, there are either no Ptolemaic settlements, or they exist in combination with non-Ptolemaic urban systems. This observation stems from the fact that Thrace was not developed like other cities mentioned above. In was captured by Ptolemy III and incorporated into the dynasty. Aetolia, on the other side, was not directly ruled by the Ptolemaic kings, but rather co-ruled with the help of the Aetolian League. For this reason, Aetolia did not exclusively exhibit Ptolemaic urban settlements.

The growth of settlements in the Ptolemaic Kingdom was not proportional to its length (Mueller 81). The settlements associated with this dynasty were either founded or refounded depending on the method of city formation. If a virgin land was inhabited by the immigrants, Mueller (81) classifies this as foundation. On the other side, if an existing settlement was incorporated into the Ptolemaic Dynasty, these settlements are categorized as refoundations. Through their 300 years rule, the Ptolemies refound many cities in the kingdom. During the reign of Ptolemy II which is estimated to range between 283-246 BC, Arsinoe-Methana and Arsinoe-Korresso were refound. Ptolemais-Euegertis in Fayum was refound in 116 BC. Arsinoe in Cilicia and Arsinoe in Palaipaphos were, however, new foundations (Grabowski 65). New foundations, according to Mueller (82), included the settlement of Eugertes formed in 132 BC. Foundations and refoundations followed space more than they did time. Mueller (82) notes that there were foundations in sparsely populated areas and refoundations in densely populated lands.

Both Muller (27) and Azara et. al. (70) agree that Fayum was a new settlement under the Ptolemaic rule. However, Azara et. al. (70-80) gives a better account of the Ptolemaic architectural influence over the new buildings in the regions. Fayyum developed as a result of active land reclamation by both Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II. The frequent Nile floods, the swampy areas, natural canyons, Lake Barqet Qarun and El-Gharaq basin influenced the land reclamation patterns and the building systems in the Fayum (Azara et. al. 72). One of the Fayum metropolises is Krokodilopolis. Among the Ptolemaic-style buildings in this city include the temple of Sobek, Statutes of Ramses II, and the fasciculate columns belonging to Amenemhat III (Azara et. al. 72). There is also a Greek inscription on the limestone wall of an ancient theatre which can be attributed to the design of a Ptolemy. Human activity such as the sebbakhin destroyed most of the settlement in Fayum (Azara et. al. 72). Some buildings in the settlement are covered in sand blowing from the desert. Other cities like Philadelphia, Theadelphia, Euhemeria, and Dionysias are not as destroyed since they were constructed in a cultivated area free of desert sand.

The buildings in the Fayum settlements were made of mud bricks (Azara et. al. 81). The bricks were joined together through what Azara et al. call the English bond. This bond comprised of alternating spaces between double walls. The spaces were then filed with mud, marble or sand. Both public and domestic house in the Fayum settlements were rarely multi-storeyed. However, the high rising buildings comprised of not more than two stored. The high rising buildings were made with a flat roof while the low-lying houses were barrel vaulted (Azara et. al. 81). All the houses in the Hellenistic period had a similar architectural design. All the houses had an outer opening space that served different functions. Wood was not very common in these buildings, although it was used in the inner side of most walls and as a component of the flat roofing. Wood also provided a good material for interior decorations as well as incorporated into doors and windows.

One of the Ptolemaic new settlements in the Fayum was Philadelphia. Archeological evidence shows that the city of Philadelphia had two temples. Although the major temple in the city has never been identified, Azara et. al. 72 suggest that it should be considered as being present, since other cities in the Fayum had a temple as the central structure. Both Dionysias and Philadelphia had the same design. The orientation of the settlement follows the course of the main canal and the streets are arranged from this canal in an orthogonal fashion. The public and residential houses were regular in the city. Although the temple and its dromos are not located at the center of the city, they are perfectly inserted into the regular structure (Azara et. a. 74).

Soknopaiou Nesos was another city in the Fayum that follows the orthogonal arrangement. However, unlike Philadelphia and Dionysiais that were built on a relatively fair ground, this town was constructed around a hill. The temple of Soknopaiou Nesos sat on the hill, and its dromoi was a suspended paved way at the main axis of the city (Azara et. a. 74). As the settlements intensified, more houses were built towards the south where there was a lake. Around the lake were very productive soils that attracted people to this area. Unlike the dromos in Philadelphia and Dionysias that were constructed on the surface, the dromos in Soknopaiou Nesos was a 397 long axis that towered three meters above the ground. The foundation of this dromos was raised at three meters above the ground, making the dromos very lofty relative to the ground. There were three streets that ran alongside the dromos, although they were three meters lower than it. The streets were connected to each other through tunnels dug beneath the dromos and several staircases. This plan allowed peole to participate in ceremonies in which authorities used the dromos as the processional way (Azara et. a. 74).

Tebtynis in the Fayum followed the urban plan of other cities. However, the temple and the dromos were not located at the centre of the city. Rather, they were located in the South Western border of the city. Domestic ad administrative buildings were then erected on both sides of the dromos. This settlement expanded along the Eastern Axis unlike the settlements in Soknopaiou Nesos that followed a South route. The buildings in this city are not regular and follow two main orientations. The dromos that ran from north to south was perpendicular to the main canal (Azara et. al. 75).

Other cities in Fayum that followed the Ptolemaic designs are Narmouthis and Karanis (Azara et. al. 75). In Narmouthis, the temple was located outside the city center. Later in the Hellenistic period, a 210 meters-long dromos was constructed that led to the arable lands in the settlement. The general design of the city is regular with orthogonally shaped streets and main canals. Karanis was completely different from other cities in Fayum. It had only two long streets running from south to north and no perpendicular street crossing the two main ones. However, the buildings were regular as with other Ptolemaic urban plans (Azara et. al. 75).

Every structure in the new settlements played a specific role for the public or the monarchs. Grabowski (65) argues that the buildings in the new and refounded settlements were largely designed for political and economical purposes. Azara et. al. (72) also posits that economy and religion played a major role in the designing of many of the structures in Fayum. For instance, he places the temples and their dromoi at the center of every new settlement in Fayum. Grabowski (74) states that the temples were used by Ptolemies to popularize cults and worship new goddesses. Azara et. al. (67) emphasize the role of the dromoi as a meeting center between the subjects and the monarchs during cerebrations. The agora, which was a special component of the Fayum settlements, served as the market and the community area in the new settlements (Azara et. al. 80).

Ptolemaic kingdom was one of the famous dynasties in the Hellenistic period. It had a wide coverage and many subjects. Although it was acquired through war, the kings stabilized the economy and the political structure of the acquired town and established a 300 years long kingdom. The kingdom is renowned for its magnificent structures and ingenious building designs that were congruent with the ruling styles of the Ptolemies. Through a review of secondary sources, it has been shown that most new towns in Fayum settlement adopted a similar urban design with the temple and the main structure. Regardless of the population distribution pattern used to develop a settlement, there was equal concentration of people around the city centers, although new settlements always cropped up near the water bodies and fertile lands.


Works Cited

Azara, Pedro, et al. The space of the city in Graeco-Roman Egypt: image and reality. Ed. Eva Subias. Institut Catala d'Arqueologia Classica, 2011.Grabowski, Tomasz. "Ptolemaic foundations in Asia Minor and the Aegean as the Lagids political tool." Electrum. Studia z historii starozytnej 20 (2013).

Lloyd, Alan B. "The Ptolemaic Period (33230 BC)." The Oxford history of ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p (2000): 395-421.

Mueller, Katja. Settlements of the Ptolemies: city foundations and new settlement in the Hellenistic world. Vol. 43. Peeters Publishers, 2006.


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