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Thursday, September 3, 2020

Social Structure in early Roman Egypt

 The social structure in Aegyptus under the Romans was based on a system of social hierarchy that revolved around ethnicity and place of residence. Other than Roman citizens, a Greek citizen of one of the Greek cities had the highest status, and a rural Egyptian would be in the lowest class. Gaining citizenship and moving up in the ranks was very difficult and there were not many available options for ascendancy. One of the routes that many followed to ascend to a higher social class, as in other provinces of the Empire, was through enlistment in the army. Although only Roman citizens could serve in the legions, many Greeks found their way in. The native Egyptians could join the auxiliary forces and attain citizenship upon discharge. 

The Augustan period in Egypt saw the creation of urban communities with “Hellenic” landowning elites. These landowning elites were put in a position of privilege and power and had more self-administration than the Egyptian population. The Romans looked to these elites to provide municipal officers and well-educated administrators.  Essentially, this amounted to the Greeks being treated as an ally in Egypt while the native Egyptians were treated as a conquered race.


Image: Late 2nd century CE painted lime plaster mummy mask of a male with inset glass eyes at the Royal Ontaraio Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada courtesy of the museum.

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