For the three centuries from Alexander the Great to Cleopatra, Greeks ruled Egypt not so much as foreign conquerors but as the next dynasty in the long line of pharaohs. It was not out of character for Alexander himself to assume the power and status of a pharaoh, not to mention the promised fringe benefit of a grand afterlife and kinship to the Egyptian gods.There is a certain amount of idealization and cultural projection here. Ptolemaic Egypt did not lack for Greek cultural imperialism, but the rulers were also very pragmatic and they accepted a great deal of cultural variety as long as the taxes got paid.
Their overriding policy was not to demand assimilation but to accept many ways of life. No official language was imposed for all purposes. Government affairs were often conducted in Greek, but also in Demotic, the local everyday language derived from the more formal hieroglyphs. Jewish and other immigrants often spoke and wrote Aramaic.
The diversity of cultures in Ptolemaic Egypt is the subject of an exhibition opening Wednesday at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, affiliated with New York University. Curators said the exhibition, “When the Greeks Ruled Egypt: From Alexander the Great to Cleopatra,” from 323 B. C. to the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C., “shines a light on the fluidity of the very idea of specific cultural identity.”
In any case, sounds like an interesting exhibition.