Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 48 (2011) 305-306
J.G. Manning, The Last Pharaohs: Egypt Under the Ptolemies, 305-30
BC. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010. xvi +
264 pages. ISBN 978-0-691-142623.
Ptolemaic Egypt has never featured prominently in Egyptian historiography. Instead, it was studied as a Hellenistic state and as such was incorporated
into studies of Hellenistic Greek states that developed after the death of Alexander the Great. As a result, Ptolemaic Egypt has always been perceived as a
break in Egyptian history.
With this book, things are changing. Manning makes the case that Ptolemaic Egypt deserves to be studied in its own right and, more importantly, that
we have to study it within the context of Egyptian, not Hellenistic history. Manning takes his readers on an engaging intellectual journey that brings them
from earlier scholarly debates that presented Ptolemaic Egypt as the product of
one major agency (whether it was the king, the state as economic actor, or the
perceived Greek dominance), to his own interpretation: Ptolemaic Egypt was
a complex pre-modern state, with "hybrid" mixtures of Egyptian and Greek
political elements that led to a relatively successful Ptolemaic project. After
all, the Ptolemaic dynasty was the longest lasting dynasty in Egyptian history
(see the table on p. 67).
In his Introduction, Manning grounds his main claims in theoretical literature and within the context of Ptolemaic and historical scholarship more
broadly. In addition, he discusses the primary sources (Greek and Egyptian
papyri, inscriptions, and coinage) that he has at his disposal to deal with the
questions at hand. Chapter 1 ("Egypt in the first millennium BC") sets the stage
and introduces the latter part of long-term Egyptian history that leads directly
into the Ptolemaic period. It is here that we find the basis for the Ptolemaic state
that warrants approaching it primarily as a continuation of Egyptian history.
The second chapter ("The historical understanding of the Ptolemaic state"
treats previous scholarly views about the Ptolemaic state. With the help of
three key words (despotism, dirigisme, and colonialism) Manning summarizes three of the main models for looking at Ptolemaic Egypt in previous
scholarship. He maintains that, while all three played a role, they are insufficient for understanding the Ptolemaic state, because these models are based
in a mistaken, overly Western conceptualization of Ptolemaic Egypt.
In Chapter 3 ("Moving beyond despotism, economic planning, and state
banditry"), Manning presents his own theoretical concepts for examining the
Ptolemaic state. Ptolemaic Egypt, he maintains, should above all be understood as a premodern state with all the theoretical implications involved. It was
a "bureaucratic empire" (p. 55; terminology from. S. Eisenstadt, The Political