Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 48 (2011) 307-310
Sitta von Reden, Money in Ptolemaic Egypt: From the Macedonian
Conquest to the End of the Third Century BC. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2007. xxii + 354 pages. ISBN 978-0-521-85264-7.
When Ptolemy I took possession of Egypt after the death of Alexander, the
country was in for a dramatic change. The new Macedonian dynasty actively
transformed the state according to its Greek ideology. One fundamental novelty was the introduction of coinage and hence the conversion of Egypt's traditional economy in kind to a monetary one. This change was implemented fairly
aggressively by the Ptolemaic state and started as early as the reign of Ptolemy
I, although documentation about this initial phase is patchy. In the 21st and
22nd year of Ptolemy II(264 BC) some serious reforms were introduced to
the economy, especially with regard to the tax system.1 For this second phase
of economic reforms, there is much more papyrological evidence, mainly from
the Zenon archive and the cartonnage papyri from the Fayyum.
In her monograph Money in Ptolemaic Egypt, Sitta von Reden (henceforth
R.) deals with this transformation of the economy in four main parts. In the
first part (chapters 1-2), she focuses on the creation of a monetary economy
in Egypt and the introduction of coinage. The type and design of coins under
the first Ptolemies, as R. demonstrates, suggested the political cohesion of the
country by combining elements of the traditional Egyptian ideology concerning the role of the king with Greek mythological concepts. Yet the dominance
of Greek over Egyptian elements was in line with the establishment of a Hellenistic ruler cult for the Ptolemies.
In the second part (chapters 3-6) R. shows how the Ptolemies converted
the non-monetary economy, based on landed property and taxes and rents
in kind, into a monetary one. They brought huge quantities of coinage into
circulation, a process which allowed them to levy certain taxes and rents in
cash rather than in kind. Landed property remained a significant element of
Egypt's economy, and taxes and rents in kind were not discontinued, but the
use of cash for the poll tax and various taxes on crops helped monetize producers/tax payers already in the first half of the third century BC. Using cash
to pay workmen's wages was, as R. explains, another tool for putting coinage
into circulation. Again, wages in kind did not cease to exist, as bread was still
given out as part of monthly payments (sitometria). Distributions of oil or beer,
however, became rare and were replaced by cash payments.
1 See e.g. B.P. Muhs, Tax Receipts, Taxpayers and Taxes in Early Ptolemaic Thebes
(Chicago 2006) 7-9.