September 27, 2013

Egypt under the Romans

Egypt under the Romans
In the first century AD, Egypt was under Roman domination. Alexandria, the harbour capital, had acquired a new source of wealth as a commercial station between India, Arabia and Rome. But an immense burden was placed on the Egyptian people in the form of taxes. The most pressing of these was the wheat tax that was collected directly from the farmer as part of the quota for Rome.

Egypt under the Romans
The produce of the vineyards, palm groves and fig plantations were also collected by Roman officials. Taxes were levied on domestic animals - sheep, oxen, horses and donkeys. Traders were taxed. Oil- sellers, bakers, spice and perfume sellers were taxed. Even the land for garden produce was taxed.

Egypt under the Romans
Hunting and fishing licences swelled the resources of the Roman state, and the Egyptians had to pay for the right even to go fowling in the marshes or fishing on the lake - activities their ancestors had enjoyed for thousands of years.

The Upper Egyptians never accepted submission to Roman rule lightly. As early as 29 BC, in the reign of Augustus, there was an insurrection in Thebes against tax collectors. The repercussions were drastic. Within five days, five neighbouring towns were totally razed. Little wonder that so many Egyptians found it more expedient to court the new rulers, and to give orders for their artists to depict them on temple walls in the manner of the ancient pharaohs, honouring the gods and defeating traditional enemies.

Egypt under the Romans
Egypt had no leadership in the sense of a recognised pharaoh who preserved order. The people reaped but gained no reward. They were obliged to hand over their grain to Roman troops stationed on their soil. They wove fabrics for Roman tunics. Animal hides went for Roman armour. Temple lands were confiscated and then leased out to the farmers.

Many Nile valley dwellers sought refuge in the desert. Some took up life in caves and ancient tombs which, from ancient times had provided convenient habitation, and, from the Ptolemaic period had been used by groups of people seeking isolation. The climatic conditions, especially in Upper Egypt, made it possible to live outdoors, and the wide stretches of quiet desert provided an ideal atmosphere for escape and meditation.

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