lighthouse_461.jpg

Alexandria


from the Oxford Classical Dictionary

Alexandria (1) was founded by *Alexander (3) the Great in 331 BC when he took *Egypt from the Persians. It was developed principally by the first two Ptolemies, who made it the capital of their kingdom and the main Mediterranean port of Egypt (see Ptolemy (1) ). It was founded as a theoretically autonomous city (*polis) of the traditional Greek type, modelled in several respects on Athens: it had an exclusive hereditary citizenship organized by *demes, probably with an assembly (*ekklēsia), council (*boulē), and annually elected magistrates, it had its own territory, restricted to citizen-owners and exempt from direct royal taxation, its own coinage, and its own laws. Its founding citizens were recruited from all over the Greek world; there were also numerous non-citizen residents of Egyptian and other ethnic origin, including a large Jewish community which acquired special privileges though not full citizenship. Alexandria soon became one of the largest and grandest cities of the Mediterranean world, famed for the monumental magnificence of its two main intersecting streets, its palace-quarter with the tomb of Alexander and the *Museum and *Library, its Serapeum (see SARAPIS), *gymnasium, and Pharus, the *lighthouse at the entrance to its two capacious artificial harbours. As a royal capital Alexandria could not be a normal polis: its coinage and, probably, its laws were used throughout Egypt; in the course of the dynastic struggles of the later Ptolemies, in which its citizens naturally took a prominent part, Alexandria was, it seems, punished with the loss of its ekklēsia and boulē, and its magistrates became more like royal officials. These struggles also ignited the notorious antagonism between the ‘Greek’ citizen-body and the Jewish community, which continued to flare up in the Roman period (see JEWS).

When Egypt came under Roman rule the citizens of Alexandria retained most of their surviving privileges; they were also used extensively in the new administration of the province, and only they, in Egypt, could acquire Roman *citizenship. Despite several appeals to the Julio-Claudian emperors, Alexandria only regained a boulē in AD 200/1 when Septimius Severus granted councils to all the cities of Egypt; this development, and the universal grant of Roman citizenship in AD 212, undermined Alexandria's political primacy in Egypt, but not her Mediterranean-wide economic and cultural importance. With over 500,000 inhabitants, Alexandria was the second city of the Roman empire; it was also the main port of the eastern Mediterranean for state and private shipping, straddling the luxury trade between India and Rome. Fine public and private buildings continued to be erected, and the arts and crafts and intellectual pursuits flourished: notable were glassware manufacture (see GLASS) and *medicine. In the 3rd cent. AD the reputed see of St Mark the evangelist became one of the main centres of the Christian church, revitalizing Alexandria's claims to intellectual, artistic, political, and economic prominence within and beyond Egypt.

GENERAL Fraser, Ptol. Alex.; A. Jähne, Klio 1981, 63–101; D. Delia, Alexandrian Citizenship during the Principate (1991) REMAINS E. Breccia, Alexandrea ad Aegyptum, 2nd edn. (1922); A. Adriani, Repertorio d'arte dell'Egitto greco-romano (1961–6); M. Rodziewicz, Alexandrie 3: Les Habitations romaines tardives d'Alexandrie (1984).
D. W. R.