Pharaohs and Finance: Considerations for the Introduction of a Monetized Sector to the Customary Economy in Ptolemaic Egypt

Over the course of the First Millennium BC, pharaonic Egypt slowly adopted and implemented fiscal expertise employed elsewhere in the Mediterranean but remained fundamentally unchanged in its economic structure. However, in the wake of the invasion of Alexander and the establishment of the Ptolemaic dynasty, the Ptolemies introduced a range of fiscal institutions designed specifically to extract revenue. These measures created a new monetized sector of the economy that existed alongside the ‘customary economy’ in kind. In particular, the Ptolemaic introduction of tax farming payments in coin served as an engine for vertically connecting the countryside with the royal court through mandatory payments at royal banks, while the auction mechanism to award rent contracts served to create inter-elite competition (i.e., Haber) and co-opt local knowledge of tax bases and industries. While tax farming may not have created true growth, the Ptolemaic tax farming system served a multitude of social and cultural purposes, which can be illustrated by combining state-issued guidelines with records of individuals involved in the process.

Dr Andrew Hogan works on the social and cultural history of Ptolemaic Egypt, mostly as it manifested in the economic, legal, and political spheres. He finished his PhD in Ancient History at Yale in 2018, and has been at Berkeley as a Postdoc in the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri ever since.