Putting the king in his place: reflections on the ‘royal monopolies’ in Hellenistic Egypt

The economy of Hellenistic Egypt has traditionally been characterized as a ‘royal economy’ dominated by the Ptolemaic kings and queens (305-30 BC). This paradigm is based mainly on two elements: the king as ultimate owner of all land, and ‘state’ or ‘royal monopolies’ in industry and trade. Over the last decades, significant advances have been made in the study of the land tenure regime, leading to more nuanced interpretations of the Ptolemaic state and economy. Similar arguments can be made for the so-called ‘royal monopolies’ as well. In this lecture, we will have a closer look at the oil, textile and beer industries, all traditionally considered to have been ‘monopolized’ by the state. The king and his administration certainly played a role, but it is increasingly clear that the ‘royal economy’ represented only part of economic activity in Hellenistic Egypt.