Graeco-Roman Egypt - CLAS6500

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2023 to 2024.


This module is concerned with the impact of the Classical World on ancient Egypt between Alexander's invasion and the Arab conquest, and on the nature and permanence of the brilliant hybrid civilisation which emerged under Greek and Roman rule.

Alexander entered Egypt as a liberator, but he and his successors created a colonial regime with Greek as the ruling language and Greeks as the ruling elite under their own law. Mercenaries were settled on reclaimed land, Greek cities were founded, especially Alexandria, one of the glories of the ancient world. An elaborate system of economic regulation maximised production to support warfare, city-building and display. The temples became a department of state. New cults were created to unite the two peoples and strengthen the regime. Native Egyptians showed their resentment in disaffection and rebellion. Roman rule (after the spectacular end of the Ptolemaic dynasty) was if anything harsher and more remote, and the rise of the Copts is often interpreted as an anti-Roman, anti-Classical movement.

Yet it is a mistake to see the relationship as wholly negative. Art and architecture flourished – most temples surviving today are the work of the Ptolemies. In civil service, army, business the new regime offered avenues to advancement for native Egyptians. A genuinely bilingual upper class emerged, able to make significant contributions to Classical culture. The ancient religion retained its prestige and was adopted by many Greeks, spreading far outside Egypt. Coptic culture was as much Classical as Egyptian, and Greek language long survived the Arab conquest. Sources for this vivid, complex and often neglected phase of Egyptian history are rich and varied: temples, tombs, remains of cities and villages, mummies, inscriptions, sculpture, coins, and an extraordinary range of papyrus documents, able to offer unique insights into an ancient civilisation.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 20
Private Study Hours: 130
Total Study Hours: 150


Autumn or Spring

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods

Essay 1 (1500 words) – 40%
Essay 2 (1500 words) – 40%.
Presentation (15 minutes) – 20%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Bagnall, RS. (1993). Egypt in Late Antiquity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Baines, J. & Málek, J. (1980). Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Andromeda Oxford Publishing.
Bowman, AK. (1986). Egypt after the Pharaohs, 322BC-AD642: From Alexander to the Arab Conquest. London: British Museum Press.
Holbl, G. (2000). A History of the Ptolemaic Empire. London: Routledge.
Walker, S. & Bierbrier, ML. (1997). Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt. London: British Museum Press.
Walker, S. & Higgs, P. Eds, (2001). Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth. London: British Museum Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module Level 6 students will be able to:

Articulate detailed and nuanced responses to key questions about the nature and value of the historical evidence for the history of Graeco-Roman Egypt;

1. Demonstrate deep understanding of the importance and implications of the political, social, economic and cultural history of Graeco-Roman Egypt;
2. Understand the nature and extent of interaction between the incoming Graeco-Macedonians, Romans and the indigenous Egyptian population (e.g. in politics, society, the
economy, religion and in cultural life);
3. Devise sustained, critical and evaluative arguments related to the interpretation of the nature and extent of interaction between the incoming Graeco-Macedonians and the
indigenous Egyptian population (e.g. in politics, society, the economy, religion and in cultural life);
4. Engage reflectively with current research related to primary and secondary sources.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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