AMME Seminar: Rebellions and Revolts

March’s Ancient and Medieval Middle East Seminar looked at rebellions and revolts with the focus especially on Ancient Egypt and the city of Alexandria. The speakers of the online event were PhD student Uzume Wijnsma from Leiden University and Dir. Dr. Antti Lampinen from the Finnish Institute at Athens.

The first speaker Uzume Wijnsma spoke about how rebellions of Achaemenid Egypt are shown in the Greco-Roman and Egyptian sources, and some differences these sources have. The Achaemenid Empire existed from 550 BC to 330 BC and at its largest it expanded from Indus to Macedonia to Sudan. The area of modern Egypt became part of the empire in 526 BC. Egyptians were not happy with the situation and rebelled multiple times against their new rulers. It is difficult to count the exact number of these rebellions, but Egypt was one of the most rebellious provinces of the Achaemenid Empire. The sources that tell of these rebellions are mainly Greco-Roman and Egyptian sources. Some Persian and Babylonian sources mention them as well, but these sources are not as central. The Greco-Roman sources are the “traditional” sources for studying the Achaemenid Empire. However, their reliability can be argued as they were written by outsiders and sometimes long after the described events took place. Since 1980s this bias of Greco-Roman sources has been emphasized. This turn happened when the Egyptian sources became more well-known. Egyptian sources reveal previously unknown information of these rebellions. For example, the geographical spread of the rebellions was not known until the Egyptian sources were studied.  

Antti Lampinen gave a speech on how Alexandria was viewed as chronically rebellious city by the Greco-Romans. Egypt, and especially the city of Alexandria, were quite unrest from the Hellenistic period to the late Antiquity. The exact reasons for this unrest are still not quite clear. From the Greek point of view, Egyptian religion was one of the reasons. Egyptian religion had always played a major role in how the Greeks perceived Egyptian, so it is no surprise that religious zeal was seen as the reason for the unrest. The Greeks also considered Egyptian to be rebellious by nature, so it was just something natural to them which they could not control. For example, in his work Tetrabiblos Ptolemy explained that some of the characteristics of Egyptians stem from climatological and astrological reasons. He explained that Egypt was on the outside rim of the civilized world and people closer to the rim are more savage than the people closer to the center.