Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.10.25 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.10.25

Agnieszka Wojciechowska, From Amyrtaeus to Ptolemy. Egypt in the Fourth century B.C. Philippika 97.   Wiesbaden:  Harrossowitz Verlag, 2016.  Pp. 172.  ISBN 9783447106559.  €48.00.  

Reviewed by Roberto B. Gozzoli, Mahidol University International College (

Table of Contents

This slim volume was initially a PhD dissertation submitted at the University of Wroclaw in 2008.1 The introduction explains that the monograph focuses on political history, coinage and architecture, as well as the importance of the fourth century BC, in order to update Kienitz’ and Gyles’ monographs.2 In fact, until recently, handbooks on ancient Egypt considered the first millennium BC in general as a decadent period and a poor relative to the New Kingdom, since foreign rulers governed over Egypt.3 The author hopes that the book will act as a bridge between Egyptologists, who conclude their histories with the last indigenous dynasties, and Classical scholars, who deal with Alexander and later periods. It should be noted that the monograph deals with the social and economic history of the country, while for political history it only gives chronological co-ordinates, and so some readers may be disappointed.

Four chapters make up the main text. The first chapter deals with chronology, focusing on dating methods for the period as well as synchronisations between Egyptian and Babylonian calendars (pp. 7-20). The dating of the conquest of Egypt by Artaxerxes III is the starting point for the backdating of the previous Egyptian rulers. Using the Letter to Philip II in Speusippus and Manetho's Aegyptiaca, which suggests that the Second Persian invasion happened in Artaxerxes III's Year 20, the author argues that the Egyptian conquest should date sometime between April 339 and March 338 BC (Artaxerxes III ruled from 359 BC) contrary to the usual dating of 343-342.4

The author notes that Manetho's Aegyptiaca and Demotic Chronicle remain the backbone of any historical reconstruction of the period between Amyrtaeus and Nectanebo. What the author fails to remark is that employing Manetho and Demotic Chronicle for any historical reconstruction is not without risks. In fact, Manetho's chronology is nothing more than a royal list with some added information. The Demotic Chronicle, by contrast,is a partisan view of Egyptian history. Therefore, while the former may be used for the chronology, with the due cautions due to its transmission history, the events narrated in the latter would need to be double-checked with an independent source if it existed.

The second chapter offers an historical summary of Egypt between the Twenty-Eighth and the Thirtieth Dynasty (pp. 21-72) and consists of chronologically arranged discussions of each Pharaoh following the same pattern: royal names and Pharaoh's kinship, then a list of documents of his reign, monuments and coinage. To distinguish Amyrtaeus from his namesake who rebelled with Inaros in 460 BC, Pharaoh Amyrtaeus is labelled as Amyrtaeus II in the book, though there is no Amyrtaeus I in Manetho's royal list or in any chronological table in modern books about ancient Egyptian history.5

The chapter continues with the last three reigns of the dynasty. Classical sources offer information about Nepherites I's reign. The author, however, notes that those sources are much later than the reign itself and so should be considered irrelevant.6 In what follows, Nectanebo I has the lion's share, which gives in detail family origins, internal and external policies, as well as his building activities. Apart from Tachos and his foreign campaign in the Levant, which led to the loss of his throne, Nectanebo II is the other Pharaoh receiving a detailed description. This part covers Nectanebo II's origins, the resistance against Artaxerxes III's invasion as well as the numerous documents and building activities of his reign. The Legend of Nectanebo, as well as the information from Greek sources, receive detailed treatment.7

Chapter three deals with the Second Persian Period and Khabbash (pp. 73-82). The conquest of Artaxerxes III is dated to 340 BC, and he is identified with the king mentioned in the Satrap stela.8 Discussion of the indigenous king Khabbash and his chronology follows. As for the identification of Khabbash with the king Kambasweden mentioned in the stela of the Nubian king Nastasen, the author justly rejects the identification, noting phonetic differences between the two names and the implausibility of an Egyptian ruler fighting for his life at home and trying to do a campaign into Nubia.

Chapter four (pp. 83-107) deals with Alexander the Great and his immediate successors, up to the early years of Ptolemy I. Alexander's voyage to Siwa, his interest in Egyptian religion and culture and his coronation comprise most of the narrative, concluding with his coronation at Memphis as presented in the Alexander Romance. While the Romance has a very low reputation for its historical exactitude, the author rightly notes that many Egyptian elements are present in it. The discussion of Ptolemy I focuses on the initial stages of his dominion over Egypt, the struggle with the other Diadochoi, and his internal policy, especially his diplomatic marriages.

A catalogue of buildings from the Twenty-Ninth and Thirtieth Dynasties until the early Ptolemy I's time (pp. 111-137) closes the study.

Some linguistic and bibliographic infelicities appear in the book. As the monograph is a translation from an original Polish dissertation, some Polish words are present (see for instance "oraz" (p. 5), instead of English "and", or "lat" (p. 11 chronological table), instead of "years"). Sometimes, citations in the main text follow the original French or English editions, but the final bibliography gives the Polish edition.9

The book is mostly a summary of the period and so not an update to Kienitz as stated in the introduction.10 In place of scholarly discussion, the book merely sketches hypotheses and ideas about chronology and political history, without giving reasons for accepting one hypothesis instead of another. As for sources, papyri could have been translated, at least for the part relevant to each reign. As the book has substantial parts devoted to lists of buildings and coinage dated to each reign, the addition of plans of buildings and drawings of coins would be helpful to give the reader a better idea of dimensions of buildings and coin designs, along with a proper discussion of building strategies and economic developments. In the last few decades, there has been the tendency in Egyptology to reject event-based history in favor of its cultural, economic or social variants.

The book under review tries to describe the major events of each reign, and at the same time giving some details about temple building, and changes within ancient Egyptian society of the period. Since it does not go deeply into details, I consider the book a good source only for preliminary information of the Twenty-eighth to Thirtieth Dynasties.


1.   The author has already published an edited book on the subject. See Grieb, Volker, Agnieszka Wojciechowska and Krzysztof Nawotka (eds.). Alexander the Great and Egypt: history, art, tradition, Philippika, 74. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014.
2.   See Kienitz, Friedrich Karl. Die politische Geschichte Ägyptens vom 7. bis zum 4. Jahrhundert vor der Zeitwende. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1953; and Gyles, Mary Francis, Pharaonic policies and administration, 663 to 323 B.C. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.
3.   As also noted by the author, the major exception in the last forty years is Traunecker, Claude, "Essai sur l'histoire de la XXIXe dynastie". Bulletin de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale, 79 (1979): 395–436. In the past decade, Wilkinson, Toby, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, London: Bloomsbury, 2010 , continues to repeat such negative views of the first millennium BC, despite researches by Leahy, Anthony, “The Libyan Period in Egypt. An Essay in Interpretation”, Libyan Studies , 16 (1985), 51-65; Vittmann, Günther, Ägypten und die Fremden im ersten vorchristlichen Jahrtausend Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 2003; Jansen-Winkeln, Karl, “Die Fremdherrschaft in Ägypten im 1. Jahrtausend v.Chr.” Or 69 (2000), 1-20; and Perdu, Oliver and Meffre, Raphaële, Le crépuscule des pharaons. Chefs-d’œuvre des dernières dynasties égyptiennes, Bruxelles: Fonds Mercator, 2012, among others.
4.   Depuydt, Leo, "New Date for the Second Persian Conquest, End of Pharaonic and Manethonian Egypt: 340/39 B.C.E." Journal of Egyptian History, (3/2) 2010, 191 – 230, for the lower chronology. Moreno Garcia, Juan Carlo and Damien Agut, L’Egypte des pharaons: de Narmer, 3150 av. J.-C.-284 apr J.-C. Morangis: Editions Belin, 672-673, for instance, follow the "classical" dating.
5.   As the last documents of the Jewish colony of the Elephantine date to Amyrtaeus' times (p. 25), their full mention and bibliographic references only happen three pages later (p. 28), after a full discussion about the origins of the community as described in the Letter of Aristeas.
6.   Assmann, however, sees those later testimonies from the same cultural memory perspective as significant evidence for the perception of the reign in later periods. See Assmann, Jan, Cultural memory and early civilisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
7.   Some more words about such elements, as well as how they show similarities to the Apocalyptic literature of the late Egyptian period would have been welcome. For the moment, I refer to Gozzoli, Roberto, The Writing of History in Ancient Egypt during the First Millennium BC (ca. 1080 BC-180 AD). Trends and Perspectives. London: Golden House Publications, 2009, 290-301.
8.   Such identification would have been worth a more extended discussion, as given for instance in Schäfer, Donata, Makedonische Pharaonen und hieroglyphische Stelen. Historische Untersuchungen zur Satrapenstele und verwandten Denkmälern. Leuven: Peeters, 2011.
9.   For instance, the author refers to Grimal 1988 in the introduction (p. 2), and the original edition is Grimal, Nicolas, Histoire de l'Egypte ancienne. Paris, Fayard, 1988. The bibliography (p. 144) instead gives its Polish version (Warsaw 2004).
10.   At the moment, a detailed and up to date study of the post-First Persian Period in ancient Egypt considering the period between the Twenty-eight and Thirtieth Dynastu is missing. For Alexander and the Ptolemies, I would still refer to Hölbl, Günther. A History of the Ptolemaic Empire. London: Routledge, 2001, and Huss, Werner. Ägypten in hellenistischer Zeit 332-30 v. Chr.. München: Beck, 2001. ​

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