After hundreds of years of cross-cultural encounters, the Romans faced a very complicated social situation in an already deeply integrated community. Hence although tried, it was impossible to build the social pyramid of Roman Egypt, based on strict ethnic criteria. At the top of it were those who held the official Roman citizenship, whether of Roman, Greek or Egyptian origin. Next, the most privileged the ‘Astoi’, the residents of the three major ‘Hellenic’ cities of Egypt, Alexandria, Naucratis, and Ptolemais.85 These cities had a more ‘Greek’ character than the rest of the Egyptian chora, even if their populations were composite. Among them, Alexandrian citizens seemed to have had the highest prestige. At the bottom were the Egyptians, who were included all the residents of the Egyptian chora. Within this group, there was a subcategory of higher ranking, Hellenes or Metropolitai. These were the local elites of Metropoleis, the capital of nomes. Those people were the descendants of the GrecoEgyptian physical intermarriage, occurred since the early Hellenistic between the local population and the Greek immigrants, most of them veterans. Still, they were considered part of the Egyptian class, which in this case is related to the provenance rather ethnicity. It is very possible that the so-called fayum portraits are related to this group of people, who indeed promoted a quite polyvalent cultural self-image (Fig. 85). From the once side, the mummy portraits depict people with Greek names and professions, Greek and Roman style –sometimes thei reflect a direct influence from Rome-, which some of them such as Artemidoros promote the Greek education, bearing the characteristics of an ephebos. Of course we know that since the Hellenistic period the Gymnasium was an industry of ‘Hellenicity’, both for Greek and Egyptians, while in cases such as Fayum, Egyptian gods were appointed as patrons of the institution. Therefore, it is clear that after a long period of interaction, something has changed in the Greek and Egyptian cultural worlds, which such terms –Greek and Egyptian- could not reflect any more absolute ethnic values like before the Hellenistic period, and/ or in other areas of the Greco-Roman Mediterranean. Similarly in the Alexandria of the Roman period, after three centuries or more of cross-cultural interaction, both Greek and Egyptian repertoires were considered as integral components of Alexandrian cultural expressions. Hence, terms like ‘Greek’ and ‘Egyptian’ could be compatible with absolute ethnic values, but they rather became characterisations dependent on the context in which they coexisted and interacted with each other. It seems that elite Alexandrians were easily adjusted to the new political context of the Romans Empire, as works of art suggest. Alexandrians follow the Roman trends in dress style and coiffure, 85
La’da, 2003, 168-174.