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Title: Negotiating Elite Identity through Linguistic Display in Ptolemaic and Early Roman Egypt
Author(s): COLE, Emily
Journal: Ancient Society
Volume: 49    Date: 2019   
Pages: 231-258
DOI: 10.2143/AS.49.0.3286887

Abstract :
During the Ptolemaic period, individuals who could move between the Egyptian and Greek cultural systems were critical for the continued functioning of the government. I maintain that an important aspect of Ptolemaic Egyptian elite identity was the conscious manipulation of the value bestowed by a politicized history of Egyptian languages and scripts. Translating new genres of text, in this case political decrees and religious treatises, was a manipulation of traditional means of communication within the contemporary reality of Hellenistic control. Egyptian scribes, who learned Middle Egyptian as an aspect of their cultural heritage, recognized the antiquity of the Egyptian language and were still regularly composing new texts in Hieroglyphs and Hieratic, and the syntax of ‘classical’ Middle Egyptian. However, a decrease in the breadth of the social value of Egyptian Hieroglyphs, from a symbol of traditional pharaonic power to an enigmatic relic, unfolds under early Roman rule. I argue that although Egyptians, mostly priests, continued to read and copy texts in older language phases, the beneficial and strategic use of Hieroglyphs by elite members of Egyptian society that appeared in the Ptolemaic period tapered off significantly with the integration of Egypt into the Roman Empire.

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