As far as I know Egypt, under the Ptolemies, became famous in Hellenistic world for vast agricultural production due to the strict and harsh administration installed there by Greeks.

Still I wonder - was the Roman administrative system different enough from the previous Greek one to cause changes in economy of Egypt? Was the Roman economic system in some ways more effective in the short- or long-term?

Of course, there must be some complications to that question posed by some level of political disturbance of Ptolemaic Egypt in II-I centuries BC which, I guess, coupled with the economic blunders of policy by the first Ptolemies, somehow affected productivity in general. But to keep things simple, let's compare production of main agricultural staples (grain) during relatively peaceful times (let's say III century BC for Hellenistic Egypt and I-II centuries AD for Roman Egypt).

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    Please add something to support your assertion that it was the "strict and harsh administration" of the Ptolemies that made Egypt so agriculturally productive.
    – Spencer
    Dec 20, 2018 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


Egypt (and in fact all of north Africa) was the granary of the Roman Empire.

This has only some to do with the way they controlled the area, far more important is the fact that the land was a lot less arid then than it is today.

When people see the pyramids and Roman ruins rise from the desert and wonder what people were doing building a vast civilisation in that hostile climate, they don't realise that at the time the climate wasn't hostile. It was a lush, green, land. It's just that the desert has encroached over the centuries, in no small part coinciding with the demise of those civilisations, at around the same time the little ice age destroyed agriculture in central and northern Europe. Europe recovered, north Africa did not, or to a far lesser degree.

So even if your assertion that the Greeks were harsh when ruling Egypt, I seriously doubt that had a major influence on the region's ability to produce a rich harvest.

And what makes you think the Romans were any less harsh with their conquered areas? Or in fact the Egyptian rulers themselves when independent?

  • Basically, I do not know how Roman administrative system actually differed from Hellenistic one but I guess that Romans could use some other ways of organization of labour and of production in general based on some their own approach ("Roman way") to how agriculture should be working Dec 21, 2018 at 10:16

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