The papyri which are translated in this volume cover a span of nearly a thousand years, during which many changes took place in the government, institutions, customs, and religion of Egypt. It therefore seems desirable to give the reader to whom these matters are not familiar a brief sketch of some characteristic features of the different periods. Whoever wishes to study the subject more seriously will find in Bevan’s Ptolemaic Dynasty and Milne’s Under Roman Rule reliable summaries of the information yielded by the papyri and in Wilcken’s Grundzüge und Chrestomathie der Papyruskunde a full and masterly survey of the whole material. The most that we can attempt here is to restate a few of the main facts, giving references to the texts which bear on them and confining ourselves to what seems useful for the understanding of the present selection.
Throughout the Ptolemaic period, which ended in 30 b.c., Egypt was an independent realm; and for most of that period the kings, who resided in Alexandria, possessed territory or exercised suzerainty in various other parts of the Near East (see Nos. 267, 410). In Egypt itself the Ptolemies were not only absolute monarchs, but from about the middle of the 3rd century b.c. they assumed in their lifetime, along with their queens, the titles and honours of gods (e.g. Nos. 256, 272). They maintained an