Book Review: Army and Society in Ptolemaic Egypt


by Christelle Fischer-Bovet

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xxvi, 450. Illus., maps, tables, figures, gloss., append., notes, biblio., index. $37.99 paper. ISBN: 1108707807

Civil-Military Institutions under the Ptolemies

Ptolemaic Egypt (323-30 BC) was the enduring of the states that emerged from Alexander’s empire, and for much of its existence was a major military power. Now available in paperback, this work, when originally published in hardcover 2014, was the first comprehensive study of the Egyptian army in the Ptolemaic period in over a century.

Prof. Fischer-Bovet (USC) not only discusses military institutions and missions, recruiting, wars, and such, but also how the army furthered integration of Egyptians and Greeks into the social, cultural, religious, and economic institutions of the regime, which led to the creation of a class of Graeco-Egyptians on whom the kings could rely.

Fischer-Bovet offers some valuable analysis. For example, addressing “the paradox of impossible demobilization”, that is how to balance the kingdom’s need to have a strong army, with sustaining its the economic health, a thorny matter given the problem of the ongoing squabbling among the Diadochi and the need to maintain internal security. Fischer-Bovet argues that this conundrum was resolved in part by creating the cleruchy, a class of settler/soldiers granted land in return for military service at need. While providing troops when needed, this measure also furthered the integration of Greeks and Egyptians. “Greek” troops, often improperly termed mercenaries, were usually descended from Greek settlers, and were often men of both Greek and Egyptian descent due to intermarriage.

There’s much more of course, and Army and Society in Ptolemaic Egypt, a volume in the Cambridge series “Armies of the Ancient World”, is an essential work for anyone interested in the Hellenistic period or ancient armies in general.


Note: Army and Society in Ptolemaic Egypt is also available in hard cover and several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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