Professional Soldiers or Paramilitaries? The Machairophoroi in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt

When and Where

Friday, November 26, 2021 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm


Max Gibbs (MacEwan University)


Interactive Zoom session: a talk followed by a discussion seminar focused on prepared primary source readings.

The “Holy Grail” for ancient historians and papyrologists working on Graeco-Roman Egypt is arguably an economic, cultural, or social aspect or feature that can be seen to exist under both the Ptolemaic monarchy and the Roman administration; one that moved between kingdom and province, retained some intrinsic characteristic or value, and which now reveals some shred of information about life in Egypt during these periods. A great deal of recent scholarly effort has been expended in attempts to track changes in taxation, landholding, and institutions ranging from villages, through to gymnasia, and from law through to professional associations. 

Gibbs considers a small part of one of these institutions, in this case the army: the soldiers known as the machairophoroi. The current understanding, such as it is, is that these troops were members of the Ptolemaic army and part of the Royal guard at the court, but that by the Roman period, they were akin to a paramilitary group, organized along the lines of the professional military. But are we able to say more? Were they professional soldiers? What else can we say about them and their duties, and what do the papyri say about their activities outside the military context? Perhaps, most importantly, do the machairophoroi offer us an opportunity to see adaption or change in the transformation from Ptolemaic kingdom to Roman province? 

Details and readings


UTM Annual Classics Seminar - Department of Historical Studies