Posted by Jan 26, 2012
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Ptolemy II and sister-wife Arsinoe II
The Macedonian rulers of Egypt and Syria in the three centuries before the common era spared no expense in catering to their own comfort. Queen Shalom-Zion of Judea admired Hellenistic architecture. Her palaces — notably her twin palaces at Jericho — featured mosaic terraces, columns, and swimming pools surrounded by gardens and benches for lounging. But because she didn’t have as much money to work with, and because Jewish law forbade graven images, her buildings were neither as lavish nor as bizarre as the palaces of her counterparts in Ptolemaic Egypt.
A visitor to the royal yacht of Ptolemy IV passed through a series of spacious banqueting rooms finished in ivory, cedar, cypress and other expensive woods. Each hall contained circles of up to twenty couches, surrounded by pillars with gold bases. The columns were girdled with ‘figures of animals beautifully carved in ivory, more than a cubit high…’ There were also sleeping chambers with multiple couches, temples to Venus and Bacchus, adorned with statues of the gods and the royal relatives. A second floor had vaulted beams tented over in purple cloth. The visitor commented that ‘the workmanship was not so conspicuous as the beauty of the materials.’ (Quoted in John Marlowe, The Golden Age of Alexandria.)
Lots of money, little taste. Even more true of Hellenistic entertainment. Tune in to my next blog for a description of a Hellenistic parade.