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Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras: Examining Government Influence on Quality of Life in Hellenistic Egypt (332–30 BC)


Abstract and Figures

The cross-cultural application of happiness studies has led to many interesting results over the last few decades. The merits of this field of research are widely recognized, resulting for instance in government strategies taking into account the scores of the World Happiness Index, rather than just Gross National Product and other economic parameters. However, not all fields of study related to sociology have completely caught up with recent developments, in particularly historical studies. Some pilot studies with a limited scope on applying happiness research to periods of time and regions in the past have already been executed with promising results. This paper proposes a happiness index for Hellenistic Egypt (332-30 BC), taking into account recent developments in the field of sociology and the specificity of the source material for this particular period and region. The goal is not to measure absolute happiness in a quantitative study involving scales, but studying government impact on the well-being of Egypt's inhabitants through predetermined parameters derived from studies on cross-cultural determinants of happiness.
Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras:
Examining Government Inuence on Quality
of Life in Hellenistic Egypt (332–30 BC)*
Štěstí vrámci Kleopatřina království: Zkoumání vlivu vlády na kvalitu života
vhelénistickém Egyptě (332–30 př. n. l.)
Abstract: e cross-cultural application of happiness studies has led to many interesting results
over the last few decades. e merits of this eld of research are widely recognized, resulting for
instance in government strategies taking into account the scores of the World Happiness Index,
rather than just Gross National Product and other economic parameters. However, not all elds
of study related to sociology have completely caught up with recent developments, in particularly
historical studies. Some pilot studies with alimited scope on applying happiness research to peri-
ods of time and regions in the past have already been executed with promising results. is paper
proposes ahappiness index for Hellenistic Egypt (332–30 BC), taking into account recent develop-
ments in the eld of sociology and the specicity of the source material for this particular period
and region. e goal is not to measure absolute happiness in aquantitative study involving scales,
but studying government impact on the well-being of Egypt’sinhabitants through predetermined
parameters derived from studies on cross-cultural determinants of happiness.
Keywords: Ptolemies; Hellenism; ancient Egypt; happiness studies; well-being
DOI: 10.14712/23363525.2018.47
Whereas happiness studies have been the subject of many scholarly debates in various
disciplines, the study of happiness in the sense of “quality of life” or “well-being” has not
received the attention it deserves in historical studies. Admittedly, it is hardly possible to
survey happiness in aremote past, but there are other possibilities for research. In what
follows, we will examine governmental inuence on quality of life for aspecic region in
Antiquity for which awide range of private and ocial documents are extant, namely Hel-
lenistic Egypt. Our quality of life-index for the Nile country, drawing on modern methods
for measuring quality of life across cultures, builds on pilot studies by other historians for
dierent regions and periods of time, and is adapted to Egypt’srich source material. In
© 2018 The Author. is is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
(, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original author and source are credited.
* e author would like to express her immense gratitude to prof. dr. Ruut Veenhoven, who kindly proofread
the rst version of this paper and whose comments improved this study immensely. Another word of thanks
should be addressed to prof. dr. Katelijn Vandorpe, my thesis supervisor who proofread several versions of this
paper and tirelessly provided me with helpful feedback. is paper was written as part of my doctoral project,
“Burdened by taxes but trustful of government? e balance between tax burden and wellbeing in Ptolemaic
Egypt (332–30 BC),” funded by the Bijzondere Onderzoeksraad KU Leuven.
** Dra. Valérie Wyns, Department of Ancient History, KU Leuven. E-mail:
other words, our index is developed as aframework for researching the impact of govern-
ment action on the quality of life of Egypt’sinhabitants, because ahappiness index in the
traditional sense would be impossible to apply to the past.
Our denition of quality of life is based on Veenhoven [2000], who dened the four
qualities of life in the form of aquadrant, as represented below. One aspect of the quad-
rant is formed by the opposition between life chances, i.e. the opportunities for agood
life that aperson receives, versus life results, which implies the actual outcome of what an
individual did with the chances he or she was oered. e second aspect that completes
the quadrant is that of outer qualities, i.e. environmental factors that are not controlled
by the individual, versus inner qualities, elements within aperson that contribute or are
detrimental to one’squality of life.
e combination of life chances and outer qualities renders the quality of life that is
best suited for our study of government investments in Hellenistic Egypt, which is named
“livability of environment.” is notion consists of all the chances that are oered to an
individual by his or her environment, without aguarantee for the eventual results. For
Hellenistic Egypt, this would mean the opportunities created by government investments
that were at the disposal of the general population, such as an eective court system. e
second element that is of interest to our study is that of life chances combined with inner
qualities, resulting in the concept of “life-ability” of aperson. Government investments
could inuence these as well, by indirectly enhancing or diminishing personal develop-
ment, for instance through education, healthcare and occasion for spiritual experiences.
e combination of the two qualities of life that form the focus of our studies, “livability”
and “life-ability,” is jointly termed as “objective quality” by Brock [Brock 1993]. Most of the
factors that result in “subjective appreciation” and “utility of life” will be excluded from this
study, since the personal appraisal of individuals cannot unambiguously be reconstructed
from the available sources. In other words, our study will focus on the life chances oered
to the Egyptian population, not on the life results they produced.
Hellenistic Egypt is taken here as acase-study because of its abundant and exceptional
source material. e Nile country was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, and
aer his death, the pharaonic crown passed to one of his generals, Ptolemy, who in turn
Figure 1: e four qualities of life based on Veenhoven 2000
VALÉRIE W YNS Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras
founded the Ptolemaic dynasty. e new monarchy was intermittently successful, lasting
for almost 300 years until its last queen, the famous Cleopatra, already the seventh queen
bearing that name, committed suicide and the country became aRoman province in 30
BC. More than any other region in the Mediterranean, Hellenistic or Ptolemaic Egypt
allows us to analyse the private lives not only of wealthy families and middle classes, but
of lower socio-economic classes as well, due to the unique source material available. e
dry desert environment of Egypt did not only preserve inscriptions, terracotta, gurines
and other archaeological material, but an abundance of documents on papyrus as well,
documenting everyday life in Hellenistic Egypt. Government papers, such as tax registers,
census documents, and ocial letters illustrate the functioning of the royal administration.
Petitions, which are preserved in thousands, in turn oer insight into the problems of all
population groups, and how they expected their issues to be resolved. Private and o-
cial archives document the lives of families and ocials working in government bureaus,
and disclose information on matters such as laws of inheritance, marriage and other legal
and private matters.1 In contrast to the recent attention for scholarship examining the
presence of instant happiness and other emotions in historical documents, happiness in
the sense of quality of life has remained largely unexplored in papyrology and in other
disciplines of the ancient world [Vandorpe 2013]. But before we proceed to an adapted
index for quality of life in Hellenistic Egypt, ashort overview of cross-cultural quality of
life studies, and their low impact on the eld of history Egypt will be presented.
Happiness and related studies across cultures and applied to the past
Historians today oen feel reluctant to incorporate explicit elements of sociological
research. Braudel [1980] described the dialogue between historians and sociologists as
a“dialogue of the deaf,” illustrating the gap between the two disciplines that had been
growing over the course of the rst half of the 20th century. Aer the cultural turn of the
eld (cfr. infra), the former grand narratives of the 19th century, which were felt to rep-
resent an “unfounded” social history [Burke 2005], were rejected. Social sciences such as
psychology were also put aside at the time since they used similar models of explanation
as the grand narratives that had fallen from grace. Historiography reverted to what Burke
describes as an “anecdotal history at large,” which implies the description of acollection of
events, while rejecting models of explanation as these were assumed to homogenize and
generalize historical processes. is deliberate attempt of historians to distance themselves
from earlier historiography also had its downside, sometimes resulting in alack of depth
compared to cultural-anthropological studies at the time and atendency to fragmentise
and isolate sources.
During the 1960’s, historians’ interest in social sciences gave rise to the “new cultural
history,” due to (among others) major advancements in the elds of anthropology, geog-
raphy, sociology and economics. Awareness grew once more that several disciplines had
valuable insights to oer each other.
1 For more information on papyrus documents and papyrology in general, see Bagnall, Roger (ed.) [2009]. e
Oxford Handbook of Papyrology. Oxford: Oxford Boods. For metadata on papyrus texts, see the Trismegistos
website (, with 16391 entries for the Ptolemaic Period.
Over the last few decades, the application of models and quantitative methods to his-
torical research has been gaining ground. An example is the success of digital humanities,
where network analysis, amethodology borrowed from sociology, has rmly taken root
as avalid eld of study in historical research. As Burke [2005: 189] concludes his book on
history and social theory: “One might say that, like comparison, [social] theory enlarges
the imagination of historians by making them more aware of alternatives to their habitual
assumptions and explanations.
e approach to researching quality of life in Hellenistic Egypt is mainly derived from
sociological methods, since these have astrong societal-level focus. Earlier research apply-
ing this area of study on historical periods can be subdivided into two categories: those
applied to contemporary pre-industrial societies and comparisons between Western and
non-Western societies on the one hand, and those applied to limited elds and periods in
history on the other. We will discuss both categories briey to illuminate their respective
value to the compilation of an index of quality of life in Hellenistic Egypt.
Numerous sets of parameters have been developed to compare and examine objective
and subjective quality of life in dierent societal settings, both now and in the past. ere is
no consensus on which set of parameters or index is most suitable for examining quality of
life across cultures. e dierence between objective well-being, roughly corresponding to
the “objective quality” as described by Brock,2 and subjective well-being, i.e. the subjective
appreciation of aperson’slife, is emphasized by several authors, such as Biswas-Diener
et al. [2005], Graham and Pettinato [2001] and Veenhoven [2008]. As mentioned above,
our main interest lies in the study of life chances inuenced by both external and inter-
nal qualities (objective quality of life), rather than results (subjective quality of life). e
following studies on cross-cultural determinants of quality of life in current societies han-
dle aquantitative approach,3 while those concerned with research applied to history are,
through the very nature of their sources, necessarily qualitative.
In his research on happiness4 across cultures, Veenhoven [2012] states that “Happiness
roots in the gratication of basic needs that are part of human nature. In that respect,
happiness draws on universal grounds, (…) it is unlikely that humans orient on variable
cultural standards in the rst place, rather than on needs that root in biological evolution,
but later in the paper he nuances this: “Happiness is grounded in social standards, and in
this respect, happiness is culturally relative.” Strong parameters according to Veenhoven
are wealth, freedom, peace, justice, equality, education, social rank, personality and mar-
riage. However, these do not all hold the same relevance across cultures and time. Eco-
nomic prosperity and high life-expectancy (and all they entail) seem to hold the strongest
cross-cultural relevance. Contrary to Veenhoven, who emphasizes basic biological needs
as important determinants of happiness, Wierzbicka [2010] places astronger emphasis
on cultural determinants: “Dierent cultures and dierent languages suggest dierent
habitual construals, and since habitual construals change over time, as aresult, habitu-
al feelings change too.” is opposition can be caused by the narrower view Wierzbicka
2 Cfr. supra.
3 Exact and extensive sociometric data concerning the parameters and indices mentioned can be found in the
corresponding papers, cited in the bibliography.
4 Here as asynonym for subjective appreciation of life.
VALÉRIE W YNS Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras
held on happiness as asubjective experience, while Veenhoven casts awider net and also
includes the determinants of objective well-being, since these in turn inuence subjective
If basic biological needs are the foundation of human happiness, then anumber of
determinants have to hold cross-cultural value, although the relative importance of these
values may dier from culture to culture. is view is supported by other authors, such
as Graham and Pettinato [2001], who argue that the standard demographic determinants
of happiness in advanced countries also hold for Latin America. Jagodzinski [2010], who
compared the economic, social and cultural determinants of life satisfaction between Asia
and Europe, found that most determinants, i.e. personal and societal economic capital,
national pride and national integration, religiosity, and societal religious integration, held
up in both Asian and European societies, although the importance attached to each deter-
minant could dier. In their comparison of happiness between the Inughuit (tribe of the
Inuit), the Amish and the Maasai, Biswas-Diener et al. [2005] employed fourteen domains
that constitute life satisfaction, such as romantic life, health, intelligence, family, friends
etc. ey found that across these very dierent cultures, the determinants were on the
whole valued as positive. is led them to state that people are “wired” to be happy, or that
“people are on average happy, when they live in conditions that are favourable to human
needs”, in line with Veenhoven’spreviously mentioned statement on the biological foun-
dations of happiness. Cramm et al. [2012] performed astudy on well-being in asmall and
poor Eastern Cape Township, focusing on crime experience, health status, social capital
and demographic variables. Other noteworthy case studies on happiness in contempo-
rary pre-industrial and non-Western societies can be found in “Happiness across cultures”
[Selin – Davey 2012], whose authors employ comparable parameters and methods.
Another important element advocated by Veenhoven [1996], is the examination of
both the quality OF anation and the quality of life IN that nation. e determinants con-
stituting the quality of anation are well suited to the search for contributing factors to
objective quality of life, since the quality of an adequate justice or educational system
have adirect impact on both the life chances of the individual and the liveability of the
As aresult of the ndings presented above, several quality of life-indexes or sets of
determinants have been developed. We will briey describe those that have been most
inuential to current literature and more specic, to the compilation of aset of determi-
nants for Hellenistic Egypt.
e Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI), construed by Morris [1979] as atool for
measuring quality of life in developing countries, was composed of only three variables:
infant mortality rate, adult literacy rate and life expectancy at birth. is index was extend-
ed by two variables by Mazumdar [1999], i.e. percentage of total population living in urban
areas and per capita calorie supply as percentage of requirement. ese variables indicate
respectively access to urban facilities such as sanitation, medical and educational ame-
nities, communications, access to safe water etc. and standard of nutrition of acountry,
implying national and per capita income.
Research on well-being in Algeria, based on the International Wellbeing Index (IWI),
was performed by Tiliouine et al. [2006]. e IWI is subdivided into the Personal Wellbe-
ing Index (PWI) and the National Wellbeing Index (NWI). e PWI dierentiates between
seven life domains: standards of living, personal health, achievement in life, personal
relationships, personal safety, community connectedness and future security. e NWI
only focuses on six domains: economic situation, state of environment, societal condi-
tions, government, business and national security. is corresponds to the views of Veen-
hoven [1996], who prefers to examine the quality of anation (through the appraisal of the
nation’sproductivity, liveability, system-stability, etc.) before determining the quality of life
in the nation. Davey et al. [2009] studied subjective well-being5 in rural China, far away
from the industrialized cities of the west coast. ey also used the PWI, and refer to it as
an index with agood validity that has been applied in over 48 countries, and concluded
that the index was appropriate for determining subjective well-being in China, and there-
fore, across countries. It should be noted that the relative weight of each domain diered
between cultures.
e study of Haq and Zia [2013] focuses on the measurement of happiness in rural
Pakistan. Based on the index of quality of life as formulated by Prescott-Allen, they created
aframework of parameters that dierentiates between human dimensions (such as health,
education and social capital) and ecosystem dimensions (energy and resources, air quality
and water quality), and between objective well-being and subjective well-being. Aheavy
emphasis is put on living conditions, as these have alarge inuence on health.
Afew attempts have been made on aminor scale to apply happiness studies to history,6
but none have reached as far back as European antiquity. Jordan [1993, 1996, 2009, 2010]
studied sources and methods to examine the objective quality of life of 17th and 19th cen-
tury inhabitants of Dublin and aselection of cities from England and Wales. Although he
acknowledges the diculty of examining the quality of life of people so far removed from
ourselves, he claims that this is anecessary step in understanding remote events, large and
small [1996]. He heavily emphasizes the importance of health (and in correlation, mortal-
ity), nancial capital, and the number of hearths per family. ese data can be compiled
from the censuses that were executed in Britain. Jordan developed the Victorian Index of
Quality of Adult Life (VICQUAL Index) for his research [1993]. His 1996 study collects
types of historical documents and data that can be useful in determining the quality of life
in history, i.e. birth and death rates (if available), indexes of wages and the cost of com-
modities and housing, placing aheavy emphasis on economic information originating
from census data. In his 2010 paper on 17th century Dublin, Jordan collected 20 domains
from across several studies in the eld [Mazumdar 2003; Bramston et al. 2002; Boelhouer
2002] that, when combined, paint apicture of the quality of family life, including safety,
paid employment, public utilities and religion. In their study on quality of life in three
centuries of French history, Ostroot and Snyder [1996] reected on several diculties that
the historian faces when examining quality of life in the past. ey refer to Jordan [1993]
for atheoretical approach. According to Ostroot and Snyder, the most consistently cited
domain aecting human well-being in history is interpersonal relations [apart from food
and shelter]. Security and salvation (in Catholic France) were also of great importance.
Other relevant domains are closely related to the physical quality of life, i.e. health, child
5 Studies on subjective well-being or subjective quality of life are only included insofar as they (in)directly
contribute to research on (inuences on) determinants of objective quality of life.
6 For more references, see <http://worlddatabaseo>.
VALÉRIE W YNS Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras
mortality etc. Ostroot and Snyder, like Mazumdar [1999], quote the PQLI as the basis for
the selected domains. Finally, afew theoretical studies from the eld of historical anthro-
pology have contributed to the study of societies and welfare in the past, arguing that
human life satisfaction in general dropped during the agrarian phase, and rose again aer
the industrial revolution of the 18th century [Maryanski – Turner 1992; Sanderson 1995].
Compiling an adapted index of quality of life for Hellenistic Egypt
e aforementioned pilot studies applying happiness and quality of life studies to the
past have shown that each region and period of time needs its own specic framework
and set of determinants, since conditions and attitudes can dier strongly. However, socio-
logical research has determined that there are anumber of universal human needs or
requirements that are present in every human being. Moreover, several determinants can
be identied as inherent to each human, but their importance can dier regionally and
over time. To compile asuitable list of determinants for quality of life in Ptolemaic Egypt,
we will need to take both the human needs that are considered universal into account, as
well as the geographical and temporal specics. As for Victorian England or for Catholic
France, an adapted index should be developed for Egypt, apreliminary version of which
has already been proposed [Vandorpe 2013]. What perspectives does such quality of life
research open? e objective cannot be to examine whether people in Egypt were actually
happy, an impossible task as surveys are crucial for such research. Instead, because of the
diverse character of sources available for Ptolemaic Egypt, it is possible to research if and
how the Ptolemies (un)consciously invested in or neglected certain determinants, thus
contributing to the improvement or deterioration of chances present in the environment
of their subjects. Acomparison between other Hellenistic kingdoms at the same time and
Roman Egypt can be enlightening as to how successful the Ptolemies were in promoting
the quality of life of their subjects compared to their Hellenistic and Roman counterparts.
e compilation of an index for Hellenistic Egypt entailed the involvement of three
cross-cultural contributors to quality of life: objective satisfaction of biological needs,7
quality of nation (livability) and quality of life in anation (life-ability). As most of the
corresponding determinants hold cross-cultural value, alarge portion of them could be
integrated in the proposed index without any alterations. However, some were discarded
because of their inclusion of modern comfort or technology (such as availability of elec-
tricity) or modern values (such as views on the meaning of freedom). In the following
paragraphs, determinants of these three categories will be discussed and fused into an
index suitable for Hellenistic Egypt.
e satisfaction of biological needs is the rst category of determinants to be included
into our index for Ptolemaic Egypt. Guillen Royo and Velazco [2006] cite the eory of
Human Needs (THN) [Doyal – Gough 1991], which “maintains that there are universal
characteristics from which individuals’ well-being can be assessed, and that those can be
summed up in concrete and specic lists of well-being components.” ey link objective
well-being, i.e. the fulllment of requirements necessary for apersons’ living and function-
ing, with subjective well-being, i.e. the subjective appreciation of aperson’slife, implying
7 Needs present in every human being.
that the satisfaction of basic needs will always result in ahigher chance of personal hap-
piness in the individual. Aer researching this link for correlations using the Resources
and Needs Questionnaire (RANQ), they report that “satisers are obviously diverse and
dierent across cultures, but the underlying basic and intermediate needs appear to have
an impact in people’sself-reported happiness and satisfaction.” e correlation was found
to be greater in pre-industrialized countries [Moller 2005]. ese ndings are in accor-
dance with the THN, which states that “assessment of well-being achieved by asociety/
individual could be done through indicators of objective need satisfaction showing the level
of satisfaction of the basic needs, as well as the performance of intermediate needs.” e
aforementioned RANQ identies three universal goals, i.e. avoidance of serious harm,
social participation and critical participation, two basic needs, i.e. physical health and
critical autonomy, and nine intermediate needs, i.e. adequate nutritional food and water,
adequate protective housing and non-hazardous work and physical environments, appro-
priate child care, security in childhood, signicant primary relationships, physical and eco-
nomic security, safe birth control and childbearing, appropriate basic and cross-cultural
education. ese parameters represent the basic needs of ahuman being as asocial animal,
and will of course be included in the nal set for Ptolemaic Egypt. e ndings of the THN
about basic human needs as universal contributors to happiness and quality of life are in
line with research by, among others, Jagodzinski [2010], Veenhoven [2012] and Graham et
al. [2001]. e translation of the abovementioned elements into appropriate determinants
for Ptolemaic Egypt is rather straightforward, since biological need satisfaction does not
only hold relevance for humans across cultures, but also across time. Mankind as aspecies
has not evolved that much in 2000 years to have progressed beyond the requirements of
f.i. food, shelter, safety and social relationships. erefore, most determinants can easily
be included in the proposed index, although the relative importance of some determinants
may have shied over time.
Having included determinants for basic and intermediate human needs, we move on
to factors that inuence the so-called “quality of nations” [Veenhoven 1996]. Veenhoven
states that before we can research the quality of life in anation, the quality of the nation
itself8 needs to be studied as well. Research by Jorm and Ryans [2014] resulted in similar
ndings, since they found clear evidence that certain features of anation contribute to sub-
jective well-being. ey cite the following socioeconomic factors that are (among others)
associated with positive eects on national well-being: income per capita, income equality,
social welfare, individualism, democracy and freedom, social capital and physical health.
Veenhoven formulates four main parameters, i.e. system-stability, productivity, idealex-
pression (such as support of or rebellion against the royal family) and liveability (this can
include safety, climate circumstances etc.), and identies some of the parameters by Jorm
and Ryan, such as physical health, as dimensions of quality of life in nations, rather than
the quality of anation. e International Wellbeing Index (IWI) also dierentiates between
personal well-being and national well-being [Cummins 2002]. We already see some overlap
with the objective basic and intermediate needs mentioned above.
8 Corresponding to the quality of life identied as “livability.
VALÉRIE W YNS Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras
Athird angle that needs to be included, is the “quality of life in anation.9 We st ar t
with Veenhoven’sparameters for quality of life in nations: wealth, freedom, peace, justice,
equality, education, social rank, personality and marriage. Jagodzinsky [2010] adds the
dimension of religiosity, societal religious integration and social pride to the list. Several
other indices, such as the PQLI [Morris 1979] and that of Prescott-Allen [2001], are worth
mentioning that include more or less the same parameters with adierent emphasis on
certain aspects. Anumber of the abovementioned parameters are converted into determi-
nants of objective quality of life in our index for Ptolemaic Egypt. eir exact interpreta-
tion needs to be specied to suit our geographic and temporal context. For instance, since
aschooling system was nowhere in place in Mediterranean antiquity, we will readjust this
determinant to also include apprenticeships, temple education, and the passing on of tradi-
tions through the generations. Parameters that would require exact and complete data (as
would be found in acensus list) or imply astrong individual component (and would have
to be assessed through questionnaires) are automatically excluded from our index because
of the nature of the available source material.
Another important set of studies that formed the inspiration for our own research,
are the World Happiness Reports (WHP) [Helliwell et al. 2012, 2013, 2015], which were
presented to the United Nations as aguideline for policy development. In the view of
the authors of these reports, happiness research should be linked to government policy.
e WHP examine happiness from acomparative perspective worldwide, and involve the
deployment of determinants with cross-cultural validity. Key determinants of happiness
include: income, work, community and governance, values and religion, mental health,
physical health, family experience, education, and gender and age.
Before we turn to the proposed index for Ptolemaic Egypt, abrief overview of the most
important available source material is in order. An abundance of petitions is preserved
for both the Ptolemaic and Roman time in Egypt. Drawn up both in Greek and Demotic
(Egyptian script), petitions enabled people from all classes to report any injustice they
suered and demand action from the government. Unlike today, petitions were usually
sent by individuals or small groups of people, and were addressed to awide range of o-
cials, ranging from the village head of police to the king himself. Complaints reported
could be trivial or grave, reporting boundary disputes, petty the and assaults alike. e
large amount of petitions sent by inhabitants of Egypt over several centuries attest the
belief in the functioning of the system, and many replies or consequent instructions to
ocials by the higher levels of the royal administration are preserved as well. Another
important corpus of sources is composed of letters, both private and ocial. e sep-
aration between occupancy and private life was almost non-existent, so separating the
two sometimes proves to be adicult task. Letters could be exchanged between family
and friends, colleagues, patrons, business associates and so on. ey convey arange of
information about everyday life and familial bonds. Letters between spouses for instance,
inform us about the nature of marital relationships, and women’sposition in the marriage,
extended family and her role in the household. Elaborating further on the same theme of
women’sposition in society, contracts come into view. is type of document does not
only entail legal proceedings, but the legal position of separate or groups of individuals.
9 Contains elements of both “livability” and “life-ability.
e absence or presence of aguardian for women in Greek and Demotic contracts pres-
ents an interesting image of women’sindependence in Hellenistic Egypt. Tax receipts oer
insights into the nancial situation of both households and the state, specifying in detail
the sometimes large number of separate taxes an individual had to pay, such as the salt tax,
the wine tax, ranging even to ataxation on dove cotes. Almost all of the aforementioned
document types can be found in both ocial and private archives. e inhabitants of Egypt
generally tended to keep an archive, keeping documents because of legal or emotional
reasons. Written evidence was deemed very important by the courts of Ptolemaic Egypt.
Contracts, receipts and other documents were saved in case of the event that they would
have to serve as evidence in acourt case. Archives were kept by all layers of the population,
and those who could not read or write could use the services of local professional scribes.
An example of an archive from arather modest family is that of the Upper-Egyptian fam-
ily of Peteharsemtheus, son of Panebchounis, mainly from the end of the second century
BC.10 e dierent family members possessed small patches of land and parts of hous-
es, and some are identied as herdsmen. Although in Peterharsemtheus’ time the family
seems to be doing well, the documents from his grandfather Patous show that his ancestor
was in considerable debt, and the required amount could only be repaid 25 years later
by his son Panebchounis. e family loaned again on several occasions, but were mostly
able to repay the loan on time. e archive contains not only these loan contracts, but
also sale contracts, tax receipts, letters from relatives serving in the military, and marriage
Lastly, temple archives should be addressed. Priests could function as judges and wield-
ed real political power throughout the country. ey organized festivals and provided edu-
cation, especially for those who wished to enter in Egypt’sbureaucracy. It is important to
view temples and priests as complementary to the royal government, rather than aseparate
“state within astate.
Taking into account the aforementioned studies and corpus of source material, creating
acustom set of determinants for Hellenistic Egypt involved elements from both deter-
minants with cross-cultural validity as determinants that hold meaning for our specic
context. Vandorpe [2013] has made a start creating aframework that suits Hellenistic
Egypt based on the determinants found in the World Happiness Report of 2012. Modern -
day determinants were adapted to t the Hellenistic context. When we combine this pre-
liminary set with our ndings as presented above, we arrive at the following set of deter-
minants for examining government inuence on quality of life in Hellenistic Egypt, which
are linked to specic source material in Table 1:
10 Trismegistos Archives ID no. 183.
11 See also Vandorpe, Katelijn – Waebens, Soe [2009]. Reconstructing Pathyris’ Archives. Amulticultural
community in Hellenistic Egypt. Collectanea Hellenistica 3: 163–189; amore recent discussion by Waebens
is “Life Portraits: People and their Everyday Papers in aBureaucratic Society” in Vandorpe, Katelijn (ed.).
Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Greco-Roman and Late Antique Egypt. Oxford (forthcoming).
VALÉRIE W YNS Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras
Tab le 1: e Index for quality of life in Hellenistic Egypt with corresponding source material
Sub-determinant Suitable source material
Government Government performance Petitions, Private letters, Lawsuits
Services and Infrastructure Petitions, Contracts, Tax receipts (e.g.
For use of government facilities)
Petitions, Court proceedings,
Convictions for crimes against the
Justice/absence of corruption Petitions, Private letters, Ocial letters,
Lawsuits, Court proceedings, Temple
oaths, Royal edicts
(Perceived sense of) safety Petitions, Private letters, Ocial letters
System stability/peace Ocial letters, Reports of revolt,
Ocial decrees granting amnesty,
Royal edicts
Economy Adequate and safe housing Petitions, Private letters, Archaeological
Assets Petitions, Private letters, Contracts,
Archaeological ndings
Income p/c and tax burden Tax receipts, Accounting books
(Un)employment Private letters, Contracts
Productivity Ocial letters, Tax receipts, Accounting
Social Signicant primary relationships
(core family, marriage)
Private letters, Marriage contracts,
Votive oerings
Familial and social networks Private letters, Marriage contracts,
Votive oerings
Social support and social capital Private letters, Ocial letters
Gender equality13 Private letters, Contracts, Legislature
Culture Level of appropriate education/
literacy/knowledge of local myths,
Private letters, Temple accounts,
Number of transmitted literary
Artisan skills Archaeological ndings, Employment
Notion of values/ideal-expression Private letters
12 e freedom of subjects to contribute to public projects and the functioning of the state, see Helliwell, John
[2006]. Well-being, social capital and public policy. e Economic Journal 116: 34–45.
13 Even when societies generally condone discrimination against women, average happiness is markedly lower
when gender inequality is present, see Saskia ChinHonFoei, “Gender equality and happiness in nations,” Paper
presented at “Dag van de Sociologie,” Tilburg University, 2006, as cited by Veenhoven Ruut in Selin, Helaine –
Davey, Gareth [2012].
Physical and
mental health
Physical health: Life expectancy Private letters, Tax receipts, Archives
Physical health: Disability Private letters, Tax receipts, Archives
Physical health: Safe birth Private letters, Temple accounts and
votive oerings, Midwife/Wet-nurse
Physical health: Adequate nutritional
food and water
Petitions, Private letters, Ocial letters
concerning the upkeep of canals and the
distribution of grain
Psychological well-being Private letters, Temple accounts and
votive oerings
Possibility to express emotions Petitions, Private letters
Access to spirituality and/or religious
Temple accounts and votive oerings,
Contracts concerning religious festivals,
Accounts of religious festivals
Critical autonomy Private letters
Appropriate child care and security
in childhood
Private letters, Temple accounts and
votive oerings, Midwife/Wet-nurse
Environment Ecological issues Private letters; Ocial letters
concerning upkeep of canals and dykes,
the ooding of the Nile and growth of
plants and trees; Temple accounts and
votive oerings; Royal edicts
Urbanization issues Petitions, Private letters, Ocial letters,
Lawsuits, Royal edicts
Government policy and eective
Petitions, Ocial letters, Royal edicts
Wildlife damage to crops Petitions, Private letters, Ocial letters
Case study: e Erbstreit-dossier
As ademonstration of the application of the determinants proposed above, we will
present the papyrus documents found in the so-called “Erbstreit-dossier” (P. Erbstreit),
and how they contribute to our understanding of quality of life in Ptolemaic Egypt. e
collection of documents that are the object of this case study have been gathered in antiq-
uity, and concern the inheritance dispute between the relatives of the deceased woman
Tamenos, daughter of Panas. Contenders are her children, her brother’sfamily, and her
sister’sfamily. e papyri were found in the town of Pathyris in Upper-Egypt, and most of
the documents preserved in the dossier are evidence that was presented in front of several
courts over the course of six years, court proceedings ranging from 139 BC to 133 BC.
Evidence presented to the courts was amixture of Greek and demotic documents, the
oldest 50 years old at the time of the proceedings. Not only are sale and lease contracts pre-
served, reports of the court cases were added as well as the dispute dragged on. It appears
VALÉRIE W YNS Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras
the quarreling families repeatedly brought their case before several magistrates, until the
highest court of appeal, the court of the chrematistai or royal judges, put an end to the
dispute and ruled in favour of Tamenos’ children.
In the following table, we have placed the documents from the “Erbstreit-dossier” in
ve categories, and have then matched them to the (sub-)determinants from the proposed
index for quality of life in Ptolemaic Egypt. e table visualizes the way in which deter-
minants can be researched through our corpus of source material, of which the “Erbstre-
it-dossier” forms only atiny fraction.
Tab le 2: Documents from the “Erbstreit-dossier” as sources for quality of life in Ptolemaic Egypt
Type of document Determinant Sub-determinant
Court rulings/reports/petitions Government Justice
Services and infrastructure
Environment Government policy
and eective action
Sale and lease contracts Economy Assets
Documents mentioning family ties and
corresponding rights to inheritance
Social Signicant primary relationships
Familial and social networks
Documents mentioning women as active
parties in court and inheritance
Social Gender equality
Temple oaths Government Justice
Culture Knowledge of local traditions
Notion of values
e applicability of the proposed index for Ptolemaic Egypt is further illustrated by
the following document, which is acopy of the lawsuit proceedings that took place in
134–133 BC (P. Erbstreit 16). e court session took place in Diospolis Magna14 before the
epistrategos15 Boethos, who acted as judge. e children of Tamenos are challenged in their
ownership by Tamenos’ brother-in-law Patous and his children. In court appear Tamenos’
daughter Senenoupis and her husband, otortaios on the one side, Patous and his son on
the other. What follows are selected fragments, numbers indicate words or passages that
will be discussed below:
Copy of asession of the court which had taken place in Diospolis Magna, conducted on 4 ot
of year 37 before the hegemones, who accompany Boethos, kinsman (of the King), epistrategos and
strategos of the ebaid (1).
otortaios, son of Kales, who was also appointed as representative by his wife Senenou-
pis (2), appeared before the court, (conducting acase) against Patous, son of Psemmonthes, and
14 Also known as ebes.
15 Amid-level ocial.
his son …, while others charged by them (that is by otortaios and Senenoupis) had not appeared
before the court. e petition (3) presented by the party of otortaios, was read (4). e tran-
script runs as follows (…)
(otortaios presents his case)
at is how things stood. Aer they had pleaded their cause before the judges (5), otor-
taios was the most convincing, having brought forward the argument that the mother of his wife,
Tamenos, had collected by purchase ten arouras16 from Hermokrates (6), son of Apollonios, in
year 20, Epeiph, and the remaining 35 arouras from Proitos in year 21, Parmouthi. e latter had
purchased the arouras from the Crown in year 19 according to acerticate. He presented as evi-
dence: the above-mentioned certicate and the copies of the conveyances (7).
(Party of Panos accepts the loss of the rst ten arouras, but does not wish to relinquish
its claim on the further 35 arouras)
ey were brought before Boethos and aer everything had been reported to him, he gave
orders that the said Senenoupis would become master of her mother’sinheritance (8) in accor-
dance with the title-deeds she had.17
1) e case is taken to acourt in Diospolis Magna (ebes), somewhat removed from
both parties’ hometown of Pathyris. is suggests that mediation at alocal level had
not succeeded, and appeal was made to ahigher institute of justice, in this case the
court of the epistrategos (provincial governor) of the ebaid region. e document
has been composed in Greek, indicating that this was the language used in the higher
echelons of the Ptolemaic justice system, although other documents from the archive
and the proper names involved strongly suggest the Egyptian ethnicity of both parties.
e fact that atranscription of every court case was registered and made available
indicates aformalized and functioning justice system.
2) Senenoupis, daughter of the deceased Tamenos, is accompanied by her husband o-
tortaios in court. He appears to speak in his wife’sname, who does not seem to speak
herself during the trial.
3) It appears to have been necessary for parties to submit awritten petition to the court
before an actual trial could take place. e petition served as the main medium for
parties to make their case. e importance of written documents is discussed further
under item 7.
4) e submitted petition is read aloud in court, and counts as part of the plea of the party
of Senenoupis and otortaios.
5) Both parties were allowed to make their case before acollege of judges. Apparently,
apreliminary hearing before the judges took place before the nal session before the
epistrategos Boethos. is probably would have had apositive impact on the speed with
16 Measure of land.
17 Translation Vandorpe Katelijn and Vleeming Sven [2017]. e Erbstreit Papyri. ABilingual Dossier from Pathy-
ris of the second century BC. Studia Demotica 13. Leuven: Peeters.
VALÉRIE W YNS Happiness in the Kingdom of the Cleopatras
which the head ocial was capable of pronouncing verdicts, having received the initial
petition and the report of the preliminary hearing.
6) Tamenos was apparently allowed to carry out legal transactions such as purchases and
sales, which is quite rare for women in the Mediterranean during that period of time.
She appears as the acting party (without aguardian) in the sale contract presented to
the court.
7) otortaios submits several written documents to the court, aiming to prove the
ownership by Tamenos of the disputed property, consequently proving the legal inhe-
ritance of the lands by his wife. Being able to present legal documentation to support
aclaim appeared to have avery strong inuence on the claim’scredibility before aPto-
lemaic court.
8) Although otortaios speaks for his wife during the trial, the judge designates only
Senenoupis and not her husband as master of the inheritance. Together with item 6, it
appears that women could own, sell and buy land without interference or co-owner-
ship of their husbands, which suggests relative nancial freedom for adult women in
Ptolemaic Egypt.
e next step in applying the Ptolemaic Well-Being Index consists of aqualitative syn-
thesis of the results above, together with the results of parallel analyses of other docu-
mentary material from other court cases or otherwise related to the justice system. Item
1 testies to the presence of several levels of mediation between quarreling parties. e
matter apparently could not be resolved at the local level, meaning both parties had to
travel to obtain anal verdict on their case. is allows us insight into some positive and
negative aspects of the Ptolemaic justice system: on the one hand, if both parties were
willing, conicts could be addressed by local administrators, facilitating access to justice
for locals. However, on the other hand, if one party decided that they were not satised
with the ruling of the local magistrate, they were free to seek justice elsewhere, and engage
another court of law to issue averdict that was more to their liking. is relative freedom
meant that proceedings could be drawn out for quite along time, slowing down the entire
system and requiring both parties to appear before several court sessions that sometimes
obligated them to travel and prevented them from managing their businesses for periods
of time. Item 5 suggests that some measures were taken to at least curb the length of court
sessions, informing us that apreliminary hearing rst took place before the actual trial
before the (no doubt very busy) epistrategos Boethos. is way, the head judge had both
the submitted documents and the reports by the preliminary judges to inform him about
the case, and the trial could proceed more swily, at least in theory. Moreover, item 1 also
addresses the necessity of written documentation, to be provided by both parties before
the actual hearing, as also exemplied by items 3 and 7. e great importance attached to
written evidence is attested by agreat number of documents from the entire Ptolemaic
period, and several mechanisms were in place to prevent forged documentation entering
the court. People who could not write or read would also hang onto this material, and used
the services of professional scribes when the need arose for the drawing up and notarizing
of contracts. e importance of written evidence is further exemplied by the papyrus
UPZ II 162 = P. Tor. Choachiti 12, where ajudge writes to aregistration oce to provide
him with the details of acontract registered there, about which acourt case has arisen.
e careful registration and safekeeping of contracts and receipts suggest not only alegal
system operating quite strictly according to aset of rules, but also acertain trust of the
population of Egypt in the validity of legal documents and (relative) objective approach of
the judges supervising the justice system.
Items 2, 6 and 8 are focused on the legal position of Senenoupis, daughter of the
deceased Tamenos, whose possessions are the object of contention. Senenoupis is accom-
panied by her husband in court, who speaks for his wife during the entire trial. Other
documents from Ptolemaic Egypt18 containing court proceedings show that women were
allowed to speak for themselves in trials, sometimes even representing other family mem-
bers. Other documents from the family archive of Senenoupis show that she could act
legally independent (P. Erbstreit 7–8), but for unknown reasons, she chose not to in this
court case. Senenoupis’ mother Tamenos also conducted business in her own name, as
demonstrated by item 6. Item 8 also suggests the ability of adult women to take care of their
own aairs during the Ptolemaic reign in Egypt.
e image of the Ptolemaic justice system that arises from the analysis of the court
trial before the epistrategos, is one of arelatively formalized and hierarchical system, where
higher appeal was possible. Mediation was easily accessed, but actual court cases might
have required parties to travel, an inconvenience in ancient times. Notarization and for-
malized contracting largely avoided falsied documents, and facilitated court rulings.
e example above shows how, in this case, mainly the determinant of “Government
can be examined through the analysis of the available documents, an approach that can be
applied to the other determinants, thus culminating in aqualitative appraisal of well-being
in Ptolemaic Egypt.
In conclusion
e Ptolemaic rule of Egypt has traditionally been regarded as afailing one. e dynas-
ty gradually lost control of its possessions outside of Egypt, and because of our extensive
knowledge of the tax system, it appeared that the inhabitants of the Nile country paid an
enormous amount of taxes to the crown. Our approach aims at nuancing this view, by not
only examining what people paid to the state, but also what the state did for the people
in return. e preliminary results of our research suggest that the Ptolemies reinvested
asubstantial amount of tax revenues into factors contributing to the well-being of their
subjects, such as afunctioning and accessible justice system. Are-evaluation of Ptolemaic
rule in Egypt is thus required, not only focusing on possibly high tax rates, but also taking
into account the benets for the population that resulted from them.
Our future research on the aforementioned determinants will not include asurvey of
happiness among the people of Hellenistic Egypt for obvious reasons. In the years to come,
we will examine in which of these determinants the Ptolemaic government invested, and
thus (un)consciously positively or negatively inuenced the quality of life of the people
they governed. is approach opens up anew methodology for appraisal of the perfor-
mance of the Ptolemaic government, and can form astarting point for acomparative study
of governments across the ancient world.
18 As for instance P. BM 10591 ro and UPZ II 162.
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Valérie Wyns is aPhD candidate at the department of Ancient History, KU Leuven, and will
present her thesis titled Burdened by taxes but trustful of government? e balance between
tax burden and well-being in Hellenistic Egypt (332–30 BC) in the autumn of 2019. Her
most recent publications concern the royal ideology of the Ptolemaic dynasty, most impor-
tantly in the article e state ideology of the Ptolemies: origins and inuences in Chronique
d’Egypte XCII (2017). Her research interests include Hellenistic rulership, socio-economic
history of the ancient world and the social status of entertainers in the Hellenistic period.
Full-text available
Human wellbeing indices can shed light on a society’s quality of life. This study ranks human wellbeing by employing objective and subjective indicators of quality of life for hundred districts of Pakistan. Households level data used for the analysis includes ‘The Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey’ for the year 2006–2007. The human wellbeing is examined in four domains: education, health, living conditions and economic situation. Principal component analysis is employed for indexing human wellbeing, rated in five quintiles are generated. The paper demonstrates the importance of education, health and living condition domains in determining the human wellbeing. Objective indicators of education i.e., adult literacy rate, net primary enrolment and gender equality in education are important variables in ranking of districts. Economic status of the households and communities are important variables in subjective perception of wellbeing. The results indicate substantial variation in human wellbeing among districts of Pakistan It may be considered that disparity in objective condition and in subjective perceptions are adequately depicting wellbeing differences. Finally, it is argued that objective indicators and subjective wellbeing measures are needed in unison to understand human quality of life and to make informed policy decisions.
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The terms 'quality-of-life', 'wellbeing' and 'happiness' denote different meanings; sometimes they are used as an umbrella term for all of value, and the other times to denote special merits. This paper is about the specific meanings of the terms. It proposes a classification based on two bi-partitions; between life 'chances' and life 'results', and between 'outer' and 'inner' qualities. Together these dichotomies imply four qualities of life: 1) livability of the environment, 2) life-ability of the individual, 3) external utility of life and 4) inner appreciation of life. This fourfold matrix is applied in three ways: firstly to place related notions and alternative classifications, secondly to explore substantive meanings in various measures for quality of life and thirdly to find out whether quality-of-life can be measured comprehensively. This last question is answered in the negative. Current sum-scores make little sense. The most inclusive summary measure is still how long and happily people live.
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One of the aims of social indicator research is to develop a comprehensive measure of quality-of-life in nations that is analogous to GNP in economic indicator research. For that purpose, several multi dimensional indexes have been proposed. In addition to economic performance, these also acknowledge the nation's success in matters like schooling and social equality. The most current indicator of this type is the 'Human Development Index'. In this approach QOL is measured by input; the degree to which society provides conditions deemed beneficial. The basic problem is that one never knows to what extent the cherished provisions are really good for people. An alternative is measuring QOL in nations by output, and consider how well people actually flourish. This 'apparent' QOL can be measured by the degree to which citizens live long and happily. This conception is operationalized by combining registration based estimates of length-of-life, with survey data on appreciation-of-life. Life-expectancy in years is multiplied by average happiness on a 0-1 scale. The product is named 'Happy Life-Expectancy' (HLE), and can be interpreted as the number of years the average citizen in a country lives happily at a certain time. HLE was assessed in 48 nations in the early 1990's. It appears to be highest in North-West European nations (about 60) and lowest in Africa (below 35). HLE scores are higher in nations that are most affluent, free, educated, and harmonious. Together, these country-characteristics explain 70% of the statistical variance in HLE. HLE is not significantly related to unemployment, state welfare and income equality, nor to religiousness and trust in institutions. HLE does not differ either with military dominance and population pressure. The conclusion is that HLE qualifies as the envisioned comprehensive social indicator. It has both clear substantive meaning (happy life-years) and a theoretical significance (ultimate output measure). HLE differentiates well. Its correlations fit most assumptions about required input, but also challenge some. The indicator is likely to have political appeal.
How should modern medicine's dramatic new powers to sustain life be employed? How should limited resources be used to extend and improve the quality of life? In this collection, Dan Brock, a distinguished philosopher and bioethicist and co-author of Deciding for Others (Cambridge, 1989), explores the moral issues raised by new ideals of shared decision making between physicians and patients. The book develops an ethical framework for decisions about life-sustaining treatment and euthanasia, and examines how these life and death decisions are transformed in health policy when the focus shifts from what is best for a patient to what is just for all patients. Professor Brock combines acute philosophical analysis with a deep understanding of the realities of clinical health policy. This is a volume for philosophers concerned with medical ethics, health policy professionals, physicians interested in bioethics, and undergraduate courses in biomedical ethics.
Situated on the tip of the world's poorest continent, South Africa serves as a social laboratory for studying quality of life in developing countries. Classified as a middle-income country, it straddles the Developed and Developing World divide. It is a nation characterised by vast income inequalities, many levels of development and cultural diversity in terms of language, religion, ethnicity and settlement patterns. It is this rich mix of material and cultural differences that lends itself to experimenting with concepts and measurement instruments that capture the essence of quality of life. This chapter reports the South African Quality of Life Trends Project, which commenced in the late 1970s and spans twenty-five years. Currently managed by Rhodes University's Institute of Social and Economic Research in Grahamstown, the project has tracked the satisfaction and happiness of South Africans against the backdrop of changes occurring in society before and after the coming of democracy (Møller 1988b, 1989, 1992a, 1994b, 1995a, 1998, 1999a; Møller and Dickow 2002; Møller and Schlemmer 1983, 1989). The South African initiative was a child of its time and, to a certain degree, reflects the developments and the sophistications that have occurred in quality of life studies and the social indicators movement during its forty-year history. There may be lessons to be learnt from its successes and shortcomings which have become evident with the wisdom of hindsight. The story of the project is divided into three parts: the experimental, consolidation and innovation phases of the project.
This article focuses on the emergence of a new subfield of emotion research known as “history of emotions.” People’s emotional lives depend on the construals which they impose on events, situations, and human actions. Different cultures and different languages suggest different habitual construals, and since habitual construals change over time, as a result, habitual feelings change, too. But to study construals we need a suitable methodology. The article assumes that such a methodology is provided by the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) and it applies the NSM approach to the history of “happiness,” an emotion which is very much at the forefront of current debates across a range of disciplines. The article shows how the “history of emotions” can be combined with cultural semantics and why this combination opens new perspectives before the whole interdisciplinary field of emotion research.