In the discussion on Hellenistic and Roman luxurious residences, the palatial quarter of the Ptolemies in Alexandria in Egypt, which covered up to a third of the whole city, often plays a crucial role. This holds especially true when it comes to trace back possible origins of luxurious lifestyle and its architectural implementations throughout the Mediterranean from the 3rd century BC well into the Roman imperial period.
The assumption of Alexandria having severely influenced the development of luxurious and especially royal residences in Hellenistic and Roman times is primarily based upon the comparatively large amount of descriptions and mentionings of the Ptolemaic residence preserved in literary accounts ranging from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD. These convey the often unquestioned impression of the fairly good knowledge about the Alexandrian royal residence, although the literary accounts are opposed by only few archaeological remains. Nevertheless, the later sharpen the picture of the Alexandrian basileia exceeding the literary accounts in certain parts.
Starting from this basic observation, the paper will consist of two main parts which address the Ptolemaic residence as a whole and try to identify specific elements which might have been broadcasted through the Hellenistic and Roman world. In this respect, in a first step the written accounts and the archaeological record will briefly be summarized and combined in order to reconstruct the general layout of the basileia. This layout shows an underlying urbanistic and partly ideologically charged concept of the royal quarter which is suitable to serve as a comparative model in regard to other royal residences.
Subsequently, specific elements within the Alexandrian basileia will be considered in order to discuss possible fields in which the Ptolemaic residence might indeed have had an impact on later luxurious residences in the Mediterranean. Since these in most cases do not share the political and social role of the Ptolemaic royal residence – and therefore lack several of the elements and institutions existing in Alexandria – this second part will focus on the structures related to the royal family in a more private sense such as the actual palaces and elements serving primarily recreational functions.
The twofold approach of focussing on the urbanistic layout of the Ptolemaic palatial quarter as a whole as well as casting a closer look at its primarily residential elements finally enables to integrate the basileia of Alexandria better into the discussion on Hellenistic and Roman luxurious residences and to re-evaluate the actual Alexandrian impact on these.