Ethnicity and Identity

In class this week, we have brought up the issue and concept of Egyptian identity and the acculturation of other populations to Egyptian ways. We briefly spoke about the Egyptian adapted mortuary practices exemplified in Nubian pyramids. The classification of mortuary practices as distinctly Nubian or Egyptian can be problematic as these practices are complex and do have a natural variation. The Nubian pyramids were undeniably inspired by their Northern neighbor, but things such as the orientation of the body, grave good, types of coffin, etc. were not uniformly Egyptian or Nubian. The outward display of the pyramid linked the Nubians to the Egyptian culture and allowed them to show that connection to the outside world. Burials are considered a display and in this case the Nubians were demonstrating their close relationship with the Egyptians.

We have also examined how the Ptolemaic Dynasties built religious temples in the Egyptian style (architecture and art) in order to proclaim their association with the Egyptian culture. This occurred in a time where the people of Egypt were becoming more multicultural and had an increase in diversity, yet the Ptolemaic Dynasty still felt the need to associate themselves with the ancient Egyptian culture. They did not want to appear as though they were outsiders – even though these new cultures were all living in the same region and under the same government.

The concept of ethnicity and ultimately identity is a complex one. While in class this week, I was struck by the dynamic nature of the identity of the Egyptian people, as well as their neighbors with which they interacted. How did the people living in Egypt see themselves? We know that there were specific communities of Egyptians, Greeks and Jews, but did they feel an overarching connection to Egypt, its past, and an investment to the nations future?

1 thought on “Ethnicity and Identity

  1. This is a fascinating topic and something that we still see in the mortuary record today. To explore the topic of ethnicity and identity in ancient Egypt, I think it is necessary to first explore the reasons for mortuary customs in the present and extrapolate back into ancient times to see if the same motivations lay behind the ancient Egyptian practices. The United States is a melting pot of ethnicity and cultures. When we look closely at the ceremonial/burial practices of foreign nationals I think it becomes obvious that there is a mix of cultural practices. Many non-American citizens choose to follow the customs of their homeland when they die, while a large percentage of foreign citizens abide by American burial traditions. Why is this so? I think the adoption of another culture’s burial rites may be as simple as having access to certain materials goods and services, or may be an individual’s final adoption of American customs. On the other hand, people who choose to follow the burial customs of their ethnic group may feel that abandoning this tradition is an insult to their ancestors. Whatever the reasoning behind an individual’s choice (or perhaps the remaining families choice) of burial/ceremonial practices, the decision is a very complex one involving many different factors including personal identity, access to material/religious goods, financial means etc.

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