A couple of quick notes that will help you enjoy (and, more importantly, understand) the class. Archaeology is a regularly offered class in the Department of Anthropology (being taught online this summer) at Michigan State University. The class is also Open Access. This means that most of the content (video lectures, etc.) are freely available to the public. You can’t “register” for the class – like a student at MSU would (in order to get credit towards a degree). However, you can view all of the learning materials and read all of the stuff students write for the class. I also let non-registered students comment on blog posts (so you can take part in the class discussion if you want – though I moderate). There are some of the readings that non-MSU people don’t have access to (specifically journal articles) – this is for copyright purposes.
In all of my years of schooling, from kindergarten until my fourth year of college, I have never had an in-depth lesson on Alexander the Great. When he came up in lecture this week as an important detail of the Ptolomaic Period, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to educate myself a bit more. There are two parts of his story that interest me most: how he was welcomed by the Egyptians as he conquered their land and the mystery of his death.
During fall of 332 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. It marked the start of the Ptolomaic period, which was the Greek period in Egyptian history. Neither the Egyptians nor the Persians resisted his rule. There was even a festival in celebration of his arrival, thrown in Greek style by the Egyptians. He had freed them from Persian rule, and his actions were greatly appreciated. He was also honored because he was believed to be the son of Amun Re, an extremely important god in Egyptian theology. Amun Re was known as the sun god as well as the, “God of Kings and King of Gods,” (MCA). Although he was only present in Egypt for about six months, he left a lasting impression. He pushed into action many reforms and connected the Egyptians with Greek society. The next time he was in Egypt was after his own death, in which his body was transported by carriage to be buried.
To this day, the question about Alexander’s cause of death of remains unanswered. Some researchers suggest that the possibility of poison or an infection, as well as other causes. Recently, West Nile Virus has been suggested. After two weeks of suffering from a raging fever, whatever had been bothering him was enough to kill him, and he passed away on June 7th, 323 B.C. at just 32 years of age. His illness was so quick and unexpected that he did not even get the chance to appoint his successor to rule over the Macedonian Empire.
Eternal Egypt (2005). Alexander the Great in Egypt. Retrieved from: http://www.eternalegypt.org/EternalEgyptWebsiteWeb/HomeServlet?ee_website_action_key=action.display.module&story_id=&language_id=1&module_id=330&text=text
Historyofmacedonia.org (2001). Alexander the Great: Alexander of Macedonia Biography. Retrieved from: http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/AncientMacedonia/AlexandertheGreat.html
Marr, John S., Calisher, Charles, H. (December, 2003) Retrieved from: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/9/12/03-0288_article.htm
MCA Egypt (2007). Amun Ra. Retrieved from: http://www.mcaegypt.org/amunra.html
I have always found the decline of the Ptolemaic Era very interesting, and I actually wrote a research paper about this subject just last year. However, the focus of that paper was just on Cleopatra and her dealings with Rome. I want to take this opportunity to look at the earlier rulers of the Ptolemaic Period.
After Alexander the Great’s rule, obviously there was a little bit of confusion as to who would rule next. That honor fell to Ptolemy Soter, who was actually a close friend of Alexander the Great. Under his rule and the rule of the pharaohs after him, there began to be a lot of mixing of Egyptian and Greek aspects of life. In terms of bureaucracy, Greeks held the majority of the positions of power in Egyptian society. There were also designated communities for specific peoples, like the Greeks , Jews and even the Egyptians. The economy of Egypt changed as well; it was still agricultural in nature, but the invention of the water wheel made it easier to manipulate the waters of the Nile to be able to get water to more fields of wheat. Wheat would continue to be one of Egypt’s main exports, but the type of wheat exported did change. Instead of emmer wheat, which had been used practically since Predynastic times, the Egyptians started planting free threshing wheat, which did not need as much tending and made it easier to extract the wheat with just a gentle threshing, as opposed to the strenuous ritual associated with emmer wheat. The Egyptians still did extensive trade, mainly via sea routes, and its main export was papyrus, which had been used in ancient Egypt for centuries as a writing implement. Gold mines were also utilized, but not as much gold was mined compared to before the Ptolemaic period. Religion also changed drastically; a new triad of deities combined the powerful Egyptian and Greek gods Serapis, Isis and Herpocrates, and the temple was actively supported right up until the end of the Ptolemaic period.
A common theme in this week, as well as throughout Egyptian history in general, is the placement of non Egyptians in ruling positions. It makes me curious as to whether or not the ancient Egyptians ever had the thought, “Egypt for Egyptians”? The fact that the Ptolemies refused to even reproduce with actual Egyptians is kind of ridiculous.
We know that pharaohs were supposed to be descendents of the gods or in the very least chosen by the gods, and that due to their divine connections their authority was to be absolute and unquestionable. All of that helps explain why the Egyptians would blindly follow their ancient rulers, but the Greeks, like the Hyksos, were not Egyptian. This raises the question were the Egyptians also afraid of foreign gods?
Many non Egyptian ancient rulers of Egypt also chose to adopt certain cult practices such as the worship of Egyptian gods and deities in order to help the actual native Egyptians accept them. This is one of the few reasons I can think of to understand or explain why the Ptolemies chose to intermarry brothers and sisters.
If the pharaoh is supposed to be a descendent of the gods, then that means his blood is already supposedly pure. If the Ptolemies were attempting to convince the Egyptians of their divine birth right, then they would have to demonstrate in some way their blood’s superiority. Since fighting could backfire and any other ‘tough man’ competition could ultimately lead to the family’s demise, one of the easiest ways to show their superiority was to seclude themselves.
Another possible reason would be for protection of their royal status. By marrying their siblings, the Ptolemies could effectively defeat the inner-family struggling that commonly plagued other kingdoms as well as discourage foreign diplomats of political marriages. If the Ptolemies had allowed foreign marriage or marriage with outsiders of the family, it would have allowed an opportunity for an empire take over.
In this week’s readings we covered the spread of Christianity into Egypt and the final end of the rule of Pharaohs. For this week’s blog I wanted to discuss the transition from the acceptance of Christianity, as a result of Constantine, to the reduction of Egyptian priesthood and the effect that had on the ancient Egyptian people. Once Constantine accepted Christianity there was some time that Pharaohs and Egyptian priests still remained but within a century of that acceptance they were non-existent. Prior to this happening the Egyptian pharaohs and priests were very much the center of political and economic power. In the third century a very famous, young King by the name of Alexander was elected King of Greece and he continued his reign down Asia minor freeing many of these countries from Persian rule. As Alexander freed many countries from Persian rule he continued his journey into Egypt. During that time the Persians had taken over much of Egypt. He defeated the Persians in Egypt and took the control of the ancient Egyptians into his own hands. Alexander was crowned King in Memphis and his time in Egypt did not last long as he continued his journey north to conquer more states. Following his death the ruler Ptolemy took over Egypt and this was the beginning of the Ptolemic Kingdom. This era was significant because of the many accomplishments that scholars had on Egyptian life. Unlike previous eras in Egyptian history that focused on the accomplishments of the Gods and priest, Ptolemy founded Mouseion a learning institution that that housed a library that had collections of the works of 70 scholars and these were translated in many different languages. Although Christianity spread there was still much evidence of the importance of keeping Egyptian culture and beliefs alive and this was present in the Mouseion.
For this weeks discussion post, I will discuss The Third Intermediate Period as studied and interpreted in this week’s assigned reading. The Third Intermediate Period is symbolic of a transition from the traditional pharaonic rule of the Early Dynastic Period, and the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms in which the entire country of Egypt was controlled by a dynasty of Egyptian Kings. The leaders in Thebes recognized the 21st Dynasty kings located at Tanis in the northeastern Delta, but there was still a divided rule between the north and south. To accentuate this division, there was a Border constructed at el-Hiba in Middle Egypt which contained fortresses that were built by the Theban rulers who put their faith and allegiance in the oracles of the Theban gods. At this point in time, Egypt no longer had legitimate colonies in southwest Asia or in Nubia. This newly emerged political order become blatantly obvious in the “Tale of Wenamen”, a fictional book where an agent of the Temple of Amen at Karnak is dispatched to Byblos to get cedar for the god’s bark.
-The actual geographic location and importance of the Delta became visible in the 19th Dynasty when Rameses II built a new capital there named Piramesse. After the dawn of the Third Intermediate period, with the sole exception of the Kushite Dynasty, the bureaucratic power and central control in Egypt focused increasingly on the Delta. The 21st century kings were able to establish a new royal city at Tanis, and to gain the essential momentum needed to to get this construction off the ground and started, earlier monuments and architecture from Piramesse and other locations in the north were removed and re-erected at Tanis.
-At the end of the New Kingdom there were many Libyans living in northern Egypt, mostly former mercenaries in the western Delta, etc.
During the late dynasties, once the Greek began to enter Egypt and start to seize control, trade (already having been existed in Ancient Egypt) soon became a necessity. Trade was taking place overseas. I became interested in the fact that large vessels were setting sail. Have we recovered any ancient Egyptian ships that were en route carrying goods? If so, this could show us just exactly what they were trading and with whom? Did they have multiple ships or did they choose one ship to move from port to port? Trade was of considerable importance to the Ptolemies, and the establishment of ports on the Egyptian Red Sea coast enabled expeditions over large areas. The two most important ports appeared to have been Berenice and Myos Hormos.
Bernice has been the subject of an excavation project, “one of the most important reasons for creating this new harbour was the need of the Ptolemies for elephants. These were used in the wars against the Seleucids in the Near East, who blocked the import of Indian elephants. The Ptolemies decided to catch African elephants in what now is eastern Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia and ship them over the Red Sea on special
ships (elephantagoi) in order to land them in southern Egypt and walk
them to the Nile valley (Byrnes, 2007).” This is just an example of one port that made up a popular trade route. Could there be possible ships that have not been recovered yet here? I tried to research ancient ships recovered in regard to this time frame and I had no luck. What I did find was that unfortunately most of the Ptolemaic layers of Berenice are still sealed beneath the Roman levels, which meant that at the moment there is very little known about the site at this time. Perhaps in the future we will know even more about trade that took place between ancient Egypt and overseas partners.
Byrnes, Andie. (2007). Ptolemaic, Roman and Byzantine. Retrieved from http://archaeology-easterndesert.com/html/graeco-roman.html
The city of Alexandria, created by Alexander the Great, really fascinated me this week as it has a distinctive history significant to the people of ancient Egypt that lived during the Hellenistic and Ptolemaic periods. This site is so special because of its representation of the historic events that occurred in association with Alexander the Great and his defeat of the Persian state. The Egyptians were not accepting of a ruler that was not native to their state and disapproved when the Persians invaded during the 27th Dynasty. Because of this, they were very fond of Alexander the Great when he liberated them from Persian control and shows that they would support anyone who opposed the Persians even if they were foreigners. As a result Alexander the Great was declared the son of Amun-Re by the oracle at the Temple of Amun at Siwa and was honored by the Egyptians.
Alexander the Great’s achievements are embodied by the city of Alexandria where it is renowned in Egypt for the art and monuments that are there, the centers of learning it has as well as the festival referred to as Ptolemaieia which is similar to the Olympics. The importance of the city only increases as it is the resting place of Alexander the Great’s body since it never made it back to Macedonia where he was originally from. He died at the age of 33 in 323 BC due to an illness which I’m sure he contracted due to his travels around the Mediterranean area. His appearance and accomplishments in the region started the integration of various communities and cultures in Egypt like the Greek, the Jewish and obviously the Egyptian especially during the Ptolemaic period of ancient Egypt. Throughout its history Alexandria has been a center for many political, cultural and religious features of Egypt and really exemplifies the Egyptian’s gratitude for Alexander the great’s successes on behalf of their state.
For the final blog post I wanted to examine the relationship that developed between the Greek world and Egypt. There are several key events that help to strengthen and develop this peaceful coexistence. The first of these is due to the activities of the Persian Empire. Both Greece and Egypt viewed Persian as a threat and this provided them with a mutual interest to support each other.This growing alliance can be seen from the shift of the Egyptian capital to the western portion of the Delta. In a sense this can be viewed as a shift in the main trade partners of Egypt. They were no longer as interested in trade with their neighbors to the east.
The second major event to shape this relations ship resulted from the empire building of Alexander the Great. With his help Egypt was freed from the Persian Empire and would become even more closely linked with the Greek world. Even before this liberation was completed Egypt was receiving military assistance from the Greeks as Greek citizens and mercenaries were become more common in the Egyptian army. The strength of the Persian Empire was great and this caused Egypt and other states to ban together in order to deal with such a powerful neighbor.
The last important factor was simply the death of Alexander the Great. With his death his recently created empire was divided up and Egypt would enter the Ptolemaic Period. Since Egypt was controlled by foreigners from the Greek World, the political and economic partners of Egypt would become focused on Greece. Also during this time Egypt increased its already massive agriculture yields and this made Egypt an important region to control or be allied with. This increased amount of wheat production resulted in Egypt conducting most of its trade in food stuffs and shifted away from trade in elite goods like gold.
It feels a bit odd to be posting the weekly blog this early but since I have three classes ending Thursday there is definitely no time to waste, eh? Anyway, this week’s materials ended with the mentioning of Cleopatra VII, the last Pharaoh of dynastic Egypt. The reading mentions a little bit about the tumultuous life of this female ruler, but there are many stories surrounding her rule that can be considered quite scandalous. Though her life ended in suicide in 30 BC, and with her death the transitioning of Egypt into a province of the Roman Empire, she was very successful in using her charm and wit to gain power among the other (male) figures in power at the time.
An important thing to mention is that Egypt did have female rulers, but it was necessary for them to have a male consort. The identity of Cleopatra’s mother is unknown, though she may have been the sister of her father. Similarly, when Cleopatra’s father died, she rose to power at the age of 18 and was forced to wed her 12 year old brother, a political situation that Cleopatra used to her advantage. She basically ignored him as co-ruler, which created much unrest and lead to her exile.
Cleopatra was not deterred. She used her wit and charm to become Julius Caesar’s lover, which gave her a political advantage and he returned her to her throne. At this point she married her youngest brother, who was 11 years of age, but had a son with Caesar named Cesarion (or Little Caesar). Caesar got stabbed though, and Cleopatra returned to Egypt. She later charmed yet another major figure, Marc Antony, which gave her political influence. This did not work out in their favor, however, for Marc Antony’s council did not approve of his affair and declared war on Egypt, and they were easily defeated. And so, the Roman Empire gained control of Egypt and Cleopatra died by the bite of an Egyptian cobra.
Chapter 10: The Greco-Roman Period
In this week’s blog post I decided to discuss the New Kingdom’s temples. The new kingdom temples were new structures but represented the old traditions through the restoration of the old cults and the construction of new temples for the Egyptian gods. One of the monumental structures included Sety’s temple located in Abydos. This temple was an important cult center for the god Osiris. Osiris was the god who judged all in the afterlife. The temple has the shape of an L and has rooms dedicated to the most important state gods and also important Memphite gods. A second structure that Sety constructed was the tomb used to symbolize Osiris. The sarcophagus rose up from surrounding waters and mimics a mound of creation arising from primeval waters. In addition to Sety’s temple, the temples of Karnak and Luxor were also constructed during the New Kingdom. Resembling Sety’s temple, the temple at Karnak surrounded a single god. The god Amen was the central focus and represented the largest temple in Egypt. In addition to Amen there were also structures found in the Karnak temple that surrounded the Theban triad gods which included Mut and Khonsu, in addition to Amen. These gods had temples within Amen’s temple dedicated to them. North of Amen’s precinct was a temple dedicated to the cult of the god Montu which was an ancient hawk or falcon god. At the Luxor temple, which was dedicated to Amenope, there were structural representations of the Theban triad of Gods. Structures at Karnak were dismantled later but the standing architecture found at Luxor date to the New Kingdom and represents the most important gods during that time. Columns and triad shrines dedicated to the gods are still found today and represent only some of the structures erected during the New Kingdom.