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.
This week I found the topic of Amarna letters to be very fascinating. These tablets which were written in Akkadian, the language of Mesopotamia, gave archaeologists an idea of the political and economic growth that occurred in ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom especially under the reign of Amunhotep II and its views on foreign policy at the time. Found on these tablets were correspondence between Egypt and the powers of Southwest Asia, both major and minor civilizations. The presence of a large amount of these tablets have been found, over 380, in a small temple called the House of Ammuru in the records office inside the administrative buildings is significant and after finding these I’m sure the archeologists believed it to be the jackpot. The letters give great insight into the relationships Egypt had with other surrounding civilizations and even included letters from other states looking for military aid from Egypt, which I’m sure Egypt ignored unless there were economic ties between the two such as a trade network.
Since the Amarna letters give us a look into the history of Egypt during this time, we are also given the chance to learn about the Hittites expanding their territory and their success as an independent state. It has been said that the widowed wife of one of the pharaohs, thought to be Tutankhamens, had written a letter to the Hittite king at the time stating Egypt had no ruler. When I first heard this I wondered why she would put her state in danger like that. You may correct me if I’m wrong but I would think that the king would realize that Egypt was very vulnerable with no ruler and would try to conquer it and she would probably be in a worse situation that she was in before. After saying they had no ruler, the widowed wife asked the king to send a Hittite prince to assume the throne. The officials of Egypt and individuals who wanted to be pharaoh themselves dislike this idea so much that it is believed that they assassinated the prince on his way to Egypt. Due to the discovery of these tablets, we are able to really see the shift Egypt underwent from a state concentrated on military campaigns to a state of diplomacy.
One of the topics that caught my eye in this week’s readings was the change that occurred culturally during the late First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom of the material culture in Egypt. This change was seen by the increase of divine imagery such as magical amulets and magical wands or “knives.”. Since the predynastic period, amulets have been a part of the material culture in ancient Egypt. However, there was a significant increase in their use in the Middle Kingdom. The designs of the amulets are inspired by many Egyptian myths and traditions including the most recognizable scarab amulet. This unique amulet is a replica of a scarab beetle that is associated with the solar cycle and is a symbol for the rebirth of the sun god. Since we know that the ancient Egyptians were very spiritual people, this symbol for renewing cosmic powers is relative to their beliefs in the afterlife and reincarnation.
I have seen pictures of scarab amulets before but I was not aware of the religious and cultural aspects they are connected to in Egypt. What really intrigued me about these amulets though was the fact that they are found to be associated with all levels of society and not just the pharaohs and the elite. Especially since during the Middle Kingdom, the scarab amulet was adapted for the use of an administrative seal with the base having inscribed names and titles of officials. The reading summarized these amulets perfectly saying, “Its use as an administrative tool brilliantly merged popular religious practice with the structured daily activities of the Middle Kingdom bureaucracy” (Wegner, 2010).
Another feature of the change in the material culture of ancient Egypt in the Middle Kingdom was the substantial amount of magical wands found mostly in the tombs. The wands made from ivory have divine beings illustrated on them and like the scarab amulet are involved in the myths associated with the solar cycle. It has been found that these wands are mostly used during childbirth and the early lives of newborns and appear to use magic to transfer protection from the sun god to these human experiences. This is very interesting as most people don’t think to learn about the different aspects of childbirth of ancient civilizations even though it is necessary to keep humanity thriving. The use of magical wands is fascinating and makes me wonder how they used one to ensure the protection of their young and the process involved as well.
Wegner, Josef (2010). Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom. In Willeke Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 119-142) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
In this blog I want to look at the main topic of this week’s lectures, pyramids and one pyramid specifically, the pyramid of Djoser. The pyramids of Egypt have been a long time landmark to the area and bring many people and tourists to an area they probably wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. When I first learned of how many pyramids there are in Egypt, I was very surprised as I’m sure many of you were. The economic, religious and political systems that had to be in place to create these wonders had to be very developed and structured. The sheer number of 118 pyramids is impressive but the fact that the workers were not slaves as originally believed but compensated free workers shows how advanced and established the society was back then (Watrall, 2012).
The first pyramid built in ancient Egypt was constructed after the reign of King Djoser ‘The Holy’ who ruled from 2667 to 2648 BC. He was the second king of the third dynasty which happened to be during the time of the Old Kingdom when many of the kings began building pyramids within a 45 mile span of desert. Burials usually took place in the ground up until his time but his architect, Imhotep, was asked to excavate and make a complex underground building for his king’s burial at Saqqara. He then created a mud-brick structure with sloping sides, a rectangular base and a flat roof to cover the burial site. The structure was named mastaba for its shape by archaeologists as it means bench in Arabic. The first mastaba built over the king’s burial site was made of stone. A second mastaba of lesser size was placed on top of the first mastaba and so on until it created a six-step pyramid. This pyramid happened to be the first stone structure of importance in ancient Egypt as well as the world and is still remarkable to most people to this day (Holmes, 2011). This process of making the first ever pyramid in Egypt was very interesting to me and so I wanted to learn more about it and share it with all of you. The fact that one king and architect were able to start a trend for most pharaohs to follow is impressive and really makes me wonder how they came up with the original architecture of pyramids as it had so much influence on those who followed in their footsteps. Their ability as a unified state to make these extraordinary structures show how advanced they were politically and economically back in the Old Kingdom.
Holmes, Anthony (2011). Ancient Egypt: History in an Hour. Retrieved July 25, 2012, http://books.google.com/books?id=RQ3bFuJsa84C&pg=PT7&lpg=PT7&dq=pyramid+of+djoser&source=bl&ots=wOO6nArKbM&sig=DevalrtPmqXOuAT_BYTWM1792a4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=i54QUK-NL7PH6AGwj4GACw&ved=0CGQQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q=pyramid%20of%20djoser&f=false
Watrall, Ethan. (2012). The Old Kingdom. Lecture.
The unification of Lower and Upper Egypt was the result of many processes that worked together over several hundred years to bring forth one centralized state. One of the processes that aided in this fusion was the presence of a long distance trade network that was very well-established. This trade network allowed for the many governments throughout Egypt to trade various aspects of their cultures with one another including different styles of pottery. This shows archaeologists how ceramics that were made in Lower Egypt were found to be crafted in the Upper Egyptian style and this would not have been possible unless there was some sort of network between the two areas where ideas and customs could be introduced and shared (Watrall, Evidence for Unification lecture).
The Necropolis of Helwan is a good representation of the evidence archaeologists have found in support of this long distance trade network (Kohler, 41). The 10,000 tombs located at this site suggest that it was first a cemetery for the elite population and then started to be filled with individuals from the different social classes including several unnamed commoners (Kohler, 45). This may show us that there happened to be an increase in the population that occurred at that time which indicates why their bodies had to be buried there. What is interesting to me about this site though is that the presence of imported goods was usually a sign that the occupant of the tomb was a person of higher social status, but at Helwan even the tombs of the lower class individuals had imported goods inside them. How did these individuals get imported goods into their possession if they did not have the means to obtain them? Archaeologists to this day are not sure. However, we do know that this trade network did help in the development of their economic system that collected taxes and redistributed that money to state officials and the royal treasury (Kohler, 41). I don’t know much about economics so I was surprised to read that there is evidence to show that Egyptians had been able to create a tax system so long ago especially over an area so large. Now we know that the creation of the trade network in Egypt gave rise to an increase in social stratification as well as how much it assisted in the creation of a unified state.
Kohler, E. Christiana (2010). Theories of State Formation. In Willeke Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 36-54) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
Watrall, Ethan. (2012). Evidence for Unification. Lecture.
The archaeological site of El-Ma’adi is important to know of when talking about the pre-dynastic period in ancient Egypt. It is a significant site because of its large size and the fact that it contained mortuary, settlement and industrial areas but was never completely occupied at one time. The earliest evidence of domesticated donkeys appeared here and shows how the people who lived there traded with foreigners from different lands like Palestine in the past. This is important to find out in order to determine how objects and artifacts were introduced into different cultures and how they were transported between the two areas. The fact that El-Ma’adi was eventually abandoned in the later 4th millennium BC is intriguing because it is not known why the people living there abandoned it. Some speculation surrounds the arrival of the Naqada culture and its intimidation to the people of El-Ma’adi.
After hearing that the city of El-Ma’adi was the heart of urban Egypt and has been connected to Cairo through urbanization, I couldn’t help but find this interesting. I began to think of other cities where the past has such an apparent influence on the city today such as Mexico City with its history with the Aztecs as well as Rome with its abundance of artifacts from the past integrated into the city. The one city where I saw this up close and in person was when I visited Athens two summers ago. It was amazing to me how they smoothly connected the modern and historical aspects of the city together. The major historical landmarks like the Acropolis and the Roman Stadium where the Olympics were first held were as much part of the city as were the busy urban streets and buildings. This makes me wonder to what extent the archaeological sites in Athens have been disrupted and even destroyed by the urbanization that occurred to the city a long time ago as it has in El-Ma’adi.
My name is Christina Miller and I am going to be a senior this coming fall semester. I am the youngest of all my friends as I am still only 20 years old but only for 3 more months! I am originally from a small town up north called Charlevoix. I am a psychology major and in order to receive my minor in anthropology, I have to take this class. It won’t be a hardship though since I have always had a fascination with Egypt and archaeology in general so mixing them will definitely make this an exciting class to take. With my psychology degree I want to go on to graduate school in clinical psychology and earn my doctorate. I have an interest in sport psychology so I am also looking for a program that offers it as a specialization. Many people don’t know what sport psychology is so I’ll briefly explain it for you all. It’s mostly working with athletes or teams in order to make them play better such as increasing confidence or helping a team work better together. Another kind is using exercise and sports to help everyday individuals cope better with mental illnesses. So that’s what I’m hoping to be in about ten years.
This summer I am taking part in an internship with the VFW Home for Children in Eaton Rapids. So far it has been a lot of fun as I am working with various age groups. I like working with military children as my father was in the Coast Guard until about a year ago when he retired. Other than that I spend the rest of my time working at the Wharton Center here on campus and trying desperately to escape this heat by going to the beach or to my pool where I like to read and listen to music. I also like watching movies and TV. I’m currently trying to get through the show The League and so far it’s been pretty funny. I also have two dogs, a mutt and an Australian cattle dog, that keep me busy but I love spending time with them. Between all of that and studying there is not much else I do this summer.
I’m really happy to be taking part in this class with you all!