Week 7 – The Legacy of the Last Pharaoh

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.

Sources:

Chapter 10: The Greco-Roman Period

http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/cleop7.html

Week 6 Blog Post

Central to this week’s material is the discussion of the king Akhenaten and the worker’s town of Dier el-Medina. As we have learned, Akhenaten changed his name from Akhenamen and changed the central deity to the obscure sun god, Aten. Personally, I found the tiny human hands extending from the sun symbol to be rather creepy. However, given the decline in the central rulers since the time of the pharaohs, you have to admire the amount of influence the king still controlled at this time. This power is demonstrated with the various accomplishments Akhenaten had achieved in demanding the worship of Aten over Amun. For one, the worker’s town of Dier el-Medina in the Valley of the Kings was a stable settlement except for when Akhentaten was in control (in terms of population – not necessarily success, as demonstrated by the first workers strike that occurred here). Regardless, the abandonment of an entire working town would require significant influence and political control. Similarly, to relocate and construct a completely new capital city is impressive. Though nothing on the scale of an expertly crafted pyramid, Akhenaten was able to command a labor force and his administration large enough to relocate and construct a completely new city. Considering he had essentially cut off the financial support of the major priesthoods and cults on Amun, it is hard to imagine where this support was really coming from. Despite these various displays of success and influence, he clearly could not convince his people that Aten was someone to continue the worship of. This is demonstrated by the fact that many of his temples and shrines were defaced after his death, and his infamous successor changed his name from Tuthankaten to Tutankamun, and the cults of Amun were quickly revitalized after his death. Though Akhenaten may not have been successful in creating a flawless image of himself as the living Aten, he was definitely successful in creating a rule that stands out among the kings and demonstrating the power and influence that kings still held in the New Kingdom.

Week 5 Blog Post

For this week’s post, I would like to examine how the “democratization” of the afterlife and increased access to divine symbolism by what can be considered ‘lower echelons’ is not unlike the changes apparent in our own society as a result of new information technologies. The key concept of my post is how access to information and knowledge removes the authority of previously powerful figures. While reading about the changes in material culture that occurred during the Middle Kingdom, I was reminded of the discussion from my Medical Anthropology class this week, in which access to information through technologies such as the WebMD app creates a new “educated patient” and the authority of the doctor, a culturally respected figure, is undermined.

The first Intermediate Period of the Middle Kingdom experienced much socio-economic and political change. Included in this was the diffusion of cultural and religious symbolism from something strictly reserved for royal purposes to lower-status social groups. Political changes, namely decentralization, are attributed to this change. With decreased royal control, provincial elites and new social groups now had access to material that was previously restricted. This is evident in funerary custom. A prominent example is that Pyramid Texts, formerly for royal usage only, had been used by non-royal elites. The “trickle-down” effect continued as social organization continued to change.

Though not entirely paralleled, it is possible to see the connection between the rise of the Egyptian ‘lower echelon’ and the increased control of members of our own society as a result of communication technology. Where the ancient Egyptians were expanding and displaying their social and religious ritual to an increased population of varying status, many people in modern times have seen an increase in various opportunities because knowledge is not restricted to those with access to higher education. In both cases, the previous power of authority figures, be they royal or occupational, is decreased.

Reference:
Wegner, Josef (2010). Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom. In Willeke Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 119-142) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Week 4 Blog Post – The Mystery at Meidum

For this weeks blog, I would like to take a closer look at King Sneferu and his three pyramids, but focusing on the mystery that initially surrounded his first pyramid. Sneferu began the fourth dynasty, and the first 6 of his 24 year reign are described on the Palermo stone. King Sneferu was able to partake in such massive construction projects because of his success in conquest. From the areas he would raid, such as Nubia, he gained captives and the materials necessary for building. It is also surmised that Sneferu’s marriage to princess Hetepheres helped him gain the right to inherit the throne (David & David, 1992).

Sneferu’s first pyramid is the pyramid at Meidum, about 33 miles south of Saqqara. The history of the pyramid at Meidum is a bit more complicated than his other two. This particular pyramid is quite isolated from the rest, and contains no inscriptions indicating who it belongs to. The actual design of the pyramid was altered over it’s construction, further indicating that it was not Sneferu who began the project, but instead took it over. In this case, the original construction was intended to be a step pyramid, but was completed in the style of the more well-known smooth faced pyramids.

Graffiti in a nearby temple, dating 1,200 years past Sneferu’s time and into the 18th Dynasty, indicates that by that time in history the pyramid at Meidum was considered to be belonging to Sneferu. Additional graffiti from the 5th and 6th dynasties also connect Sneferu with Meidum. However, a complication arises with the translation of official texts also dating from the 5th and 6th dynasties. These official inscriptions, which were in regards to taxes, described the “two pyramids of Sneferu” and “the southern pyramid of Sneferu”. The burial of a priest in the Bent Pyramid of Sneferu confirmed that is was in fact the Southern Pyramid of Sneferu, but what does this mean for the pyramid at Meidum?

Before considering this question, one must consider why Sneferu desired more than one pyramid in the first place. A theory is that the two pyramids of Sneferu symbolize his reign over both Upper and Lower Egypt. The pyramid at Meidum would offer no symbolic gain, which supports the idea that he merely converted it. However, with no inscriptions at Meidum, the pyramid remains a mystery. Even deeper than that, the pyramid stands as a symbol of the complexity of archaeology and how misleading the intentions of these rulers may be (Bauval & Gilbert, 1996).

References:

Bauval, R., & Gilbert, A. (1996). The orion mystery, unlocking the secrets of the pyramids. New York: Three Rivers Press.

David, A., & David, A. (1992). A biographical dictionary of ancient egypt. Psychology Press.

Week 3 Blog Post

The section of lecture describing the Narmer Palette brought to my attention the recurring appearance of the Egyptian god, Horus. Considering the topic this week has been state formation, it was interesting to me that this symbol seemed to be a relatively constant find. The readings then continued my interest, adding to the mystery by mentioning that the origin of the Horus name has not been identified as coming from one particular location. Although this phenomena is explained as a result of competing regional polities and the exchange of religious beliefs, I decided to research the concept of Horus a little more.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Horus is a god represented by a falcon. The eyes of Horus symbolized different things, for the god’s right eye is the sun  – representing power – and the left eye a moon, representing healing. Throughout the class material it had been discussed that the power that Horus represented seemed to be the most prevalent concept and desired by the many rulers of the time. I never would have surmised that the falcon god could symbolize healing as well. The concept of the falcon god appeared under many names at first, and many falcon cults existed since predynastic times.

The University of Texas website provides an example of the Egyptian story of creation, the story of Osiris, Isis and Horus, which explains why Horus is the representation of power. The sky god and the earth god had four children: Osiris, Isis, Set and Nepthys. Osiris was the eldest and became the king of Egypt. Set was jealous of Osiris and killed him so that he could become king, but Nepthys resurrected him long enough for him to have a son, Horus. Ultimately, Set and Horus fought over who was the rightful king, with Osiris deciding that his son was the rightful heir and that no one should acquire the throne through an act of murder. What I find most interesting about this story is that while Horus is favored by the gods for never having killed anyone like Set had, artifacts such as the Narmer Palette depict a ruler and Horus, along with the vanquishing of enemies to emphasize that power. Of course there are many interpretations and angles to study, and it would be unlikely for a ruler to stay in control without the use of force, but for the purpose of studying the symbolism of Horus it is an interesting thing to consider.

 

References

Horus (Egyptian god). (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved July 17, 2012, from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/272528/Horus

Kohler, E. C. Theories of State Formation. In (pp. 38-50).

The Story of Osiris, Isis and Horus: The Egyptian Myth of Creation. Retrieved July 17, 2012, from http://www.laits.utexas.edu/cairo/teachers/osiris.pdf

 

Week 2 Blog Post – Amanda Rzotkiewicz

At this time, in addition to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, I am also studying Culture and Linguistics. As I result, I found it very interesting that through archaeological research in Egypt, we can actually “see” language and writing form. Language and the written language is a complex skill that many anthropologists believe to be an innate human ability, genetically based. However, it is not as if we are all born with preexisting knowledge of a universal language. Instead, culture creates and constantly changes the languages we speak, and this development and change is visible through Egyptian archaeology.

It was originally theorized that the written language developed in Mesopotamia and then diffused through Egypt, but archaeological evidence suggests that writing developed independently in these locations. Although the language of ancient Egyptian had existed for thousands of years, most likely with regional dialects much like the languages of today, there was really no need for a written language in nomadic and semi-nomadic society. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine from the archaeological record what this language sounded like. What is known about this language comes from the earliest form of writing, the hieroglyph, a pictorial script. Such writing was not standardized at this time, which further impedes the understanding of this ancient language.

The most profound aspect of the development of written language is that it represents the transition from Predynastic to Pharaonic times. The earliest writing pertained to royal matters, mostly artifacts in tombs. From the perspective of linguistic anthropology, this makes sense. Writing is a complex skill that plays an important role in social status. In our own society, literacy is the norm, so we tend to consider those unable to read or write as socially inferior. The appearance of writing on the tombs of the kings symbolized their superior, almost god-like, status. Likewise, as a complex nation develops, the ability to write becomes more and more of a necessity. Taxes are being collected and excess goods produced. This excess allows for time to be spent on literary works and various other methods of material culture which, unlike the ancient Egyptian language, has fortunately stood the test of time long enough for us to study it.

Although the fragility of the archaeological record prevents us from completely understanding the development of language and it’s written form, artifacts containing hieroglyphs, mortuary texts, government records, and eventually hieratic script help us understand the development of culture in a way we could never discern from simply studying the languages of today.

transfer student, anthro enthusiast

Hi all, my name is Amanda Rzotkiewicz and well, this coming fall will be my fourth year of college. I’m not sure about my actual status -junior, senior- because just completed my first year at MSU after transferring from Oakland University…which to my dismay, means I have many many credits to go.

I am an anthropology major and love the program at MSU. I am currently squeezing in ANP 204 (Medical Anthro) and ANP 420 (Language and Culture) as well as this course online this summer so hopefully I never post any of these in the wrong place! I love anthropology because it is the study of just everything. My first anthropology professor at OU was an 80 year old very eccentric woman who would reminisce on her days hanging out with Margaret Mead and others. I would like to be as eccentric and knowledgeable as her one day.

As for now, I run the office at the city pool every day of my life and two days a week drive an hour to teach a high school colorguard. During the school year I work at The Gallery and build the exhibits in the MSU museum. I like jobs.