Alexander and Ptolemy

Alexander the Great created an empire that would forever change the cultures and histories of many countries throughout the world, the effects of which can still be seen today. Included in the list of countries affected is Egypt, which was conquered and claimed by Alexander and his forces from the Persian empire in 332 BC. Alexander’s eventual death lead to a vie for power among his top generals. Eventually, one of his closest advisors and companions, Ptolemy, was awarded control over Egypt. The reigns of these two conquereors over Egyptian soil possess many similarities, yet also dramatic differences.
Alexander the Great’s rule over Egypt was not one of heavy handed control, but more of a reign from a far. He arrived in Egypt in 332 BC and was accepted by the native Egyptians as a liberator from Persian occupancy. The Egyptians of this time already had many ties to the Greeks, including cities that held close social, economic and political ties to specific Greek cities. During his trip to Egypt, Alexander the Great visited Siwa and founded the city of Alexandria. A year later, Alexander departed Egypt, leaving his own governmental policies in place. Alexander left garrisons in the key cities of Memphis and Pelusium, yet also left the original Egyptian civil administration in place and under local control. It seemed that Egypt was happy to stay under Alexander’s control, and thereby no excessive measures were needed to stabilize the area.
After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy took over and declared himself King in 305 BC. Alexandria became Egypt’s capitol, which was governed by almost an entirely Greek settler-controlled government. This was a key change from Alexander’s rule which allowed the native Egyptians to govern amongst themselves. Three key ethnic groups emerged, that of Greek, Egyptian, and Jewish populations. Under Ptolemy’s rule the Rosetta stone was constructed, a key achievement for this period which has become of great use to today’s study of Egyptian texts.

Valley of the Golden Mummies

In 1996 the Supreme Council of Antiquities found a large cemetery that appeared to have been formed during the Greco-Roman period near a wine making town in Bahariya Oasis. I would love to try some of the wine from the Bahariya Oasis region – even if it wasn’t the “favored wine” of the time. What was equally interesting about this region was something a guard of “Alexander the Great” tomb discovered while traveling with his donkey. His donkey stumbled into a hole – in which five tombs were located. One hundred and five mummies were recovered and divided into four different socio-ecomonic classes based on how they were preserved and what was buried in their proximity.

The highest of these were sixty mummies located in a large tomb entered via a rock-cut staircase. They were carefully wrapped in linen and covered with gold plated masks on their cartonnage casings and some had gold foil over the chests. The next highest class of mummy was still wrapped in linen but only on their upper parts and they were painted with pictures of Egyptian deities. Paint must have been cheaper than gold. The third highest were wrapped in linen and placed in geometric shapes on the tomb floor. Finally, the lowest burial status mummies were poorly wrapped in linen and had no decorations or paintings.

I find the progression of burial methods interesting in that highest classes of burials were time intensive and value laden, however the lowest level of burial was poorly wrapped in linen. It was as if time itself was or had become a resource not worth wasting even in order to perform the most basic of burial ritual. It would be interesting to find out if the burial methods occurred simultaneously in time and by whom, or if the burial methods declined as the power of the Egyptian kingdom declined and it citizens suffered financial strife?

The Destruction and Excavations of Alexandria

I really found that reading about the destruction and excavations of Alexandria was the most interesting part of this week’s assigned reading.  My friends and family members who have visited Egypt have all been to the city so I knew that it was an important place but didn’t really know anything about the city’s history or destruction until this class.  It turns out that this Egyptian city suffered much destruction during the political disruptions of the later 3rd century AD.  This destruction, which destroyed temples that were converted into churches, was caused by the riots between pagans and Christians in 391 AD.  Besides political destruction, earthquakes also helped with the destruction of Alexandria, including causing some parts of the city to become submerged.  However, when an invading Muslim army entered the city in 642 AD, it is thought that most of the city’s impressive architecture was still standing.  When Alexandria became an Islamic city, a period of rebuilding took place and churches were transformed into mosques.  In present day, with many of the remains that is not able to be excavated, much of what is known about the Greco-Roman city is from textual information.

The first systematic excavation of Alexandria was by the Khadive of Egypt and took place in 1866.  The excavation was “conducted by Mahmud Beh, who later published a plan of the Roman Period city, with streets, canals, and the city wall” (299).  Excavations conducted by the Polish center of Mediterranean Archaeology on the Kom el-Dikka have found that ancient Alexandria was a Greco-Roman city, with surprisingly little Egyptian-style architecture.  Roman baths, a Greek-style theater and large excavated “villa” houses are just three of the many pieces of evidence that suggest that Alexandria was more of a Greco-Roman city rather than an Egyptian city.  Also, thousands of ceramic lamps and vessels have been found in the Gabbari district tombs, which are artifacts that are typically associated with Greek mortuary rates.  Polish archaeologists have even uncovered evidence of one of Alexandria’s universities that was a building with 13 lecture halls.  It’s incredible to think that universities were around back then!  This concludes my summary of the destruction and excavations of Alexandria.


Persian Invasion

In this week lecture we see Egypt overtaken by Persian officials. It just seems as if Egypt cannot win for losing. Despite all their efforts to remain independent the Egyptians still get overthrown. Throughout each period of Egyptian history there has been tug of war to savor their culture. They even made compromises and still were invaded.  I believe the Egyptians knew they would soon be attacked by the Persians because they linked up with Greece. In Egypt history before the 26th Dynasty, they opposed unification with other nations for security purposes. For example how they disputed the Hyksos. I believe they chose Greece to link up with because of their religious and ideological connection. This connection would not threaten their religious beliefs. Their connection with Greece strengthened the Egyptian economy. Through agriculture yield and trade they were economically prospering. Immigration from Greece increased and Egyptian armies were even strengthened when Greek settlers and merchants joined. Multiculturalism was thriving which led to new methods and inventions because Egyptians accepted Greek cultural elements. The big question however still remains unanswered. Why was Egypt still invaded by Persia? Egypt had ties, were economically stable, and military power was stable. I guess the best way to answer this question is to say the best man won. Persian military was also know for its strength. They executed Psamtek establishing the Persian Invasion. Egypt was no longer ruled by native Egyptians. The invasion led to Egyptians losing some of their cultural practices. The Persians supported Egyptian religion by building temples but cut temple political power. The Persians may have just allowed temple building to keep the Egyptians satisfied. However from my knowledge religion and the power it held is the foundation of Egyptian history so that deed couldn’t have been substantial in calming the Egyptians fury.


The Histories- Week 7

I was very interested in the Histories talked about in this section. Written by Greek historian Herodotus after he visited Egypt between 460 and 455 BC, the Histories remain to this day one of the most important sources regarding the affairs of Egypt and the Persian affairs at this time. Herodotus has been called the ‘Father of history’ since he was the first historian known to collect his material systematically, test their accuracy (at least to a certain extent) and arrange them in a well constructed and vivid narrative. This probably means that his accounts are more accurate and trustworthy than others may have been. The Histories is a collection of observed facts, folk tales, myths, historical accounts, and personal commentary. This is not an impersonal account of events and Herodotus’ Greek anti-Persian sentiment can be seen manifesting in his writings. Although some of his stories and facts are not true, Herodotus claims that he only reported what he was told. He collected tales and information from locals in order to make his commentary more accurate.

The Histories are divided into nine books, each one named after a different Muse. I was mostly interested in the books that dealt with Egypt as their main focus. Book II, titled Euterpe, is filled with facts about Egypt. Herodotus documented and research facts such as the geography of Egypt and his speculations on the Nile River. He also looked into the religious practices of the Egyptian people, paying special attention to how it differed from Greek religion. He also took notes and things such as the animals of Egypt, including a wide array from cats to hippos. He was interested in the culture of the region and recorded information on medicine, funeral rites, food, and even the boats that the people used. He chroniclized the Egyptian kings that were in power during his stay as well as stories that he heard about them and past rulers from people that he met. He filled in holes with folk stories and hearsay from other people to provide both entertainment and a unique few of what people talked about and thought.

The third book was also of interest to me. It documents Persian defeat of Egypt. It describes Cabyses III of Persia’s attack and defeat of the Egyptian king Psammetichus III. As we learned in the lecture, the Persian invasion and conquer of Egypt pretty much symbolized the end of a strong, natively ruled Egypt. Other than some periods of free Egyptian rule Egypt was controlled by foreign powers. The 27th and 31st dynasties were the times when Egypt Delta was absorbed into the Persian Empire and became a Persian Satrapy, province. The 28th-30th dynasties were an independent Egypt but they were weak and so easily re-taken by the Persian forces. I was wondering why there were so many dynasties in between the Persian occupation. I know that not a lot of time went by in between so I’m assuming that the dynasties did not last long. This shows that Egyptian rulers were weak at this time and probably explains why they were able to be occupied by foreign powers.

I thought that it was interesting that the Persian conquers not only allowed Egypt to continue with their own religion but actually built temples. They did curtail the political power of the temples but, in my opinion, it was a move that made sense. The temples at this time had more power than the pharaohs did and would have been a threat to new rulers. I wonder if this is why the Persians allowed the temples to remain and supported their building. It seems to me that it would make sense to make changes to the culture slowly and not take away something as important to the culture as religion is to the Egyptians. By the time of the Persian conquest Egypt was culturally characterized by the fact that it was part of a larger empire. In fact, there were large Jewish communities, the largest located at Elephantine, which maintained their own identity. They played an important cultural role to the whole of Egypt. A fact that I found interesting was that non-Egyptians made up a large part of Egyptian military. Looking back on the report I am doing on the building of the pyramids, I find this fact interesting. Only native Egyptians worked on the pyramids and scholars cannot find any evidence of foreign workers at all. I wonder if this means that the Egyptians thought that the pyramids were more a matter of national pride or if it was a sign of the changing times that foreigners were a large part of the army. I think that it probably shows how Egypt changed to become a part of the larger world not just an isolated empire.

Foreign Policy

Egyptian came into the New Kingdom wanting to maintain two things: Security and their Economy. I guess after their near take over experience with the Hyksos they had their guards up. They were aggressive and offensive to foreigners. Their plan to insulate Egypt would lower their chance of an invasion. While doing my own research on mortuary practices I read that there were images of Egyptians smiting foreigners who were bound. In the New Kingdom they only were offensive toward those foreigners who didn’t accept their way of living, which is interesting because the Hyksos adopted their methods but they still drove them out their land. The Egyptians were ethnocentric and believed that their gods were the most powerful, so anyone who Egyptians believed threatened their culture they would eliminate. The lecture said Egyptians military was stable. It’s interesting to me that they would invade territories, defeat those powers, get fealty, and not take the land. Why wouldn’t they take the land? I don’t think they were financially stable to take on new land because they were in the process of rebuilding their economy.  I think they should have took the land and sold it to other groups. They wanted to maintain the stability that the Hyksos aided them in getting. I believe that’s where maintaining the economy comes into play. Egyptians were on hard times where people would have to steal from graves. The robbings of the valley graves would lead to a decline of the New Kingdom.  So to maintain the economy the Egyptians had to get capital by trading. There were Amarna Letters found that proves that security and maintaining the economy was Egyptians main focus. The letters included mutual defense pacts and discussions on economic matters. There are also images in the graves of trade expeditions.


Artistic Depictions of Akheneten and his Family.

For this weeks readings and lecture material, I thought the changes that occurred in how the pharaoh and his family were represented in art during the Amarna period were particular interesting.

First of all, the way King Akheneten himself is depicted is totally unexpected when one considers the history of Pharaohs being considered as almost god-like. He was depicted as having a heavy, bloated belly, wide hips, fleshy breasts, and a thin elongated face with narrow oval eyes, large lips, and a protruding bulbous chin. There are a couple of different theories as to why Akheneten would have been portrayed this way. One suggestion is that perhaps the pharaoh suffered from a glandular disease such as Frölich’s syndrome (Adiposogenital dystrophy), which is a condition sometimes secondary to a low-level of GnRH (Gonadotrophin Releasing Hormone) and is associated with dysfunctions of the feeding centers of the hypothalamus thus leading to increased caloric intake. Another theory is that Akheneten could have had Marfan’s syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that causes those who suffer from it to grow to an unusually tall height and to have long limbs and long, thin fingers. The deformities cause by either of these conditions could be the reason why Akheneten was portrayed the way he was, however to me this seems unlikely, since his wife Queen Nefertiti is shown in the same exaggerated style. To me, the more likely theory is that Akheneten (and perhaps members of his family as well) were made to appear androgynous for reasons of religious significant since Aten (who was symbolized by Akheneten) was referred to as the “mother and father of all humankind”. However, since Akhenaten’s mummy has not been found, theories as to the true reason behind the unusual depictions of Akheneten cannot be tested on physical remains, and thus interpretations are presently limited to artistic portrayals alone.

Secondly, the way in which the royal family is portrayed shows them as casual and affectionate. The pharaoh, the queen, and their children are shown together in scenes of intimate familiarity, with Nefertiti seated on Akhenaten’s lap, or with the king or queen holding or kissing his young daughters. Such scenes are not known to have existed before or after the Amarna Period. It is possible Akhenaten had ideological reasons for such depictions of the royal family. This seems likely to me, however, why did this tradition not carry on, even in a small way?

Ramesside Period

The Ramesside Period had much prosperity.  The succession of kings coming from one family had many advantages for the people of the 19th and 20th Dynasties.  It allowed for a somewhat stable flow of rules which in exchange benefited the land.  I found that during the early Ramesside Period there was a great push to redefine the country under that of Amen cult.  There was even dismantling and smashing of statues that represented the Amarna Period (p 225).  That time period represented the worshiping of Aten vs. the traditional Amen.  These acts of destroying sacred statues generally was seen as a crime but allowed because it was items that represented the false Aten.  The reformation of this time period called on everyone to reestablish their faith so that the country could once again be of one liking.  I find this a very powerful tool, and in Egyptian history seems to be the forefront of creating a strong kingdom.

Also during the Ramesside Period the kings did many extensions to existing royal tombs.  One example is when Rameses II added a peristyle forecourt to Amenhotep III’s pylon and created a triple shrine for the gods of Thebes (p 238).  This also shows that during this time period the people greatly respected the traditional customs of the land and wanted to visually show that through making royal tombs more elaborate.

This idea of making things very exquisite is also true about the living royal family tombs.  During this time period the tombs became secretive and well designed with multiple chambers and paintings on the walls as well as decorated with religious text to help the dead pharaohs travel through their afterlife.  Interestingly, the queens were also given similar treatment.  The role of the chief queen became even more so influential and is seen in the decoration of their tombs, such as Nefertari’s tomb that held texts from the Book of Gates and the Book of the Dead (p 251).  Furthermore, the idea of family became very important.  Both Sety I and Rameses II had scenes of the Battle of Qadesh in their tombs which may have been a representation of a very close kinship between the two of them.  Later on Rameses II built an enormous tomb for a number of his sons with well over 100 chambers and corridors (p 246).  These physical structures are evidence that family and life on earth was valued by the people of this period.  There is also evidence of this in the lifestyle of the workers.   Many artifacts are from Deir el-Medina which had a culture built around documenting activities and thoughts on ostraca.

New Art in Amarna

What I found particularly interesting in this week’s lesson was the Amarna Period, its Pharaoh, and the changes made during this time in the religious sphere, which was reflected in the art of this period. What I noticed especially was the efforts by the centralized government under Akhenaten to win the allegiance by the public through these changes.

A key change made by Akhenaten involved the sun disk, a symbol seen atop the god of Amun-Ra. Akhenaten transformed the symbol to have rays coming off of the main disk, ending in tiny human hands. These rays are always shown flowing over only the royal family in art and hieroglyphics. This change in art represented Akhenaten’s efforts to instill a new religious cult within his reign, that of allegiance to only one god, Aten. Akhenaten and the royal family were then said to be the only intermediaries between Aten and his followers, suggesting a higher status to the royal family and Pharoah had been attained. With this switch in religious practices, Akhenaten tried to break away from traditional Egyptian practices, which is also evident in his subsequent moves.

The statues and casts of Akhenaten and the royal family also changed in style and shape dramatically. The busts of Akhenaten portray an elongated thin face, a sagging stomach, and larger breasts. This may have been a way to suggest a more androgynous look which was much like how the god Aten was portrayed during the time. Regardless, this shift in technique suggests that Akhenaten used art to change his own image to influence his public.

Another art portrayal mentioned in the lesson was a piece of artwork that portrayed the royal family as more affectionate than ever before. The Pharaoh and his wife were seen holding children under the rays of Aten in a very cozy scene. This may show that Akhenaten wished the royal family to appear loving and caring for those they ruled over, an attempt to bring the public over to his viewpoint and away from tradition.

The art of the Amarna period gives a unique look into an era that tried to rule from a dramatically different approach than ever before. Much like a political campaign today, new art and images were brought in to swing public opinion in favor of a new leader. In Akhenaten’s case, much of what he worked to change eventually was restored and brought back to traditional Egypt by later pharaohs, proving ultimately unsuccessful.


Wonders of Mummification

I found it interesting that just as the tombs of the Egyptians become more complex throughout time, the practice of preparing the remains for the afterlife had also evolved over centuries of time.  Instead of just positioning the bodies, preparing and treating the outer shell of the of the body in a certain way, the ancient Egyptians began to also modify the interior of the body by extracting the organs. It’s amazing that the process of mummification took up to 70 days. The idea that the heart was the “seat of intelligence and emotions” was an interesting idea because today we believe that the heart is associated with emotions and a we “listen to our hearts” when resolving moral issues.   It is also neat how x-rays of these bodies provide us with valuable information, such as both ante and postmortem evidence of some Egypiians.  Also, it even shows us of any physical ailments, such as arthritis or illnesses that the Egyptians had. I thought it was really advanced that we can figure that out now with forensic anthropology and crimes today (relatively recent bodies found), but we can even find out information from these preserved bodies from thousands of years ago.

In part of this book called Chariot of the Gods, the author claims that there are still living cells within some mummies.  In 1963, the University of Oklahoma discovered that there were still living skin cells in the body of the Egyptian Princess Mene, who has been dead for several thousands of years!  The mummification process kept these Egyptians so well preserved that there are still living cells within the mummy!  Instead of just admiring these well-preserved specimens, this may actually help create further breakthroughs in science.  Today we are able to clone living animals, such as sheep and cats. If sometime in the future, we are able to clone these skin cells, perhaps we could somehow bring these Egyptians back to real life and not just speculate about their spirits of  their afterlives.