The Western and Eastern Deserts were both unique and fascinating. In our readings there were multiple comparisons made that mainly dealt with how the land was used efficiently during the Greco-Roman times. To my understanding the Western Desert was mainly used to receive goods from across the Red Sea and then the goods were sent to Roman and vise-versa. The Western Desert was home to much lively activity including wineries, cult activity, trade, and a possible palace location that would have brought political and military affairs to the area. This area also shows the possibility of great wealth since it is home to the Valley of the Golden Mummies. It has been seen throughout the dynastic periods that elites constructed tombs that were distant from their true area of power and in dry areas that preserved all burial remains, but was this also true for these elites? The remains from houses in the area suggested a diverse community that included written text in Greek, Coptic, and Syriac. Along with the discovery of this widely diverse group of people was the “East Churches” which is believed to include churches of both Christian domination and a eastern religion. The foreign influence on the nation continued to grow and is evident in the Eastern Desert. The Eastern Desert also had a widely diverse group of people, but they had to overcome the more harsh and mountainous region. In addition to that difference from the western Desert, the Eastern Desert was home to more military activity and trade. Much trade occurred across the Red Sea and therefore the need for security was necessary. Unlike in earlier dynasties, the Greco-Roman period had permanently settled ports which allowed the area to prosper. A major problem of this area was receiving freshwater. I found it quite interesting that they dug large wells to solve this problem, and it was very effective. The mining of gold and quartz also allowed the area to take on a more exotic trade of goods with foreign countries. It is odd to think that these desert regions were able to create such wealth for themselves when there were so many troubles that they first had to overcome. The technology of the Greeks seems to have been a good influence for the country and helped it advance above neighboring countries.
What interested me the most in the readings for this week were the differing approaches by the conquering Macedonians and Romans. After King Alexander had taken over Memphis in Egypt, he founded the great city of Alexandria. Under his rule, Governor Ptolemy, who later became King Ptolemy I set up his Ptolemaic kingdom. This kingdom became the most powerful of Alexander’s empire of three kingdoms. Ptolemy I founded a great library, which not only consisted of collected Greek works, but also of papyri in Egyptian. Many Egyptian documents were also translated into Greek Even though Alexandria’s dominant culture was Greek, the works of the Egyptians were still treasured and thought of as important. The Ptolomies also even learned about the Egyptian gods and even adopted some of the local gods. However, the worship of Egyptian cults helped justify their dominance.
While the Ptolemies had much more in contact with Egypt, it was surprising to me that the Roman emperors never set foot in Egypt. They had a well set up bureaucracy that was ruled by a governor. The country was greatly exploited by the Romans. Egyptians were expected to pay an annual poll tax and the country had a substantial military presence to enforce the tax laws and to prevent rebellions and to ensure Roman protection. Even as early as the 1st century AD, the Romans persecuted the Jews for not sharing their polytheistic views, and later attacked Christians. It’s interesting to me how poorly Jews and Christians were treated as the Roman Empire began expanding. And then later in the 3rd century AD, Constantine made Christianity the official religion and every previous persecuted monotheistic believer seemed to be forgotten as the empire still rose in power. It boggles me how in a relatively short amount of time, under the influence of one leader, the belief system of a state can change and be accepted so quickly.
It is a really difficult task to try to pinpoint what aspect of Egyptian archaeology that was discussed in this class is the most important. Personally, I really enjoyed learning about the different cultures that inhabited Ancient Egypt so I feel that learning about the different cultures is the most important aspect of Egyptian archaeology. I feel as though the best way to learn more about a specific area is to learn more about the people who once inhabitant the region. By studying archaeological excavations, we can learn a lot about the religion, social complexity, trading practices, etc, of the culture who used to live at the site. Specifically, I think that excavating and studying burial grounds is the most efficient way learn more about culture because how someone is buried and the objects they are buried with can really tell you a lot. For example, simply by looking at the headstones you can learn more about the deceased’s economic and social status. Also, as stated by archaeologist Lewis Binford, we can get an idea of the social complexity of a culture by looking at the elaboration of the grave. In other words, the more decorative the grave, the more complex the society was. Although this is not always the case, as suggested by the criticisms people have concerning Binford’s proposed theory, it is a good indicator. However, other people may argue that studying the architecture of a site is the best way to learn about what went on in that location long ago. But, for example, how can you learn about social complexity and trading practices that occur within a culture simply by looking at architecture? In my opinion, studying culture, specifically with the help of burial ground excavations, is the most important topic in Egyptian archaeology because it is the best way to do what archaeology is supposed to do – study human society through material culture.
I think that it is very hard to pin down the one most important aspect in Egyptian archeology. I am a psychology major, and so maybe a little more predisposed to the people side of things, but I think that the most important thing that I learned about was the history of the pyramid builders. This is what I am doing my research article on and I find it not only important but fascinating. It is easy to look at the pyramids and see that they are important but I think that it is too easy to overlook the people that made them. Politics and religion, craftsmanship and common labor, all had a hand in the building of these pyramids. They were built only by Egyptians, no foreigners were allowed to work on them, and I believe they show what ancient Egypt was as a whole. I think that the pyramids were more than just a symbol of power of the pharaoh. People came from all over the country to volunteer to work for the nation. It was a way for them to leave their small towns and see the greater part of Egypt. The pyramid projects brought the country together and gave all the citizens something to be proud of. They were a real representation of a united nation that worked together on a common goal.
Archeologists study the pyramids to learn about this fascinating ancient culture that was capable of such works of architectural wonder. Generations of children learn about the pyramids and become fascinated with stories of aliens that built them. I think that the truth of who really built them is more interesting. I’m pretty sure that we would not be able to get the entire country to work together to build something like this in the United States now. I think that this public projects show how strong of a government system was in place during this time. It shows more than just the economic stability of the country, it shows the pride that people took in their country and the genuine love they had for their pharaohs. Graffiti found on the walls show that the men were happy and loyal to their rulers. I think that the human side of the pyramids is much more interesting, and maybe even more important, than the actual building side of it.
Looking at the pyramids as a whole you can piece together ancient Egyptian culture in many forms. Looking at the pyramid villages, where the full time pyramid workers lived, you can see a typical day in their lives. A pyramid has been filled with everything that was thought to be needed in the afterlife, clothe and gold and food and sometimes even servants. But I find it interesting to think about who made and stocked the goods in the first place. The majority of the people in ancient Egypt were not rich or royal. They were normal people who were the laborers and creators of not only the pyramids but of society. I think they are very worth study.
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 way in which Egyptian culture was continued by non-native Egyptians after the Egyptian state had essentially dissolved was quite interesting. The perpetuation of Egyptian culture is evident from the first occupation of Egypt by non-Egyptians. Non-Egyptian rulers of Egypt perpetuated and even supported native Egyptian religion and often bureaucratic control as well. This is evident as early as Hyksos rule in the 2nd Intermediate period, but happens again with the Kushite conquest in the 25th Dynasty. The Kushite kings “built Egyptian-style temples, with their walls inscribed in Egyptian hieroglyphs” (chapter 9, p. 268), as well as using the 2 cobras on their crowns, rather than the traditional vulture and cobra of the Egyptian kings.
The practice of supporting Egyptian institutions was also continued by the Persians, likely as “an attempt to legitimize the Persian king as pharaoh” (Chapter 9, p. 271). In addition to the Persians, the Greeks who ruled Persia after Alexander, as part of the Ptolemaic Dynasty also perpetuated and supported native Egyptian religion. None of these instances of non-Egyptians continuing Egyptian culture are all that surprising though, as foreign rulers, the conquers would want a way to relate to the conquered and to make their rule feel more legitimate, and using Egyptian religious practice offered a way to do this. Even the Romans, who didn’t support the Egyptian religious institutions, still allowed them to exist, but what really ended Egyptian religion, and the strong culture that was associated with it, was the influx of Christianity into Egypt.
The continuation of Egyptian culture, as evident in religious practices, continued even after Egypt had largely ceased practicing its traditional religion. In Nubia, which wasn’t, for a large part of Egyptian chronology even part of Egypt, but was nonetheless connected to Egypt through trade and hegemony, Egyptian culture and religion continue into the late 6th century. What this really shows is how Egyptian culture had an influence on all of the surrounding polities, so much so that even after Egypt had been assimilated into Greek and later Roman culture, Egyptian culture still continued, especially outside of Egypt.
One of the other things that I wondered about this week was how exactly the city of Alexandria was founded. Did there exist a settlement in its location originally, or was it only a site where Alexander camped for a while and then moved on, or did he just decree that a city was to be built there? How exactly does a person found or create a city out of nothing…I think this would be interesting to look into in more detail
I found the “Valley of the Golden Mummies” particularly interesting this week. This cemetery was discovered in Bahariya Oasis and contains over 105 mummies from the time of Alexander the Great to the 4th and 5th centuries AD (308). This cemetery was found on accident, and fortunately there are a lot of things that have been discovered by accident throughout our history and I always end up wondering if it weren’t for that chance occurrence or accident would we still have discovered any of these things at some point? I find it interesting because the mummies were dated from at least three different centuries. There were four different kinds of mummies discovered here, mostly likely based on the individual’s social class. Some of the mummies had gold-covered masks on their casings and others had gold foil on their chests. The next kind found had linen wrapped around their upper body and had facial features and depictions of deities painted on them and others were wrapped in linen that was arranged in geometric patterns, the lowest class burials were poorly wrapped in linen (308-309). I also find these mummies interesting because of the applied implications for genealogical and/or genetic study as well as studies into possible disease prevalence and cause of death based off of the analysis of the paleopathology of the mummies (309).
I also found the city of Alexandria and Philae Island interesting as well. I always liked Alexandria because of the library that was and still is there, but its university, houses, theaters, cemeteries, Roman baths, and a lighthouse complex have also been excavated from Greco-Roman times. It was founded by Alexander and was originally a Greco-Roman city and was later an Islamic city. The cemetery of the Gabbari district had 250 burial niches that were discovered and each niche had sometimes at least 12 skeletons in each (302). Why did this happen? Did they run out of or need more room as time went on or could there have been some type of mass burial that took place and they could not build more tombs? It suffered and with stood damage from invading Muslim armies and riots between pagans and Christians. I wonder how Christianity’s intolerance towards pagans arose? Did it start because pagans originally persecuted not only Christians, but also Jews or was it just part of their fundamental beliefs, since, I believe, Christianity has always been a monotheistic religion? I think Philae Island interesting just because it was built on an island in the first place and that UNSECO disassembled and reassembled it on higher ground on another island (307), which is impressive and many different rulers had buildings constructed that contributed to the temple complex and its temple of Isis even co-existed with the churches that were built and was allowed to stay in use.
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.
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.
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.