East Kent Egyptology Society
Wednesday 27th February 2019: Dr Csaba La’da: Hellenistic Egypt-Twilight of the Ancient Egyptian Civilisation.
Csaba began by saying that his interest in presenting this lecture was to show that the Hellenistic Period in Egypt was not a time when its culture was in decline, as many have claimed, but was to demonstrate that native Egyptian civilization, in important aspects, continued to thrive in a multicultural environment. The period has often been neglected by scholars in favour of Old, Middle, and New Kingdom studies, and Csaba’s aim has been to work towards redressing this situation.
He mapped out, in some detail, political events in Egypt from the end of the Persian occupation and into the Hellenistic period when Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s Macedonian generals, founded a line of rulers which came to an abrupt end with the suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 BC. The Greeks, since before the time Solon visited Egypt in the early C6th BC, held Egyptian civilization and culture in a certain amount of awe, with the result that they were too respectful to impose their own ways on all aspects of Egyptian life. The Persians, who had previously occupied the country from 525 to 404B and 343 to 332 BC did not, according to some, treat the Egyptians or their culture anywhere near so well. Herodotus writes that they showed scant respect for their Egyptian subjects, their culture and religion, but it is probable that he had been biased in his opinions by stories told him by the Egyptian priesthood (Ed: Herodotus writes that Cambyses suffered from periods of madness and instigated many atrocities whilst in Egypt, and that he personally slaughtered the Apis bull at Sakkara. However, archaeologists point out that the funerary monument of the Apis bull that died in 524 BC depicts Cambyses actually worshipping the divine bull! Herodotus was probably misled by the Egyptian priesthood, who hated Cambyses for withdrawing earlier royal grants made to them by rulers such as Amasis. Generally the Persians were quite accommodating as an occupying power, provided that their subjects “kept their noses clean”. There are virtually no temples from the Persian period, but the temple at Hibis, in Kharga Oasis, was decorated in the Egyptian style by Darius I. Csaba also noted that a few statues from the period suggest that Egyptian officials were encouraged to dress in Persian costume.
The Egyptian language continued to be used by the people, while the upper strata of society spoke a less classic form of Attic Greek, which linguists call the koine. Egyptian hieroglyphs continued to be used for more serious matters, while Demotic and Greek were used for everyday purposes by all classes of society. Csaba said that during the Hellenistic period the number of hieroglyphs expanded to over 8000 from the early total of about 700, and that inscriptions are consequently more difficult to decipher than are Middle Egyptian ones. Literature became more narrative, and included romantic, instructional, legal, medical, wisdom and prophetic texts, and was either recorded in hieratic, or more usually in demotic. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which is inscribed using the three main methods of writing, was the primary key to the decipherment of hieroglyphic in the early C19th due to its readable Greek text. Csaba said that copies of tri-lingual inscriptions published by the state were commonly installed throughout the land for the populace to view, with the top and middle texts in Hieroglyphic and Demotic, and the bottom in Greek.
Alexandria, founded by Alexander in 331 BC, was the centre of Greek influence and political power, and was also the site of the famous Great Library, which was a centre of learning containing tens of thousands of scrolls, mostly of papyrus and written in Greek. Unfortunately its destruction began during the Alexandrine War when it was partially burned, probably by accident when Julius Caesar’s troops were attacked by the Alexandrine mob. One of the Egyptian priests, Manetho, was commissioned by an early Ptolemy to write a history of Egypt in Greek, using Egyptian records as a source. The original has not survived, but extracts copied by various ancient writers do exist, and were used as prime sources for understanding Egyptian history before hieroglyphics were deciphered. He divided Egyptian history into thirty dynasties, which is still the basis for modern chronology.
Csaba pointed out that, remarkably, traditional styles in Egyptian architecture continue to be used and that Greek styles of building were not introduced except at a few locations such as at Alexandria itself, and for a very few isolated examples such as a temple to Astarte in Memphis (Ed: this was established very early and could have been more in a Phoenician style than Greek). In the delta, at Naucratis, which was the only permanent Greek settlement and trading centre in Egypt, a Hellenion has been excavated which contained a number of temples specifically dedicated to the Greek gods. Most other civilisations, from the Romans to recent colonial powers, introduced their own architectural styles into the foreign territories they subjugated, particularly for public buildings
Sculpture was another subject Csaba covered. It is well known that Egyptian statuary influenced early Greek sculpture, as illustrated by the archaic kouros statues dating from the mid C7/6th BC (Ed: Kleobis and Biton are good examples – with left feet forward, in true Egyptian fashion, and with hair arranged in the form of the Egyptian nemes headdress). Busts of personalities are sometimes remarkable in their quality, and are often a delightful combination of Egyptian and Greek styles. Alexandrian sculpture does, naturally, tend more to the Greek style. Generally, art and inscriptions from the period increase in both quantity and quality, and usually maintain age-old Egyptian methods of representation.
To illustrate the longevity of the Egyptian style of architecture Csaba quickly ran through some slides of temples such as those at Dendera, Esna, Kom Ombo, Edfu and Philae, which were centres of worship right through to Christian times. As there were few temples built in either Greek or Roman styles it is apparent that non-Egyptians were content to worship in temples of Egyptian type, where they would probably worship their own deities in a corresponding Egyptian form (Ed: Herodotus names twelve of these, including Amon/Zeus, Ptah/Hephaestus, Horus/Apollo, Osiris/Dionysius, Isis/Demeter, Hathor/Aphrodite, Min/Pan and Imhotep/Asclepius).
After the death of Cleopatra VII Egypt came under direct Roman state control and native Egyptian culture began its terminal decline, which became even more rapid when Christianity became the state religion, leading to the complete banning of pagan worship by Theodosius in 393 AD. Isis, however, continued to be venerated at Philae, particularly by the Nubian tribes, until the last priests were forced out by Justinian in 537 AD. It is interesting how the statues of Isis cradling the infant Horus represented such an appealing concept that they were translated into virtually identical statues of Mary cradling the Christ child.
Wednesday 24th October 2018: Julia Hamilton, Veneration, personal names and naming practices in Ancient Egypt.
This report does not include the images
There was a good turnout for Julia’s talk, which was particularly interesting as it dealt with a relatively poorly studied aspect of Ancient Egypt i.e. the graffiti which are widely found on monuments and in tombs throughout the land. The title of her presentation was Graffiti in the Teti Pyramid Cemetery at Saqqara, an area to which she was due to return a few days after our meeting in order to re-join the Oxford Expedition at Saqqara.
Julia is presently studying for her final year PhD at Oxford, and she has ready access to the extensive records of the Griffith Institute. She remarked that past archaeologists often copied and photographed many graffiti but failed to study or publish them in detail, thus giving her the opportunity to do useful work on the subject.
The pyramid of Teti, the first king of the 6th Dynasty, is associated with many fine mastaba tombs such as those of Mereruka, Kagemni and Ankhmahor, and Julia showed us many depictions of graffiti from these tombs. She covered the types of graffiti and their meanings, and commented on the various methods of presentation.
Graffiti artists have practiced their art from earliest to modern times and in most cultures, and modern Egyptians have taken their own artistic efforts to an impressive level. Julia demonstrated the modern flourishing of this ancient art by showing some slides she has taken in Cairo. These wall paintings sometimes include ancient Egyptian themes, but they are often used nowadays to comment on current political or social issues. Julia also showed some examples of Roman graffiti, such have been found to overburden some of the walls in Pompeii and Herculaneum. These were commonly political and personal in tone, and were often insulting or obscene, which was not generally the case for Egyptian graffiti art.
Julia covered the varieties of scripts used by the graffiti artists over the ages, including Hieroglyphic, Hieratic, Demotic, Coptic, Greek, Roman and modern. She commented that the earliest examples comprised roughly scratched pictures, symbols and names, but little in the way of complete sentences. Julia suggested that in early times possibly only one percent of Egyptians could read or write, which could account for the amateur nature of some of the graffiti. In later periods graffiti using paint or ink have sometimes survived, such as the famous dedication in hieratic left by New Kingdom “tourists” when visiting the South House at Djoser’s complex. Some graffiti, such as the lengthy texts cut into the legs of the Statues of Memnon during Hadrian’s visit to Egypt, are of valuable historical importance, as is, to a lesser extent, Belzoni’s record of his opening of the Second Pyramid in 1818 and the many scribblings left by early visitors to Egypt during the C19th century.
Julia’s particular interest is in onomastics, which is the study of the origin, history, and use of proper names. A person’s name was an integral and essential part of his/her essence, and to know ones name gave, to a certain extent, power over that person. That is why deities such as Ra and Amun often had “secret” names that were most closely guarded, a practice that continues today in some cultures. For example, Muslims believe that Allah has one hundred names, but only ninety nine are known to his followers. The tale is that the “secret” name is known only by the camel, which is why it has such a supercilious look on its face!
Graffiti in the form of names and titles were sometimes inscribed shortly after a person’s burial, often in scratchings placed just in front of the character’s face, as though the intent was to communicate with the spirit of the dead person. Particular names were favoured at different times throughout Egyptian history, which can be useful when dating an inscription, and can even be specific to a particular period or dynasty.
As a person’s name was sacred a ruler’s names had additional protection by being enclosed in a cartouche. To deface a person’s name was to put their identity at risk, and to attempt to completely erase every record of a person’s name was possibly aimed at putting their chance of an afterlife in jeopardy.
As infant mortality was very high young children would not be given a name until there was a good chance of their survival, but once they had been given a name they had an identity. If they subsequently died their body could not be disposed of without ceremony, as could otherwise be the case. This practice even has echoes today, as in Egypt a child is, traditionally, only given a name on the seventh day after birth, called the Sebou Ceremony.
Even the names of the lower classes could incorporate the names of deities, invoking, it was hoped, the lifelong protection of the god or goddess. Pet and nicknames were also common, such as “beautiful”, “strong”, “sweet”, “cat”, or even “monkey”, though less complementary nicknames such as “hook-nose” and “lame” were also possible. Even Roman Emperors were commonly known by their nicknames, such as Constantius Chlorus, implying that he had a “pale face”. Also, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was known as Caligula, or ”little boot”, a nickname given to him by soldiers who were amused to see him, as a lad, strutting around the palace wearing a child-sized soldier’s uniform.
Wednesday 12th December 2018: Annual Christmas Party.
Your committee really enjoys our social gatherings at Christmas and in the summer, as these occasions are valuable opportunities for us to get to know our members better. It is very satisfying to see that so many of you attended this year, in order to catch up on all things Egyptian, and to discuss member’s recent activities and plans for the festive season. As in previous years Dianne provided a wide selection of extremely tasty Egyptian food, and drinks catered for by Pat included mulled wine, tea and coffee.