Polish Archaeologists Discover Rare Gift from Father of Cleopatra
A linen cloth that was once given as a gift by the father of legendary Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII has been discovered by Polish archaeologists during excavations in Western Thebes, now the modern city of Luxor. The cloth was given to an Egyptian temple.
The archaeologists were exploring a deep shaft in a tomb belonging to a dignitary from Ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (around 2000 BC). The tomb is located in the necropolis of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, later occupied by Coptic Christian monks living on the site as hermits during the 6th century AD.
“Probably the monks living in the hermitage, who were bringing everything they could use from the surrounding area, found the canvas in the ruins of a nearby temple and took it with a practical use in mind” Deputy Head of Mission Andrzej Ćwiek told Science In Poland. “We were lucky to discover this unique object.”
Ćwiek is employed by Adam Mickiewicz University and the Archaeological Museum in Poznań. The excavations have been conducted under concessions obtained by the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw.
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The linen fragment has a hieroglyphic text painted on it in ink. Two columns of cartouches with ornamental borders surrounding the name of the Pharaoh, Ptolemy XII Auletes (80-51 BC) who was the father of Cleopatra VII. In the 3rd century, a scribe added the name of the goddess Isis. The fragment is from a velum, a curtain that was used to cover a holy image, such as a statue of a deity, in the Temple of Hathor near Deir el-Medina. The velum was probably Ptolemy XII’s gift to the deity, given that his cartouches can be seen on the gate of the temple. According to Dr. Ćwiek, this indicates that the Pharaoh was involved in the creation of the temple. He could have funded temple equipment including the provision of the velum.
Temple of Hathor, Deir el-Medina (Wikimedia Commons)
Deir el-Medina is the site of a workman’s village, once used to accommodate workmen employed in the construction of the royal tombs in the famous Valley of the Kings, where the tomb of Tutankhamen is located. Although the temple is primarily dedicated to Hathor, the Egyptian cow goddess, it also has sanctuaries in honor of Amun-Sokar-Osiris and Amun-Re-Osiris – Osiris and Amun or Amun-Re respectively. Osiris was the Egyptian god of the dead and god of the underworld, but he was also a god of fertility and agriculture.
The identification of the item was assisted by Prof. Ewa Laskowska-Kusztal from the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Culture PAS.
The archaeologists also found other artifacts among the debris in the shaft, which is several meters deep. These included fragments of mud brick from the Pharaonic and Coptic period, wooden coffins, small faience beads and amulets, and ushebti clay figurines (funerary figures intended to serve the deceased in the afterlife). Large quantities of these figurines were placed in tombs in order to assist the deceased after his death, in accordance with a command by the god Osiris. The investigation is far from over and excavations of the site will continue in February 2016.
Ushebti clay figurines discovered in the shaft, Luxor, Egypt (M. Kaczanowicz)
Cleopatra was the last Ptolemaic ruler of Ancient Egypt. After her death, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire. The Ptolemaic dynasty was of Macedonian Greek origin. It ruled the country following the death of Alexander The Great in the Hellenistic Period. Although the Ptolemies refused to speak Egyptian, preferring Greek, Cleopatra herself did learn Egyptian and presented herself during her rule as the reincarnation of the goddess Isis, the consort of Osiris. Following the assassination of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra allied herself and Egypt with Marc Antony in opposition to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, later called Augustus. After Antony committed suicide when he lost the Battle of Actium to Octavian, Cleopatra also committed suicide. She had three children: twins, a daughter, Cleopatra Selene II and son, Alexander Helios, and another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Drawing of Cleopatra by Michelangelo (1534) (Wikimedia Commons)
Cleopatra has been made famous through her depiction in many works of literature and art, from the famous Shakespeare play through to the 1963 Hollywood movie of the same name, Antony and Cleopatra, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Featured image: Cloth Gifted by Ptolemy XII Auletes to the Temple of Hathor, (A. Ćwiek)