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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog: Pharaohs, Queens, and Priests: The Graeco-Roman Period in Swansea

Monday, 16 December 2019

Pharaohs, Queens, and Priests: The Graeco-Roman Period in Swansea

Three third year students of Egyptology at Swansea University, Mollie Beck, Gabrielle Stanley, and Hannah Rawlings write the blog post for this week.

We have reached the tenth week of our course and, unfortunately, our last session. This week we focused on six objects from the Graeco-Roman Period, more specifically the Ptolemaic dynasty (c. 302–30 BC). The Ptolemaic dynasty was a very dramatic period full of scandals and murder. The capital moved to Alexandria and Egypt was ruled by the Macedonian-Greek family, the "House of Ptolemy", until the Roman conquest in 30 BC (Manning 2010).

Fig. 1: Ptolemaic queen (W194)

W194 is a black granite female head of a Ptolemaic queen from a life size statue (fig. 1). This object was a part of the MacGregor collection (1672) and purchased by Wellcome in 1922. Based on stylistic factors, the statue can been dated to the early Ptolemaic Period (Ashton 2001; Brophy 2015) and it is suggested that the queen depicted is either Berenice II or Arsinoe III. Berenice II was married to Ptolemy III Euergetes I, the third king of the dynasty (c. 246–221 BC) and Arsinoe III was the daughter of Berenice II who was married to her brother Ptolemy IV Philopator (c. 221–205 BC). Women in the Ptolemaic Period were very influential and queens had a lot of power; both Berenice and Arisinoe were very involved with the government and the state (Minas-Nerpel 2019). An interesting factor about this statue fragment is that the lower part of the face was re-cut, this could be a result from a mistake the sculptor made, a repair done to fix damage, or the statue was later reused by someone else. There is also traces of glue on the nose which tells us that it had broken off and was repaired at some point. In fact, the MacGregor catalogue mentions this restoration, thus indicating that it was done prior to the sale in 1922. The female figure wears a textured wig with a headband running around the top part of the wig. On her forehead the remains of a uraeus can be seen, but unfortunately it has been damaged. The wig shown is one that was popular among queens of the Ptolemaic Period. An interesting feature of this head is that the support pillar along the back of the head has been smoothed and should have had an inscription on it, although it is blank. This could suggest that the statue was never finished, explaining the re-carving of the lower face.

Fig. 2: Door shrine (EC485)

EC485 is the left side of a shrine door (fig. 2). This object was also purchased from the MacGregor collection (lot 645), but unfortunately the provenance is unknown. This object is particularly important because wooden examples of these do not usually survive or are not preserved well and it helps us get an idea of how these shrines were constructed. The carved wood is decorated with gesso on the front and it is also possible that it was gilded with gold leaf, although there are no traces of the latter surviving. The gesso is inscribed with a king kneeling and presenting an offering of incense to the god within the shrine. The king wears the blue crown, which is debated among scholars as being either the war crown or a representation of the living king at the time (Hardwick 2003). He also wears other kingly regalia such as a kilt, a uraeus on the forehead, and a broad collar. An interesting aspect of this object is the fact that it features a blank cartouche in the top right-hand corner. Scholars have also debated the meaning of this as it could reflect the period—no one knew who was king as there were so many in a short period of time so they left the cartouche blank—or it could be a general representation of the king, not specific to anyone. The blank cartouche is a trend of the late Ptolemaic Period, which perhaps gives us an estimated date. The hole for the tie where both doors would be tied together and then sealed can be seen on the right side. The right door would most likely have the same image but mirrored with the statue of the god inside the shrine.       

Fig. 3: Mummy mask (W917)
Object W917 is a colourful mummy mask that dates to the late Ptolemaic Period/early Roman Period (fig. 3). It is made of cartonnage but has been beautifully decorated with various different colours of paint. For the face of the mask, gold leaf has been used in order to show that this person has died and become an Osiris, and so has the gold skin of the gods. In addition, blue paint has been used for the hair as lapis lazuli is the colour of the hair of the gods. A headband has been added with decoration of squares of colour with white flowers in the centre. This pattern continues the whole way around until the back where there is a knot painted on. Is this simply decorative or does it represent the "crown of justification" (mꜣḥ n mꜣꜥ ḫrw), which is meant to represent triumph over death in the afterlife (Riggs 2005, 81–82)? This mask has been left without an inscription and it is quite difficult to tell the gender of the person being represented.

Fig. 4: Roman coffin fragment (W1042a)

W1042a is a coffin fragment dating to the Roman Period (fig. 4). This is an interesting piece as it has previously been suggested by some scholars to be a fake due to the unusual hieroglyphs. However, they just do not conform to the typical stylistic traits of the period and do actually make sense. They read 'Life to the good god. Horus, Isis and Osiris, Khentyimentyu, the great god, lord of Abydos, the eldest son, first born of Geb' (fig. 5). Stylistically this object can be traced to Tuna el-Gebel as several other similar coffins have been excavated there (Kurth 1990). This place was the necropolis for Hermopolis, which became a popular city during Roman Egypt. In the upper register, we have the deceased dressed as a priest worshipping the Goddesses Nekhbet, who wears the Hedjet-crown of Upper Egypt, and Wadjet, who wears the Deshret-crown of Lower Egypt. They are shown in snake form and are resting on the wings of Khepri who is shown as a beetle. He is meant to be pushing up the solar disc but this has been removed and now a number (6) in its place. In the lower register we have the deities Isis, Osiris, Nephthys, and perhaps Re. The two gods are sitting and each is holding a was-sceptre and an ankh. The two goddesses each have their names on top of their head and are standing in a praising gesture toward the gods.

Fig. 5: Hieroglyphs on Roman coffin fragment (W1042a)

Bought at auction by Henry Wellcome in 1931 (lot 12), the next artefact (W1043) that we examined was the stela of Pamenes (fig. 6). With Ken's help, we were able to read the majority of the four lines at the bottom of the stela, which is an offering dedicated to Re-Harakhty. The four lines list his epithets and the offerings of the usual bread and beer in addition to other provisions for the ka of Pamenes. The final line tells us the name of his parents, Herefernit and Satweret. The central register of the stela depicts the deceased, Pamenes, in the garb of a priest with his arms raised in adoration before Re and Osiris. Above this is the winged sun-disc that has a central column of red dots that represent the rays of the sun that hit the hieroglyph for the sky, flanked by two snakes wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt respectively.

Fig. 6: Ptolemaic stela (W1043)

This course has been extremely interesting and we are so fortunate to have had this opportunity. It has been such a great way to become more familiar with the Egypt Centre collection and take a chronological trip through ancient Egypt. The vast areas that are covered by objects at the Egypt Centre is incredible and Ken has presented amazing information and knowledge.

Ashton, S.-A. (2001) Ptolemaic royal sculpture from Egypt: the interaction between Greek and Egyptian traditions. BAR International Series 923. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Brophy, E. (2015) Royal statues in Egypt 300 BC–AD 220: context and function. Archaeopress Egyptology 10. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Hardwick, T. (2003) 'The iconography of the Blue Crown in the New Kingdom'. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 89: 117–141.
Kurth, D. (1990) Der Sarg der Teüris: eine Studie zum Totenglauben im römerzeitlichen Ägypten. Aegyptiaca Treverensia: Trierer Studien zum Griechisch-Römischen Ägypten 6. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.
Manning, J. G. (2010) The last pharaohs: Egypt under the Ptolemies, 305–30 BC. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Minas-Nerpel, M. (2019) 'Ptolemaic queens as ritualists and recipients of cults: the cases of Arsinoe II and Berenike II'. Ancient Society 49: 141–183.
Riggs, C. (2005) The beautiful burial in Roman Egypt: art, identity, and funerary religion. Oxford studies in Ancient Culture and Representation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge. (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.
Sotheby & Co. (1931) Catalogue of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, South American, Arabian and Indian antiquities, etc. savage art, etc. Monday the 27th July 1931. London: Sotheby and Co.
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