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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 110 (Vol 19.2) October/November 2018

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index

Pharaoh Seti I: Father of Egyptian Greatness

by Nicky Nielsen

 

In his introduction to this biographical study, Nicky Nielsen states that his aim is to examine the historical, cultural and economic background to the reign of Seti I and to assess Seti’s success in restoring Egypt’s position as a super-power after the upheavals of the late Eighteenth Dynasty. To this end he presents chapters on Seti’s family, his monuments and the people, of all ranks and walks of life, who made everything possible. Several chapters end with an excursus, a discussion topic offering further food for thought.

For example, after describing Seti’s temples Nicky asks whether they were built out of piety or as vehicles for political propaganda.

The most fascinating parts of this book are those based on and supported by extracts from texts such as the Karnak Battle Reliefs, the Palace Accounts from Seti’s Memphite residence or the rock-cut inscriptions left by expeditions to the quarries and mines. He gives an excellent overview of the enemies faced by Seti and the archaeological discoveries at the fortifications established to protect Egypt’s borders. Nicky also discusses how Seti was portrayed in the later works of classical historians, antiquarians and modern Egyptologists. This includes Belzoni’s discovery and the interpretation of Seti’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and the story of the el-Rassul brothers finding the cache in which Seti’s body had been reburied in antiquity. In the final chapter we meet the enigmatic Dorothy Eady, known as Omm Sety, whose uncanny knowledge of Seti’s Abydos temple she claimed to have gained in a previous life as Seti’s concubine.

Nicky makes it clear that this book is written for the interested public and is very different in style from his usual research publications. While emphasising the ambiguity inherent in the fragmentary nature of some of his source material he predicts that he might be accused of simplification or vagueness as he tries not to overstretch the existing evidence. He makes up for gaps in our knowledge, especially concerning Seti’s origins and upbringing, by delving further back into Egypt’s history than I would have thought necessary and by indulging in a certain amount of imaginative recreation of events. The photographs are well chosen but all too few in number – no images of Seti’s Qurna Temple, for instance. Despite these minor quibbles this book provides a useful introduction to the Nineteenth Dynasty allowing Seti I to emerge from the long shadow cast by his more famous son.

 

Pen & Sword, 2018

ISBN 978-152-673957-5

£19.99.

 

Hilary Wilson

 

Win a copy in our competition on page 61 of issue 110.

You can also read Nicky Nielsen’s articles on Seti in AE103 & AE109.

Thebes in the First Millennium BC: Art and Archaeology of the Kushite Period and Beyond (GHP Egyptology)

edited by Elena Pischikova, Julia Budkha & Kenneth Griffin

 

This volume is a collection of 25 articles, most of which are based on the presentations at the conference of the same name organised by the South Asasif Conservation Project in Luxor in 2016. A wide-ranging work, the volume discusses recent advances, provides an overview of the most important fieldwork projects and covers an extensive range of sites and issues as well as a broad chronological span.

Thebes can be considered as the key site for Kushite archaeology in the Twenty-fifth Dynasty and fieldwork conservation in the South Asasif necropolis from 2006-2016 is helping to raise the level of understanding and appreciation of the Kushite and Saite Periods in Egyptian art and culture.

Particularly this is so for the tombs of Karakhamun, Karabasken and Irieru where literally tens of thousands of decorated fragments have been examined, many of which have then been restored in situ.

The large temple-tombs in the northern Asasif are also discussed by a number of authors in this publication.

Some new comments and aspects of reinterpretation are offered on the important tombs of Padiamenope and Montuemhat, stressing the complexities of architecture and decoration.

Reuse of tombs during the First Millennium BC is addressed in three of the papers. Kushite burials in Ramesside tomb TT 400 are particularly significant because the use of the tomb continued not only into the Saite Period, but also later into the Persian Period, a subject little understood for Thebes and indeed for Egypt in general.

Julia Budka discusses how the contacts between Egypt and Kush are reflected in pottery and how recent excavations at both Thebes and Abydos have produced significant amounts of material from the Twentyfifth Dynasty. It is striking that finds of beakers and cooking pots in Kushite burial assemblages were not simply locally manufactured Egyptian equivalents of the traditional Kushite shape, but were authentic vessels imported from Kush.

An interesting chapter by Cynthia Sheikolesami explores the offices held by different priests of Montu during the Third Intermediate Period leading up to the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The cult of Montu took on increasing importance during this period in tune with the archaising trend of the period and the need to legitimise the non- Egyptian rulers of Egypt in the religious capital in the south.

Illustrated with many black-and-white images, this scholarly publication includes a large amount of information, much of which is published for the first time. It represents the outcome of extensive recent fieldwork and the wide-ranging research collected in this volume helps to fill a number of gaps in the history and culture of the First Millennium BC.

 

Golden House Publications, 2018

ISBN 978-1-906137-59-5

Hardback, £70.

 

Roger Forshaw

The Language of Ruins: Greek and Latin Inscriptions on the Memnon Colossus

by Patricia A. Rosenmeyer

This is my favourite kind of book: a very readable account of a well researched but relatively little-known subject area. Here the subject may seem famous enough – the Memnon colossus. But note the singular. The well-visited site of Kom el-Hettan in Western Luxor is erroneously known as the ‘Colossi of Memnon’, because it was only the northern of the two colossi that was ever really identified with the mythical hero of the Trojan War, Memnon, a King of Ethiopia.

As is quite widely known, this is because around 27 BC an earthquake damaged the statue, causing it to emit a strange sound, most frequently at dawn. It was this sound that attracted tourists and pilgrims in the Roman Period, several of whom left records of their visits.

Surprisingly the extensive Greek and Latin inscriptions (a term the author prefers to ‘graffiti’, which in modern times has rather pejorative connotations) have received little attention and here the complete set of 107 are collected and translated for the first time. It is especially useful for those who can read Greek and Latin to have the original texts to peruse.

The book is divided into discussions of the ancient accounts of the colossus, the realities of pilgrimage and ‘tourism’ in Roman times, the content of the inscriptions and the literary influences of Homer and Sappho on them, before finally considering the reception of the colossus in more modern popular culture – especially its inspiration for Romantic poets.

Rosenmeyer’s volume has fairly little ‘Egyptology’ in it – that is, it spends very little time on the original Pharaonic context of the two colossal statues, as individually named and divinised images of the king, Amenhotep III. While this would have been useful, the story of the popular reception of the colossi in Roman times and later is fascinating enough – and does not rely on the original purpose of the statues.

This book is to be very highly recommended, blending as it does the Egyptian, Greek and Roman religious ideas and experiences. The reviewer confesses to having been won over to the Romans a little more!

 

Oxford University Press, 2018

ISBN 978-0-190-62631-0

Hardback, £61.

 

Campbell Price

Getting Rich in Late Antique Egypt

by Ryan E. McConnell

What makes Egyptology so absorbing is the opportunity to on the one hand, study history on a huge scale, tracing developments across thousands of years, while at the same time being able to ‘zoom in’ on particular individuals and trace the minutiae of their lives. This book focusses on one particular well-attested Byzantine era family: the Apions, who rose in wealth and status from Oxyrhynchus landowners in 436 BC, to consuls of Constantinople (in 539 BC).

How did the family rise so far? Previous theories have suggested their wealth came from selling off a large surplus of estate produce for profit.

McConnell argues against this; he claims that the autourgia (the part of the land directly exploited by the family as opposed to leased out to other landlords) was devoted to fodder production, with no large surplus to sell.

If this is the case, where did the Apion wealth come from? The answer lies in the complicated tax-gathering system used in Egypt at this time. As well as landowners, the family were tax collectors for the state.

They paid for a ‘tax-farming’ contract which allowed them to collect more from the peasantry than they had to pay the state for the collection rights.

The estate then employed local agents (the pronoetai) to collect taxes from the small-scale landowners on the estate, charging a large fee to these tax collectors for the privilege. To pay this fee, the pronoetai had to speculate – usually on the gold markets – and if the markets crashed, the pressure would be put on the estate workers who would have to pay even more.

The Apions benefited further by being able to make funds available to the state before the taxes had been collected, and used this bargaining position to increase the area over which they were licensed to collect taxes.

There is plenty of in-depth analysis of previous theories and interpretations of the texts [including those of T. M. Hickey, whose book I reviewed in AE79], together with an extensive bibliography to keep the academic happy, but this volume deserves to be read more widely as it offers us a rare glimpse of one particular Egyptian family and the role they played in the wider agricultural and economic machinery of Byzantine Egypt.

The University of Michigan Press, 2017

ISBN 978-0-472-13038-2

Hardback, £54.

 

Sarah Griffiths

‘My Dear Miss Ransom’: Letters between Caroline Ransom Williams and James Henry Breasted 1898-1935

edited by Kathleen L. Sheppard

 

This is a book bursting with references to well-known Egyptologists. We meet en route such luminaries as Norman de Garis Davies, Adolf Erman, Alan Gardiner, Francis Griffith, Flinders Petrie, Edwin Smith, Herbert Winlock, Theodore Davies, George Reisner and many others. James Henry Breasted, the partner in this correspondence, is also a familiar name in the story of early twentieth century Egyptology. Much less familiar, not to say completely unknown to many, is the name of the main character in this history.

Caroline Ransom, later Mrs Grant Williams, is not as well recognised in the history of Egyptology as her contribution to the subject deserves. This correspondence reveals a dedication to the scientific and educational contribution made by this remarkable individual and shows many notable Egyptologists held her in high regard.

A glance at the detailed bibliography reveals the extent of her interests and research: Egyptian art, furniture, shabtis, stelae, Nubian objects, scarabs, pots with hieratic inscriptions, varied sculptures and much else. She wrote learned articles in many respected journals and in all her work she had the encouragement and support of James Henry Breasted, the first Professor of Egyptology in America and founder of the Oriental Institute in Chicago with whom she pursued a long correspondence.

This book contains full transcripts of over two hundred letters exchanged over a period spanning the years 1898 to 1935, when Breasted died. The letters include discussions of papers and articles published or about to be printed, the health of the two families, details of travel arrangements and hotel accommodation, academic politics, papyrology and many other topics.

One example of the scope of the writers’ interests may be found in a series of letters written between late 1920 and 1922. These contain detailed discussions about the treatment of the Edwin Smith medical papyrus, which Caroline was anxious to place firmly in the hands of a competent scholar. Breasted fitted the bill admirably.

A summary of some of the milestones in Caroline Ransom’s life clearly reflects her ability and her achievements.

Having obtained a Masters in Classical Archaeology and Egyptology, Breasted encouraged her to go to Berlin to study under Adolf Erman to enhance her knowledge of Egyptian language. She gained a Ph.D., the first American woman to achieve this before going to Bryn Mawr College where she achieved a professorship. In 1910 she became Assistant Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1916 she returned to her original roots in Toledo, Ohio where she got married, but she continued to work in several museums and Egyptian collections, and in the late 1920s she became part of Breasted’s Epigraphic Survey backed by Chicago University.

This collection of letters is so thorough that it is difficult to give more than a taste of their contents in a brief review. It would be a treasure trove of information not only for any student studying the involvement of American scholars in Egyptology but more importantly for the study of female contributions to the subject.

Archaeopress, 2018

ISBN 978-1-784-91782-1

Paperback, £24.

 

Hilary Forrest

Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World

ed. by Jeffrey Spier, Timothy Potts & Sarah E. Cole

 

One of the most impressive exhibition catalogues this reviewer has seen in quite a while, the present volume (and by all accounts the superb exhibition it accompanies) is one of the best treatments of its ambitious subject. Not merely about ‘art’ or ‘death’ or ‘kings and queens’, rather it blends different aspects of (chiefly Graeco-Roman Egyptian) society and material culture, including sculpture, funerary objects, documents and coinage.

The catalogue proceeds chronologically, from the earliest historicallyattested contacts between Egypt and the Near East and Mediterranean (c.

2000 BC – although links obviously existed earlier) through towards the end of the pagan Roman Empire in Egypt in the fourth century AD.

Covering this stretch of time emphasises that the ‘Graeco-Roman Period’ in Egypt develops out of much older contacts with the Eastern Mediterranean.

In content, the book fairly effortlessly combines cutting-edge research essays by specialists with smaller clusters of information on the objects presented in the exhibition, all with excellent (apparently new) photography.

Particular written highlights include Robert Bianchi’s illuminating essay on so-called ‘Portrait Sculpture’ in Ptolemaic Egypt, interpretations of the results of recent excavations, such as the cosmopolitan Delta settlement of Naukratis, and a vivid discussion of multilingualism in Egypt.

This book will appeal to anyone interested in Egypt’s broader context in the Mediterranean world, especially in ‘reception studies’ because as the exhibition and catalogue make clear, an obsession with ancient Egyptian visual culture and belief is far from a modern phenomenon.

Getty Publications, 2018

ISBN 978-1-606-06551-8

Hardback, £40.

 

Campbell Price

 

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