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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Twelve Issue Three - December 2011

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index

 

Ancient Egyptian Tombs:
The Culture of Life and Death

by Steven Snape

 

Egypt’s rich archaeological heritage is inextricably linked to the funerary beliefs of the Pharaonic period, with some of the most spectacular, best preserved and most visited tombs in the world. These monuments were not merely burial sites, or places of remembrance, but part of an on-going interaction between the Living and the Dead. In this comprehensive survey aimed at the general reader, Dr. Steven Snape explores the evolution of the tomb and the interrelationships between funerary culture, social and economic development and daily life, from Predynastic pit burials, through to the end of the Graeco-Roman Period.

The tombs of Nefer, Qar, Ankhtify, the Two Brothers, Ineni, Rekhmira, Horemheb, Sennedjem and Petosiris are some of monuments featured as developments in tomb architecture are discussed together with the significance of the tomb as a House for the Ka, an indicator of status, a display of power and wealth, a means for providing for the Afterlife, and as “an eternal expression of the self ”. Illustrated with blackand- white photographs, plans and diagrams, the text explores the major burial sites including those at Tarkhan, Saqqara, Abydos, Aswan, Beni Hasan, Amarna and Thebes, covering mastaba and pyramid evolution, funerary texts and scenes, threats to tomb security, provincial developments, the rise of Osiris, coffin development, and the socio-economic and political developments during later periods that led to a shift away from the concept of the tomb as a focus of public display.

Pulling together an extensive range of primary and secondary material including German, French and Spanish texts (and a substantial bibliography), this work is indispensable to students of Egyptology and anyone with an interest in ancient Egyptian history, but the unreasonably high price set by the publishers puts it well out of reach of most students and general readers. Hopefully a more realistically- priced paperback edition will be made available in the near future! SG

 

Wiley-Blackwell, 2011

ISBN 978 1 4051 2089 0

Hardback, £70.00

 

Egypt: Visual Encyclopedia of Art

 

This volume is part of a series covering art from different styles, periods and cultures, including Greek and Roman art, Baroque, Islamic and twentieth Century art. Written in English, German, French and Dutch, the volume on Egypt is divided into different periods from the Prehistoric to Ptolemaic eras, with a very brief glossary, more detailed chronology and illustrated timelines such as major discoveries, and developments in jewellery.

There is a very brief introduction to each era followed by photographs of objects, tombs and paintings, which are large enough for fine details to be visible.

Highlights include the Nefertiti bust, including a close-up showing the facial details (and chips in the coloured plaster!), the banquet scene from the tomb of Ramose (Tombs of the Nobles, West Bank, Luxor), painted Nile floor scenes from Amarna, closeup details of the Narmer palette, scenes from various temples and tombs, the realistic colour statues of Rahotep and Nofret and four beautiful Roman Period painted portraits. This book is a good introduction to Egyptian art by itself or as part of a full collection on world art.

 

Scala, Florence/Endeavour London Ltd, 2009

ISBN 978 8 8811 7802 5

Paperback, £12.95

 

SG

 

Ramesside Studies in Honour of K. A. Kitchen

edited by M. Collier and S. Snape

 

The list of contributors to this impressive five hundred and seventy-one page volume in itself shows the enormous regard in which Ken Kitchen is held, not just by his colleagues and (ex-)students at the University of Liverpool, in which institution he has spent all of his academic career from student to Emeritus Professor, but by eminent Egyptologists from around the world.

Many, if not most, of the names will be familiar – David O’Connor, Neal Spencer, Ian Shaw, Mark Collier, Penelope Wilson, Aidan Dodson, Kasia Szpakowska, Donald Redford, Thomas Schneider, Manfred Bietak, Christian Lelanc and Jac. Janssen, to name but a few.

The articles contain in their introductions a wealth of personal tributes to “Ken”, many of which refer to him as a “true friend”.

The collection of articles is intended to give an overview of current studies in Egyptology of the Ramesside period, and covers topics as diverse as language, archaeology, and the culture of the period.

Not all the forty-six articles are in English (three are in French and four in German) but among the articles that caught my attention and interest were: The Topography of New Kingdom Avaris and Per-Ramesses by Manfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Müller, Fade to Grey: the Chancellor Bay by Aidan Dodson, Children and Literature in Pharaonic Egypt by Christopher Eyre, The Gate of the Ramesside Fort at Tell el-Borg, North Sinai by James Hoffmeier, Rhodes before the Saite Kings by Panagiotis Kousoulis, Satire or Parody … in Turin Papyrus 55001 by David O’Connor, Seeking the Ramesside Royal Harem by Ian Shaw, Khaemwese and the Present Past by Steven Snape, Chariots, Cobras and Canaanites from Tell Abqa’in by Susanna Thomas, Ramesses Was Here ... And Others Too! by Alan Millard.

This weighty volume (2.4 kg on my kitchen scales!) is well printed with black-and-white illustrations and will satisfy the most academic of readers with its wealth of footnotes. Some of its articles will be incomprehensible to all but experts in hieroglyphs like Professor Kitchen himself, but there is something here that will interest almost any student of Egyptology, including the amateur.

Sadly, as with Steven Snape’s book reviewed above, the high cost of the volume will necessarily limit its sales in the most part to libraries and academic institutions, but it deserves to be on your Christmas list if you have a generous spouse or wealthy relative. I am looking forward to dipping into it as an antidote to Christmas TV!

 

Rutherford Press Ltd, 2011

ISBN 978 0 9547622 6 1

Hardback, £90

 

JPP

Alexandria:
A Cultural and Religious Melting Pot

edited by George Hinge and Jens A. Krasilnikoff

 

Ancient Alexandria represented a meeting place for many ethnic cultures, but a wide range of local developments within the city itself also led to the evolution of a distinct Alexandrine ‘culture’.

Eight papers have been published here by the Centre for the Study of Mediterranean Antiquity at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, highlighting recent research into the cultural history, language and religion of the ancient city. Part One of the volume deals with the relationship between Ptolemaic Alexandria and its Greek past, set against its Egyptian heritage.

The development of the city is described as a uniquely Ptolemaic creation but based on the traditions of the classical Greek polis (the ancient city state); there is also an exploration of the unique tombs of Ptolemaic Alexandria, which emerged from an amalgamation of Egyptian and Classical Greek-inspired architectural styles and the inclusion of the theatrical element of ritual drama.

The second part of the book is devoted to the interrelationships between Rome, Judaism and Christianity played out within the cultural melting pot of the city, and includes the significant political role played by the Jewish author Philo during a period (38-41 AD) when the Jews in Alexandria were subjected to violent persecution by the Roman authorities and Hellenistic communities.

The attitude of the early Christians towards pagan sculpture is explored in the final paper, looking at the extent to which Christians were responsible for the deliberate destruction of pagan statues, and concluding that although the city witnessed several outbreaks of religious violence directed against pagan minorities, there was no systematic or widespread destruction of sculpture, but rather that the attacks were limited to certain contexts and situations.

With detailed references and black-and-white photographs and illustrations throughout, the papers are highly specialist, aimed principally at the academic community, reflecting the multidisciplinary work of the centre and the growing interest in ancient Alexandria as a field of academic research.

 

Aarhus University Press, 2009

ISBN 978 87 7934 491 4

Hardback, £28.95

 

SG

 

Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt

by Febe Armanios

 

Egypt’s Coptic Christians are one of the world’s oldest Christian communities and the largest non-Muslim minority in the Middle East, yet there has been comparatively little academic study of this important group. This work by Febe Armanios, Assistant Professor of History at Middlebury College (Vermont), is the first to explore Coptic religion and traditions during Ottoman rule in Egypt (1517- 1798), set against interactions between the Muslim majority and Christian and other religious minorities. Based on research from manuscripts in the Coptic archives, and fully referenced with an extensive bibliography, the author avoids the more usual approach of studying minorities from the perspective of the more dominant culture, and instead focuses on the religious rituals, writings and practices such as pilgrimages and festivals that helped the Coptic community create their own specific identity.

New documentary sources highlight the importance of saint and martyr cults. The martyr Dimyana is particularly important in Coptic tradition and evidence for her life story is discussed (she was killed for speaking out for her faith within a society where female expression was mostly suppressed). But the impact of Dimyana on Coptic identity goes further; in the face of censorship from the orthodox Muslim clergy in Cairo, Coptic leaders continued celebrating a major Dimyana cult festival by moving it to the Delta region and negotiating safe passage for pilgrims with Bedouins and the Ottoman military. This flexibility and willingness to avoid hostilities was crucial to the long term survival of the Coptic Christian community. Armanios makes clear that Coptic beliefs were shaped by their encounters with their Muslim and Christian neighbours and the ongoing pressure (from both Muslims and Catholic missionaries) to convert or assimilate forced Coptic religious leaders to consolidate the basic tenets of their faith, using sermons to defend against outside influence. And today, the Copts are still turning to the church and martyrdom tales; film versions of the martyr stories are now incredibly popular,with Coptic actors bringing to life the heroes of the past, creating real personalities with which modern Coptic believers can identify.

 

Oxford University Press, 2011

ISBN 978 0 19 974484 8

Hardback, £45

 

SG

 

CLASSIC REVIEW

 

The Birds of Ancient Egypt

by Patrick F. Houlihan in collaboration with Steven M. Goodman

 

Patrick Houlihan’s The Birds of Ancient Egypt has been my daily reading since I obtained my first copy in 2004 – I am now on my third, the previous two having disintegrated through over-use.

Patrick has written several other scholarly and popular publications on topics relating to Egypt including The Animal World of the Pharaohs (1996). His collaborator on this book, and the author of its Appendix 11: “A Preliminary Checklist to the Birds of Egypt (excluding the Sinai)”, was his fellow American and professional ornithologist, Steven Goodman, who went on to co-edit The Birds of Egypt (1989).

The Birds of Ancient Egypt is a seminal work as it was the first to bring together new research and previous findings on numerous aspects of the avian world of Ancient Egypt from Predynastic through to Ptolemaic times in one publication of value to Egyptologists, ornithologists and tourists alike. It has remained the major standard work on this subject now for around twenty-five years. It includes, in some seventy-three well-illustrated sections (but sadly only in black-andwhite): the catalogue of identified birds (and bats); an important appendix on “The Mummified Birds” including a few additional species identified from bone remains in tombs and funerary meals; Steven Goodman’s appendix on modern birds; detailed references and notes; a chronological table; and one index each on the English and scientific names of the included birds. It is, however, the gems of information on such other aspects as ancient wildlife art, religion and food sources that make this publication so fascinating and of daily interest.

The word ‘seminal’ also implies a starting point to stimulate further research and this book also does that. Both Egyptology and ornithology have moved on in the last twenty-five years. The few possible ornithological inaccuracies, such as the Bean Goose from the Geese of Meidum or the Helmeted Guineafowl on the Battlefield Palette, can be re-examined. A greater emphasis can be given to species like the Secretary Bird or Black Crowned Crane, which might have occurred in Egypt up to 3000 BC during and after the last pluvial period, when the climate and habitats were very different from now. More space can be provided to explain how certain correct but possibly controversial identifications, such as the Spoonbill rather than Shoebilled Stork in the Mastaba of Ti, were reached. But, perhaps more importantly, further research can be devoted to discovering whether Africa, rather than Europe and the Middle East, had any greater influence on the avifauna of Ancient Egypt than currently accepted, with many more internal migrants, especially birds of flood plains, getting that far north in the past.

Whatever the future may reveal, this Houlihan book will remain beside me always. It has been truly inspirational.

 

Aris and Phillips Ltd, 1986 and American University in Cairo Press, 1988.

ISBN 977 424 185 1.

 

JOHN WYATT

 

John is a professional ornithologist with fifty years’ experience studying the birds of Africa. His new book Birds in Ancient Egypt: An Identification Guide, cowritten with wildlife artist Jackie Garner, will be published in 2012/13.

For information about books, tours and courses, email John at: ancientegyptbirds @ gmail.com

 

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