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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 111 (Vol 19.3) December 2018/January 2019

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Daemons & Spirits in Ancient Egypt

by Carolyn Graves-Brown

There are so many books covering Egyptian mythology, do we really need another? In this case the answer is definitely yes. Graves-Brown here presents “the weird and wonderful lesser-known spirit entities”, those otherworldly creatures that she defines as liminal, possessing extraordinary power, but of lesser status than the great gods – entities such as the dwarf god Bes, the evil snake Apep, the devourer Ammit, and the mwtw (spirits of the dead that have not undergone transformation). Although most of these deities did not have a cult centre, they nevertheless played an important role in the daily life and afterlife of the ancient Egyptians.


The author begins with a chapter discussing terminology and the difficulties in trying to understand the way that the ancients classified their world.


The word ‘daemon’ or ‘demon’ has no Egyptian equivalent and there are connotations of malevolence in its modern day usage. She discusses the ancient Egyptian concept of the Otherworld or Duat, the transformation (or rebirth) required to get there (which took place via rituals within a hidden space such as within the body of the goddess Nut, or in the coffin), and the boundaries between the two worlds.


The categorisation of gods and daemons is complicated; the ancient Egyptians believed in the transformation of entities from one manifestation to another (such as Sekhmet becoming Hathor) and the combining of gods into one entity (such as with PtahSokar-Osiris). Statues, animal and human mummies – even the king himself – could exhibit some, but not all, of the qualities of a daemon.


Graves-Brown classifies such entities as ‘quasi-daemons’, but again categorisation is complicated. One approach is to consider the true god or daemon as the source of power, while the statue or mummy hosting this god (or the king representing the god on earth) represents only a manifestation of the god, whose divinity is temporary and induced through ritual. There is also a blurring in the concepts of birth and manufacture; the sculptor is not only a craftsman, he is also “he who brings to life”.


Graves-Brown offers a fascinating exploration of the lesser (and lesserknown) ancient Egyptian deities from the Old Kingdom through to the Roman Period, illustrating her tour with highlights from the collection of the Egypt Centre at Swansea University. The volume is aimed at academics and the wider public alike, with extensive notes and bibliography to encourage further study. Sadly the paper quality of the book is poor; the extremely thin pages quickly become curled and fluted, and text on one side shows through slightly to the other side. I can only hope the publisher redresses this issue before the next print run – the book deserves to become a well-thumbed reference work for anyone with an interest in ancient Egyptian mythology.


University of Wales Press, 2018

ISBN 978-1-78683-288-7

Paperback, £37.99.



Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt

by Chris Naunton


This wide-ranging volume is an eminently readable and fascinating investigation into the whereabouts of tombs belonging to notable individuals who might be expected to have received a memorable burial but whose tombs are unknown. Naunton’s survey of some familiar and some less well-known material is divided into seven chronological sections, each taking as its focus the existing evidence for the possible whereabouts of an important burial.


The first lost tomb Chris Naunton investigates is that of Imhotep, architect of the Saqqara Step Pyramid, providing the opportunity to discuss the development of pyramid-building before looking in detail at the work of successive scholars. Bryan Emery revealed vast amounts about the secrets of this ritual landscape but sadly died before he could discover Imhotep’s tomb. Naunton believes that the more recent Saqqara Geophysical Survey Project, led by the late Ian Mathieson, may well have identified possible candidates which need to be excavated in order to substantiate this theory.


Amenhotep I died just before or at the time that the Valley of the Kings was chosen as the new royal necropolis. This suggests that his tomb would be at the head of the Valley, but its site is unknown. The discussion of possibilities and of related work in search of the tomb gives the author the opportunity to explore the development of royal burial practices, which leads him to summarise the possible locations of this tomb but without being able to come to a conclusion.


The chapter on the missing Amarna tombs contains familiar material since this period has been exhaustively discussed. This section of the book covers in detail the debate about each of the Amarna royal tombs and the subsequent history of the family, exploring such controversial questions as what happened to Nefertiti, who was Smenkhare and what is the importance of KV55? The Amarna section ends with a discussion of the tomb of Tutankhamun and the questions raised recently by Nicholas Reeves.


Further chapters cover the lost tombs of Herihor, Chief Priest of Amun during the reign of Ramesses XI (John Romer is quoted as saying his tomb would make Tutankhamun’s tomb “look like Woolworth’s”) and the missing Tanis kings, with the final two chapters devoted to the tombs of two of the most famous individuals in history: Alexander the Great and Cleopatra VII.


Overall, Chris Naunton includes an impressive amount of material and clearly presented arguments. As he himself says: “There surely is more digging to do, and more to find”.


Thames and Hudson, 2018

ISBN 978-0-5000-5199-3

Hardback, £19.95.

Hilary Forrest


On Ancient Warfare: Perspectives on Aspects of War in Antiquity, 4000 BC to AD 637

by Richard A. Gabriel.

The author of this work, a retired US army officer, is an acknowledged expert in military history, but not an Egyptologist, and as such his references to ancient Egypt have to be treated with care. I noted that he refers to ‘Namer’ rather than Narmer ... a ‘typo’, perhaps, but one that does not inspire confidence in the accuracy of some of his later comments. The work is very wide-ranging, but does not aim to be comprehensive; Gabriel has selected topics that have attracted his interest from all ancient societies, so that its 300 pages contain only brief mentions of warfare and weaponry in ancient Egypt.


In chapters dealing with the size and structure of ancient armies, the life of a common soldier and weapons and armour, the author makes comparisons between ancient Egypt and other ancient armies, but his analysis of death, wounds infection, disease and injury concentrates almost exclusively on later wars where data is available. He makes brief mention of Egypt in his chapters on siege craft, the diet of soldiers and medical care.


In contrast, he devotes a full chapter to Thutmose III, the “greatest of all generals in Egyptian history” including the Battle of Megiddo which he calls the “first battle in military history”. He is of the opinion that Thutmose “transformed Egypt into a military state ... and set events in motion that shaped Egypt and the Levant for the next 500 years.” ‘Egyptian Shipbuilding and the Invention of Amphibious Warfare’ also warrants a chapter, but in relating the unique way in which Egyptian ships were built he omits any mention of Khufu’s solar boat, and fails to point out that its planks were held together with ropes, not just dowels.


Gabriel chooses to treat the Bible story of the Exodus as historical fact, interpreting it as a military victory by a nomadic group of people (the Israelites) who had settled temporarily in Egypt and become mercenary soldiers. He deals with the story of the parting of the waters of the Red Sea in the way that David Rohl has also proposed – that the Red Sea was actually the Reed Sea, a marshy tidal area that could be crossed when the tide was out, but became flooded when the tide was in, the Egyptians’ chariot wheels becoming stuck in the mud and their occupants drowned in the rapidly incoming water.


The remaining half of the book deals with topics unrelated to ancient Egypt. There is no bibliography; Gabriel has opted instead to include copious notes to each chapter within which he includes his references.


There are few illustrations, only some line drawings and a few maps.


Despite its limitations regarding the history of ancient Egypt, this is a very thoughtful analysis of the development of warfare in the ancient world.


Pen and Sword Military, 2018

ISBN 978 1 52671 8 457

Hardback £25.



Unearthing Alexandria’s Archaeology: The Italian Contribution

by Mohamed Kenawi and Giorgia Marchiori.

Much of what we know of the archaeology of Alexandria was revealed by Italian excavators, working on Hellenistic, Roman and Coptic remains across the ancient city. This latest volume from Archeopress records the history of Italian archaeology in Alexandria from the 1890s to the 1950s, based on the study of hundreds of rare photographs from the archives of two of the great Italian pioneer Egyptologists, Evaristo Breccia and Achille Adriani, and glass negatives from the collection of the Graeco-Roman Museum (founded by another great Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Botti, whose work influenced the work of Italians throughout Egypt). Many of these rare photographs are published here for the first time, together with summaries, drawings and plans from the original excavations at six sites including Hadra, the Serapeum and Kom al-Dikka.


There are full lists of the publications during this period, details of the work carried out at each site by Egyptologists from Italy and other nations (for instance including the work of Alan Rowe at Kom alChougafa – the Catacombs – during the 1940s) and also a catalogue of photographs of the Taposiris Magna remains in the early twentieth century (before restoration work), the 1926 excavations at Abu Qir, the Souk alWardian tomb in 1911 and the Mustapha Kamel necropolis before and after restoration in the 1930s.


Archaeopress, 2018

ISBN 978-178-491865-1

Paperback, £38.



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