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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 114 (Vol 19.6) June/July 2019

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Akhenaten: A Historian’s View

by Ronald T. Ridley

The American University Press in Cairo, 2019

ISBN 978-977-416-793-5

Hardback, £49.95.

So much has been written about the Amarna Period – and Akhenaten in particular – that one wonders just how much more the market can sustain.

However, for those a trifle wearied by an often contradictory ocean of words, this new book from the American University in Cairo will come as a refreshing change.

Professor Ronald Ridley of Melbourne University, better known for studies of the Roman Empire, tackles his topic with all the discipline and reservations of the true historian, depending completely upon facts and actual evidence to compile an account of the extraordinary events centred on Akhenaten’s reign and its aftermath.

In common with other aspects of Egyptology the author stresses that when all is weighed up, actually we know almost nothing of the ancient Egyptians other than what is revealed by archaeology, or recorded on temples, statues and papyri (all of which should be tempered with caution).

The book surveys the Amarnan episode chronologically, with chapters on the initial Theban years, the founding of Akhet-Aten, the Aten Cult, the decay of the ‘Empire’, the knotty problems of co-regencies and of Smenkhara and Neferneferuaten and, naturally, discussion on the royal tomb at Amarna and tomb KV 55.

One pleasing feature is that the author has gone to some pains to place the liberal number of illustrations (there are 121 monochrome figures) on to the pages where they are discussed.

Basically, this book should be subtitled ‘Everything you want to know about Amarna research and the various theories regarding it’. A huge number of studies has been consulted, compared and assessed – including some flights of fancy hardly worthy of professional Egyptologists – all subjected rigorously to empirical examination and everywhere returned to the evidence for confirmation. One delight of the book therefore lies in the writer’s ability to present the reader with the current facts and leave conclusions hanging, principally because there is just not enough surviving information to do otherwise.

For further research, the text is liberally seeded with an enormous number of references (I make it 1,188 footnotes, itemized at the rear of the book) and an excellent bibliography.

This book appears to be the first in a new series from AUC under the editorship of Aidan Dodson and Salima Ikram, themselves no strangers to the debate, and has set an enviable standard for others to follow. This is historiography at its best.

Alan L. Jeffreys

Photographing Tutankhamun: Archaeology, Ancient Egypt and the Archive

by Christina Riggs


Bloomsbury, 2019

ISBN 978-1-3500-3852-3

Hardback, £19.99.

When it comes to the history of the tomb of Tutankhamun, it’s disheartening when certain scholars sneer at the subject as being too mainstream for ‘serious’ Egyptology. Tutankhamun is why I became interested in ancient Egypt as a young child, and ever since then I have held the ‘boy-king’ and Howard Carter in equally high regard (a commonly held opinion that Riggs describes as ‘imperial positivism’).

Where would I be now if I had not picked up that – now very tattered – Tomb of Tutankhamun children’s book when I was seven years old? In this important volume, Riggs explores the history of the documentation of the excavation of the tomb, focussing on a detailed study of the photographic archive of the excavation produced by Harry Burton now held between the Griffith Institute, Oxford, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The unique feature of this monograph is that the reader is directed to reconsider what is, in fact, inappropriate and colonial ‘hero-worship’ of Carter and his ‘team’ of Western scholars. I spent the first few pages of this book feeling uncomfortably challenged, but that is the point. By the time I had finished, my view of the Tutankhamun story was much more considered.

You may think you have a good knowledge of these images and their creation, but I can assure you that after reading this volume you will see them in a different light. For example, Riggs explores the famous image of a twisted scarf with eight gold rings hidden inside, found in the Antechamber of the tomb, captioned as “plunderer’s loot”. Riggs argues that the photograph may have been staged by Burton to support the argument that the royal tomb had been looted and was therefore not intact. This would, therefore, have voided the contemporary law that prohibited the division of finds from intact royal tombs with the sponsor(s) of the excavation, in this case Lord Carnarvon. This is only one example presented in this fascinating volume that will make you think twice about what you are really seeing in these photographs.

Throughout the book Riggs also effectively highlights the vital roles of the Egyptian workforces and dignitaries associated with the find, which are so often obscured behind the more well-known (but no more important) achievements of the Western individuals involved in the process. It is clear that while we are fortunate to be able to access this unique excavation archive, we should explore the motivations behind the creation of these photographs with caution. As Riggs states, ‘Photography was the pivot on which archaeological discovery turned, the point between seeing and not-seeing, knowing and not-knowing’.

Seven well-illustrated chapters explore the life and afterlives of Tutankhamun and the excavation of his tomb: each chapter is referenced throughout with primary sources and readers will find a comprehensive bibliography of secondary literature at the end. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in furthering their understanding of this worldfamous discovery.

Anna Garnett

Hellenistic Alexandria: Celebrating 24 Centuries

edited by Christos S. Zerefos & Marianna V. Vardinoyannis.


Archaeopress, 2018

ISBN 978-1-789-69066-8

Hardback, £68.

Open Access free download at   www.archaeopress.com

This volume presents 28 papers from the December 2017 conference held at the Acropolis Museum in Athens to celebrate the 2400 years since the founding of Alexandria, the cultural and scientific capital of the world.

Seven opening addresses highlight the ancient city’s “massive legacy” since the founding of the ancient library by Ptolemy I “to collect all the knowledge of the world under one roof ”.

Generations of scholars and scientists flocked to the city, the birthplace of some of man’s greatest advances in knowledge and culture.

Articles exploring the “brilliantlyoriginal ideas” that emerged during the Hellenistic age are grouped into two main sections, with the first part covering archaeology, history, philosophy, literature, art, culture and legal issues, while science, medicine, technology and the environment form the second part.

In the first paper, Jean-Yves Empereur discusses recent archaeological discoveries that have rewritten our understanding of the founding of Alexandria. Pottery evidence shows that the people of the new capital did not arrive from mainland Greece – they were already in Egypt. Greek settlements had been present in the area since the Archaic Period (as far back as 800 BC). Modern research shows that the supposedly corrupt satrap Cleomenes was in fact an able administrator who successfully carried out Alexander the Great’s orders to build a new capital and persuade the inhabitants of nearby Canopus to move there. The city was already structurally well advanced and active within the Aegean economy by the time Ptolemy seized control in Egypt and executed his predecessor.

Emad Khalil explores the Ptolemaic navy which at its height, under Ptolemy II, was one of the largest fleets known in antiquity, with more than 4000 ships stationed at strategic ports around the Mediterranean. An interesting artistic reconstruction depicts a Ptolemaic covered ‘shipshed’ where warships such as triremes were stored and maintained. Other papers in this section explore twenty years of underwater archaeology, Hellenistic funerary paintings, a reconsideration of 85 key Ptolemaic inscriptions from Alexandria, and a summary of Italian excavation work in Alexandria which is published in more detail in another Archaeopress volume, Unearthing Alexandria’s Archaeology, reviewed in AE111.

The second section begins with a summary by T.P. Tassios of the main technological achievements of Hellenistic Alexandria, including land reclamation projects, shipbuilding, military weapons such as the multistoried armoured mobile siege tower, two-stroke pumps, the famous lighthouse (which most likely included a mechanical lifting device to lift huge quantities of fuel to the top) and automata (such as a 4 metre statue that could stand, pour a libation and sit down again). Other papers in this section include Hellenistic medicine and its influence, mathematician Archimedes and his influence on his Renaissance admirer Kepler, and the antikythera mechanism – the world’s oldest known planetarium.

Packed with the latest findings, well illustrated and supported by detailed bibliographies, this volume opens our eyes to the fascinating Hellenistic period of Egypt, bringing home how much of our modern life began within the walls of ancient Alexandria.


The most prominent Dutchman in Egypt: Jan Herman Insinger and the Egyptian collection in Leiden

by Maarten J. Raven

Sidestone Press, 2018

ISBN 978-9-0889-0551-3

Hardback, £90; Paperback, £30.

Free to read online at www.sidestone.com

This slim volume, by former curator of Egyptian antiquities at the Rijksmuseum in Leiden, covers the career of a wealthy Dutch collector, Jan Herman Insinger (1854-1818), perhaps best known for giving his name to the Insinger Papyrus, an important collection of Demotic wisdom texts now in Leiden. Obliged to spend time in the warm dry climate of Egypt due to poor health, Insinger took a serious interest in archaeology and was an early pioneer of the use of photography. He travelled extensively in Egypt and Sudan, often on his dahabiya (The Mermaid), and established a palatial mansion at Luxor. Unlike other collectors, he became actively involved in excavation in Egypt and was even on hand at the unwrapping of some of the royal mummies in Cairo in the 1880s.

Raven corrects previous misinterpretations, showing that Insinger was neither a significant dealer in antiquities (he gave most of the material he acquired to the Rijksmuseum in Leiden for cost price) nor a consular agent in Egypt itself. Most of these revised conclusions about Insinger’s life are based on archival correspondence held in Leiden, and a very useful series of transcribed and translated letters form an appendix.

As well as illuminating the role of a little-known figure in the history of Egyptology, this concise book is another important collection of evidence in the increasing bibliography about the logistics of collecting ‘ancient Egypt’ and as such will be of use to Egyptologists and museologists alike.

Campbell Price

From Siena to Nubia:
Alessandro Ricci in Egypt and Sudan, 1817–22

translated and edited by Daniele Salvoldi


American University in Cairo Press, 2018

ISBN 978–977–416–854-3

Hardback, £50.

Alessandro Ricci (1792-1834) was an Italian physician and a talented artist and draftsman with a strong interest in archaeology, antiquities and epigraphy.

It is thought that upon his arrival in Egypt in 1817, Ricci became the family doctor of the British Consul Henry Salt. During his time in Egypt, Ricci travelled widely for others involved in early nineteenth century Egyptology. In the spring of 1818, Ricci made the epigraphic copy of the tomb of Sety I for Giovanni Belzoni.

Later in 1818, Ricci joined the service of Henry Salt and accompanied a group of explorers assembled by William John Bankes. He made drawings and notes while en-route to and at Nubia, Siwa, and Sinai. When he returned to Italy in 1822, Ricci wrote an account of his travels to be illustrated by ninety plates, but it was never published.

The manuscript of the Travels of Dr. Alessandro Ricci of Siena was lost and found several times after Champollion received it in 1827. In 2009, Daniele Salvoldi recognised a complete typewritten copy of Ricci’s Travels in the National Archives of Egypt, with pencil notes by Angelo Sammarco, who worked with Ricci’s manuscript after it was re-discovered in 1928. The original manuscript has disappeared from the Archives, so the typescript is the basis for this translation in English.

Salvoldi’s introductory chapters provide a framework for understanding the life and travels of Alessandro Ricci. His associations with Champollion and Rosellini in Europe and the Franco-Tuscan Expedition to Egypt (1828-29) are included, and discrepancies, contradictions and “troublesome aspects” in Ricci’s life and travels are discussed. Ricci’s manuscript provides information about the regions he visited in the exploration and documentation of their ancient remains, including geography, history, ethnology, local customs, natural history and geology. He presents detailed information about the sites and monuments, including contemporary knowledge about Egyptology, his observations about their state of preservation, survival of colour, and execution of the hieroglyphs.

Aimed primarily at an academic audience, From Siena to Nubia is highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of Egyptology and exploration.

It has an extensive bibliography, with notes to the introductory chapters and to Ricci’s Travels. The book includes ten maps and ninety magnificent drawings by Ricci that were meant to illustrate his account, many of which are in colour. A detailed list of plates, notes about their sources and the importance of Ricci’s drawings bring this fascinating and authoritative work to a very satisfying conclusion.

Cathie Bryan

Scattered Finds: Archaeology, Egyptology and Museums

by Alice Stevenson

UCL Press, 2019

ISBN 978-1-7873-5142-4

Hardback, £40; Paperback, £23.

Open Access free download at www.ucl.ac.uk

When visiting Egyptology collections, we may think we know much of what there is to know about the development of collections during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this accessible volume, written as part of the AHRC-funded Artefacts of Excavation project, Stevenson proves that this is certainly not the case, as she explores the politics, characters and social histories that linked fieldwork in Egypt with organisations around the globe who received finds from these excavations, and the legacy of this practice.

Stevenson initially introduces the concept of the ‘object habit’: “a shorthand for referring to an area’s or a community’s attitude to things, affecting what was collected, where and why”. This idea underpins the case studies presented throughout the book, which address collections’ histories from the British Museum and Liverpool to as far as Japan, Ghana and Australia.

The volume is presented chronologically: chapters explore key time periods in the history of archaeological excavation and export of objects from Egypt. The first chapter begins in 1880, when Muhammed Tawfik (Khedive of Egypt) decreed that all monuments and objects of antiquity in Egypt were the property of the state; the last chapter addresses the period from Egypt’s signing of the UNESCO convention in 1973 onwards. Chapter Four, on the subject of “collecting in the shadow of Tutankhamun” (1922-1939) is particularly interesting: this pivotal archaeological discovery directly influenced the subsequent development of legislation for the Protection of Antiquities in 1951 which stated that “no antiquity could leave Egypt unless Egypt owned one or more objects similar to that being exported”. To assist the reader in navigating the complexities of the different legal frameworks relating to the excavation and export of Egyptian antiquities, Stevenson has provided a useful list as an appendix to this volume.

Each chapter is beautifully illustrated with colour and greyscale images, and has further bibliographic notes and references provided. A comprehensive bibliography will be the reader’s next step to continue their studies of this fascinating subject. This volume successfully proves that there is still so much to be learned from an indepth study of ‘scattered finds’ from Egypt, for readers of scholarly and popular literature alike.

Anna Garnett

Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History

by Trevor Bryce


Oxford University Press, 2014; This edition 2019

ISBN 978-0-19-882890-7

Paperback, £14.99.

Here is a sweeping history of ancient Syria, an area ranging from southeastern Anatolia to Arabia and from western Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean coast, beginning in the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BC) and ending with the fall of Palmyra and Roman Emperor Aurelian’s triumphal parade through Rome in AD 274 with Queen Zenobia in chains behind him.

Why would such a history be of interest to Egyptologists? Firstly because it allows us see ancient Egypt from the view point of one of the country’s nearest neighbours, through the eyes of a professor of Classics, rather than an Egyptology specialist, giving us fresh perspectives on Egypt and its international relations.

Throughout this period, the histories of the two countries continually collide and we find many familiar names along the way: Thutmose I and III, Amenhotep II and Thutmose IV all campaigned in Syria, snatching territory and building the world’s first great empire; the Amarna Letters reflect the diplomatic relations between Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten, who faced problems dealing with the treacherous Amurrite warlord Aziru; Sety I battled the Hittite king Muwattalli II for control of Kadesh and failed – as did his son Ramesses II, resulting in a peace treaty and marriage alliance between Ramesses and Hattusili III; both Egypt and Syria faced collapse with the onslaught of the ‘sea peoples’ – mass movements that caused domestic problems for Merenptah and Ramesses III and led to the collapse of the Late Bronze Age; Sheshonq I (possibly Shishak mentioned in the Bible) stormed into Palestine, conquering some 100 cities in Israel, Judah and southern Palestine, returning to Egypt with the treasures of the temple at Jerusalem; and Necho II faced defeat by the Babylonian crown prince Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish.

The conquest of the Persians by Alexander the Great in 330 BC brought Egypt and Syria even closer, as Alexander’s successors, the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucid kings of Syria, carved out their own kingdoms, forming a tangled web of marriage alliances between, and fighting a devastating series of wars that eventually weakened both empires, allowing the Roman military machine to roll in and take over.

The second reason for reading this absorbing book? Ancient Syria itself is such a fascinating civilisation. One of the most ancient inhabited regions on earth, this is the birthplace of the Neolithic revolution, one of the cradles of civilisation. Here is where the sophisticated Sumerian civilisation prospered from the invention of writing.

This is the region where many of the world’s greatest empires – Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hittite, Mitanni, Persian, Egyptian, Seleucid, Roman – and great kingdoms – Israel, Judah, Palymra – rose, clashed and fell. This is essential bedtime reading for anyone wanting to know more about the history of one of the ancient world’s most significant civilisations.



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