Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 115 (Vol 20.1) August / September 2019
A Companion to GrecoRoman and Late Antique Egypt
edited by Katelijn Vandorpe
Hardback, £159; e-Book £144.
This is a comprehensive overview of aspects of Egyptian civilisation in the last centuries BC and first millennium AD, taking into account the unprecedented admixture of Eastern Mediterranean cultures. It provides insights categorised under themes including: systems of governing Egypt, economic strength, multicultural identities, and creative endeavours.
There is a useful epilogue on the impact of Egypt’s specificity on Greek and Roman historiography, and looking to future approaches to the source material. Throughout, a good level of attention is paid to demographics and to considering Egypt as part of the wider world; how typical a Roman ‘province’ Egypt was remains a moot point.
Inevitably in a volume of this nature there are some disagreements between chapters. One notable point of dissonance regards whether or not the use of Graeco-Roman style mummy panel portraits indicates Greek or Roman ethnicity. It seems clear to the reviewer that they do not, and it is surprising to find throw-away statements claiming otherwise.
One of the stand-out features of the book is a pleasing focus on life – especially using the exceptionally well-preserved papyrus documentation.
Although funerary material is addressed, this is relatively minor compared to coverage of the living population and I find this approach refreshing. There is also important consideration paid to the continuities between pagan and Christian Egypt; too often this transition is seen as one of many artificial barriers in the historiography of Egypt.
Another advantage of a collection of studies such as this is the shared bibliography, providing a very useful overview of work carried out in this area, admirably including digital resources. With broader, and inevitably more thinly spread, coverage compared to Christina Riggs’ more dense and focussed Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt (2012), this volume is a valuable addition to the study of this period. However, typically for such Blackwell Companions, the price is ludicrous.
Egypt of the Saite Pharaohs: 664-525 BC
by Roger Forshaw
Manchester University Press, 2019
Hardback, £80; e-book £24.
The Twenty-sixth Dynasty is a sadly neglected period of Pharaonic history, and yet represents a resurgence in Egyptian power and imperial ambition. Roger Forshaw sets out to rehabilitate the Saite rulers with a highly readable account of how Psamtek I and his heirs reunified a country after four hundred years of political division, restoring Egypt’s wealth and international prestige.
The scene is set with a succinct twochapter account of Egypt’s decline from the end of the Ramesside Period, with the loss of its once great empire and erosion of the god-king’s power in the face of the rise of the High Priests of Amun at Thebes, rival provincial rulers, and the increasing dominance of the Libyans, whose migration into Egypt became unstoppable. There follows an account of the Kushite and Assyrian invasions – including the infamous sacking of Thebes in 663 BC. It is a confusing period, but Forshaw succeeds in presenting a clear outline of events, while acknowledging the sparsity of sources and scholarly disputes.
The main focus of the book, however, is on the ‘new beginning’ for Egypt under Psamtek I, who came to power in 664 BC. Within a decade he had taken control of the entire country by largely peaceful means, establishing Sais as the capital of a newly invigorated Egypt. Some familiar names from this story include his daughter Nitiqret, God’s Wife of Amun for over sixty years, and influential Theban officials such as Montuemhat and Pabasa (whose tomb is famous for its bee-keeping scenes).
We follow the rule of his son Nekau II, mentioned in the Old Testament for the killing of Josiah of Judah, who was defeated by the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar at the Battle of Carchemish. In 572 BC Egypt faced another crisis when the army general Ahmose II (Amasis) was declared king over the ‘rightful’ king Haaibra (A pries). Ahmose was able to benefit from the decline in Babylonian power, but the Dynasty finally met its end after the defeat of Psamtek III by the Persian king Cambyses II.
The volume is packed with detailed notes and references; the interaction between Egypt and the great Near Eastern civilisations of Assyria, Babylonia and Persia allows the author to call on a wider range of source material (including Herodotus and the Bible’s Old Testament) than is possible for earlier pharaonic periods.
There are plenty of illustrations, although a map of the Delta and extended chronology at the beginning of the book would have helped in the introductory chapters. As with the previous review, I would beg the publisher to reconsider the ridiculous price tag – this is a must-read volume for anyone interested in the later pharaonic period.
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