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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- No. 126 (Vol 21.6) July/August 2021

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


The Oxford Handbook of Egyptology

edited by Ian Shaw and Elizabeth Bloxham.


Oxford University Press, 2021

ISBN 978-0-19-927187-0

Hardback, £165.

Does Egyptology have an identity crisis? This is the opening question posed by editors Elizabeth Bloxam and Ian Shaw in this 1200+ page volume originally commissioned in 2003 and only now making it to print. Egyptology as a discipline is stuck in the past, focussing on the traditional areas of art, kingship, religion and monuments, and needs to “seriously search for its identity and relevance within social sciences if it is to survive as an academic field in its own right”. So the aim of this handbook is to shake things up – question the questions we ask of the material culture, push for a more comparative and multidisciplinary approach, bring together the opposing textual and archaeological factions and take Egyptology in new research directions.

The volume contains 62 papers designed to “stimulate fresh debates”, by a wide range of authors including names familiar to AE readers: Aidan Dodson (Funerary Equipment), Wolfram Grajetzki (National Administration and the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period) and Campbell Price (Statuary and Museum Collections). The papers are divided into ten broad themes, including sections covering the natural environment, archaeological landscapes, material culture, Egypt and its neighbours, and textual and iconographical approaches to society and culture.

Elizabeth Bloxam promotes the study of “procurement landscapes” – the mines, quarries and associated infrastructures which tapped into Egypt’s rich mineral resources. While the traditional view is of large staterun enterprises using often unskilled labour, Bloxam argues these landscapes were centres of social interaction, where skilled mobile craftspeople could exchange technological expertise within local and regional settings.

Chapters focussing on Egypt’s crossborder relationships highlight the importance of understanding the complex relationships between different ethnic types and social identities in order to gain a better understanding of the nuances of social and political change. Excavations at border sites such as Aswan reveal that populations were more heterogeneous than previously thought, which should lead us to question our views of “Libyans”, “Asiatics” and “Nubians” in Egypt.

Robert Morkot discusses how trade between Egypt and its southern neighbours developed into complex political and cultural interactions, while Carolyn Routledge reviews the challenges of studying the relationships between Egypt and Western Asia – with vast amounts of evidence requiring specialist knowledge from other disciplines such as Assyriology, and expertise in Akkadian and Hebrew. In his paper “Studying Materials and Technology”, Paul Nicholson points to an overemphasis on textual evidence, while material culture is considered more as supporting evidence, studied in isolation by ‘scientists’. He calls for a holistic approach that combines the study of materials, technology and the use of material culture at all levels of research.

For Egyptology to move forward the almost elitist view of its “uniqueness” must be replaced with a more comparative and collaborative approach, placing Egyptian history within a broader range of ancient civilisations such as Mesopotamia, China and South America, and importing methodologies and approaches from other social science disciplines. But as the papers in this volume reflect, changes are already beginning to appear, with a more diverse base of scholarship bringing fresh eyes and new voices, opening up new avenues of research and helping to shape the way we will explore ancient Egyptian history in the future.



Current Research in Egyptology 2019: Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Symposium, University of Alcalá, 17-21 June 2019

edited by Marta Arranz Cárcamo et al.

Archaeopress, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7896-9907-4

Paperback, £45.

Open access free download at www.archaeopress.com

The Current Research in Egyptology (CRE) conference, held since 2000 in the UK and throughout Europe, hosts a wide range of speakers discussing diverse Egyptological subjects. CRE is targeted primarily towards promoting the work of promising early-career researchers and students in institutions across the world to an academic audience, and provides what is often their first opportunity for publication.

The proceedings of CRE 2019, held at the University of Alcalá in Madrid, Spain, presents a range of papers and posters from the twentieth meeting of this prestigious conference.

Fifteen papers in this volume address a series of Egyptological themes, including religion, foreign relations, language, archaeology, and architecture.

The editors also include a useful list of poster presentations, keynote lectures, and a full list of conference papers which also acts as a handy contact list should the reader wish to contact any of the speakers about their research.

One paper I found especially interesting was Linda Chapon’s paper investigating a possible reconstruction of the decorative programme of Thutmose III’s ‘Mansion of Millions of Years’ on the West Bank in Luxor.

Here, the author effectively presents a series of colour photographs and line drawing reconstructions of aspects of this important temple site, based on the results of ongoing fieldwork and her own Ph.D. research, which helps to bring the temple to life for the (armchair) reader. Other papers include Filippo Mi’s paper on the soul houses of the Riksmuseum van Oudheden (Leiden), a brief overview of evidence for medical relations between Egypt and Hatti by Marco De Pietri and Elena Urzì and John Rogers’ paper on the demon-deity Maga.

The volume is profusely illustrated with colour, greyscale, and black-andwhite line drawings, including copies of hieroglyphic texts, which serve to add further context to the subjects presented. Each author also presents a comprehensive bibliography which will be essential for those wishing to continue their study into these fascinating subjects.

Anna Garnett


The Army of Ptolemaic Egypt 323-204 BC: An Institutional and Operational HIstory

by Paul Johstono.


Pen and Sword Books, 2020

ISBN 978-1-4738-3383-8

Hardback, £25.

The Ptolemaic Period is by many regarded as some sort of bolt-on to the saga of dynastic Egypt: part of that country’s colourful history but not really native, therefore to be treated separately. Certainly, after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and the installation of a satrap, (Ptolemy I), Hellenistic influences colour our perceptions, encouraged by a rich harvest of papyrus texts covering everything from royal decrees down to laundry lists. However, the death of Alexander marked the beginning of hundreds of years of internecine warfare between rival ‘kingdoms’ and Egypt played as central a role in these conflicts as anyone else.

Paul Johnstono’s book is an extremely thorough, painstaking investigation of military organisation and operational effectiveness through the reigns of Ptolemy I to IV, all of whom engaged to a greater or lesser extent in conflict, especially in Syria and Asia Minor. Indeed, fighting and conquest ranged through Cyprus and the Greek mainland as well as down the Euphrates to Babylon and beyond, involving large sea battles, sieges, and deployment of the famed phalanx – the signal Greek fighting formation.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is little investigation of actual weapon and armour manufacture or use in battle.

When reading through the text, it will be very helpful to have a good working knowledge of the geography of the Near East at the time in question, since narratives continually refer to acquisition and loss of the prime sites as the tides of war rolled back and forth. Johnstono’s research is heavily based on the combined interpretation of contemporary documents, fragmentary papyri and Hellenistic writers, analysing the sometimes scant information to form a balanced account of how Egyptbased armies were organised, staffed and used, not only for foreign conquests, but also to ensure control of the Nile Valley.

A large part of the book is taken up with studies of land grants to native Greek settlers and mercenary elements of the Ptolemaic armies, particularly in the Fayum where most of these people were settled. Analysis of surviving texts throws light on the ‘pecking order’ of allocation according to race, rank and military achievement which, in the early days of the Ptolemies, must have put native Egyptian noses out of joint, although by the time of Ptolemy IV it seems native Egyptians were being trained and used, so qualifying for settlement too.

Some sections of the book are admittedly heavy-going. Constant reference to papyri, filled with Greek names and terms, can be intimidating to those with little or no Greek.

Perseverance, however, reveals a fascinating world of conflict in Syria, culminating in the huge battle of Raphia in 217 BC, won by Ptolemy IV, but whose success was fritted away shortly after.

Undeniably written for specialists, this book rewards the reader by painting a picture of international politics and strife, particularly between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms, portraying in detail how various leaders responded when conflict threatened their sphere(s) of interest and contextualising Hellenistic Egypt in the wider Mediterranean world.

Alan L. Jeffreys

The Cobra Goddess & The Chaos Serpent in Ancient Egypt

by Lesley Jackson.


Avalonia, 2020

ISBN 978-1-910191-24-8

Paperback, £16.99.

Lesley Jackson is steadily building a library of volumes dedicated to the gods of ancient Egypt, beginning with Thoth (reviewed in AE74), and including books on Isis, Hathor (AE90), and Sekhmet & Bastet (AE109). In this new work she explores the mythology, symbolism and roles of the serpent deities, detailing their history, aspects, iconography and texts.

Jackson notes that the snake deities reflect the all-important concept of duality, having the power to both kill and cure and to protect and destroy.

The story of The Angry Eye explains how the sun god Ra tried to pacify his ‘Sole Eye’ by transforming her into the Uraeus, the most powerful of the

gods. The Uraeus goddess gave protection and was always present on the crowns of the kings, becoming the legitimate symbol of kingship. Apep (Apophis to the Greeks) on the other hand represented the greatest threat to creation, and every night had to be stopped from attacking the sun god in his barque.

Wadjet (goddess of Lower Egypt), Renenutet and Meretseger are cobra goddesses linked to the natural world: Renenutet (the goddess of harvests) provides nourishment for the living and the deceased’s ka and guards the granaries; Wadjet’s name (‘green’) reflects the marshy swamps of the Delta; Meretseger (‘the one who loves silence’) protected the tomb builders of the Valley of the Kings over which she presided.

The male serpent gods were associated with the afterlife and controlled the process of rebirth. Jackson explores Netherworld texts from the Old Kingdom through to the Graeco- Roman Period, highlighting passages that reflect the roles of these cosmic serpents. Nehebkau ‘he who collects the spirits’ reassembled the deceased while Mehen (‘the coiled one’) enclosed and enabled the process of rebirth, as well as protecting Ra on his night time journey. Other serpent gods were able to control and reverse time to allow transformation of the deceased to take place.

There is also an exploration of the role of snakes in healing magic, including the use of apotropaic wands to repel evil, serpent-shaped wands to channel magical energy, spells recited to prevent attack from a startled snake and remedies for the treatment of snakebite. The author also tells the story of the snake in The Shipwrecked Sailor and discusses the supposed death by snake-bite of Cleopatra VII.

This is a comprehensive study of an important group of deities, written in an accessible style, that will appeal to anyone with an interest in ancient Egyptian mythology.


The Medicine of the Ancient Egyptians (2): Internal Medicine

by Eugen Strouhal et al.

AUC Press, 2021

ISBN 978 977 416 991 5



This publication is the second volume of the three-part compendium, The Medicine of the Ancient Egyptians, and comprises commented translations of the relevant parts of the medical papyri and ostraca (the medical literature of the ancient Egyptians) relating to internal medicine. This approach helps to provide some insight into the ancient Egyptian understanding of medical theory and practice when managing complaints of the body’s internal organs.

Many of the cases that have been preserved in the Egyptian texts consist only of a prescription for the preparation of the medical remedy, often without any further explanation. The headings of particular cases and prescriptions are fairly brief; they are not always clear in their meaning and include rather vague expressions.

Unfortunately, these concerns limit our understanding of the ideas and medical thinking of the time.

After a brief introduction and overview, a major section of the publication is allocated to a new translation of the internal cases and their associated prescriptions, as documented in the various medical papyri. This is a useful resource as certain of the texts, such as the Berlin and London papyri, have not previously been translated into English.

In the second part of the book, the authors proceed to discuss the diseases and treatment of the various internal organs by dividing them into different sections, such as heart and arteries, lungs and chest, and stomach and liver. This logical scheme brings together cases from the different papyri in groups rather than painstakingly analysing each one from the individual papyri. In the section discussing disorders of the limbs, a more unusual part is concerned with care for damaged nails, and among the prescriptions are remedies for treatment of the nails, for a toenail falling off and for ‘festering on the toenails’! Perhaps more space could have been allocated to discussing other sources of information relating to medicine in ancient Egypt such as palaeopathological material, as well as artistic and inscriptional evidence.

Nevertheless, this new study explores in considerable detail the internal prescriptions of the medical papyri, explaining the rationale behind the inclusion of the various ingredients, discussing prognoses and comparing treatment methods.

Roger Forshaw

A Companion to Ancient Agriculture (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World)

edited by David Hollander and Timothy Howe.

Wiley Blackwell, 2021

ISBN 978-1-118-97092-8

Hardback, £130.

This latest addition to Blackwell’s Companions to the Ancient World provides a series of scholarly discussions on agriculture in the Ancient Near East and classical Mediterranean, from Neolithic beginnings through the Bronze and Iron Ages to Late Antiquity. The introduction identifies six developments key to the study of agricultural history, including re-evaluation of relevant ancient texts, and the contribution of economic, religious and social histories, all of which have led to new interpretations. The contributors indicate how modern research methods, especially comparative studies, are changing our views of ancient agriculture.

Of thirty-one chapters, two are of particular interest to Egyptology. In “Egyptian Agriculture in the Bronze Age: Peasants, Landlords and Institutions”, Juan Carlos Moreno Garcia discusses the limitations of documentary evidence – mostly the administrative documents emanating from large institutions – in revealing the extent of independent and smallscale agriculture. He questions the reliability of agricultural scenes in tombs as providers of direct evidence of unchanging ancient practices, especially in relation to land use, animal herding and crop types grown. He identifies different types of fields, grazing areas, gardens and domestic plots, and examines the significance of crops, such as pulses, dates and fodder plants, which rarely occur in the artistic record. He expands on the varying patterns of land-ownership or tenancy, the use of impressed or paid labour, the availability of tools such as ploughs and draught animals, and food-processing and storage facilities such as granaries. The degree of control exercised by the crown, temples or local elites is discussed in connection with taxation.

In “Agriculture in Roman Egypt”, Brendan Haug shows how interpretation of the greater volume of textual evidence from Graeco-Roman Egypt is dominated by documents from one particular place: Oxyrhynchus on the edge of the Fayum. Ptolemaic landreclamation works around Lake Moeris, aided by settlements of Macedonian-Greek military veterans, increased Egypt’s cultivable area by up to 7%. Water management, the use of marginal land for grazing and the potentially disastrous consequences of a high inundation are discussed against a background of increasing population density, the adoption of new crops and communal efforts to coordinate irrigation, labour and harvesting.

Haug shows that the large private estates which dominated the agricultural landscape during the third century AD were largely abandoned within 100 years, and many Fayum settlements were lost to the desert.

This book will be a valuable reference source for anyone interested in the current state of research into ancient agriculture and offers possible avenues of investigation for the future.

Hilary Wilson

Christianity and Monasticism in Alexandria and the Egyptian Deserts

edited by Gawdat Gabra and Hany H. Takla.


American University in Cairo Press, 2020

ISBN 978-977-416-961-8

Hardback £60.

This selection of essays arises out of a conference held in 2017 at the residence of the Coptic patriarch in the Wadi Natrun. It is the last of a series of eight volumes covering the whole of Egypt and Nubia. There are 29 essays in all, averaging about a dozen pages each. They cover a diverse range of topics including Coptic history, desert monasticism and the history of Alexandria from late antiquity to the present day. Some essays cover texts and language and there are several on important archaeological sites and the discoveries made in them.

Three or four of the contributions are quite technical, but the rest are reasonably accessible to those with some basic knowledge of Coptic history and theology. Each person will find topics that appeal to them. I will pick out some that caught my attention.

On the history of Alexandria there are descriptions of the lecture halls unearthed at Kom el Dikka from the Late Antique period, a review of the Armenian community in recent times and of the changes to the city since 1952. For the Eastern Desert there is a description of monastic cells in a little known site in the Wadi Niqqat. From the oases in the Western Desert there is the story of the remarkable find of Manichaen texts in houses at Kellis in the Dahkla Oasis, and two chapters on the decorated tombs at Bagawat cemetery near Hibis in Kharga Oasis.

There are also essays on important figures in Coptic history and legend including the Holy Family in Egypt, St Mark the founder of Egyptian Christianity and thinkers such as Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria.

The symposium and the essays in this volume demonstrate that Coptic studies are flourishing both in Egypt and beyond. It is good to see a range of contributors from within the Coptic Church itself. For those who want to begin to explore widely in the field of Coptic studies this volume will have much to offer.

Michael Tunnicliffe



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