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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Thirteen Issue Three - December 2012

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Afterglow of Empire: Egypt from the Fall of the New Kingdom to the Saite Renaissance

by Aidan Dodson

In his previous works Amarna Sunset and Poison Legacy, Aidan Dodson explored the downfall of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties; in this new volume he tackles the Third Intermediate Period, one of the more confusing eras in Egyptian history.

After stating where he stands with regards to the chronology debate (Dodson thanks the so-called “radicals” James, Morkot and Rohl for their stimulating discussion, but finds he cannot accept the assumptions on which their revised dating system is based), and his intent to provide the first new and accessible account of the period since Kitchen’s seminal work in 1973, Dodson begins with the reign of Rameses IX (c. 1126-1108 BC), which “was to mark a watershed in the history of Egypt”.

Following the fall of the Ramesside kings, control of Egypt became divided, with the Twenty-First Dynasty kings ruling the north from Tanis, and the High Priests of Amun running the south. Centralised control was restored temporarily with the rise of the house of Shoshenq (Twenty-Second Dynasty of Libyan origin), but the unified state had again disintegrated into civil strife from the middle of the dynasty, with local rulers taking independent power, and the rise of a line of rulers at Sais in the western Delta. Their expansion south at this time triggered the Nubian ruler Piye, already in control of Thebes, to march north and seize power, becoming the first of a line of Nubian pharaohs, the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty. The Assyrian-backed Twenty-Sixth Dynasty brought a new period of stability, marking the beginning of the Late Period, until the rise of the Persians c.525 BC.

Dodson untangles this complicated period, reassessing texts, art, monuments and archaeology to give a clear chronological survey of the key players (including Panedjem I, Herihor, Shoshenq I, Osorkon II, Taharqa, and the royal women who held the title ‘God’s Wife of Amen’ such as Amenirdis I). [N.B. Here using Dodson’s spellings of the names – Ed] The book is certainly scholarly (extensive bibliography and notes with five appendices including chronological charts, family tree diagrams and a list of the cartouches and titularies of kings and principal God’s Wives of Amun), but it’s also an enjoyable read, supported by plenty of black-and-white photographs, diagrams and maps, and will help to bring a greater understanding and appreciation of this often obscure period of Pharaonic history to a much wider audience.


Published by The American University in Cairo Press, 2012.

ISBN 978-977-416-531-3

Hardback, price £18.95.



Seers, Saints and Sinners: The Oral Tradition of Upper Egypt

by Elizabeth Wickett

Religious legends, fearless heroes, brazen heroines and the eternal struggle between good and evil: this volume highlights five rich and vivid folk tales from Upper Egypt: the story of Khadra al-Shari-fa and the miraculous conception of her hero son; the erotic tale of <Azi-za, the daughter of the Sultan of Tunis (published here in English for the first time); two Coptic folk tales – St. George and the Dragon, and Adam and Eve; and the story of the conversion of Maimu - na, the slave girl of Mecca.

However this is not simply a book of translated stories. These Egyptian folktales are part of a long oral tradition, to be performed rather than written down, a tradition which is little known in the West, and Elizabeth Wickett has tried to capture the liveliness, nuance and wit of these tales as they are sung or chanted, taking her tales directly from live performances she herself recorded in the 1980s, of two Egyptian poets, neither of whom could read or write and both of whom have now sadly died. Both performers were skilled at punning and adapting the stories for different audiences, and although these are tales for a modern era, there are vestiges of stories dating back to ancient times in Egypt, Sumaria and beyond.

Each story is given context with a brief introduction, followed by the uninterrupted narrative as it was spoken; Wickett then discusses the wider literary and social aspects of the tale, for example plot structure, imagery, the concept of romance in the Egyptian oral tradition, with quotes from other texts including the Songs of Solomon and New Kingdom love poetry. In an appendix, each story is written out in Arabic to show how the actual language used and the structure of the tale are interconnected with the emotional and artistic impact of the performance, aspects of which are inevitably lost on translation into English.

As this oral tradition is fast disappearing, Wickett's book is a timely record of the culture and beliefs that underlie these rich tales, with their unwavering faith in humanity, and its ability to survive, highlighting the extent to which the telling of tales has stimulated the imagination of the Egyptians through the ages.


Published by I.B. Tauris, 2012.

ISBN 978-1-78076-053-7

Hardback, price £56.


Dressing the Dead in Classical Antiquity

edited by Maureen Carroll & John Peter Wild


The study of funerary rituals and traditions has tended to focus on tomb structures, grave goods and skeletal remains; less well understood is the role played by clothing and textiles, the focus of the ten papers collected here.

Taken from an international conference held in 2010, they investigate the use of materials in the Graeco-Roman world from the fifth century BC to the fifth century AD.

Covering the dead with a shroud or coverlet is a typically human action, and the clothing in which the dead were buried, together with jewellery and accessories, were specifically chosen to convey a message about the identity of the deceased. Even cremated remains were often wrapped in material as a mark of respect.

The research presented here includes John Peter Wild’s paper on the textile archaeology of Roman burials, ranging from textile traces found in the graves of Roman legionaries in Britain to the more intact clothed and linen-wrapped body of “Euphemia” from Antinoe, now in Brussels. He also highlights how the study of these textiles is often hampered by poor preservation and a lack of interest by other archaeologists – Roman mummy 1770 at the Manchester Museum for example had her wrappings non-scientifically “hacked off ” as recently as 1975.

Jane Rempel discusses the non- Greek female burials in the Bolshaia Bliznitsa mound in southern Russia, dating to the second half of the fourth century BC, showing how aspects of their funerary adornment point to a connection with the Greek Demeter cult. Two studies of burial textiles from Roman Egypt highlight the use of extra padding material for the head and feet mimicking the shape of earlier Egyptian sarcophagi (Kristin H.

South on the Fag el-Gamus cemetery in the Fayum) and describe step by step the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s excavation of Roman mummies in Dahshur (in a paper by Emilia Cortes), where the study of body and textile shroud as a unit is the focus.

Other papers cover “dressing the dead” in Palmyra, Classical and Hellenistic Greece, Tripolitania and Rome, each including suggestions for further reading, good black-and-white and colour illustrations and a unifying introduction by Wild, who cautions us to remember that, as the burials of the deceased rich had a much better chance of surviving than those of the deceased poor, some of whom were buried naked in a communal pit, so even in death, the inequalities of life may be difficult to overcome.


Published by Amberley, 2012.

ISBN 978-1-4456-0300-1

Paperback, price £25.



Unveiling the Harem: Elite Women and the Paradox of Seclusion in Eighteenth Century Cairo

by Mary Ann Fay


The word ‘harem’ even today conjures up images of scantily-clad young women, held captive as sexual objects at the beck and call of their master, a depiction that dates back to the eighteenth century in the observations of European male travellers to Egypt and the Middle East. Mary Ann Fay offers a more balanced view based on a historical study of women in eighteenth century Cairo during the period of the Mamluk revival.

After introducing us to the histories of the harem and the Mamluk revival, Fay follows the stages of a woman’s life as she enters her household, first as a concubine, then a wife, becoming part of her immediate neighbourhood and the wider city. The household became the foundation of Mamluk power, and gave women the opportunity to own property and achieve wealth, status and influence; when compared to life in England at the time, women under Islamic Law enjoyed far more economic and legal autonomy.

Slavery did exist, as shown by the story of Khadiga Qadin, born a Christian in Georgia but either sold or kidnapped and brought to Cairo as a concubine, but in Egypt it was common for slaves to become free men and women and enjoy all the rights of freeborn Muslims; in Khadiga’s case she converted to Islam and married her former master, who left her a very rich widow.

Fay discusses the concept of ‘the harem’ describing it as a separate space within the larger structure of the home, and argues that rather than being a rigidly defined physical structure, we should envisage the harem as the private flexible space around the woman as she moved around the house and outside, where her veil provided her with a similarly private space unapproachable by men.

Seclusion and veiling, she argues, should be seen as social practices that change over time, and illustrates this by comparing two harem women from different historical periods: Nafisa al- Bayda, who died in Cairo in 1816, supported her husband, Murad Bey, in his fight against the French, acting to protect the status, wealth and power of the elite to which she felt she belonged; and Huda Sha‘rawi, who established the Egyptian Feminist Union following Egyptian independence in 1922, removed her veil to signal she had moved out of the private domain of the family into the public domain of politics. The women’s movement was not born out of a need to remove the harem; rather as the political and economic foundation that supported harem life in the past collapsed, women took on a public role to try to recover some of the influence, power and economic autonomy that the harem had once provided.


Published by Syracuse University Press, 2012.

ISBN 978-0-8156-3293-1

Hardback, price £38.50.



Grand Hotels of Egypt: In the Golden Age of Travel

by Andrew Humphreys


If you dream of sailing down the Nile in style, and reliving the grandeur of the golden age of travel, then this book should take pride of place on your coffee table! Browse your art deco Thomas Cook brochure, then book into the Shepheard’s Hotel, with its newly-added third floor, and over-the-top theatrical decor. Watch the hustle and bustle of Cairo from your rattan terrace chair, or take afternoon tea in the extensive gardens of the Continental Savoy, where uniformed Nubian waiters hover ready to serve.

With stunning colour pictures and black-and-white photographs, Andrew Humphreys recreates the Egypt of the earliest European travellers who came to experience the Orient, visit the sites and luxuriate on the Riviera. He tells the stories of Egypt’s grand historic hotels and some of the famous people who stayed in them, such as Ameila Edwards, and T.E. Lawrence.

So why not sail by boat up to the Gezira Palace, admire the Pyramids from the terrace of the Mena House or pop down to the arcades of the Winter Palace for a solar topee and fly whisk?


Published by The American University in Cairo Press, 2011.

ISBN 978-977-416-496-5

Hardback, price £24.95.





AE Editor Peter Phillips continues our series rediscovering classic Egyptology texts, with a must-have guide book for anyone exploring Egypt.


Ancient Egypt

by William J. Murnane, revised by Aidan Dodson

There is only one book that always finds a place in my luggage when I go to Egypt, and that is my dog-eared copy of “Murnane” (second edition, 1996).

For any amateur Egyptologist or ordinary tourist visiting the country, there is always the problem of limited time. A few hours at a site is never enough, and to discover on the coach or mini-bus on the way back to your hotel that you have failed to notice a famous relief or statue can be mortifying, especially in these uncertain times when return visits may prove more difficult.

The answer is to read the relevant pages of this, the most informative of all guides to Egypt, on the previous evening; you will still not see everything, but you will be able to make sure that you do not miss what really interests you. Before you make your first visit to the country you can read the initial chapters, which give an outline of the ancient civilisation and its history, and after your return you can consolidate your memories of your visit and perhaps identify and catalogue your photographs by reading again Murnane’s account of the places you have seen.

Of course there are many publications describing individual monuments and other more superficial general guidebooks, but none cover the whole of the country with the level of scholarship displayed by William Murnane, who specialised in Ancient Egyptian at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago before becoming Professor of Ancient History at the University of Memphis, Tennessee and Field Director of the on-going project to record and publish the reliefs and inscriptions of the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak.

Some professional Egyptologists, although knowing their own sites intimately, may be surprisingly ignorant about other parts of the country or periods of Egypt’s long history. In order to write a guide like this, the author must have visited every one of the sites, some of which are far off the common tourist routes and only intermittently open to visitors. It is very clear from the pages of this monumental work that Murnane undertook to study every one of the sites personally.

William Murnane died suddenly in 2000 at the tragically early age of 55. It fell therefore to another distinguished Egyptologist with a similarly wide and comprehensive knowledge of the sites to update the guide, which had been out of print for a number of years. He is Aidan Dodson, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol and currently Chairman of the Egypt Exploration Society. Omitted from this edition are detailed descriptions of the collections of the museums in Egypt, since they are constantly being updated and many new museums are planned or have been opened.

And since Dr. Dodson is less familiar with the Christian and Islamic monuments of Cairo, the descriptions of them have been revised by Nicholas Warner.

In future my dog-eared copy will be replaced by the splendid new edition with its additional colour plates.


Published by Pallas Athene, 2010.

ISBN 978-1873429396

Paperback, price £19.99.


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