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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Forteen Issue One - August 2013

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index

Ancient Egyptian Literature:
Theory and Practice

edited by Rolan Enmarch & Verena M. Lepper


Aimed primarily at academics specialising in this field, anyone interested in the writings of the Ancient Egyptians will discover something of interest in this volume, a series of papers from the 2006 International Conference held in Oxford to review the rapid development in the theoretical framework of interpretation of written texts.

The study of Ancient Egyptian literature (including poetry, biography and tomb inscriptions) had until recently concentrated to a large degree on deciphering hieroglyphs and drawing out useful background about historical reality; literary theory has been applied to a far lesser extent when compared to other ancient languages, and can be problematic with Egyptian texts due to the fragmentary nature of much of the material.

The first three papers discuss theoretical- based studies on Biblical, Classical and Mesopotamian literature to give a broader overview of current studies in literature, before focusing on Ancient Egyptian texts in ten papers covering a range of studies, including a comparison of mortuary and literary laments (Roland Enmarch), the social context of texts and their “fictional historical identity” (Fredrik Hagen) and sensuous experience, performance and presence in Third Intermediate Period biographies (Elizabeth Frood).

One highlight is Verena Lepper’s paper on the analysis of genre using lexicostatistical tools; while appearing to be very mathematical, her analysis of thirty different types of text from different periods (for length of text, richness of vocabulary and frequency of word occurrence) allows different texts, even fragmentary, to be grouped into particular genres such as religious text, poetry or teachings, and her analysis of the performances of some texts (carried out on translations in her native German) demonstrate the ‘entertainment factor’, highlighting that recreating the performance – the act of reading out loud – plays a critical role in the better understanding of Ancient Egyptian texts.


Oxford University Press, 2013.

ISBN 978-0-19-726542-0

Hardback, £70.



Wine, Wealth, and the State in Late Antique Egypt:
The House of Apion at Oxyrhynchus

by T.M.Hickey

The wealthy Apion family of Oxyrhynchus were one of the most powerful families in the later Roman Empire, with Apion II attaining the Empire’s highest honour, the ordinary consulship, in AD 539 at a very young age (less than twenty, possibly only ten!). The family’s wealth came from their estate in Oxyrhynchus, which is well documented in a series of papyri and in other foreign sources, and so often used by scholars studying the economy and society of late antique Egypt.

In this work, Todd Hickey focuses on the estate’s wine production in his investigation of ancient economic practices, and overturns current theories in this area that suggest noble families such as the Flavii Apiones were becoming more powerful at the expense of the central state. He argues that the size of the ‘great estate’ used for previous research is too large (confirming a previous hypothesis by Jean Gascou made in 1985); he recalculates the areas of the estate that were used in wine production, the amount of labour required and makes use of the wine steward’s detailed accounts to trace the movement of wine into and out of the estate. He concludes that the size of the estate is much smaller than has been previously proposed and that the contribution of wine production to the economy of the estate would have been marginal (giving a marketable surplus of about 25%); the main income was from rents from tenants, while the principal crop of the directly worked land was fodder intended for internal consumption and taxes.

The work is clearly aimed at academics, with many chapter notes, citations and in-depth appendices (including tables of the raw data used); a head for maths and knowledge of written Greek would also be useful.

Although controversial, Hickey’s findings may now lead to a reassessment of the economics of late antique period in Egypt and the Byzantine Empire.


The University of Michigan Press, 2012.

ISBN 978 - 0 - 472 - 11812 - 0

Hardback, £59.50.



A New Interpretation of the Cone on the Head in New Kingdom Egyptian Tomb Scenes BAR International Series 2431

by Joan Padgham

The dome-shaped cone seen on the heads of people depicted in tomb scenes from the New Kingdom onwards is usually thought to either depict a mass of solid perfume designed to melt over the head and body, or to symbolize the wearing of such unguent. In this latest Bar International volume, Joan Padgham sets out to test this theory by recording over a thousand scenes from 154 New Kingdom tombs and analysing the frequency of the cone’s appearance and the types of scenes in which it appears, from the early Eighteenth Dynasty through to the end of the Twentieth Dynasty, focusing in particular on three key ‘cone’ scenes: the opening of the mouth, the gold of honour and the banquet ceremonies.

She presents a logical and scientific analysis that is also enjoyable to read, and includes a review of the current literature, tables of data and an extensive bibliography to keep the serious student happy. And her conclusion? The cone symbolises the ba of the tomb owner, summoned to receive offerings, and developed in response to the increasing importance attached to the ba in the afterlife of the nonroyal elite throughout the New Kingdom. A fascinating study. [But see the findings of Jolana Bos of the Amarna Project on p. 6 of this issue! – Ed.]




Archeopress, 2012.

ISBN 978-1-4073-1030-5.

Paperback, £31.

The Shadow King:
The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut’s Mummy

by Jo Marchant


Ninety years ago, the discovery of Tutankhamun lying in his near-intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings changed the face of Egyptology forever.

The excavation attracted unprecedented media attention which stimulated a world-wide interest in the late Eighteenth Dynasty royal family; interest which has been re-ignited at regular intervals by a series of worldwide tours featuring Tutankhamun’s grave goods and, most recently, by a highly-publicised in-depth study of the royal mummies which included DNA analysis. It seems highly likely that many readers of this review (plus the reviewer herself) were first introduced to Ancient Egypt by Tutankhamun as portrayed on television.

And here we have a paradox. Because we have become over-familiar with Tutankhamun and his “wonderful things” to the extent that we no longer see their potential, and because the mass media insists on providing us with slick and easy answers to complex and in many cases unanswerable questions, we assume that we know all that there is to know about the king and his family. When it comes to potentially baffling science we tend to accept, unquestioningly, what we are told by television, even though we know that television programmes are created worlds where doubts and uncertainties can simply be ignored.

Fortunately, science journalist Jo Marchant is not prepared to accept what she is told without examining the underlying evidence. As she states: “it seems that Egyptology, as sold to the public, is sometimes not so far from being show business.” The Shadow King was directly inspired by the Discovery Channel broadcast King Tut Unwrapped – declared by Zahi Hawass to be “the last word” on Tutankhamun – and by the intense academic debate which this programme stimulated, which went largely unreported. Marchant, with a Ph.D. in genetics, is well placed to strip this story back to its bare bones, and to guide us through a mass of scientific evidence. In so doing, she tells a fascinating story which, quite rightly, presents us with facts and interpretations rather than certainties.


Da Capo Press, 2013.

ISBN 978-03068-21332

Hardback £17.99/$26.99.


Joyce Tyldesley

Joyce is the author of Tutankhamen’s Curse: The developing History of an Egyptian King, which is published in the USA as Tutankhamen: the Search for an Egyptian King.

The Asyut Project 4:
The Ushebtis From Early Excavations in the Necropolis of Asyut

by Jan Moje


This fourth volume from the Asyut Project reports on the continued work of the joint Egyptian/German team at Asyut, in Middle Egypt and is the result of Jan Moje’s work in tracking down and publishing the ushabti figures found at the site during the early twentieth century excavations of David George Hogarth, Ahmed Bey Kamal and Ernesto Schiaparelli, much of which remains unpublished.

All are catalogued here with photographs and full descriptions including provenance, current location, and text translations, together with introductory chapters on the early excavation work and an analysis of materials, chronology, dating and iconography. A comprehensive bibliography is included, with index covering names and titles, museum inventory numbers and provenances.


Harrassowitz Verlag, 2013.

ISBN 9-783447-069199

Paperback, €29.80.



Special Offer! The Tomb of Maya and Meryt Vol 1: EES Excavation Memoir 99 by Geoffrey Thorndike Martin (reviewed in AE78) is available to AE readers at a special discount price of £40 (normal price £80 or £68 to EES members). Just send your name and address, quoting ‘AE Readers’ Offer’, with cheque for £40 + £6.50 UK p.&p. to: Book Orders The Egypt Exploration Society 3 Doughty Mews London WC1N 2PG For non-UK postage, please contact the EES.


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