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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Fifteen Issue Four - February 2015

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index

Mrs. Tsenhor: A Female Entrepreneur in Ancient Egypt

by Koenraad Donker van Heel


If Tsenhor were alive today she would be wearing jeans, driving a pick-up and enjoying a beer with the boys.” So begins the life story of a “liberated woman”, born c. 550 BC, who lived through the turbulent reigns of at least five kings of the Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Dynasties.

Mrs Tsenhor was a ‘Choachyte’, a type of priest hired by families to carry out rituals and offerings for the dead. She was part of a lucrative family business centred on the necropolis of the West Bank of Thebes. This type of work required a huge amount of administration and many documents from the ‘Theban Association of Choachytes’ survive, from which Koenraad Donker van Heel has been able to trace Tsenhor’s eventful life, set against the backdrop of the first Persian occupation of Egypt.

Tsenhor, possibly named after her father’s best-paying customer, appears to have been very much in control of her own life; she married twice, bore three children, worked for the family firm but also carried out her own independent business, and outlived most of her family, dying at the age of 60.

The book is in effect a sequel to the author’s previous work Djekhy & Son: Doing Business in Ancient Egypt (AUP, 2012); Djekhy was also a ‘funerary service provider’ and it is very likely that the two families were acquainted.

The author specifically states he wants this to be a book for everyone, aiming to change the general view on women in ancient Egypt, which he believes is too often based on the lives of the great Queens. Tsenhor’s story is certainly proof that the study of ‘ordinary’ Egyptian women is as vital as the study of Hatshepsut and Cleopatra to our understanding of real life in ancient Egypt – and just as exciting and entertaining to read!


AUC Press, 2014

ISBN 978-977-416-634-1

Hardback, £25.00.



Ancient Egyptian Temple Ritual: Performance, Patterns, and Practice (Routledge Studies in Egyptology)

by Katherine Eaton

This book sets out to evaluate cult rituals regularly performed in Egyptian temples – or rather, the depiction of those rituals (not likely to be quite the same thing) on temple walls. It uses our richest sources of evidence and inevitably concentrates on the temples of Karnak and Sety I’s mortuary temple at Abydos.

The book is divided into four sections, beginning with the importance of temples and how rituals have been interpreted in the past. It then moves on to performances, what are termed by the author ‘ritual cycles’, and focuses on the ‘Daily Ritual’ and the ‘Ritual of the Royal Ancestors’ – using papyrus copies of these rites to help interpret temples scenes. Finally, a useful analysis is made of the patterns of depicted offerings and gestures.

This last section is perhaps of greatest interest to non-specialists, but the whole book makes a good introduction to some rather arcane discussions that have rattled on in Egyptology for over a century. A key point arises in that we should not expect rituals to be depicted in ‘logical’ order – they are not – and that architectural considerations affected scene arrangements.

Eaton’s previous work on divine images highlights that, contrary to expectations, there was more than one image of a god in a temple beside the cult statue in the sanctuary, and these could have been given different levels of attention. This book is useful in highlighting the underlying concepts that inform temple ritual, and the factors that affect its stylised presentation on temple walls.

Although part of the rather expensive new Routledge Studies in Egyptology series (which, disappointingly for the price, eschews the need for a cover image), the book is a solid discussion and up-to-date collection of references on the topic of temple ritual.


 Routledge, 2014

ISBN 978-0415832984

Hardback, £80/$140.


Campbell Price

From Akhenaten to Moses: Ancient Egypt and Religious Change

by Jan Assmann


There is a long tradition of books that bring together the names of Moses and Akhenaten. The last book published by Sigmund Freud in 1939 was called, in its English edition, Moses and Monotheism. It was a curious book that sought to give a psycho-analytical reading of Judaism, and was based on the notion that Moses the Egyptian was murdered by the Israelites.

Since then a plethora of ‘alternative readings’ have tried to prove that Moses was Akhenaten in disguise!

Despite its deceptive title this book most definitely does not belong in the same category. Rather it is a serious examination of the development of religious ideas in both ancient Egypt and Israel. In particular it ponders the origins of monotheism (the belief in a single God), and how that idea found expression in each society. This is a topic Assmann has explored in previous writings and he makes a clear distinction between “inclusive” and “exclusive” forms of monotheism; the latter often being a product of revolutionary rather than evolutionary movements.

Assmann does not attempt to locate either the historical Moses or the historical Akhenaten. Rather the book is an exploration of ideas, and especially how these ideas became codified in fixed canonical texts. As such the work ranges widely, with each of the seven chapters examining specific themes.

The early chapters include essays on change in ancient Egyptian religion, the myth and history of the Exodus, and how monotheism developed. In studies on Moses and Akhenaten he looks at how their respective stories were remembered by future generations.

Memory is a key theme in the book and Assmann sees the period of the seventh century BC Assyrian domination as a pivotal trauma for both societies.

Final chapters examine the interest in Egyptian Mysteries among the secret societies of the Enlightenment (The Magic Flute being a key text), and the impact on societies when ideas of “exclusive” monotheism are taken up, either in past generations or in our own day.

The work will appeal to readers who enjoy exploring the world of ideas and the ways in which such ideas have shaped societies for both good and ill.


 American University in Cairo Press 2014

ISBN 978-977-416-631-0

Hardback £24.95.


Michael Tunnicliffe

The Medicine of the Ancient Egyptians

by Eugen Strouhal, Bretislav Vachala & Hana Vymazalová


The ancient Egyptians provided a major contribution to the early development of medicine with some of their knowledge still being in use today. This publication, the first volume of three on medical care in ancient Egypt, is written by authors with medical, anthropological and Egyptological backgrounds, and is a welcome addition in this field as few text books have been published on this subject for a number of years.

This first volume considers surgery, gynaecology, obstetrics and paediatrics and reviews information obtained from the medical papyri, preserved human remains and remedies utilised in the treatment of diseases.

What is particularly valuable is the translation of, and commentary on, some of the cases listed in the Berlin and London medical papyri. These papyri have not previously been translated into English and together with the accompanying analysis they provide an important source of information.

The authors also examine the subject of medical care for women and children in some depth, recognising that a large proportion of cases recorded in the ancient texts relate to this topic.

A useful textbook that explores the relative sophistication and breadth of the ancient Egyptian medical tradition


 The American University in Cairo Press, 2014

ISBN 978-9-774166-40-2

Hardback, £39.95.


Roger Forshaw

Roger Forshaw, a retired dental surgeon, is a research associate at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester

Émile Prisse d’Avennes - Egyptian Art

by Salima Ikram

French author, artist and scholar, Émile Prisse d’Avennes has left us some of the most beautiful artwork of Egyptian antiquities ever seen. A rather enigmatic man, he valued his privacy (he often went under the pseudonym Idris Effendi during his travels in Egypt), and was not above a spot of looting himself (for example illegally dismantling the Karnak King List), but there is no doubting he made a significant contribution to Egyptology and in some cases, his illustrations (recorded with “fidélité scrupuleuse”), are the only true record of the monuments and wall paintings left to us.

His passion for Egypt, and his admiration for the ancient artists whose work he copied, are clear to see in the stunning artwork he produced, making vast numbers of drawings, watercolours and squeezes which he used to create his beautiful illustrative plates.

 This new volume includes the complete plates from Monuments égyptiens and Histoire de l’art égyptien with a selection of the artist’s commentaries, prefaced by a short introductory essay on his life and work by Salima Ikram (all texts in French, English and German).

Measuring 45 x 33 cm and weighing in at several kilos (not so much a ‘coffee table’ book but rather a coffee table in its own right) this giant book is a stunning showcase of Prisse d’Avennes’ work that every lover of ancient Egypt will want to own!


Taschen GmbH, 2014

ISBN 978-3836-51647-1

Boxed hardback, £64/$150.



Win a copy of this book in this month’s competition on page 64 of the magazine

 Army and Society in Ptolemaic Egypt

by Christelle Fischer-Bovet

This new study of the army in Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period makes use of the very latest research in the subject, examining the surviving papyri and texts to form new conclusions about how the army functioned under the Ptolemies.

Christelle Fischer-Bovet not only looks at the organisation of the army, but rather concentrates on how the army interacted with the indigenous population of Egypt, as well as exploring the role of the military under the Ptolemies and, more importantly, the function of the ‘cleruch system’ by which soldiers were given land to farm whilst still serving as a part of the army. Although many readers will be aware that Alexander the Great settled his retired soldiers throughout his empire and gave them land to farm as a reward for their former military service, the ‘cleruch system’ which evolved throughout the Hellenistic Period, enabled serving soldiers, who were largely recruited mercenaries, to settle, farm land and view Egypt as their home rather than just as their paymaster. In this way these soldier/farmers were integrated more fully into Egyptian society whilst still providing an ‘active reserve’ of soldiers upon which the king could call upon in time of need. As they had been given grants of land the king had no need to pay them wages but instead could tax them on their farming produce, whilst they as ‘settled mercenaries’ were still under an obligation to serve the king when called upon to do so.

The book is by no means an easy ‘coffee table’ read; it is written in an academic style, but it is filled with a great deal of useful and highly interesting information and, as such, it amply repays the time taken to make a considered read. I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the military history of the Late Period and Ptolemaic Egypt.


Cambridge University Press, 2014

ISBN 978-110-700775-8

Hardback, £75.


Victor Blunden

Cities That Shaped The Ancient World

edited by John Julius Norwich

With 7000 years of exciting history to explore, it is often difficult for those of us with a passion for ancient Egypt to look beyond the Nile Valley, but to truly understand the development of human civilisation we need to take a more global view and this new title from Thames & Hudson is a good place to start.

Editor John Julius Norwich sets the scene with an introduction tracing the origins of the city and the people who laid the foundations of modern life.

Organised into five sections covering different geographical areas, each city is given a separate (short) chapter, written by a leading historian (Barry Kemp, Alan B. Lloyd and Robert Morkot being among the Egyptology contributors) describing the history, art, architecture and culture of each centre, with colour photographs of key works of art and the remaining ruins. Memphis, Thebes, Amarna and Alexandria all feature of course, alongside other important African centres such as Meroe, Leptis Magna and Carthage. The Near East is represented by twelve cities such as Troy, Babylon, Jerusalem and Ur, with European centres including Knossus, Athens and Rome, China’s first imperial capital, Xianyang, and the great centres of the Olmec and Mayans in the Americas. A fascinating read that will expand your historical horizons.


Thames & Hudson, 2014

ISBN 978-0-500-25204-8

Hardback, £24.95



A Companion to Ancient Egyptian Art

edited by Melinda K. Hartwig

This book presents an overview of many different areas in the study of ‘Egyptian art’, including some which traditionally have not been considered under that category, such as ‘material culture’ and ‘conservation’. For all the visual appeal of Egyptian ‘art works’, remarkably few studies have been dedicated purely to the subject of ‘art’. This book goes some way to address that deficit.

After an excellent introductory essay by John Baines which asks “What is Art?”, the book is divided into sections covering methodological approaches, materials and mediums, concepts in art, interconnections with the larger world, the reception of Egyptian art in modern times, and the technology and interpretation of Egyptian art works. Most chapters are individually useful in their own right as a review of the recent published work in each area, but this ‘review’ structure means that several of the contributions cover the same ground.

In spite of the fact that there are some out-of-date ideas perpetuated in a few contributions and although the book is expensive at its full price, such a multidisciplinary approach to Egyptian art is new. These articles describe, from a number of different perspectives, how ancient Egyptian art ‘worked’ and will be of special interest to those who wonder why Pharaonic imagery is so distinctive.


Wiley Blackwell, 2014

ISBN 978-144-433350-3

Hardback, £120.


Campbell Price

Understanding Ancient Egypt

by Eileen Goulding


This colourful glossy-paged book is not meant to be another ‘brief introduction’ to ancient Egypt, but rather a one-volume handbook that gives readers brief but sufficient information on every aspect of ancient Egyptian culture in order to “understand what made this fascinating ancient society ‘tick’”. Written in everyday language as an “easy read” for people with no time for in-depth study, Goulding presents the chief characteristics of Egyptian beliefs, treasures and monuments and daily life, with brief biographies of a selection of “Great Pharaohs” and “Influential Queens” and a brief introduction to hieroglyphs.

Some of the illustrations are slightly grainy and appear too squat (possibly due to the self-publishing production process), but that aside, it is an enjoyable read and a reliable reference for anyone new to the wonders of ancient Egyptian history.


GOGO Publishing, 2014

ISBN 978-0-9931152-0-2

Paperback, £16.99.



Jewels of Ancient Nubia

by Yvonne J. Markowitz


Nubia is known as the ‘Land of Gold’, a country plundered by the ancient Egyptians for its abundant supplies of this precious metal. But the Nubians were master craftsmen in their own right, creating some of the world’s finest jewellery with hand-made tools, under the most basic conditions and inventing techniques that would only be rediscovered in Europe several thousand years later.

Yvonne J. Markowitz begins her survey of the treasures of ancient Nubia with an introductory chapter about the ‘People of the Gold Lands’, where we learn that jewellery was worn by men, women, children and even prized animals, with clear social distinctions in the type of jewellery worn (the elite using gold, silver, electrum, ivory, lapis Lazuli and other hard stones, while the lower orders made do with faience and shell). Over time, however, the materials of the elite were found more frequently further down the social ladder; glass for example was a highly prized material when it first appeared, produced only for the elite in royal workshops, but as production became more widespread, glass became more available to ordinary Nubians.

This introduction is followed by a gallery of jewellery, beautifully photographed and shown large enough to highlight the finest details. Over a hundred items from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston are presented, including unique indigenous items (such as a necklace of blue-glazed rock crystal beads) as well as pieces inspired by Egyptian and Greek forms (for example a hinged gold bracelet bearing the image of Mut with different coloured enamel inlays). My personal favourites include a gold and carnelian necklace of human and ram figures from the Meroitic Period (equating to Egypt's Graeco-Roman era), and a Napatan Period (Late Period) web of faience beads and Hathor-head amulets worn by one of the king’s buried horses.

There are a series of separate chapters on ‘Early Adornments’ and the jewellery of the Kingdoms of Kerma, Napata and Meroe, materials and techniques and the role played by MFA and Harvard University in the discovery and excavation of ancient Nubian sites. Egypt’s dazzling ornaments are acclaimed the world over, and yet the beautifully crafted creations of the Nubian artisans is less well known, so this is a timely appreciation of the technical mastery and elegance of design of ancient Nubian jewellery.


The Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) Publications, 2014

ISBN 978-087-846-807-2

Hardback, £29.95.



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