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Ancient Egypt Magazine -- Volume Seventeen Issue Two - October 2016

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Index


Asiatics in Middle Kingdom Egypt: Perceptions and Reality

by Phyllis Saretta


Some things never change. How do you solve the immigration problem? Build a wall to keep the vile foreigners out? That’s what the ancient Egyptian Prophecies of Neferti suggested: “One will build the Walls-of-the-Ruler to bar Asiatics from entering Egypt”.

These Asiatics, the subject of Phyllis Saretta’s new book, were known as the Amu. Living in the area of Syria/Canaan and Mesopotamia, they entered Egypt under a variety of situations.

Saretta’s book focuses on the Amu during the Middle Kingdom.

Although the topic is narrow, there is plenty to say about it and it is a story well told with something for everyone.

If you like languages, there is a brief chapter on the etymology of the term Amu complete with geographical and cultural references. For the art people, there are wonderful discussions of how the Amu were represented in Egyptian art, complete with detailed discussion of hair styles, all well illustrated.

The chapter on the economic impact of the Amu on Egyptian civilisation and how they assimilated is full of wonderful bits of information. But at the heart and soul of the book are the famous paintings of the Amu in the tomb of the nobleman Khnumhotep II at Beni Hasan.

The scene showing fifteen Asiatics being presented to Khnumhotep is important for many reasons. Here we have a depiction of the Amu entering Egypt peacefully, as respected foreigners.

They are neither slaves nor servants.

We are even told their leader’s name, Ibsha, and that he is a foreign ruler. The paintings are also important because of what they tell us about lives of the Amu, and Dr. Saretta mines the information well and presents the reader with a fascinating picture of these people.

We see the wonderfully elaborate garments the Amu wear, so it is not surprising that they often became weavers when they integrated into Egyptian society. The text accompanying the depictions tells us they were entering Egypt with eye-paint – a trading expedition; but it seems the Amu were going to stay. They bring with them musical instruments, throw sticks, domestic items, and their children come too – it is a peaceful emigration, something rarely recorded in the Egyptian record.

Dr. Saretta has supplied the history, now someone should write a novel about this unique episode.


Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016

ISBN 978-147-422623-3

Hardback, £70 (also available as an ebook, £70).


Bob Brier

Bob is Senior Research Fellow at Long Island University, New York, and the author of ten books including his latest, Cleopatra’s Needles, which was reviewed in AE97.


Ancient Egypt: the basics

by Donald P. Ryan



There is a bewildering array of books offering introductions to ancient Egypt, so my first thought was “do we need another?” In this instance the answer is a definite “Yes!” In just over two hundred pages, here is a complete overview of the entire timespan of Egypt’s history and more, presented in a highly accessible style that makes it not only easy to read but fun too and difficult to put down! In a nice touch, Donald Ryan introduces himself to the reader, explaining that he is about to take you on “a quick romp through history”, presenting basic facts and “dipping into enough pies” to whet your appetite to learn more. And yet he manages to present a comprehensive survey of Egypt’s history, together with key aspects of Egyptian daily life, the work of Egyptologists (whom he describes as “an argumentative bunch”, but necessarily so, as discussion of views is a necessary part of the scholarly process) and some of the major discoveries (with mention of the recent radar studies of KV62).

Beginning with the idea that ancient Egyptian culture is essentially extinct, he explains how periods of civil disorganisation and foreign rule led to Egypt’s becoming part of first the Greek, then the Roman Empire. The AD 640 Arab invasion had perhaps the greatest impact (with Arabic still spoken today and Islam the official state religion), and the impact of the active destruction of ancient sites to provide building materials, fertiliser and (of course) treasure. He likens some of the misinformation gathered by Herodotus to the tall stories offered by “informal guides” to the tourists of today, and argues that Belzoni was far more than a “snatch-and-grab” treasure hunter. Those of you who enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching such films as The Mummy and Stargate will be pleased to read that the ancient Egyptian dialogue used in these films is actually a reasonable approximation to how the language would have sounded, created by a bona fide Egyptologist! There is a fascinating chapter on the influences of ancient Egypt on modern Western life including a humorous but at the same time serious look at “Alternative Egyptologies” and why Egypt is such a magnet for ‘fringe’ ideas (commenting dryly that of all the people who claim to be ancient Egyptians in a previous life, he has yet to meet a reincarnated “farmer, potmaker or palace floor-scrubber”).

Ryan ends with some advice for anyone wishing to explore Egypt as a tourist, dig volunteer or armchair Egyptologist (with a welcome recommendation for AE magazine!), providing a comprehensive bibliography.

Ancient Egypt is the latest edition to Routledge’s series of guidebooks that covers a huge range of subjects (from Food Ethics to Greek History) and as such it is not designed to be a highly visual coffee table style book – there are only six illustrations – but as an introductory guide for beginners or handy reference for those wishing to put their specialist knowledge into context, this is an essential volume to have on your bookshelf !


Routledge, 2016

ISBN 978-1-138-64151-8

Paperback, £13.99 (also available in Hardback £85).




Egypt: People, Gods, Pharaohs (Revised Edition)

by Rose-Marie & Rainer Hagen


At first glance this looks like an appealing coffee table volume for beginners to Egyptology that might act as a companion to the excellent introductory book by Donald Ryan (reviewed above). Fully illustrated with a good selection of Egyptian art, this covers all the basics, including some interesting individual chapters focusing on “Servants of the State” and “Free Women in Pharaoh’s Land?”.

However the text is mostly unchanged from the original 1999 version, with just the addition of an afterword, a new cover and some beautiful double page paintings by Émile Prisse d’Avennes (perhaps making good use of the image rights after publishing the excellent Prisse d’Avennes. Egyptian Art, reviewed in AE88).

The authors are not Egyptology specialists, and this is apparent in a number of areas, particularly in the unforgivable mix-up on page 49, where a stunning scene from the Valley Tomb of Horemheb (with his cartouches plainly visible) is described as showing Merenptah. The resolution of some of the photographs may also be too low for printing at this size, as they appear grainy – in particular the double page photographs of modern Egypt and the full-page image of one of Tutankhamun’s gold canopic containers.

That said, the book still offers a good introduction to those new to the history of the Nile; many of us have probably already have the 1999 edition lurking on our bookshelves somewhere!


Taschen, 2016

ISBN 978-383-65204-6

Hardback, £17.99.




In Sunshine and Shadow

by Kenneth A. Kitchen


Many great Egyptologists ought to have written their memoirs. It is, therefore, a real joy to see that (with typical industry and a light touch) Kenneth Kitchen, Emeritus Professor of Egyptology at Liverpool University, has committed the story of his life to the page.

Born in 1932 in Aberdeen, Ken grew up a nervous little boy who – like many Egyptophiles – caught the ‘bug’ from colourfully illustrated books about the ancient world. After writing to – and not being totally discouraged by – Professor Herbert Fairman of the University of Liverpool, the young Ken quickly settled into a lifelong routine of disciplined study of ancient cultures – notably Egypt, but also the Near East and Ancient Arabia. While an undergraduate, Ken both invented a ‘Modern and Ancient Chess/Senet Club’ and became a committed Christian – a religious faith uncommon in Egyptologists but one that has sustained the author through the sunshine and shadows of the title.

Such a vivid and lively account arises from a meticulous diary kept over a lifetime. No detail seems to have been lost: noting, for example, exact arrival times of trains in the 1960s, something few would be able to recall (or, indeed, be inclined to record) today.

With typical modesty, Ken ‘whizzes’ and ‘whooshes’ through many significant academic achievements and intrepid travels – Morocco, Australia, the Arabian Peninsula, Brazil … often undertaken at times when travel to such places was not common. Perhaps most notable for the main area of his interests, were Ken’s largely singlehanded ‘expeditions’ to Egypt to record hieroglyphic texts of the Ramesside Period (the standard reference work still bears his name: Kitchen’s Ramesside Inscriptions – KRI). He did, however, still have time for fun on occasional lecture cruises and photographs show he has a considerable flair for Pharaonic fancy-dress costume.

More than just a record of events over some nine decades, this is a wonderful portrait that is a genuine reflection of its author. It cannot claim to be comprehensive – for a life like Ken’s that would be impossible; there is, though, a sense that some hardfought academic battles have been politely avoided. For those lucky enough to have heard Ken recount his adventures first-hand, the text of this memoir will leap charmingly from the page in Ken’s own inimitable verbal delivery. Rarely can a memoir have been written so closely to the cadences of the author’s own voice. Even for those who have never met Ken, nor heard him speak, this book encapsulates his inspiring and indefatigable commitment to – and obviously great joy in – learning about the past.

Handsomely produced by new Liverpool-based publisher Abercromby Press, this is a one-of-akind testimony of which there are much too few: an account of a great scholar, and a human being, in his own terms. For that, as for his countless other contributions, Kitchen deserves the highest praise.


Abercromby Press, 2016

ISBN 978-099-309204-6

Paperback, £17.50.


Campbell Price


The Delta Survey: 2009-2015

by Jeffrey Spencer


The Egyptian Exploration Society has carried out surveys of some of the lesser-known archaeological sites in the Nile Delta since 1997, in an attempt to gather basic information on these places, since many are rarely visited or unfamiliar to archaeologists, eclipsed by the major sites that have been studied in depth, such as Tanis and Tell el-Daba.

Although the number of sites under study by the Delta Survey has greatly increased due to several new discoveries (often found using new technologies such as satellite reconnaissance), this volume is limited to just three sites: Tell Yetwal wa Yuksur, Kom ed- Daba and Tell Buweib, selected because of their proximity to current excavations or because an initial satellite survey revealed features of particular interest.

The volume itself consists of brief reports from each of the three sites, detailing their locations and any surface finds, as well as notable upstanding structures, any exploratory excavations carried out and an appendix detailing site inspections in nearby Kafr es-Sheikh. The 63 plates consist of plans and maps, photographs of the sites and any surface features of note, and a number of excavation photographs. In addition, the plates also include photographs and line drawings of small finds and pottery found on the sites.

Although there were a number of well-known ‘big city’ sites in ancient Egypt that the tourist and informed Egyptophile will probably know very well, there were undoubtedly many small villages throughout the Delta and the Nile Valley that are barely known. This volume, therefore, goes some way to highlighting these sites and ‘filling in’ an otherwise littleexplored landscape, and may be a book that those wishing to go off the familiar beaten track might want to investigate.


EES Excavation Memoir 112 Egyptian Exploration Society, 2016

ISBN 978-0-85698-225-5

Paperback, £35.


Peter Robinson



by Ronald H. Fritze


Egyptology books come in all guises, from the thoroughly researched academic to the out and out weird.

Egyptian themes, whether accurate or imaginatively embroidered, appear in art, architecture and all aspects of material culture. Professor Fritze has used this amazingly fertile field to produce a well-researched and comprehensive history of enthusiasm for all things Egyptological, from ancient times right up to the twenty-first century, spanning the whole spectrum. It is a remarkable achievement and makes for a fascinating read.

In this comprehensive survey you will meet ancient and modern respected scholars, pyramidologists, pyramidiots, occultists, historical writers, professional Egyptologists, Hermeticists, Afrocentrists, religious believers, diffusionists, novelists, travellers, archaeologists and many more.

His study begins with a summary of the history of the ‘real’ Egypt providing a clear introduction to the accepted history of Egypt and its culture.

From here he proceeds to discuss references to Egypt in ancient times, including Biblical stories, Greek and Roman sources, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, arriving at the Napoleonic expedition which is covered in some detail, as is the decipherment of hieroglyphs. This leads on to material on the early nineteenth century explorations by such men as Belzoni and Drovetti and the acquisition of Egyptian artefacts by Europeans.

The development of travel and tourism during the century involved many notable individuals ranging from Burckhardt and Gardner Wilkinson, to writers such as Thackeray, and notable women such as the influential Amelia Edwards, spawning a new industry of writings on Egypt, many of which were fictional works and some of which contained sensational fantasy. The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and its effect on popular culture is covered in depth as is the rise of the curse myth and the ‘Tutmania’ phenomenon which pervaded all corners of social and cultural life.

The second half of the book covers the development of different types of Egyptomania in the last couple of centuries. It encompasses a wide range of topics including the influence of Egypt on the development of occult societies and influences on the Masons. The possible role of aliens also appears, all of which the author covers in a dispassionate way. Writers of fiction receive detailed coverage and include many favourites such as Amelia Peabody and some of Agatha Christie’s books.

With such a huge scope, there are areas of the book which are sometimes a little repetitive and overdetailed in their recounting of writings and fictional plots, but there is a rich mine of factual material here which could repay detailed study.


Reaktion Books, 2015

ISBN 978-1780236391

Hardback, £25.


Hilary Forrest


Poisoned Legacy: The Fall of the Nineteenth Egyptian Dynasty (Revised Edition)

by Aidan Dodson


The reigns of Rameses II and III are well documented, with no shortage of volumes dedicated to these two New Kingdom rulers, and yet the period between their reigns is less well served, with only fragmentary evidence and a great deal of uncertainty about events during this time. Aidan Dodson ably fills this gap, tracking down the evidence that does exist to reconstruct what he believes is the most plausible re-creation of the period, while at the same time acknowledging areas of controversy.

The poisoned legacy of the title refers to the rise in prominence of the wider royal family during the reigns of Sety I and Rameses II, with positions of power and influence held by princes of the royal line, a situation that inevitably led to familial conflict, civil war and the end of the dynasty.

After a brief review of “the glory years” of these two kings, the author begins with the reign of Merenptah, the thirteenth son of Rameses the Great, who faced a far more uncertain world than his forebears with the beginning of a series of incursions into Egypt by a coalition of Libyan and so-called ‘Sea Peoples’ who would continue to plague Egypt into the Twentieth Dynasty. From here, some forensic detective work is needed to try to establish who controlled Egypt following the death of this king.

It is clear that Merenptah’s intended successor was his eldest son Sety- Merenptah who did indeed rule Egypt as Sety II. However several of his monuments appear to have been usurped from another ‘king’ Amenmeses. The author explores the evidence to try to piece together the order of events, and the relationship between the two claimants (you might like to compare his conclusions with those of Richard Geary in his article in AE94), before turning his attention to the final decade of the dynasty, the accession of the female king Tawosret, her relationship to the crippled Siptah, his parentage and mysterious disappearance and the prominence (and later execution) of the powerful Chancellor Bay.

A final chapter explores the violent accession of Sethnakhte, founder of the Twentieth Dynasty, and the accession of his son Rameses III whose reign (and those of his successors) was blighted by economic failure, workers strikes, tomb robbing, foreign incursions and, in the case of Rameses III it appears, assassination attempts.

This is a fascinating period of Egyptian history, and Aidan Dodson tells a gripping tale backed up with the latest research (this revised edition brings the original 2009 work up to date), copious notes and illustrations, and a comprehensive bibliography.


The American University in Cairo Press, 2016

ISBN 978-977-416-752-2

Paperback, £12.99.




An Oasis City

by Roger S. Bagnall et al.


Some years ago, when visiting the Western Desert of Egypt as tourists, our party was taken to the site of Amheida, ancient Trimithis in the Dakhla Oasis. The remains, scattered over a huge area, looked fascinating, and included a mud-brick pyramid and well-preserved painted decoration on the walls of some of the ruined buildings. It was clear from the subject matter of these scenes that the ruins dated to the Roman Period, but since there was no guide-book and our local guide knew little about the site, it had to remain an enigmatic mystery. How much more interesting our visit would have been if we could have had access to this volume, which gives a very clear and readable account of the results of the (still on-going) excavation of the town over the past decade, and reveals its position as an important regional centre, with trading links to the Nile Valley. Since my visit, the layout of the town has been revealed, and several houses, a bath-house, a school and a church have been identified.

A replica of one of the houses has also been erected on the edge of the site and the pyramid, the only Roman mud-brick pyramid still extant in Egypt, has been restored.

The book was written by various members of the excavation team, each contributing a section on their own area of expertise.

In an introductory chapter, the importance of the archaeological site is stressed. Because the ancient town has never been re-occupied since Roman times, it presents a unique opportunity to excavate a complete Roman settlement extending over an area of at least 2.5 x 1.5 km.

The book sets the town in context with other Oasis sites, thus making for a work that should be read by anyone planning a Western Desert trip. As well as describing in some detail the physical remains, it gives accounts of the religious practices of the inhabitants (which included both worship of the ancient Egyptian gods and Christianity), the basis of the thriving economy of the Oasis and the literary culture and education of the inhabitants.

The great importance of Amheida’s wall paintings, which are “a rare glimpse into the visual culture of the late Roman Empire” is also stressed.

The book throws light upon the realities of life for Roman citizens in a colony far removed from the major centres of population, and yet still surviving for centuries as an important source of commodities such as olive oil and cotton, which were exported by camel trains to the Nile Valley.

With 144 black-and-white illustrations and a comprehensive Bibliography, this is indeed a valuable contribution to the study of the history of the Oases of the Western Desert.


Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University Press, 2015; Combined Academic Publishers Ltd., 2016

ISBN 978-1-4798-8922-8

Hardback, £42.




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