LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—The University of Leiden announced that artifacts its researchers unearthed during the past 25 years at the Syrian site of Tell Sabi Abyad may have been stolen from storage depots in the provincial capital of Raqqa by armed men. The artifacts include 6,000-year-old pottery and art objects, and animal and human remains—much of it unstudied. “I cannot check the extent of the damage because due to all the violence the area is too dangerous to enter. Since December of last year, I have not been able to contact the Syrian guard of our depots,” Peter Akkermans told the NL Times. Akkermans has no word about the condition of Tell Sabi Abyad, either.
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—Sandra Karlsson, a graduate student at the University of Gothenburg, has studied Hellenistic grave reliefs from the Greek city-states of Smyrna and Kyzikos, located in present-day Turkey, for information about the expression of emotions, grief, and conceptions of death. She found the dead were often shown with family members and servants, and the strongest expressions of grief were offered for deceased children and adolescents. It had been thought that high child mortality rates brought about conventions that suppressed expressions of grief at the death of a child. “This [little utilized] source material provides important information about funerary rituals, demographics, family structures, and ideas about life after death,” Karlsson told Science Daily.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—A three-year study of Teotihuacán’s Pyramid of the Sun led by Arturo Menchaca of the National Autonomous University of Mexico suggests that dry conditions on the south side of the structure could lead to its collapse. His team placed detectors under the center of the pyramid to track how muons, which originate in space, passed through the building. What they found is that the density of the earth in the pyramid is at least 20 percent lower on one side than on the other. “I can use slightly moist sand to make a sandcastle. If I leave it exposed to the sun and touch it when it is dry, then it crumbles,” Menchaca told New Scientist.
SUFFOLK, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have announced the discovery of a seventh-century royal village in Rendlesham, four miles northeast of the Anglo-Saxon burial site of Sutton Hoo. Fragments of jewelry and coins have been found at the village site, which covers more than 100 acres of farmland. The Saxon historian the Venerable Bede wrote of “the king’s country-seat of Rendlesham,” but its exact location was unknown until the landowner became concerned about treasure hunters on his property and called the archaeology until of the Suffolk county council. The scientists used aerial photography, soil analysis, ground-penetrating radar, and metal detectors to investigate the area. “It shows there were high-status people at the site and there was trading with places that were very far away. It is fascinating and very exciting,” Mike Argent, chairman of the Sutton Hoo Society, told EADT24. The Saxon historian Bede wrote of “the king’s country-seat of Rendlesham.
Op woensdag 19 maart organiseert de Antwerpse Vereniging voor Romeinse Archeologie (AVRA) een lezing met als titel ‘Helden en gespuis: Romeinse oorlogsinvaliden en hun terugkeer naar de samenleving’. Gastspreker Korneel Van Lommel studeerde in 2012 af als Master of Arts in de geschiedenis van de oudheid aan de KULeuven. Voor zijn masterproef deed hij onderzoek naar het leven van Romeinse oorlogsinvaliden waarvan de resultaten in diverse internationale academische tijdschriften zijn gepubliceerd.
Romeinse soldaten konden op heel wat prestige rekenen in de samenleving. Na hun diensttijd ontvingen zij als veteranen allerlei juridische voorrechten en via de bekleding van religieuze en politieke ambten klommen zij verder op de sociale ladder. Personen met lichamelijke afwijkingen en misvormingen kenden daarentegen een moeilijk bestaan in de Romeinse wereld. Los van praktische hindernissen waarmee ze in het dagelijkse leven werden geconfronteerd, waren ze vaak het mikpunt van spot of werden gebruikt als exotisch entertainment.
Maar wat bracht de toekomst dan voor soldaten die gehavend en verminkt het leger verlieten? Bood de Romeinse staat een wetgevend kader voor deze invalide veteranen? Welke ambten waren toegankelijk voor hen? Werden zij volgens de algemene opinie verwelkomd als helden of sleten zij hun dagen aan de rand van de maatschappij? En niet onbelangrijk, hoe gingen invalide veteranen zelf om met hun handicap? Op basis van bronnenmateriaal uit de vroege Republiek tot en met de late oudheid tracht de lezing een antwoord op deze vragen te formuleren.
Praktisch: de lezing start om 20u in de UA-Stadscampus (Rodestraat 14, Antwerpen). De toegang is gratis. De lezing wordt georganiseerd i.s.m. de Vakgroep Geschiedenis van de Universiteit Antwerpen.
In one of my previous posts on this puzzing chunk of bronze I mentioned I wanted to have a better look at the base and see how the feet attached. The CNN video has some good shots toward the end, and while I’m still wondering about the attachment, there is another very interesting detail which might be worth noting. Here’s a screencap:
I’m not sure if it is a problem with the camera angle, but it seems to me that the right foot is a “Roman” foot (with the second and third toes the same length as the big toe). The left foot seems to be a “Greek” foot, with the second toe longer than the big toe. As many people who stare at ancient statues like to point out, the “Greek” foot was a sort of ideal, and is seen on most ancient statues … divinities almost always have the “Greek” foot. For the record, I’ve never seen a “Roman” foot on an ancient statue, but, as often, that doesn’t mean anything. That there seems to be a mix of styles again raises the question: Crappy artist or ancient fake? Or modern fake?
The Warren Cup: A piece of mimetic craftsmanship around 1900?Brilliant phrase that, "mimetic craftsmanship" (metal detectorists: that means "fake"). Here's the blurb:
The 'Warren Cup' - a small, silver drinking cup decorated in low relief with scenes of homosexual intercourse - was purchased by the British Museum for £1.8m in 1999; today, it is one of the most cherished pieces in the British Museum's Roman Galleries (and a highlight of Neil MacGregor's History of the World in 100 Objects). In this lecture, Prof. Luca Giuliani re-examines the cup's modern reception since its initial purchase by Edward Perry Warren in 1911. Rather than date the cup to the first century AD, however, Prof. Giuliani suggests that the object is in fact a modern forgery, its imagery specially designed for its first, eponymous owner. Luca Giuliani's research on the 'Warren Cup' has attracted much media attention in Germany. This will be the first time that Prof. Giuliani addresses a British audience on the subject: to enrich discussion, the British Museum has nominated Prof. Dyfri Williams (author of The Warren Cup, published by the British Museum Press in 2006) to act as respondent.The object used to be cited as a prototype of a certain series of Arretine ceramic cups much collected by Victorian British clergymen (a fine series in the Ashmolean), when it is more likely it was modelled after them. Prof Giuliani observes that one of the sexual positions depicted is copied from an Arretine depiction of vaginal copulation, but the artist applied it anatomically incorrectly to anal copulation, thus (it is suggested) giving the forgery away. (This logic is surely only watertight if one assumes that an ancient artist depicting a homoerotic scene had actually practised anal sex him/herself.)
I made a quick trip up north, to my beloved White Mountains. It was gorgeous up there. A friend and I climbed a couple of classic ice climbs, Shoestring gully and Willie’s slide. Nothing major, but outstanding fun, and some good experience at multi-pitch climbing. Learned a bunch, had fun, and as a reward, when leaving the valley I got this fantastic view of the big daddy, Mt Washington. I dont think Ive ever seen it this clear.
Three rounded ceramic objects with saw-teeth like margins. They have small holes on both ventral and dorsal aspects. Upon moving them, a sound comes out as if there is a small object inside them. May have been used in religious, sorcery or magical liturgy. Mesopotamia, old Babylonian era, 2000-1500 BCE, Sulaimaniya Museum, Iraq.
A pottery incense container which was found at layer 5 of the altar platform of the central temple of Basmosian hill, Mesopotamia, Hurrian period, 2nd millennium BCE. Sulaimaniya Museum, Iraq.
Finally, my copy of Steve House and Scott Johnson’s Training for the New Alpinism. A Manual for the Climber as Athlete, Patagonia Books, 2014, has arrived. It treats the climber as an athlete, and differentiates types of climbing/specific training. I especially like the Alpine versus big mountain mountaineering distinctions in it. And fantastic photos throughout the book. More anon. But at first glance this looks like a book every climber will have, and continue to read.
The rebooted series Cosmos, featuring Neil de Grasse Tyson, has sparked a lot of discussion about religion as well as science. I finally managed to watch the first episode while eating my lunch today.
The message of the series Cosmos? Surely a major component is that we cannot explore our place is the universe without imagination. Yes, science provides data which only fools and dogmatists ignore to their shame. But to turn data into a worldview, we need imagination (a dramatic music and CGI now also assist).
The mixed message is one that we should embrace – but not uncritically. We need to notice that the series shows us at times things beyond the limit of what we can observe, and things which may be beyond the limit of what we ever observe or can observe.
Realizing that we are not the center of our universe is said to be a part of growing up. Indeed! The treatment of religion is not at all unsympathetic. Giordano Bruno's vision of an infinite universe, far from being anti-religious, was an expression of his openness to an infinite God, and to his dreams as well as scientific information.
What is the message of the series Cosmos? If I may paraphrase Einstein, “Imagination without science is blind; science without imagination is lame.”
And, as Bruno is depicted as saying, the message of the series is, “Your God is too small.”
That is a message that mystics and many other religious voices have been proclaiming for a long time. Those religious perspectives will find the vision of Cosmos – including its concluding words about Carl Sagan, and about figuring out not only what profession we want to pursue, but the kind of people we want to become – one that resonates with their own.
I look forward to watching the next episode, which promises to present “the greatest story science has ever told.”
What did you think of the first episode of Cosmos?
A correspondent has drawn my attention to the existence of an English translation of Origen’s nine surviving homilies on the psalms. It is to be found in a dissertation by Michael Heintz, The pedagogy of the soul: Origen’s “Homilies on the Psalms“, Notre Dame, 2008. It can be accessed via the commercial ProQuest database – some may have subscriptions at their university – as UMI Number: 3309539.
Of course this does not include the recent discovery of a whole mass of Origen’s homilies. These are those on Ps.36-38 (37-39 in the other numbering). The prologue by Rufinus, the translator (into Latin), is also included.
The Griffith Institute is housed in the Griffith Wing of the Sackler Library and is part of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford. The Institute's unique combination of projects contributes to research and teaching at the highest level.
The Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings, (also known as Porter & Moss) is an essential and comprehensive reference resource for Egyptologists, presenting and analysing both published and unpublished information about ancient Egyptian monuments. The first seven volumes are arranged topographically and cover the whole of Egypt and areas beyond, including Nubia (southernmost modern Egypt and northern Sudan). Volume VIII addresses the significant body of material in museums and private collections which has no provenance. A digitised version of this data is under development and will follow shortly...
The following additional open access components of the Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs, and Paintings Project have been available online since 2009:
- I/1. Theban Necropolis. Private Tombs
- I/2. Theban Necropolis. Royal Tombs & Smaller Cemeteries
- II. Theban Temples
- III/1. Memphis. Abû Rawâsh to Abûṣîr
- III/2. Memphis. Ṣaqqâra to Dahshûr
- IV. Lower and Middle Egypt
- V. Upper Egypt. Sites
- VI. Upper Egypt. Chief Temples
- VII. Nubia, The Deserts and Outside Egypt
- CNRS/Oxford Workshop programme
Printed volumes online
- Volume viii (Objects of Provenance Not Known) Parts 1 and 2 (Statues)
An updated sample text: Royal statues.
- Volume viii (Objects of Provenance Not Known Part 3 (Stelae. Early Dynastic Period to Dynasty XVII)
An updated sample text: the first 50 pages of the printed volume.
- Volume viii (Objects of Provenance Not Known Part 4 (Stelae. Dynasty XVIII to the Roman Period) The working and uncorrected files.
- Volume viii (Objects of Provenance Not Known Part 5 (Reliefs and Paintings)
The working and uncorrected files.
Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient staff carved with two realistic human faces in southern Syria.
The roughly 9,000-year-old artifact was discovered near a graveyard where about 30 people were buried without their heads — which were found in a nearby living space.
"The find is very unusual. It’s unique," said study co-author Frank Braemer, an archaeologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France.
The wand, which was likely used in a long-lost funeral ritual, is one of the only naturalistic depictions of human faces from this time and place, Braemer said. Read more.
Zhoukoudian Locality 1 in northern China has been widely known for the discovery of the Middle Pleistocene human ancestor Homo erectus pekinensis ( known as Peking Man ) since the 1920s. By 1931, the suggestion that the Zhoukoudian hominins could use and control fire had become widely accepted. However, some analyses have cast doubt on this assertion as siliceous aggregate (an insoluble phase of burned ash) was not present in ash remains recovered from the site. New analyses of four ash samples retrieved from different positions of Zhoukoudian Locality 1 during the excavations carried out in 2009, present evidence for the controlled use of fire by Peking Man, according to an article published in the journal Chinese Science Bulletin.
"At present, the key point of the debate over the intentional use of fire by Homo erectus pekinensis at Zhoukoudian is whether or not siliceous aggregate (an insoluble phase of burned ash) is present in ash remains recovered from the site". Read more.
So I’m a Daylight Saving Time zombie here and am killing time wandering down assorted backroads of the internet and I came across a very interesting photo in an arabic newspaper:
Two things of interest here … obviously it’s a CNN exclusive, so it’s a screencap of some sort, and also it looks like the statue still has both eyes! Plenty of us wondered when/why the eye was missing (see, e.g., Sam Hardy’s useful post which includes another photo of the intact eye), so I managed too find the video:
… the shot comes from the beginning and I never did see this video on TV. Clearly, the statue has both eyes, and so the one must have been gouged out before that September ‘press conference’ we mentioned in our timeline post. So where did CNN get this video? This is the jeweller’s video! It’s also clear that the ‘patch’ — as Sam Hardy clarified today — is on the leg.
This video dates from February 16 … how did everyone (especially me) miss it?
UPDATE (a few minutes later): I also notice the left hand is missing quite a few fingers (as we already knew). You don’t suppose Hamas stepped in because they heard that whoever had custody of the statue was snipping off bits here and there? And maybe that ‘press conference’ was them taking custody?
The quote comes from a guest post on Pete Enns’ blog, in which Randy Hardman tells the story of why he left the pursuit of apologetics as a vocation.
Posted for Rebecca Benefiel:
Mellon Junior Faculty Fellow in Digital History
Washington and Lee University invites applications for a Mellon Foundation postdoctoral fellowship for recent Ph.D.s in history who intend to pursue careers as teacher-scholars in a liberal arts college setting. These two-year fellowships are open to candidates who earned their Ph.D.s in Spring 2012 or later. Fellows will play an active role in helping to demonstrate innovative methods of teaching, making interdisciplinary connections and teaching new courses in neglected areas of the curriculum. Fellows will have a reduced teaching load to allow time for their own scholarly development.
The Department of History seeks a specialist in digital history with a concentration in ancient or any field in pre-1800 global or non-Western history. Applicants should have experience with digital humanities pedagogies and using digital humanities tools in their scholarly research.
Apply electronically at our portal: https://jobs.wlu.edu/postings/1907. After filling out a cover sheet, you will be prompted to upload a letter of application, a CV, a sample of recent scholarly work, and enter contact information for two providers of letters of recommendation (or a credentials file). Review of applications will begin April 7, 2014. Address your application letter (and any questions) to Professor Sarah Horowitz (email@example.com), Chair, Mellon Junior Faculty Fellow in Digital History Search Committee, Department of History, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450. Washington and Lee and the Department of History are interested in candidates committed to high standards of scholarship and professional activities, and to the development of a campus climate that supports equality and diversity among its faculty, staff, and students. The University is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
I was thinking recently that it would be fun to teach a class, whether about the Bible or history more generally, which approached it through stories about time travel to various times and places, and then looked at the actual historical sources.
A few recent posts on blogs I read intersected with this, bringing the Bible and/or Christianity into intersection with time travel. First, here’s an excerpt from a post by Arik Bjorn at Faith Forward:
With 20 centuries under its biblical belt, Christian history offers its fair share of landmark bloopers.
Major flubs that immediately spring to mind are the Great Schism, the Avignon Papacy, and that dreadful day in 2013 when Liberty University invited Kirk Cameron and Justin Bieber’s mom to speak at convocation.
If I could hop in a DeLorean and correct any single moment in the Holy Church space-time continuum, it would probably be the year 1551, in Geneva, when Robert Estienne, “royal typographer” and “printer in Greek to the [French] King,” translated the Latin Vulgate and added a formatting innovation to the New Testament: Verse Notations.
Click through to read the rest.
Next, Matt Young posted the image below. We learned a while back that Ken Ham is a Doctor Who fan. And so presumably time travel explains the existence of a crane in this story set in the stone-age. Or do we have reason to think that there was such technology during the paleolithic – which is when, according to Answers in Genesis, the story unfolds. In fact, the stone age starts after the Flood, and so perhaps they are of the view that there was more advanced technology previously which was lost in that global cataclysm? If so, they need to provide evidence. They can perhaps collaborate with Giorgio Tsoukalos, even if they interpret the alleged data differently.
Which other Biblical stories are improved, or make more sense, if time travel is added? What do you think about a class about the Bible, religion, or ancient history, which used modern science fiction time travel stories as a route by which to approach the relevant historical data and questions? Do you think it would be not only a fun but an informative course, and which books, stories, TV episodes, and movies would you recommend ought to be part of it?
Let me add just a couple more science fiction related tidbits from around the blogosphere.
First, IO9 had a round up of interesting church gargoyles, including the Darth Vader one I have mentioned here previously, and also this one (which, if it were not a modern addition during renovation, would have to be connected with time travel):
And finally, Michael Barber shared this image, which a youth minister he knows calls “St. Martha in Carbonite”:
The Search for a Greater Truth: Religion and Philosophy in Roman Egypt
By Dana F. Michael
Master’s Thesis, Pittsburgh State University, 2013
Abstract: When Cleopatra VII Philopator took her own life after Egypt’s defeat at Actium an empire died as the legend was born. Egypt, ruled by the Macedonian Ptolemys for three hundred years, was now a province of the Roman Empire. This death is more a political fiction of Rome’s, however, than any kind of real defeat. For while the government ran as that of a Roman territory, Egypt’s influence on the Mediterranean world and beyond was extensive.
Egypt was the grain basket of Rome, so the Emperors kept a close eye on the country. Romans of all classes, from governors to soldiers, travelled in and out of Egypt’s borders. All these travelers took Egyptian ideas out with them, and it is in this fashion that Egyptian influence spread as far as Britain.
I argue in my thesis that the most vivid example of Egypt’s sway can be seen in the areas of religion and philosophy. These areas of influence manifest in three ways Hellenistic/Egyptian Paganism, Christianity/Judaism, and Philosophy. This thesis rests on four types of sources. The two largest sources are papyrus fragments (including, but not limited to, official decrees and correspondence) and classical sources (including but not limited to Herodotus, Plutarch, and Socrates). Building inscriptions, e.g. those found on the walls of temples, are the third form. Finally, secondary sources, for example, contemporary historians like Jean Bingen, Sir William Tarn, and David Frankfurter.
Acknowledgements: I often say I never had a chance to be anything other than a historian. I thank all the deities, whatever the names given them, for this fact.
I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Stephan A. Harmon for his insight, encouragement, assistance, and patience with me and my writing process. I am sure I was a trial to him many times throughout the years, as I can be easily distracted by other research. I would also like to thank the other members of my committee, Dr. Donald W. Viney and Dr. John T. Ikeda Franklin for their contribution to my work and their participation in my thesis process.
I want to thank my family and friends; especially my parents. You offered constant encouragement, were my sounding board, and listened to my half muttered ramblings throughout the last five years just to name a few of your contributions. I could not have done this without you.
I would also like to express my deep gratitude to Mrs. Judith Shaw for conveying her absolute love of history and storytelling to all her students and intensifying my own love for the same things during my years at Pittsburg State University. I will never forget her.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: A BRIEF POLITICAL HISTORY
CHAPTER 2: EGYPT: CONQUEROR OF CONQUERORS
CHAPTER 3: EGYPTIAN INFLUENCE ON CHRISTIANITY AND JUDAISM
CHAPTER 4: CENTER OF THOUGHT
Egypt has been a constant in history since time immemorial. It is beautiful, enduring, and site of the only surviving ancient wonder. Egypt experiences few changes to the land and nothing is completely erased from those shifting desert sands. It is this constancy that gives Egypt its worldwide appeal, as true today as in ancient times, and this appeal is what gives Egypt its considerable influence on history. This thesis argues that the sway Egypt held over the ancient world can be seen most clearly in the spheres of religion and philosophy.
The first chapter consists of a brief political history, beginning with Alexander’s conquest of Egypt and ending with Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s defeat at the Battle of Actium. The political history serves to set a base to my central argument, despite the political turmoil throughout the history; Egypt remained, at its core, Egyptian. This fact is seen most clearly when one views Egypt’s influence on religion and philosophy during the Ptolemaic and Roman period against this political backdrop. It manifests itself in three different ways, Hellenistic/Egyptian paganism, Christianity/Judaism, and philosophy.
In the second chapter, “Egypt: Conqueror of Conquerors”, I examine the remains of the traditional pharaonic religion, the merging of Hellenistic paganism (under the Ptolemys) with pharaonic paganism, and how parts of it were adopted by the Romans living in Egypt. For example, traditional funerary practices such as mummification were embraced by some of the Romans living in Egypt. This assimilation of the conquerors can be seen in the Bahariya Oasis, where a fairly recent discovery of a cache of “golden mummies” with Roman faces on the sarcophagi has been found. Next I will look at how Hellenism and Egyptian practices/thoughts merged, especially in the case of the Ptolemaic invention Sarapis and the Hellenization of the Mother Goddess Isis.
The third chapter looks at the long history of Christianity in Egypt. Egypt has exerted so great an influence on the writers of the Bible that it is named as the safe haven to which the Holy Family fled. The tradition of monasticism is generally held to have begun in Egypt as well. I look at the monastic society as a whole as well as two well-known Church leaders St. Antony (widely recognized as the founder of the hermit/monastic tradition) and Shenoute of Atripe, father of the White Monastery beginning in 385 CE. Egypt was also the home of some Gnostic groups.
I also include Egypt’s history with Judaism in chapter three. The presence of Jews in Egypt has been documented since approximately 650 BCE; papyri document a contingent of Jewish soldiers that lived on Elephantine Island. They kept their own temple next to the Egyptian god Khnum’s temple. Jews were also to be found living in the capital city of Alexandria. Documentation of their living in their own quarter of the city abound, especially when the bishop of the city, Cyril, went about his prosecutions in the fifth century C.E. The Jewish community even sent its own embassy to the Roman Emperor, in order to secure Jewish rights in Alexandria.
In chapter four, “Center of Thought” I look at philosophy’s role in Roman Egypt, especially in Alexandria. During the Roman period, the writings of an ancient Egyptian, Hermes Trismegistus, were popular thus spurring a movement known as Hermetism. The murder of the female philosopher Hypatia is also included, as it occurs against a backdrop of intense spiritual tension in Alexandria. It is therefore a perfect example of the violence that could break out so quickly.
The religious and philosophical influence of Roman Egypt has not been examined much throughout the years. Historians have mainly focused on the government workings of the age, viewing it through a Roman-centric lens that limits how much of the native influence and everyday workings can be examined. The goal of this thesis is to throw light on this aspect of Egyptian history, and show how much Rome actually assimilated to Egypt rather than the other way around.
A BRIEF POLITICAL HISTORY
The politics between Egypt, Greece, and Rome respectively have been well documented by historians. Much as Egypt was a vacation destination for wealthy British and French personages in the early twentieth century, it was a favorite spot of ancient Greeks and Romans as well. Many traveled to the deserts of Egypt to gaze upon the fantastic monuments that dot the landscape, others to soak up its knowledge. The history and mythology of Egypt fascinated writers of the Classical period much as they fascinate those of today. It is not surprising that as Mediterranean power grew, either Greece or Rome would look to Egypt as a possible ally. Eventually, these initial contacts would lead to a political clash, which ended with Egypt becoming a Roman province.
As the purpose of this thesis is to examine a typically overlooked topic, that of Egyptian religious and philosophical influence, the writer has chosen to only give a brief political history to serve as background information. The political history also serves to form a backdrop for the overall argument of the thesis. For in all of Egypt’s history, the political maneuverings of rulers have rarely affected the core of Egyptian belief. That core of belief has continuously exerted an influence on foreign peoples.
Part 1: Alexander the Great and Ptolemy I Soter
For the majority of Egypt’s time as a united country, it has been ruled by foreign peoples with periods of intermittent native rule. In the 330s BCE, it was ruled by the Persian king Darius the Great. This political situation put Egypt directly in the path of Alexander the Great’s campaign against the Persians. The Egyptians chafed under Persian rule, and Alexander was welcomed as a liberator when he came to the country after defeating Darius. He is known to have sacrificed to the sacred Apis bull and soon took the title of Pharaoh. He was crowned in the temple of Ptah at Memphis, exactly as the pharaohs before him. Alexander spent very little time in Egypt. He was named pharaoh, marked out the lines for Alexandria (which would serve as the capitol of Egypt until the Arabic period), travelled to the temple of Ammon at the Siwa Oasis, and left the country. He never returned to Egypt.
Alexander’s empire, so briefly united, was divided upon his death into four parts: Babylonia, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Egypt. The proposed plan was for his most trusted generals to hold the territories until Alexander’s heir was of age. His long-standing friend, Ptolemy, took control of Egypt. Infighting, however, led to either the death or banishment of most of Alexander’s heirs within a short amount of time. Fighting erupted over his body almost immediately after his death. Macedonia was in such turmoil directly after Alexander’s death that his soldiers and generals in the East refused to send the body back to Macedonia. After approximately two years, things had settled down enough there that transportation was arranged and his funeral procession started for home.
By this time, Alexander’s body had become a unique sort of status symbol. Ptolemy, recognizing this, befriended the head of the procession, and turned the caravan towards Egypt. Ptolemy would later use possession of the corpse to help secure his independence and claim to the throne of Egypt. The Macedonian general Ptolemy became Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter, and with the beginning of his dynasty he cemented a Hellenistic presence in Egypt.
Ptolemy I Soter was a strong king, who firmly established his legitimacy to the throne in a variety of ways. The strength of the Ptolemaic state did not rest on the Greek-model city, as the Seleucids’ power in Asia did. Ptolemy I Soter founded only one city in his time, Ptolemais, located in Upper Egypt. He did, however, expand Egyptian borders; the Cyclades, Samos, and most of the coast of Asia Minor were just a few of the territories Ptolemy Soter added to his empire.
Ptolemy Soter took swift measures to ensure his economic security as well. The main staple of Egypt was grain and this is the main area where Ptolemy made his money. He divided each section of wheat planting into tracts of land known as “corn-land”. Every owner of “corn-land” paid a tax in kind directly to the King. If the King owned the land no peasant could claim his harvest until the King had received his share and transported it to the King’s granary. One should note that the King received the larger share of the harvest than the peasant. Next, the newly crowned pharaoh monopolized papyrus, mines, quarries, saltworks, and oil made from seed plants (including sesame, croton, linseed, safflower, or colocynth). Oil was by far the largest monopoly, being completely nationalized from production, fabrication, and distribution. The King decided how much land the peasants had to plant with oil-producing plants and bought it at a fixed price. The oil was then manufactured in state factories staffed with serfs and sold to retailers, also at a fixed price.
Ptolemy Soter then turned his attention to the actual governing of his new kingdom. He abolished the existing nomarchs and installed a Greek or Macedonian governor in his place in the existing nomes. This practice was standard operating procedure for Macedonian kingdoms. He then created separate law systems, one for the Greeks and one for the Egyptians. This separation was actually more sympathetic to the Egyptians than one might think. Under this dual system, Egyptians kept their old native land law system (translated to Greek) and their old judges. Greek law was based on the idea of personal, rather than territorial law, hence the creation of the two systems. Sometime in the third century, a special tribunal was created to settle disputes between the two groups which took both systems into account.
This is not to say that the Ptolemys did not embrace certain aspects of Egyptian culture. The idea of the ruler cult, acting as intermediary between mortals and gods, and sibling marriage were all practiced by the Ptolemaic dynasty. Ptolemy II Philedelphus was the first to adopt the practice when he married his full-fledged sister Arsinoe II. This precedent was followed by many of the Ptolemys that came after him. Egyptian temples were also frequently either repaired or rebuilt by the Greek rulers. After Alexander’s conquest of Egypt, the Greeks also began identifying their gods with Egyptian ones. For example Horus was equated with Apollo, Thoth/Hermes, Ammon/Zeus, Hathor/Aphrodite, Athena/Taweret, and Pan/Min.
Ptolemy I Soter’s style of government flourished under a strong king who could keep the officials honest. The influx of Greek settlers able to enlist in the army insured military dominance. This type of government also depended on keeping the two groups of peoples, Egyptians and Greeks, relatively separate. Egyptians were not allowed to serve in the army nor did they serve in bureaucratic positions. Within a couple of generations this system started to splinter, as most of the Ptolemaic kings did not have the same strong hand their patriarch possessed.
By the early third century BCE, native troops were to be found in the army. It was their presence that turned the tide to Ptolemaic victory against the Selucids at the Battle of Raphia under Ptolemy IV Philopater; out of 3,000 cavalry present at the battle 2,000 were a mixture of Egyptians and Libyans. Graeco-Egyptian intermarriage began around the second century BCE. Under Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II the Macedonian calendar gave way to the Egyptian one. 
More significant is the evidence of intermingling between the two cultures. Names were no longer an indication of race, as Egyptians who moved up the scale took Greek names and Greeks who had married into native families took Egyptian ones. Greeks also started adopting many Egyptian practices, including the funeral rite of embalming and mummification. Numerous other examples of this intermingling will follow in Chapter Two.
This Egyptianzation of the government led to more outbreaks of peasant unrest as the Egyptians began to realize their importance to the dynasty. This realization manifested itself as an unrest that the Greek pharaohs were beginning to have trouble controlling.
Part Two: The Ptolemys and Rome
Greek rulers in Egypt opened the door for Rome’s entrance. Official assurances of friendship between Rome and Egypt were exchanged during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, son of Ptolemy I Soter, in 275 BCE. Several men from his court traveled as ambassadors to Rome to exchange the gestures of friendships. The diplomatic trip was an effective political move on the part of Ptolemy II, as Rome had just emerged the victor of the Second Punic War and was now the greatest power in the Mediterranean. The friendship also benefitted Rome during her various struggles with Carthage, as it kept Egypt from intervening on behalf of Carthage.
Within a century of Ptolemy II’s friendship embassy, Roman merchants and tradesmen were settling in Egypt. By the 200s BCE, Roman officials were making inspection tours throughout the country. The onset of Roman settlers allowed the more secure Roman ruler to swoop in and save the pharaoh whenever Ptolemaic power was threatened, tightening the bonds between the two governments. Alliances with Rome did not come without their price, which was to be paid within three generations of initial contact.
The Ptolemaic dynasty became permanently indebted to Rome’s power upon the death of Ptolemy IX Soter II, who died in 80 BCE without a legitimate heir. Sulla placed his protégé, most likely a son of one of Ptolemy IX’s other wives or concubines, on the throne. When Ptolemy XI Auletes’ very life was threatened, he fled to Rome for safety and to gain support. He was given it, and Gabinius, the Roman governor of Syria, invaded Egypt and placed Auletes securely back on the throne. The kingdom of Egypt became the reward when the grateful pharaoh was unable to pay the 10,000 talents of silver agreed upon. In his will, Auletes named his children joint rulers of Egypt and Rome their guardians. These children were Cleopatra VII Philopator and Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator. Within two years trouble brewed between the royal couple and Cleopatra had fled into exile.
At the same time, Caesar and Pompey were embroiled in civil war in Rome. Pompey sought sanctuary in Alexandria, choosing to appeal to the young Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator’s camp of the warring siblings. Pompey’s death at the hands of Ptolemy XIII, a miscalculation intended to gain Caesar’s favor, angered Caesar instead. Caesar, as their guardian, interjected himself as mediator between Cleopatra and her brother-husband.
Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XIII each had one chance to make an impression on Caesar and gain his sympathy, and it is at this point that Cleopatra threw all her cards on the table at her meeting with him. Cleopatra emerged the winner of Caesar’s goodwill and much of the negotiations were in her favor. Caesar reconciled the couple, and reinstated Ptolemy XIII as King of Egypt. However, his position was conditional upon Cleopatra acting as equal co-ruler of the kingdom. As soon as the couple agreed to this settlement, Egypt became a Roman province in all but name.
Despite this apparent submission to Roman will, Cleopatra VII was the most Egyptianized ruler of her dynasty. For example she was the only one who troubled to learn the Egyptian tongue, Demotic. After Caesar’s assassination, Cleopatra had to worry about her country and what would happen to it without the assistance of the powerful Caesar. She decided on an alliance with Marc Antony, one of Caesar’s more trusted confidantes, over Octavian, Caesar’s nephew.
Part Three: The Fall of Ptolemaic Egypt
Cleopatra’s relationship with Antony was a contributing cause to Egypt’s formal annexation as a Roman province. During the power struggle that ensued after Caesar’s assassination, the affair would prove to be valuable propaganda Octavian could use to rid himself of his rival without actually declaring war on a countryman. Reports came in that painters and sculptors depicted the couple as Osiris and Isis, or Dionysus and Selene. This portrayal of the couple as Greek or Egyptian gods interchangeably further illustrates the spread of Egyptian influence to the Greek and Roman world. Octavian read the contents of Antony’s will in public, which enraged the Roman populace. From there, it was not hard for them to believe the rumors that Antony planned to hand Rome over to Cleopatra and move the seat of government to Egypt. Octavian got his declaration of war, which was officially against Cleopatra, but in reality against Antony.
Octavian’s reason for declaring war on Cleopatra rather than Antony was purely political. He and his supporters feared to declare Antony a public enemy, lest they had to do the same for Antony’s friends. This declaration would put a good majority of the Senate on the wrong side of Roman public opinion. So the Senate offered a pardon to everyone that deserted Antony. Without a formal declaration of war against Antony, Octavian could level a charge of treason. Octavian knew Antony would not desert Cleopatra, so in effect any war against her was against Antony. However, not formally declaring war on Antony gave Octavian the opening to say that Antony had himself declared war on Rome for the sake of a foreign woman.
The tense situation came to a head in a fierce naval battle at Actium in 31 BCE. Octavian’s forces defeated those of Antony and Cleopatra. The couple fled back to Alexandria. Antony committed suicide as did Cleopatra, thwarting Octavian’s plans to take her back for a Triumph into Rome.
Part Four: Conclusion, Egypt as a Roman Province
Within a month of Cleopatra’s suicide, in 30 BCE, Octavian (by then renamed Augustus) had formally added Egypt to the Roman Empire. Augustus, though he executed some of Antony’s supporters in Egypt, issued a decree sparing the Egyptians and Alexandrians. A master propagandist, he explained his actions by claiming to have been influenced by the Alexandrian god Sarapis, their founder Alexander the Great, and a third man named Areius whose learning had impressed Octavian. In many ways this mercy was simply practical; such a large population would prove to be beneficial to Rome.
The mercy of Augustus did not extend much past sparing the lives of the Alexandrians. Augustus took swift measures to ensure that the Greeks knew they were now part of a Roman province. Greek citizens would no longer have the special privileges they had previously enjoyed under the Ptolemaic rulers. These measures came in several different ways. First, he abolished their Senate (granted to them under the Greek Ptolemy rulers). Next, Augustus gave the Jews of Alexandria all the rights and privileges previously enjoyed by the Greeks alone. His third step was to found a city, Nikopolis, just a few miles east of Alexandria. In founding this new city, Augustus was attempting to remove the seat of government and official religious celebrations from Alexandria. The city stood to lose a lot of power and prestige if Nikopolis flourished. In this aspect Alexandrians were lucky. Nikopolis did not thrive and mainly existed as a Roman garrison camp. Relations between Rome and Alexandria never really improved; Alexandria continued to be the seat of rebellions and contenders for the Roman throne.
As discussed earlier, Egypt’s main economic staple was grain and it served as the main source for Rome. However, it was this important contribution to Roman society that made Roman emperors keep such a tight rein on the country. Whoever was the prefect of Egypt had to be loyal to the emperor, because he could in effect starve Rome into submission. Therefore, emperors usually sent governors, of whose loyalty they were assured, to Egypt. Roman senators were not allowed to enter Egypt; such was the possibility of launching a successful coup from the province, especially Alexandria, as noted above.
Egypt would be a Roman province until the seventh century. However, this thesis will demonstrate that while the government of Egypt changed, as one would expect of a conquered country, in many ways Egypt continued as it had for centuries. The average Egyptian’s life did not change on most levels; there was simply another foreign pharaoh on the throne. Temples were built in the old style; the Roman Emperor was shown on walls with the same Egyptian elements which always accompanied the pharaohs of old. The citizens of Egypt, through their religion and philosophy, continued to exert a strong influence on the world.
EGYPT: CONQUEROR OF CONQUERORS
The religious landscape of Egypt is varied, dynamic, and unique. Its myths and gods have fascinated other cultures for millennia. Perhaps this fascination explains why invaders tended to adopt Egyptian practices. The institution of pharaohs was adopted by all of Egypt’s rulers, whether foreign or native through the Roman era. The adoption of not only the Egyptian word for ruler but also pharaonic trappings is significant. It indicates a willingness on the part of foreign rulers to accept, in addition to pharaonic rule, Egypt’s divine pantheon, mythology, and religious rites as well.
When a ruler took the title of pharaoh in Egypt, he took the responsibilities that came with the office as well. These responsibilities were largely religious in nature, as the pharaoh was the mediator between gods and mortals. In fact, he was considered a living god in his own right. Therefore, to become pharaoh was to become a living god. Generally, during his lifetime, the pharaoh was identified as a manifestation of Horus and would assume the role of Osiris upon his death. Much of the pharaoh’s time was spent as the go-between for his subjects and his gods. It was necessary that the ruler make offerings and lead ritual processions during the gods’ festivals in order to maintain maat. It was not unusual for a ruler to be venerated as a god in ancient times; however, the idea of the ruler also being the servant of the gods is relatively unique. Also, it was unusual for a ruler to be considered a living god. It is a dual role that the pharaoh lives from birth to death, and in the afterlife as well.
The Greek pharaohs not only adopted the classic pharaonic role and Egyptian pantheon, they embraced the concept and expanded the pantheon with the creation of Sarapis. Before a discussion of Ptolemaic Egyptian paganism, however, one should realize that Egypt had wielded considerable religious influence before Alexander the Great became pharaoh.
Part I: Egypt’s religious influence before the Ptolemys
Egypt’s rites, myths, and rituals as practiced by the pharaohs for centuries exerted an influence on the ancient world long before Egypt became part of the Graeco-Roman territory. For example, Philip of Macedonia, after consulting with the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, was commanded to perform a sacrifice to Ammon and ever afterwards pay special honor to him above all other gods years before his son conquered Egypt. Ammon is just one of the gods that had travelled outside of Egyptian borders before Alexander the Great conquered Egypt.
Ammon arrived in Athens, via the Cyrenian Greeks, long before any other Egyptian god; his cult became public around 370 BCE. Delian temple records show that Athenian generals were sacrificing to the god when the cult of Isis was still limited to immigrants. The high status of those performing the sacrifices proves that Ammon had been in Athens long enough to have climbed the social scale. Ammon was not the only Egyptian god who had a shrine on the island of Delos. These shrines were very wealthy and had a considerable income. In the second half of the second century, temple inventories recorded a large number of votive candles given as offerings to the Delian Egyptian temples. By 146 BCE, the number of votives in the Egyptian temples was second only to those in the temple of Apollo. The large number of offerings is significant, as there were other Greek gods’ temples located on the island and Apollo’s was the main one. Delos was known as the birthplace of Apollo and his sister, so a foreign god’s temple receiving as many or more offerings as that of Apollo is very telling of Egypt’s reach in the Greek world even before Alexander and the Ptolemys.
As for Egypt’s historical influence, the Father of History, Herodotus, spent much of his career gathering information about the country. When he wrote his Histories in the mid-fifth century BCE, he stated, “I shall extend my remarks to a great length, because there is no country that possesses so many wonders, nor any that has such a number of works which defy description.” He had traveled through the country at length and spent many hours talking with the priests of different cults by the time he wrote his books. Herodotus claimed these priests told him that it was the Egyptians who were the first to use the names of the twelve gods and that the Greeks had adopted those names from them.
Herodotus later affirmed that the majority of the Grecian gods came from Egypt. Poseidon was a notable exception, as were Hera and Hestia. Poseidon was a natural exception as a God of the Ocean would not serve any function in a desert pantheon. However, the Nile was itself considered a god and worshipped in its own right. There were a handful of other minor divine groups, such as the Graces, that Herodotus believed came from somewhere else but he credited Egypt with knowing of the other divines from the beginning of time.
When Plutarch wrote of Osiris’ birth in his treatise Of Isis and Osiris, he spoke of a temple of Jupiter, located at Thebes in Greece. The scene where his birth was announced to humankind is very suggestive. He wrote,
There are others that affirm one Pamyles, as he was fetching water at Thebes, heard a voice out of the temple of Jupiter, bidding him to publish with a loud voice that Osiris, the great and good king, was now born; and that he thereupon got to be foster-father to Osiris, Saturn entrusting him with the charge of him, and that the feast called Pamylia (resembling the Priapeian procession the Greeks called Phallephoria) was instituted in honor of him.
Plutarch’s description of Osiris’ birth is rife with evidence of synergetic elements while Egypt was independent of any Greek or Roman rule. Most telling is the announcement itself. That a Roman god felt it necessary to announce the birth of an Egyptian one, with praises and a feast day instituted in Osiris’ honor is an intriguing point.
The Egyptian influence exerted upon invaders of Egypt was even greater, for Egypt had a habit of forcing conquerors to assimilate to its culture rather than adopting that of the invader. After Alexander finished drawing out the lines of Alexandria, he left the workmen to proceed while he undertook an extremely arduous pilgrimage to the temple of Ammon at the Siwa Oasis. This was a journey of several days into the desert. Upon his arrival he was greeted by the priest who bade him welcome in Greek from his father, the god Ammon. While some of his contemporaries saw it as a slip of the priest’s pronunciation, Alexander was pleased with the idea and left splendid offerings at the temple. It is interesting to note that in this story, Plutarch used the words Ammon and Jupiter interchangeably; demonstrating how much the Romans had identified their religion with Egypt’s. One should also note that Alexander being pleased is important of itself, if he held Ammon in low regard, it would not have meant so much to be called Ammon’s son. He also would not have perpetuated the story if he did not think the priest’s opinion would matter. The idea that Alexander held the Egyptian pantheon in high regard is supported by the fact that rather than holding a Macedonian crowning ceremony, he chose instead to follow the traditions of the pharaohs. Recall that he was anointed at Memphis at the Temple of Ptah, just as many pharaohs were before him.
Part II: Egyptian Paganism, the Ptolemys, and Rome
After Ptolemy assumed rule of Egypt upon the death of Alexander, he not only adopted the title “pharaoh” he conformed to many of the native practices. This conformity included the religious role that was inherent in the life of an Egyptian ruler. He sacrificed to the Egyptian gods. He also built temples in their honor and funded their cults. This assimilation is well documented on papyri fragments from the Ptolemaic era. The Ptolemaic pharaohs often used the Egyptian naming systems, following their surnames with such titles as “benefactor gods” “savior gods” or “brother-sister gods”. They also adopted the practice of marrying siblings – this custom being based on the sibling marriage of the parent gods Osiris and Isis. As mentioned in Chapter One, Ptolemy II Philadelphus married his sister Arsinoe II Philadelphus, and the precedent was followed by most of the dynasty after him. Cleopatra VII, the last Ptolemaic pharaoh, married two of her brothers, Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator and later Ptolemy XIV, before assuming independent rule of Egypt.
Ptolemy II Philadelphus embraced the development of the ruler cult throughout his rule. Early in his reign he established a dynastic cult in Alexandria for himself and his sister-wife Arsinoe II Philadelphus, which he then linked to the cult of Alexander. Upon his wife’s death, Ptolemy II also instituted a temple served by a priestess in her honor, making her the first Ptolemaic queen to receive her own cult in Egyptian temples. This cult was regularly joined to the cults of the local god or goddess.
Their son, Ptolemy III Euergetes and his wife Berenike II, built upon this traditional ruler cult, often bestowing great privileges and gifts to the temples. These acts prompted the priests to increase the honors of the family throughout Egypt,
With good fortune, it has been decided by the priests throughout the land to increase the existing honors in the temples to King Ptolemy and Queen Berenike, the benefactor gods, and their forebears, the brother-sister gods, and their grandparents, the savior gods. The priests in the temples in the land are to be further named priests of the benefactor gods and this title is to be recorded in all official deeds and the additional priesthood of the benefactor gods is to be engraved on the rings which they wear. To the existing four tribes of the community of priests in each temple there shall be added a fifth tribe, to be named the fifth tribe of the benefactor gods[.]
When Ptolemy III and Berenike II’s young daughter died, there was an immediate movement of the priests to name the maiden a goddess and institute a national cult in her honor. The decree issued illustrates the mixing of the two cultures as the language of the decree mixes both Egyptian and Roman names. The younger Berenike died in the month of Tybi, which according to the decree, was also when the daughter of Helios, known as Tefnut, died during creation.
The importance of such decrees from the priestly castes of Egypt is multi-fold. In a contemporary context, there are two things of which to take note. First, the decrees gave Ptolemaic rule legitimacy. Second, it shows that the priests were eager to gain the approval of the new dynasty. Both groups benefited from a willingness to cooperate. When Ptolemy I Soter was new to the throne, he needed the aid of the priests to secure his hold on power. After the throne was secure, the dynasty continued to adopt the religious traditions of Egypt. The priests not only accepted this adoption, they encouraged it, as they would reap the benefits of imperial favor. For the historian, the decrees are effective examples of the influences at work in Egypt at the time. The cooperation between the Ptolemys and the priestly caste reveals a willingness on the part of the Greeks to assimilate the religious practices held by the Egyptians, as well as the acceptance by the Egyptians of non-natives as incarnations of their gods. Here, then, is a compelling example of the religious influence and syncretism taking place in Egypt that is the thesis of this paper.
The Ptolemaic dynasty left its mark on the Egyptian pantheon as well, most notably when Ptolemy I created the god Sarapis. Sarapis was essentially the manifestation of Ptolemy’s desire to unite the Greeks and Egyptians in a common worship. Sarapis was basically the god Osiris (worshipped in bull form as Apis) combined with Greek elements, presented in Greek attire, and took the place as consort of Isis. Isis was well known at the time. The famous Egyptian priest, Manetho, wrote most of the Sarapis liturgy, in conjunction with Greek scholars.
Ptolemy’s creation had limited success as a unifying element. While the Alexandrians seemed to accept him to a degree, those Egyptians outside the Greek city maintained their indigenous deities. Documentation from up to the third century illustrates how the cults of the crocodile god Sobek flourished throughout Egypt. Iconography and inscriptions also contain references to Taweret, Montou, Tutu, and Bes. Despite these signs of resistance, Sarapis continued with Osirian characteristics and as Isis’ consort (though he was never equal to her) throughout the Ptolemaic period. Worshippers gave some nominal acceptance however, as Sarapis was called upon to answer oracle questions. In one example he was called upon as “Zeus Helios, great Sarapis”. The occasional child was named after him, as an example Serapion, Cleopatra VII’s governor of Cyprus. Celebrations of his national festival, the Serapia, are documented until the early fourth century.
Egypt also apparently accepted Sarapis enough to export him to the other Greek and Roman territories. Sometime in the third century Pausanias mentions a temple of Sarapis in Athens. However, it is only a passing mention; he does not give any description of the décor or style of architecture. The temple was unlikely to have been ornate or large, but it was new enough that its origin was sufficient to cause note. The hybrid god also commanded a small cult group, the Society of the Sarapiastai, at approximately the same time as Pausanias’ mention of the temple in Athens. Its numbers ranged from fifty to eighty, with members both male and female. Sarapis even made a limited appearance in India.
The Greek/Egyptian god also had a temple in Rome itself. Construction began under the Emperor Hadrian and was finished under Antonius Pious. Hadrian was one of the few emperors to visit Egypt. Of the few that did travel there, he seems to be the most favorably impressed. He constructed an Egyptian-inspired landscape at his palace in Tivoli and initiated construction of a Serapeum in Rome. Hadrian devoted much attention to Alexandria, and committed himself to both the country and its two supreme deities, Isis and Sarapis, as evident from coins issued in both Rome and Alexandria. Construction of the Roman Serapeum began after the Jewish rebellion of 115, known as the Diaspora Revolt, which spread to Egypt and destroyed the all-important grain crops. The rebellion was finally suppressed during the first two years of Hadrian’s reign and it is likely that his decision was based on political as well as religious motives. The author says political as well as religious purposes for good reason. Political reasons are apparent because he chose to build the Serapeum in thanks for the end of the revolt and the return of the grain crops. However, it could not have been purely political because of his choice to build it in Rome. The location suggests that Hadrian identified with Sarapis enough to build an accessible temple in the capitol city. Emperor Trajan also visited Egypt and built a traditional pharaonic kiosk at Philae. Strikingly, two of the fourteen columns located at Philae are decorated with scenes of Trajan making offerings to Isis, Sarapis, and Horus.
Sarapis was popular in Alexandria and with the Greek settlers in the districts surrounding the city. A temple of Sarapis housed a popular incubation cult in the nearby city of Canopus. Strabo writes of it in the late first century BCE:
[T]he temple of Sarapis, which is honoured with great reverence and effects such cures that even the most reputable men believe in it and sleep in it – themselves on their own behalf or others for them. Some writers go on to record the cures, and others the virtues of the oracles there.
Sarapis was accepted more among the urban populations, which consisted of Greeks or Egyptians who had adopted a Grecian identity. The rural populations resisted him, and they required something to help ease the transition from the ever popular Osiris to Sarapis.
The Egyptian god Anubis became prominent at this time, and served to tie the Sarapis deity to Osirian traditions in order to make Sarapis more palatable to the local populace. In a Roman work of fiction, a procession of Isis is described in great detail. It is mentioned that numerous gods were in attendance, but only Anubis is described at length. He was the divine messenger between gods and mortals, and in the Ptolemaic dynasty he was the go-between of Sarapis and Egyptians. Sarapis needed this connection because, as stated above, there was some popular resistance to the Grecian/Egyptian amalgamation. The Ptolemys hoped to use Anubis to create a parallel between Osiris and Sarapis, in order to legitimize further Sarapis’ place as Isis’ consort. A somewhat similar strategy was employed by European Christians when they grafted their traditions and stories onto known pagan holidays, for example Christmas (Saturnalia) or Easter (Imbolc), in order to make the transition easier for new converts.
Another way Ptolemy I tried to endear Sarapis to the Egyptian people was by building a grand temple, the Serapeum. Monument building had always been a crucial aspect of a pharaoh’s reign. Monuments proclaimed his divine role, exhibited his authority, and told of his military victories, among other things. Spectacular temples and tombs also helped to ensure the pharaoh’s afterlife. Being remembered and having one’s name and body preserved were necessary for the journey to the afterlife. Ptolemy I added three major changes to the Alexandrian landscape: his palace, the Museum/Serapeum, and the Pharos lighthouse (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). He also built temples throughout Egypt. He also either rebuilt or restored older temples.
Ptolemy III and his sister-wife Berenike, known as the “benefactor gods”, bestowed many privileges on the temples and increased the honors paid to all the gods. They also reputedly showed great concern for the Apis bull and other sacred animals. The priests of the land repaid their kindness by increasing the honors accorded to the couple and their ancestors throughout Egypt. Ptolemy VII Euergetes II followed his predecessor’s example by sponsoring numerous temple-building projects in Upper Egypt. Cleopatra continued that pattern in 51 BCE when the Buchis bull died. She participated in the animal’s installation process, and rowed the animal to the temple herself. The story was told by the citizens of Hermonthis long into Augustus’ reign.
Some of the honors paid by the Ptolemys to the priestly caste and temples were probably purely political. After all, the priests were second in power only to the pharaoh and wielded enough influence to potentially bring about the fall of a monarch. However, the continued practice of paying honors to the temples confirms more than just surface assimilation. Once Ptolemaic legitimacy was solidified and the throne relatively secure, there was not nearly as much need to pay so much attention to the Egyptian pantheon. Yet, they continued to maintain Egyptian religious customs and pay honors to the Egyptian gods/goddesses, which indicated a more personal acceptance of Egyptian religion.
As mentioned in Chapter One, Cleopatra VII was probably the most Egyptianized of the Ptolemaic dynasty. She learned the Demotic Egyptian tongue, which none of her Macedonian ancestors spoke. Demotic was just one of several languages she spoke, however, and it is one of the least of the signs of Cleopatra’s Egyptian nature. She followed marital traditions, presented herself in the Egyptian pharaonic style, and used Egyptian titles in her royal name. Cleopatra also went to great lengths to appeal to her people and keep Egypt independent. Just like her father, she enjoyed putting on large religious spectacles and festivals. These various celebrations would have certainly endeared her to the native Egyptian people.
When Cleopatra first met Antony it was in the guise of Isis, masquerading as Aphrodite. Plutarch identifies Antony’s role as Osiris, in the Osirian manifestation of Dionysus. Cleopatra often portrayed herself as Isis incarnate on earth, thus showing she had embraced the religion of her subjects. Pompey described a public ceremony performed in which she participated as the goddess, “Cleopatra was then, as at other times when she appeared in public, dressed in the habit of the goddess Isis, and gave audience to her people under the name of the New Isis.”
The above quote is from a crowning ceremony in the last years of Cleopatra’s rule, when she and Marc Antony divided their lands between Cleopatra’s children. It is yet another example of Cleopatra embracing the customs of her adopted land. Cleopatra had begun extensive temple building in Upper Egypt, honoring her and Caesarian, in the traditional pharaonic manner in the last decades of her reign. Following pharaonic tradition, she also named her son as her co-ruler during her lifetime in order to ensure a smooth transition upon her death. After the concessions of Antioch in 37 BCE, Cleopatra ruled over the largest Egyptian territory since her third century ancestors. She returned to Egypt and assumed two new titles. She added Thea Neotera, the younger goddess, in honor of an ancestress. The second title was Philopatris, the lover of her country, which reaffirmed her commitment to Egypt and its traditions.
Unfortunately, Cleopatra’s struggle to keep Egypt independent would end in failure. She and Antony were defeated at the Battle of Actium and both committed suicide. Augustus made Egypt a province of Rome and kept a close eye on the country throughout his reign, ready to crush any rebellion. He also worked to limit Egypt’s influence over the world, which he largely succeeded in doing in regards to the political realm. The spiritual allure of Egypt could not be eradicated however. Many of the Emperors left religious matters alone, if they did not outright adopt them. The Roman soldiers, their families, and other settlers also began to have just as many Egyptian practices and rituals as they did Roman. A good example of a Roman adopting Egyptian customs emerges in a papyrus letter from the second or third century,
Marcus Aurelius Apollonios, hierophant, to the ritual basket-carrier of [the village of] Nesmeimis, greeting. Please go to [the village of] Sinkepha to the temple of Demeter, to perform the customary sacrifices for our lords to the emperors and their victory, for the rise of the Nile and increase of crops, and for favourable conditions of climate. I pray that you fare well.
Note that Marcus Aurelius Apollonios is sending the basket-carrier to a temple of the Greek goddess Demeter, to pray for the rise of the Nile. Egyptians had long worshipped the Nile as a god in its own right and the coming of the Greeks had changed that idea little. The Romans, ever a practical people, continued the ritual as well. High ranking Roman officials even adopted Isis into their titles. As late as 376 CE, an inscription gives “priest of Isis” as one of the titles of the auger of Rome.
A stele in the Ophiate region further illustrates this Roman-Egyptian cultural mix. One Agathapous, a freedman, dedicated a shrine of the god Pan to his previous master, Publius Juventius Rufus. The freedman, who has a Greek name, dedicated the shrine of a Greek god, to his master who has a Roman name. The depiction of Pan on the stele, however, is in the traditional profile stance of the Egyptian god Min. This mixing of Greek or Roman names with Egyptian poses is common and presents some of the most solid evidence for the mixing of the two religions. Consider as well the dedication of a chapel by the wealthy widow Petronia in the town of Kom Ombo in 88 CE. The façade is decorated with scenes of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, but the Greek inscription refers to “Aphrodite, the greatest goddess.” Another example of religious assimilation is the graduation ceremony from the gymnasium: by the end of the Ptolemaic period, Greeks marked their graduation ceremony with oaths to Egyptian gods. Also, by this time period Demotic was again the official language of Egypt.
The most significant evidence of Romans assimilating to Egyptian culture was discovered, as so often happens in Egypt, by accident in the 1990s at the El Haiz settlement, near the Bahariya Oasis. The settlement had served as a caravan station for years for Bedouins, traders, merchants, soldiers, and foreign settlers living between the Bahariya and Farafra Oasis. A large Roman era fortress, which most likely served as a garrison for Roman soldiers, dominates the settlement now. El Haiz represents a cross section of cultures throughout history. As such, it and the Bahariya Oasis are prime examples of Roman assimilation. Bahariya is the site of a Greek temple to Alexander the Great, built in 332 BCE. It is the only example of a temple built to a living pharaoh that has been discovered in Egypt thus far. The temple contained statues of Ra, scenes of Alexander presenting offerings to Ammon, and a cartouche of Alexander the Great. Graeco-Romans chose the area as a burial site because it was close to the temple. Research indicates the cemetery was in use until the fourth century CE. Archeologists have discovered dozens of mummies in a variety of tombs. Many of them were Roman settlers. Their sarcophagi were beautifully decorated with Egyptian religious iconography and are richly gilded. Mummification is directly linked to the Egyptian afterlife and has no Roman counterpoint. These Romans, therefore, had completely assimilated to Egyptian funeral practices.
The Valley of the Golden Mummies provides the most direct evidence of Roman assimilation, at least with Egyptian funerary practices, but it is not the only example. At least two tombs in Alexandria itself also contain pictorial evidence of local assimilation and syncretism. The Stagni and Tigrane Tombs incorporate several Egyptian elements, arguably iconography usually associated with the protection of a tomb and the deceased within. Both tombs incorporate Greek, Roman, and Egyptian influences in a style that is uniquely Alexandrian, in terms of their architectural and decorative elements.
The Stagni Tomb was discovered in 1996. It consisted of several different chambers, all incorporating various Egyptianized elements in their decoration and iconography. From the entrance to the inner chambers, these elements are found throughout. The front of the tomb is protected by a pair of sphinxes with a basileion while another sphinx is painted in the center of the frieze. As one progressed through the tomb, one came across the image of Eros while on the opposite wall Anubis stands garbed as a Roman soldier. Within the same room, a pair of Horus falcons sits atop pier capitals. Several female figures are readily identifiable as Isis from the crowns and accoutrement (e.g. her staff) portrayed. At some point, a mummy lay in the tomb, as is evident by the painted sarcophagus that remains. This tomb has an overall Isiac theme, incorporating iconography (e.g. the sphinxes and her crown) as well as featuring gods that are traditionally associated with Isis.
Another tomb discovered in 1952, called the Tigrane Pasha tomb, contains many examples of the above mentioned iconography and scenes, with the addition of the Apis Bull. Marjorie Susan Venit compares the tomb with two others located outside of Alexandria, the Ramleh Tomb and the Sieglin Tomb located at the Great Catacombs of Kom el-Shoqafa. The tombs contain the same architectural elements and include the same deities as, and some additions to, the Stagni Tomb. The Ramleh, Sieglin, and Tigrane tombs include Thoth, Ptah, and two of the Canopic gods in their decoration.
A tomb was personal in ancient times, as much a home for the deceased as a house is for the living. For a Greek or Roman citizen to include Egyptian (or Egyptianized) elements in their tomb is very telling. It shows more than just a surface assimilation to Egyptian practices. Incorporating those Egyptian elements of Isis and other protectors of the undead emphatically demonstrates that both Greeks and Romans had embraced many aspects of Egyptian funerary practices; this also illustrates how much they had embraced the Egyptian pantheon in general, as Egyptian religious practices were directly linked with preparing for the afterlife.
Part III: Isis in the Greek and Roman world
Of all the Egyptian gods that refused to fade into obscurity, Isis fought the hardest and travelled the farthest. In fourth century BCE Egyptians were given permission to acquire land in Athens to build a temple to Isis, which is the earliest evidence of her worship in the Greek world. Her cult subsequently rivaled that of Christianity in the first centuries of the Common Era. When Augustus conquered Egypt in 30 BCE her cult spread beyond Egyptian borders throughout the Roman Empire. It even reached as far as Britain, travelling with Roman soldiers as they marched across the island. It was eventually accepted by emperors, merchants, and peasants making it one of the more inclusive religions of the time. Temples to the goddess can be found in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Gaul, the Balkans, and Spain.
It is important to remember that the Isis of the Graeco-Roman world was greatly changed from the original conception. For example, the interpretation of Isis as described by Plutarch relies heavily on a type of Romanized mysticism. Plutarch equates her once with the goddess Minerva and another time with the Greek goddess Persephone. In his third century fictional work, Apuleius wrote that Isis, the heroine, told the antagonist,
In one land the Phrygians, first-born of men, hail me as the Pessinuntian mother of the gods; elsewhere the native dwellers of Attica call me Cecropian Minerva; in other climes the wave-tossed Cypriots name me Paphian Venus, the Cretan archers, Dictynna Diana; the trilingual Sicilians, Ortygian Proserpina; the Eleusinians, the ancient goddess Cere; some call me Juno, others Bellona; others Hecate, and others still Rhamnusia. [T]he Egyptians who flourish with their time-honoured learning – worship me with the liturgy that is my own, and call me by my true name, which is queen Isis.
The fact that Apuleius, a Roman, wrote such praise of Isis demonstrates not only Roman acceptance of Isis, but the inability of the Romans to equate her with a specific goddess of their pantheon. It also shows how much Isis had pervaded the Mediterranean world, in that she was the heroine of Apuleius’ work, rather than a god or goddess from Olympus. The Egyptian roots can be found in the Roman version of Isis and it is the Egyptian goddess that first captured the imagination of both the Greeks and Romans. The most significant of these roots is the very nature of Isis. This nature made her accessible and inspired loyalty in her worshippers. Her mythology portrayed her as the ideal wife and mother, and as such she was the goddess of family in Egypt and later took that role wherever her worship appeared. She possessed the ankh, as her father did before her, and “in the Graeco-Roman world could be regarded as herself the source of all that lived, ‘Lady of the House of Life’.” She is unique when compared to the Graeco-Roman gods in that she was known for her compassion and affection, both to her divine family and mortal man.
The closest parallel to the Isis mythology in the Olympian pantheon is that of Demeter. In the Isis/Osiris myth, Osiris was slain by his evil brother Seth; his body cut into pieces and scattered throughout Egypt. Isis traveled all over the land seeking the pieces of her husband and eventually she found all except the phallus. Using her magic, she reassembled Osiris and brought him back to an afterlife, and conceived her son Horus through magical means as well. Isis’ search brings to mind Demeter’s search for Persephone. This story illustrates another reason that Isis was so endearing to the Graeco-Roman world. She suffered and grieved for her lost husband, as Demeter did for her daughter, but the stories demonstrate the difference between a god’s and a human’s grief. In Demeter’s story, she withheld the bounties of the earth in her despair, thus in a way punishing the human race for something that another god had done. Isis showed no such inclination; she grieved for Osiris in a very human way and searched for justice on his behalf. Her rage was directed against Seth for his crime of killing Osiris.
The Isis cult, like that of Demeter, falls into the Mystery Religion category. Mystery Religions have several characteristics. Samuel Angus states first that a mystery religion is one of symbolism, myth, allegory, and redemption. It is a religion in which membership is decided by a spiritual rebirth, rather than relying on an accident of birth. These religions also usually feature a strong feminine figure (usually a Mother Goddess) who in some way loses a beloved person. The female then regains her beloved one after many trials. The beloved is usually restored to a form of afterlife. These religions also have a strong reliance on a personal relationship between devotee and deity. The resurrection of the beloved also gives comfort and the promise of some form of life after death for mortals.
Isis’ appeal also lay in her uniqueness. Most of Egypt’s gods had a clear parallel within the Greek and Roman pantheons. For example, Osiris was equated with Dionysus and Sarapis with Zeus or Jupiter. Horus found his equal in Apollo and Pan with Min. Isis was harder to pigeon-hole, for her dominion was so multi-faceted. In an Oxyrhynchos papyrus, listing her praises, she is hailed as
[T]he first of all interpreters of the fifteen commandments, ruler of the world; (they call you) guardian and guide, lady of the mouths of seas and rivers, skilled in writing and calculation, understanding, the one who also brings back the Nile over the whole land, the beautiful animal of all the gods, the glad face in Lethe, the leader of the Muses, the many-eyed, the fair goddess on Olympus [.]
In the same praise list, Isis is said to have made the power of women equal to men. The author hails her as the greatest of deities and first of names. In this part of the papyrus Isis is equated to Io. She is the lady of light and flame, mistress of all things forever. She has dominion over weather, war, and life-giving waters.
Note not only the mix of Egyptian and Greek names but also the many different Grecian mythological images that are used to describe Isis. Isis is a powerful figure as a Mother Goddess; many of the attributes distributed among several goddesses and demi-goddesses were within Isis’s purview. Hers was the foremost mystery cult in Egypt. The air of mystery which surrounded her, her powerful role in the mythology, combined with her loving nature, made her irresistible to her converts.
The methods of cult diffusion and the nature of Isis made her cult both popular and accessible throughout the Empire. These two features also helped to spread her cult as far as Britain. Merchants, sailors, and soldiers were also continuously going in and out of Alexandria and had accepted Isis in her full capacity. These groups are primarily responsible for the diffusion of the Isis cult as they must have spoken of the goddess during their travels. The professions of the men responsible for the spread of Isis most likely explains why her cult emerged earlier in larger cities and then spread to smaller town and villages, as did Christianity. When Isis travelled with the soldiers of Rome, she traveled to the farthest reaches of the Empire, including as far as the Germanies. This assertion is supported by a dedication at Marienhausen by a centurion in the third legion.
Italian merchants brought Isis from Delos to Italy, Delos served as a link between Alexandria and Italy in the ancient world. By the first century CE the cult had advanced to a sacred, public, and officially sanctioned residence in the campus Martius. Despite the fact that in Rome she was at first associated with the failed rebellion of Antony and Cleopatra, leading to the Alexandrian gods being forbidden in Rome by Augustus, later emperors took up the cult. For instance, Caligula erected a temple to her in 38 CE, while Commodious was initiated into the cult during his reign, and later Caracalla built a temple to her in Rome in 215 CE. R.E. Witt claims that the elevation of the Ptolemaic kings and then later the princeps in Rome was “greatly assisted by the practice of the Isiac faith.” Here again, we see the most powerful deity in Egypt being embraced by the Greeks and later the Romans after they had conquered the country.
Isis appealed especially to sailors, as she was the “Lady of rivers, winds, and ocean. She is mistress of the weather and all seafaring. She can change the navigability of the sea as she pleases.” Isis also created seafaring and ruled over fresh and sea water, qualities which were sure to endear her to any sailor. One should note that aspect of Isis in comparison to the god Poseidon, whom Herodotus believed was exported from a different country. Herodotus’ assertion makes sense, as Egypt is largely a desert nation and thus had no need of an oceanic god. However, it is interesting that although she had some of the same functions, Isis is never compared to the god in Rome.
The Mother Goddess embraced all races and made no social distinctions among her worshippers; she claimed to break down national barriers. Isis was poised to become a leading religion in the Graeco-Roman world, and would have done so if Christianity had not become popular during the era. This fact is evident in the broad range of lands and peoples who accepted her faith. Her temples were found from England to Asia Minor; her creed was spoken by both emperors and peasants alike. Her main rival was Christianity, against which she would later lose as will be discussed in the next chapter.
Part IV: Conclusion
Egypt may not be the oldest of the known cosmopolitan societies, but it has always held a tremendous appeal for other civilizations. Whether it was travelers, historians, philosophers, or conquerors, foreign peoples have been traveling in and out of Egypt since, and probably before, the Two Lands were united. This fascination with Egypt naturally led to the country having a significant amount of influence on other cultures. During the height of pharaonic rule, that influence could be seen in many different ways, culturally, politically, and architecturally. As for the religious sphere, Herodotus believed that the Mediterranean pantheons owed a debt to Egypt, as he claimed most of their gods came from Egypt.
Historians have largely overlooked the role that Egypt played in world affairs after Alexander conquered it. Scholarship becomes even narrower after Augustus defeated Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony. Its vital role as grain-basket has always been acknowledged, largely because Rome itself was very aware of the power Egypt still held in that respect. Volumes have been written concerning the Roman government in Egypt, but few mention that life for the average E
By: Michael B. Toffolo, Tel Aviv University
If you worked on an archaeological excavation in Israel as a volunteer, at some point you probably saw people collecting dirt into little plastic vials from a blue-tagged section that were then brought to a folding table with scientific instruments and a laptop. These days this is the first encounter with microarchaeology, which happens on a regular basis at sites such as Tell es-Safi/Gath, Megiddo, Ashkelon, Manot and Boker Tachtit.
But what is microarchaeology? Archaeologists have been looking for tinier and tinier remains for many years but thanks to new methods and mindsets, microarchaeology is coming into its own. The term defines the study of the microscopic archaeological record – everything that requires instruments in order to be seen. But there is much more than that involved. I had the opportunity to fully understand the implications of microarchaeological research by spending the last four years as a visiting Ph.D. student at the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot (Israel) under the supervision of Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto, nuclear physicist and director of the Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (D-REAMS) Radiocarbon Laboratory. Here is a brief account of my impressions of a world that has been almost completely unseen.
As with all archaeology, everything starts in the field. The first thing is to identify a good problem, because not all archaeological questions can be answered with the help of instrumentation. Most microarchaeological questions are related to formation processes of the stratigraphic sequence. Just how did all that dirt get there, by what natural and human processes were layers deposited and modified over time? Then comes the sampling phase, as sediments are carefully collected without slowing down the dig too much.
Samples are analyzed within minutes at an on-site lab using a Fourier-Transform Infrared spectrometer (FTIR), which gives the mineralogical composition of the sediment or artifact, and are later subjected to further analyses. Such analyses include the study of microscopic mineral plant remains called phytoliths that reveal the presence of particular taxa. Other analyses include the description of thin sections of sediments (materials mounted on slides and sliced to approximately 0.03mm thickness for examination under special microscopes) that reveal the microstratigraphy or minute accumulation of layers at the site. The presence of metallic compounds in sediments with X-ray fluorescence (XRF) can also be measured. In these ways it is possible to get real-time information on what is being excavated and to decide how to proceed with fieldwork. Microarchaeological sampling strategy is modified accordingly and more targeted samples are collected in order to solve the initial problem.
All the results obtained with instruments, i.e. the microscopic record, are integrated with the information retrieved by the visual study of artifacts and architecture, i.e. the macroscopic record. The interaction between “macro” and “micro” is constant during the process. Science specialists get their hands dirty in the field and archaeologists are involved in laboratory work. A generation ago things were quite different. Archaeologists and scientists used to work in parallel lines, with too little communication. Samples were usually sent to specialists who often had no idea of the original context of the collected materials, whereas the results of scientific analyses were too difficult to evaluate for archaeologists trained only in humanities, that is, in the study of the macroscopic record. Sometimes, the outcome of this “interaction” was minimal benefit through maximal effort.
Today we know that context is crucial in the interpretation of scientific datasets. In the social sciences, including archaeology, an object viewed in isolation from the whole is not the real thing, be it a Philistine Bichrome krater, a lime plaster floor, or an accumulation of fossil goat dung. Every item becomes meaningful only when analyzed in the light of the processes that led to its deposition within the stratigraphic sequence. This is why physical scientists decided to join field operations. The Kimmel Center pioneered this approach to the archaeological record, and did it in a systematic way. We are not talking about a single specialist visiting the site for a few days, but rather an entire team spending weeks at the site trying to solve archaeological problems. To the best of my knowledge, outside of Paleolithic archaeology, this approach is still unparalleled.
This unique integrative approach is also the leitmotiv in the training of students at the Kimmel Center, a sort of marriage between social and natural sciences. Unfortunately, in most universities worldwide Near Eastern archaeology is usually taught as a humanistic discipline. But archaeological sites are made of artifacts and architectures, which in turn are made of chemical compounds and surrounded by a sediment matrix. From my point of view, it is inconceivable to address an archaeological problem without taking into account the fact that layers, like artifacts, are the product of specific human activities that can be traced. An archaeologist has to be able to evaluate an object within its context, even more so today when we are aware of the information hidden in sediments.
Educating a new generation of archaeologists trained both in archaeology and natural sciences, capable of using instrumentation when needed and to critically evaluate datasets and field contexts, is an important goal. At some point in the future this will become a routine. Going from the analysis of organic molecules within a potsherd to the reconstruction of Mediterranean trade routes of ceramics in the Bronze Age, from the detail to the big picture and vice versa will be the norm for an archaeologist. I believe this is the way towards which university teaching should head, even though it is a slow and sometimes frustrating process.
Until that time, we need to refocus the interaction between scientists and archaeologists. It is always useful to have science-based specialists on the excavation, as they may come up with different questions compared to archaeologists. Scientific background provides a different mindset that allows scientists to ask interesting questions. But scientists need to spend more time in the field in order to understand completely all the subtleties regarding archaeological contexts. This is done by communicating with archaeologists, who in turn realize the potential applications and limits of microscopes, spectrometers and other instruments. The benefits are mutual.
I think this model of close collaboration should become the rule in archaeology, considering that it already proved to be successful. The session titled “Twenty Years of Digging at Megiddo: Macro and Micro Archaeology Discoveries”, which was recently presented at the 2013 ASOR Annual Meeting in Baltimore and chaired by Prof. Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University) and Prof. Eric H. Cline (George Washington University), is a good example of such an endeavor. The talks featured the most recent advances in Iron Age geoarchaeology, metallurgy and radiocarbon dating among others, all based on an integrative approach of the sort described here. Hopefully, this and other similar presentations – with their legacy of published scientific articles – will stimulate not only scholars involved in archaeological research at all levels who wish to explore new possibilities, but also students who are eager to expand their background. The path is marked and can lead to major achievements. Recent high-impact discoveries regarding the earliest evidence for the use of fire by hominins (primates outside the genus Homo), the mapping of human lineage by DNA, the refinement of Early Bronze Age radiocarbon chronology in the Levant, or the earliest appearance of pottery in Asia are all based on microarchaeological research. These and other breakthroughs captured the attention of the public worldwide and gained enormous credit in academia, leading to the allocation of substantial funds granted by government-based and international research agencies. Many irons are in the fire, and many more have yet to come.
Michael B. Toffolo is a PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University and visiting PhD student at the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science (Weizmann Institute). He has begun a postdoctoral fellowship at the Florisbad Quaternary Research Department of the National Museum, Bloemfontein (South Africa).
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|"Le iscrizioni in versi: società e cultura nell'epigraphic habit tardoantico"|
Seminari del Laboratorio di ricerche storiche e archeologiche dell'antichità - Università di Cassino
DipSUSS - via Mazzaroppi (snc) - presso il Laboratorio (III piano)
Organizzazione: Ignazio Tantillo - Lucio Del Corso
(PRIN 2010: “Colonie e municipi dell'Italia romana nell'era digitale: fra storia locale e storia generale. L'apporto delle nuove tecnologie di archiviazione e gestione dei dati epigrafici allo studio delle città, intese come elemento fondante della civiltà romana”)