Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Egyptian Museum in Turin

     The Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy has one of the best collections of Egyptian art in the world. They have been busy for the past few years cataloging their collection and improving their website. The website is worth checking out.

     The website shows photos of some of the major pieces and provides information on each object. One of my favorite objects in the collection is the coffin of Butehamon from the Twenty-First Dynasty. This coffin is unusual in that a large portion of it is covered with texts from the "Book of Opening the Mouth".

     If you want to have a little fun, check out the photos from Halloween at the museum (scroll down slightly). Take a look in particular at the mummy in the upper left corner of the photo gallery.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Egypt and Assyria (Cont.)

     Immediately after the death of Taharqa the new Nubian king, Tanutamun, marched north to re-establish Kushite rule in Egypt. Nekau I, the local ruler in Sais, was probably executed by Tanutamun, and was succeeded on the throne of Sais by his son, Psamtek I.

     Psamtek had, as a child, been sent to the Assyrian capital Nineveh to receive instruction in Assyrian customs. He apparently did not learn much, as he immediately set about conquering the other petty kingdoms in Egypt and putting them under his own rule, rather than under the rule of the Assyrians. The full re-unification of Egypt was completed by 656 B. C. with Psamtek using Greek mercenaries in his army (Dodson, Aidan. Afterglow of Empire, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2012).

     Psamtek soon felt confident enough in himself that he sent a series of military expeditions northwards, eventually conquering the city of Ashod after a long siege. At this point the Assyrians formed an alliance with the Egyptians in the hopes that the Egyptians would help them against the Chaldaeans and the Medes. In 616 B. C. Egyptian troops fought against the Chaldaeans in what is now Iraq, surpassing even the border of the Egyptian empire under Tuthmose III almost 1,000 years earlier (Shaw, Ian, ed. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

     In 612 B. C. the Assyrian Empire came to an end at the hands of the Medes and the Babylonians. The Egyptians would continue on for several more centuries, although they would spend most of that time ruled by foreigners (Persia, Alexander the Great and the Ptolemies and then Rome).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Egypt and Assyria

     Relations between Egypt and Assyria were traditionally strained (to put it mildly).

     The first contact between the two countries that I am aware of seems to have occurred during the Amarna Period, when an Assyrian King named Assurubalit wrote two known letters to the Egyptian Pharaoh. In one of these letters, Assurubalit says to the Pharaoh, "Gold in your country is dirt; one simply gathers it up. Why are you so sparing of it? I am engaged in building a new palace. Send me as  much gold as is needed for its adornment" (Moran, William. The Amarna Letters, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992, P. 39).

     Over the next couple of centuries contact between the two countries is infrequent. In the Twenty-Fourth Dynasty Egypt fragments into a number of petty kingdoms which are conquered by the Nubians, who found the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty. The Nubian kings seemed to have been concerned about the expansion of the Assyrian Empire. As a result, they decided to send soldiers to help Hezekiah, King of Judah, against the Assyrian army, but to no avail as this seems to have only irritated Sennacherib, the Assyrian King.

     Further conflicts between the two countries soon flared up. During the reign of Taharqa, the Egyptians were able to defeat an army sent by the Assyrian King Esarhadden. But only three years later, Esarhadden sent another army which successfully captured the city of Memphis (near modern Cairo). Taharqa fled south leaving his son and wife to be captured by the Assyrians (Dodson, Aidan, Afterglow of Empire, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, p. 165).

     Taharqa returned to Egypt as soon as the Assyrians left, but Esarhadden's son Ashurbanipal sent another army and once again expelled the Nubians from Egypt (Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 358-9).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Hyksos King Mauling an Egyptian?

            A small ivory figurine in the British Museum has had some speculative things written about it over the years. The object in question shows a sphinx mauling a human and has been referred to as a “Hyksos King mauling an Egyptian” in innumerable publications[1]

     The excavation report claims that this piece does date to the Second Intermediate Period[2], but there is no justification in calling it a Hyksos King. This idea was started shortly after the piece’s discovery, when Dr. Hall decided that the piece had Semitic facial features[3]. It is unreasonable to claim that a piece this small (59 mm. in length and only 24 mm. in height[4] has clear ethnic features. Even if the piece did, to say that those features prove that a Hyksos King is being represented assumes that the Hyksos were Semitic, a point that is by no means settled. 

     The piece is also hard to date specifically. Garstang (the excavator) claimed that it must be later than Dynasty Twelve and prior to Dynasty Eighteen, but admits that he can be no more precise than that[5]. More recent analysis indicates that the archaeological context that this object was found in, was badly disturbed and that a date in Dynasty 12 is possible. There are parallels in the headdress and the facial features in a statue of Senwosret I, so this small ivory carving may properly date to the Middle Kingdom[6].

     While this is an interesting piece of ancient art, any claim that it represents a Hyksos King mauling an Egyptian is pure speculation.

[1] James, T. G. H. Introduction to Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum, 1979), pp. 56-7 to cite only one example.

[2] Garstang, J. “An Ivory Sphinx from Abydos”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 14, 1928, pp. 46-7.

[3] Garstang, p. 46, where it is mentioned that Dr. Hall not only claims that this (uninscribed!) piece represents a Hyksos King, but also claims that the King in question is probably Khian!

[4] Garstang, p. 46.

[5] Garstang, p. 46.

[6] Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel & Jean M. Evans, editors, Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millenium B. C., New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Replica of Tutankhamen's Tomb Opens

An exact copy of the famous tomb of Tutankhamen opened today in Egypt. The tomb was built on the east bank of the Nile along the corniche in Luxor. A Madrid firm used 3D scanners to re-create the artwork in the tomb.

Reproductions of the tombs of Nefertari and Seti I have also been proposed.

Here is a link to an article on the opening of this copy of the tomb:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tomb of 5th Dynasty Princess Found at Abu Sir

I have been offline for a few days due to the hurricane, but while we still do not have electricity in our home, the public library does. So I am back up and running, sort of.

While I was offline, the announcement came that the tomb of a Fifth Dynasty princess has been found at Abu Sir by a Czech archaeological team. The princess was named Shert-Nebti, and her tomb was found with those of four noblemen. Here is a link to an article on the discovery.