Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Page 33: Rediscovery in Earnest: Scholars and Scientists

<<Page 33...

Sir John Gardner Wilkinson
(1797-1875), depicted here in native
dress, conducted pioneering work in
the study of and recording of ancient
Egypt and its monuments between
1821 and 1856.

foremost among a number of other European scholars of this period was the Prussian Carl Richard Lepsius (1810 - 1884), whose 12-volume Denkmaeler aus Aegypten and  Aethiopien stands as the earliest reliable publication of a large number of ancient Egyptian temples and other monuments.

The complete recording of ancient Egyptian monuments was begun in the later 19th century by Johannes Dumichen (1833-1894) and Maxence de Rochemonteix (1849-1891). Although neither man was able to come close to fulfilling their ambitious goal, the idea was continued by Jacques de Morgan (1857-1924), who began a Catalogue des monuments and produced a complete and produced a complete publication of the temple of Kom Ombo, and by the Egypt Exploration Fund (later Society) of England, which initiated its Archaeological Survey of Egypt', resultig in much valuable recording. The Franco-Egyptian Center at Karnak also provides an example of excellent work does in a specific location.

The greatest advance in the recording of ancient Egyptian temples would come about, however, as a result of the vision and planning of the American archaeologist James Henry Breasted (1865-1935). Founder of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, Breasted organized the Institute's Epigraphic Survey of Egyptian Monuments ever made. He also developed his own methodology for the precise recording of texts and inscriptions on monuments (p. 241) whcih, in its essential form, is still in use today. Although interested in all aspects of Egyptology, breasted was especially fascinated with ancient Egyptian temples, and it was no coincidence that the first monument to receive the detailed attention of the Epigraphic Survey was the great mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu. Since then the Survery has turned its attention to a numer of other temples, continuing to produce complete documentation in the same painstaking tradition.

The Oriental Institute is only one academic institution which has worked in the temples of ancient Egypt. Throughout the 20th century scholars from other universities, museums and archaeological institutes in many countries, as well as those of Egypt itself, have laboured in the painstaking excavation, recording and reconstruction of the ancient temples Today, modern methods of scientific archaeology are being applied and we are in a position to understand these structures to a degree impossible in previous decades. But much remains to be learned, and much is only now coming to light. The story is a detailed and fascinating one which unfolds with the description of the various elements of the ancient Egyptian temple, the actual functioning of the temple institutions, and the history of the individual temples themselves.

The forecourt of the temple of Amun at Karnak in one of the British photographer Francois Frith's many views of ancient Egyptian temples sites. He made three expeditions to the country between 1856 and 1860

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Page 32: Rediscovery in Earnest: Scholars and Scientists

Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832
is best known for his crucial decipherment
of the hieroglyphic script but he did also
travel to Egypt where he recorded many
ancient Egyptian temples.
<<Page 31...
The next great advance, however, was the decipherment of the hieroglyphic script in 1822 - 1824 by Jearn-Francois Champollion (1790 - 1832) and others, which led to the first real translations of temple texts and inscriptions. The decipherment itself was based in part, of course, on the Rosetta Stone discovered in 1799, with its trilingual (hieroglyphicdemotic and Greek) decree of Ptolemy V dating to 169 BC, and also on an inscription on an obelisk of Ptolemy IX and his wife Cleopatra IV from Philae. These and other temple monuments supplied the scholars who worked on the long-locked language with the necessary clues for the decipherment of hieroglyphs.

Following this massive breakthrough a new age of Egyptological scholarship became possible. Scholars such as the English pioneer John Gardner Wilkinson (1797 - 1875) - whose works, including his Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians publisheeed in 1837, are still useful today - were able to begin to reconstruct ancient Egyptian civilization and to understand the significance of its treasures.

The Temple of Edfu by David Roberts, 1838. Roberts and other European artists stirred great interest in Egypt's past.
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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Page 31: Rediscovery in Earnest: Scholars and Scientists

Title page from the Description de L'Egypte.
which was the first modern scholarly
attempt of the systematic recording
of Egypt's monuments.
<<Page 30...
To say that Napoleon's Expedition was a turning point in the rediscovery of ancient Egypt is an understatement. Napoleon's scholars systematically studied and recorded monuments and artifacts in a manner which was truly unprecedented. For the first time, whole temples were measured, planned and painstakingly depicted in carefully executed drawings in 1802, the artist and diplomat Vivant Denon who accompanied the expedition published a succinct single volume account with records and sketches of temples and other monuments as far south as the area of the first cataract, and this was followed, between 1809 and 1830, by the 36 volumes of the official Description de I'Egypte. This work awakened nothing short of a mania for all things Egyptian and adventures, antiquarians, artists and scholars began to travel to Egypt in increasing numbers. So, eventually, did collectors and the agents of European museums and libraries who began to purchase large quantities of antiquities. The Great Temple at Abu Simbel was rediscovered by J.I. Burckhardt in 1813 and opened by the famous procurer of antiquities Giovanni Belzoni (1778 - 1823) in 1817 as part of this intense period of exploration.

Page 30: Early Travellers and Modern Rediscovery

Herodotus, the Greek scholar and renowned
father of history' travelled in Egypt in
the mid-5th century BC. He recorded in
in detail everything he saw and was told,
and his work contains much of value
concerning ancient Egyptian temples.
<<Page 29...

The beginning of rediscovery: explorers and travellers
"I did not travel for any useful purpose, but only to see so many superb edifices, churches, statues, colossi, obelisks and columns" Anonymous Venetion traveller to ancient Egypt, c. 1589.
Even as ancient Egyptian temples fell into disuse their legend was already in making.. Many Greeks and Romans travelled to the Nile Valley where not only the pyramids and Sphinx but also some ofo the great temples were considered 'wonders'. Especially notable was the Greek historian Herodotus who visited ancient Egypt around the middle of the 5th century BC and who described much of what he saw in the second book of his famous History. Although many of Herodotus claims are questioned by modern scholars much of what he recorded was clearly based on fact, and his writings preserve a great many details which would otherwise have been lost. The late Greek historian Strabo (c. 63 BC) also described monuments which, in many cases, are now greatly ruined or no longer exist, as did the Roman writer Diodorus Siculus an older contemporary of Strabo who visited Egypt between 60 and 56 BC. The Greek writer Plutarch (AD 46-120), who may have had only limited first-hand knowledge of ancient Egypt and who evidently drew on sources of varying levels of value, has nevertheless left us a welth of detail on cult practices and the various temple festivals celebrated in ancient Egypt.

These and other early writers who compiled accounts of their Egyptian travels - or those others - recorded the details of what they were told by the members of the temple priesthoods they interviewed, leaving us much useful information on the temples, their festivals and personnel But within a few hundred years of the advent of Christianity and knowledge of the ancient hieroglyphic script was completely lost. The ancient spoken language of ancient Egypt was replaced by Coptic and then Arabic, and as the old religion died, so too did knowledge of the old culture. During the ensuing Middle Ages Egypt was thus a source of little more than stories and legends which grew ever more fabulous as they spread though many ancient Egyptian sites were visited by medieval European crusaders and pilgrims for their supposed Christian associations. Interpretations of Egyptian monuments and artifacts by European scholars of the Renaissance were often no less fanciful, yet the period did see the beginnings of a growing interest in Egypt and its antiquities which would lead to increased travel and exploration.

Although dangerous and sometimes restricted by law, some of these early travels by European were extensive indeed. Although his identity is not known, one Italian tourist (quoted above) who travelled to Egypt in 1589 shows in his anonymous writings that he visited most of the major sites - and many minor ones - from Cairo as far south as el-Derr in Nubia. It was not until the 19th century and the rule of Muhammad Ali, however, that increasing numbers of Europeans began to visit Egypt purely for pleasure, and from this period we have several records giving impressions and descriptions of specific temple sites.

One of the most significant advances in to discovery was made by the Jesuit Claude Sicard  (1677 - 1726) who was commissioned by the French regent to investigate the monuments of ancient Egypt. Between 1707 and 1726 Sicard visited many ancient sites including 24 ancient Egyptian temples, among them the great temples of Thebes, which he was the first in modern times correctly to identify on the basis of classical descriptions. Most of Sicard's records were subsequently lost, though his travels rank high among those of a number of increasingly educated and careful observers. The writings of the Dane Frederik Norden (1708 - 1742) and the Englishman Richard Pococke (whose Observations on Egypt  records his extensive travels in Egypt between 1737 and 1740) were highly influential at the time. Likewise the account of the French traveller the Comte de Volnay, published in 1787, is said to have inspired Napoleon Bonaparte's inclusion of trained scholars in his military campaign to Egypt in 1789.

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Page 29: A Glorious Decline: The Coming of Christianity and Islam

<<Page 28...
In the late 3rd century AD, the Temple of Luxor at Thebes
was used as a garrison and administrative center
by the Romans and was adopted to serve the cult
of emperor worship.

In AD  383 pagan temples throughout the Roman empire were closed by order of the emperor Theodosius. A number of further decree and edicts, culminating in those of Theodosius in AD 391 and Valentinian III in AD 435, sanctioned the persecution of pagans and destruction of their religious structures, and soon ancient Egyptian temples were shunned and empty. The ancient shrines were quarried for stone, or in some cases overgrown by surrounding areas of housing or even purged of much of their decoration and utilized as chapels and basilicas of the new faith (page 194). For the most part however, the early Christians rejected the pagan buildings and many were destroyed by austere figures such as Shenute, a 5th-century monk whose fortress-like monastery in Middle Egypt was built from the stone of nearby temples.

Eventually Christianity itself was challenged by Islam. In AD 639 an Arab army crossed Sinai and entered Egypt , wrestling the country from Byzantine control. For a time the caliphs, Muhammad's successors as rulers of Islam, were content to run Egypt through a Coptic administration, but eventually the majority of Egyptians converted to the new religion (for a reason or another). Sometimes existing temple structures were used as the setting for festivals in the new era or were adapted, as Luxor Temple, where a mosque was built atop the earlier Christian and pagan structures (page 167). But, by and large the processes of dissolution continued.

The few ancient Egyptian temples which were abandoned and which were distant from major population centers fared best and remain today as the most perfectly preserved examples of ancient Egypt's religious structures. Eventually, Egypt's temples and other monuments of her pharaonic past became as mysterious to the Egyptians themselves as they were to the outside world. Whether covered by drifting sands or standing in full view, Egypt's temples were lost and would have to wait to be rediscovered.

In Roman times the entrance to the inner temple area at Luxor was sealed and a niche and flanking columns built as a focus for the Roman religious use of the temple.

Page 28: A Glorious Decline: the Roman Period


Pharaohs from afar: the Roman Period and Ancient Egyptian Temples

The latter part of the Ptoleaic dynasty was plagued by internal power struggles and as the contesting factions turned to Rome for assistance ancient Egypt fell increasingly under the influence of the emerging Mediterranean power. Finally, the victory of Octavian (later Augustus) over his rival Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII spelled the end of Egyptian independence, and ancient Egypt was declared a Roman province under imperial control.

Like the Ptolemaic kings, the Romans who followed them desired to adopt ancient Egyptian models both for the purposes of their own legitimation and acceptance with the ancient Egyptian priesthoods and people, and perhaps more importantly to preserve the social and economic stability within the area which provided much of Rome's grain supply. Roman emperors were thus depicted in pharaonic guise and continued to restore and in some cases elaborate Egypt's temples. One of the most distinctive structures in ancient Egypt, Trajan's Kiosk, on the island of Philae, was constructed as a monumental entrance to the temple of Isis at that site, though the structure was never completed. Entirely new temples were also built, in many cases following the old styles. The temple of Esna for example, reflects the design of the earliesr Ptolemaic temple at Dendera and is decorated with representations of several emperors in motifs which were by this time thousands of years old.

The Romans displayed great interest in ancient Egyptian civilization, and several emperors commanded the removal of scupltures and monuments from ancient Egypt's temples (though these were perhaps already abandoned structures, such as at heliopolis) which were to be set up in Rome. An example is the obelisk which today stands in the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and which was taken to Rome in the 4th century AD by Constantius II.

Overall, the continued decline in the importance of ancient Egyptian temples in evident, however, and by the early 4th century AD we find no less a structure than Luxor Temple incorporated into a permanent Roman military camp and adapted to serve the cult of emperor worship. Arguably, as Stephen Quirke has suggested, this could be seen as a Roman interpretation of Amenophis III's concept of Luxor Temple as a statement of the divine nature of kingship - now in the form of the emperor. But in any event, the fate of ancient Egyptian temples was finally sealed by the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire.

Trajan's Kiosk on the island of Philae is a good example of the kind of building accomplished by the Romans in ancient Egyptian temples in addition to the emblbellishment of existing structures
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Page 27: A Glorious Decline and Alexander the Great

Carved block from the sanctuary of Isis
at Behbeit el-Hagar, which flourished
in the north-central Delta in the
30th Dynasty and Ptolemaic Period

<<page 26...
During much of the Late Period, however, ancient Egypt was ruled successively by a number of outside powers. Beginning with the 25th Dynasty, Nubian or 'Kushite' kings controlled most of the country - and constructed many fine monuments. This period of rule by ancient Egypt's southern neighbor was cut short by Assyrian invasion, followed eventually by the force of Achaemenid Persia, which threatened or controlled ancient Egypt to some extent for the best part of 200 years. Some of the earlier Achaemenid emperor adopted the pharaonic style of rule and built or elaborated upon a number of ancient Egyptian temples. Darius I, for example, built the impressive temple of Hibis in the Kharga Oasis and repaired others from Burisis in the Delta to el-Kab in southern Upper Egypt. Persian rule was never popular, however, and revolts and other problems had led to the Persian destruction of a number of ancient Egyptian temples during this period.

Unfortunately, comparatively little evidence survives of the temples built during the Third Intermediate Period and Late Period, and in many cases less is known of them than the structures built both before and after this this epoch. It seems clear, however, that it was towards the end of the Late Period, in the 30th Dynasty, that the architectural style usually considered typical to the Graeco-Roman era in fact developed.

After Alexander the Great: The Ptolemaic Period

When Alexander the Great entered Egypt in 332 BC he was hailed as a savious from the hated Persians. On his orders, repairs were carried out to temples damaged in the Persian devastation of 343, and his legacy to Egypt was prove to both extensive and lasting. After Alexander's death and the dissolution of his empire, rule of ancient Egypt fell to Ptolemy I, one of Alexander's generals; and with Ptolemy began the dynasty of naturalized foreigners which would rule for almost 300 years.

The pious construction of temples to Egyptian deities was an obvious method for these foreign kings to legitimize their rule, and one which they exercised to the full. Following the architectural styles of the temples only recently established in the preceding period, the Ptolemaic rulers constructed temples throughout ancient Egypt. Many of these are today among the best preserved of all Egypt's religious structures.

The relative smoothness of the transition from the Late Period temples to those of the Graeco-Roman era may be clearly seen in the ruined temple of Behbeit el-Hagar in the Delta (Page 104). Dedicated to Isis, and functioning as a nothern center for her worship, the temple was begun in the latter part of the 30th Dynasty but completed by Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III in a manner which shows a clear continuity of decoration and design. As the kings who preceded them had done, the Ptolemies built on a large scale using great quantities of granite and other hard stones which were often decorated with reliefs of particularly fine quality. The representations and inscriptions utilized in the decorative programmes of these Ptolemaic temples became increasingly obscure, however, as the details of the ancient relition became the special domain of a diminishing priestly elite. Eventually, obscurity became a goal in itself, and the inwardly focused and exclusive nature of the later Ptolemaic and Roman period temples would have much to do with the ultimate demise of ancient Egyptian religion.
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