October 30, 2012

Indoor Games in Ancient Egypt

Indoor Games
The ancient Egyptians were also imaginative in their indoor recreation. A favourite game appears to have been similar to draughts, played on a rectangular board divided into thirty or thirty-three squares. Carved black and white pawns were used. Though the Egyptian players have been depicted facing each other, there is no indication of the rules of the game. The earliest gaming piece (in the shape of a house with sloping roof) was found in the tomb of the 1st-dynasty pharaoh Udimu (Den). Pre-dynastic (Before Egyptian Dynasty)  ‘pieces’ of clay coated with wax were, however, found with a checker-board table of unbaked clay held up by four thick short legs and divided into 19 squares on the surface.

A game which appears to have been popular in the Egyptian Old Kingdom was played with a series of discs about 4-5 inches in diameter, made in wood, horn, ivory, stone and copper, each with a hole in the centre through which a 6 inch pointed stick was inserted. These were usually found alongside wooden trays which unfortunately all perished, leaving us with no indication of how the game was played. Perhaps the stick was rotated between the palms of the hands to make the discs spin like a top.

Some of the Egyptian Old Kingdom games did survive its fall. One such was played on a low table, its surface displaying an engraved or inlaid coiled snake, the head situated at the centre of the board and the body divided into transverse lines forming segments. The ‘pieces’ for this game comprised three lions, three lionesses and five red-and-white balls; these were kept in an ebony box when the game was over. Many ist-and 2nd- dynasty tombs have yielded these.

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The Noblemen in Ancient Egypt Part 2/4

A wealthy nobleman drew up lists of food items to be inscribed in his Egyptian tomb. One such list comprised ‘Ten different kinds of meat, five kinds of poultry, sixteen kinds of bread and cakes, six kinds of wine, four kinds of beer, eleven kinds of fruit, in addition to all sorts of sweets and many other good things . . Beer, the national drink, was made from barley or wheat, sweetened with dates if desired, and stored in pottery jars. Wine was also produced from very early times.

All rich landowners possessed monkeys, gazelle, ibex and other animals of the desert which they caught, tamed and kept on their estates. They had long learned that the dog was man’s best friend as well as his hunting companion, sheepdogs, greyhounds (often on a leash) and salukis were favourites. Greyhounds and salukis were allowed to enter the house or even sleep beneath the master’s chair. There are no representations of a nobleman petting a dog, but the Egyptian tomb of Kagemni has a relief of him watching a puppy being fed. Dogs were given names: one was buried near his master in a ist-dynasty burial ground and his tombstone was inscribed ‘Neb’ (Lord), with his picture. Cats seem not to have been allowed in houses in the Old Kingdom, they were depicted only in papyrus groves, raiding birds’ nests. The Nile goose was given special treatment, being allowed into courtyard and garden. Domestic fowl did not include cocks and hens, only ducks, pigeons, geese and waterfowl.

Wealthy ancient Egyptian households included numerous servants, attending the master punctiliously from the moment he rose in the morning. These were free servants, Egyptians of poorer classes, at liberty to leave their master’s service if they so wished. He had ‘listeners’ for his call, ‘cup-bearers’ to wait at table, and ‘followers’ to bear his sandals, matting and fly-whisk. Most households included dwarfs and hunchbacks, who were not maltreated or used for amusement purposes, but were employed in the laundry or the kitchen, or put in charge of the household pets. One of the richest tombs on the Giza necropolis in fact belongs to a dwarf named Seneb.

The Egyptian tomb of Ptahhotep contains a mural showing the nobleman at his morning toilet. A pedicurist works on his feet, a manicurist on his hands, while musicians entertain him and his pet greyhound and a monkey take refuge beneath his chair. People were fastidious about cleanliness, especially the women. They took great pains with their toilet, washing their bodies with particular attention before meals, using a basin and a vessel with a spout. They shaved their limbs with bronze hooked razors with curved blades, and used tweezers and scrapers. Special care was taken with their hair, which they washed, anointed with oils and fashioned into curls and plaits with the aid of combs of wood and ivory. Women applied their characteristic band of colour round the eye with a paint roduced from lead ores and known from pre-dynastic times as a remedy for eye ailments as well as for adornment, using tiny ivory and wooden sticks and mirrors (polished metal discs with a handle). All small items were kept in decorative boxes of ebony, alabaster, marble and crystal, sometimes engraved with miniature bas-reliefs.

In a ancient Egyptian land of almost constant sunshine much clothing was unnecessary. Most garments were made of linen. Silk and cotton were unknown and wool only rarely used. The women wore a sheath from beneath the arms extending to the ankles with broad bands over the shoulders. The men wore short, broad, pleated skirts and sandals. Children, as befitted the climate, were left without clothing. Ancient Egyptians were not self-conscious about nudity. Maidservants and dancers had loincloths and girdles only, often with blossoms around the neck. The simple effect of the clothing was enhanced by colourful jewellery which both men and women loved to wear: elaborate coloured necklaces and bead collars, and bracelets for the women. Since the men usually kept their hair closely cropped, wigs were an important article of apparel among the upper classes.

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October 29, 2012

The Noblemen in Ancient Egypt Part 1/4

Enjoyment of Life
Most of the buildings of ancient Egypt, including the royal palace, were built of wood and brick. Stone was reserved for tombs and temples, and most of the surviving structures are therefore of a funerary nature, which gives the erroneous impression that the ancient Egyptians were preoccupied with thoughts of the afterlife. Evidence to the contrary is abundant. The ancient Egyptians thought of the afterlife simply as an inevitable extension of their earthly experience, and decorated their tombs with aspects of their lives they wished to repeat. These graphic murals in fact provide clear indication of how conscientiously they channelled their energies to the service of the living and to achieving comfort and pleasure on earth. Since our knowledge of life in ancient Egypt is chiefly derived from the murals and contents of the tombs of the wealthy official classes, we begin by reviewing their lives, afterwards discussing the working classes and the Egyptian royal family.

The Noblemen
Three of the most famous and well-preserved tombs of the Egyptian Old Kingdom are situated at Sakkara. They belong to Ti (Supervisor of Works, Scribe of the Court and Royal Counsellor under three pharaohs of the 5th dynasty), Ptahhotep (one of the highest officials in the land in the reign of Djedkare in the 5th dynasty) and Mereruka, the son-in-law of the 6th- dynasty pharaoh Teti. These tombs, and others of the same period, provide a rich saga of the daily lives of the nobles’ families.

A man’s tomb was constructed on the pattern of a house. Unlike the Egyptian tomb, however, houses were light structures, usually of sun-dried brick and wood. They were airy and well suited to the warm climate with latticed windows and large open courtyards. Every householder had a garden and gardening came to play a large part in the daily lives of the wealthy families. Vines, palms, fruit and vegetables grew on their estates. The fact that the ancient Egyptians were great nature- lovers is attested by the encyclopedic lists of birds, plants and animals recorded in national monuments.

All their useful items were beautiful and they took an obvious pride in their possessions. Chairs and beds (which often had leather or rope-weave seats or mattresses fastened to the frame with leather throngs) had legs carved in the form of the powerful hind-limbs of ox or lion; furniture frequently had decorative copper fittings. The handle of a spoon might be fashioned to resemble a lotus blossom, or the calyx might form the bowl of a wine glass. As early as the 1st dynasty a stone lamp was shaped like a papyrus bud with a horizontal groove for the wick; by the 5th dynasty lamps were elegantly fashioned with a large bowl and set on a stand. Chests and boxes were richly inlaid with ivory. The ancient Egyptian Vases and vessels of copper, gold and silver were equipped with stands to raise them to the required height. Tables were either round on a central pedestal or shaped like a half-oblong on four legs. Both beds and chairs tended to be low, the occupant of the latter having to recline or squat, and guests sometimes sat on mats on the floor. The walls were decorated like hanging mats and the ceilings were often painted blue.

Representations of tables laden with large varieties of food and drink show that the wealthy classes ate heartily. Confirmation comes from a tomb at Sakkara belonging to a lady of the lesser nobility; her relatives had laid out a complete meal for her on rough pottery, alabaster and diorite bowls and dishes, and it was found beside her sarcophagus. Undisturbed for thousands of years, the food could be identified. It included a type of barley cereal, a cooked quail, a pigeon stew, fish (cleaned and dressed with the head removed), ribs of beef, two cooked kidneys, wheat bread, small cakes and stewed fruit. We do not know whether this represented the courses of a single meal. The ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts indicate that people had three meals a day as compared with the royal household which had five. Fish was very popular and it seems that no larder was complete without its assortment of mullet, catfish and perch. The ancient Egyptian caviar (Botarikh), a great delicacy, was produced from early times. The tombs of Ti and Kagemni show how the ovaries of the bouri fish were extracted, salted and dried for this purpose.

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October 28, 2012

The Noblemen in Ancient Egypt Part 4/4

Human relations were regarded as among a man’s most valuable possessions. Ptahhotep stressed the togetherness of a husband and wife, the closeness of brothers and sisters. The basic unit of society was the family. In this context the pictorial reliefs take on new meaning. In the Egyptian tomb of Mereruka, for example, are several scenes showing family devotion. One is an intimate and delightful bedroom scene with Mereruka and his wife watching their bed being prepared. In another he watches her as she sits on a large couch playing a harp. Family outings were encouraged: in Mereruka’s tomb he can be seen affectionately holding his son by the hand (the boy holds a hoopoe bird in the other hand), and behind them are his wife and a row of attendants. In Ti’s tomb he is depicted with his wife and daughter sailing through the marshes in a papyrus boat. This is the earliest chapter of family life in the history of man. There was no ‘Book’ or priestly instruction on morality and ethics. Right and wrong was a civil question, not a religious one.

From the earliest times the sacred rules of behaviour were based on an intuitive sense of what was agreeable and therefore right, and what was unacceptable and therefore wrong. Anything that occurred consistently and was accepted by the community was passed on from generation to generation until behaviour patterns were automatically adhered to for the simple reason that ‘it was always done that way’; because it was Maat (good or right or just). Maat was an abstract quality developed by usage and made traditional by strong national observance. The first reference to it is in the Memphite Drama where ‘justice was given to him who does what is liked; injustice to him who does what is disliked’. In other words Maat at first implied accepted behaviour within the community. The concept developed, with the creation of a God-king, into the spirit of national guidance, for the Egyptian pharaoh was the head of state and the law. Therefore Maat embraced the state machinery and became ‘truth’ and ‘justice’. Maat gave stability and authority to the state just as it provided discipline and respect in the family.

The Egyptian Old Kingdom sages or ‘wise men’, Imhotep, Kagemni and Ptahhotep, whose instructions and proverbs were quoted for thousands of years after their deaths, provide the earliest formulation to be found in any literature on right conduct. On the question of Maat, Ptahhotep wrote: ‘Great is “Maat”; its dispensation endures, nor has it been overthrown since the time of its maker, for punishment is inflicted on the transgressor of its laws . . . although misfortune may carry away wealth . . . the power of “Maat” is that it endures, so that a man may say: It is a possession of my father which I have inherited.’

It is from such wholesome wisdoms, addressed from father to son, that we learn most of life in these remote times. It is too common simply to observe the ancient Egyptians’ apparent preoccupation with death; it is quite another thing to know of their social experience and learn of their high ethical values, which centred round the family, manners and correct behaviour. To make a long list of the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt and consequently label the society as ‘pagan’ is to overlook the heights of their philosophical, social and ethical experience.

The Teachings (Wisdom Literature) in the Egyptian Old Kingdom were ethical but not religious. Religion (Pyramid Texts) was theological and political, but taught no ethics. What was regarded as correct behaviour was taught by rote within the confines of the family household: Kagemni instructed his children to ‘recite it as it is written . . . and it seemed good to them beyond anything in the whole land . . The priests, on the other hand, endeavoured to capture a wide audience to promote national unity and economic control under the regarded as correct behaviour was taught by rote within the confines of the family household: Kagemni instructed his children to ‘recite it as it is written . . . and it seemed good to them beyond anything in the whole land . . The priests, on the other hand, endeavoured to capture a wide audience to promote national unity and economic control under the pharaoh. The ethics of the Instruction literature only appeared in religious texts in the Middle Kingdom (in the form of the ‘Negative Confession’).

Representations of gods were entirely absent from the private tombs of the Old Kingdom. This is not to say that the ancient Egyptians did not believe that ultimately their conduct on earth would be judged by the ‘Great One’. Frequently good deeds were inscribed in tombs. Harkhuf of Elephantine recorded: ‘I gave bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, I ferried him who had no boat ... I am a worthy and equipped Glorious One ... As for any man who shall enter into (this) tomb as his mortuary possession, I will seize him like a wild fowl; he shall be judged for it by the Great One.’ And the Steward Meni also warned above the doorpost of his tomb: ‘Even him who does anything against it [my tomb]. It is the Egyptian Great God who shall judge [him].’ Two things are clear from these texts: first, that the threat of final judgement before the Great God was a deterrent against unacceptable conduct, and secondly, that a man’s motive for declaring worthy deeds on earth was ‘that it may be well with me in the Great God’s presence’. In other cultures in other lands the distinction between good and bad was not to come for the next 2,100 years.

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October 27, 2012

The Noblemen in Ancient Egypt Part 3/4

The ancient Egyptians controlled insect pests by washing their houses and homes with a solution of natron, and appear to have had well-developed drainage systems. In the mortuary temple of the 5th-dynasty pharaoh Sahure, this consisted of a stone tray-like basin in the base of which was a metal plug on a chain leading to a subterranean copper pipe. The drainage pipe, placed at an angle for the water to flow downwards, extended the whole length of the causeway, some 331 yards. The temple had several such basins, probably for personal washing.

A nobleman had one legal wife who was always Mistress of the House. A wealthy landowner might have concubines, but his wife held a special position and was treated with the utmost deference, and his heirs were her offspring. She shared with him not only his social life but inspections of his estate. In some reliefs a wife is seen clasping her husband round the waist or intimately sharing a repast with him. There was an obvious tenderness in family relations. No marriage contracts are known to exist, not is there any indication of a special ceremony. The marriage probably consisted of the actual transfer of the bride, together with her dowry, to the house of her appointed or approved husband, where his duties towards her are clear: ‘If thou art a successful man establish thy household. Love thy wife in the house as is fitting ... fill her body, clothe her back . . . the recipe for her limbs is ointment. Gladden her heart so long as she liveth . . . she is a profitable field for her lord.’ These are the words of Ptahhotep, sage of the 5th dynasty, who was well advanced in years when he asked his Egyptian pharaoh whether he could instruct his own son and prepare him for the official duties that lay ahead of him.

The Egyptian king consented and the aged vizier, wise from experience and learning, wrote some forty-three paragraphs of random instructions which have come down to us in four copies; three on papyrus and one on a wooden tablet. Half of them covered official dudes and conduct in administrative circles. The other half covered personal character, conduct within the family, the duties of a son towards his father and mother and his behaviour towards friends and neighbours. The first piece of advice Ptahhotep gave to his son was on modesty: ‘Be not proud because of thy learning. Take council with the unlearned as with the learned, for the limit of a craft is not fixed and there is no craftsman whose worth is perfect. Worthy speech is more hidden than a greenstone being found among slave-women at the mill-stone.’

The ancient Egyptian Family relationships and good character were considered of vital importance. The father was the chief authority in a strictly disciplined home. ‘Precious to a man is the virtue of his son, and good character is a thing remembered ... if thou hearkenest to this which I have said to thee, all the fashion of thee will be according to the ancestors. As for the righteousness thereof, it is their worth ... it shall not vanish from the mouths of men, because their maxims are worthy. Every word will be carried on; it shall not perish in this land forever . . .’

Egyptian Tomb inscriptions indicate that youths had great respect for their fathers, and no effort was spared by a loyal son to ensure proper burial for his departed father. The case of Sebni comes to mind. His father was an official in charge of the Southern Gate (near the First Cataract), who was killed while venturing southwards on a trading mission. Sebni unhesitatingly set forth on the same journey in order to recover his father’s body and bring it back to his native land for embalming and burial. Sebni’s tomb at Aswan proudly records his loyal mission. One of the most frequent phrases of piety inscribed in tombs of this period was: ‘I was one beloved of his father, praised of his mother, whom his brothers and sisters loved.’

The ancient Egyptians were discreet on matters of sexual behaviour, and immorality was strongly condemned: ‘Beware,’ warned Ptahhotep, ‘of a woman from abroad, who is not known in her city. Look not upon her when she comes and know her not ... If thou desirest to establish friendship in a Egyptian house or home into which thou enterest . . . beware of approaching women. The place where they are is not seemly and it is not wise to intrude upon them. A thousand men are undone for the enjoyment of a brief moment like a dream . . .’

Concubines were placed in a special category and Ptahhotep told his son that they should be kindly treated; he also warned his son not to have any physical association with boys. As a solution to immorality, early marriages were recommended: a youth was advised to ‘take to himself a wife when he is young that she might give him a son whom he will see a man. Happy is the man who has a large household and who is respected on account of his children.’ Marriages between brothers and sisters were widespread among the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, during the Persian period, among the Ptolemies, and during the Roman occupation. There is, however, no confirmed disclosure of marriage between two children of the same parents in the Egyptian Old Kingdom. The terms ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ were terms of endearment, and even after marriage a husband continued to call his wife sonit (sister), meaning ‘loved one’. Unfortunately ancient Egyptian morality is often judged today by notorious practices found during the later periods of ancient Egyptian history: the Greeks declared that marriages between brothers and sisters were normal practice. However, Cambyses was told by the priests of Egypt that no law permitted it though a pharaoh could do as he wished.

Ptahhotep contrasted the good man with the bad, the wise man with the fool. He balanced desirable behaviour characterised by moderation, reserve, discretion and gentleness against the dangers of undesirable behaviour: excessive pride, boastfulness and avarice. Knowledge and advice was passed from Egyptian father to son:

Greater is the appeal of the gentle than that of the strong.
Never utter words in heat. Let thy mind be deep and thy speech scanty.
The wise man rises early to establish himself, but the fool is in trouble.
When you sit with a glutton eat when his greed has passed; when you drink with a drunkard take when his heart is content.
Report on a thing observed, not heard.

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October 26, 2012

Stories and Festivals in Ancient Egypt

Stories and Festivals
Story-telling played an important part in the lives of the ancient Egyptians. Their oral tradition must be set apart from the Teachings or ‘Wisdom’ literature and the Egyptian religious texts. The deeds of gods and kings were not written in early times and only found their way through verbal tradition into the literature of a later date. This treasury of popular tale was based on an ageless tradition in ancient Egypt. As we have seen the people, their society and their institutions were moulded by the environment and by nature’s changeless cycles. This stability of the physical environment resulted in the lives of the rural Egyptians remaining changeless. For, while the priestly politicians were striving for political control and the sages were teaching proverbs and behaviour to their sons, the life of the peasants was moulded, as in times long past, by the rise and fall of the Nile. Each evening when the sun set, his work was done. He would put aside his hoe, his sickle and his winnowing fork, and sit with his friends in the villages of sun-dried brick, or on the rocky outcrop overlooking the valley, and tell tales.

They related all they knew of their ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, especially of the first pharaoh who united the Two Lands and who, like themselves, knew how to exploit the waters of the Nile. Narmer, they told, diverted the great river through an artificial channel and constructed a moat round his city which was fed by the river.

They told tales of the good and kindly king Senefru who helped the poor; of the wicked Khufu who constructed a mighty tomb in the shape of the sacred ben-ben at Heliopolis, and of Menkaure who was good and just and compensated the poor. Popular and magical tales were closely bound together in a ‘Thousand and One Nights’ narrative which provided a reason for their telling, like the magical feats performed in the various reigns of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. When the farmers told their sons certain stories of the battles between Horus and Set, they were telling them their ancient history of battles between Upper and Lower Egypt (during the first two dynasties). And in telling them others they were explaining the triumph of the fertile valley over the arid desert. If some of the tales had long been woven to serve a politico- religious purpose and subtly guide their loyalties, the farmers were unaware of it.

They told tales of the world around them: how the high sky was held aloft by mountain peaks or pillars that rose above the range that formed the edge of the world; how the sun was a disc of fire that sailed across the heavens in a boat; how the sky was a mother-goddess, Nut, who supported the heavenly bodies and the earth was the God Geb who sprouted vegetation. They told that through the centre of the land flowed the river which rose from the eternal ocean in the south and joined the eternal ocean in the north.

They told tales of their river: how Hapi God of the Nile dwelt in a grotto on an island where the Nile rose from the eternal ocean in the south and from whence he controlled its flow to the ocean in the north; of the terrible famine in the reign of their ancient king Djet when the river failed to rise because the people had not made sufficient sacrifices to Hapi.

And they told tales of their land: how the vegetation which died with the harvest was reborn when the grain sprouted, just as the Sun-god ‘died’ each evening and was reborn the next morning. How the Desert-god, Set, the personification of drought, darkness and evil, secretly aspired to the throne of Osiris, the god of fertility and water. They told how, when Horus was but a child and had been hidden in the marshes of the Delta, he was bitten by Set who had taken the form of a poisonous snake. Isis, in despair, called to the heavens for help, and the ‘Boat of Millions of Years’, drawing the Sun-god and his retinue across the heavens, heard her. Ra the Sun-god sent Thoth to speak to Isis and offer help. Thoth informed her that the boat of the Sun-god would stand still, darkness would reign, there would be no food and the people of the earth would suffer until Horus was cured. They told how the evil of Set was overcome, Horus God became healthy and the Sun-god resumed his journey across the heavens, cast his rays upon the earth and caused the crops to grow again.

Rural Egyptian festivals were a great source of pleasure in ancient Egypt. They were closely allied with the working patterns of the people, and were based on the agricultural cycle. The Nile festivals heralding the arrival of the flood were at once the most solemn and most joyous in the land. Sacrifices would be made to ensure that the waters rose to the required height to assure a bounteous return from the land, and prayers of thanks would be offered. The celebrations heralding the rebirth of the crop, the reaping of the first sheaf, the opening of a new canal, the bearing of the crop to the granary, were all accompanied by hand-clapping and singing. Some festivals were celebrated simultaneously throughout the land, others were local, all were of a religious nature. Pilgrimages might be made to the shrines of local deities to present offerings, or a longer journey might be undertaken to the shrine of a more widely popular deity to make a sacrifice. These were not gestures of piety towards the gods (a sentiment common in the New Kingdom), but a self-imposed duty, a gratification and a familiar and recognised pattern of behaviour.

In the Egyptian Old Kingdom the people were confident (they knew not war or foreign occupation), hard-working (a reflection of a stable and organised government), and optimistic (since the nature worship of Osiris had not yet developed into a Cult of the Dead there was no need for them to defend themselves against the awesome powers of the underworld and they suffered no apprehension of the hereafter). When they died and were buried on the western bank of the Nile, along with the necessary provisions for the hereafter, they would go to the ‘Godly West’ and live again, exactly as on earth. The eternity envisaged by the people was understandably a peasant environment as befitted a peasant community. There would be no hunger or want. They would till the fields, breathe the fresh air along the river banks, fish in the bulrushes, paddle boats along the river and enjoy fowling and hunting for ever and ever in the ‘Field of Reeds’.
  
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October 25, 2012

The Peasant Farmers and Workmen in Ancient Egypt

The Peasant Farmers and Workmen
The peasant farmers on the estates lived in houses of sun- dried brick or wattle daubed with clay, not much different from the neolithic houses of their ancestors, with a single room (oblong or square), one door and no windows. Furnishings comprised no more than a rough stool, a box or chest, and perhaps a headrest. Reed mats were hung from the ancient egyptian walls, and baskets and earthenware pots were used for storage.

The peasants, who rose with the sun and retired early, wore a loincloth which they frequently cast off during the day. The smaller statues of the Egyptian Old Kingdom depict an array of good- natured folk: a naked peasant going to market with his sandals in his hand and his shoulder slightly bent beneath the weight of the bag slung over it, for example, or a baker and his wife kneading dough. The tombs of the noblemen, moreover, contain numerous scenes of the poor man’s world: fishermen drying fish in the sun or repairing nets and snares, farmers fattening geese or sowing the crops, workers from the vineyard vigorously treading grapes, others in the bakery grinding flour. Both the murals and the inscriptions indicate that the people were happy. The men who carry the nobleman around his estate in a carrying-chair sing that it is as light to bear with their lord seated in it as it is when empty. A musician follows a line of reapers and, as he plays his flute, one of the reapers simultaneously holds a sickle and claps his hands singing the ‘Song of the Oxen’. A piper accompanies the harvest. A shepherd leading sheep through the fields sings: ‘The shepherd is in the water among the fish; he talks with the nar-fish, he passes the time of day with the west-fish . . .’ Some of the reliefs are accompanied by texts of conversations between the workers:

‘That is a very beautiful vessel [you are making].’
‘Indeed, it is.’
‘I have brought four pots of beer.’’
‘ That's nothing. I loaded my donkeys with 202 sacks while you were sitting . . .’

The diet of the people consisted mainly of bread, onions, lentils, vegetables and dried fish. They bartered for their needs. In the Egyptian tomb representations a loaf of bread is exchanged for some onions, a carpenter’s wife gives a fisherman a small wooden box for some fish, a potter’s wife obtains ajar of fragrant ointment for two bowls from her husband’s kiln.

The foremen of the various projects appear to have been more heavily built than their slim and muscular workers. The famous statue of Ka-aper, known as the ‘Sheikh el Balad’ (village chief), shows a heavy, stocky but energetic man striding forward with an acacia staff in his hand. That of Nofir, the Director of the Granaries, also shows him to be broad in build. In a mural in the Egyptian tomb of Ptahhotep is a scene of the foreman, obese and lazy, seated in a skiff accepting a drink from an oarsman.

The barracks for the skilled masons at construction sites were crowded, huddled townships, often a succession of small chambers beneath a single roof with open passages between. To the south of Egyptian Khafre’s pyramid are the ruins of a ‘pyramid- town’ that must have accommodated the skilled masons employed on the construction of the tomb. It consisted of long galleries sub-divided into about ninety-one chambers, each 9^ft wide by 7ft high, and it has been calculated that such barracks could reasonably have taken 4,000 workers. Presumably the wholesome ideals of Ptahhotep were not widespread among them.

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October 24, 2012

The Royal Family in Ancient Egypt

The Royal Family
The Ancient Egyptian pharaohs did not live like a lazy despot. As vizier he had supervised mining operations, superintended quarrying operations, controlled the Court of Law and had been in charge of the Treasury. As pharaoh he was equally active. He received his advisers and officials, discussed funerary monuments with his chief architect, and accompanied by his attendants took inspection tours in his carrying-chair.

Apart from the royal insignia and the richly encrusted jewelled collars, the royal family dressed little differently from the landed noblemen. The insignia included the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt (of which no examples have been found) and the artificial beard attached to it (many of these are in the museums of the world). The beard may have been a tradition inherited from their ancestors; being, however a nation who prided themselves on being clean-shaven, artificial beards were worn as a sign of attractive kingship. The emblems carried by the pharaoh were the crook and flail, both of which had come to indicate regal authority. The tail of a bull and leopard skins were used as insignia by priests and princes.

Naturally the elaborate court etiquette required the pharaoh and his Egyptian family to have a host of courtiers, retainers and servants. In the royal palace there was a strict and complex structure of rank and classification of work as revealed by the various titles. Each department had its head, who had his own attendants and their appointed helpers There was a Chief Court Physician, a Director of Music, a Chief Manicurist of the Court and even an official who called himself ‘He who is Head of the Reversion’ and who probably distributed the remains of the five royal meals a day to the people. There was also a Guardian of the Royal Crown and Jewels, a Keeper of the Royal Robes and an Overseer of the Cosmetic Box who ‘performed in the matter of cosmetic art to the satisfaction of his lord’. It is from inscriptions of rank and privileges, duties and tasks, that we are informed of life in the royal palace, and the honour that serving the pharaoh was felt to be. Even the ‘Sandal-bearer of the Egyptian King’ was proud to record that he did his duties to royal satisfaction, and one retainer boasted in his tomb of the unprecedented privilege of kissing the royal foot rather than the dust before it.

The Egyptian God-king was no less pious towards his parents or devoted to his children than the noblemen. Many a pharaoh completed the tomb and mortuary temple for his departed father before commencing construction of his own, inscribing his deed on the walls. When Khufu learned that thieves had entered the tomb of his mother Hetep-heres, he ordered a reburial for her in a new, secret tomb at Giza. Unaware that the mummy had already been removed from the sarcophagus, the workers lowered it into a shaft to the east of the Great Egyptian Pyramid on the Giza along with her funerary equipment. It is thanks to Khufu’s devotion that the furniture was saved; the only royal furniture to have survived intact from the Old Kingdom. It included the supports and uprights of a royal canopy encased in gold from which mats were hung as curtains to ensure privacy, a royal bed that sloped downwards towards the foot to provide a headrest, two chairs, one of which was portable, and, among the smaller items, an inlaid footboard, vases of gold, copper, and alabaster, gold razors and a gold manicure set. The chairs are magnificently carved with figures of the hawk and the lotus, the symbol of the Ankh (Key of Life) and an ibex, all gold- trimmed. The basic design of furniture did not greatly change in later periods.

It is not surprising that Khufu’s mother should have had such magnificent funerary equipment. In the 4th dynasty, royal blood was carried through the women: as ‘Mother of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt’ she was herself revered. Just before the fall of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, in the 6th dynasty, after a process of decentralisation, when pharaohs like Pepi I had married women of non-royal blood, and when noblemen like Ti rose from humble origin to the most powerful positions in the state, legal documents indicate new conditions both on the question of succession and on the position of women. The latter had reduced legal status and, indeed, even after the death of her husband a woman was placed under the guardianship of her eldest son. On his death the responsibility fell on the second, but always the oldest living son was the executor of the deceased’s land and entrusted with his funds. He was instructed to guard the property of the family and expressly forbidden to ‘share’ the wealth entrusted to him.

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October 23, 2012

Medicine in Ancient Egypt

How Ancient Egyptian Worked ?
The working classes can be divided into three categories: the intellectual literates (from whom came physicians, architects and landed noblemen), the Egyptian craftsmen (including the artists and sculptors) and the peasant farmers and labourers.

Medicine
The Egyptian temples of Heliopolis, Sais and Memphis were centres of learning from earliest times. Here physicians were trained. Such titles as ‘Chief of the Dental Physicians’ (Hesi-Ra), ‘Palace Eye Expert, Physician of the Belly, One Comprehending Internal Fluids and Guardian of the Anus’ (Iri), or ‘Chief Oculist of the Royal Court’ (Wah-Dwa), support Herodotus’ observation that there were specialists in ancient Egypt for the different branches of medicine. The Ministry of Health, if one might call it such, comprised the ‘Chief of Physicians’ and their assistants (non-specialists) under an ‘Inspector of Physicians’. Such titles as ‘The Chief Physician of Upper Egypt’ (Ibi), or ‘Greatest Physician of Upper and Lower Egypt’ indicate that within the medical profession there was a liaison between distant provinces and the central court.

The Egyptian medical papyri, of which there are over a score, are clear indication of the advances made in the medical field from very early times. Though the texts date to the Middle and New Kingdoms, it has been established that these were copies (sometimes third and fourth hand) of very early texts. Archaic grammar and obsolete words point to their antiquity as well as certain references to the Old Kingdom. The Berlin medical papyrus, for example, known as the Mother and Child Papyrus, bears a statement that it was found under a statue near Giza in the time of the pharaoh Den (1st dynasty). It further states that after his death it was brought to the pharaoh Sened (2nd dynasty), ‘because of its excellence’.

The text was signed by ‘The Scribe of Sacred Writings, the Chief of the Excellent Physicians, Neferhotep, who prepared the book’, (ie he copied it from an original manuscript). The London medical papyrus bears a statement that it was ‘brought as a marvel to the Majesty of King Khufu’. And the Edwin Smith surgical papyrus, believed to be the earliest, might have been a copy of the original manuscript of Djer (second pharaoh of the 1st dynasty whose books on anatomy survived, according to Manetho, until Greco/Roman times). It dealt with forty-eight carefully arranged surgical cases of wounds and fractures, detailing a dispassionate examination of the patient and prescribing cures. No ailment was ascribed to the activity of a demonaic power and there was very little magic; the ancient Egyptian people  were not witch doctors who gave incantations but physicians who prescribed healing remedies and operations. Though some of the cures might be considered rather fanciful extract of the hair of a black calf to prevent graying others became famous for their virtue in later times. This was a society where educated men sought methods to prolong life. Beliefs in the potency of spells or exorcisms undoubtedly existed, especially among the lower classes, along with the belief in magical charms and talismans, but magico-religious medicine, as such, only flourished in later times.

Medical and surgical papyri in ancient Egypt were undoubtedly compiled at different periods, each adding to the limited knowledge of a predecessor. By the 6th dynasty there appears to have been a firmly established medical tradition. For when the vizier Weshptah, architect/friend of the pharaoh Neferirkere, suffered a stroke in the king’s presence, he showed great solicitude for his stricken friend and ordered his officials to consult medical documents for a remedy to help the vizier regain consciousness.

Mural reliefs provide further evidence of medical practices. Sesa’s tomb at Saqqara (5th dynasty) is known as the Doctor’s Tomb in view of the reliefs showing the manipulation of joints. Egyptian Ankhmahor’s tomb (6th dynasty) is known as the Physician’s Tomb and shows an operation on a man’s toe and the circumcision of a youth the latter was practised on boys between six and twelve years of age. Finally, we know from mummified bodies that dental surgery was used from early times. Some have teeth extracted, and a 4th-dynasty mummy of a man shows two holes, apparently drilled, beneath a right molar of the lower jaw for draining an abscess. Wooden splints and linen bandages encase broken limbs in pre-dynastic tombs and, indeed, the advances made in mummification indicate a sound knowledge of anatomy.

The highly specialised profession of mummification was not perfected until the Egyptian New Kingdom. It was performed by priests, as against medicine which was practised by scholars. In the early dynastic period when the bodies of the dead were placed in tombs they were found to perish more quickly than when protected by the warm sand. Since the lifelike appearance was believed essential for a continued existence in the afterlife, artificial means of preservation had to be sought. Early efforts to accomplish this (in the 2nd dynasty) included modelling in clay the features of the face, the genitals and breasts with nipples. This gave an uncannily lifelike appearance. Subsequently, linen strips dipped in resinous material were moulded on to the shrunken body, carefully wrapping individual fingers, etc, the body cavities being filled with linen. Later the intestines and vital organs were removed, wrapped in linen strips and immersed in a natron solution. This development led to the preservation of the viscera in four canopic jars placed in a box (the earliest were those of Khufu’s mother).

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October 22, 2012

Art and Sculpture in Ancient Egypt

Art and Sculpture
Mural decoration and sculpture, largely required to fulfil funerary purposes, developed into a highly active industry. Though the sharp, clear outlines of the murals were chiselled with extraordinary delicacy and many of the statues are clearly the work of skilled hands, those that fashioned them were artisans rather than artists and part of a team. Unfinished tombs provide evidence of the method of mural decoration. A chief artist prepared each surface by separating the different registers with the aid of cords dipped in red paint, subdividing these further into rows or squares. The sections were then filled with figures of men, animals and hieroglyphic characters, each row representing a single activity. It seems probable that there was a common stock of themes from which a nobleman took his choice, for similar scenes are represented in different Egyptian tombs with a reduction or increase in the number of individuals, a variation in the placing of inscriptions or the addition of such details as might please the artist: a bald man, a spotted cow, a frisky calf. The arrangement was apparently guided by the artist’s preference (within the broad outlines of the customer’s wishes) and by the size of the tomb. All available wall space was filled.

A sculptor would carve the figures in low relief, fine detail was added and the finished product was painted. Tomb murals were therefore modelled paintings carried out by a team of artists. Tempera technique was used: natural powdered pigments mixed with water and glue to adhere to the wall surface. Red and yellow colors were natural desert pigments, chalk or lime provided white and soot black. Copper was the source of the calcined mixture for green, cobalt for blue. The colouring, while not entirely true to nature, was not much exaggerated. For example, clothing was usually white (left without paint on the limestone wall), red ochre was used for the sunburnt bodies of men, while pink, pale brown or yellow was used for ancient Egyptian women.

In view of the similarity of subject matter, the scenes may appear to be uniform, but close study shows that no two are exactly alike. There was endless modification and, time and again, a human touch. Furthermore, although mural decoration may appear as a Egyptian mechanical art, the extremely high level of technical and artistic skill, and the harmonious effect should not be overlooked.

The portrait sculptor was the greatest artist of the age. The powerful and life like portraits of Egyptian Khafre and Menkaure pharaohs, the earliest in the history of art, show fidelity in portraiture and mastery of materials. Khafre had twenty-three cult statues in his valley temple, only five of which have been found; one unique one is carved of diorite.

A statue of Pepi I had an overlay of beaten copper on a carved wooden base and the remarkable painted statues of Rahotep (a prince) and his wife, are amongst the finest examples of Egyptian Old Kingdom statuary to survive. The sculptors frequently gave a striking effect to the faces, especially those of wood, by inserting pieces of quartz in the eye sockets with a copper stud, which served also as the pupil. All statues show a stress on the faithful reproduction of characteristics. For example, the statue of Khnum-hotep, a dwarf, modelled in refined detail with sturdy legs and corpulent body, is without doubt a masterpiece of realism.

There were certain conventional poses: hands to sides, striding forward or seated, and a strict canon of proportions. Standing figures were 19-20 units high, and the seated figures were 16 units, the feet were the same length as the height of the head and neck, the distance between the knees and the soles of the feet was twice as long as the feet. Drawing to scale the artist could enlarge a statue, or a scene, accurately. In the tomb of Ti is a representation of an atelier with artisans polishing and carving statues, in accurate likeness of the nobleman. Statues in his tomb show that these were coloured as lifelike as possible. Though these statues were fashioned to house the Ka of the deceased, it should be mentioned that statuary was not yet a mechanical art, nor was the portrait sculpture subjected to the mass production of funerary workshops apparent in later periods.

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October 21, 2012

Shipbuilding in Ancient Egypt

Shipbuilding
Egyptians were accomplished sailors, and shipbuilding was one of the most important and oldest industries, the result of the need to travel both within the country, along the Nile, across the Mediterranean and down the Red Sea. The Egyptian tomb of Ti contains two shipbuilding scenes, Ti presiding over them both, inspecting every stage of the work being carried out. One shows the entire shipbuilding process, from the early stages of shaping and sawing the wooden planks to the last stages of completion, with workmen milling over the curving hulls, carving, hammering, sawing and drilling. Seafaring vessels usually had a curved prow and high stern, each decorated in the form of a papyrus bud. The centre of the ship often had an awning. All hinges, nails and bolts were made of copper, as were the workmen’s tools.

One of the oldest texts to survive mentions that during the reign of Senefru, the 4th-dynasty pharaoh, a fleet of 40 ships sailed to Lebanon and returned to Egypt laden with timber. The text mentions that the ships were 100 cubits in length (179 feet). The nobleman Uni, ordered by royal command to transport alabaster, constructed a ship ‘6o cubits in length and 30 cubits in width’ and recorded in his tomb that it was ‘assembled in seventeen days’. The so-called Solar Boat of Khufu, discovered in 1954 in a rock-hewn tomb to the south of the Great Pyramid, is a magnificent barge 145 feet long constructed of cedar from Lebanon. It had been completely dismantled to fit into the tomb, but careful reassembly disclosed a flat-bottomed boat with a massive curving hull rising to elegant prow and stern posts. Poles on the deck proved to be the supporting palm-shaped columns of a large roofed cabin. Steering oars, each 16 feet long, were also found, and coils of rope. This was the first royal barge discovered other boat pits dating to the early dynasties were empty.

Examination of the vessel indicates that it actually sailed and the planks were ‘sewn’ together by a system of ropes through holes that met in pairs on the inside. The term ‘Solar Boat’, coined when it was first discovered in the belief that it was for funerary purposes (to take the departed pharaoh across the sky to join the heavenly gods), is somewhat misleading. Such ships probably served the pharaoh in his capacity as King of Upper and Lower Egypt during his lifetime, and were buried with him as part of his funerary equipment after his death. Another pit is known to exist to the south of the Egyptian Great Pyramid of Khufu Pharaoh: not yet excavated, it is believed to contain a second vessel.

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October 20, 2012

Lesser Industries in Ancient Egypt

Lesser Industries
Other industries produced leather, papyrus, bricks, glass, pottery, jewellery and copperware. The coppersmith, who supplied the tools necessary for shipbuilding, quarrying stone for funerary monuments and for fashioning murals and statues, had a busy workshop. It was also his responsibility to make copper drains for the earliest plumbing and the various implements required for Egyptian agriculture. Craftsmen of high order developed from early times and there was a tendency for children to ply the trades of their fathers, at first making themselves useful around the workshops and then working as apprentices.

The Egyptian tomb of Ti records the goldsmith’s factory and the different stages of the production of jewellery. Ti himself watches the head goldsmith weighing the precious metal that was brought from the alluvial sands of the eastern desert, while scribes record it. Workers are depicted casting, soldering and fitting together a rich assortment of fine jewellery. Six men direct their blowpipes to the flames in a clay furnace. Beside them a workman pours the molten metal. On the extreme right four men beat gold-leaf. Some of the engravers who are seated on low benches are dwarfs. Pieces of turquoise, cut or ground into tiny pieces, are inlaid with precision, soldered and fitted into exquisite necklets and other items of adornment.

Carpentry was a highly developed industry. As already mentioned furniture was often overlaid with gold and silver. Ancient Egyptian Carpenters used hammers and mallets, saws with teeth slanting towards the handle indicating that they were pulled not pushed, and bow-drills for making holes. Leather-production, too, had long been mastered and the curing of hides produced soft, fine-quality skins. These were dyed in various colours and used to cover stools, chairs, beds and cushions as well as to fashion sandals.

The glass-maker supervised the production of multi-coloured glass bottles and vases which were widely exported. Tiles were also decorated by spreading the molten liquid and glazing them with rich colour. These were used to adorn palace and tomb walls. Although serving a utilitarian purpose, most of the products manufactured in ancient Egypt were fashioned with a fine sense of balance and an unconscious desire for beauty. Stone vessels, for example, were created in perfect symmetry, the flint borers with which they were made in pre-dynastic times were superseded by a cranked brace with weights acting as a flywheel for hollowing. Unfortunately the ancient Egyptian industry of stone-vessel manufacture was largely outmoded by the potter when he began to fashion his ware with the aid of a horizontal wheel. Deftly guiding the swirling vessel with his hands, his rate of production was much larger, and he was able to fulfil the demand for vessels for storage and eating purposes. Egypt was rich in clays, and pottery was produced on a large scale. By the Old Kingdom, the days of irregular burning in an open fire at the mercy of the wind had passed; the potter had rows of closed furnaces to achieve uniform firing.

October 19, 2012

Entertainment in Ancient Egypt

Entertainment
Leisure was made possible by the economy, exceptional opportunities and favourable climate. Almost all the tombs of the noblemen at Saqqara and Giza contain scenes of the deceased with his family seated beneath an arbour enjoying the mild north breeze, or with friends or relatives being entertained by musicians, dancers and singers. Moreover the panorama of everyday life indicates how vitally conscious the people were of the animal and bird life teeming around them and how much they esteemed the great outdoors. It seems that among the greatest pleasures were venturing into the marshes in search of aquatic birds, hunting in the undulating plains of the desert and fishing in small canals and lakes.

The ancient Egyptians had a great sense of rhythm and love of music. During important national events (for example, the breaking of ground by the ‘Scorpion King’ depicted on his historically important mace-head), a line of women clapped in unison. A piper or singer often entertained ancient Egyptian fishermen and farmers while they worked. Not surprisingly, we find the wealthy classes enjoying music at all times of day, at their morning toilet, at meals and during leisure hours. Harps were small and usually played by a seated musician. Flutes were in two sizes and a full orchestra comprised two harps and two flutes. Two or three musicians as well as singers and clappers usually accompanied lithe young maidens as they performed dances for the pleasure of the nobleman and his family. One such scene, in the tomb of Ti, shows both male and female performers. The dancers raise their arms in a circular motion above their heads while their feet move forward; a gesture probably repeated to the rhythm of the music. A more energetic performance is depicted in the tomb of Ankhmahor where the dancers do a high kick, and in the tomb of Kagemni an acrobatic dance is performed by young girls who are depicted with the left foot placed flat on the floor, torso curved, head dropping backwards until the hair, plaited into a pigtail with decoration on the end, hangs down in perfect symmetry.

Entertainment brings to mind the story of the pigmy brought from the Land of Yam to amuse the young pharaoh Pepi II. It is one of the most appealing tales of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Pepi was only six years old when he ascended the throne. During the second year of his reign, Harkhuf, a nobleman of Elephantine, returned from the south with exotic products and a dancing pigmy as a gift for the king. He sent messengers ahead to inform the pharaoh of what to expect and with great enthusiasm Pepi sent a letter of thanks to Harkhuf requesting him to take every precaution that the pigmy should arrive in Memphis in good condition. Harkhuf was instructed to put trustworthy persons in charge on the boat so as to ensure the pigmy should not fall overboard, and that when he slept guards should sleep on either side of the cabin and make an inspection ten times a night. ‘For’, wrote Harkhuf in his tomb where he recorded the entire episode and quoted the letter in his biographical text, ‘My Majesty desires to see this pigmy more than all the gifts of Setjru, Irtjet and Yam.’

A legend in the Westcar Egyptian Papyrus tells of the aged king Senefru being otherwise entertained. A magician recommended that he row on the palace lake in the company of ‘all the beauties who are in your palace chamber . . . The heart of Your Majesty shall be refreshed at the sight of their rowing as they row up and down. You can see the beautiful fish ponds of your lake, and you can see the beautiful fields around it [and] your heart will be refreshed at this.’ Senefru forthwith ordered that twenty oars be made of ebony, fitted with gold and silver, and instructed that twenty women be brought, ‘the most beautiful in form, with hair well braided, with firm breasts, not yet having opened up to give birth. Let there be brought to me twenty nets, and let these nets be given to these women when they have taken off their clothes. Then it was done according to all that His Majesty commanded, and they rowed up and down. The heart of His Majesty was happy at the sight of their rowing.’


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October 18, 2012

Outdoor Sport in Ancient Egypt

Outdoor Sport
Hunting was popular among all classes. The pharaoh Sahure is depicted hunting gazelle, antelope, deer and other animals. Most of the noblemen may be seen pursuing wild Egyptian game and capturing different species. And the working classes chased gazelle, oryx, wild oxen, hares and ostrich with equal enthusiasm. Long bow and arrow, lasso, throwing sticks and bola were the most common hunting weapons. The bow was no more than 3 feet in length and the arrows, carried in leather quivers, came in several varieties; the one preferred for hunting (which survived into the Egyptian New Kingdom) had an agate arrowhead cemented to a sturdy, usually ebony, stick which was fitted into a hollow reed shaft. The latter was decorated with two feathers and notched for the bowstring.

Considerable ability must have been required in the handling of the throwing stick, numerous specimens of which may be found in most of the museums of the world. They, too, varied in shape, some being semi-circular and others ending in a knob. The bola consisted of a rope or strap about 16 feet long with a single rounded stone attached to the end. When thrown, the cord would twist round the legs or neck of the Egyptian animal and hinder its movement; a good hunter could bring down an animal by his strength. The lasso differed from the bola in having no stone attached: the noose would merely be thrown round the neck of the running victim gazelle, wild goat, water-buck, and ostrich.

Hunting scenes were extremely spirited, showing the hunter enthusiastically pursuing game in an obvious display of pleasure. Some scenes indicate how bait was used. In tomb of Ptahhotep pharaoh the muzzle of a young tethered heifer is being seized in the jaws of a lion, which a hunter points out to his two hounds before setting them loose. Hounds were specially trained for hunting and following wounded beasts. Every effort seems to have been made to save them from being hurt and to capture game alive. Ptahhotep is depicted watching men dragging cages containing lion, a frame with gazelles bound together in groups, and smaller cages containing hedgehogs. Sometimes a hunter, perhaps after killing its mother, would take a young gazelle back to the village in ancient Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians were avid fishermen. After the waters of the annual flood receded, ponds were left in the open country. These, as well as the canals and the river, yielded an inexhaustible supply of mullet, catfish, telapia, perch, barbel and other varieties of fish. The upper classes penetrated deeply into the thickets in their firmly constructed papyrus skiffs, their feet squarely placed on the central plank. They pursued fish with spears sometimes two-pronged but never angled. The crew, on the other hand, sometimes speared fish like their masters but more often angled from small boats, using as many as six hooks on a single line. Drag-nets were drawn from the shore in small canals, trawl-nets were used in larger canals and rivers, and trap-nets were also used. These were wicker-like baskets with narrow necks, sometimes curving inwards; when dropped in shallow water, the fish would be attracted to the bait and swim inside but could not emerge. Hippo-hunting with spears was popular among all classes.

The familiarity of the ancient Egyptians with bird life is particularly apparent from the Ti's Tomb, where various species of the marshes are depicted in families near their nests, each drawn with characteristic features and easily identifiable (although not drawn to scale). They include quail, partridge, heron, pelican, turtledove, magpie, swallow, wild duck and goose, among others, and wading in the reedy swamps near the river are flamingoes, pelicans and cormorants. In fact indigenous and migratory waterfowl were so plentiful that the ancient Egyptians likened a crowd to a bird pond during the inundation. Birds were most often caught in clap-nets. Hunting them with a throw-stick was also an extremely popular sport which needed skill; the hunter, often accompanied by his wife, children and servants, had to stand firmly in his boat with legs wide apart and, whilst maintaining his balance, fling the missile at the fowl as they took to the air. Some of the men with him hold decoy-birds, indicating that the Ipoat made its way quietly through the thickets to creep up on the fowl. Mongooses were trained to catch small aquatic birds, considered a great delicacy.

It is not surprising, in view of the warm weather and the proximity of the river, that the ancient Egyptians were swimmers from early times. A hieroglyph of the name of a man, depicted on an Old Kingdom offering-table, shows a man swimming, and it is evident from this and other representations that the crawl stroke was common to them. Learning to swim may, indeed, have been necessary training for children among the upper classes, for a biographical inscription of a Egyptian Middle Kingdom nobleman referred to the encouragement his pharaoh gave him and declared that as a youth ‘he caused me to take swimming lessons along with the royal children’.

In many ancient Egyptian tombs the owner is depicted watching boatmen’s games which may have been either an exhibition contest or a race. Light reed boats, often filled with produce, were punted in the same direction. Meanwhile two or three men stood in each boat equipped with long poles with which they tried to push their opponents into the water. They would then either board the ‘enemy’ boat or tip it over.

In the ancient Egyptian tombs of the Old Kingdom only children (identified by the side-lock of youth) are depicted playing games, whilst in the Middle Kingdom young men and women are also shown in sports activities. Moreover, in the Old Kingdom most of the games are played by boys and, with few exceptions, boys and girls did not play together. A game requiring skill was played by boys with sharp pointed sticks which they raised and threw at a target on the ground between them. A ‘tug-of-war’ trial of strength was accompanied by such inscriptions as ‘Your arm is much stronger than his’, ‘My team is stronger than yours’ and ‘Hold fast comrades.’ Boys played a high-jump game, leaping over an obstacle formed by two of their comrades sitting opposite each other with soles of the feet and tips of the fingers touching. In another game a boy kneels on the ground with one leg outstretched; his comrades endeavour to touch him lightly with their feet while avoiding his hands. Whoever he catches takes his place on the ground.

A girls’ game is depicted in Pharaoh Mereruka’s tomb: two players in the centre hold either two or four partners with outstretched arms; the latter lean outwards so that only their heels touch the ground. The text reads: ‘Turn around four times.’ Though there are no murals of children playing ball in the Old Kingdom, balls have been found, even in prehistoric graves. Some were covered in leather, cut into sections, sewn together and filled with fine straw or reeds. Others were made of wood or clay, in one or more colours.

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October 17, 2012

Dendera and Temple of Dendera

Dendera
This is a very ancient religious site and the seat of the worship of Egyptian Hathor Goddess, the cow-goddess. During the New Kingdom, Thutmose II, Ramses II and Ramses III Pharaohs all contributed to the building of the temple of Hathor. The wall reliefs, however, date to a much later period. In fact most of the inscriptions and decorations date from Greco/Roman times and do not compare with the finer work of the earlier periods. Though the temple is constructed in fine symmetry the figures are coarse. Among the Roman Emperors dressed as pharaohs and sacrificing to the gods of Egypt are Augustus, Caligula, Tiberius, Nero and Claudius. On the outer (south) wall is a relief of Caesar, Cleopatra and their son.

Dendera

The important features of this Dendera temple are the 18 enormous Hathor-headed columns in the Temple's Great Hall, a representation of the Sky Goddess Nut with her feet in one corner of the chamber, elongated body across the roof, and feet in the opposite corner, and the chamber in which the Osiris myth is represented in detail. The famous Zodiac in the National Library in Paris was taken from one of the chambers here.

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October 14, 2012

What Survives from the Ancient Egyptian World

What Survives from the Ancient Egyptian World
NOWHERE on earth are there more plentifully preserved monuments and relics of an ancient Egyptian civilization. They have sustained the ravages of time, vandalism, invasions, conquests and grave-robbers. The tombs and temples were built on such a grand scale, the murals and statues executed with such artistic skill, and craftsmanship had reached such a degree of perfection, that they will ever lure man to a realisation of his heritage. ‘Egypt contains more wonders than any other land in the world, and is pre-eminent above all the countries in the world for works that one can hardly describe,’ wrote Herodotus.

Ancient Egypt
Though much of Egypt’s portable treasure today adorns the museums of the world, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo naturally boasts the most valuable and comprehensive collection. Founded by the French Egyptologist Mariette in 1882, its contents are arranged in chronological order (though the heavier stone statues, stele and sarcophagi are on the ground floor). They range from neolithic artifacts and pottery to statues and portraits of the Greco-Roman period; five thousand years of Egypt’s ancient history. There are statues, stele, murals, sarcophagi, texts, jewellery, etc, of all periods, including the Hetep-Heres collection of royal furniture of the Old Kingdom, the famous Tutankhamon Collection, a Collection of the Tanite Kings (21st/22nd dynasty) which represents the largest collection of gold and silver work in the museum, the Ikhnaton Collection including statues of the pharaoh himself, exquisite paintings from his Sun Temple at Tel el Amarna, and a superb bust (unpainted) of his wife Neferteti. There is also a Mummy Room containing forty mummies of some of Egypt’s most important pharaohs (including Amenhotep I, Thutmose II and III, Seti I, and Ramses II and III) which were recovered from a shaft at Der el Bahri (Luxor Egypt), where they had been hidden by the priests of the 21st dynasty for safety against grave robbers.

Most of the works described in this study may be found in the Egyptian Museum, including the famous diorite statue of Khafre pharaoh, statues of Menkaure king between Hathor and local deities, the ‘Sheikh el Balad’, Ra-Hotep and Nofret, the copper Pepi I's statue and his son, the statue of Ti, the nobleman whose tomb we have described in detail, and the granite sarcophagus of Menerre (procured by Uni who excavated five canals at the First Cataract to transport the barges to Memphis) to mention but a few. These, of course, are apart from objects of a non-funerary nature: combs, mirrors, furniture, weapons, tools, etc.

Ancient Egypt
The contents of the Museum, however, represent but a small part of Egypt’s treasures, for indeed the whole of the Nile Valley is an outdoor museum. Following the ancient highway, the river Nile, we will briefly view some of the surviving monuments that lie between Giza, opposite Cairo, where the Great Pyramids of Khufu Pharaoh straddle the desert plateau, and Abu Simbel, over 600 miles further south, where the gigantic statues of Ramses II king sit in massive dignity at the entrance of his famous temple above the waters of Lake Nasser.

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October 13, 2012

Great Giza Egypt

Giza
On the western bank of the Nile, about 6.5 miles south-west of Cairo are the greatest monuments of the Old Kingdom: the Pyramids of Giza. That of Khufu has the distinction of being the largest single building ever constructed. The Solar Boat has been reassembled in a special museum on the southern flank of the pyramid (not yet open to the public). The pyramid of Khafre, the second pyramid, is the most complete example of a royal tomb complex in the Egyptian Old Kingdom. It comprises the pyramid itself, its mortuary temple and a causeway of white limestone connecting it to a valley temple, sometimes known as the Granite Temple. Nearby is the Sphinx, the huge figure of a recumbent lion with human head which is believed to have been carved in the features of the pharaoh Khafre. Its total length is 240 feet and between its paws is a huge red granite stele narrating the dream of the pharaoh Thutmose IV (18th dynasty) who, whilst resting in the shadow of the Sphinx after a hunting expedition, heard the voice of his ‘father’ the Sun-god, ordering him to deliver him from the suffocating desert sands. The Sun-god demanding release from the sand was the Sphinx itself which, by the New Kingdom, was understood to be a combination of the Sun-gods Ra-Atum- Keper-Harakhte.

Giza Egypt
To the south of Ancient Egyptian Menkaure’s pyramid are the ruins of the village that accommodated the skilled masons who were employed on the construction of the pyramid and where all the needs of the workmen were prepared.

Abu Sir
The Egyptian pyramids of Abu Sir are almost completely in ruin. However, the splendid reliefs which adorn the funerary temple of the 5th dynasty pharaoh Sahure include the first surviving representation of seagoing ships. There are also fine sculptured reliefs of various aspects of rural life throughout the agricultural year as well as hunting scenes depicting the pharaoh accompanied by dogs pursuing antelope, gazelle, deer and other smart animals.

Abu Sir

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October 12, 2012

Saqqara and Memphis Facts

Saqqara
This is one of the richest archaeological sites in Egypt. It preserves ancient relics from all periods of ancient Egyptian history. Those described in this book include the royal tombs of the 1st dynasty , Zoser’s Step Pyramid Complex, 5th and 6th dynasty tombs of noblemen decorated in painted relief, and the pyramids of the 6th-dynasty pharaohs which contain columns of inscribed hieroglyphics painted in blue and known as the Egyptian Pyramid Texts.
Saqqara Egypt
Another highlight at Saqqara is the Serapeum, or Apis Tombs. These are a series of subterranean galleries, hewn out of solid rock containing the remains of bulls. Though the Apis bull was regarded as sacred in Memphis from early times, the Serapeum has not been discussed in this study since the Apis cult only developed in exaggerated form in the Egyptian New Kingdom. The first common grave dates to the reign of the 26th dynasty pharaoh Ramses II, a new gallery was excavated in the reign of the 26th dynasty pharaoh Psamtik I, and the main gallery (which unites the whole into a vast sepulchre) to Ptolemaic times.

Memphis
Little remains of the site of ancient Egyptian Memphis, the White Wall, Egypt’s first capital and one of the most famous and populous capitals of antiquity. What we know of the ancient capital comes largely from the necropolis of Sakkara and from the Step Pyramid complex built by Imhotep for the Zoser King.

Old Memphis Egypt
Memphis succumbed to a civil war after the fall of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, a barbaric invasion by the Hyksos after the fall of the Middle Kingdom, and a shift in centralised power when Thebes became capital in the New Kingdom. It also suffered ransacking by the Libyans, beseiging by the Sudanese, plundering by the Persians, the fanaticism of the early Christians and final destruction at the hands of the Arab conquerors who transported stone slabs, marble and alabaster monuments to lay the foundations of Cairo. The ruins of many Egyptian temples however, attest to the size of the ancient city. Those of the Temple of Ptah can be traced in its ground-plan some 501 yards to the north of Mit Rahina (a small village near a palm grove). It was here that two colossal statues of Ramses II were found. They probably graced the entrance to the ancient Temple of Ptah in the New Kingdom. One statue, found lying face downwards in the sand and in a perfect state of preservation, was transported to Station Square, Cairo, in 1955; it weighs 65 tons. The other is still in Memphis in a protective structure.

(It should perhaps be mentioned that the ancient city of On, the Heliopolitan city of the Sun-god, was also almost totally destroyed. All that remains are the few ruins of the enclosure wall of the Egyptian Sun Temple and a single obelisk of Aswan granite.)

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October 11, 2012

Beni Hassan and Tombs Facts

Beni Hassan
Approaching ‘Middle Egypt’ one comes, appropriately, to a famous burial ground of the Middle Kingdom in ancient Egypt . Beni Hassan is famous for the Egyptian rock-hewn tombs of the 12th-dynasty princes and noblemen. They rank among the most fascinating monuments in Egypt, both for their architectural characteristics (the mastaba form had almost entirely disappeared and these tombs were hewn in a row out of the cliffs, sometimes with rock-cut colonnade at the entrance), and also for the fine representations of domestic life in the Middle Kingdom. Though many of the scenes (such as baking, pottery-making, carpentry, handicrafts, etc) are similar to those depicted at Saqqara, these Egyptian tombs contain themes not common in the Old Kingdom; for example, youths wrestling, military scenes and an attack on a fortress (tombs of Kheti and Ameni-em-hat). There are also scenes of barbers, washermen, painters, spinning and weaving by women (Baket Tomb), and men felling a palm tree (tomb of Khnumhotep).

Beni Hassan
Beni Hassan
Particularly interesting are those scenes which indicate the rising popularity of the cult of Osiris God after the fall of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. In a land of turmoil, Osiris, God of the Underworld, came to represent hope and justice. Thousands of pilgrims travelled from all over the country to attend the annual religious festivals at Abydos, which became the centre of the cult. It became desirable for a wealthy nobleman to construct a second Egyptian tomb near Abydos, to erect a stele within sight of the august shrine, or be carried, after embalming, to the precincts of the shrine before returning for final interment at his own birthplace. If, for some reason, the pilgrimage could not be performed, then the deceased were meant to make it symbolically, by having the scene represented in their tomb. Such scenes may be seen at Beni Hassan. In the tomb of Khnumhotep a Nile boat bears the mummy of the deceased, accompanied by an inscription that it is being borne to Abydos. The tomb of Amenemhet depicts the deceased, accompanied by his children and harem, travelling in the boat to attend the festival at Abydos, which included the dramatic re-enactment of the life, death and rebirth of Egyptian Osiris God.

Another interesting feature of the tombs of Beni Hassan are the representations of foreigners: a scene of Asiatics, shows men, women and children in ancient Egypt dressed in gaily coloured national costume and characterised by their hooked noses, sharply cut features and pointed beards. The men in a caravan of Libyans, What Survives From the Ancient Egyptian World are distinguished by the ostrich-feathers in their hair, and the women carry baskets on their backs.
Beni Hassan Tomb
The patron deity of Beni Hassan was Bast, the cat-goddess, to whom a temple was started in the 18th dynasty; it was added to in the 19th dynasty but never completed. It is an example of the Egyptian rock-hewn temple, of which that of Abu Simbel is the largest Temple.

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October 10, 2012

Tel el Amarna Facts

Tel el Amarna
This was the site chosen by Ikhnaton (Amenhotep IV King) for his new capital when he rebelled against the priests of Amon in the 18th dynasty, abandoned Thebes and promoted the sole worship of the Aten, the sun-disc. The site was occupied for only about 21 years before the priests of Amon reasserted control and returned the court to Thebes. They regarded Ikhnaton’s monotheism as a religious revolution and endeavoured to obliterate all evidence of his reign from the land, razing the temples and palaces in Tel el Amarna; but some of the main streets may still be discerned, as well as the ground- plan of the Aten temple . The royal family and noblemen fortunately constructed their tombs in the hills to the east of the city. Though in poor condition these contain some of the best surviving examples of the realism characteristic of the ‘Amarna period’.
Tel el Amarna
The religious movement of Ikhnaton Pharaoh was accompanied by an artistic revolution which freed the artist from ancient traditions. Paintings and sculpture tended to be more realistic both as regards style and subject matter. The royal family, especially, were represented in a manner totally different from the stylised representations of earlier periods. In one scene, for example, Ikhnaton and Nefertiti, with two young princesses, are seated at a table facing each other. Above them is the symbol of the new religion: the sun with rays extending in hands (Huye 1 tomb). Another depicts the Pharaoh and the royal family emerging from the palace, inspecting barns and stables attached to the temple, or (accompanied by their daughters) worshipping the sun (Meri-Re Tomb). In the Egyptian tomb of Iy, favourite of the pharaoh, is a scene of the king and queen at a window of the palace, again accompanied by the young princesses, one of whom touches her mother’s chin. They throw decorations to Iy and his wife.

Tel el Amarna Facts

It was at Tel el Amarna that the famous Berlin painted bust of Nefertiti Queen was found, and also the valuable archives on clay tablets, state letters between Amenhotep III and IV Pharaohs and the leaders of Syria, Palestine and Asia.

Dashur
South of Saqqara are the two pyramids of Senefru King, the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid . On the same plateau there are also two Middle Kingdom Egyptian pyramids which cannot be compared, in terms of material or construction, with those of the Old Kingdom. They are the pyramids of Senursert III (Sesostris) and Amenemhet II, both brick constructions. The latter is a shapeless black heap of rubble.

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October 9, 2012

Abydos in Ancient Egypt

Abydos
This was one of the most ancient cities in Egypt, which became the centre of the Osiris God cult. It was believed that here Isis found the head of Osiris, and buried it (though another version of the myth has her finding the whole body at Abydos City with the exception of the phallus which had been eaten by a crocodile).

Abydos
The earliest tombs at Abydos are pre-dynastic (Before Egyptian Dynasties). There are also the royal tombs of the first dynasty. After the fall of the Old Kingdom in ancient Egypt and the rise of the cult of Osiris the dead, the city grew and the solemn annual religious festivals included a passion play, enacted by the priests before multitudes in the manner of the Memphite Drama . It included a ritualistic killing of Osiris by his brother Set, followed by several days of mourning. Funeral wreaths and flowers were placed on the figure of the slain deity as he was borne through the city. The people sang hymns and made offerings and, at a prescribed place in the city, another mock battle took place between the brothers, but this time the murder of Osiris was avenged and a triumphant procession with a risen hero returned to the temple. The whole celebration took 19 days and the crowning scene was the erection of the backbone of Osiris (the Dad fetish) and the placing of his head upon it.

Abydos Wall
In the New Kingdom in ancient Egypt, Abydos Egyptian city became a centre of diverse cults. Ptah of Memphis was worshipped there, along with Harmachis and Amon. Seti I started the construction of a temple of the finest-grain limestone, and decorated it in reliefs that are among the finest productions of Egyptian relief sculpture of any age. The temple was completed by Ramses II Pharaoh . Its plan differs from other great Egyptian temples by having not one sanctuary to a single deity, but seven, dedicated to Osiris, Isis, Horus, Ptah, Harmachis, Amon and the deified king himself.

Ramses II Pharaoh also built a temple at Abydos, dedicated to Osiris. Although largely in ruin, this temple appears to have been more carefully constructed than other buildings raised by this pharaoh. Fine-grained limestone was used, with black and red granite for the doorways, sandstone for the columns, and alabaster for an inner shrine. The reliefs are much more crudely executed than those of the Seti I temple .

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October 7, 2012

Luxor (Ancient Thebes)

Luxor (Ancient Thebes)
After the war of liberation from the Hyksos, Egyptian People entered a new phase of development, the New Kingdom. At first the culture differed only slightly from that of the Middle Kingdom, but following the military successes of Thutmose III Pharaoh, who extended Egyptian influence in Western Asia, the political, social and artistic life underwent radical changes. Magnificent treasures poured into Thebes, which became a reservoir of tributes and booty. Since a large share of the wealth was bestowed on the national god, Amon-Ra, enormous temples, elaborately embellished and adorned, were raised in his honour by successive pharaohs. This was a period in which Egypt enjoyed untold power and prestige; when the classical authors Homer, Diodorus, Strabo and Pliny referred to the magnificence of Thebes.
Ancient Thebes
On the eastern bank of the Nile are two great Egyptian temples, Luxor and Karnak. The Temple of Luxor, built by the 18th dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III is one of the most beautiful monuments of the New Kingdom. The clustered papyrus-bud columns of the main court represent a fine example of its architecture. In the main court, surrounded by smooth- shafted papyrus columns with lotus-bud capitals, a Fatimide mosque which was raised to Abu el Hagag still stands. The most important reliefs in this temple are those in the colonnade which depict the great ‘Opet’ festival when the god Amon was borne in splendid procession from the Temple of Karnak to that of Luxor, and the murals in the Birth Room which show that Amenhotep III ruled by the divine right of the god Amon under the protection of the gods.

Temple of Karnak is a huge complex which owes its building to the efforts of successive pharaohs from the Middle Kingdom to the Ptolemaic period (some 2,000 years). Some of its most impressive features are the Great Court, which covers an area of 49,755sq yd and contains a small temple (a perfect example of traditional design) built by Ramses III and a shrine built by Seti II; the Great Hypostyle Hall, its roof supported by 135 columns arranged in sixteen rows, with those of the nave rising to a height of 79ft, and the capitals large enough to hold a hundred men; valuable historical reliefs of the military campaigns of Seti I and Ramses II in Asia (with the actual text of the first non-aggression pact in history, between Ramses II and the Hittite kings); the beautiful obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut made of pink Aswan granite, weighing some 700,0001b and, as recorded in the text, quarried and erected in seven months; two granite pillars (in the Hall of Records), one bearing the lotus of Upper Egypt and the other the papyrus of Lower Egypt, and together representing the unity between the ‘Two Lands’.

Ancient Thebes
On the western bank of the Nile at Luxor is the necropolis, or city of the dead. Here are a number of mortuary temples including that of Seti I at Kurna (which, like his temple at Abydos, is executed in fine relief), the terraced temple of Queen Hatshepsut who is famed, among other things, for her expedition to the Land of Punt to import myrrh and incense trees to be planted in the Great Court, the historically important mortuary temple of Ramses II Pharaoh (the Ramesseum) which contains fragments of his colossus (calculated to have weighed over 2 million pounds) and the complex of Medinet Habu which contains the ruins of temples begun in the 18th dynasty and continuing to Roman periods.

The two enormous seated statues known as the Colossi of Memnon are all that remain of the mortuary temple of Amen-hotep III pharaoh. A recent study with nuclear-age technique (neotron activation analysis) has revealed that the quartzite stone for these giant monoliths (each weighing nearly 1 -5 million pounds) came from the Gebel El Ahmar quarry near Cairo nearly 421 miles downstream.

The Valley of the Kings is the burial ground of the 18th-, 19th- and 20th-dynasty pharaohs. Their tombs are hewn out of solid rock and inscribed with sacred texts from the Book of the Dead (developed from the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom in ancient Egypt which were appropriated and revised selections of the Egyptian Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom). The smallest tomb is that of Tutankhamun which was found intact and contained the priceless treasures with which the world is now familiar. The largest belongs to Seti I. It is 100 yards in length and contains fine sculptured wall paintings in perfect preservation. The tomb of Amenhotep II, was found to contain nine royal mummies which had been placed there in sealed chambers for protection. They are now in Cairo Museum along with those recovered from the Shaft at Der el Bahri.

The Valley of the Queens in Egypt contains the magnificent tomb of Nefertari Queen, beloved wife of Ramses II, the tomb of Queen Titi, which has murals in startlingly fresh colour, and the tomb of Ramses Ill’s nine-year-old son who, being under age, is depicted being introduced to the gods of the underworld by his father.
Ancient Thebes
The tombs of the nobles on the Theban necropolis portray the life and times of the New Kingdom. A catalogue of activities may be found in such famous tombs as that of Nakht, Scribe of the Granaries under Thutmose IV, Ramose, Vizier under Amenhotep III and IV, Rekhmire, Vizier under Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, Sennefer, Overseer of the Gardens of Amon under Amenhotep II pharaoh, Mena, Scribe of the Fields under Thutmose IV and many more. There are well over 301 tombs of New Kingdom noblemen, almost all of which were painted on specially prepared limestone surfaces. In contrast to the massive, stylised portrayals of pharaohs and deities on the sculpted walls of the national temples, these paintings are naturalistic.

Der el Medina is not large, graceful Ptolemaic temple on the Theban necropolis.

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