Saturday,21 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)
Saturday,21 April, 2018
Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Dominican archaeology in Egypt

An exhibition highlighting 10 years of Dominican archaeology in Egypt has been inaugurated at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, reports Nevine El-Aref

Dominican archaeology in Egypt

An exhibition entitled “10 Years of Dominican Archaeology in Egypt: Excavations at Taposiris Magna” has been inaugurated in the foyer of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. The exhibition celebrates a decade of excavation by the Dominican Republic at the site of Taposiris Magna north of Alexandria and in search of the tombs of the Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra and her Roman lover Mark Antony.

The exhibition was inaugurated by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and the Dominican ambassador to Egypt. It displays a unique array of objects discovered at the site, all of which are on display for the first time. 

Kathleen Martinez, head of the Dominican mission, said the exhibition put on show more than 300 pieces arranged by the locations in which they were found, reinforcing the site’s importance during the reign of Cleopatra and also before and after her rule.

“The strong evidence that Taposiris Magna was a crucial site to Cleopatra is represented through the many depictions of the queen, among them the statues of Isis, coins and inscribed stelae amongst other objects,” Martinez said. She said the masterpieces that had been found were testimony of the administrative, religious, royal and social activities that had thrived at the end of the Ptolemaic Period in Egypt. 

Following the death of Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt in 332 BCE and established the city of Alexandria, the Macedonian dynasty of the Ptolemaic Period began as his conquests were divided among his former generals. Ptolemy I, one of the generals, was the first of many Ptolemaic kings to rule Egypt until 30 BCE, when Cleopatra VII was defeated and the Romans took the territory as a province. 

In the approximately 300 years of Ptolemaic rule, Egypt thrived and became a terrain where Greek and Egyptian art, religion and language mingled. Temples took the chief god Serapis, a god combining aspects of Apis, Ptah and Osiris under Hellenistic guise, into their pantheons. The ancient Egyptian goddess Isis was often likened to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and Horus became Harpocrates. 


Dominican archaeology in Egypt

Many other artistic changes were evident in trade objects, such as vessels and coins, as well as in religious rites and daily life. Alexandria, at the centre of this amalgam of cultures and influences, became a hub of knowledge and a thriving, cosmopolitan city.

Martinez believes that Cleopatra and Antony were buried inside the temple dedicated to Isis and Osiris at Taposiris Magna about 45km west of Alexandria. The religious and political significance of the temple, along with its location, would have made this temple a logical burial place for Cleopatra since she associated herself with Isis and Mark Antony with Osiris, she said.

The Temple of Taposiris Magna was described by the ancient Greek historian Plutarch as resplendent with Osirian mystery. The Roman writer Strabo also recorded that Alexander the Great stopped at the temple on his journey to the oasis at Siwa. As such, it would have been an important place for Cleopatra in life and perhaps in death. 


Dominican archaeology in Egypt

The mission resulted in various finds. One of the most important discoveries found inside the temple of Taposiris Magna is a unique stela inscribed in hieroglyphics and demotic script. This stela is dated to the reign of Ptolemy V, a famous ruler who issued the decree found on the Rosetta Stone that originally aided in the deciphering of hieroglyphics. 

The stela mentions gifts given by Ptolemy V to the priests of Isis. There are two other incomplete stelae similar to the one found erected inside the temples of Isis in Philae and Dendera in Upper Egypt. “Out of all three stelae, the one found at Taposiris Magna has the most complete text of the edict,” Martinez said.

She added that another significant find was a bronze piece given by a Ptolemaic king to soldiers for bravery and dedication in battle. A great number of bronze coins with depictions of the figure of Isis on the front and on the back, as well as the name of Cleopatra, were also found. A large cemetery outside the temple complex dating to the Ptolemaic Period was found. Inside the tombs were mummies covered with gold, their heads directed towards the temple as if someone important was buried there. 

“The beauty of the objects in this exhibition serves as a continual reminder that there is still much more to unravel concerning the mystery of the burials of the Ptolemaic rulers, the ancestors of Cleopatra VII, and the mystery of Cleopatra’s rule,” Martinez commented. 

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