Monday, July 23, 2012

After another break...

I really want to keep up writing here weekly but with a festival coming up that I hope to vend at my time has turned to crafting. I thought I would take a moment to share some of what I have been working on.

This is a carved replica of a jointed and movable scarab amulet. I was originally working on a beaded collar for it but I have since changed my mind. I am now working on a set of beads more like the original artifact. (See the image below.)

Faience scarab amulet from the Late Period

These are a series of wall plaques. These are designed with hieroglyphic wards/warnings in a style of the Old and Middle Kingdom threat formulae. I am looking forward to doing some more of these but on papyrus. These three are for Thoth to bestow wisdom, Set to protect against thieves and Sekhmet to protect a family.

A hand carved replica Isis amulet. I still haven't been able to decide if I want to make her into a collar or a hair piece yet. I am sort of leaning toward a hair piece just because it will not be the usual.

A pair of wooden sistrums. These are the rattles sacred to Hathor and Bast as well as several other gods and goddesses. I am experimenting on how different materials alter the sound. So far the one on the right, with all wooden shakers, is my favorite for the delicate sound it makes. Though traditionally these were metal I don't have the facilities to forge metal pieces at home so I have opted for wood. I choose each from a naturally occurring "v" in a branch so they all end up having a unique form, shape and size.

So that is a little of what I have been up to. I hope to have an update here with some more posts later in the week, hopefully. Classes have started up again so it might be slow to start but I hope to get on a schedule for regular posts again soon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


One of the common themes for discussion of Akhenaten is the worship of Aten. I am going to approach this topic as a question and answer style. I think this way it will be a little easier to address all of the aspects of this topic without tangents or confusion.

Who or what is Aten?
Aten is the disk or the visible portion of the sun (Ra/Re/Amun/etc). You could say Aten is the light of the sun which is why Aten is often depicted as rays instead of with the usual Egyptian human or human/animal style. Though there are times in Egyptian history that Aten was shown as a falcon. Aten is the portion of the sun that was believed to bring life, give health and healing. Some Egyptian mythology, prior to Akhenaten, states that life could not go on without the shining part of Ra, which is Aten.

When did Aten worship begin?
Though the worship of Aten is likely from much earlier in Egyptian history one of the first large scale references to Aten is from the 12th dynasty Story of Sinuhe. (Akhenaten was in the 18th dynasty). After the 12th dynasty the worship of Aten increased until during the reign of Amenhotep III, Akhenaten's father, Aten became one of the chief deities.

What is the Silver Aten?
The Silver Aten is another name for the moon used in a few hymns and writings.

Is Atenism monotheism?
The short answer... No. There are several competing ideas about what Atenism is or was in the time of Akhenaten and to the pharaoh himself. One point is that in many of the hymns to Aten other deities such as Ra, Ra-Horakhty, Shu and others are mentioned. Though Amun was shunned other deities are merged with or mentioned with Aten in hymns. This suggests that there were other recognized deities. It is quite common in Egyptian history for various forms of the same deity or merged versions of deities to appear in mythology. One idea is that Aten is no different that this and represents a merger of Ra and/or Horus with Aten. Another view is that Akhenaten practiced monolatry, that is he recognized that there were many gods, did not deny their existence but chose to elevate one above all others. Given that he was the pharaoh and therefore head of the religion as well as the state it seems likely that his personal religious choices could have huge effects on Egyptian religion. There are many other theories about what Atenism really is. In some modern forms it is practiced as a monotheistic religion.

Is there a link between Judaism and Atenism?
It is hard to say whether or whether not Atenism had any influence on Judaism. As there had been several rounds of conquering and trade between Egypt and the Middle East there was likely some exchange of religious ideas. One such idea points to the fact that Aten and God (Judeo-Christian God) are one in the same because of how Akhenaten recorded the deity speaking to him and asking things of the pharaoh such as building a new city. This is likely not the case since this is not the first or last writing of Egyptian gods asking pharaohs to build things. Thutmosis IV, a couple kings before Akhenaten, was asked by the Sphinx to unbury it. Other pharaohs also reference building monuments for similar requests from deities. Some suggest that Moses might have been a priest under the rule of Akhenaten. There isn't much proof for any of this as of now. It is an interesting idea but I would like to see more proof in the form of writings from the time period or just after or some other link beyond speculation before I can say anything on this for certain.

Akhenaten: The Heretic King by Donald Redford
The Amarna Letters from Tyre as a Source for Understanding Atenism and Imperial Administration by Luis Siddall
A Program of Political Theology in Armarna Tomb Art: Imagery as Metaphor by Elizabeth Meyers
UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology: Amarna Art by Dimitri Laboury

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A little of the mystery of Akhenaten

There are three main things people always cite as being odd about Akhenaten. Those three things are his religious beliefs, his appearance and how he portrayed himself and family in art. I am going to try and address these as fully as possible in a reasonable length post. There are quite a number of books and articles on Akhenaten and his family but I will try to hit all the main points.

Why did he look that weird?

This has been a question that has come up more than once in research. Some have pointed to genetic or endocrine disorders such as Frohlich's Syndrome, Prader–Willi syndrome or Klinefelter's syndrome. While these disorders have similar physical characteristics there are many of the secondary issues that do not line up wth Akhenaten's actual life. Both, for example, cause infertility/sterility but Akhenaten had six daughters. Other issues would be characteristics of Frohlich's such as vision problems and increased if not out of control appetite. Prader-Willi, in addition to appetite issues, shows motor problems, scoliosis, speech problems and so on. Klinefelter's is linked to learning disabilities, poor memory, problems with attention and so on. Nothing in the records show these weaknesses. So, either this was very well disguised or the priests of Amun decided not to point fingers at the weaknesses in the person they loathed. This is highly unlikely so we have to look at another explanation.

One explanation put forth by John Wilson is that art was already changing, drifting away from the iconic and structured illustrations and statues to something more relaxed. We can see this increased realism in the following to pieces. One is a horse sculpture from the time period and the other a statue of Haremhab which shows a much "fatter" man than we would expect in a sculpture in the rest of Egypt's history. When Akhenaten's dynasty was deposed (and erased as much as possible) temples and priests vehemently returned to the classic style some of which occurred by the decree of Tutankhamen. One thing that does support the idea that this might be a change in artistic styles is that other tombs of officials and nobles from the time show the same odd head shape and rounder forms.

So if it wasn't a disease and it was artistic why that look? Is there precedence for this kind of look?

There is a precedent that could be applied in the mythology. Hapi, god of the Nile, its bounty and floods (not to be confused with Hapy the son of Horus) shows some of these body features. He has long legs, fatter body, "breasts", rounded buttocks and other features attributed to Akhenaten. This hasn't been definitively proven or dis-proven so I will leave it to your judgement.

Hapi as portrayed by Amenhotep III, Akhenaten's father, in Luxor

Two statues of Akhenaten showing the similar body types between Hapi above and the pharaoh.

At this point all that is certain is that it likely wasn't a disease but beyond that there is only speculation. Until more works discussing Akhenaten and Amenhotep III are uncovered it is likely to remain a mystery.

Heretic? or Not

I haven't spent any time on Akhenaten yet which seems odd. How could I have made it half a year without addressing the rebel pharaoh? This is going to take a few posts I am sure. Like most other things in Ancient Egypt there isn't one simple answer or clear definition that a Western mind can quickly grasp. Akhenaten, aside from being controversial, had many accomplishments and quirks to his person, his style of art and his rule.

One of the things that has always impressed me about Akhenaten is that there is quite a bit of evidence that he wrote many of the hymns to Aten found from this time period. It wasn't that Aten was a new god, contrary, the Aten was a part of Ra (Re) and expressed the visible part of Ra, i.e. his light. Aten is a being of healing, warmth and light. Aten likely had a high place in religion before Akhenaten. His father, Amenhotep III, named his ship "Splendor of Aten".

This is where we shall start with Akhenaten and the worship of the Aten, with a hymn, presumably penned by Akhenaten himself. I think this particular hymn express much of how the Aten was viewed as an entity and what the worship of Aten meant. I also like the clues to Egyptian concepts of astronomy and biology that appear in this hymn.

Thou appearest beautifully on the horizon of heaven (literally the sky or heavens),
Thou living Aten, the beginning of life!
When thou art risen on the eastern horizon,
Though hast filled every land with thy beauty.
Thou are gracious, great, glistening and high over every land:
Thy rays encompass the lands to the limit of all that thou hast made:
As thou are Re, thou reachest to the end of them;
Thou subduest them for they beloved son Akhenaten,
Though thou are far away. thy rays are on the Earth.
Though thou are in their faces, no one knows thy going.

When thou settest in the western horizon,
The land is in darkness, in the manner of death.
Thy sleep in a room, with heads wrapped up,
Nor sees one eye the other.
All their gods which are under their heads might be stolen.
But they would not perceive it.
Every lion is come forth from his fen;
All creeoing things, they sting.
Darkness is a shroud, and the Earth is in stillness,
For he who made them rests in his horizon.

At daybreak, when though arisest on the horizon,,
When thou shinest as the Aten by day,
Thou drivest away the darkness and givest thy rays.
The Two Lands are in festivity every day,
Awake and stand upon feet,
For though hast raised them up.
Washing their bodies, take their clothing,
Their arms are raised in praise of thy appearence.
All the world, they do their work...

Creator of the seed in women,
Though who makest fluid into man,
Who maintainest the son in the womb of his mother,
Who soothest him with that which still his weeping,
Thou nurse in the womb,
Who givest breath to sustain all that he has made!
When he descends from the womb to breathe
On the day when he is born,
Thou openest his mouth completely,
Thou suppliest his necessities....

How manifold it is, what though hast made!
They are hidden from the face of man
O sole god, like whom there is no other!
Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,
Whilst though wert alone:
All men, cattle and wild beasts,
Whatever is on Earth, going upon its feet
and what is on high, flying with its wings.

Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt by Lionel Casson
Akhenaten the Heretic King by Donald Redford
Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation by Aidan Dodson

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Blog Addition

I want to get back on track with keeping a list of what I have read. A long time back I started keeping track on Shelfari. Today I got back on there for the first time in a very long time. I put in a bunch of books I recently read and then started browsing around on the site. Quickly I discovered they had gadgets available for blogs. I added one here, on the lower right so that I can share what I am reading.

Hopefully seeing that shelf there when I am posting here will remind me to keep up. In the mean time feel free to browse the books I've read or go make your own account. Something extra nice is the ability to share reviews and what you are reading on most of the social media sites. That can be convenient.

The Women of Ancient Egypt

I figured after talking about slaves we'd tackle another, mostly Hollywood, misconception and that is the lives and place of women in the Egyptian society. I will be talking solely about Egypt prior to Greco-Roman rule and only during times of Egyptian pharoahship. The invaders of Egypt found their practices regarding women uncomfortable. Reading Herodotus gives us some insight on how the Greco-Roman world viewed Egypt, including women.

I think we should start with what women couldn't do in Egypt. For most of Egyptian history the only thing truly forbidden to the Egyptian woman was being a Pharaoh (they could be Queens) and they were not permitted to be soldiers, particularly infantry or those that managed soldier. Again, the queen could be an exception to that particularly if she was ruling as a regent for a son or nephew. Even despite this being forbidden we do see queens acting as pharaoh and there are historical records of women involved in military endeavors, particularly around overthrowing of invaders to home and country. There are some that contend that women were excluded from bureaucracy. This is highly contested and I will discuss it below. Though not really forbidden you don't often see evidence for women as stone masons or those moving large stones for building. Heavy labor seems to be less common for women.

So, what were the rights of women?

Women could own and inherit property. This meant money, land, businesses and animals among other things. These inheritances were often equally split between brothers and sisters. If widowed, a wife would receive 1-2 thirds of her husband's wealth depending on the era. Women could run businesses as well. Some businesses were strictly run by women for much of Egyptian history. These businesses include sacred mourners and wailers (part of a funeral procession), weavers and those that administered medical care to women and often young children as well. Later men would join these businesses but still most imagery shows a greater proportion of women in these professions.

Women could divorce. Divorce processes were not long and drawn out like modern times. One spouse would claim some misdeed and proof was shown then a decision made. There are accounts of women divorcing husbands because he didn't do his fair share of work to maintain the house or he did not provide enough sex. Men could also divorce in the same manner. Divorce in Egypt was not a legal matter but a personal one, same as marriage.

While there were harems and polygamy in some times and parts of Egyptian history, harem women could keep their possessions, land and businesses unlike other areas of the Mediterranean world where harem women were slaves or an equivalent.

Women played major roles in religion and religious functions. They served as everything from chantresses to doctors, dream readers to caring for sacred animals. Women filled much of the role as sacred dancers and musicians through much of Egyptian history. In the clergy the only gender based limit seems to be that high priests were usually men.

Women could be traders and captain boats. There is quite a lot of evidence for women being the importers of fine goods.

There are some records of women being viziers to the pharaoh. These were usually positions filled by a mother or aunt but there seemed to be no stigma to having a female vizier vs a male one.

It is expressed by some, that Egyptian women were forbidden from bureaucratic jobs. However, there are women with the titles of judge, overseer and director of funerary priests. These suggest that women were in bureaucratic positions in Egypt.

Grave goods showed that there were women capable of paying for their own funerary goods including statues, gold and other materials. This shows not only wealth but also control of that wealth and its use.

Women often ran estates even when their husbands were home. "Mistress of the House" was a common title for Egyptian women. This didn't mean house wife but expressed the fact that the woman managed the finances and goods of the home as well as any production, servants or other persons working there.

There is a lot of support for women congregating for work, social needs and support systems.

While women are mentioned in stelae and tomb carvings with male relatives there are also quite a number made by women that only feature the woman who commissioned it or the woman and her female relatives.

Many women, particularly those who had brothers who were schooled at home or mothers who had been schooled, received the same education as a male child might. This was very uncommon in ancient times.

Women are depicted hunting and trapping birds as well as running marketplaces and workshops.

Women had full access to the court system as witnesses, plaintiff, entering or writing contracts, collection of taxes and estates and so on. 

Fathers, particularly pharaohs, often appointed their daughters to important roles in inheritance and religious stations. Often during royal succession the princess had royal blood and it was her presence and will that gave her husband the right to rule.

Women had full access to medical care of an equivalent quality to that of men.

Women enjoyed the same access to food and drink. There are references to images that may be drunk women, including women vomiting from overindulgence in beer.

Single women, especially widows, are referenced as adopting children.

Queen Tiy, wife of Amonhotep III, is often referred to as "common-born" meaning she was probably not of the royalty or nobility but was still sought and married by the pharaoh.

Some titles given to women not mentioned above include: Overseer of the physicians, overseer of the female physicians, director of the dining hall, overseer of the weavers, divine mother, caretaker/overseer of the royal hair (ie the royal hairdresser),  Mistress of Amun/Osiris/Isis/Hathor/etc, Chantress, Keeper of the halls (house maid?), Officiate of ceremonies (official of religious celebrations), Mother of Upper and Lower Egypt and so on.

One more brief comment about women. In Egyptian religion and society women had a very distinct role in life. Men were seen as fertile and fertility but the society believed that it was only through the nurturing of women that things grew prosperous. In this belief most agricultural and fertility deities are male but when it comes to nurturing (or the lack of nurturing) goddesses are used. One thing that stems from this is Egyptian ideas about birth. While the Egyptian mind believed the semen was what created life it was the women's body which could nurture that life into a child. With these religious concepts women were seen as nurturers of society. Anything that needed to be cared for money, goods, children, the dead, etc were often considered in the domain of women.

-Kelsey Museum Exhibit on Gender and Ancient Egypt
-The works of Barbara S. Lesko including the research paper "Women's Monumental Mark on Ancient Egypt" from The Biblical Archaeologist and books: The Great Goddesses of Egypt and Women's Earliest Records: From Ancient Egypt and Western Asia
-"Women of Ancient Egypt and the Sky Goddess Nut" by Susan Tower Hollis
-"Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt" - By Lionel Casson
- Kahun and Ebers Medical Papyri