Dion, aged 45, farewell

Gilded mummy case of Dion Manchester Museum 2179, Ancient Worlds Gallery

Gilded mummy case of Dion
Manchester Museum 2179, Ancient Worlds Gallery

The gilded cartonnage upper-body mummy case of Dion is on display in the Manchester Museum Ancient Worlds Gallery. We know the name of the dead and his age at death because of a Greek inscription on the back of the head: ‘Dion, aged 45, farewell’.

As Artemidoros and his family, Dion was a member of the Hellenised elite that administered the Arsinoite nome under the Roman rule. His family wanted him to be buried in Hawara, following traditional Egyptian funerary practices.

The mummy case has been dated to the first century AD. The face mask resembles the traditionally Egyptian, gilded ones but at the same time, following a new Greek and Roman taste, individual features are introduced, such as the black hair and the inlaid eyes. The upper part of the body is protruding from the mummy case. Dion holds an intense pink flower wreath in his right hand and a papyrus roll in the left. Below his bust, on the case, a mummy, possibly that of Dion, is guarded by two mummified rams.

Garlands and wreaths: flowers and their possible meanings

Not differently than in other parts of the ancient world, flower garlands and wreaths were commonly used in Egypt for different celebrations and rituals, as these lines from a 2nd century AD papyrus letter from Oxyrhynchus (P.Oxy. 44 3313) informs:

‘Apollonios and Sarapis to Dionysia, greetings. Your wonderful announcement about the wedding of the most excellent Sarapion has filled us with joy, and we would have come straight away to serve him on a day long-awaited by us and to take part to the celebration; but because of the prefect’s court sessions and because we are just recovering from being sick, we were unable to come. There are not many roses here yet; on the contrary they are few and from all the estates and the garland makers we were barely able to collect the thousand that we sent to you with Sarapas, even by picking those that should have been picked only tomorrow. We had as much narcissus as you wanted, so we have sent four thousand instead of the two thousand…’

Remains of flowers and garlands have been found in many tombs of the Roman period in Hawara and other Egyptian sites. Petrie mentions them often in his notebooks and excavation reports, a well-preserved example of a wreath can be seen at the British Museum and the Manchester Museum have some too (5371.c-d). As many others, the British Museum sample was made by immortelles (Helichrysum stoechas), a perennial flower imported to Egypt from Italy or Greece that now seems to grow especially on canal banks and in cemeteries (S. Walker et al., Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt, London 1997, p. 207).

The shape and colour of the garland’s flowers represented on Dion’s mummy case recall rose buds and may have a connection with Isis and Osiris cult. In Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, a Latin novel written in mid-second century AD, Lucius returns to his human nature thanks to a complex ritual in which a garland of roses carried by a priest in his right hand (the same as our Dion) and later ingested by the protagonist has a central meaning (XI, 6; 13). The ritual has been linked by scholars to the so-called ‘Spell of the Crown Justification’ contained in the Book of the Dead and preserved on papyri and temple walls (P. Derchaine, ‘La couronne de la justification: Essai d’analyse d’un rite ptolémaique’, Chronique d’ Égypte 30 (1955), 225-87). This ritual was transformed and integrated with Greek practices in the Ptolemaic period and linked with Isis and Osiris religious rites. We may wonder then if the papyrus roll in Dion’s left hand was actually a copy of this book or of the spell.

We will try to have a look at the back inscription of Dion soon, stay tuned!

Life and Death in Roman Egypt: Artemidoros and his family

Artemidoros junior, Artemidoros senior and Thermoutharin


Artemidoros junior, British Museum EA 21810

I spent last Bank Holiday weekend in the British Museum and paid a visit to Artemidoros junior. This spectacular mummy case of the Roman period (ab. 100-120 AD) was found by Petrie in Hawara together with other two, that of an older Artemidoros, now in Manchester (1775), and another of a woman, Thermoutharin, now in Cairo (33231). The three were maybe members of the same family. They were not only buried together, but the style of their cases looks very similar, probably coming from the same workshop. A Greek inscription on the cases wishes them a safe trip to the underworld. ‘Farewell Artemidorus!’ — with a misspelling here, Ἀρτεμίδωρε εὐψύχι (instead of εὐψύχει).

Artemidoros inscription

The inscription: Farewell Artemidoros!

While the two men have a typical Greek name (Artemidoros, ‘the gift of Artemis’), the woman has a name that although written in Greek derives from the Egyptian goddess’ name Thermouthis (Renenutet, later Thermouthis a fertility goddess connected with Isis). This offers an interesting insight into questions of identity in Roman Egypt. Under the Roman rule, the Hellenised elite maintained the privileged status acquired during the Ptolemaic period, so it was important to publicise your ‘Greek’ face. However we can see through papyri that men often had double names, a Greek or Latin one and an Egyptian, while women were often given names connected with native deities. Moreover despite their Roman togas, jewellery and portrait style, it is Egyptian funerary religion that these people chose for assuring their souls an afterlife.

The finding

The three mummies were discovered in 1888 while the famous German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann was visiting Petrie in Hawara, as recorded by the same Petrie with a note of pride: “By the time they [Schliemann and his two companions] have lunched a procession of three gilt mummies is seen coming across the mounds, glittering in the sun. These are of fresh style, three painted portraits, but the body covered with a bright red-brown varnish and scenes in relief gilt all over it. The name on each mummy across the breast. These I must bring away intact, they are so fine and in such good condition.”[1]

Life and death: Artemidoros and his family

Artemidoros senior

Artemidoros senior, Manchester Museum 1775

The mummy of Artemidoros junior had been at the centre of scientific research, which has established he died when he was about 19-21 years old. The Manchester Artemidoros will be soon processed through CT-scanning and other inspections that will tell us more about his life and death. He has a beard that made scholars infer he was older than the other Artemidoros when he died, but on the basis of these data we cannot be sure about the relationship between the two men and the woman. A scientific study of the three mummies would be ideal since it would definitely help answering questions about the eventual family relationship between the three that some scholars have questioned.

[1] Petrie, MS Journal, 16 December 1887-12 May 1888, pp. 80-81 cited from S. Walker and al. (eds.), Ancient Faces. Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt, London 1997, 57.