Ancient Lives/Future Skills: Discovering Graeco-Roman Egypt at the Manchester Museum

The team of Kim and Katharina working on Artemidora's dossier

The team of Kim and Katharina working on Artemidora’s dossier

Yesterday I led a school day on Graeco-Roman Egypt with a group of colleagues, graduate students and staff of the Manchester Museum. Using artefacts and papyri from the Manchester Museum and the John Rylands Library collections, we asked sixth form students of Runshaw College (Manchester) and Holy Cross College (Bury) to create short I-pad video-biographies of fictitious characters supposed to have lived in Egypt under the Roman rule. The results were impressive in terms of creativity and competence. They made me think a lot about how dramatically different the learning environment has become, and how inadequate some of our teaching still is.

Based on last year experience with schools for the exhibition Faces&Voices, the Graeco-Roman Egypt day at the museum has confirmed some trends:

Pupils do like ancient history and museums. The school day was attended by about 30 enthusiastic and engaged students. In their feedback forms pupils said that they wanted more time to be spent in the galleries where they were asked to find one object to add to their biography dossier. They also liked the object-based approach to ancient history as a more effective way to study history.

Students' feedback with appreciation for Chris, the graduate student team leader

Students’ feedback with appreciation for Chris, the graduate student team leader

Pupils like to be taught by people closer to their age. The pupils were divided into five groups led by a graduate student of our division (Classics & Ancient History, and Religion & Theology), and they enjoyed the experience. I noticed that they chatted a lot with their University peers, but were much less talkative when I interacted with them. Graduate students should be given more seminar teaching by Universities in close collaboration and under the supervision of senior course leaders. This will increase the quality of our courses and the student experience as both undergraduates and graduates.

Pupils like objects better than texts. Being a visual generation this is not surprising and it is positive because material culture should be much more integrated into ancient history teaching at all levels. It is nonetheless a point on which educators must find some sort of counter-balance. The ability of critical textual analysis is still a crucial skill. The syntax and grammar of social media communication and the overwhelming quality and quantity of digital and non-digital images that surround us are undermining students’ ability to approach texts critically and to write. (Answers to this? I don’t see many at the moment. May group reading be a strategy?)

Pupils are creative. This actually enhances our experience as teachers and scholars. Our work, especially as scholars, tends to be restricted by academic conventions that do not encourage creativity. I was actually inspired, entertained and intellectually stimulated in ways I am not so often, for instance, while listening at conference papers. Creative intelligence tends to be forgotten and less valued than other intellectual qualities in the education process.

This model of seminar is definitely successful and rewarding for all the people involved, and I am now trying to find ways of integrating aspects of it into my university courses. In the light of this on-going experience, I believe that having closer relationships with college students and teachers is essential for lecturers.

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.

Portraits of women

The woman is wearing a purple tunic maybe similar to that of the daughter of Heraklas (P.Ryl. 151) © The Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum inv. 2266 (Hawara, Fayum, 138-160 AD) The woman is wearing a purple tunic maybe similar to that of the daughter of Herakleos (P.Ryl. 151)
© The Manchester Museum

Last week I had a meeting with Campbell Price and Bryan Sitch at the Manchester Museum to discuss a project for enhancing the use of artefacts in the teaching of Roman history. We were looking for objects that enlighten the life of ancient individuals and I complained about the lack of women from our list. In fact, if we turn our attention to papyri, women do appear in surprising ways; papyri offer views on women’s life as no other kind of sources do.

Petitions are intriguing. In these one-sided accounts we would expect to find women as the victims of violence and injustice, but we do actually find them acting on both sides, as victims and perpetrators.

 Herais attacks the daughter of Herakleos

P.Ryl. 151:;2;151/

P.Ryl. 151 recto© The John Rylands Library

P.Ryl. 151 recto
© The John Rylands Library

To Gaius Iulius Pholus, head of the policemen (epistates ton phylakiton), from Herakleos, son of Pathermouthis, from Euemeria in the district of Themistes. Herais, the wife of Heraklas, son of P…., of the same village, having entered into my house in the village and seized my daughter, gave her many blows all over the body, stripped and tore off her purple tunic and carried away 100 drachmas from those of the gymnasiarch[1] which I administer. For this reason write to the chief of the police (archephodos) …

(second hand) To the chief of police (archephodos): send them up!

Year 5 of Gaius Caesar Emperor Augustus Saviour, the 20 of Sebastos (= 17 October 40 AD).

(On the verso the editors read traces of an address ‘ To the chief of police (archephodos) of Euemeria’ and date now disappeared)

Among many other things, the papyrus informs us on the way public order worked in the early Roman period. Herakleos, the father of the woman attacked, petitioned the head of the police at the nome (regional district) level to intervene on the village police highest authority, the archephodos. But isolated as it is, the petition does not allow us knowing if the story is true and how the quarrel ended up. We may wonder about the reasons behind the attack. Herakleos administers the treasure of the local gymnasium: were there shortfalls in the gymnasiarch account that he had to explain, and then he made up a story? Or was Herais mad at the girl for some reasons?

Soueris, a runaway girl

P.Ryl. 128:;2;128/

To Serapion, head of the policemen, from Hatres, son of M…, oil-maker of those who are in Euemeria, in the division of Themistes, of Gaius Iulius Ethenodoros and Tiberius Calpurnius Tryphon. Soueris, daughter of Harsuthmis, olive-carrier that works with me under contract changed her mind, left the mill, and escaped persuaded by her father Arsuthmios as long ago as the 19th of Mecheir of the 16th year of Tiberius Caesar Augustus (= 13 February 30 AD), her father being oblivious of what he with his wife owes me according to a contract of engagement (paramone). And she carried off from my house a cloak worth 4 silver drachmas and 40 silver drachmas, which I was keeping for payment of the rent. Therefore I have suffered not a minor damage. For this reason I ask the accused persons to be brought to you for the ensuing punishment. Farewell.

Hatres, aged 35, with a scar in the middle of the forehead.

Soueris, daughter of Arsuthmios, was due to work as olive-carrier with Hatres at an oil-mill probably for repaying the interests on a debt contracted by her parents. This seems alluded by the mention of a paramone contract (l. 20), usually a contract of service to fulfill the payment of interests (or the capital) of a loan, meaning that a loan was fulfilled by staying at the service of the creditor. But Hatres complains that the girl ran away on suggestion of her father bringing with her a cloak and a sum of money. We can exercise our imagination on the reasons behind the escape, in view of the very weak position the girl must have had at the factory. How was life for a girl at the house of a 35 years old man with whom her family was indebted?

Aplounous, Thermis and Eudemonis, a day at the village baths…

P.Ryl. 124:;2;124/

Through this illiterate petition we enter into the village baths of Euemeria and see women quarrelling and fighting. The text of the petition begins on one side of the papyrus, continues on the back; it has mistakes and corrections, and is incomplete, which indicate that it was a draft.

From Hippalos, son of Archis, farmer of public land inhabitant of the village of Euemeria in the division of Themistes. On the 6th of Tubi (1 January), as my wife Aplounous and her mother Thermis (were bathing?), Eudemonis, daughter of Protarchos, Etthutais, daughter of Pees, Dius, son of Ammonios, and Heraclous attacked them and gave my wife Aplounous and her mother in the bath of the village many blows all over the body, so that she is laid up in bed, and in the struggle she lost a golden ear-ring weighing three quarters, a bracelet of unstamped metal weighing sixteen drachmae, and a bronze bowl worth twelve drachmae, and Thermis her mother lost a golden ear-ring weighing two and a half quarters, and … (here the text stops)

The three papyri here discussed belong to a larger group of petitions, all dated to the first half of the first century AD, acquired on the antiquity market by B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt and then assigned to the John Rylands Library. The documents (P.Ryl. 124-152) were published in the second volume of the Catalogue of the Greek Papyri in the John Rylands Library at Manchester (1915). Few other papyri belonging to the same lot are now dispersed in other collection. These petitions concern people from the village of Euemeria (Fayum), but are addressed to the head of the police or other officers in the nome capital, Arsinoe. Through them we can observe the early Roman administration at work in Egypt. The distance between the two localities was of about 40 km. The first petition here reported reveals details of the process. It was endorsed and addressed on the verso to the archephodos in Euemeria, therefore it seems reasonable to think that the document was written in or sent to the capital of the nome, Arsinoe, presented successfully to the head of the police there, and then sent back to the village police authority in order to bring the people involved to the capital.

If you want to know more about petitions in Roman Egypt I recommend B. Kelly, Petitions, Litigation and Social Control in Roman Egypt, Oxford 2011.

[1] The head of the gymnasium. The gymnasium was a cultural and educative institution where boys were admitted at the age of fourteen. It was also a center for the promotion of the Greek culture, and a sort of a gentlemen club. The gymnasium had a political dimension since only the Hellenised elite was admitted in.

I died in Hawara

Working in conjunction with Faces&Voices and Constantine’s Dream, pupils from Thomas Whitham Sixth Form College, Burnley, have been exploring issues of identity and multiculturalism through the papyri and mummy portraits in the Faces&Voices Exhibition. The students have each made podcasts from the point of view of a mummy portrait.

This is the result!

Object biography #5: A double-sided painted mummy portrait (Acc. No. 5381)

I recommend the reading of this post, on a very special mummy portrait, from the blog of my colleague Campbell Price, curator of the Egyptian collection at the Manchester Museum!

Object biography #5: A double-sided painted mummy portrait (Acc. No. 5381).