A.B. Lloyd, A Companion to Ancient Egypt.
There is certainly no lack of excellent dictionaries, introductions or handbooks on Ancient Egypt, which remains popular as an ancient culture even among ordinary people on the street. These studies range from shorter entries in dictionaries and encyclopaedias such as those of Helck, (48) Redford (49) and Wilkinson (50) to very fine little books such as those of Shaw (51) and Schneider (52) and Ikram's introduction. (53) There is even the very detailed new online Egyptological encyclopaedia from the University of California, with entries growing daily.
This volume, edited by Alan B. Lloyd, forms part of the well-known Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World which provide 'sophisticated and authoritative overviews of periods of ancient history, genres of classical literature, and the most important themes in ancient culture...
The essays are written in a clear, provocative, and lively manner, designed for an international audience of scholars, students, and general readers'. (54)
This is the first Companion devoted to Ancient Egypt as such (there are scores on Greece and Rome covering a variety of themes, although some sections do devote attention to Egypt. (55)) The aim of this specific volume is 'to provide up-to-date ... well-illustrated accounts of the major aspects of Egypt's ancient history and culture as currently perceived' and intended for 'academics, students, and the sophisticated amateur' (p. xxi).
This is a large tome consisting of two volumes (because of the timescale of Ancient Egypt!) covering more than a thousand pages of text. What makes it different from other introductions to Egypt are the longer essays. There are forty-nine articles written by different authors from all over the world (all respected specialists), and divided into seven parts.
The themes covered extend from the physical context to the reception of Egypt, including the historical periods, administration and economy, settlements, transport, science and technology, warfare, society, religion, language and literature, and visual art. It is impossible to reflect on each and every chapter, but some remarks will be offered on the characteristics of the chapters and the contribution they make to the study and understanding of Ancient Egypt as part of the ancient world.
The historical narrative stretches from prehistory to the Roman period. There is no traditional 'Third Intermediate' and 'Late period', (56) but there are chapters on 'Libyans & Nubians' and 'Saites & Persians'. The pharaoh and law are dealt with as state structures, and the role of the priests receives attention. Under the rubric of social order, the social structure and daily life are described. It is interesting that religion is included as part of the social order. (57) This is appropriate, but because of the importance of religion in Ancient Egypt one would have expected religion to be worthy of a separate part or section, like visual art. (58) After an overview of language, scripts and literacy, the different periods of literature are dealt with (but not the Old Kingdom as such), including Greek literature in Egypt. The section on art looks at temple and mortuary architecture as decorative systems and then covers the periods from early dynastic to late antiquity, with much attention devoted to sculpture. (59) The part on reception looks not only at the classical tradition and Europe, but also considers Islamic Egypt, and concludes with a chapter on museums.
For most of the chapters there are separate chapters for the pharaonic and Greco-Roman periods. This is to be commended as it emphasises the continuity of pharaonic Egyptian civilization, which continued after Alexander. Another good reason for this seems to be the expertise available in the respective fields. For example, 'Religion in Society: Graeco-Roman' is written by David Frankfurter. (60) Every chapter concludes with a summary and there are suggestions for further reading by way of an annotated bibliography.
There is a list of illustrations in each of the two volumes, short biographies of the authors, acknowledgements, abbreviations, a selected chronology (but no rulers for the Second Intermediate or Hyksos period are included) and two maps for Egypt and Nubia (again separated between pharaonic and Greco-Roman Egypt) at the beginning. Both volumes have bibliographies, with a general index at the end. There are thirty-four coloured plates (placed in the middle of each volume) and scores of black-and-white illustrations for every chapter, including drawings and maps. These are well integrated with the text and very informative (for example, Figs. 35.2 and 35.3 which explain a relief by means of captions and describe the decorative programme of the Edfu temple respectively). As Egypt was a very visual culture one could argue that there could have been even more illustrations (especially in the section on visual art), but this might have affected the price which is already too high for many (e.g. students) to afford.
This is a very useful source; the chapters are very informative, yet short enough to give a broad overview on the issues involved. One really looks forward to future volumes devoted to Ancient Egypt as such in this series.
Sakkie Cornelius (University of Stellenbosch)
(48) W. Helck, et al (edd.), Lexikon der Agyptologie (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 1975-1986).
(49) D.B. Redford (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. 3 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press 2001).
(50) A.H. Wilkinson (ed.), The Egyptian World. 10th ed. (London: Routledge 2007).
(51) I. Shaw, Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004).
(52) T. Schneider, Ancient Egypt Investigated: 101 Important Questions and Surprising Answers. London: Tauris 2013).
(53) S. Ikram, Ancient Egypt: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press 2010).
(55) For example, in D.C. Snell, A Companion to the Ancient Near East (Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishing 2005); cf. review by I. Cornelius, Scholia Reviews NS 15/11 (2006) and A.R. Gansell, in S.L. James & S. Dillon (edd.), A Companion to Women in the Ancient World (Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell 2012).
(56) As in I. Shaw (ed.), The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000). Cf. for example the recent history by T. Wilkinson, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: The History of a Civilisation from 3000 B.C. to Cleopatra (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd 2010), which uses 'Change and Decay'.
(57) One can debate what should be and what should not be included under the different cultural domains. Cf. the book by Ikram, where 'writing and literature' is part of the chapter 'From sunrise to sunset: daily life of the ancient Egyptians'.
(58) Cf. the forthcoming Companion on Egyptian religion!
(59) Along with the relief, this was the main form of artistic expression in ancient Egypt; cf. e.g. F. Tiradritti, Ancient Egypt: Art, Architecture and Hhistory (London: British Museum Press 2004) 6.
(60) Cf. D. Frankfurter, Religion in Roman Egypt: assimilation and resistance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1998).