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Constructing Authority: 8th Symposium on Egyptian Royal Ideology.

Constructing Authority: 8th Symposium on Egyptian Royal Ideology. Edited by TAMAS A. BAcs and HORST BEINLICH. Konigtum, Staat und Gesellschaft, Frtiher Hochkulturen, vol. 4.5. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2017. Pp. 296, illus. [euro]78 (paper).

The focus of this volume is "constructing authority." The most repeated concept throughout is "display." Display of ancestors, divine support, violence ... the authority vested in ancient Egyptian kingship was constructed through myriad displays--encompassing vast landscapes and detailed in monuments down to the level of marginal inscriptions, royal epithets, and iconographic motifs. There is not much that will prove surprising in this volume.

"The exercise of violence lies at the core of any display of royal authority, and the modes of violence are not differentiated in the treatment of foreigners or criminals" (p. 109) notes Christopher Eyre in "Calculated Frightfulness and the Display of Violence." He remarks that Egyptian displays of violence "seemed more restrained" (p. 90) than those of the Assyrians. Nonetheless, the themes he explores include impalement, mutilation, collecting hands, branding, burning, and forced labor. However, Eyre focuses primarily on Eighteenth Dynasty texts. In "Ramesses III at Medinet Habu: Sensory Models," Anthony Spalinger contrasts what he calls the "sober terseness of Dynasty XVIII war records" with the records of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, which he describes as "gruesomely powerful, pervaded by the sense of doom of earthly transcendent judgment coupled with unswerving retribution" (p. 246). He dates the shift in tone to Merneptah's Israel Stela (p. 252). His focus is on the grammatical structures. The ideas he explores are intriguing. However, the presentation would have been more compelling if he had described less and shown more, as Eyre does with the inclusion of numerous direct quotes from the ancient texts.

In "Intriguing against Governor Senwosret: Remarks on Papyrus Berlin P. 10032AB," Ulrich Luft explores "how Egyptian officials of the high and middle level in the hierarchy communicated with each other" (p. 178) through analysis of correspondence addressing a shortfall in bird offerings proffered by the governor Senwosret. He focuses on understanding terminology, particularly the titles "referee of the gateway" (whmw n (r) rrj.t) and "overseer of the bird's pens" (Jmy-ri jwy-r-mw).

In "Constructing Authority in New Kingdom Towns in Nubia: Some Thoughts Based on Inscribed Monuments from Private Residences," Julia Budka explores the imposition of royal authority even in the domestic sphere in Nubia (at Aniba and Sai), where stone door lintels from the times of Thutmosis III and Ramesses II feature officials adoring the royal name through the intermediary of Viceroys of Nubia. She further suggests that the innovation of Thutmosis III may subsequently have inspired domestic adoration scenes at Akhenaten's new capital at Amarna, concluding: "In both cases--the Nubian temple-towns and Amarna--the authorities felt it necessary and feasible to raise the importance of the demonstration of royal power of the Egyptian king within domestic quarters to a new level" (p. 42).

Horst Beinlich explores multiple ways in which the Book of the Fayum constructs royal authority in "Der Herrschaftsbereich als Prestige-Objekt." Part one describes the landscape of the Fayum, from left to right. Part two explores royal legitimacy through the celebration of the royal life-cycle, from right to left: the Acacia of Neith (childhood, hiding from his murderous Uncle Seth, in the marshes of Chemmis), the House of Life of Ra-Sehet (coming of age, when he gains the physical ability to take power and seek the consent of the gods to rule), and Shedet (the coronation ritual in the temple), closing with the Circumnavigation of Egypt, during which the king claims dominion by ritually circling the country including its cardinal points, in this case the South at Elephantine, the North at Balamun, and two points in the western desert--the Desert of Tjemehu in the north and the Lake of Dush (associated with Qasr Dush, at Kharga Oasis).

The right to use violence and dominion over the land are how the king physically constructed his authority. However, for long rule, broad acceptance of that authority was vital. The legitimacy of the king's authority was constructed primarily through displays of his acceptance by the gods and through royal ancestry. These two are often combined, as in the Book of the Fayum, discussed above, and in an epithet discussed by Shih-Wei Hsu, in "A Brief Comment on swht sbkt 'legitimate egg'," which provides further support for Gardiner and Sethe's reading of this term.

Carola Vogel presents an excellent overview of monuments in which Thutmosis III constructs his royal authority by venerating and connecting himself to his royal ancestor, Sesostris III, in "From Power to Reputation and Vice Versa: The Relationship between Thutmosis III and Senuseret III Reconsidered." Tamas A. Bacs, in "The Pride of the Ramessides: A Note on a Late Ramesside King-List," discusses a list of twelve royal ancestors depicted beneath/behind Amun's Royal Barque resting during the Beautiful Festival of the Valley in Theban Tomb 65 (Ramesses IX). This list left out notable Nineteenth Dynasty kings, in favor of a combination of more recent Twentieth Dynasty ancestors and more ancient Eighteenth Dynasty ancestors, described as "the recognized ideal ancestors" (p. 17).

Christine Raedler, "Creating Authority--The High Priest of Osiris Wennefer and a Special Kind of Deification of Ramesses II," covers a lot of history of scholarship on the high priest of Osiris in the post-Amarna and early Ramesside periods. She introduces a previously unpublished headless cuboid statue, reading the front scene as "Horus-protects-his-father, resurrecting Osiris-Ramesses II."

Two studies in this volume examine the tensions in the construction of authority for foreign rulers of the Late Period, sometimes in contrast to earlier periods. In "The Near and Distant King: Two Oppositions in the Concept of Divine Authority of the Egyptian King," Jifi Janak and Filip Coppens begin with "Akhenaten as the Near King," focusing in particular on the uniqueness of the connection between the king and the god, and the god as accessible to other people only through their connection with the king. They then switch to "The Foreigner as the Distant King." Of particular interest here is their discussion of the shift from New Kingdom reliefs in which "the native pharaoh was directly connected to Amun as his son and he received his authority and power directly from his father. In the Late Period and beyond, when Egypt was ruled time and time again by foreign powers the reliefs depict how the god bestowed his authority no longer on the pharaoh--often a foreign ruler--but to a child deity, his son, instead" (p. 141).

Dieter Kurth also explores the distancing of the foreign kings, through analysis of the history of the wnn formula, and how it changed to become more systematic in "The wnn-Formula in the Ritual Scenes of the Late Temples and the Presence of the King." He concludes: "The idea that the king's competence as a high priest radiated from his palace (in Alexandria) all over the temples of Egypt, is now expressed more clearly than ever before" (p. 154). However, I do not think that the king's role as high priest was ever anything less than perfectly clear. This new adaptation of the wnn formula was merely a slightly different way of expressing it.

Similarly, in "The 'Centre for Development' of the Royal Authority in Kalabsha," Ewa LaskowskKusztal argues that Augustus took on the same epithets as his Ptolemaic predecessors to connect with his divine father rather than his Ptolemaic predecessors (p. 159). Yet in his partially preserved list of ancestors, all those surviving are Ptolemaic (p. 162). It is not clear to me why one must choose between the two.

On the most micro level, small details in relief scenes and even pieces of jewelry were tightly controlled, with certain motifs being royal prerogatives. Monika Dolinska explores "Birds and Felines in Royal Iconography (with special stress laid upon the decoration of the temple of Thutmosis III at Deir el-Bahari)" and Elizabeth Eltze examines "The Creation of Royal Identity and Ideology through SelfAdornment: The Jewels of Ancient Napata and Meroe."

Unlike the 7th Symposium, for which only a fraction of the articles neatly fit the stated theme of Royal versus Divine Authority, most contributors to this 8th Symposium volume do address the construction of royal authority. Unfortunately, on the whole, this volume is rather disappointing when compared to that of the previous year, with few surprises or innovations.


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Author:Eaton, Katherine
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jan 1, 2021
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