Aegyptiaka Project

The Aegyptiaka Project (AeP): Ecumene and Economy in the Horizon of Religion was inaugurated in 2006 as an International Collaborative Project of the University of the Aegean, the University of Bonn, the KB’ Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classic Antiquities (Rhodes) and the Italian Archaeological School at Athens. The Project focuses on the systematic study and re-evaluation of the so-called Aegyptiaca, the Egyptian and egyptianised objects from Late Geometric and Archaic Greece (7th– 6th centuries BC).


Project description

In the absence of adequate written evidence the history of contacts in the eastern Mediterranean during the Geometric and Archaic periods is largely based on our knowledge and evaluation of imports and their archaeologically visible influence in indigenous material horizons. These imports are often examined alongside patterns of transmission of technology and craftsmanship, in an attempt to understand the gradual orientalisingawakening of the Aegean that reached its apogee in the 7th century BC. Egyptian iconography reached the Greeks via two main channels of communication or cultural networks: direct contact of Greeks, mainly from the Asia Minor and East Greek areas with Egypt, and via the intermediary of Phoenician artifacts, that spread all over the Mediterranean during the orientalising and archaic periods and linked the Syrian/Phoenician coast to Italy and Sicily. In addition to that, the establishment of a Greek colony at Naukratis, in the Egyptian Delta, facilitated to a great extent an undeniably great impact on one civilization to the other, which went both ways, at it is revealed in a variety of artistic and literary modes.

The proposed project focuses on the religious Aegyptiaca, the Egyptian and egyptianising objects of a religious nature from the archaic sanctuaries in the Aegean and mainland Greece. The importance of these objects within the development of the Greek culture is obvious from the fact that they generated a cultural wave of Egyptianisation. The scope of this project is to investigate the religious semantics of these donations and to re-evaluate the Egyptian cultural values in the Aegean world during the first half of the first millennium BC.

The functionality and contextualization of these objects within the broader nexus of the international relations of the seventh and sixth centuries BC, must be seen as an epitome of the continuous attempts by the Saite kings of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty to re-establish a political and social link with major cultic centers in the Aegean and the Levant. Although no information on the ideological component of these votive offerings survives, the locally manufactured egyptianising objects clearly exemplify that Greeks had gained insight into Egyptian religious beliefs. Thus, they were probably familiar with the significance of at least some of these objects and the magical connotations they carried. Even if theseobjects were not used in the precise manner that they should have been back in Egypt, they were regarded as highly precious and venerated objects, having been assigned a whole new function and identity within a different cultural environment. The objects themselves have not been changed; only the nature of its reception – to Egypt they were exports, while to Greece they were imports – and possibly its status and worth. They were adapted to the international syncretistic religious background of the receptive culture. The importance of the Aegyptiaca within the praxis of the Greek culture is obvious from the fact that they generated an enormous cultural wave of egyptianizationin the Aegean world. Rhodes is the place of the strongest Egyptian impact on the Greek material culture and thus probably the mentality too. Especially for the production of Egyptian style faiences a Rhodian workshop is well known.

Our initial research on the votive offerings from the Rhodian sanctuaries (Kousoulis and Morenz 2007, 2008, in print; Kousoulis 2011) is now further expanded to cover all Aegyptiaka of a religious nature from the Aegean and mainland Greece of the 7th and 6th centuries BC. The great majority of these objects are somewhat related to the sacral field, but not exclusively restricted to it. Right from the start we can notice a complex interplay between the sacral, the political and economic field. In general, we can distinguish four socially different types of sacral Egyptian/egyptianising donations. These semiophores may be: stately Egyptian, private Egyptian, stately Greek, private Greek. Predominant among these objects are faience figurines in the shape of Egyptian divinities, demonic entities (e.g. the lion-headed dwarf-god/demon Bes), hybrid animals and symbols.

Methodolody and aims

The proposed project seeks to continue and develop further this research in a more structured way. More specifically, it aims at:
  • a complete electronic database with proper description and classification of the objects, definition of their provenance (with the contribution of petrograhic and neutron activation analyses), its typological and chronological assessment (the latter will put special emphasis on the attempt to establish a relative chronological sequence) and recognition of local workshops;
  • the analysis and re-evaluation of the Egyptian cultural and religious semantics (religious values, icons and identities; demonic motifs either genuinely Egyptian or adopting hybrid forms with clear Egyptian characteristics; aspects of religious symbolism and transmission of knowledge) in these objects and the decorative arts of the Greeks of the archaic era; these data should be compared and confronted to the available Egyptian evidence from Egypt proper;
  • the analysis of creative misreadings in the adaptation of foreign elements;
  • the study and re-evaluation of the Egyptian cross-cultural interactivity with the Aegean world in the sphere of economy and religion.

The latter consists of the topic of a doctorate dissertation, which is carried out by Ms Electra Apostola at the University of the Aegean and co-financed by the European Union (European Social Fund – ESF) and Greek national funds through the Operational Program "Education and Lifelong Learning" of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) - Research Funding Program: Heracleitus II: Investing in knowledge society through the European Social Fund. The dissertation is entitled: "Hybrid demoninc entities in Egypt and the Aegean during the 7th and 6th c. BC".

Project deliverables so far:

  1. P. Kousoulis, “Rhodes before the Saite Kings: Egyptian relations with Rhodes and the Dodecanese during the Ramesside Period”, in M. Collier and S. Snape (eds.), Ramesside Studies in Honour of K.A. Kitchen festchrift, Bolton: Rutherford Press 2011, 283-92.
  2. P. Kousoulis and L. Morenz, "The Rhodian Aegytiaca Project: a progress report on the socio-political and religious interactions between Egypt and the Dodecanese in the 1st millennium BC", in P. Kousoulis (ed.), Tenth International Congress of Egyptologists, Rhodes 22-29 May 2008, Abstracts of Papers, Rhodes: University of the Aegean 2008, 137.
  3. P. Kousoulis and L. Morenz, "The Rhodian Aegytiaca Project: a progress report on the socio-political and religious interactions between Egypt and the Dodecanese in the 1st millennium BC". Paper delivered at the Tenth Internatioal Congress of Egyptologists, organised by the University of the Aegean, the International Association of Egyptologists and the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Rhodes, 22-29 May 2008.
  4. P. Kousoulis, "The Rhodian Aegytiaca Project: some questions of political and religious adaptations in the 1st millennium BC". Paper delivered at the Second British Egyptological Conference organised by the University of Liveropol and the Egypt Exploration Society, Liverpool, 14-16 March 2008.
  5. P. Kousoulis, "Religious semantics of the Egyptian relations with Rhodes and the Dodecanese in the Late Period". Paper delivered at the International Conference on the Occation of Honouring Prof. Dr. Abd el-Halim Nur el-Din, organised by Cairo University, Alexandria University and the Netherlands Institute in Cairo, Cairo and Alexandria, 10-12 April 2007.
  6. P. Kousoulis and L. Morenz, “Ecumene and economy in the horizon of religion: Egyptian donations to Rhodian sanctuaries”, in M. Fitzenreiter (ed.), Das Heilinge und die Ware: Eigentum, Austausch und Kapitalisierung im Spannungsfeld von Ökonomie und Religion, IBAES VII, London: Golden House Publications 2007, 179-92.
  7. P. Kousoulis and L. Morenz, The Rhodian Aegyptiaca: An Introduction to the Relations between Rhodes and Egypt in the Ecumene of the Archaic Era, Egyptological Series 2, Rhodes: University of the Aegean, in print.
  8. H. Apostola, Hybrid demoninc entities in Egypt and the Aegean during the 7th and 6th c. BC, PhD Dissertation, University of the Aegean, in preparation.

For more information on the AeP, click here. 

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