Posts Tagged With: artifacts

House of Card-Pyramids: The Presidents of the Ancient World

In honor of President’s day this month, I thought it best to investigate our ancient Egyptian Presidents: the Pharaohs. We’ll run through how they “come to office”, what exactly their job entails, what symbols are associated with the Pharaohs, and the ‘President’s Day’ of the Egyptian calendar to see how these ancient leaders compare to our leaders of the modern world!

In order to become the pharaoh of Egypt, you had to, essentially, win the genealogical lottery. The leadership of ancient Egypt passed from father to son due to the belief in a divine connection between the pharaoh and the gods of the ancient Egyptian religion. Since the pharaoh was understood to be a living god, his offspring were the only individuals with a right to the throne. Unlike many other historical royal lineages (England, Spain, France, etc.), ancient Egypt did not automatically designate the oldest child as the heir to the throne; high death rates of children before the age of 3 prevented heirs from being named until later in life. If the sons of a pharaoh passed away, or his Great Wife was unable to produce a son, they would look to the lesser wives for a legitimate heir that would be declared the next pharaoh. If an heir was still not found, a series of marriages to the royal daughters or female aristocrats would occur to establish a ‘decided heir’ as soon as possible. Appointments were definitely not democratic, with many men reaching pharaonic glory through the use of poison or other murderous actions. Yet if any link to the pharaonic bloodline was alive, he would be proclaimed the heir to the throne; some boys becoming pharaoh before they were 10 years old!**

Statue of Pepi II who became pharaoh at age 6, and his mother, queen Ankhesenpepi II who served as regent. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Statue of Pepi II who became pharaoh at age 6, and his mother, queen Ankhesenpepi II who served as regent.
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

**If the heir had not yet reached adulthood (around 14 in ancient Egypt), a regent would be selected to rule the country and help teach the pharaoh until he was old enough to rule on his own.  Mothers were often selected as regent (Queens traditionally served as regent when the pharaoh was at war, and therefore would have the knowledge to lead), or as co-regent along with a male official.

The pharaoh of ancient Egypt had two major titles and two major roles: “Lord of the Two Lands’ and “High Priest of All Temples’.  As ‘Lord of the Two Lands’, the pharaoh’s main objective was to maintain Ma’at, the embodiment of truth and justice, within Upper and Lower Egypt.  A kind of “Commander in Chief,” he established and enforced laws, owned all land, collected taxes,  and lead his country to war when absolutely necessary. The pharaoh’s second title, ‘High Priest of All Temples’, was almost more important in that it implied the pharaoh’s direct connection to the divine. The pharaoh officiated most important religious ceremonies, chose the sites of new temples/monuments to the gods, and decreed what work would need to be done. Being only one man, the pharaoh would have been unable to perform every ritual at every temple throughout Egypt every day; therefore, the pharaoh would select high priests to perform the rituals with his blessing. This title also proclaimed him as the head builder of Egypt, responsible for immortalizing ancient Egypt’s victories, her religion, and the achievements of the pharaohs for centuries to come.

Much like the Eagle and Presidential seal have come to signify the POTUS, a pharaoh of ancient Egypt had specific symbols that signified his position. Pharaohs were frequently represented through images of a hawk, aligning themselves with the god Horus. Often referred to as the first pharaoh and the divine successor of Osiris, Horus was one of the most powerful gods in the ancient Egyptian religion. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were referred to as the “Living Horus” a title signifying their knowledge, power, and access to the divine. Another symbol of the pharaoh is the nemes headdress. Symbolizing the ruler’s status, the nemes headdress is often interpreted as a lions mane, an animal regarded with great power and status. The nemes headdress is frequently accompanied by a uraeus, or an attachment shaped as a cobra, showing that the pharaoh held great authority and was “ready to strike” at any moment.

courtesy ryot.org

courtesy ryot.org

A final set of the most common pharaonic symbols contains the crook and flail. Seen in various tomb reliefs and funerary objects (and often seen in the crossed hands of the pharaoh depicted on sarcophagi) , the crook and flail are thought to represent the two duties of the king; the crook stands for the shepherd, guardian of the people, while the flail is seen as the punishments deemed necessary to sustain society.

One of the main differences between the pharaohs of Egypt and the presidents of the United States is the celebration of their ‘reigns’. While we have a day each year to give our thanks to all presidents past and present, the ancient Egyptians had a different approach; their equivalent is found in the Heb-Sed festival, which you can read all about a recent post discussing Egyptian Festivals!

Whether we are discussing Presidents or Pharaohs, one thing holds true—with great power comes great responsibility. We remember their accomplishments and sacrifices as we celebrate. Happy (belated) Presidents Day!

-M

Works Cited:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/uk_tours_and_loans/pharaoh_king_of_egypt/exhibition_themes.aspx

http://www.penn.museum/documents/education/pennmuseum_egypt_previsit_combined.pdf

http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/pharaoh/home.html

http://www.ancient.eu/pharaoh/

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Meux Than Meets the Eye

Museum Collections were  major catalysts in the development of my love of Ancient Egypt. The ability to take a day trip into the city (I grew up in a suburb of Chicago) and allow myself to become completely immersed in the culture of the ancient world was an amazing experience.  Yet, as I have grown older, I’ve learned that, for all the beautiful objects  on display in any museum in any part of the world, there are multitudes of additional artifacts hidden away within the museum walls. Furthermore, there are many, many items that are kept in the personal collections of archaeologists, historians, or private families—passed down through generations.

One such collection that has made semi-recent headlines is the collection once belonging to Lady Valerie Meux.

a

(courtesy of Egyptology News Network)

Lady Meux was born Valerie Susie Langdon in 1847. She met her husband, Sir Henry Meux, while she worked as a Banjo-playing barmaid in Brighton. Gossip tells that she may have worked as a prostitute under the name “Val Reece:”, and supposedly lived “in sin” with a Corporal Reece. All that Valerie commented on the subject was “I can very honestly say that my sins were committed before marriage and not after.” You go, Val.

At age 31, she married Sir Henry Meux, 3rd Baronet, in secret.  Sir Henry’s family owned a very successful brewery and had become fairly rich through trade. They were certainly unimpressed with his choice of spouse, never fully accepting Valerie into their social circle. She was a scandalous woman, known to drive herself around London, attend meetings of the Theosophical Society, host many glamorous parties, and—according to popular gossip—attend prize fights in disguise and ride around town in a carriage pulled by zebras. I repeat, ZEBRAS.

b

(courtesy Natural History Museum of London)

A frequent visitor to the British Museum, Lady Meux became fascinated with Egyptian artifacts and had soon acquired her own collection of over 1,700 items. Her massive collection is documented in two detailed catalogues, authored by Egyptologist Wallis Budge and published at the Meux’s expense.  One of these catalogues, entitled “Some account of the collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the possession of Lady Meux at Theobald’s Park”, describes in detail some of the most prized artifacts within the collection, including the coffin (mummy included)  of Nes-Amsu, a priest of the Ptolemaic period. Nes-Amsu was “acquired” in Egypt by Walter Herbert Ingram, who in turn gifted it to Lady Meux in 1886. Ingram was killed by an elephant in the following year, inspiring the rumor that he was a ‘victim of the curse’.

c

(courtesy of “Some account of the collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the possession of Lady Meux at Theobald’s Park”)

Yet almost as mystifying as the possibility of a mummy’s curse is the collection’s mysterious history after the death of Lady Meux in 1910. According to her will, the British Museum was offered the entire collection for £2,250, but the Board rejected the offer due to the conditions of the trust. Consequentially, the collection was auctioned off in 1911.

The location of the bulk of the Meux collection remains, to this day, a mystery. Some think it was acquired by American William Randolph Hearst, who had agents at the Meux sale and who purchased a showpiece of the collection, the pair statue of Nebsen and Nebet-ta. This statue was acquired by Lady Meux herself on a visit to Egypt, and now sits in the Brooklyn Museum. Two small artifacts sit at the Petrie Museum, while two others surfaced at an auction in New York in December of 2007 where an alabaster vase inscribed for Pepi I sold for $91,000 and a granite head from a block statue for $102,000.

The location of the remaining 1,695 pieces of the Meux collection remains a mystery.  And although we may never know their whereabouts, it is hopeful to think that one day, they, like the thousands of artifacts sitting behind closed doors of museums, will be brought to light, allowing us to uncover even more ancient secrets of the Valley of the Nile.

Works Cited:

http://egyptologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2010/07/lady-meux-banjo-playing-barmaid-who.html

http://books.google.com/books?id=Ky1PAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://www.virtual-egyptian-museum.org/Collection/FullVisit/Collection.FullVisit-JFR.html?../Content/STO.VL.01112.S.html&0

 

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