This book discusses some aspects of Egyptian art in the period between the AD mid-third and late seventh centuries. This period is roughly identical with what the modern literature defines as Late Antiquity, extending from around AD 250 to around AD 800, “a distinctive and quite decisive period of history that stands on its own”.1 Its end is adapted here, however, to a special historical time limit, namely, the Arab Conquest of Egypt in 639–646 (see Chapter IV.2.5) which caused, with some delay, profound changes in artistic orientation as well as in the social/functional background and structure of artistic production.2 In order to take into account the outcome of earlier processes in the arts, this time limit is extended to about AD 700.
Referring to the art of Egypt in this period as a whole, I shall use the general term “late antique”. When dealing more concretely with individual monuments or groups of monuments placed in the context of a historical period, the term “late antique” covers the period between the mid-third and the mid-fifth centuries, the term “early Byzantine” the period between the mid-fifth century and the Arab Conquest.3
1 Introduction in: Bowersock–Brown–Grabar (eds) 1999 vii–xiii ix.
2 The editors of Vol. XIV of The Cambridge Ancient History. Late Antiquity (xviii f.) opted for AD 600 as a concluding date for the history of the late antique east arguing that the Persian wars and the Arab conquests of the earlier 7th cent. brought about irreversible changes in power relations and political geography as well as in religion and culture. Curiously, this argument does not take into account the date of Egypt’s conquest.—Some scholars continue to argue for a shorter Late Antiquity between Diocletian/Constantine and Justinian suggesting that the longer Late Antiquity lacks a distinct political, economic, and cultural structure. From the particular aspect of Egyptian art, however, things seem different, as I shall try to show. For the debate on the limits of Late Antiquity, see A. Giardina: Esplosione di tardoantico. Studi Storici 40 (1999) 157–180; A. Marcone: La tarda antichità e le sue periodizzazioni. Rivista Storica Italiana 112 (2000) 318–334; Cameron, Averil: The “Long” Late Antiquity: A Late Twentieth-Century Model. in: T.P. Wiseman (ed.): Classics in Progress. Essays on Ancient Greece and Rome. Oxford 2002 165–191 and cf. G. Fowden’s review of CAH XIV, JRS 15 (2002) 681–686.
3 For the periodisation of the late Roman and the Byzantine Empire cf. the survey in Schreiner 1994 120 f. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, ed. A.P. Kazhdan,