This book looks at the intersection of two ancient cultures through their art. The questions it asks are, on the one hand, quite general: how do artists combine the iconographies and representational forms of different visual traditions, and why? On the other hand, they are specific to a time and place: Egypt from the generation just before its conquest by Rome to the early Byzantine era, roughly from the middle of the first century BC to the end of the third century AD. The study focuses on the combination of Greek and Egyptian art forms in the funerary sphere, where naturalistic mummy portraits have received the bulk of popular and scholarly attention because they provide a rare glimpse of ancient Greek painting in a form that is intimately familiar to Western viewers.
Where this book differs from other studies of funerary art in Roman Egypt is in considering the numerous works of art that did not rely on naturalistic Greek art forms, or that subsumed Greek features into an otherwise Egyptian setting. The coffins, masks, and other works discussed here have often been dismissed as crude or anomalous or eccentric by modern scholars, but presenting them in their archaeological and cultural context has helped reveal the intentions, working practices, and inventiveness of the artisans who created ‘beautiful burials’ for their patrons. In a changing cultural landscape, the constancy of Egyptian mortuary practice met a need in local communities, and close scrutiny of the texts and art from such burials also reveals many details about individuals’ lives and deaths, from their names, professions, and family relationships to the roles of age, gender, and status within the social structure. At the same time, the beautiful burial had an ultimate goal—the glorification of the dead.
My research on this subject began as a doctoral thesis at Oxford University under the supervision of Helen Whitehouse, whose guidance and expertise made the project possible. I am indebted to Bert Smith and Simon Price for their insights throughout the process of revising the thesis for publication; to Mark Smith, Martin Andreas Stadler, and Mark Depauw for their patient advice on the Egyptian and Demotic texts; and to Terry Wilfong, Alan Bowman, and Helen Whitehouse for their comments on portions of the book.
I am especially grateful to Karl-Theodor Zauzich for permitting me to include his unpublished translation of the Demotic inscription on a mummy mask (Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, 111–89) in Chapter 3. The Griffith Egyptological Fund of Oxford University provided generous financial support for travel and photography expenses and for the production of colour plates. The book was completed while I was the Barns and Griffith Junior Research Fellow in