Art, Identity, and Funerary Religion
rmy n=k p.t t3 tw3.t
iw n=k n-3 ḥm.w-ntr Irm n 3y=w s3.w
‘q n=k qs.t mnḫ.t iw=s wḏ3 r bw
The sky, the earth, and the underworld will weep for you.
The god’s-servants have come to you with their amulets.
An excellent burial outfit, safe from desecration, has come in to you.
Papyrus BM 10507, col. VI, ll. 11–131
One of the challenges facing historians of ancient art is to view it with the eyes of its original audience in so far as that is possible. Our own eyes, accustomed to the aftermaths of the Renaissance and the photographic age, must be trained to see in unfamiliar ways, and our minds to appreciate the difference.
The academic study of ancient art has been defined and subdivided by a number of approaches—geographic origin, chronological period, scholarly methodology. At the most basic level, this compartmentalization is merely the result of how different subject areas have developed over time. At another level, however, it poses a potential impediment to appreciating the original intent of those works of art that fall across or between the boundaries of modern disciplines. Such a difficulty has arguably plagued analyses of the funerary art produced in Roman Egypt, which is the focus of this study.
During the Roman Period in Egypt, inhumation of the corpse remained the preferred method of disposal of the dead, and mummification was the typical and ideal treatment for the body. The thoroughness of the process varied, however, and the quantity of skeletonized remains in Egyptian cemeteries suggests that many people were buried with minimal, if any, evisceration and desiccation.2 Although
1 M. Smith, Catalogue of Demotic Papyri in the British Museum, iii: The Mortuary Texts of Papyrus BM 10507 (London 1987), 42.
2 For instance, the skeletal or partly mummified remains at Dush in Kharga Oasis (F. Dunand, J.-L. Heim, N. Henein, and R. Lichtenberg, Douch, i: La Nécropole (Cairo 1992)) and Kom el-Samak, western Thebes (Malkata-South, iii: The Burials and the Skeletal Remains in the Area around ‘Kom Al-Samak’ (Tokyo 1988)).