Friday, October 14, 2011


Alan B. Lloyd (ed.), A Companion to Ancient Egypt (2 vols.). Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Chichester/Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pp. xliii, 1276, 28 p. of plates. ISBN 9781405155984. $350.00.

Reviewed by Peter C. Nadig, Freie Universität Berlin (

Version at BMCR home site


One of the recent additions to the Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World is the huge two-volume set, Companion to Ancient Egypt edited by Alan B. Lloyd. A previous companion to the Ancient Near East (edited by D.C. Snell in 2007) features a few chapters on Ancient Egypt. The current book contains 49 articles by nearly as many contributors who specialize in different areas of Egyptian studies from Prehistory to the early Byzantine period. It would exceed the volume of such a review to comment on every chapter herein. The extensive table of content listed below gives an impression of the sheer variety of themes in this publication. Alan B. Lloyd can be congratulated for his effort in bringing so many different experts together.

Many subject headings on governmental, social, and cultural aspects were treated twice with an essay each for the Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman periods. Among the exceptions is Robert B. Partridge's interesting contribution on transport (chapter 20), which focuses solely on Pharaonic times. In accordance with the series, each chapter concludes with a summary and suggestions for further reading – usually highlighting the most recent or relevant publications.

Volume one starts with a list of illustrations, short biographies of the authors, acknowledgements, abbreviations and a selected chronology and two maps (Egypt and Nubia in Pharaonic times and Graeco-Roman Egypt).1 The chronology, with some introductory comments on each period only highlights the major dynasties with the listing of rulers.2 The rule of a queen Neithaqrit, Nitokris in Greek sources, at the end of the Sixth Dynasty, is mentioned here as "now regarded as the product of an ancient error" (xxxiv). The possible rule of Neferneferuaten (Nefertiti) is also included for Dynasty 18.

The contributors had freedom for the structure of their articles. This is especially apparent in the nine chapters of Part II on the "Historical Narratives" which outline the different historical periods through the Roman occupation.3 Some essays consist entirely of a historical narrative with subsections to highlight major kings or developments, or other aspects relating to their topic. Christopher Naunton, e.g., adds to his historical outline in chapter 7, "Libyans and Nubians" (Dynasties 21-25) with summaries of sites and monuments, burial practices, and the influx of these foreign peoples into Egypt. The question of how the decentralization affected kingship is also addressed. He is very critical of the widely used term "Third Intermediate Period", as this era is commonly called, which he considers "unfairly negative and fails either to describe the characteristics of the times or to explain them" (120). The features of this time should be better understood in terms of political and cultural change rather than of decline. Consequently the next chapter on the Late Period by Oliver Perdu is named "Saites and Persians". Part III deals with the Egyptian state and economic structures beginning with the king and kingship, administration of law and justice, priesthood and temples, science and technology (which includes Egyptian medicine ), and the military. The various forms of ancient Egyptian settlements, a less recognized topic—due to the major attention on tombs and temples—is given an excellent summary by Gregory D. Mumford (326-349). The archaeological evidence for this, though still a "patchwork", enables a better understanding of urban life, but is increasingly under threat from modern agriculture and urbanization. The social structures and the impact of religion is the theme of part IV. How variant the social elements of Egyptian life were can be gleaned from E. Frood's essay, which begins by explaining the terms of kinship as well as households. The latter is defined here as "a cohesive, yet fluid, group normally bound by kinship and other close ties of dependence with the most senior male at its head" (473). A major portion deals with the complex subject of "personal biography" from birth, childhood to adult life and old age and death. The difficulty of reconstructing individual ancient Egyptian lives lies in the fact that many sources derive from the elites and far less from the common people. The subchapters on conceptions of the body and ranges of activity offer very interesting insights, including respite from work and play. Here a distinction is made between activities in a religious and a secular context. Most information even here, however, is elite-centered (487).

Volume two covers cultural aspects of ancient Egypt. Part V is on language and literature. The first chapter by James P. Allen thematizes the language, its various scripts and the question of the spread of literature, while the following five chapters deal with literatures of various periods, beginning with the Middle Kingdom, as well as those in other languages (Coptic and Greek). The Old Kingdom is not given a separate section. Its elements, such as the Pyramid texts, are mentioned in various other chapters.

Egypt's visual culture, the architecture and arts, is dealt with in Part VI. Here the major focus is on sculpture, also separated by periods. Third Intermediate Period sculpture is included in the chapter on Late Period sculpture. Betsy M. Bryan provides a fascinating chapter on Pharaonic painting. Part VII contains three essays on the reception of Pharaonic Egypt in classical antiquity, Europe, and Islamic Egypt. Ancient Egypt in the museums since the seventeenth century is the theme of the book's last chapter by Christina Riggs.

Both volumes contain a few colored plates, many supplied by the authors, and black-and-white photos, line drawings of objects and buildings as well as maps throughout. One might have wished for more illustrations, especially for a book on a culture as rich in visual material as ancient Egypt. Perhaps a separate volume of plates might be an idea for a future re-edition.

The aim of this companion is to provide a competent and authoritative overview on ancient Egypt. This has been accomplished well. All articles are concise, with comprehensive summaries which reflect the most recent scholarship. The interested reader, student, or scholar will find a very helpful and satisfactory platform to start from with this companion. It will guide him or her to further reading and in their own research.

Table of Contents


1 The Physical Context of Ancient Egypt (Sarah Parcak)

2 Prehistory (E. Christiana Koehler).
3 The Early Dynastic Period (Toby Wilkinson).
4 The Old Kingdom (Michel Baud).
5 The First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom (Harco Willems).
6 The Second Intermediate Period and the New Kingdom (Ludwig D. Morenz and Lutz Popko).
7 Libyans and Nubians (664-332) (Christopher Naunton).
8 Saites and Persians (Olivier Perdu).
9 The Ptolemaic Period (Katelijn Vandorpe).
10 The Roman Period (Livia Capponi).

11 The Pharaoh and Pharaonic Office (Ellen F. Morris).
12 Administration and Law: Pharaonic Egypt (Ben Haring).
13 Administration and Law: Graeco-Roman (Jane Rowlandson).
14 Priest and Temples: Pharaonic (Neal Spencer).
15 Egyptian Temples and Priests: Graeco-Roman Period (Willy Clarysse).
16 The Economy: Pharaonic (Christopher Eyre).
17 The Economy: Graeco-Roman (Dennis Kehoe).
18 Settlements — Distribution, Structure, Architecture: Pharaonic (Gregory D. Mumford).
19 Settlements—Distribution, Structure, Architecture: Graeco-Roman (Paola Davoli).
20 Transport in Ancient Egypt (Robert B. Partridge).
21 Science and Technology: Pharaonic (Corinna Rossi).
22 Science and Technology: Alexandrian (T. E. Rihll).
23 Military Institutions and Warfare: Pharaonic (Anthony J. Spalinger).
24 Military Institutions and Warfare: Graeco-Roman (Nigel Pollard).

25 Social Structure and Daily Life: Pharaonic (Elizabeth Frood).
26 Social Structure and Daily Life: Graeco-Roman (Eugene Cruz-Uribe).
27 Religion in Society: Pharaonic (Kasia Szpakowska).
28 Religion in Society: Graeco-Roman (David Frankfurter).


29 Language, Scripts, and Literacy (James P, Allen).
30 Middle Kingdom Literature (Roland Enmarch).
31 New Kingdom Literature (Gerald Moers).
32 Late Period Literature (Kim Ryholt).
33 Coptic and Coptic Literature (Leo Depuydt).
34 Greek Literature in Egypt (Andrew Morrison).

35 Temple Architecture and Decorative Systems (Penelope Wilson).
36 Mortuary Architecture and Decorative Systems (Aidan Dodson).
37 Early Dynastic Art and Icongraphy (Stan Hendrickx and Frank Förster).
38 Old Kingdom Sculpture (Hourig Sourouzian).
39 Sculpture in the Middle Kingdom (Rita Freed).
40 New Kingdom Sculpture (Betsy M. Bryan).
41 Late Period Sculpture (Edna R. Russmann).
42 Ptolemaic and Roman-Egyptian Sculpture (Sally-Ann Ashton).
43 Pharaonic Painting through the New Kingdom (Betsy Bryan).
44 Mosaics and Painting in Graeco-Roman Egypt (Helen Whitehouse).
45 Egyptian Art of Late Antiquity (Thelma K. Thomas).

46 The Reception of Pharaonic Egypt in Classical Antiquity (Alan B. Lloyd).
47 The Reception of Egypt in Europe (Andrew Bednarski).
48 The Reception of Pharaonic Egypt in Islamic Egypt (Michael Cooperson).
49 Ancient Egypt in the Museum: Concepts and Constructions (Christina Riggs).


1.   Both volumes have their own bibliographies and table of illustrations. The general index is in volume two.
2.   For example, no kings are listed for the First and Second Intermediate Periods.
3.   There are some inaccuracies at the start of chapter 10, p. 180: Ptolemy VIII did not bequeath Egypt to Rome at the end of the second century BC, but only Cyrene in 155 BC (!). It also remains controversial if any of the two Ptolemies named Alexander gave Egypt to Rome as an inheritance in the year 80 BC. Ptolemy X, who is named here, however, had died eight years earlier. Also Ptolemy XII Auletes was expelled from Egypt in 58 and not in 55, the year in which he in fact returned.

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