Monday, October 1, 2018


Jana Helmbold-Doyé, Aline und ihre Kinder Mumien aus dem römerzeitlichen Ägypten. Ägypten im Blick, 2. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2017. Pp. 80. ISBN 9783954901937. €15,90.

Reviewed by Inge Uytterhoeven, Koç University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents
[Authors and titles are listed at the end of this review.]

In the late 19th to early 20th century, William M.F. Petrie introduced the western public to the Roman mummy portraits from Hawara in the Egyptian Fayum. The publications of his excavations and exhibitions1 aroused a fascination for mummy portraits, which, often after removal from their mummies, became preferred items in private collections and museums. Based on the first finds in the Fayum, the portraits became known as 'Fayum portraits', although portrait mummies were later also discovered outside this area. The interest in Roman mummy portraits and to a smaller extent also in masks underwent a revival in the late 1990s, when several studies and exhibitions were dedicated to the topic, now paying specific attention to the archaeological, religious-ideological and cultural context of the portraits.2

While Petrie became famous as the discoverer of the Hawara portraits, it is not widely known that he did not excavate all mummies with portraits and masks known from this site. For instance, the mummies discussed in Aline und ihre Kinder were found by Richard von Kaufmann in 1892 and then brought to Berlin. Aline and her children were re-investigated in January 2016 as part of an interdisciplinary study of all human mummies in the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung at Berlin, as Jana Helmbold-Doyé explains in the preface of her new book.

The rest of this small book is composed of nine sections of various length, some written by or in collaboration with other scholars, followed by appendices. The appendices include a selective bibliography with mainly publications in German, a table listing the grave finds, an overview of the museum history of the ensemble, a map of Egypt and information on the three contributors.

Helmbold-Doyé wrote the first three, brief sections. The first section is dedicated to Richard von Kaufmann, the discoverer of Aline's tomb. Von Kaufmann (1849-1908) was an important private art collector who sponsored several excavation projects. Inspired by Petrie's successful excavations at Hawara, he himself went out into the field in 1892. The second section discusses the problem of locating Aline's tomb, which is difficult because von Kaufmann's only description of the grave is found in one of his published lectures. The tomb was apparently a roofed mudbrick construction, which possibly had an above-ground structure or cultic area. Parallels of this type of tomb, which resembled contemporaneous houses,3 are known from Tuna el-Gebel in Middle Egypt (a reference to image 15 is missing). In the third section, Helmbold-Doyé describes the acquisition of the Aline finds by the Berlin Museum. In the summer of 1892 von Kaufmann offered the Egyptian Department 45 objects for the price of 14,400 marks. In October, 1892 the museum additionally obtained a masked child mummy from Aline's grave from Dr. Seidel from Braunschweig, who had joined von Kaufmann at Hawara, in exchange for 26 Egyptian objects from its collections.

The fourth section starts with general information about the find context of the mummies and their technical characteristics (Helmbold-Doyé). The tomb contained (at least) eight mummies, buried in three horizontal layers. Nothing is known about the three plain mummies located at the highest level, which covered the masked mummies of a man (Aline's 'husband') and a girl. Aline's portrait mummy and those of two children were buried at the lowest level. The mummies with masks and portraits had rhombic wrappings; in the case of the two children's mummies, the portraits were additionally decorated with gilded stucco buttons. The a tempera portraits of these children and that of Aline were directly painted on the mummy wrappings and thus applied after death. All mummies combined Egyptian (e.g. gilded wreaths) and Greek elements (e.g. rose wreaths; wax seals with Greek iconography).

More detailed analysis of the individual family-members follows. Helmbold-Doyé first focuses on Aline. Although only her portrait has been preserved, old descriptions attest that her mummy had rhombic wrappings with gilded stucco buttons and that her portrait was, exceptionally, covered with an extra cloth. Aline's skull was investigated by Rudolf Virchow after it was separated from her body. He looked for similarities between portrait and skull. The identification of the woman as Aline, alias Tenôs, daughter of Herodes, and her age at death, 35, are known thanks to a Greek funerary stele that was placed next to the mummy's head, as is briefly discussed by Jan Moje. Helmbold-Doyé then describes the mummy mask of the anonymous man (Aline's 'husband'), which was removed from its mummy at Hawara. His seal ring and the expensive finishing of the mask identify him as a member of the local elite. Interestingly, at the top of his head, his toga ends in a painted cloth showing lotus flowers and geometric motifs, for which no parallels are known. Consequently, this part of the mask may be the result of a restoration in the early 1950s. Abb. 40 (p. 32) shows the striking differences between the mask's situation before and after its restoration.

Although the fourth section starts with general information on all mummies from the grave and the chapter's title also refers to the dead in general, Aline's children are (a bit inconsequently) discussed in a separate, fifth chapter. Alexander Huppertz' contribution on the preliminary CT results of the three children's mummies in this section forms the most original and substantial part of the book. The most important new data, including information on the sex and age of the children, the dimensions of their mummies, and the development of their teeth and bones, are presented in a useful table on p. 33 and further discussed in the text, accompanied by detailed images. The children, two girls and (presumably) one boy, were between 2 and 7 years old and smaller than children of the same age group nowadays. Interestingly, all three mummies show bends and fractures in the cervical and/or thoracic spine due to post mortem manipulation.

Thanks to these new results, the 'exterior' aspects of the children's mummies can be confronted with their 'content'. Helmbold- Doyé points out that the mask mummy of the oldest child represents a young woman, whereas the body belongs to a girl at most 7 years old. The extremely rich mummy combines 'Graeco-Roman' (clothes, hairstyle and jewelry) with Egyptian features (goddess Nut on the top and back of the mask; shroud with funerary scenes; foot cartonnage). The two younger children had portraits representing girls that were directly painted on the mummy wrappings. Although the gender of the youngest portrait has been frequently questioned in the past, criteria such as the lunula-shaped hanger, generally reserved for females, and the 'female' lilac color of the child's dress, have generally been used to identify the portrait as a girl. This identification is contradicted now by the new CT investigation.

The focus then shifts to the other finds from the tomb. In the extremely brief sixth section, Helmbold-Doyé presents the grave- goods that accompanied the mummies, including flower wreaths and a 1st- or 2nd-century cooking pot. The most important find, however, is the above-mentioned Greek funerary stele. In the seventh section, Jan Moje compares Aline's stele with other 2nd century AD stelae from Hawara, which typically included the dead's name, his/her age at death and sometimes a greeting formula, epithet or profession. In the eighth section, Moje's attention goes to the broader historical and socio-cultural context of the stele. As was typical for Roman Egypt, Aline – Tenôs had a double, Greek-Egyptian name.4 The exact date of the stele and Aline's death remains problematic and is generally placed either in the reign of Tiberius (31 July 24 AD) or in that of Trajan (31 July 107 AD). Although the inscription does not reveal information about Aline's social position, her mummy suggests un upper-class status, while the co-occurrence of Greek and Egyptian elements presents the family as mixed Graeco- Roman/Egyptian. Interestingly, the stele of Aline was placed in the grave, which suggests that the visible identification of the dead was not a major concern.

In the ninth, concluding section, Jana Helmbold-Doyé and Jan Moye synthesize the discussion about the dating of Aline's grave, which will remain open until future scientific analysis offers a conclusive dating. If the 1st century date is correct, Aline's portrait is one of the earliest datable mummy portraits known thus far. However, based on stylistic and technical aspects, as well as the post-mortem fractures and the changing position of the mummy heads, possibly in relation to changes in the Osiris belief, an early 2nd century AD cannot be excluded. Apart from this, the authors conclude that, with its combination of portrait and masked mummies, Aline's tomb is rather exceptional (though not the only example) and that the luxurious treatment of the mummies identifies the family as upper-class members of Roman Egypt.

In general, Aline und ihre Kinder is a nicely presented and easily readable book, illustrating the importance of continuously integrating new techniques in archaeological research. The inserted archival material as well as the numerous photographs make it a visually attractive publication. However, the book's strong introductory character and the lack of references in the text clearly show that it is intended more for the broader public than for specialist scholars.

The topics touched upon remain mostly very general and frequently deserve a more elaborate discussion. Due to its rather descriptive approach, the book does not address certain questions that inevitably come to a reader's mind, such as whether all mummies in the grave can be automatically considered family members, whether (some of) the dead died at the same time and what may have been the criteria behind the choice of a masked, portrait or plain mummy. Therefore, a more comparative approach, placing Aline and her family in a broader geographical, chronological, and cultural framework than is the case now, and against the background of recent research at Hawara, the Fayum and Roman Egypt in general would have increased the scholarly character of the publication. Similarly, a more extensive exploration of Richard von Kaufmann and 19th-century archaeological and museological practices could have been valuable.

Despite this, Aline und ihre Kinder forms an important contribution to current research on mummies and the history of Roman Hawara, bringing the less well-known Graeco-Roman/Egyptian population of Roman Egypt to a wide readership.

Table of Contents

Vorwort, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (5–6)
1. Richard von Kaufmann und die Entdeckung des Grabes, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (8–15)
2. Das Grab, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (16–18)
3. Die Grabfunde und das Museum, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (19)
4. Die Verstorbenen, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (20–24)
4.1. Eine Frau namens Aline?, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (25–28)
4.1.1 Die Grabstele der Aline, Jan Moje (28–29)
4.2 Ein namentlich unbekannter Mann, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (29–32)
5. Die Kindermumien, Alexander Huppertz (33–38)
5.1 Das Mädchen mit der Mumienmaske, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (38–50)
5.1.1 Die Mumienhülle, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (38–39)
5.1.2 Die Mumienmaske, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (39–41)
5.1.3 Das Mumientuch, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (42–45)
5.1.4 Der Mumienschuh, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (47–50)
5.2 Das Mädchen mit dem Mumienporträt, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (50)
5.3 Junge oder Mädchen?, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (50–51)
6. Die Beigaben, Jana Helmbold-Doyé (52)
7. Der Grabstein der Aline im Vergleich mit anderen Stelen, Jan Moje (53–54)
8. Der historisch-soziokulturelle Kontext der Aline-Stele, Jan Moje (55–59)
9. Zeitliche Einordnung und Bedeutung des Grabes, Jana Helmbold-Doyé and Jan Moje (60–61)


1.   W.M.F. Petrie, Hawara, Biahmu, and Arsinoe (London, 1889); W.M.F. Petrie, Kahun, Gurob, and Hawara (London, 1890); W.M.F. Petrie, Roman portraits and Memphis (IV) (London, 1911).
2.   E.g. L.H. Corcoran, Portrait Mummies from Roman Egypt (I-IV Centuries A.D.) with a Catalog of Portrait Mummies in Egyptian Museums (Michigan, 1995); B. Borg, Mumienporträts: Chronologie und kultureller Kontext (Mainz, 1996); S.E.C. Walker and M.L. Bierbrier, Portraits and Masks: Burial Customs in Roman Egypt (London, 1997); K. Parlasca and H. Seemann, Augenblicke. Mumienporträts und ägyptische Grabkunst aus römischer Zeit (München, 1999).
3.   Similarities between Ptolemaic-Roman tombs and houses at Hawara are attested by material remains, as well as by the Demotic-Greek 'Hawara Undertakers Archives'. See I. Uytterhoeven, Hawara in the Graeco-Roman Period. Life and Death in a Fayum Village (Leuven, 2009).
4.   Double names have been collected as part of the Leuven Trismegistos Project (W. Clarysse and M. Depauw). See Y. Broux, Double names in Roman Egypt: A Prosopography (Leuven 2014) (Trismegistos Online Publications).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.