Month: November 2013

An Outline of the Persecution of Christians in Eusebius

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Koenig wrote that “Religious tolerance is something we should all practice; however, there has been more persecution and atrocities committed in the name of religion and religious freedom than anything else.” This post will look at the persecution of Christians through EusebiusHistorica Ecclesiastica.

It is difficult to apportion blame for this persecution,  for some of the greatest contributors to persecution are those who do nothing when they have power to make a difference.  Eusebius like Lactantius implies that blame lies with Galerius though his implication does not directly name him; instead addressing Galerius as the long accepted “prime mover in the calamitous persecution.”[1] Lactantius agrees with this claim announcing that, due to his mother’s conceived hatred against the Christians for not following her ways, she instigated Galerius to destroy them.[2]  Why would Eusebius make the suggestion that Galerius was responsible? Barnes asserts that Eusebius was a prime supporter of Constantine and wrote in his reign.[3] His support for Constantine suggests that he could not offend those related to the Emperor, such as Constantius who reigned during the same period as Galerius as he would be indirectly offending Constantine himself.  It is also possible that Eusebius had a personal vendetta against Galerius, blaming him for the persecution of his fellow Christians.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Eusebius’ account suggests that divine judgement was responsible for the persecution of Christians.  Eusebius expresses that “increasing freedom transformed our character to arrogance and sloth.”[4] Eusebius goes on to explain that divine judgement, God himself, gradually began to order things and the persecution began with the Christians in the army.  This indicates that Eusebius thought the Christians brought the persecution upon themselves for ignoring sins and abusing their own freedom. Eusebius’ suggestion of divine judgement further indicates that he was attempting to put a positive spin on the circumstances, making it appear that persecution was part of God’s ultimate plans, God being infallible. Barnes asserts that the purpose for this suggestion was to strengthen the belief that “God intervenes in history to ensure that the Christian Church shall prosper.”[5] This indicates that Eusebius may have even been suggesting that the persecution had its benefits in the prosperity of Christianity by laying the blame of the persecution in divine hands.

The account by Eusebius and other scholars shows that the persecution affected different areas with varying intensities, some greater than others. For instance, Eusebius describes the persecution at Thebais where people were subject to wild animals and other horrendous tortures.[6]  An analysis of Eusebius’ account of Thebais, Antioch and Nicomedia among others gives us the impression that though the Christians suffered horribly, there was always a faith that could not be taken from them, that there was a “most wonderful eagerness…in those who had put their trust in Christ.”[7] This gives us the impression that many Christians saw the persecution as a chance to prove their loyalty to God.

The place where the persecutions appear to be carried out with the greatest intensity according to Eusebius and Lactantius was not a location in the geographical sense.  Eusebius highlights that the army was a key target and starting point of the persecution.[8]  An assessment of the army being central to the persecution suggests that there was an aim to strengthen the loyalty of military powers.  Eusebius also asserts that Nicomedia was a focus point.[9]  From this account we gain the impression that the intensity in Nicomedia was to primarily strengthen imperial powers.

Other areas where we see an intensity of persecution as told by Eusebius were Antioch and Tyre.  ‘Historica Ecclesiastica’ recounts the “ordeal of the Egyptians who championed the faith so gloriously at Tyre.”[10]  Eusebius also indicates the great intensity in Egypt and Syria, stating that “we should feel equal admiration for those of them [Egyptians] who were martyred in their own country.”[11]  This statement also suggests that the persecution was wide spread.

The Baptism of Constantine (1520-24) Fresco St...
The Baptism of Constantine (1520-24) Fresco Stanza di Constantino, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

Religion is more apparent in history than any other reason for persecution.  The persecution of the Christians under Diocletian is one such example where the persecution had varying consequences to the population and church even with the introduction of an edict of toleration.[12] The edict of toleration would have provided the majority of the Christians with a sense of relief.   Though, the sheer number of volunteer martyrs mentioned by Eusebius and Lactantius implicate that for the few the edict removed their chance to show their devotion.  Momigliano asserts that one such response is that some Christians voiced resentment in light of those who “survived in fear”[13] through the persecution rather than in physical pain. An analysis of this suggests that there may have been some resentment for the minority who appeared to seek the persecution.[14]

The edict also created consequences in relation to ‘conscience’ and the unification of the church.  Chadwick assesses that there were many problems of conscience as a result of the persecution and that one such response was the rise of certain militant extremist groups such as the Donatists.[15]  The Donatists counted even the smallest of physical punishments as a worthy martyrdom and saw those who denied their faith, as traitors.  This suggests that militant ideas forced a widening division focusing on the legitimacy of certain clergy members. Chadwick assesses that these problems of ‘conscience’ in light of the persecution led to many adaptations of the law to meet particular cases. [16]

Eusebius explains another ramification of the edict’s responses was that it set bishops against each other due to certain cleric’s militant ideologies.[17]  In achieving this, the church was further divided even though Constantine appears to be looking for a means of unification.  An evaluation of the responses to the edict suggest that it created a new though less severe bout of persecution, this time between the various factions of the Christian population.

The persecution of Christians under Diocletian is one example of the many religious conflicts throughout history.  Through primary and secondary sources we see where the blame of this persecution is aimed and that the persecution looked towards securing military and imperial power.  The persecution had several ramifications, showing us that even with an edict of toleration the church lay divided.  We do however see one continuing theme; that even in the face of extreme controversy and persecution, faith stood tall in the hearts of many even in the face of death.


Barnes, T.D., Constantine and Eusebius (London 1981), pp.148-163

Eusebius, Historica Ecclesiastica, Book 8 (Eusebius, The History of the Church, Penguin (London 1989), pp.256-81

Cameron, A., The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (Glasgow. 1993), pp.66-84

Chadwick, H., Studies on Ancient Christianity (Hampshire, 1984), pp.XX47-51

Stevenson, J., A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD337 (London 1987), pp.269-275

Momigliano, A., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963),

Croke, B. & Harries, J. (eds), Religious Conflict in Fourth-Century Rome (Sydney, 1981), pp.14-19

Laistner, M.L.W., Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire (New York, 1951), pp.4, 131-138

Greenslade, S., Church and State from Constantine to Theodosius (London, 1976), pp.30-35

Lactanius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, 31.1-52.5 (Creed, J.L. (trans.), (Oxford, 1984), pp.48-79 & 113-25

Eusebius, Vita Constantini, 22.1-61.1, Cameron, A. & Hall, S.G. (trans.), Eusebius, Life of Constantine (Oxford, 1999), pp.78-115

Watson, A., Aurelian and the Third Century (London, 1999), pp.1-20

Lactanius, De Mortibus Persecutorum,, 11-13 in Stevenson, J., A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD337 (London 1987), pp.271-272

[1]: Eusebius, Historica Ecclesiastica, Book 8 (Eusebius, The History of the Church, Penguin (London 1989), p.280 – Eusebius addresses Galerius as “the author of this edict” rather than by name.  Further reference to Galerius as the prime instigator of the persecution is found on p.281 as the man whom Eusebius wrote of on the previous page.

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History was rewritten at least twice in light of the persecution, Eusebius wishing to leave a permanent account of the martyrs of his day

[2] Lactanius, De Mortibus Persecutorum,, 11-13 in Stevenson, J., A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD337 (London 1987), p.271 – Lactantius recounts the nature of Galerius’ mother in regards to the Christian religion not agreeing with her own and how she made sure her hatred continued in her equally superstitious son.

[3] Barnes, T.D., Constantine and Eusebius (London 1981), p.150

[4] Eusebius, op.cit, p.257

[5] Barnes, op.cit., p.162

[6] Eusebius, op.cit., p.265

[7] Ibid., p.265

[8] Ibid., p. 260 – primary attack on the army as an example as well as a means to secure military power on the part of the Arian persecutors

Lactanius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, 31.1-52.5 (Creed, J.L. (trans.), (Oxford, 1984), p.49

[9] Eusebius, op.cit., p.261 – significant centre of imperial power in the period, by securing the power of the imperial forces you secure more significantly the population which they rule over

[10] Ibid., p.264

[11] Ibid., p.264

[12] Barnes op.cit., p.159

[13] Momigliano, A., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963), p.80

[14] Cameron, A., The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (Glasgow. 1993), p.66 – provided a link to the apostles

[15] Chadwick, H., Studies on Ancient Christianity (Hampshire, 1984), p.XX47

[16] Ibid., p.XX47

[17] Eusebius, Vita Constantini, 22.1-61.1, Cameron, A. & Hall, S.G. (trans.), Eusebius, Life of Constantine (Oxford, 1999), p.115, book II 61.2-62


Part 2 of What Evidence is there for the Daily Lives of the Ancient Egyptians?

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Gaming Box and pieces for ‘twenty squares’ and senet, New Kingdom, XIXth Dynasty, reign of Seti I, this game is also depicted in two tomb reliefs from the period

Part 1 can be found here.

Evidence in the form of tools and implements allows for the assessment of fishing, hunting and craft practices in all periods. Tomb 741 H5 at Helwan provides an example of these types of artefacts for everyday use; ten copper hooks were excavated of varying sizes.  These artefacts are very important to assessing activities in Early Ancient Egypt due to a complete lack of philological evidence and limited availability of art history.

Sport and leisure in the lives of the Ancient Egyptians is also represented by a variety of finds and grave goods.  Archaeological evidence in the form of models playing instruments, like one painted wooden figure of a female harpist dating to Dynasty nineteen and actual instruments excavated, allow for analysis of music and entertainment in daily life.[20] Frescos from tombs show nobles engaging in many leisurely activities such as fowling, but as the large majority of the population were of the peasant class and worked for a living, we have limited evidence for leisure in relation to the masses.

Models and scenes from burials provide a wealth of evidence for the assessment of daily life in Ancient Egypt, depicting a range of daily activities from agriculture and craft to household and leisure activities.  The earliest models come from the Predynastic period from sites such as Abadiveh and Naqada, however, due to their low quality we can only make interpretations of the activities they show by comparison to later models.[21]  From the old kingdom we mainly have examples of food-preparation like the milling of grain and baking, and the models are mostly of single figures each showing one stage of a larger timeline of activities.[22]  Food preparation was an extremely important part of these activities as the staples were required by everyone everyday. From the late old kingdom models and scenes of cattle husbandry and crafts also start to appear.

The majority of models depicting daily activities come from the Middle Kingdom and include scenes of food processing, the manufacture of everyday goods and agricultural tasks which are important to assess as a vast percentage of the population were farmers or craftsmen.  TT280 for instance reveals many workshop and labor scenes.[23]  From the Middle Kingdom we increasingly see scenes such as cooking, and from the end of the Old Kingdom we also have the introduction of combination scenes.[24]  This allows for the assessment of the relationship between different daily tasks.[25]  Models of houses ranging from small huts to large-multistory structures have also been excavated which allow the assessment of living space and domestic tasks.  Models also see the inclusion of leisure and entertainment activities as seen with scenes of dancing and musicians from post 6th dynasty. In the Later periods the number of models gradually decline.

Limestone Shabti

Shabtis are also an important grave good for assessing daily life especially in relation to the Amarna and post-Amarna periods.  Since the shabti was a form of servant to perform everyday work its representations can provide us with some knowledge of the tasks performed in Ancient Egyptian daily life. Evidence of agriculture can be seen in shabtis such as with the inclusion of implements from about the time of Tuthmosis IV.   Separate implements were also modeled including hoes, picks, bags and baskets.[26] Some shabti spell versions also include evidence of daily tasks such as water carrying and brick making.  Middle kingdom shabtis also include mention of daily activities in their spells.[27]

Shabtis also provide some evidence of the dress of daily life especially in the Amarna to the late Ramesside Period.  Post-Amarna shabtis often gave representations of the dress of daily life with long pleated robes and curled wigs of the duplex type.  The shabtis also present evidence of the dress and style of females in this period, but less so than men.[28]

Conditions of climate and terrain have greatly preserved material evidence in Ancient Egypt beyond that of other ancient civilizations.[29] Much of the material that is available to us to assess daily life also comes from settlement sites.  Excavations have turned up evidence in the form of pottery vessels, storage jars, knives and other implements of bronze and flint, toys, games and musical instruments used in the activities of everyday life.[30]  Unfortunately many ancient towns are now covered by modern habitations or lie within the cultivated land of the NileValley, but sites on the higher level of desert have remained less effected by conditions and provide us with such evidence which helps make assessments.

Archaeological excavations of settlements have provided us with much of the evidence we now have for the assessment of daily life in the early periods.  Deposits of animal droppings and small circular ‘enclosures’ such as those found at Hemamiya, and bone deposits like from Merimde provide us with a basis of assessment for animal husbandry and domestic activities in early Egyptian daily life. [31]  The remains of granaries and storage pits at sites like Merimde, and Badari where traces of the grains used in food preparation have been found provide evidence for domestic activities and agriculture.  Grain silos from Buto Layer IV are exemplary of the evidence available to assess agricultural life.[32]  From these features we can make assessments such as how granaries appear to be associated with individual dwellings demonstrating that family-units were becoming economically independent.

Town remains of all periods provide a wide variety of evidence for daily life in Ancient Egypt, even though the majority of excavations in Egypt have been on burial sites[33].  Deposits of animal bones, teeth and horns of avian, bovine and equine animals, such as those found at Kom el-adhem,[34] provide assessment of domestication and the use of animals in everyday tasks and as a source of food.  Also artefacts excavated such as bowls, baskets and pottery shards provide us with evidence of daily tasks in and around the household.[35]  Much of the debris that is found at these settlement sites in the later periods has been attributed to the daily tasks of the servant and peasant classes allowing for interpretation of the domestic economy.[36]

Deir el Medina

Excavations have uncovered traces of dwellings, which are especially helpful in the assessment of the use of living spaces in a domestic context.  Buto is one example of a site rich in domestic evidence in Layer IV.  We also have evidence of living areas from earlier sites including Merimde where there has been excavated a number of buildings with walls made of straw-tempered mud.  Some of the most significant sites for the assessment of daily life actually come from the New Kingdom, the most important of these is the workmen’s village at Deir el-Medina which preserves not only an extensive amount of settlement remains but also large numbers of ostraca used by the inhabitants for rough notes and records.[37]  It is from these ostraca that we gain a look into the minds of the inhabitants and the day to day running of the community and socio-economic system.[38]

The workmen’s village at el-Amarna provides one with features of agricultural and domestic importance, the likes of which have also been found in the Memphis area, Elephantine and Tell el-Dab’a.[39] Like many Ancient Egyptian settlements however Amarna has disappeared partially under modern cultivation, but still stands as a fine example of everyday life; with excavations uncovering wells, grain silos, workshops, bakeries, refuse dumps, communal areas and artefacts of day to day activities.[40]

Like many other sites there is debate about how typical this community was, but when one looks at the large number of sites used in Ancient times for different purposes it is difficult to judge just what is typical.  Archaeological and architectural evidence from places such as el-Amarna and Deir el-Medina are very important to the assessment of daily life as they provide evidence in, or close to, their direct context.  Material and features found at these sites allow for better understanding of production and consumption throughout a certain community and we should take advantage of the evidence that is available.  Kemp explains that excavations of sites such as this provide a greater clarification of how spaces were used in daily life, whether it be for cooking, craft or communal activities. Such can be the interpretation for a number of circular features and an L-shaped feature possibly used as a corn storage bin indicating food preparation.[41]

When considering the evidence is available for the assessment of daily life we see that there are several types to include.  Throughout all the ancient periods the majority of evidence comes from burials, with a lesser amount from settlement sites, though there are sites of great use to assessment especially in the New Kingdom.  A large amount of the assessment of daily life can be made grave goods, and from the early dynastic period onwards, we gain a lot from art history; scenes of daily life painted on the walls.  Such grave goods include not only objects used in domestic and everyday activities themselves but also models and statuettes of scenes.  Along with a range of philological material, aspects of everyday life such as agriculture, labor, craft, household and leisure activities and food preparation are represented significantly through archaeological evidence and allow for assessment and interpretation.

Part 1 can be found here


Aldred, C., Egypt to the End of the Old Kingdom (London, 1988), 100-126

Baines, J. and Malek, J., Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt (Oxford, 2000), p.170, 176, 190-200

BritishMuseum, A General Introductory Guide to the Egyptian Collections in the British Museum (London, 1964)

Brunton, G. and Caton-Thompson, G., The Badarian Civilisation and Predynastic Remains Near Badari (London 1928), pp. 2-52

Budge, E.A., The Dwellers of the Nile (Manchester, 1926)

Catalogue of a Collection of Eqyptian Antiquities, The Property of Henry Abbott, ESQ., MD (Cairo, 1846)

Faulkner, R.O., Wente, E.F. and Simpson, W.K., The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions and Poetry, New Edition (London, 1973)

Grajetzki, W., Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt: Life in Death for Rich and Poor (London, 2003), pp.40-41, 59-60, 78-83

Hope, C.A., Gold of the Pharaohs (Sydney, 2000), pp.43, 88-123

Hope, C.A., Egyptian Pottery (Buckinghamshire, 2001), pp.7-15

James, T.G.H., Excavating Egypt: Excavating in Egypt: The Egypt Exploration Society 1882-1982 (London, 1982)

Kemp, B.J., Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation (2nd Edition) (New York, 2006)

Montent, P., Eternal Egypt: The Civilisation of Ancient Egypt from Earliest Times to Conquest by Alexander the Great (London, 1988), pp.79-106

O’Connor, D., Ancient Egyptian Society (Pittsburgh, 1990), pp.7-37

Oakes, L. and Gahlin, L., Ancient Egypt (London, 2006), pp.136-143

Schmandt-Besserat, D., Immortal Egypt (Malibu, 1978)

Schulz, R., and Seidel, M., Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs, pp.82-95, 123-131

Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., The British Museum: Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London, 2003), pp.38-41, 99-100, 163-164

Shaw, I., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford, 2003)

Shorter, A.W., Everyday life in ancient Egypt (London, 1932), pp.38-127

Stewart, H.M., Egyptian Shabtis (Buckinghamshire, 1995), pp.34-42

Tooley, A.M.J., Egyptian Models and Scenes (Buckinghamshire, 1995), pp.8-59

Uphill, E.R., Egyptian Towns and Cities (Buckinghamshire, 2001), pp.21-38, 47-62

Ancient Egyptian Clothing, in K.M.T., Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt, Vol.6, No.4

Baines, J., Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society, in Man, New Series, Vol.18, No.3 (September 1983), pp.572-599

Forbes, D., The Middle Kingdom Tomb Models of Vizier Meketre, in K.M.T., Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt, Vol.6, No.3 (1995)

Kemp, B.J., The City of El-Amarna as a Source for the study of Urban Society in Ancient Egypt, in World Archaeology, Vol.9, No.2, Architecture and Archaeology, (Oct., 1977), pp.123-139

Lovell, N.C., in The SSEA Journal, Vol.21-22 (Canada, 1994), pp.20-36

Lythgoe, A.M., An Exhibit Illustrating the Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol.13, No.12 (Dec., 1918), pp.283-288

McDowell, A., Agricultural Activity by the Workmen of Deir el-Medina, in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol.78, (1992), pp.195-206

Meskell, L., Archaeologies of Life and Death, in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol.103, No, 2 (Apr., 1999), pp.181-199

El-Khouli, A. and Kanawati, N., The Old Kingdom Tombs of El-Hammamiya (Sydney, 1990)

Kanawati, N. and Hassan, A., The Teti Cemetery at Saqqara, Vol.1 – The Tombs of Nedjet-em-pet, Ka-aper and Others (Sydney, 1996)

Saad, Z.Y., The Excavations at Helwan (Oklahoma, 1969), p.39-57, © Trustees of the BritishMuseum

[20] Shorter, A.W., Everyday life in ancient Egypt (London, 1932), p.40

[21] Tooley, A.M.J., Egyptian Models and Scenes (Buckinghamshire, 1995), p.8

[22] Aldred, p.126

[23] Forbes, D., The Middle Kingdom Tomb Models of Vizier Meketre, in K.M.T., Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt, Vol.6, No.3 (1995), p.35 – (The Tomb of Meketre)

[24] The most common of these combination scenes was models of the brewing and baking processes

[25] Tooley, op.cit., p.29

[26] Stewart, H.M., Egyptian Shabtis (Buckinghamshire, 1995), p.37

[27] Schulz, R., and Seidel, M., op.cit., p.129 – ‘to cultivate the fields and irrigate the banks, to ferry over the ‘sand’ (fertilizer) of the east and the west’

[28] Stewart, op.cit., p.36

[29] Lythgoe, op.cit., p.283

[30] Ibid., p.287

[31] Shaw, I., op.cit., p. 39

[32] These grain silos were in the form of a number of round, mud brick features excavated in Buto Layer IV

[33] O’Connor, op.cit., p.15

[34] Lovell, N.C., in The SSEA Journal, Vol.21-22 (Canada, 1994), p.26

[35] ibid., p.31

[36] Kemp, B.J., The City of El-Amarna as a Source for the study of Urban Society in Ancient Egypt, in World Archaeology, Vol.9, No.2, Architecture and Archaeology, (Oct., 1977), p.137

[37] Deir el-Medina (1550-1070BC), located in Upper Egypt on the west bank of modern day Luxor, housed the workers who built the tombs in the Valley of the Kings in much of the New Kingdom period.  There is some debate whether this was a typical community as it was state run but it is still a valuable site for evidence of daily life as it held not only the workmen but their families.  There is also some evidence of agricultural activities, see McDowell, A.,  pp.195-206

[38] Shaw and Nicholson., op.cit., p.82

[39] Ibid., p.34

[40] El-Amarna (1352-1336BC), founded by Akhenaten in the New Kingdom, el-Amarna is one of the best preserved examples of a settlement of Ancient Egypt

[41] Kemp, B.J., The City of El-Amarna as a Source for the study of Urban Society in Ancient Egypt, in World Archaeology, Vol.9, No.2, Architecture and Archaeology, (Oct., 1977), p.133

Part 1 of What Evidence is there for the Daily Lives of the Ancient Egyptians?

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Part 2 can be found here.

We often hear about the kings and queens of Ancient Egypt but what about the lives of the general populace? How can we learn about them? The daily life of the Ancient Egyptians can be assessed by the wide range of archaeological evidence, philological evidence and art history available to us.   Through the use of modern archaeological and chronological dating methods we can gain a better understanding of what daily life entailed in the world of the Ancient Egyptians. 

Evidence of daily life from the early periods is limited, but there is still some available to us.  Grave goods provide a wealth of evidence for daily life as the deceased were buried increasingly over time with personal possessions.  Excavations of burials at Badari for instance have uncovered a variety of artefacts and adornments that were used in everyday life. For example grave 5225 at Badari contained a number of pots that could have been used in the daily life of a household and a cosmetic slate palette.[1]  The pottery and vessels found as grave goods provides us with evidence of the types of crafts and trades that appear in the daily life of the period.

There is also evidence in the form of small figurines and gaming pieces from which we can assess leisure in pre-dynastic daily life.  Such is found in tombs like tomb M.VIII at Abu Roash where a number of lion-shaped playing pieces were uncovered.  Everyday items like these help illustrate the refined lifestyle of the upper class.[2]  We have a vast amount more to assess from in later periods, but as you can see the pottery, grave goods and archaeology of the pre/early-dynastic period does allow for some assessment of daily life.

The vast majority of evidence available for daily life in the early periods comes from burials such as those at Helwan, Saqqara and Abydos, evidence of everyday activities for instance, is seen in the form of copper vessels from the tomb of Idi at Abydos.[3]  Tomb 24 H5 at Helwan also contained alabaster water jugs and pans.[4] A large number of cooking vessels, pots, jars and pans have been excavated from all periods providing us with assessable evidence for domestic activities.

Scene from mid 5th Dynasty from the rock cut tomb of court-singers Nefer and Kahay at Saqqara. Series of scenes common in rural life. Upper register showing construction of papyrus boat, middle registers show cattle rearing and agricultural activities important to maintaining daily life, the lower registers show the baking of bread and the lives of fowlers, and the very bottom register depicts dancing.

From the old kingdom onwards we have increasingly available evidence of the dress and clothing styles in daily life from wall paintings and statuary.  Statuary from the new and middle kingdoms allows for the assessment of daily dress, some showing the long kilts wore by men that reached from the chest or hips to their ankles, and wide cloaks.  These statues also provide us with evidence from which we can assess hairstyles and wigs, showing a range of styles from shoulder length wigs to clean shaven heads.[5]  Daily dress and cosmetics are also examinable from burials from the early dynastic period onward. For instance, jewelry found in cemeteries 5400, 5700 and 5100 at Badari, including necklaces and earrings,[6] and a range of actual styled clothing and cloth making materials as well as what may be interpreted as pieces of looms and cosmetic items and jewelry from Helwan.[7]

From around the beginning of the Old Kingdom significant new forms of evidence starts to dominate and become more available for the assessment of daily life, these are wall paintings and art.  Before this period there are very few examples of tomb wall decoration such as the painting in the Chalcolithic Tomb 100 at Hierakonpolis showing scenes of hunting and domestic activities.[8]  Wall paintings in Old Kingdom chapels often show a range of images in tombs of both officials and lower status individuals like tradesmen, as the afterlife was conceived similarly for all non-royals.[9]

The inclusion of temporal ordering within these tomb paintings also provides us with a timeline of the daily activities.  For instance the agricultural and cattle-rearing year’s activities are shown often in order from the upper register continuing down.[10]  The scenes in old kingdom tombs often portrayed trade and craft activities with the tomb owner supervising them. [11]  In doing so, they provide us with evidence of the daily life of the general population as craftsmen and farmers.  This theme continues well into the New Kingdom with wall decoration such as from the tomb of Menkheperran-sonb at Thebes (Dynasty 18) showing artisans at work.[12]  Employment is a large part of the daily lives of individuals in all communities and these depictions allow this aspect to be further analysed concerning the Ancient Egyptians.

Tomb and chapel scenes provide for much of the basis of assessment of daily life.  This fifth dynasty wall painting from the tomb of Nefer and Kahay is a prime example of the many parts of life depicted (See image above).  Not only does this wall painting show us areas of agricultural life, farming and fowling, but also preparation of food and what could be interpreted as a scene of leisure with dancers.  In certain later periods such as the Amarna Period in the New Kingdom, artistic evidence becomes less useful to the assessment of daily life, as with the reign of Akhenaten, artistic expression was based on the Royal Family.  This allows for a rare view of the daily lives of the Royals, but not of the common people.

Middle Kingdom scenes of everyday activities generally follow the traditional scenes of the Old Kingdom.  Scenes of daily life are found in fragments of reliefs from both Royal and Private tombs and chapels, especially at sites like Beni Hasan which is the location of many privately owned tombs of the Middle Kingdom. Scenes continue in this period to depict hunting and fishing, and food preparation; some scholars believe that these scenes were simply copied from the Old Kingdom prototypes but they still provide us with a foundation from which to assess activities of daily life.[13]

The ‘Satire of Professions’, boasting the profession of scribe, found on a wooden board in the Deir el-Medina, written in hieratic. Example of a text describing the occupations carried out in everyday life.

From the Middle Kingdom we witness a number of literary pieces of evidence for daily life in Ancient Egypt.  One such example of this evidence is the ‘Hekanakhte papers’ (12th dynasty) which are a collection of Middle Kingdom letters providing a detailed explanation of agricultural life in the period.[14]  These letters also provide rare evidence of the literacy skill of Egyptian women as one letter is from a woman to her mother. This provides us with philological evidence from which we can assess the extent of literacy of Egyptian women in daily life.  The shabti spells are another example of this type of evidence providing lists of daily activities which the shabti is to participate in.

The Middle Kingdom saw the introduction of fictional literature such as the ‘Tale of Sinuhe’ and the ‘Tale of the Eloquent Peasant’ that, though from their plots we see that they are fiction they purport to be historical, so provide us with information of daily life and tasks.[15]  For instance, the eloquent peasant provides evidence of trade and its importance to daily life and the use of domestic animals in daily tasks.[16]  The Middle Kingdom ‘Satire on Trades’ is another prime example as it describes aspects of all possible occupations in contrast to the easy life of being a scribe. Towards the beginning of the New Kingdom we also increasingly gain evidence in the form of Ostraka including letters, student writing exercises, such as numerous found at Deir el-Medina, and numerous more fictional texts.

As previously discussed, a vast amount of evidence for daily life in the early periods comes from burials, the same can be observed with all periods as objects of everyday use were placed in the tombs to ensure provisions for the dead, for their lives after death.[17]  After the Early Dynastic Period the amount of grave goods steadily increased.  These artefacts allow for the assessment and interpretation of many parts of daily life, one such example of this is of dress.  The eighteenth dynasty tomb of the architect Kha included piles of well preserved folded tunics and sheets.[18]  Subsidiary graves are also helpful in the interpretation of domestic practices and craft as they contain a more humble population and from these we gain deposits of pottery, domestic containers and implements.[19]  Subsidiary graves often held artisans, and tools uncovered from their graves provide evidence of crafts, for instance, carpentry, pottery production and building. And offerings to the dead give us an idea of the foods eaten.  These pieces of evidence are not only important to assessment of the daily life within the home but also give us examples of the types of crafts and labor being participated in by the general population.

Part 2 can be found here.

[1] Brunton, G. and Caton-Thompson, G., The Badarian Civilisation and Predynastic Remains Near Badari (London 1928), p.9

[2] Schulz, R., and Seidel, M., Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs, p.35 – 1st Dynasty, c.3000BC – many of these items are found in the tombs of the elite from the pre-dynastic times.

[3] Aldred, C., Egypt to the End of the Old Kingdom (London, 1988), p.58 – vessels such as those found in the tomb of Idi and all over Egypt in all periods allow for assessment of domestic tasks and food preparation as well trade due to a number of imported products identified by labels, markings and materials.

[4] Saad, Z.Y., The Excavations at Helwan (Oklahoma, 1969), p.40

[5]Schulz, R., and Seidel, M., op.cit., p.129

[6] Brunton, op.cit., p. XXVII – cemetery sites at Badari and elsewhere also provide a means of assessing social stratigraphy in society with the comparisons of different grave goods and burial types and sizes from the pre-dynastic period onwards.

[7] Saad, Z.Y., op.cit.,  p.49

[8] Kemp, B.J., Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation (2nd Edition) (New York, 2006), p.80 – the domestic, and hunting and gathering scenes are a theme of the tomb 100 wall painting which surround the primary focus on a number of sea-faring vessels which remain open to interpretation

[9] Schulz, R., and Seidel, M., op.cit., p.82

[10] Ibid., p.85

[11] Ibid., p.85 – These scenes appear frequently as it was honourable to be put over such activities as they involved the working of possessions of the royal administration

[12] O’Connor, D., Ancient Egyptian Society (Pittsburgh, 1990), p.17

[13] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., The British Museum: Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London, 2003), p.40

[14] Shaw, I., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford, 2003), p.150 – The majority of these papers were written by the farmer Hekanakhte who left them as instructions for his family while he was absent.

[15] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., op.cit., p.164

[16] British museum website,

[17] Lythgoe, A.M., An Exhibit Illustrating the Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol.13, No.12 (Dec., 1918), p.283

[18] Ancient Egyptian Clothing, in K.M.T., Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt, Vol.6, No.4, p.34 – tomb discovered in the artisan’s cemetery at Deir el-Medina in 1906

[19] Subsidiary graves mostly contained artisans and craftsmen so are more reliable in use to interpret the lives of the common Egyptian population rather than the lives of the Royal families

Julian’s Religious Approach and Resemblance to pre-Constantinian Pagan Practices

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A bronze coin from Antioch depicting the emper...
A bronze coin from Antioch depicting the emperor Julian. Note the pointed beard.

The paganism of the Emperor Julian both resembled and differed from pre-Constantinian pagan religious practices and organisation.  Julian’s paganism to a great extent differed from pre-Constantinian pagan religious practices in relation to organisation. Like Maximin II, Julian attempted to ‘foster’ the virtues he admired and envied in the new faith into his own reformed paganism.  Julian grew up in an environment based on the teachings of Christianity, and his wish to found an essentially ‘pagan church’[1] suggests that this environment and his education influenced his religious reformation.[2]  This influence on Julian’s youth included that of his strictly Galilean mother and her and his tutor Mardonius.  Even though Mardonius is said to have loved Hellenism and taught Julian Homer and Hesiod, he taught Julian in light of the Galilean faith.  Browning asserts that Julian broke completely away from Christianity[3] but Ammianus disagrees with this, suggesting that though Julian had an inclination towards paganism, his Christian background greatly influenced his later interpretations of Pagan beliefs.[4]  Julian kept up the pretence of a Christian until the time of his rise to Augustus and it is unreasonable to think that his Christian conditioning did not influence his later views of religion in some way or another.

Frend assesses that Julian attempted to imitate the ways of the Christian church in terms of structure and organisation.[5] Julian wished to establish a pagan priesthood of high moral standing which was properly organised under regional high priests with authority over lesser priests who all were under himself as pontifex maximus.  Even with the introduction of common ideas such as the grafting of Christian virtues on a pagan base, there was no common religious allegiance which could have held the pagan cults united under Julian.[6]

Many of Julian’s reforms were praised by the Pagan population but they also saw fault in his religious approach and design. The reorganisation of the Pagan priesthood may have been an effective means of establishing a priesthood which rivalled that of the Christian faith but it did not cultivate well in the “old soil”[7] of the Pagan faith. The Emperor Julian was not just content to revive the Pagan faith and cults as they had been before the establishment of Christianity under Constantine.[8]  Downey explains that the pre-Constantinian Pagan priesthood greatly contrasted to the Christian one in terms of its casual nature.  This suggests that the grafting of hierarchy and structure that Julian tries to force on the Pagans would not have sat well as it took over from a traditional and fundamental part of the Pagan format.  This new structure and Christian influence is also a point of contrast between pre-Constantinian Paganism and Julian’s paganism.

The Emperor Julian’s religious approach was rather extreme in the eyes of many of the Pagans of the period.  People regarded Julian’s continual sacrificing as wasteful and ridiculous earning him the titles of ‘bull-burner’ and ‘slaughter’.[9]  Libanius states that on one occasion in Daphne, for instance, Julian sacrificed one thousand white birds, one hundred bulls and four hundred cows to Cybele.[10]  This over the top attitude of Julian in his keenness for animal slaughter was seen, even in the eyes of the pagans, to be in poor taste and creating a blacker reputation of the pagan faith.

Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as...
Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as patron saint of Istanbul, detail: Emperor Constantine I with a model of the city.

Ammianus criticizes that the victims whose blood Julian drenched the altars with were too numerous.[11] The point that even devoutly pagan scholars saw his behaviour as unreasonable indicates that this posed as a problem to them in relation to Julian’s religious reforms and approach.  Cameron assesses that, though Ammianus fails to admit it, Julian’s extremist behaviour essentially alienated his own side when they failed to share in his enthusiasm.[12]  This would have created ill feelings within the pagan population on top of their inhibitions concerning Julian’s approach to sacrifice.

The accounts of scholars such as Libanius, Ammianus and Priscus illustrate that though Julian may have overdone many aspects of pagan worship, his paganism did, to a large extent, resemble pre-Constantinian pagan religious practices in relation to cult worship and sacrifice.  With the introduction and establishment of Christianity, many of the pagan ways were diminished: sacrifice was seen as barbaric, pagan mysteries and rituals were seen as heresy and persecution reigned free. But, as Frend explains, Julian not only restored the lands of the pagans, but also reopened and restored many temples and in doing so the practices and cults that they were associated with.[13]  For instance, Julian revived practices such as the consultation of oracles and the examination of entrails.[14]

Another problem that many, especially educated, pagans had with Julian’s approach to the reestablishment of Paganism was his banning of Christians from teaching Classics.  Julian regarded this edict, created in 362, as the most important edict of his reign.  Pagan scholars such as Priscus disagreed with this approach to enforcing paganism, criticising that a line should not be drawn between the old gods and the Christian god or else all would be absorbed by the general atheism of the period.[15] Cameron asserts that through this approach, Julian annoyed not only the Christians but also the educated Pagans who recognised that at least half the good teachers at the universities were Christians and were vital to the continuation of the Classical teaching on which much of the Pagan ideology was based.[16] It appears that Julian was blind to the overlap between traditional ideas and Christian teachings in relation to the ethical insights that are brought across in the Classics.[17] It made sense in the eyes of Julian that it would have been a disgrace for a Christian to teach and instruct a tradition that they rejected, but Julian fails to see the importance of these traditional ideas throughout both religious ideologies.  Educated pagans may well have had a problem with this part of Julian’s religious approach as it demonstrates his ignorance in relation to the survival of pagan traditional ideologies.

The issues with the structure that Julian planned for paganism also coincided with problems that the pagan population had concerning Julian’s high expectations and desire of control.  This approach to paganism caused issues such as those seen with population of Antioch. Maxwell describes how Julian was disappointed by the Antiochenes lack of enthusiasm for the traditional rituals, complaining that their enthusiasm was not directed at the Gods.[18] An assessment of Julian’s attitude and his reactions indicates that he alienated his own side which caused problems between the pagans and Julian. This alienation is seen in Julian’s constant lecturing of the pagans causing considerable annoyance as his expectations were unrealistic.  Cameron asserts that this problem that the pagans had with Julian’s religious approach was the result of many separate situations that exemplify Julian’s expectations.[19]  One such example of this occurred when Julian was incensed at the lack of preparation by the city when he worshipped at Daphne’s shrine of Apollo and the local pagans demonstrated unwillingness to share in his enthusiasm.

Julian revived many cult rituals and practices from pre-Constantinian times, but Julian’s paganism also publicised many rituals and mysteries that in the pre-Constantinian periods had been primarily private.  Julian’s unrestricted show of previously private rituals indicates that his views of Paganism to an extent differed from previously accepted views.  Bradbury states that the contemporary pagans felt uneasy with Julian’s attempt to “make the gods live again in the public consciousness.”[20]  One such example of this difference is that Julian made the private rituals of Cybele more public.  Ammianus explains that with the vast increase of ceremonial rites, Julian allowed anyone who professed knowledge of divination “whether qualified or not” to attend and consult oracles.[21]  This open attitude of Julian to rituals and mysteries is further criticised by Ammianus, stating that this lack of restriction was without any observance to the prescribed rules.[22]  The uneasiness that was felt by the pagans because of this change in traditional rules and ways created further issues between the pagan population and the emperor Julian.

Julian’s paganism may have differed to pre-Constantinian religious practices but there were also similarities between Julian’s revival of Paganism and pre-Constantine. Julian was not content to just revive pagan cults as they were previously but this did not mean that all aspects of the pre-Constantinian paganism were disregarded in his new design.  Frend assesses that, power was handed back to the “traditional representation of the cities and their gods.”[23] This demonstrates a return to polytheism and the idea of polis heroes and gods that were a major part of pre-Constantinian pagan practices and rituals. Julian desired to return to the Homeric ideals and the mutual obligation between man and the gods, while creating paganism that catered to his religious approach and beliefs.  McKechnie also expresses the idea that, though the changes of Constantine’s conversion were never completely reversed, Julian tried to bring back the polytheistic believes and practices but due to his short reign made limited progress.[24]

Julian also orchestrated a revival of pagan cults, as with his thought to reopen the prophetic springs of the Castalian Fount,[25] in an attempt to preserve the pagan philosophy and practices, as well as to cater for Julian’s personal purposes in relation to the advancing war with Persia.[26] Even though Julian wished to reorganise paganism, he also included similarities to pre-Constantinian paganism including its revival of cult worship.  This meant that traditional local cults flourished, such as the cult of Mithras, the sun god, of which Browning explains Julian himself was an initiate.[27] With the revival of public sacrifices and cults, a feeling of confidence was felt among many pagan intellectuals.  This indicates that to more than a fair extent Julian’s paganism resembled pre-Constantinian paganism in relation to the reestablishment of the pagan cult practices.

Julian appears to show a desire in many ways to promote religious tolerance but it seems that Julian’s religious approach resembled pre-Constantinian practice in the persecution of Christians.  Ammianus tells that Julian preferred to make an example by the punishment of the few to show the many,[28] but analysis of several of the events in his reign suggest that he was not always as tolerance of religious difference as he is often made out to be.  For instance, Julian made a point of blaming the Christians for the burning of the temple of Apollo at Daphne.  Even though it was told that the fire had been caused by a fellow pagan individual accidentally, Julian believed strongly that the fire was set by the Christians as an act of spite.[29]  Julian also replaced a significant amount of Christian high officials with his own fellow pagans, blatantly disregarding the idea of using the best men for the jobs.[30]  This intolerance for the Christian faith indicates that this is one such similarity between pre-Constantinian paganism and Julian’s paganism, even if he desired for it to be thought otherwise.

Polytheism was a major attribute of pre-Constantinian pagan worship.  The pagans worshipped many gods for many separate purposes and occasions.  As previously discussed, Julian did bring about a revival of polytheism, but in comparison to pre-Constantinian ideologies, polytheism took a back seat in Julian’s understanding of the pagan gods.  Julian’s understanding of paganism included a sense of monotheism in relation to the traditional Hellenic background.  Mattingly asserts that while both classical and Julian’s paganism answered the question of the “one and the many,” the classical/pre-Constantinian ideas stressed ‘the many’ while Julian stressed the idea of ‘the one.’[31] Julian from an early time appears to accept Helios as the one god.  It is from Julian’s stressing of Helios as an aspect of the one god that we see that Julian’s paganism was more monotheistic than Classical paganism as it took focus away from the traditional ideologies.  

The points of similarity between the two pagan ideologies appear to be fewer in number than the differences, but an assessment of these points suggests that the points of similarity were of greater importance.  The extent to which the paganism of Julian resembled pre-Constantinian paganism can also be seen in the relation of pagan worship to tradition and economic factors.  Mattingly asserts that pre-Constantinian pagan worship did not solely rest on tradition, but also on economic and personal factors.[32]  These factors continue in Julian’s paganism to an extent as with the revival of sacrificial worship, the old ways of using the meat for economic purposes to stock the meat market. The revival of paganism also triggered an increased interest in household deities and gods of daily life.  Julian may have triggered these factors, but personally he appears to care little for the economic side of paganism and focused on his own obsessive worship and understandings.

To a great extent Julian’s paganism did resemble pre-Constantinian paganism in terms of the foundations of the faith being resurrected.  These included the revival of polytheistic attitudes, cult worship and sacrifices, economic and personal links to paganism and the continuation of religious intolerance.  Julian’s paganism, however, also differed to a significant extent as Julian’s interpretation of aspects of pagan practices and his plans to adapt them revealed contrasts to Classical undertakings and interpretations.  These differences caused uneasiness within much of the pagan population and several criticisms of Julian himself.  Differences consisted of Julian’s plans to create a ‘PaganChurch’, his ban on Christians from teaching Classics, publicisation of private practices, excessive sacrificing and unrealistic expectations on the pagans, and a move towards monotheism.  Problems arose from these factors concerning alienation, reputation, expectations and a concern for the traditional ideologies and their survival.  From these points we see that pagans had some issues with Julian’s paganism as praise of him was mixed with blame, but to the majority, Julian was still their hero.  As Ammianus tells Julian was to be reckoned as a man of “heroic stature, conspicuous for his glorious deeds and his innate majesty.”[33]


Armstrong, A.H., The Way and the Ways: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in the Fourth Century AD, in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol.38, No.1 (March, 1984), pp.1-17

Bradbury, S., Julian’s Pagan Revival and the Decline of Blood Sacrifice in Phoenix, Vol.49, No.4 (Winter, 1995), pp.331-356

Browning, The Emperor Julian (Los Angeles, 1978), pp.109-176

Cameron, A., The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (London, 1993), pp.14-92

Downey, G., Education in the Christian Roman Empire: Christian and Pagan Theories under Constantine and His Successors, in Speculum, Vol.32, No.1 (Jan, 1957), pp.48-61

Downey, G., Julian and Justinian and the Unity of Faith and Culture, in Church History, Vol.28, No.4 (Dec.1959), pp.339-349

Downey, G., Julian the Apostate as Antioch, in Church History, Vol.8, No.4 (Dec., 1939), pp.303-315

Frend, W.H.C. Religion Popular and Unpopular in the Early Christian Centuries (London, 1976)

Frend, W.H.C., The Rise Of Christianity (Philadelphia, 1984), pp.600-610

Gilliard, F.D., Notes on the Coinage of Julian the Apostate, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol.54, Parts 1 and 2, (1964), pp.135-141

Grant, M., The Ancient Historians (London, 1970)

Hazlett, I., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to A.D.600 (London, 1991), pp.9-10, 240-264

Kaegi, W.E., Byzantium and the Decline of Rome (New Jersey, 1968)

Lieu, S.N.C., The Emperor Julia: Panegyric and Ploemic (Second Edition) (Liverpool, 1982)

Mattingly, H., The Later Paganism, in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol.35, No.3, (July, 1942), pp.171-179

Maxwell, J.L., Christianization and Communication in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2006), pp.29-59

McKechnie, P., The First Christian Centuries (Leicester, 2001), pp.238-240

Moore, C.H., The Pagan Reaction in the Late Fourth Century, in Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol.50 (1919), pp.122-134

Taylor, T., Against the Christians: The Arguments of the Emperor Julian Against the Christians as Preserved in the Fragments of the Lost Emperor Translated from the Greek (Chicago, 1930)

Ammianus Macellinus, Res Gestae, 25.3-7, 21.16 (Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire, Penguin Translation

Ephrem Syrus, Hymni Contra Julianum II. 15-22, 27, III.1-17 (Dodgeon, M.H. & Lieu, S.N.C., The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (London, 1994), pp.240-5

Gregory Zazianzenus, Oratio V, Second Invective Against Julian

Libanius, Oration XVII, The Lament over Julian (Libanius, Selected Works Vol 1, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), pp.253-75

[1] Downey, G., Julian and Justinian and the Unity of Faith and Culture, in Church History, Vol.28, No.4 (Dec.1959), p.342

[2] Influence of youth based on Julian’s Galilean mother and the tutor Mardonius creates a Christian influence on his later ideology, even though Mardonius is said to have loved Hellenism and taught Homer and Hesiod, he was a ‘Galilean’ and taught Julian’s strictly Galilean mother and Julian the Christian faith.

[3] Browning, p.109

[4] Ammianus Macellinus, Res Gestae, 25.3-7, 21.16 (Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire, Penguin Translation, p.238 – tells that Julian had an inclination towards pagan practices and gods from a young age but kept up the pretence that he was a Christian for survivals sake.  Julian did not publicly express his paganism until he was emperor, before this he kept the fact within a small circle of pagan friends including Orbanius.

[5] Frend, W.H.C., The Rise Of Christianity (Philadelphia, 1984), p.601 – Frend makes a good comparison as he compares surviving paganism in the 360s to a number of sand castles – some big, some small – but all facing erosion and destruction by the advancing tide

[6] Ibid., p.601

[7] Hazlett, I., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to A.D.600 (London, 1991), p.178

[8] Julian instead wanted to merge the structure of the Christian faith with the old cults and establish a professional priesthood and hierarchical system with a chief priest in each province.

[9] Frend, op.cit., p.606

[10] Libanius. Libanius taught rhetoric in his native city and was by the 360s recognised as one of the most distinguished men of letters in the Greek world

[11] Ammianus, op.cit., p.248 – Julian’s extensive sacrifice made even the pagans uneasy, Ammianus’ criticism as a pagan scholar illustrates this uneasiness

[12] Cameron, A., The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (London, 1993), p.93

The image to the right of the page suggests that Julian’s reputation concerning his excessive sacrificing was remembered well and depicted after his reign, as the manuscript is dated to the ninth century, two hundred years after Julian’s reign.

[13] Frend, op.cit., p.603

[14] Ammianus, op.cit., 249 – Ammianus praises these aspects of revival, but with these praises is an air of criticism as Julian took his paganism to a new level based on his own interpretations

[15] Priscus

[16] Cameron, A., op.cit., p.92

[17] It made sense in the eyes of Julian that it would have been a disgrace for Christians to instruct in a tradition which they rejected, – Frend, op.cit., p.604

[18] Maxwell, J.L., Christianization and Communication in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2006), p.49

[19] Cameron, op.cit., p.92

[20] Bradbury, S., Julian’s Pagan Revival and the Decline of Blood Sacrifice in Phoenix, Vol.49, No.4 (Winter, 1995), p.331

[21] Ammianus, op.cit., p.249 –Ammianus does praise Julian but as Grant points out, this praise was mixed with words of blame – Grant, M., The Ancient Historians (London, 1970), p.374

[22] Ibid., p.249

[23] Frend, op.cit., p.602

[24] McKechnie, P., The First Christian Centuries (Leicester, 2001), p.239

[25] Ammianus, op.cit., p.249 – this was not only in relation to reviving old pagan ways but also a preparation by Julian for the war with Persia as a new mode of inquiry about the outcome and campaign.  The springs of the Castalian Fount are said to have been blocked up by Julius Caesar who received the prophecy from them that he would be Emperor and wished for no other to receive the same prophecy.

[26]Downey, op.cit., p.342

[27] Browning, p.138

[28] Ammianus, op.cit, p.297

[29] Ibid., p.249

[30] This act of Julian can be understood though through the idea that the Christians were Constantius men and that their loyalty may remain to the Christian emperor even after his demise

[31] Mattingly, H., The Later Paganism, in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol.35, No.3, (July, 1942), p.172

[32] Ibid., p.178

[33] Ammianus, op.cit, p.295

Why I Blog about Archaeology

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So Doug’s Archaeology Page is asking archaeology bloggers monthly questions and thus here is my answer. This month the question is why blogging? Why did you start a blog? Why are you still blogging? Doug, author of the blog Doug’s Archaeology, will be hosting a blogging carnival on the subject of archaeology and blogging in the lead-up to next year’s Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conference.

Why did I start blogging about Archaeology?

I started this blog at the end of 2011 as a way to escape the monotony of PhD writing and as a means of productive procrastination. It started as a way to simply continue my love of research into ancient history and archaeology while the rest of my life was dedicated to one subject but it developed significantly over time.

Also simply I love archaeology!

Antiochia ad Cragum Bathhouse Mosaic at the site I have been digging at for the past two years.

Why did I continue to blog about archaeology?

As I continued my PhD and my archaeological digs and started to teach students at my university and in the field, I realised just how much university doesn’t actually teach you about archaeology; and just how little people know about the subject even if they have watched every available episode of Time Team. The significance of archaeology, the tools, the enthusiasm behind it, the practice versus the theory, the hard work and dedication, the thrill and exhaustion.

There is a highly romanticised view of archaeology that I see in the eyes of students even on the first day of a dig which can lead to a lot of disappointment for them. We are not Indiana Jones, nor are we perfectionists with tiny tools. Blogging became a way of giving people who were interested a non romaticised view and show them that despite the lack of whips and Nazis it can be just as exciting for different reasons.

Ness of Brodgar dig site where I was in Scotland in 2011.
Ness of Brodgar dig site where I was in Scotland in 2011.

Academia has also revealed that there is unfortunately a rather snobbish air in the industry. All to often I see academics and students hold their knowledge to their chests and hiss at anyone who comes near it, there is that sense of competition which is seen far too often. Fortunately my professors are not like that but I certainly understand why students are terrified of asking questions some times.

The reason I wanted to go into academia was to spread knowledge, not just engage in my own interests but develop the interests of others, to teach and encourage students to learn and question, analyse and compare. While one can do that through universities, there are all those people outside the institutions and departments who do have an interest in this field but do not have the resources to develop it. So I continue this blog also for them to give them the resources and dispel some of the myths, to move away from the dramatised rubbish now often on TV.

Over the past year and a half of blogging I have also met and developed friendships with a number of interesting and excellent people. Networking in archaeology has never been so effective. It has been wonderful to hear their stories, help them and for them to help me.

So I blog for myself: To continue my interest, as productive procrastination

I blog for students: To answer questions that they are scared to or haven’t thought to ask

I blog for the wider audience: To spread the knowledge and give them resources

I hope I have been able to do some of these things and always appreciate your comments and feedback. 🙂

The Translation of Hieroglyphs since the Roman Period

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The slab stela of the Old Kingdom Egyptian princess Neferetiabet (dated c. 2590–2565 BC), from her tomb at Giza, with hieroglyphs carved and painted on limestone.

Egyptian hieroglyphics have always been seen as a mysterious and exotic area that has captured the interest of society from the Roman occupation of Egypt, right down to the present day.  Though they have always been a subject of interest, people’s understandings of this ancient script have been forever influenced by aspects that limited their understanding for hundreds of years.  This postlooks into those influences passed down from generation to generation of scholars and within normal society, from the days of the Roman tourists in Egypt, where Egyptian guides purposely gave the Romans misinformation and the interpretation of hieroglyphs was mistaken by the Roman views. Through the renaissance and classical periods, scholars were still influenced by early writings and the society, in which they themselves lived, right down to the eighteen hundreds, until one man, Champollion, decided to take a different view after being introduced to other ideas. But before this sudden change, he, like hundreds of others was unable to accept any other possibilities.  These early influences included the effects of Hor-Apollo’s writings, Kircher and Young, plus many others.  There are however some historians who don’t believe these writings were major influence.

The understanding of hieroglyphs, has like the majority of areas in society, been partial to the past writings on the subject.  Writers and in this case translators, can not help but be influenced by their own beliefs and understandings of the past.  J.B Bury assesses that writings are influences by the writer’s background.  R.M Crawford agrees, evaluating that there are always influences from training, from teacher to student, to teacher to student, down the generations.  It is evident that the translations of hieroglyphs have been effected by this transition of beliefs down the ages.  Therefore, the misinterpretations were also passed on, creating an obstacle that future generations were unable to avoid in their own interpretations.

The writings associated with the translations of hieroglyphs have greatly influenced the general interpretation of their meanings even in the Roman times.  Hilary Wilson demonstrates  in her book ‘Understanding Hieroglyphs’ that the writings of early translators influenced the understanding of the script until the nineteenth century AD.  Robinson, author of ‘The Story of Writing’, evaluates that the understanding of the Romans was misguided by an Egyptian priest by the name of Hor-Apollo.  Wilson asserts that Hor-Apollo wrote a book in Coptic which had a dramatic effect on the study of Hieroglyphs for many hundreds of years.  Hor-Apollo’s work insisted that each sign had a single pictorial or symbolic meaning, this makes it clear that he completely misunderstood the writing system used by his ancestors.  Unfortunately, because it was considered to have been written by someone informed, Hor-Apollo’s work was used as a guide for all future students of hieroglyphs.

Though the translations of Hor-Apollo were meant to be correct and did not intentionally lead people into thinking incorrectly, there were other influences on the Roman understanding of hieroglyphs that were purposely trying to lead them astray.  Pierre Montet asserts that under the Greek and Roman occupations, it gave the Egyptian community great satisfaction to mislead their foreign masters.  They did this by concocting unintelligible documents, of which the foreigners could make nothing.  Perrottet explains that because of this misinformation; it was misguidedly thought that hieroglyphs were only magical riddles, enchantments and spells.  Perrottet however disagrees with Hor-Apollo being the original major source of the misinterpretation.  He assesses that the Roman tourists were misled by spell books supposedly written ten thousand years earlier by Hermes Trismegistus.  These writings however were nothing more than items to entice tourist.

Hoijer is one of a group of historians who believe differently.  Hoijer evaluates that the Romans were not influenced by the writings and misinterpretations of others, but by the fact that like the majority of historians and society, they viewed the land and its culture through the distorted prism of their own culture.  Due to this, we can evaluate that as a result they misinterpreted almost everything.  Parkinson agrees with the point relating to culture, but also attributes the misinterpretation to the before-mentioned points concerning historians in the ancient world fueling the beliefs of the Romans, mentioning that the Egyptians also contributed to this, by fueling the disinformation.  The majority of translations supplied to the Roman tourists in the occupation of Egypt were catering for the tourist industry, showing that the first explanations of hieroglyphs were made to cater for needs of the ‘writers’.

Ostracon of ‘The Tale of Sinuhe’: a limestone ostracon with the concluding stanzas of ‘The Tale of Sinuhe’ written on one side in eight lines of hieratic (the other side is blank). Verse-points in red ink mark the ends of metrical verses.

This is an element of historical writing that can not be avoided, as assessed by J.B. Bury.  With the Roman’s great depth of superstition and with nobody to contradict the Egyptian guides’ explanations; they had no reason to doubt what they were being told. This concept is explained by Carl L Becker, that we write history according to own present purposes, desires, prepossessions and prejudices.  These influences corrupted the understanding of the Romans and the future understandings of the hieroglyphic script.

The understanding of the Romans set groundwork for classical writers, along with the influence of ancient writers.  Robinson outlines that with the renaissance, the revival of classical learning, came with a revival of the Roman belief in Egyptian hieroglyphic wisdom.  Due to this revival, renaissance writers continued to write and translate hieroglyphs to the standards set out by the Roman beliefs.  This led to the first book, written in the sixteenth century by Pierius Valerianus, on hieroglyphs, being basically fictitious.  This is because Valerianus took a narrow-minded view in his translations, taking his cue directly from Hor-Apollo’s incorrect translations and not even attempting to look at them in any other way.  Though, I must add even in the sixteenth century, they could be seen as obviously flawed as they accounted for little in the actual translations of texts.  Valerianus’ writings are in direct contradiction to Hoijer’s idea that the writers are influenced only by their beliefs.  This is evident because it was Roman influence that renaissance writers based their works on, if Hoijer was correct then Valerianus’ work would not have taken much, if any cue from Hor-Apollo, but more from his own culture and teachings.  This point is also conveyed by Sacks, who demonstrates the limitations of the sixteenth century interpretations.  Sacks assesses that because the translations of text were flawed and made no logical sense, classical scholars continued to believe long after the time of the Romans, that hieroglyphs were nothing more than riddles and enchantments.

Scholars and philosophers continued to attempt to translate the hieroglyphs as they believed they would find ancient wisdom and long-forgotten truths.  Wilson assesses that spiritual and religious scholars wished to find confirmation of biblical stories and some proof of the existence of figures such as Abraham, Joseph and Moses.  This is another example of how the writing of history affected the understandings of hieroglyphs.  In this case, the religious scholars were taking their experience of the Bible and religious areas, and trying to link it to the translation of the hieroglyphs.  This was mainly because of the writings in the Bible illustrating the land and culture of the Egyptians, so they alleged that the Bible would be confirmed by the ancient script.  Wilson is therefore acknowledging that the understandings were based on both ideas of influence: the writers and the cultures and experiences of society and individuals.

In the late seventeenth century, the Coptic language was revived and would later be essential in the deciphering of the hieroglyphs.  But scholars were still under the impression that the writing of Hor-Apollo and Valerianus held the key to translating the hieroglyphs.  In the renaissance, scholars were interested in Egypt and were anxious to discover the meaning of the hieroglyphic writing.  The Jesuit, Kircher, was the best known of these pioneers. Kircher outlined that Egyptian hieroglyphics for the most part, only expressed ideas, rather than sounds and ideas.  Due to this misinterpretation, Champollion was still possessed by this idea in the nineteenth century. In the mid seventeenth century, Athanasius translated a cartouche for a priest and came out with a long rambling paragraph, however the cartouche really only read the name ‘Psamtik’ spelt phonetically. This mistake is an example of how the ideas and experiences of others have caused a distortion in finding the truth and what is thought of as the truth.

Robinson evaluates that it was only later that the enlightenment made by the revival of the Coptic language brought about questions of the classical views of the hieroglyphs.  Though the views did start to be questioned by the few, the original views were still held by the majority.  It was the few who made progress towards the actual deciphering of the hieroglyphics.  This shows progress could only be made by those who took a more impartial view over their work.  As in the writing of history, scholars cannot create a reasonable view of the truth without looking at all the evidence; the academics on the path to decipherment had to do the same to find progress to a true understanding.  For instance, Barthélemy discovered that the cartouches contained the names of pharaohs only by looking outside society’s understandings and beliefs drawn from Hor-Apollo’s writings.  However it was Zoëga who finally commented that some hieroglyphs might be phonetic signs.  This was only because, unlike other academics, Zoëga thought more on his own terms, rather than further illustrating the writings of others, this independence of thought further contradicts the idea that it was only culture and experience that led to a misguided understanding.

Napoleon Bonaparte played a large role leading up to decipherment.  When he traveled to Egypt he took with him a large number of scholars.  These scholars studied and measured every site and every visible monument, finally publishing their findings in ‘La Description de l’Egypt’.  However the influence of past work in the decipherment of hieroglyphs prevented them from deciphering the elements they studied.  Scholars in the case of the Rosetta stone immediately concluded that the inscription was wholly non-phonetic, its symbols expressing ideas in the manner of Hor-Apollo.  This demonstrates that even in the early eighteen hundreds, scholars were bound by the words of Hor-Apollo.

In the mid-seventeenth century, certain European scholars theorized that Egyptian hieroglyphs were the source of inspiration for the ancient Hebrew letters.  This was because of their need to find a source for their own studies and a desire to inflate the importance of these studies by linking them to the ever mysterious hieroglyphs.  The wants and needs of these scholars show that in research and writing of history and historical elements, writers write for their own needs and desires, rather than looking at the full picture.  This reiterates Crawford’s explanation for writing history.  There was no real evidence that backed up their theory, but only small insignificant links that could have applied to a large number of scripts.  Therefore, the decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1823 didn’t agree with their theory, for the two scripts were shown to work on completely different principles.  None the less, the scholars were convinced for some time that their theory was correct because they were influenced by the mysterious and fantastic mystery behind the hieroglyphs, again showing that ideas of understanding are influenced by both writings and experiences.

Parkinson outlines that, in the decipherment efforts in the early nineteenth century, it was seen that there was a difference between the hieroglyphic and the Egyptian Demotic writings found on the Rosetta stone.  With the weight of the renaissance tradition concerning Egyptian hieroglyphs, scholars were convinced that the invisible principles of operation of the two scripts were completely different.  This, however, was later proven untrue, but the scholars could not see past the understandings of yesteryear.  It was Thomas Young who first noted what he called a ‘striking resemblance’ between some demotic symbols and the ‘corresponding hieroglyphs’, he noted that ‘none of these characters could be reconciled, without inconceivable violence, to the forms of any imaginable alphabet’.  Young put a step forward in right direction but came unstuck as the spell of Hor-Apollo’s writings was too strong.  The influence of the early work of Hor-Apollo and Young’s experience and teachings, made Young unable to accept anything but that all hieroglyphs (apart from foreign names) were non-phonetic.

Even Jean-Francois Champollion, the final decipherer of the hieroglyphic script, at first continued to believe that the hieroglyphs were entirely non-phonetic.  Champollion was not only influenced by Hor-Apollo and other past historians and translators, but also by the scholars of his own time.  He was mostly influenced by Young’s work.  Unlike Young, Champollion had an originality and rigour, which was based on a knowledge of Egypt and its languages far superior to his predecessors.  This was a key component in translating the hieroglyphs, as it allowed Champollion to look at a far bigger picture, yet he was still caught in the webs of disinformation from the past.  Robinson outlines that the early efforts of Champollion in 1822 were based on the premise that non-Egyptian names and words in both demotic and hieroglyphic were spelt alphabetically.

Champollion did not expect that this decipherment would apply to the entire hieroglyphic system.  The idea dating back from the classical times, that hieroglyphics for the most part only expressed ideas, rather than sounds and ideas, still possessed Champollion’s mind.  Champollion was also greatly possessed by the work of Kircher, therefore his progress was impaired because he did not want to even think of challenging the work of these writers who were said to be educated in the true values of the hieroglyphs, though this was not true.

Adkins evaluates that Champollion, though for unknown reasons, later changed his mind about the phonetic issues with hieroglyphs, this was most likely due to yet another outside influence.  A French scholar of the Chinese language suggested that there were phonetic elements even in the indigenous spellings of the Chinese script with its thousands of characters.  This outside influence, though not directed at hieroglyphics, could have made Champollion wonder whether the same philosophy could be assumed for deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Champollion also realized that among the one thousand four hundred and nineteen signs in hieroglyphs on the Rosetta stone it contained only sixty-six different signs.  Through his understanding of languages and his experience and teachings of them, Champollion grasped an understanding of hieroglyphs never before realized.  His experience told him that if the signs were truly and only semantic symbols, there would logically expected to be more than sixty six signs on the Rosetta stone, each one representing a different word as they would have been logograms.  It was only through Champollion’s change of mind that we today understand the true nature of hieroglyphics, that the writing system is a mixture of semantic symbols, phonetic signs, phonograms and pictograms.

The understanding of the Egyptian hieroglyphs has been influenced greatly by misguided writings and explanations.  It is only through evaluation of these influences that we can grasp an idea of how the writings have influenced and changed that understanding.  Though scholars have varying views on these influences, whether they believe that understanding was based on writings, culture and experiences, or solely on culture and distorted views, we see that understanding has indeed changed throughout time.  It has evolved from a misguided, narrow-minded view, to one only achieved by people thinking outside society’s understandings.


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