The Historical Background to Zombie Mythology

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I have been watching the TV show The Walking Dead, excellent by the way, and I came to wonder the specific historical background behind the Zombie character. It is fairly well known that there are origin stories in the traditions of South America but as a Graeco-Roman historian I wondered also about European origins.

Zombie comes from the Haitian Creole ‘zonbi’ or the North Mbundu ‘nzumbe’ expressing the idea of an animated corpse being brought back to life. However, originally it was used in the metaphoric sense to describe someone bereft of consciousness. West African Vodun tenets explain that a corpse can be reanimated by a sorcerer to whom they remain in control with no personal will. Funnily enough there is also the idea of a zombie astral where these animated beings are kept in bottles to sell for luck quite like the idea of a genie. South Africa also has the idea of zombies where some places believed that one can be created by a child through the use of the right words of power. The Tibetans have the idea of a Ro-Langs meaning literally a corpse that rises up created by a spirit or magician which cannot bend at the joints. The Chinese interestingly also have the idea of the Kiangshi which was known as a ‘hopping’ vampire or zombie.

Let us now look into Greek mythology; the idea of the undead becomes more varied throughout time and locations, in the case of Greece the closest we get are probably the Keres who were female death-spirits. They were the daughters of Nyx, sisters of fate, death and sleep among others. While in contrast to other ideas of zombies, the Keres were wilful creatures, they express the similar and time long idea of the dark and frightening side of death and the end of humanity which is personified throughout history and literature. For instance, the dead rising from their graves in Revelations. The Keres had that thirst for flesh and blood that we see in popular fiction, brought death with an association with Cerberus and are mentioned throughout Greek literature including: Homer’s Iliad IX.410ff and the Odyssey XII.158. Additionally the Keres had connection to battles as deities of war choosing those who shall meet their doom. Some have chosen because of this to compare them to Valkyries but where as Valkyries are benevolent, Keres are definitely depicted as malevolent and this idea is where the Keres get their name from; Keres ‘choice’.

In Roman mythology we see the Lemures who again were spirits of the malignant dead personified in the likes of Horace and Ovid’s Fasti. Again though the Lemures are willful creatures, rather than the will-less undead of the Haitian and African traditions, being vengeful. They were believed to be created when an individual was not afforded a proper burial or mourned by the living or given tomb offerings. Additionally though Ovid expresses them as ancestral gods or spirits of the underworld.

The Norse traditions have the Draugr who shares many traits of the modern fictional character. They were literally ‘ones who walks after death’ or spirits that inhabited the graves of the dead and animated the bodies. Like in much of popular culture they carry the stench of decay and retain only some sense of intelligence only in the suffering that they cause, devouring the flesh of the living and being immune to weapons. Strangely though the Norse believed that Draugr could increase their size at will and had superhuman strength and some maintain more intelligence with magical abilities. Examples of binding spells have been found on Norse Runestones to keep the dead in their graves.

There are many other examples of similar ideologies and traditions relating to both the Zombie and Vampire myths, often overlapping. In fact there are far too many to list and discuss here. But it is always interesting to explore origin stories in order to understand the human side in the supernatural; the natural and evolved fears and dreads embedded in the Human psyche that have exhibited themselves in similar but varying ways throughout the world.


Introductions to Egyptian Funerary Mythology: The Book of the Dead

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What was the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony and why was it considered important

The ‘Opening of the Mouth’ was the final ceremony in front of the portrait statue in accordance with the Book of the Dead Chapter 23 (formula for opening the deceased’s mouth for him in the necropolis).  The deceased’s head orifices were symbolically reopened by a priest. Adams explains that the ceremony was based on the legend of Osiris when it was first performed by Horus (Adams (1998): 20).  This is mirrored in early times when the son performed his father’s ceremony symbolizing inheritance which was an important aspect of Egyptian society.   The ceremony was essentially to restore the powers of sight, hearing and speech, to restore life.  Adams asserts that the Egyptians loved life and this was an insurance of eternal life/rebirth (Adams (1998): 20).  David explains that the ceremony was performed on objects in the tomb to ensure that they would “come to life for eternity” (David (2002): 33) for the use of the deceased.  The main importance of the ceremony was that it gave the deceased eternal existence through restoration, the idea and desire for immortality being of great importance to the Egyptians.

What role did the heart play in ideas about the afterlife?

David explains that the heart was considered the “seat of the mind and emotion” (David (2002): 31) and was the most important part of the body.  The heart was an essential tool in the judgement of the deceased, during which it would be weighed on a balance against the feather of Ma’at (truth).  The heart was instructed not to condemn the deceased (Book of the Dead, Chapter 30B – Formula for not letting the heart of the deceased oppose him in the necropolis).  The papyrus of Ani illustrates the final judgement, it shows the mythical figures of the divine judges along the top and the judgement of the heart against the feather below.  We see the figure of Anubis (guardian of the scales) weighing the heart overlooked by Thoth as the baboon and Thoth as the ibis-headed man recording the proceedings.  Ammit the devourer waits to devour the deceased if judged untrue and the three fates stand to the left who provide the deceased’s testimony.  The man-headed bird is Ani’s ba awaiting his fate.  The only two real figures are Ani and Tutu bowing to the gods.

What is the role of Osiris in the mythical events associated with judgement? Why is the deceased called ‘Osiris’?

Assmann explains that in Egyptian myth Osiris as the master of righteousness overlooked the judgement (weighing of the heart) of the deceased (Assmann: 149).  If the deceased was judged guiltless the soul of the dead was thought to be subject to one last judgement by Osiris to determine whether they were worthy of eternal life.  The deceased was called Osiris but this did not mean that he actually became Osiris.  It rather meant that he had taken on the role of the “victor over death” (David (2002): 159) that Osiris originally became.  An assessment of this relation to Osiris suggests that moral righteousness and worship of Osiris were important factors in ensuring the deceased “access to eternity” (David (2002): 159). It was the wish of the deceased to identify his fate with Osiris’, as displayed in Chapter 43 of the Book of the Dead (Book of the Dead Chapter 43 – Formula for not letting the head of the deceased be cut off in the necropolis).

What are the main concerns of the deceased in the ‘Declaration of Innocence’ from Chapter 125? What do these tell us about Egyptian ideas of Morality?

One of the main concerns of the deceased is that he has not done ill to the gods.  This is seen in the large number of references to the sins against the gods, for example “I have not blasphemed a god”, “I have not done what the god abhors” (Book of the Dead Chapter 125 – The Judgement of the Dead, the Declaration of Innocence).  Also the other main concerns such as doing ill to people and stealing are related to the gods in reference offerings and stealing from temples.  The concern of the deceased is that he has not cheated either man or god and is therefore pure.  In Egypt the gods were the force of universal order, and evil was a force of disorder.  The concerns of the deceased in relation to the gods show morality ideas were based around maintaining order provided by the gods by not doing evil to them or the earth that they influenced (Bains: 164).  Concerns in the declaration also include treating people equally showing another important moral idea.


Adams, B., Egyptian Mummies (Pembrokeshire, 1998), pp.20-22

Allen, J. P., Genesis in Egypt (Connecticut, 1988), pp.8-12

Allen, J. P., Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt (Connecticut, 1989), pp.137-143

Assmann, J., The Search for God in Ancient Egypt (London), pp.145-149

Baines, J., Religion in Ancient Egypt (Ithaca), pp.160-164

Book of the Dead, Chapters 23, 30B, 43, 59, 105 &125

David, R., Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt (London, 2002), pp.30-33, 121-124, 158 & 159

Grajetzki, Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt (Norfolk, 2004), pp. 27, 45 & 78

Roberts, J.M., Ancient History, From The First Civilisations To The Renaissance, (London, 2004), pp. 102-133

Pliny and Trajan on the Judgment of Christians by the Roman State

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Pliny the Younger’s question in his letter from Book X 96-97 is centrally what is considered punishable? This suggests that what crime is actually something that eludes Pliny.  He has several ideas with associated questions which he presents to Trajan but his personal opinions appear obscured. Pliny states that he does ‘not know what offenses it is practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent.’[1] He examines the nature by which he himself has punished Christians and determines that he has more questions than answers for ‘What Crime were the Christians guilty of?’ For one thing though Pliny says he has no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.[2]  But is this the answer? In Pliny’s opinion, were the Christians simply guilty of stubbornness and obstinacy and was this enough of a crime to warrant persecution?

English: Denarius featuring emperor Trajan
English: Denarius featuring emperor Trajan

Pliny however does not appear to believe that Christians constituted a threat to the security of the state as ‘he found nothing more than a malignant and immoderate superstition’,[3] which he does not consider to be a crime.  Pliny’s enquiries suggest that the Christians were plainly guilty of being Christians.  But, in his opinion the Christians bind themselves by oath and not to some crime.[4] Pliny asks ‘Whether it is the name itself…or only the offenses associated with the name that is to be punished.’[5] Which cements Pliny’s perplexity as to what type of punishment should be inflicted if their crime is only the name they bear.

The first thing that comes to mind in reading Trajan’s reply is that Trajan’s view on the treatment of Christians appears rather different to many throughout subsequent periods.  It almost appears to be a case of innocent until proven guilty; stating that denouncing others is a sort of thing that is a dangerous type of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of the age.[6] Trajan’s reply has been determined problematic by scholars.  Firstly, it does not answer all of the questions that Pliny prescribes and only assures Pliny that his actions are correct. Secondly, there is no reference to Pliny’s question regarding distinctions on the basis of age.  These suggest that persecution of Christians is already quite common; is Trajan simply following established precedents?

In relation to the subsequent treatment of Christians, Trajan’s reply also brings up a number of other questions.  For instance; does this treatment of Christians apply only to problems in Pontus, or is it a kind of general edict? This idea of a general edict has been discussed by a number of scholars.[7]  But there is no evidence of such an enactment.  Is Keresztes right, and presupposed here is an edict previously propagated by Nero?[8]  Trajan states that it is not possible to lay down any general rule.[9]  This is indicative that there is no general edict proscribing Christians.

In examining Trajan’s Rescript it seems that the state and imperial rule were not convinced that Christianity posed a political threat and they had no intention of indiscriminate application of anti-Christian legislation going unchecked.[10]  This appears almost tolerant of Christianity, an idea which would become more pronounced in subsequent dealings.  However, Trajan appears anxious not to upset public opinion by vetoing the right to take the Christians to trial.[11]

The Imperial cult is very relevant to the situation, as the centre of upholding a unified empire, which the Christians and their faith detracted from.[12]  There was also conflict as an oath to the Emperor constituted the basis of business transactions within the empire.  This was an issue to the Christians and the other involved parties as how could they accept in good faith? Eusebius states that during the period there was no open persecution but partial attacks in various provinces… notably…establishment of the imperial cult had taken two centuries in which time the Graeco-Roman world had become more unified in a common loyalty to the imperial idea.  Frend assesses that in becoming so it stood increasingly on its guard against rival ideology.[13]  This is relevant as a basis for persecution of the Christians in Pontus-Bithynia.[14]

The idea that the Christians were persecuted by name alone is viable, as to be associated with Christianity was itself a crime because Christians were seen as the culprits who brought divine retribution through their rejection of traditional forms of religion such as the imperial cult.  Sardi puts it, the Pax Decorum had been undermined and the pagan masses demanded some decisive action on the part of the state in order to restore it.[15]  The imperial cult is also very relevant to the situation based on Pliny’s location.[16]  With a centre of the imperial ideals so close, Christians were seen as potential dangers.

Christianity can also be seen as a threat to imperial rulership with the imposing idea of a Lord God, bringing up questions regarding ‘Lord Caesar vs Lord Christ’.[17]  More specifically it is relevant in the line of questioning that Pliny takes as to why the Christians are being persecuted, is it due to name alone? Does this wider idea of a threat to the traditional by association constitute a crime by the individual?


Dundas, G.S., Pharaoh, Basileus and Imperator: The Roman Imperial Cult in Egypt (Michigan, 1993)

Fishwick, D., The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire (New York, 1987), pp.97-149

Frend, W.H.C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1967), pp. 155-172, 461-466

Hazlett, I., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD 600 (Nashville, 1991), pp.52-64

Keresztes, P., The Imperial Roman Government and the Christian Church, I: From Nero to the Severi, in ANRW II 23.1, pp.247-315

Lane Fox, R., The Spread of Christianity: Pagans and Christians (Canada, 2006), pp.428

Macmullen, R., and Lane, E.N., Paganism and Christianity 100-425CE: A Sourcebook (Minneapolis, 1992), pp.74-78

Macmullen, R., Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100-400) (London, 1984), pp.25-42, 132-138

Momigliano, A., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963), pp.17-37

Pliny, Letters, Book X, 96-97 (Trans. Melmoth, W., Harvard Classics Series, reproduced from: Internet Medieval Source-Book, ed. P.Halsall [])

Sherwin White, A.N., The Letters of Pliny: A Historical and Social Commentary (Oxford, 1966)

Sordi, M., The Christians and the Roman Empire (London, 1986), pp.57-60

Wilken, R., Pliny: A Roman Gentleman, in idem., The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven, 1984), pp.1-30

[1] Pliny, Letters, Book X, 96-97 (Trans. Melmoth, W., Harvard Classics Series, reproduced from: Internet Medieval Source-Book, ed. P.Halsall []), 96

[2] Ibid., 96

[3] Ibid., 96

[4] Ibid., 96 – …not to commit fraud or adultery or the falsifying of trust

[5] Ibid., 96

[6] Ibid., 97 – Trajan’s reply to Pliny

[7] Keresztes, P., The Imperial Roman Government and the Christian Church, I: From Nero to the Severi, in ANRW II 23.1, p.279

[8] Keresztes, op.cit., p.279

[9] Pliny, op.cit., 97

[10] Sordi, M., The Christians and the Roman Empire (London, 1986)., p.58

[11] Ibid., p.58

[12] Lane Fox, R., The Spread of Christianity: Pagans and Christians (Canada, 2006), p.428

[13] Frend, W.H.C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1967), p.156

[14] Ibid., p.162 – The area at the time had fallen into serious financial and administrative difficulties and these difficulties were blamed on the Christians and their contention to the imperial cult so causing chaos rather than the unity which the imperial powers had set out to encourage.  This idea is seen elsewhere in the empire, for instance Christians were blamed for natural disasters such as the famine of 92/93 in Pisidion Antioch.

[15] Sordi, M., op.cit., p.57

[16] Frend, W.H.C., op.cit., p.164 – Amastris in the eastern part of the province where Pliny appears to have come across the majority of the Christians after passing Amisus also was where the provincial council and priest of the imperial cult were situated. 

[17] Ibid., p.155

Female Heroism in Ancient Greek Literature

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In order to evaluate to what extent there is a concept of ‘female heroism’ in ancient Greek literature it is necessary to look at female literary figures in ancient Greece and their qualities. There are several definitions of a heroine that provide us with a basis from which to evaluate the concept of ‘female heroism’.  Lyons asserts that a heroine is a “heroized female personage or recipient of heroic honours.” This definition is in some ways similar to definitions of male heroes yet female heroic figures in literature were very rarely seen in the same light. Even in the Oxford English Dictionary does it describe heroines as being, in ancient mythology, a female intermediate between a woman and a goddess; a demi goddess who has cult paid to them and are worshipped, a woman distinguished by courage, fortitude or noble achievements; “the chief female character in a poem, play or story”; the woman in whom the interest of the piece is centred.  Definitions of male heroism however include, “a great warrior”, “a man of superhuman qualities”… CLICK BELOW TO READ ON…

Female Heroism in Ancient Greek Literature.

Odysseus and Nausicaa

Documentaries for December

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Often during the holiday season I get rather bored so have a tendency to watch large numbers of documentaries. As many of you are also documentary buffs here are some for the month. Enjoy.

BBC – Treasures of the Lourve

Paris-based writer Andrew Hussey travels through the glorious art and surprising history of an extraordinary French institution to show that the story of the Louvre is the story of France. As well as exploring the masterpieces of painters such as Veronese, Rubens, David, Chardin, Gericault and Delacroix, he examines the changing face of the Louvre itself through its architecture and design. Medieval fortress, Renaissance palace, luxurious home to kings, emperors and more recently civil servants, today it attracts eight million visitors a year. The documentary also reflects the very latest transformation of the Louvre – the museum’s recently-opened Islamic Gallery.

The Search for the Crystal Skulls

From the Nazis’ search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon’s mines – this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

Note this link may not be available outside Australasia.

A History of Art in Three Colours – Gold

For the very first civilisations and also our own, the yellow lustre of gold is the most alluring and intoxicating colour of all. From the midst of pre-history to a bunker deep beneath the Bank of England, Dr James Fox reveals how golden treasures made across the ages reflect everything we have held as sacred.

A History of Art in Three Colours – Blue

Dr James Fox explores how, in the hands of artists, the colours gold, blue and white have stirred our emotions, changed the way we behave and even altered the course of history.

When, in the Middle Ages, the precious blue stone lapis lazuli arrived in Europe from the East, blue became the most exotic and mysterious of colours. And it was artists who used it to offer us tantalising glimpses of other worlds beyond our own.

A History of Art in Three Colours – White, Part 1

In the Age of Reason, it was the rediscovery of the white columns and marbles of antiquity that made white the most virtuous of colours. For the flamboyant JJ Wickelmann and the British genius Josiah Wedgewood, white embodied all the Enlightenment values of justice, equality and reason.

Pompeii: The Mystery Of People Frozen In Time

n a one off landmark drama documentary for BBC One, Dr Margaret Mountford presents Pompeii: The Mystery Of The People Frozen In Time.

The city of Pompeii uniquely captures the public’s imagination; in 79AD a legendary volcanic disaster left its citizens preserved in ashes to this very day. Yet no-one has been able to unravel the full story that is at the heart of our fascination: how did those bodies become frozen in time?

The Other Pompeii: Life and Death in Herculaneum

Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill presents a documentary following the scientific investigation that aims to lift the lid on what life was like in the small Roman town of Herculaneum, moments before it was destroyed by a volcanic erruption. The investigation, based arround the discovery of 12 arched vaults, reveals in great detail the lives of the ill-fated town’s residents, and unique aerial photography gives a behind-the-scenes look at the town from the skies. With contributions from the forensic scientists leading the investigation, the film uncovers the minutiae of daily life in Herculaneum, including not just what residents ate but how they ate it, and why most of the skeletons found on the coast were men and those in the vaults, women and children.

The Secret of El Dorado: The Discovery of Biochar

n 1542, the Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Orellana ventured along the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon Basin’s great rivers. Hunting a hidden city of gold, his expedition found a network of farms, villages and even huge walled cities. At least that is what he told an eager audience on his return to Spain.

BBC – An Islamic History of Europe

n this 90-minute documentary, Rageh Omaar uncovers the hidden story of Europe’s Islamic past and looks back to a golden age when European civilization was enriched by Islamic learning.

Rageh travels across medieval Muslim Europe to reveal the vibrant civilization that Muslims brought to the West.

This evocative film brings to life a time when emirs and caliphs dominated Spain and Sicily and Islamic scholarship swept into the major cities of Europe.

BBC Simon Schama: A History of Britain, Part 1 (Beginnings)

A study of the history of the British Isles, each of the 15 episodes allows Schama to examine a particular period and tell of its events in his own style. All the programmes are of 59 minutes’ duration and were broadcast over three series, ending 18 June 2002.
The series was produced in conjunction with The History Channel and the executive producer was Martin Davidson. The music was composed by John Harle, whose work was augmented by vocal soloists such as Emma Kirkby and Lucie Skeaping. Schama’s illustrative presentation was aided by readings from actors, including Lindsay Duncan, Michael Kitchen, Christian Rodska, Samuel West and David Threlfall.

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