Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Greeks in Egypt: on Sunken Cities at the British Museum

This is an excerpt from my review of the exhibition "Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds" at the British Museum for The Art Newspaper...

The stele of Thonis-Heracleion, discovered on the site of
Thonis-Heracleion.
© Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation.
Photo: Christoph Gerigk
Two thousand years ago, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, two cities on Egypt's Mediterranean coast, were thriving cultural melting pots. Traders from the Greek world and the Levant flowed into the cities' ports with goods, ideas and religious beliefs. The Egyptian god Osiris, king of the blessed dead, was celebrated along with the wine-loving Greek god Dionysus, among many other deities. In both cities, as elsewhere in Egypt since the 650s BC, Egyptian and Greek cultures slowly fused, an evolution best represented by the flourishing cult of Serapis—a hodgepodge deity combining various Greek divinities and the Egyptian god Osiris-Apis.

Nothing lasts forever. By the 8th century, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus had sunk beneath the waves of the Mediterranean. Centuries passed and the locations of both cities were forgotten. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that archaeologists rediscovered them and began to raise their monuments and artefacts—many extremely well preserved—from the seabed. Over successive years of exploration, remnants of daily life, objects of ritual significance and spectacular colossal statuary returned to the surface.

Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds, the British Museum's latest Egypt-centric exhibition, presents the rediscovered treasures of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus and uses them to tell the wider story of Egypt's contact with the Greek world. To provide additional context, artefacts from the British Museum collection and loans from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria supplement those recovered from the sea. Of the 300 artefacts on display, spread across five themed sections, 200 were raised from the seabed in the past 20 years.

You can read the rest of the review here: SunkenCities: Egypt's Lost Worlds.