The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Banebdjedet and the continuation of the worship of ancient rams and goats (Part 2)

So in the last blog post we discussed the ram horns of Arsinoë, leading to another view on things...

 The ram and/or goat remained an important divine, animalistic feature in ancient mythology and religious practice. In Greek and Hellenistic mythology, Pan remained an important character, not to mention the rituals associated with Dionysus and his satyrs. Naturally, their equivalents are to be found in the Roman religious sphere too, as Faunus and Bacchus, along with Juno Caprotina, with characteristic elements anchored in the Greek Amalthea. The ancients’ worship of these goat/ram gods and goddesses was often associated with abundance, joy, fertility, wine and ecstatic dance, elements that were all immoral in the eyes of the new religion – Christianity. Thus, when Christianity finally officially won the battle over the ancient polytheistic society, these deities became the face of evil, decadence and immorality. Dionysus/Bacchus, Pan/Faunus, Banebdjedet/Amun/Khnum suddenly became a unified persona of the Christian Devil. For centuries the true ancient divine goat creatures remained silent.

And so, in July 1098, in a letter by the Knights Templar Anselm of Ribemont, the sacred goat appeared once more, given the name Baphomet:

Sequenti die aurora apparente,
altis vocibus Baphometh invocaverunt;
et nos Deum nostrum in cordibus nostris deprecantes,
impetum facientes in eos, de muris civitatis omnes expulimus

(As the next day dawned
they called loudly upon Baphometh
while we prayed silently in our hearts to God;
then we attacked and forced all of them outside the city walls.)

A second testimony appears in 1195, in a poem written by the troubadour Gavaudan, giving the name Bafometz, followed by another poem in 1250 mentioning a Bafomet, identical to the name given in one of the four surviving chapters of the Occitan translation of Libre de la doctrina peril by R. Llull.

Later, during the inquisition, the name of the goat idol Baphomet appear twice in the trial transcripts against the Knights in the early 14th century, embedded in statements such as that below:

"...that in all the provinces they had idols, that is to say, heads, some of which had three faces, others but one; sometimes, it was a human skull ... That in their assemblies, and especially in their grand chapters, they worshipped the idol as a god, as their saviour, saying that this head could save them, that it bestowed on the order all its wealth, made the trees flower, and the plants of the earth to sprout forth."

Now, the credibility in the accusations is very low, as well known, but as Baphomet appeared long before the inquisition one can turn to the historical facts and follow in the Knights’ footsteps.  It should be mentioned too, that the etymology of the term/name Bapohmet is highly debated; mostly dealing with French word for Muhammed.  As a little ending note on the Knights Templar one can question their findings in and around the town of al-Mansura – located a few kilometres away from the ancient city of Mendes, the centre for the worship of Banebdjedet, the ram god himself – which ended in the killing of thousands and the imprisonment of Louis IX, although the rumour has it a few managed to escape...

Painting on display in the Medieval house in al-Mansura. Copyright The Sirius Project

After the inquisition the ram/goat god fell silent again, appearing once more in an essay published in 1818 by Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall, entitled “Mysterium Baphometis revelatum, seu Fratres Militiæ Templi, qua Gnostici et quidem Ophiani, Apostasiæ, Idoloduliæ et Impuritatis convicti, per ipsa eorum Monumenta” (Discovery of the mystery of Baphomet, by which the Knights Templars, like the Gnostics and Ophites, are convicted of apostasy, of idolatry and of moral impurity, by their own monuments), aiming at discrediting Freemasonry and their association with the Templars. The essay opened up an entire new forum of open attacks on secret societies, including Rosicrucian orders and Freemasons.

Then, in 1855, possibly as an answer to the heated debate, the ancient goat god was brought to life in full strength as a mixture of Chinese whispers of folklore, superstition, ancient magic, the opposites of monotheistic rules and dogma – in the glory of 19th century religious, theosophistical revolution, Baphomet was given the face of the Antichrist in the eyes of Christianity, becoming one of the most important icons in the rising movement of underground societies; Eliphas Lévi made Baphomet into the source and creator of evil, the Satanic Goat of Mendes; eventually to be usurped as an epithet of Aleister Crowley, who by the words below possibly tried to bring old Baphomet back to his origins:

“The Devil does not exist. It is a false name invented by the black brothers to imply a unity in their ignorant muddle of dispersions. A devil who had unity would be a God... 'The Devil' is, historically, the God of any people that one personally dislikes... This serpent, SATAN, is not the enemy of Man, but he who made Gods of our race, knowing good and evil; He bade 'Know Thyself!' and taught Initiation. He is 'The Devil' of the Book of Thoth, and His emblem is BAPHOMET, the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection... He is therefore Life, and Love. But moreover his letter is ayin, the Eye, so that he is Light; and his zodiacal image is Capricornus, that leaping goat whose attribute is Liberty. 

As a final note, one can ask the question how the early Church would have looked upon the image of Arsinoë: a strong powerful female pharaoh, high priestess of Banebdjedet, God's wife of Amun, depicted with the horns of Amalthea, claiming direct ancestry from Dionysus - HEAVEN, WHAT WOULD THEY HAVE THOUGHT???

Arsinoë, her horns, Banebdjedet and Amalthea (Part 1)

I was recently contacted by a colleague who was interested in discussing the significance of ram horns placed in the upper part of the forehead on certain Classical sculptures and ceramic medallions of Arsinoë II. The most famous example of such an image is the one exhibited in the Louvre (Ma4891), seen on the image below. This is indeed a very interesting piece of art, especially due to the placement of the horns.

Arsinoë described as Isis-Selene, here preferred as Arsinoë-Amalthea!

Now, in the case of Arsinoë II, the horns are to be found in three different placements: 1) forehead position, pointing upward, following the locks of the hair, as mentioned above; 2) curled around the ear, similar to a traditional ram’s horns; and 3) placed as part of a composition crown, either on top of the head, functioning as a base for the crown, located below the red crown, or on top of the red crown platform, becoming a base for the double feather plume and the traditional Hathoric amulet. The initial two styles are represented in Classical Hellenic media, while the third appears in Egyptian style reliefs.

notice the curled horn behind Arsinoë's ear

Arsinoë wearing her crown with horizontally placed horns: Copyright The Sirius Project

In Egyptian art, ram horns are represented in two basic variations: the twined, horizontal horns, and the downward-curled horns (see image below). Ptolemaic temple texts describe the horns as “hnwtj pD” and “abwj pD”.  

In the crown of Arsinoë, the horns are illustrated in a horizontal position, more or less twined. At first sight they are similar to the horns of a Kudu antelope, or possibly a goat, rather than those of a ram/sheep. The horns in the crown of Arsinoë are, however, identified with those of an ancient breed of sheep characterised by long, horizontally twined horns. Although this breed disappeared from Egypt during the New Kingdom, the sheep, or sometimes only their horizontal horns, kept a symbolic position in Egyptian iconography.

Ancient texts do not describe the symbolism and communicated message of the ram horns as a part of the crown of Arsinoë. Edfu and Dendera texts in general describe horns as additional ornaments. However, I consider the possibility that their symbolism was so obvious for an ancient viewer that there was no need to textually clarify them.

The horizontal horns are used as attributes for several deities, mainly as a component of larger compositions. Khnum, Mandulis, Ptah, Thoth, Ihy, Osiris, Sobek, Harpocrates, Khonsu, Geb, and Amun are all illustrated wearing these horns. Only a few deities, including Amun and Khnum, used the ram horns as an individual crown element. A brief comparison of these two deities shows that Amun had them more often. Therefore, it might be assumed that the ram horn was originally an attribute of Amun or any of his local forms, for example, Banebdjedet.

A modern viewer generally imagines a ram/sheep with downward-curled horns rather than horizontal ones. Downward-curled horns, together with the double cornucopia, frequently identify Arsinoë on Greek-styled coins as mentioned above. Prior to Arsinoë, Alexander the Great was depicted wearing the downward-curled horns in coins and other media (see image below), and was probably one of the main reasons why Arsinoë choose the curled horn as an attribute. In Egyptian religion these horns were used as attributes of deities such as Amun, Osiris and Khnum: all masculine.

Horns placed in the forehead in the style presented in the Louvre portrait, does not exists, to my knowledge, as part of Egyptian style relief scenes, although its elements may be associated with the overall communicated message.

What historical or mythological factors lay behind the fact that Arsinoë was decorated with these horns? In this context, Arsinoë’s historical socio-political position has to be considered. She was deified in her own right (as well as with her brother-husband) and incorporated in the official Alexandrian eponymous cult. As such she was directly associated with the chthonic cult of Alexander. Her official cultic name (and the official designation of the sibling gods) followed Alexander’s in official dating formulas. Arsinoë was associated with Alexander by her official designations. She used the title “daughter of Amun”, which is comparable to Alexander’s “son of Zeus-Amun”.

Arsinoë’s cultic connection with Alexander is demonstrated in iconography. Following Alexander’s deification as the son of Zeus-Amun in the Temple of Siwa, he was depicted with a ram’s horn curling behind his ear, as mentioned above.  An iconographic association with Alexander, expressed in coins portraying Arsinoë, would be a plausible political motive in selecting the ram horns as a component of her personal crown. However, the horns of Amun as illustrated on the Alexander portraits (and equally on coins of Arsinoë) are curled, and not horizontally placed as in the Egyptian crown of Arsinoë, thus limited to a small group of artistic media; Classical Hellenic.

Alexander’s role as the son of Zeus-Amun appealed to both Egyptian and Greek inhabitants. For the Egyptians, Alexander was the son of Amun, the main god of the time, generally recognised as a ram (among other forms). The Greeks regarded Alexander as the son of their most important deity, Zeus, and likened him with Dionysus. Therefore, Alexander, in his royal persona and cultic appearance, bridged the two cultures. The illustrated horn of Alexander linked him with the Egyptian ram. I would, however, like to suggest an association also with the Greek goat, based on Alexander’s identification with Dionysus.

In the Greek material, and subsequently in Egyptian sculptures, Arsinoë was attributed with an item associated with the goat, the dikeras – the double cornucopia. In Greek mythology, the cornucopia was connected with the she-goat Amalthea. Amalthea is described as the nurturer of the infant Zeus at Crete. After Zeus accidentally broke off one of her horns, he replaced it after endowing it with the ability to be filled with whatever the holder desired; it was made into a symbol of fruitfulness – horn of plenty, and after placing her in the sky as the constellation Capricorn, Amalthea was remembered and venerated by the Greeks in this form throughout the ages. This attribute was illustrated individually on the reverse of coins, or held by the queen when depicted on oinochoai, terracottas, figurines and sculpture in the round.

Another myth, written down by Diodorus, describes further connections between Amalthea and Zeus. With reference to an ancient Egyptian tradition, he says that the Libyan Zeus-Amun returned to his nurturer and impregnated her, later parenting a young Dionysus. The myth records an Egyptian influence in an otherwise Greek setting; a coming together of two ancient cultures resulting in a divine being, Dionysus, to whom the female bloodline of the Ptolemies counted their descent.

This divine association is discussed further in a passage of Callixeinus, preserved in Athenaeus, describing the grand procession of Ptolemy II in Alexandria, in which a dikeras was carried by a figure of Dionysus. The double cornucopia was created particularly for Arsinoë during the reign of Ptolemy II, and is traditionally considered to symbolise either Arsinoë’s close connection with her husband-brother, or with the Two Lands of Egypt. Although the double cornucopia is documented mainly in Greek visual arts, it also attributes the Queen on Egyptian statues. The cornucopia associates Arsinoë with the goat.

As a final example, I bring to mind Satyrus’ description of the cult of Arsinoë, mentioning a prohibition concerning sacrificing goats. This statement is identical with Herodotus’ account of the Mendesian veneration of the ram god, describing it as the only cult disallowing a goat as an offering and instead sacrificing a sheep. Later chapters demonstrate Arsinoë’s religious responsibilities as a high priestess of Banebdjedet, the ram god of Mendes.

I have chosen to briefly mention Arsinoë’s association with the goat in order to suggest an aspect of intercultural symbolism. Alexander was able to bridge the Egyptian and Macedonian cultures by claiming his descent from Zeus-Amun. Pictorially, Alexander’s horn connects him with the ram and goat alike. Similar aesthetic aspects merged, but simultaneously kept their original frame of reference. Arsinoë was able to use the horns for a similar reason, combining her cultic associations with Aphrodite and Amun, and her dynastic link with Alexander. Such an intercultural symbolism is communicated in the Egyptian sculptures of Arsinoë holding the cornucopia.

Arsinoë’s socio-religious roles during her adult life in Alexandria are only sparsely documented and often of a vague nature. Similarly, this can be stated about her role in the Egyptian society. However, the Mendes stele might shed light on this matter. The figures illustrated in this scene are divided into two sections, a left and a right side, with figures who face each other. The left side represents the royal family, incorporating Ptolemy II, Arsinoë and a male figure designated “Ptolemy, son of Ptolemy”. Facing them, on the right side, is a newly incarnated ram on a podium, receiving offerings from the royal family. Behind him, also on a podium, stands a smaller figure of Harpocrates. Thereafter follows an anthropomorphic figure of Banebdjedet, representing the deceased ram god, after which stands his divine spouse Hat-Mehit. The last figure of the right side is Arsinoë. Arsinoë is thus depicted twice in the scene. She stands in an active position as a benefactor in the left side together with the ruling royal family, and as a beneficiary together with the local divine triad in the right. The central theme in this scene (also expressed in the text) is the commemoration of the deceased ram god Banebdjedet, and the celebrations of his incarnated soul into a new physical ram-body. One of many topics presented in this stela concerns Arsinoë when she was alive, and it describes her as the high priestess of Banebdjedet. Banebdjedet, who will be dealt with below, was a local form of Amun. He connected Arsinoë with this main Egyptian deity previously suggested as a fundamental source of symbolic association expressed in the ram horns of Arsinoë.

The horizontal horns are mainly recorded in crowns worn by male deities prior to the composition of the crown of Arsinoë. Hieroglyphic texts designate Horus, Amun and Osiris, along with various pharaohs, as “Lord of the Horns”. The title describes the symbolic value of the horns, associated with kingship, and they express power, authority, control, prominence, and even divinity. I would like to suggest also a connection with the Two Lands based on the dualistic nature of the horns, or the two mountains that surrounds the rising sun each morning.

Traditionally, these horns have been interpreted as symbolising the inundation and its fertility. Vassilika suggests in her study of Ptolemaic Philae, that the horizontal horns represent a trophy of war or hunt, and that they symbolised royal deification from the time of Amenhotep II. In her study on the Hptj crown, Derchain-Urtel, on the other hand, more or less excludes any symbolic reference to the ram horns. The ram itself symbolised respect and power, strongly connected with kingship. During the Ptolemaic period, and when worn by royalties other than Arsinoë, Cleopatra III and VII, the horns are frequently incorporated as a pictorial component of the anedjti crown or the triple crown, or as an additional unit in the composition when combined with the red crown and the atef. Most Ptolemaic kings were depicted with horizontal, twined ram horns. Thus, they continued an iconographic convention applied by so many previous Egyptian rulers. Generally, the ram horns were seen as an addition to the royal regalia, connecting the person wearing it with the deities decorated with them.

The symbolic value of the ram horns in the crown of Arsinoë has proven to be entwined in various cultural events and individuals. The ram horns were connected with Amun and his depiction as a ram god. The horns were associated with the solar cult, based on the assimilation between Amun, Ra and Horus. The association with the solar cult explains the presence of the horns in crown compositions worn by Harpocrates/Horus, since he represented a certain aspect of the daily journey of the disc. The combination of a divine kinship and the eternal journey of the sun disc, suggests that the horns were connected with rejuvenation, fertility and eternal life. This aspect merges with the message communicated in the Mendes stela, which describes a divine priestess-queen who entered heaven to join her divine family.

to be followed by more modern interpretations of the ancient goat god...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Preliminary workshop program Magical Gems in their Contexts - Budapest 16-18 February 2012

Preliminary workshop program
Magical Gems in their Contexts
Budapest, 16-18 February

Day 1

Lunch together, welcome

Setting up contexts for magical gems:
Erika Zwierlein-Diehl: Dating magical gems
Richard Gordon


Attilio Mastrocinque: L'iconografia di Ialdabaoth (working title)
Veronique Dasen:  Trasfert des images (working title)
Challenge day: problematic magical gems and close viewing of some magical gems in the Museum


Day 2

Magical gems in archaeological context:
Simone Michel: An exhibition on magical gems in the Malerwinkelhaus Museum
Shua Amorai-Stark: Selected unpublished magical stones and rings from Caesarea Maritima
Despina Ignatiadou: Two magical gems from the Roman cemetery in Thessaloniki


The Jewish and Christian context:
Gideon Bohak: Magical gems in Judaism
Felicity Harley-McGowan: Jesus the magician? Engraved gems and the representation of crucifixion in Late Antiquity
Árpád Miklós Nagy: Gemmes magiques judaisantes


Joachim Quack: From Egyptian traditions to magical gems. Possibilities and pitfalls in scholarly analysis
Maria Nilsson and John Ward: Mason or priest? A comparison between Graeco-Roman signs on magical amulets and symbols in Egyptian quarries
Kirsten Dzwiza: The writing of charakteres on magical gems – decoration patterns, contexts and techniques
Magical gems and healing:
Christopher Faraone: Women and children first: the protective range of amulet cords, crepundia and little crescent moons
Valérie Martini: Gemmes magiques et pouvoirs thérapeutiques: les compétances guérisseuses d’Isis et Sérapis
Eleni Tsatsou: Uterine amulets: amulets that protect the uterus or that reinforces erotic desire?


Day 3

Magical gems and literature:
György Németh: The discovery of a god: Heliorus
Sonia Macrì: The immaterial gemstones of Graeco-Roman literature
Paolo Vitellozzi: Su alcune gemme magiche della collezione del Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’Umbria di Perugia (working title)


Magical gems in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages:
Jeffrey Spier: Solomon and Asmodeus on Graeco-Roman magical amulets and rings
Genevra Kornbluth: Pilulae and bound pendants: Roman and Merovingian amulets
Jennifer Wynne Hellwarth: “For glysteryng of the ryche ston”: Near East magical gems and the sexual body in the Middle English romance Emaré


The Cambell Bonner Magical gems database and closing remarks

Each thematic block will end with a section talk.
For the Challenge day you are encouraged to bring any problem: a problematic gem, a difficult iconography, puzzling sources or anything you would like to share and hear the others’ opinion.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Sirius Project and Magical Gems Budapest 2012

It was recently confirmed by the organiser, and the Sirius Project’s team is now looking forward to participating in the upcoming international conference on magical gems in Budapest early next year. In accordance with the call for papers:

Magical Gems in Context: International Conference
Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts, 16-18 February 2012

Magical gems are amulets carved into precious stones, made mostly in the period of the Roman Empire (2nd-4th centuries AD). They have three special characteristics that distinguish them from other gems and talismans: they contain magical words and spells written in Greek; they sometimes have magical signs (charaktéres) on them; finally, they present unique iconographical schemes, with non-Olympic gods conceived by religious thinkers and magi of Egyptian, Jewish and Near-Eastern tradition. Their makers could freely choose from the elements of these cultures. These talismans were used chiefly to avert diseases and demons or to obtain love and success. Today there are about 4000 pieces preserved in private and public collections worldwide. Their importance is invaluable in order to understand ancient religious beliefs, medicine and magic. Periodically they have been the focus of interest in European culture (as in the 17th century and the beginning of the 20th century), and as today’s raising scholarly interest attests, they are back in the limelight.

The topic to be presented by the Sirius Project deals with a comparison of Graeco-Roman quarry markings/symbols and marks found on contemporary magical gems. Our abstract reads as follows:

The Sirius Project’s Abstract

Using Graeco-Roman amulets and gems as a starting point for comparison and stylistic identification this paper deals with the exoteric and esoteric value (s) of magical signs located in the Egyptian sandstone quarries of Gebel el-Silsila. While individual signs on talismans have been recognized by generations of scholars for their magical connotations, those of Egyptian stone quarries have been dismissed as so called masons’ marks, believed to signify workman groups or individual contractors. A second, now disregarded theory was put forward by early archaeologists such as Georges Legrain, suggesting a linguistic application: “It is by forming a sort of Corpus of the inscriptions that we shall be the better enabled to arrive at the conclusion that these singular characters are probably not simply stone-workers’ marks, but are real characters which have served to transcribe a foreign language that the future may perhaps enable us to understand” (Legrain, G., ‘Inscriptions in the Quarries of el Hosh’, Society of Biblical Archaeology 1906, 25f.).

Overview of main quarry in Silsila East. ã The Sirius Project

Overview of section of quarries in Silsila West. ã The Sirius Project
Here referred to as ‘symbols’ in accordance with the semiotic terminology, we would like to present a third option based on the comparison with magical amulets, being contemporary with the quarry symbols. We suggest a most similar magical function, as did Sir Arthur Evans when interpreting symbols located on Minoan palaces at Crete. As such, this paper will present a variation of quarry symbols documented personally in situ, individual and in groups, as well as symbols located on temple structure and as graffiti. The images and results presented are included in an ongoing project aiming to catalogue and analyze these symbols for the first time in a comprehensive form. The symbols are studied according to an interdisciplinary approach, combining the concepts of classicism, Egyptology and Art History with an iconographical and semantic analysis of form and appearance and an iconological and hermeneutic analysis of meaning and function. Based on a classification system, which establishes a typology, the aim is to explore the symbols’ fundamental function and cultural position in the society. The aim is also to identify the person or group (the creator) behind the symbols in order to reassess the question of a possible wider continuum of usage. Therefore this paper functions as an introduction to the research project rather than a completed corpus. This paper will include also a brief comparison with the British medieval templar church of Garway indicating a continuation of styles and function into a new historical and religious era, thus including also a wider cultural spectrum of application.

Quarry symbol (star) at Elephantine Island. ã The Sirius Project
Quarry symbol (trident) at Elephantine Island. ã The Sirius Project
Quarry symbol (swastika) at Philae. ã The Sirius Project

Group of quarry symbols at Nag el Hammam. ã The Sirius Project.

Quarry symbol (lotus) at Silsila West ã The Sirius Project.

Quarry symbol (lotus) and pilgrims' gouges at Silsila West ã The Sirius Project.

Quarry symbols and graffito Sarapis at Silsila West ã The Sirius Project.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fieldwork and Book release

The Egyptian summer is finally reaching an end making it possible once more to return out in the field. This is the reason why it has been rather quiet around here lately, and will be for another week as we are heading out today! However, once we return from this research adventure, we can promise you an update etc.

As for now, we would like to bring your attention to an upcoming book release, written by Dr. Lorraine Evans:


by Lorraine Evans

Release Date: 19th September 2011

Amazon Kindle Book, PC Download and Apps Format

Throughout Egyptian history only a handful of rulers can be considered truly remarkable kings. Of these Ramses III, the second ruler of the Twentieth Dynasty, was the last great pharaoh to sit upon the throne. His reign was one of considerable turmoil, both at home and abroad, and culminated in one of ancient Egypt's darkest episodes, his eventual assassination at the hands of his harem women.

Murder at Medinet Habu is a unique and entertaining heritage tour guide whose aim is to make history come alive. By following a series of illustrated landmarks the reader is catapulted into the world of Ramses III, a world of death, magic, bribery and intrigue. It will also enable the reader to follow in the footsteps of the early excavators as they discover a host of secrets buried deep within the sand

Monday, August 22, 2011

theoi Adelphoi - the sibling gods

Theoi Adelphoi

The Egyptian form of the title “Sibling gods”, ntr.w sn.w, is a direct translation of the original Greek form, ΘΕΟΙ ΑΔΕΛΦΟΙ. I have chosen to refer to this title as “theoi Adelphoi”, a transliteration of its original form, since it is the most commonly recognised form describing the divine couple Arsinoë and Ptolemy II. Egyptian relief scenes lists this title only when the couple are depicted together. It is recorded in ten scenes: all postdate the couple and date instead to the reigns of Ptolemy III, Ptolemy IV, Ptolemy V and Ptolemy VIII. Two scenes are illustrated on stelai, the Nubayrah stele and the scene above the Canopus decree from Kom el-Hisn, while remaining scenes are situated within the Temple of Edfu and on the Gate of Euergetes, Karnak. Additional titles that surround “theoi Adelphoi” generally connect them with one of the main gods of the temple (or local shrines) as temple sharing deities. They are described as “Lords of the house of Hathor”, “Lords of the house of Ra”, “Lords of Mesen (= Edfu)”, or as “Dwellers of Mesen”, “Dwellers of Karnak”, and “Dwellers in the Temple of Horus”.

The Nubayrah stele textually describes Ptolemy II and Arsinoë as “theoi Adelphoi” in the main text below the figural scene, as a part of the official dating protocol, listing the appointed eponymous priests and priestesses. The active benefactors, Ptolemy V and Cleopatra I, present a captured enemy in front of the divine couple Shu and Tefnut, followed by the Ptolemaic dynastic ancestors, theoi Philopatores, theoi Euergetai and theoi Adelphoi. The latter couple is pictorially separated from the other dynastic ancestral couples, indicated mainly by their crowns, combined with Arsinoë’s Hathoric position. The scene exemplifies dynastic propaganda, showing a ruling couple reconnecting with their ancestors in order to gain their power. The ruling couple associate themselves also with the mythological children of Ra, Shu and Tefnut, in an act where Shu hands over a khepesh sceptre of Horus to the pharaoh.

The Nubayrah stele

A comparison between the main text and the pictorial scene shows an inadequacy. The text lists names of the priest of Alexander, theoi Soteres, theoi Adelphoi, theoi Euergetai, theoi Philopatores and the theoi Epiphanes, also documenting the official priestesses of Berenice II and Arsinoë, the athlophoros and canephoros (Urk II, 171 (l. 6-8). The text refers to the official Alexandrian eponymous ruler cult, while the pictorial scene excludes Alexander and the theoi Soteres. The scene, furthermore, follows Egyptian conventions exclusively. Combining text and imagery, the Nubayrah stele indicates an assimilation between the Alexandrian eponymous cult and the native Egyptian ruler cult. The figural arrangement of the theoi Adelphoi (as the last couple of the scene) suggests that Ptolemy II and Arsinoë retained their official role as the founders of the dynasty, regardless of the textual information. It limits the official religious position of the theoi Soteres as the founders of the dynasty to the reign of Ptolemy IV, since the stele dates to the reign of Ptolemy V, which emphasises Ptolemy II and Arsinoë as the founders.

Detail of the theoi Adelphoi on the Nubayrah stele

Dating to the reign of Ptolemy III, also the Canopus decree from Kom el-Hisn describes Ptolemy II and Arsinoë as “theoi Adelphoi” placing the hieroglyphic designation, ntr. w sn. w, above the head of Ptolemy II, between the individual cartouches of the couple. The title also occurs in the main text, where it is used to describe Ptolemy II and Arsinoë as Ptolemy III’s parents. The following textual section states their cultic title in connection with the eponymous priesthood, similar to the Nubayrah stele, also including the name of Arsinoë’s canephoros (Urk II, 126 (l. 5). The text in the Canopus decree indicates an assimilation of the Alexandrian eponymous cult with the native Egyptian worship of ancestors, although it is, again, separated from the pictorial scene. Based on the nature of the text, as an official dating formula, it is difficult to make any assumptions of an assimilation of the two alternative ruler cults. The scene focuses on the deification of Ptolemy III and Berenice II, and expresses their induction to the traditional Egyptian royal cult. The main event described in the pictorial scene refers to the writing of the annuals, performed by Thoth and Seshat.

The Canopus decree of Kom el-Hisn

Seven scenes are located in the Temple of Edfu, dating to the reigns of Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy VIII: all scenes illustrate a ruling pharaoh who presents offerings to his dynastic ancestors. Arsinoë is depicted throughout in a standing position behind Ptolemy II. The couple is generally described with individual titles located in their personal registers of text, and with their shared title in the board-register that crowns the scene. Thus, they kept their individuality simultaneously with their divine royal position as Hathor and Horus. The scene on the Gate of Euergetes concurs with previous scenes as Ptolemy II and Arsinoë are described with individual titles in the personal register of text and as a couple in the top register. This scene dates to the reign of Ptolemy III. Also, the lintel frieze on the same gate dates to Ptolemy III, but places the shared title above the head of Ptolemy II, between their individual cartouches.

The Canopus decree: detail of the theoi Adelphoi

The scenes indicate that the theoi Adelphoi were regarded as the founders of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The pictorial material follows Egyptian conventions, and the scenes are located mainly in Upper Egypt. The combination of these two factors is important, since native Egyptian ruler cult is traditionally differentiated from the Alexandrian ruler cult. Stelai with a dynastic setting seem to have functioned as a link between the two. All scenes that describe the couple with this title postdate their lifetime, and always in a conventional dynastic setting that expresses the transfer of power from one generation to the next. In terms of iconographic arrangement, the theoi Adelphoi are separated from other ancestral couples. Arsinoë is frequently illustrated as the tallest figure of the scene based on an item which also distinguishes this couple from the others – the crown. Arsinoë wears her personal crown, and Ptolemy II either an Osirian atef or an anedjti crown. All other females, without any exceptions, wear a traditional female crown. All other males wear one of the above mentioned crowns, the atef or anedjti, opposed to the one worn by Ptolemy II (i.e., if Ptolemy II wears the anedjti, the other males are dressed in the atef, or vice versa). These scenes show Arsinoë standing behind Ptolemy II, raising her hand in a protective manner. Her hand’s pose combined with her position as the last figure of the left side, suggestively indicates a socio-religious position as the protectress of the entire dynasty, also including the ruling royal couple.

Edfu scene

I classify all scenes mentioned above as dynastic regardless of their figural arrangement. The main symbolic theme of these scenes is a ruling pharaoh who claims his right to the throne, and demonstrates his pure dynastic legacy and royal blood. The Gate of Euergetes presents a scene of comparison, as it provides Queen Berenice II with a title that places her as the heiress of the theoi Adelphoi. This title underlines the importance of not only an individual scene, but also the full setting or composition of scenes under one associated theme. It has been argued elsewhere that the link between a ruling pharaoh and his ancestors is too unclear if placed on an opposite side. I, however, believe that such a separation was necessary in order for the king to claim his right to the throne. This claim would be available only through the death of the previous ruler (rulers).

Edfu scene

Exceptions include scenes that express crowning or rejuvenation themes, such as the Canopus decree, which provides further examples of pictorial adjustment, and emphasises that time is not a main subject, but instead the ceremony itself. All figures in the Canopus decree are equally illustrated as sons and daughters of Ra. The scene is unique due to its dualistic arrangement, depicting all figures in pairs/couples, including the gods on the right side. The first Hathoric goddess on the right is coupled with Amun-Ra; Hathor with Horus; Tefnut with Shu, and the forth female figure with a male counterpart now missing. The scene clarifies a divine legacy and places the Ptolemaic couples in a direct line with the primeval constitution of Egyptian religion. Ptolemy III and Berenice II clarify their dynastic legacy through the association with the deceased ancestors and emphasise their right to rule as they connect themselves with the divine rulers, Horus and Hathor, as husband and wife. The ruling monarch gains strength and emphasises his divine royal heritage, while he claims his true right to the throne.

Edfu scene

Edfu scene

Edfu scene

Note: The dynastic relationship was stressed also through the introduction of the couples as temple sharing deities long after their initial deification. Isis Arsinoë Philadelphos, the theoi Adelphoi and the theoi Euergetai were introduced as temple sharing gods in the temple of Hermonthis in year 149/148 BC Although of an unknown origin, P.Yale.46 describes a priest who was active in a temple of Amun and Arsinoë, including also the theoi Adelphoi and the theoi Euergetai. The text underlines a clear separation between the official dynastic cult, i.e., that of the theoi Adelphoi, and the individual cult of Arsinoë. Here, yet again, Arsinoë is associated with Amun, possibly as his divine wife. An inscription documented on a small sandstone altar found in the precinct of the Sarapis temple at Hermopolis Magna further describes the theoi Adelphoi as sharing a temple with the theoi Euergetai to whom statues and shrines were dedicated by the cavalry located in the area.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Queen Arsinoë - Daughter of Amun - God's wife of Amun

Daughter of Amun

Continuing down the line of Arsinoë’s hieroglyphic titles, today we shall deal with one that places our queen in direct hereditary line with one of the main Egyptian gods, Amun.

Amun-Ra, Karnak

Overall, thirteen Egyptian relief scenes designate Arsinoë as “Daughter of Amun”. This title is always placed as a prefix to the name “Arsinoë”. As such, it is placed above or in front of Arsinoë’s Birth name cartouche. Harvard Art Museum relief of Arsinoë, however, places “Daughter of Amun” within a second cartouche, thus symbolising a Throne name. All scenes illustrate Arsinoë as a beneficiary, although the lintel scene above the Gate of Nectanebo at Karnak shows her simultaneously as a benefactor standing behind Ptolemy II. “Daughter of Amun” is represented in both stelai and temple scenes, limited to the reigns of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III. The assumption of the title “daughter” in connection with Amun was a clear political and religious statement, which connected Arsinoë with older Egyptian traditions, and with Alexander the great, who was appointed as the son of Zeus-Amun.

Arsinoë, Daughter of Amun, Gate of Nectanebo, Karnak

Gate of Nectanebo, Karnak: double lintel scene
To my knowledge, the title is never recorded in pictorial temple reliefs prior to Arsinoë. It does, however, occur in other artistic media, describing a few previous queens, such as Hatshepsut and the Divine Adoratrices of the 25th and 26th Dynasties. As such, “Daughter of Amun” occurred in variations such as “Daughter of Amun whom he loves” and “Daughter of Amun who is on his throne”.

Scene from the Chapel of Amenirdis at Medinat Habu showing God's wife Shepenwepet with Amenirdis on the divine side

A combination of Arsinoë’s figural position in the Khonsu Temple scene (Karnak), where she is paired with Khonsu, and the current title directly associates her with the most important (local) deity, Amun. Figurally and textually, the scene places Arsinoë and Khonsu as siblings, fathered by Amun. Through his dynastic kinship with Arsinoë, also communicated by additional epithets in Arsinoë’s designation, the scene expresses also Ptolemy II’s divinity (who is depicted as their benefactor). In terms of an active artistic adjustment, and based on the figural arrangement, Ptolemy II becomes an earthly manifestation of Khonsu.

Khonsu Temple, Karnak

Khonsu Temple, Karnak, facing the Gate of Euergetes
The Khonsu Temple scene, accompanied by two scenes on the Gate of Euergetes and the one on the Gate of Nectanebo, is located within the Temple complex of Karnak, the main cult centre of Amun (-Ra). This official designation, “Daughter of Amun”, places Arsinoë in a most prominent socio-religious position, valid for both a queen and goddess.

Gate of Euergetes

The two scenes that date to the reign of Ptolemy III are located in the proximity of the other scenes that describe Arsinoë with this title. The artist suggestively copied already listed designations of Arsinoë when he created the scenes of the Gate of Euergetes nearby. The larger scene expresses the transit of royal power from one generation to the next, and surrounding scenes describe Ptolemy III and Berenice II as the royal heirs. The theoi Adelphoi (sibling gods = Ptolemy II and Arsinoë) are placed on an opposite side from the ruling pharaoh, but they are described with royal titles appropriate for a living couple. Suggestively, the scene expresses a socio-religious sphere where divine and human meet.

Gate of Euergetes: small frieze depicts the theoi Adelphoi
Mid section of the frieze showing the object of veneration
Right side of the frieze showing Ptolemy III and Berenice II as the last couple
This hypothesis is supported by the pictorial structure of the smaller scene (a miniature frieze placed above the main lintel scene), which shows the theoi Adelphoi standing on the very left side behind a long line of deities, and the theoi Euergetai on the right side in an equal, but mirrored, position. The left section is separated from the right by a large solar disc, to which the scene’s totally 46 figures express their praise. The scene is located on the southern face of the southern gate of Karnak (Gate of Euergetes), opening up in full alignment with the Khonsu Temple. The right royal couple has been identified elsewhere as the theoi Soteres (saviour gods = Ptolemy I and Berenice I), but I dispute such an identification based on surrounding pictorial scenes, all of which depict Ptolemy III (occasionally including Berenice II). The socio-religious situation during Ptolemy III is also to consider, since the first Ptolemaic couple was excluded from the official (Alexandrian) eponymous cult and dynastic ancestral worship until the reign of Ptolemy IV. The overall theme of the Gate of Euergetes visualise the transfer of dynastic power, handed over from Ptolemy II and Arsinoë to Ptolemy III and Berenice II. The right royal couple in the minor lintel scene lacks official cultic titles corresponding with the theoi Adelphoi on the left side. In my opinion, the lack of such divine titles alludes to a period of time when the ruling couple attended official crowning ceremonies, and received access to the dynastic power by their divine ancestors and traditional Egyptian deities in order to become the theoi Euergetai (benefactor gods = Ptolemy III and Berenice II). It is more plausible that Ptolemy III and Berenice II chose to be illustrated in person rather than to be excluded in favour of their deceased grandparents. The Gate of Euergetes, constituting the architectural medium of these two scenes, communicates a message of royal continuation of power, and the significance of the inherited divine bloodline. Based on the general theme of the gate, I interpret the smaller lintel scene as a part of the commemoration of Ptolemy III’s and Berenice II’s official deification. Arsinoë’s title, “Daughter of Amun”, verifies a royal divine connection, enabling the ruling couple to link themselves with Arsinoë as her dynastic divine children.

Ptolemy III commemorating his divine parents, Gate of Euergetes, Karnak
As an object of comparison, a statue base (Oriental Institute of Chicago, inv. no. 10518) provides further information about Arsinoë’s title (cf. LdR IV, 241; Urk II, 73). The front section of the base reads ΑΡΣΙΝΟΗΣ ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΟΥ, whereas an hieroglyphic inscription translates as follows (titles that describe Ptolemy (I and II) are placed within brackets):

“Great Bat, Daughter of Amun, God’s wife, Sister of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, (Lord of the Two Lands, Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. Great splendid One, Beloved of Ra, Wife of the king, (son of Ra, Lord of the Crowns, Ptolemy,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. The respected, Beloved of Ptah, Sister of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, (Lord of the Two Lands, Powerful is the soul of Ra, Beloved of Amun,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. The intelligent, Beloved of Thoth, Daughter of the king, (Lord of the Two Lands, Chosen by Ra, Beloved of Amun, Lord of the Crowns, Ptolemy,) Daughter of Amun, Arsinoë. Beloved of Amun-Ra, the Lord of the Throne of the Two Lands, who is on the top of Karnak (?), (Beloved of) Mut, the great Lady of Asheru, (Beloved of) Khonsu-in Thebes-Neferhotep.”

Arsinoë is described as Amun’s daughter five times, combined with “Beloved of Amun-Ra”.  Her connection with other deities, including Thoth, Ptah, Ra, Mut and Khonsu, places her on an equal status with all gods. Arsinoë is furthermore described as the Great Bat, which associates her with the most ancient cow goddess, who eventually merged with Hathor. This syncretism, between Arsinoë and Hathor (Bat), has traditional values and parallels with a designation translating “God’s wife”.

Block fragment, Karnak, showing Arsinoë's name and epithets, including Daughter of Amun

The religious position of God’s wife

The titles “Beloved of Amun”, “Beloved of the ram” (Mendes stele) and “Beloved of (all) the gods” (Pithom stele, BM 1056, BM 1057) are associated with “Daughter of Amun”. They allude to a Hathoric role, referring to a daughter, sister, wife, and mother of the god. The titles correspond to a religious position traditionally referred to as ‘God’s wife (of Amun)’, stressing cultic responsibilities held by a high priestess. Designations that describe the God’s wife were given to living queens, simultaneously linking her with the pharaoh and god, establishing a dynastic legacy.

“God’s Wife” has its cultural roots in a female cultic role that was initially described as “musician priestess”, dating to the 4th Dynasty. Female priestesses were regarded as earthly manifestations of Hathor. Primarily, the queen held the office as high priestess, which associated her with the main deity of the temple. She was appointed personally by the king. As high priestess, the queen unified with the king in his role as high priest, symbolising the unification of the divine essence of dualism. Any given male god could reach out to a priestess, connecting himself with the human world in order to receive daily offerings and perform his tasks. This unification indirectly symbolised the coming together of the earth and sky.

The queen, as high priestess, used titles such as “Wife”, “Protectress”, and “Mother of the God/Divine mother”, initially being epithets and descriptions of Hathor. Arsinoë is described with these titles both during and after her lifetime. A queen became the God’s earthly wife when she assumed the religious position as high priestess. She was synchronised with Hathor as the eye of Ra, as the mother, daughter, wife and sister of the solar deity. As God’s wife, the queen was also regarded a political representative of royal authority, thereby becoming equally powerful as the king. Priestesses worshipped and aroused the god by the application of instruments, chants and dance. They vibrated the menit collar and rattled the sistra in order to evoke the divine spirit. From the New Kingdom the titles of high priestess increased to also include “God’s Hand”, “God’s wife of Amun”, “Divine Adoratrice”, and “Daughter of Amun”, the latter being one of the most common epithets of Arsinoë. (“God’s Hand” symbolised the hand of Atum, who by masturbation gave birth to Shu and Tefnut. The myth describes the hand as a feminine element, Hathor. The title is associated with the sexual role of Hathor, which in turn played an important role in the life of the queens, in securing true heirs to the throne.)

A title of comparison translates “Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc (=Aten)”, alternatively “Lady of all that the sun disc encircles” (Blackman 1921, 28f.; van Oppen 2007, 5), or “Mistress of the whole circuit of the solar disc” (Troy 1986, 196). This title describes Arsinoë in the lintel scene on the Gate of Nectanebo. It has previously been documented as a title of only three queens, all from the 25th -26th Dynasties: Amenirdis I, Shepenwepet II and Ankhnesneferibre. These three queens were inducted as “God’s wives”. The correlation between Arsinoë and the god’s wives of the Third Intermediate Period/Late Period has been observed elsewhere, but to my knowledge it has not been investigated properly by modern scholars. Interestingly, in the list of titles compiled by Troy (1986), Arsinoë shares nine (identical) official titles with Ankhnesneferibre and 13 with Amenirdis I, to which can be added various additional titles of a similar nature.

God's wife of Amun in the Chapel of Amenirdis, Medinat Habu

Karnak Temple, where Amenirdis became God's wife of Amun
An older Egyptian text describes the initiation of a God’s wife, directly connecting Arsinoë’s title on the Gate of Nectanebo with such a traditional religious role:

“...went into the house of Amun-Ra-Sonther, the prophets, weaeb-priests, lectors – the temple staff of Amun – following her, the great courtiers in front. She did all that was customary at the induction in the Temple of a God’s Adorer of Amun. The scribe of the God’s book and nine weaeb-priests of this temple helped her fastened the amulets and all the ornaments of a God’s wife, the God’s Adorer of Amun. (She was crowned with the double-plumed diadem and) was appointed Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc (after which her titular was enunciated.) All the customary were done for her as they were initially done for Tefnut.”

The epithet applied for Arsinoë on the Gate of Nectanebo, which is identical to the underlined text above, identifies her with previous queens known as “God’s wife” and “Adorer of the God/Divine Adoratrice”. This text validates the cause for including the double feather plume in the crown of Arsinoë, and, suggestively, “Mistress of Eternity, Lady of the solar disc” may equally confirm the solar disc as a particular in the crown of Arsinoë. As described, the solar disc was mainly an attribute of Ra, placing a “Lady of the solar disc” in a Hathoric personification of a protectress, associating with the earthly role manifested in the priestess, also including Arsinoë. 

Another association with the religious position as God’s wife is demonstrated in an additional title of Arsinoë in the Mendes stele, which describes her as “High priestess of Banebdjedet”. This title determines Arsinoë as an earthly wife of the local ram god of Mendes, i.e., a God’s wife. Arsinoë’s induction to this role was certainly a strong socio-religious claim. Both king and queen gained a stronger and more respectful socio-religious position as they called on the most important roles of Egyptian culture. With Arsinoë in this position, they were able to jointly rule Egypt since the high priestess was considered a representative of the royal power in case the pharaoh was absent. (Compare the political situation during the 25th Dynasty when Amenirdis I “ruled” Upper Egypt in her role as the God’s wife of Amun, cantered in Karnak, while her brother, Shabaka, ruled Lower Egypt with his centre in Memphis.)

Archaeological remains in the ancient city of Mendes

Overview of Mendes during Prof. Redford's excavations
The Mendes stele describes Arsinoë as “She who belongs to the Lord. Traditionally, “Lord” has been interpreted as referring to Ptolemy II. However, I identify “Lord” with Banebdjedet, as the Lord of Mendes, based on Arsinoë’s additional titles and the theme of the scene, throughout associating Arsinoë with the ram god. The sentence “She who belongs to the Lord” is placed in the first section of the main text. This initial part describes the marriage of Ptolemy and Arsinoë, and their time together while Arsinoë was alive. I interpret this title as referring to Arsinoë as a queen alive. Thus, the designation “She who belongs to the Lord” places Arsinoë as God’s wife already during her lifetime. Arsinoë’s role as high priestess, an earthly manifestation of Hathor, is further emphasised in her lower hieroglyphic register, as she states “I protect you in (= wearing) your crown...”. I do not regard this statement to address King Ptolemy II, but as a direct promise to Banebdjedet. With these words, Arsinoë usurped the Hathoric role as protecting her father, brother, son and husband, all manifested in Banebdjedet.

Block fragment at Mendes showing the local ram-god Banebdjedet
Arsinoë is furthermore described as “Beloved of the ram”, comparable to the titles mentioned above. This title strengthens the bonds between the god and his human protectress and wife. It has been concluded elsewhere that when a royal figure is described as beloved of a god, he or she becomes a form of that deity. Such a syncretism relates with Arsinoë’s title in the small (copy) Mendes stele, which describes her with a royal title, a personal name, and the name of Banebdjedet. I interpret her full assumption of his designation as assimilating them as a divine couple with similar characteristics as documented between Hathor and Ra/Horus/Amun. 

Arsinoë’s Hathoric role as God’s wife is underlined also by additional titles listed in the relief scenes, such as “Sweet of love” (Mendes and Pithom stelai, a scene on the Gate of Philadelphos in Philae), “Lady of sweet love” (inner sanctuary Philae), “Lady of loveliness” (Pithom stele), ”Great of sweetness” (Trier stele), “Beautiful in appearance” (Mendes stele), “She who fills the palace with her beauty” (Mendes stele) (compare the title of Arsinoë in the Alexandrian triad, Graeco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, inv. no. 11261: “An appearance more beautiful than the sun and the moon”). All these titles are informatively valuable since they place Arsinoë in a traditional mythological position, which emphasises the relationship between a king and his wife, comparable to Horus and Hathor. The listed titles have a rather erotic nature, since sweetness, beauty, love and fragrance symbolise the female scent. These titles connect Arsinoë with the Holy Wedding, in which the god impregnates the God’s wife to bring forth the next pharaoh. Female scent, the queen’s sweetness, and the priestess’ beauty are all connected with a religious position that was associated with Hathor as the divine eye, the eye of Ra.

Each designation listed above establishes a righteous and respectable position for Arsinoë within a conventional Egyptian society. The divine lineage indicated by the titles strengthened the social positions of any given queen employing them. The role of Arsinoë as a God’s wife (of Amun) can be summarised by the words of Sander-Hansen (1940, 21): “...die Grundlage denn auch vorhanden, da “die Gotteshand”, d.i. Hathor, allgemein als Gemahlin wie als Tochter des Allherrn angesehen wird.”

Note: Troy (1986, 196) translates the word Hnw.t as “lady” (here translated as “mistress”) and nb as “all”, which in this study is translated as “lady” due to its placement within the sentence. Troy (among others) further translates Snw as “encircles”, while I interpret it as Sn “eternity”. The sign Sn can be translated “eternity” or “protection”, and is depicted sometimes held in the claws of a falcon/vulture stretching out its wings protecting the pharaoh. Also, it is depicted in connection with the “reckoning of time-symbolism”. The sign Snw has the circular form of a cartouche, and can be translated “everything that the sun encircles”. Since the Snw-sign in itself can be translated as “everything that the sun encircles” I do not believe that there would be a need to add the nb-sign in the present sentence, especially not when written directly in front of itn – Aton, or the solar disc. Thereby there are two female epithets in the full sentence, “Mistress of Eternity” (or Eternal Mistress) and “Lady of the solar disc”. The general symbolism, however, remain similar.