Friday, October 30, 2020

Less stylized Amarna portraiture

 Less stylized Amarna portraiture

During Akhenaten's reign, royal portraiture underwent dramatic change, often depicting the pharaoh in an androgynous and highly stylized manner. Artists showed subjects with  elongation and narrowing of the neck and head, sloping of the forehead and nose, a prominent chin, large ears and lips as well as lowered eyelids. Each figure was also illustrated with a more elongated body than previous representations. In the new human form, the subject had more fat in the stomach, thigh, and breast region, while the torso, arm, and legs were thin and long like the rest of the body. The skin color of both male and female is generally dark brown (contrasted with the usual dark brown or red for males and light brown or white for females). Figures in this style are shown with both a left and a right foot, contrasting the traditional style of being shown with either two left or two right feet and fingers and toes are depicted as long and slender and are carefully detailed to show nails. 

The Brooklyn Museum points out that the unusual, elongated skull shape often used in portrayal of the royal family "may be a slightly exaggerated treatment of a hereditary trait of the Amarna royal family  given that "the mummy of Tutankhamun, presumed to be related to Akhenaten, has a similarly shaped skull." Some scholars, though, suggest that the presentation of the human body as imperfect during the Amarna period is in deference to Aten while others interpret this unprecedented stylistic break from Egyptian tradition to be a reflection of the Amarna Royals' attempts to wrest political power from the traditional priesthood and bureaucratic authorities.

However, some less stylized portrait sculpture has survived from this period including these portrait heads of Akhenaten and Nefertiti that I photographed at the Neues Museum in Berlin back in 2016. Although Akhenaten's portrait does feature the lowered lids, the skull shape and more normal anatomical appearance of the facial structures would seem to discount the presence of some of the more severe genetic disorders that have been proposed.

After Akhenaten's death, the new capital was abandoned, and traces of his monuments elsewhere defaced. Remains of Amarna art are therefore concentrated in Amarna itself, but some remains have been found at Karnak, where large reliefs in the style were dismantled, and the blocks turned round to face inwards when a later building was constructed using them. These were only rediscovered in recent decades. 

Image: Portrait heads of the royal couple Akhenaten and Nefertiti, 18th Dynasty, Egypt, 1340 BCE that I photographed at the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany in 2016.

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Funerary Masks of the Mayan Classic Period

 Maya Classic Period rule (250-900 CE) was centred on the concept of the "divine king", who acted as a mediator between mortals and the supernatural realm. Kingship was patrilineal, and power would normally pass to the eldest son. A prospective king was also expected to be a successful war leader. Maya politics was dominated by a closed system of patronage, although the exact political make-up of a kingdom varied from city-state to city-state. By the Late Classic, the aristocracy had greatly increased, resulting in the corresponding reduction in the exclusive power of the divine king. The Classic period Maya political landscape has been likened to that of Renaissance Italy or Classical Greece, with multiple city-states engaged in a complex network of alliances and enmities. The largest cities had populations numbering 50,000 to 120,000 and were linked to networks of subsidiary sites.

In 378 CE, Teotihuacan decisively intervened at Tikal and other nearby cities, deposed their rulers, and installed a new Teotihuacan-backed dynasty. Tikal's great rival was Calakmul, another powerful city in the Petén Basin. Tikal and Calakmul both developed extensive systems of allies and vassals which were used to against each other. At various points during the Classic period, one or other of these powers would gain a strategic victory over its great rival, resulting in respective periods of ascendance and decline.

Classic Maya social organization was based on the ritual authority of the ruler, rather than central control of trade and food distribution. This model of rulership was poorly structured to respond to changes, because the ruler's actions were limited by tradition to such activities as construction, ritual, and warfare. This only served to exacerbate systemic problems that may have included overpopulation with resulting severe environmental degradation and drought. By the 9th and 10th centuries, this resulted in collapse of this system of rulership. In the northern Yucatán, individual rule was replaced by a ruling council formed from elite lineages. But, in the southern Yucatán and central Petén, kingdoms declined. In western Petén and some other areas, the changes were catastrophic and resulted in the rapid depopulation of cities. One by one, cities stopped sculpting dated monuments. The last Long Count date was inscribed at Toniná in 909 CE.

Image: Funerary Mask (Jade, Shell and Grey Obsidian) Calakmul, Late Classic (660-750 CE) at the Museo de Arquitectura Maya, Baluarte de la Soledad, Campeche, Mexico courtesy of Bernard Dupont (CC BY-SA 2.0) The Maya exhibited a preference for the color green or blue-green, and used the same word for the colors blue and green. Correspondingly, they placed high value on apple-green jade, and other greenstones, associating them with the sun-god Kʼinich Ajau. 

See more Maya funerary masks on Wikimedia Commons:

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Kudurrus of ancient Babylon

A kudurrus is an ancient Babylonian stone with an inscription that records a land grant, usually between the ruling monarch and a subject.  It's name is derived from kudurru, the Akkadian word for boundary.  The only kudurrus excavated in ancient Babylonian sites were found in temples where they would have served to record the transaction and to protect the rights of owner by legal as well as divine means.

Inscriptions usually provided the location of the plot of land, the boundaries of its four sides, the name of the surveyor of the property and the names of witnesses to the transaction. To provide divine protection of the relationship, a kudurrus also often included many symbols of deities such as the crescent, symbol of the moon-god Sin, the solar disk of the sun god Shamash, and the eight-pointed star of the goddess Ishtar/Inanna.

A Kassite example I photographed at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago was cast from an original in the British Museum.  The Kassites rose to power after the fall of the Old Babylonian Empire and ruled from 1595 BCE until about 1155 BCE. The Kassites were members of a small military aristocracy but were efficient rulers and locally popular. Their 500-year reign laid an essential groundwork for the development of subsequent Babylonian culture. The chariot and the horse, which the Kassites worshipped, first came into use in Babylonia at this time. Kassite rulers in Babylon, though, were scrupulous to follow existing forms of expression, and the public and private patterns of behavior which was probably an important factor in their popularity.

Although the Kassite kings ruled conservatively, they were conquered in the 12th century BCE by the neighboring Elamites. They regained control briefly during Babylonian Dynasty V (1025-1004 BCE) but were then deposed by the Arameans. The Kassite people, however, survived as a dstinct ethic group in the mountains of Luristan long afterwards. Babylonian records describe how the Assyrian king Sennacherib on his eastern campaign of 702 BCE subdued the Kassites in a battle near Hulwan, Iran. During the later Achaemenid period, the Kassites, referred to as "Kossaei", lived in the mountains to the east of Media and were one of several "predatory" mountain tribes that regularly extracted "gifts" from the Achaemenid Persians, according to a citation of Nearchus by Strabo (13.3.6). However, they fought with the Persians against Alexander the Great in the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. According to Diodorus Siculus (17.59) and Curtius Rufus (4.12), Alexander later launched a winter attack against the Kassites and put an end to their tribute-seeking raids.

Kudurrus recording a grant of land by Marduk-nadin-ahhe, King of Babylon to Adad-zer-iqisha 12th century BCE (cast) at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago (original in the British Museum)

There are more images of interesting kuddurru on Wikimedia Commons:

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Servitude in ancient Egypt

 The distinction between servant, peasant, and slave described different roles in different contexts in ancient Egypt.  Forms of forced labor and servitude are seen throughout all of ancient Egypt.  There were three types of enslavement in ancient Egypt: chattel slavery, bonded labor, and forced labor.

Chattel slaves were mostly captives of war and were brought over to different cities and countries to be sold as slaves. All captives, including civilians not a part of the military forces, become a royal resource. The pharaoh would then resettle the captives by moving them into colonies for labour, giving them to temples, giving them as rewards to deserving individuals, and giving them to his soldiers as loot. Some chattel slaves began as free people who were found guilty of committing illicit acts and were forced to give up their freedom. Other chattel slaves were born into the life from a slave mother.

Ancient Egyptians were able to sell themselves and children into slavery in a form of bonded labor.  Self-sale into servitude was not always a choice made by the individuals’ free will, but rather a result of individuals who were unable to pay off their debts. The creditor would wipe the debt by acquiring the individual who was in debt as a slave, along with his children and wife. The debtor would also have to give up all that was owned. Peasants were also able to sell themselves into slavery for food or shelter. In the slave market, bonded laborers were commonly sold with a 'slave yoke' or a 'taming stick' if the slave was troublesome.

 The last form of slavery , forced labor, occurred when the Egyptian government drafted workers from the general population to work for the state with a corvée labor system. The laborers were conscripted for projects such as military expeditions, mining and quarrying, and construction projects for the state. These slaves were paid a wage, depending on their skill level and social status for their work. Conscripted workers were not owned by individuals, like other slaves, but rather required to perform labor as a duty to the state. Conscripted labor was a form of taxation by government officials and usually happened at the local level when high officials called upon small village leaders.

I noticed that research states servitude was known as far back as the New Kingdom but numerous statues of laborers engaged in various tasks have been found in Old Kingdom tombs as well.  Whether they were just citizens engaged in their various occupations or those laboring under servitude is unclear.  Perhaps they were merely included in high status tombs to ensure the deceased would have all of the products and services he needed in the afterlife.

Images: Figurines of servants from the Old Kingdom tomb of courtier Nykauinpu, Dynasty 5, 2477 BCE, Giza, Egypt that I photographed at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago in 2009:

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Thursday, October 08, 2020

Reassertion of political power reflected in Late Period Egyptian art

 A scene of two girls in a wheat field quarreling and pulling each other's hair, found in Luxor in a Late Period tomb of a man named Mentuemhet closely resembles a scene used in the tomb of man named Menna who lived 1200 years before.  It dates from Dynasty 26 circa 664 BCE.  The Late Period is considered by scholars to be the last flowering of native Egyptian culture before the Persian conquests, followed by the victories of Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Ptolemaic Kingdom.

Its first pharaoh, Psamtik I, threw off ties to the Assyrians about 665 BCE by forming alliances with King Gyges of Lydia and mercenaries from Caria and Greece.  In the ninth year of his 54-year reign, Psamtik reunified Egypt by destroying the last vestiges of the Nubian 25th Dynasty's control over Upper Egypt. But Psamtik, in his effort to reassert Egyptian authority in the Near East, was driven back by the Neo-Babylonian forces under Nebuchadnezzar II.  However, he succeeded in restoring Egypt's prosperity and established close relations with Greece, encouraging many Greek settlers to establish colonies in Egypt and serve in the Egyptian army.

This reassertion of native Egyptian culture after a period of foreign control was proclaimed by the emulation of earlier Egyptian art to harken back to the historical period when Egypt was a dominant power in the region.  In 2017, a colossal quartzite statue of Psamtik I was discovered at Heliopolis. It, too, was sculpted in the ancient classical style of 2000 BCE, symbolizing a resurgence to the greatness and prosperity of the classical period.  At some point, however, the colossus was deliberately destroyed.  Fragments of the sculpture are cracked and discolored, evidence of having been heated to high temperatures then shattered with cold water, a historical method used to destroy ancient colossi.

Tomb engraving of two girls quarreling in a wheat field dating to the Egyptian 26th Dynasty, also known as the Saite period, that I photographed at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois in 2009.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The contentious relationship between ancient Cyprus and Persia

 The early documented history of Cyprus begins with an inscribed stele commemorating a victory by Sargon II (722–705 BCE) of Assyria there in 709 BCE.  Assyrian domination of Cyprus appears to have begun earlier than this, though, during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (744–727 BCE), and ended with the fall of the Neo Assyrian Empire in 609 BCE, whereupon the city-kingdoms of Cyprus gained independence once more. Following a brief period of Egyptian domination in the sixth century BCE, Cyprus fell under Persian rule. Royal palaces excavated on Cyprus resemble the architecture of Achaemenid examples like Persepolis, with audience chambers, open courtyards, bathhouses, and stores.  Town fortifications and houses were built of mudbrick walls on stone foundations.

Early Greek influence is reflected in Cypriot sculpture, however.  Archaic Greek art with its attractive smile on the face of the statue is found on many ritual pieces dating between 525–475 BCE although portrait sculptures began to exhibit more realism.  Ionian influence on sculptures intensified and copies of Greek korai appear, as well as statues of men in Greek dress. Naked kouroi, however, although common in Greece, are extremely rare in Cyprus, while women are always presented dressed with rich folds in their garments. The pottery in Cyprus retained its local influences, although some Greek pottery was imported at this time.

Cyprus supplied armies and ships for Persia's foreign campaigns including Xerses' invasion of Greece in 480 BCE where Cyprus contributed 150 ships to the expedition. Despite this, Cyprus took part in the Ionian Revolt in 499 BCE led by the brother of the king of Salamis.  But the Persians crushed the Cypriot armies after a five-month siege. 

However, when Evagoras I of Salamis dominated Cypriot politics for forty years,  he favored Athens during the closing years of the Peloponnesian War, elicited Persian support for the Athenians against Sparta and urged Greeks from the Aegean to settle in Cyprus. At the beginning of the 4th century BCE, he took control of the whole island of Cyprus and within a few years was attempting to gain independence from Persia with Athenian help. 

Following resistance from the kings of Kition, Amathus and Soli, who fled to the great king of Persia in 390 BC to request support, Evagoras received less help from the Athenians than he had hoped for and in about 380 BCE, a Persian force besieged Salamis and Evagoras was forced to surrender. In the end, though, he remained king of Salamis until he was murdered in 374 BCE, but only by accepting his role as a vassal of Persia. Together with Egypt and Phoenicia, Cyprus rebelled against Persian rule again in 350 BCE, but the uprising was crushed by Artaxerxes III in 344 BCE. 

Cyprus finally gained political independence  when, hearing of Alexander's great victory over the Persians at Issus, the Cypriots rose up against their Persian overlords yet again and made available to Alexander the fleet of ships formerly in the service of Persia.  These ships and Cypriot engineers were instrumental in Alexander's successful siege of Tyre in 332 BCE.

When I saw these portraits of Cypriot men at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I thought their faces reflected this independent nature.  

Terracotta head of a man wearing a wreath Cypriot Late Classical 4th century BCE photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Male Head Cypriot Hellenistic period 3rd-2nd centuries BCE Limestone photographed at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, California.

Closeup of a limestone grave marker depicting men reclining at a banquet Cypriot Classical Period 4th century BCE photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Limestone figure of a young beardless man of high rank probably in service to a deity Cypriot Archaic early 6th c. BCE photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Closeup of limestone male figure in Egyptian dress Cypriot Archaic 3rd quarter of the 6th century BCE photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Limestone head of a bearded man wearing a conical cap indicating high rank Cypriot Archaic early 6th century BCE photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Colossal votive terracotta head of a man with full beard and helmet with upturned cheekpieces 600-500 BCE from the sanctuary of Salamis-Toumpa excavated in 1890 Cyprus photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

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