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Monday, 23 July 2012

Why on earth choose this? Women's stuff again!

EC185, a fragment of a Soter type shroud has just been put on display in the Egypt Centre. I've been meaning to do this for ages. The tour for the Latin in the Park group, Saturday gone (see previous blog) reminded me again.

We have several Soter-type shroud fragments in the Egypt Centre and several are much more complete than this one. You can see a couple more here. So why on earth this fragment?

If you want an idea of what a complete example looks like, a complete one, belonging to a male, can be seen in the Ashmolean. These things date to the early 2nd century AD and basically show the edeceased as transfigered.

Unfortunately, we don't have much space to display things and textiles take lots of space. So, I had to find a small example! I really wanted to show one of a woman (we already have a male one display). It interests me that by the Graeco-Roman Period the gender of the female deceased had become very important.

In earlier periods, women were transfigured through the male god Osiris, conceivable a problem if women wanted to retain gender in death (Cooney 2008). Men were also given more credit for creation, with women playing the supporting role. By the Roman Period dead women were associated with the goddess Hathor, even known as 'The Hathor N' (where N stands for the name of the deceased). Some have suggested an increasingly gendered afterlife for women in the Graeco Roman Period (Riggs 2005; Cooney 2008, 16). Additionally, the female seems to have been given more credited for creation. So, for example, while the male god Khnum, the potter, was previously credited with creation and birth of children through spinning his wheel, by the Graeco-Roman Period, Hathor is sometimes credited with spinning the wheel (Dorman 1999, 96). Another text from this period states that the bones of a child are formed by the father and the soft body parts by the mother (Roth 2000, 190).

This is not to say that the Graeco-Roman world gave women more status. Herodotus was quite shocked at the freedom Egyptian woman enjoyed compared to other parts of the classical world. Additionally, women become more important in creation before the Graeco-Roman period, its just that its more noticable then.

So, basically, I wanted to put something on display showing the increasing importance of women in creation in the Roman Period, but we didn't have much room! Apologies for those fed up of me going on about women's stuff again!


Cooney, K.M. 2008. 'The problem of female rebirth in New Kingdom Egypt: The fragmentation of the female individual in her funerary equipment', in Graves-Brown, C. (ed.), Sex and Gender in Ancient Egypt: 'Don Your Wig for a Joyful Hour'. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, pp. 1–25.

Dorman, P.F. 1999, 'Creation on the potter's wheel at the eastern horizon of heaven', in Teeter, E. and Larson, J. A. (eds), Gold of Praise. Studies on Ancient Egypt in Honour of Edward F. Wente. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 83–99.

Riggs, C. 2005.  The Beautiful Burial in Roman Egypt: Art, Identity, and Funerary Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roth, A.M. 2000, 'Father earth, mother sky: Ancient Egyptian beliefs about conception and fertility', in Rautman, A. E. (ed.), Reading the Body: Representations and Remains in the Archaeological Record. Philadelphia: University of Pensylvania Press, pp. 187–201.

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