Mummy portrait from the 2nd century AD
of two brothers who appear to have died together
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is an addictive place. On my two writing retreats in Egypt last year I found myself returning again and again. The collections are so vast, the displays so stunning, that no matter how many times you go you always find something that bowls you over.
Much of the museum is laid out chronologically, from the predynastic era all the way up to the Greco-Roman period (332 BC – 395 AD). This last period of ancient Egypt is often overlooked except for the famous mummy portraits like the one pictured above, lifelike paintings of the deceased. The rest of the art from this time is less compelling. Some of it is overdone, almost cartoonish, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Here’s a small sample of what the museum had to offer.
I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. The Egyptian Museum is poorly lit and many of the cases are dirty, making good photography difficult. Hope you enjoy them anyway!
Gold-leaf case for a mummified ram, worshiped as the incarnation of the
god Khnum at Elephantine at the border with Nubia (modern Sudan).
Khnum was the god of the source of the Nile and also created children
out of river clay and put them in the womb. The mummy was covered with
amulets like a human mummy and examination showed the animal was
quite old when it died, suggesting that it was well cared for in the temple.
Plaster case for the head of a female mummy
Greek Period mummy cartonnage from a burial at Saqqara
Religions from across the Roman world filtered into Egypt during
the Roman period. This is a tauroctony, a ritual sacrifice of a bull by
Mithras, the deity of one of the most famous mystery religions in the
late Empire. Mithraism rivaled Christianity for a time but its spread
was hampered by the fact that it only accepted men.
Sadly these friezes did not have labels. Interpretation, anyone?
This giant serpent also lacked any signage
Photos copyright Sean McLachlan.
Sean McLachlan is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page. His latest book, The Case of the Purloined Pyramid, is a neo-pulp detective novel set in Cairo in 1919.