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Greco-Roman Mummy Masks in the Egyptian Museum

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Mask of a boy named Heraklion, Roman Period 2nd century AD.
This painted plaster mask covered the head and chest of the
mummy. Heraklion offers a bunch of grapes to a small bird.

Visitors to Egypt tend to want to see the great sites of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the splendid temples around Luxor are all well worth a visit, but Egypt’s later periods are of interest as well. I just went on one of my semi-regular trips to Egypt with the specific intent to study the Greco-Roman period. It plays a role in the third book in my Masked Man of Cairo neo-pulp series and there’s no better inspiration than actually seeing the sites and artifacts themselves.

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Historians date the Greco-Roman period from Alexander the Great’s conquest in 332 BC until the Arab invasion in 642 AD. After Alexander’s death, Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty until 30 BC when Egypt became a Roman province. Rome controlled Egypt until 395 AD, when it became part of the Byzantine Empire. During this time we see a fusion of Classical and Egyptian styles. Although some art historians look at this as a degenerate phase in Egyptian art, with cruder and even cartoonish art, I find it fascinating. Here we have two vastly different cultures melding over time into one. The Greeks and Romans could have gone on burying their dead and carving their Classical statues, and some did just that, but instead most took on the ideas of Egyptian religion and made them uniquely their own.

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While I covered some artifacts from this period in a previous post, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is so chock full of great bits of the past I felt the urge to share some more with you. I’ve focused on the mummy casings because it’s here where the fusion of styles is most pronounced. Unfortunately, the Egyptian Museum lacks signage for most of the artifacts so I can’t give you much information other than the general period.

Some posts on Greco-Roman sites in the Western Desert and a visit to Bahariya Oasis are coming up!

Photos copyright Sean McLachlan. I apologize for the quality of some of these. The Egyptian Museum is badly lit and the cases all need cleaning. More below!


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 Masked Man of Cairo series is a series of neo-pulp detective novels set in Cairo in 1919.

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This mummy casing of gilded plaster features a swastika.
The symbol was quite common in Greek art and architecture.

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Some mummy casings were made of wood,
which had to be imported from Lebanon

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