Monday, April 26, 2010

Fayum Mummy Portraits: A Window into the Eastern Roman World

The eastern half of the Roman Empire was a rich melting pot of cultures. Native cultures had long experienced the ebb and flow of both Greek and Persian cultures and adopted certain traits accordingly. The conquering peoples tended to blend into the conquered people. From 300 BC to 30 BC Egypt was ruled by the Greek-Egyptians of the Ptolemaic dynasty. When the Romans conquered Egypt they added a new layer creating a Greco-Roman-Coptic culture which was Greek in thought, Roman in government, and Egyptian in religion.

One of the main locations of the Greco-Roman-Coptic culture was the Fayum Basin area south of present-day Cairo, Egypt. From around A.D. 1 to 350, a popular practice in the culture was to draw portraits of those who passed away and place the portrait next to the mummified body. The portraits show the intermixing of Egyptians and Greeks while also showing how Roman fashion and hair styles influenced the people.

Because of the dry air in the basin the portraits survive today. They are a rich artistic treasure that offer a window into the world of the rich of the Greco-Roman-Coptic world.

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