Circa: 200 BC to 30 BC
Dimensions: 2" (5.1cm) high x 3.5" (8.9cm) wide
Collection: Egyptian Antiquities
This unassuming piece of inscribed wood is a mummy tag from the Egyptian Ptolemaic period. It contains the name and personal details of a deceased individual, which would have informed the embalmers as to what was required of them. The body would have been stored between processes, and tags such as this were used to identify the person. The script is demotic – the informal and most cursive version of hieroglyphics that was used for non-ceremonial activities (hieroglyphs are extremely time-consuming to write) – and appears to be intact. The lettering is clear and could be translated if required.
Ptolemaic Egypt was one of the most intriguing periods in Egypt’s long history, specifically the clash between Persian-ruled Egypt and the Hellenistic Greeks. This led to an enormous proliferation of artistic and stylistic innovation as the two cultures merged, giving rise to a fused identity that only ceased with the death of Cleopatra at the hands of the Romans in 30 BC. The period started with the invasion of Egypt by Alexander in 332 BC, who was welcomed by the Egyptians as he respected their religion and ejected the hated Persian powers then in rule. He founded a new capital – modestly named Alexandria – which rapidly became the new centre of power and learning in the region. When Alexander died in 323 BC (in Babylon), squabbles broke out as to his successor. Alexander’s brother’s regent, Perdiccas, appointed a friend of Alexander to rule as satrap: the friends’ name was Ptolemy. As the empire broke down, he found himself as sole ruler of Egypt, defeating an attempted coup by Perdiccas in 321 BC, and taking the title of “King” in 305 BC. He subsequently renamed himself Ptolemy I Soter ("Saviour"),and was the founder of the dynasty.