Five Millennia
Again and again, Egypt took stimulus from the neighbouring cultures and reworked them into something new, something “typically Egyptian”, or went and improved upon technological developments. This constant interplay between continuity and innovation is where the specificity of Ancient Egyptian culture lies, well into the Christian Era. This large vessel depicts the god Bes, shown with achondroplasic traits, the protective deity for mother and child, whose appearance shows African roots.
At the crux of the Ancient Egyptian view of the world is the idea of Maat. Depending on the context, it can mean truth and justice, but also world order. People are supposed live according to the rules of Maat, but the world itself is also meant to be in a state of Maat – this is where the king comes in, as his main mandate is to ensure the persistence of Maat on Earth. The personification of this abstract concept is a female figure, generally shown squatting on the floor and usually has a feather (the hieroglyph for her name) on her head.
In the Early Dynastic Period (3000-2570 BC), a central administration, with Pharaoh’s residence in Memphis, slowly takes shape. With the emergence of the Egyptian state, the main characteristics of Egyptian art in sculpture and relief slowly start to take form. In the Old Kingdom (2670-2200 BC), Egypt became one of the main powers in the Ancient Near East. The dissolution of its political, economic and social structures in the First Intermediate Period (2200-2040 BC) leads to the division of the central state into smaller political units with nomarchs at their head.
The Egyptian king had a double nature, man and god combined, as illustrated by the various Egyptian designations for their ruler. As the High Priest of all the temples of the land, he provided the gods with offerings and in return, as a representative of all humanity, received from them the breath of life. Pharaoh, “the Great House”, is the guarantor of Maat, the expression of divine world order. As “Lord of the Universe”, the King overcomes the foreign lands and rules over Egypt, whose two regions – Upper and Lower Egypt – he symbolically reunites upon ascending the throne.
Choice - In addition to pottery, the exhibition case displays vessels of stone and various paraphernalia relating to tomb equipment (reliefs, stelae, coffins and grave goods) along with examples of statuary. Then there are objects considered typical for each of the time periods, such as wooden figures from models (see picture) for the Middle Kingdom. The change from mudbrick to limestone slabs on the back wall illustrates the emergence of stone architecture in the Old Kingdom.
In the Predynastic Period, localised cultures encompassing some of the first settlements appear throughout the land. Next to petroglyphs in the desert, pottery is the main medium for artistic expression. Tools and weapons made of flint, jewellery made from gemstones and ivory, cosmetic palettes and the first examples of sculpture all appear as grave goods; stone vessels of the finest quality illustrate the high level of stoneworking technology.
By moving a slider over a timeline, visitors can choose a period of Egyptian history and display a map of Egypt with the important sites for that period, from the Delta in the North to the Nubian desert in the South. Animations illustrate famous discoveries or buildings such as temples and tomb complexes. Clicking on the monuments reveals photographs and information.
Later periods looked back upon the Middle Kingdom (2040-1781 BC) as a “Golden Age” in which art and literature had reached their pinnacle. In the Second Intermediate Period (1780-1550 BC), the fight for freedom against the foreign Hyksos rulers pushed a new nationalistic ideal and saw the rise of Pharaoh as a cultural hero. In the New Kingdom (1550-1075 BC), after its victory against the Hyksos, Egypt rose to a world power, maintaining political and economic relations with the entire known Western world.
With a card deck to illustrate it, this media station illustrates the dualism – the use of paired symbols – of Egyptian thought: the Egyptian king is God and Man, has a mortal mother and a divine father, embodies kingship itself but is also a historical individual, and appears in images of the symbolic destruction of enemies and scenes of real-life battles. And as a mediator between god and mortals, he is both the one providing offerings and the one receiving the divine gifts.
By moving a slider over the timeline, visitors can select a period in Egyptian history and an animation of the important historical events or turning points of that era appears on the map, such as the division of the land into 42 nomes, the construction of the pyramids or the Battle of Kadesh (shown here). Four special themes give information on the Egyptian calendar, their timekeeping, their understanding of history and various ancient historians.
The five thousand years of Egyptian history are mostly illustrated by pottery. Almost every Egyptian museum has storage magazines filled with hundreds, even thousands of pots and almost none of them on display, except in the cases dedicated to Prehistory. And yet pottery objects lend themselves particularly well to illustrating the daily life of Ancient Egyptians.
With the conquest of Egypt by Amr Ibn al As in the year 640, Egypt became a Califate and Islam became the main religion – though without ever completely displacing Christianity. As early as 643, Muslims founded the new capital of Fustat where Cairo is today. It quickly became the economic centre of Egypt. Early Islamic art under the Umayyad dynasty continued many of the Hellenistic and Byzantine traditions.
Desert Landscape - In a large, 17m-long exhibition case, some 750 objects, arranged chronologically, tell the tale of five thousand years of Egyptian history, from 4000 BC to 1000 AD. A museum within the museum – and whereas in the previous exhibition halls most of the objects are celebrated individually as works of art, the atmosphere here is different, with a more archaeological presentation. To this end, 8 tonnes of custom-made sand in two different colour tones was introduced to suggest a desert landscape on three levels.
With the defeat of Cleopatra VII by Augustus in the year 31 BC, Egypt became a part of the Roman Empire. A number of temples were rebuilt during the Roman Period (30 BC-395 AD) and depict the Roman Emperors in the guise of Pharaohs. In the Byzantine-Christian Period (395-646 AD), Alexandria became one of the first centres from which Christianity spread. In the Egyptian desert, monasticism was born. With the division of the Roman Empire (395 AD), Egypt fell to the Eastern Roman Empire which had its capital at Byzantium.
The endurance and continuity of Egyptian culture is unparalleled by any other civilisation of antiquity. From its beginnings in the Early Dynastic Period a culture emerged based on an efficient administration, on which created archetypes in many areas such as art, literature, architecture, religion – which influenced and were adapted by both neighbouring and subsequent cultures.
In the Third Intermediate Period (1075-750 BC), Egypt dissolved into a northern kingdom with its capital in Tanis in the Eastern Delta (under Libyan rule) and the “Divine State of Amun” in Thebes. The Late Period is marked by the succession of foreign rulers and indigenous dynasties as well as the loss of Egypt’s political importance on the international stage. With the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, Egypt became a part of a Hellenistic kingdom with the Ptolemies at its head (332-31 BC).
Dear visitors, in the name of my team of guardians, I would like to welcome you to the Egyptian Museum. At the information desk, we can provide you with a Media Guide, or your children can pick up the Archaeological Backpack. If you need a wheelchair or are simply looking for something, don’t hesitate to ask us – we are happy to help! We would like to make sure your museum experience is an enjoyable one, one that you will remember fondly. We are looking forward to your visit!
Three media stations offer information on each of the objects in the exhibition case. Visitors can either click on a specific object on the touchscreen or choose an era on the timeline. In the latter case, all of the objects belonging to that period appear together on the screen along with an introduction to the culture of that time.