The Real Ancient EgyptPosted: January 12, 2023
This series is different from the standard Great Courses lecture sets. It features four professors in a sort of round robin discussion on each of the nine topics in the course. The presenters are Melinda Hartwig of the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Betsy M. Bryan of Johns Hopkins University, Kate Liszka of California State University, San Bernardino, and Kasia Szpakowska formerly of Swansea University.
The four Egyptologists offer insights into ancient Egyptian culture and work to clear up misconceptions on the subject. They point out, for example, that ancient Egyptian culture lasted for three thousand years and that it was not monolithic. There were, they tell us, many changes in the culture during that time, including, for example, burial practices. Professor Bryan makes the point that curses to protect a tomb disappeared after the Old Kingdom.
The first episode discusses King Tutankhamun. They tell us he was not a major king, it’s simply that his tomb was discovered intact and not plundered, a very rare thing. Tut, in fact, became king very young and did not reign for very long. Recent genetic testing, they say, shows us that Tutankhamun’s father was Akhenaten, known for initiating the Amarna Revolution in which he moved Egypt’s capital to the city by that name which he built from the ground up. He threw aside all the other gods in favor of the worship of the disk of the sun. That did not last and his son initiated the return to the worship of the traditional gods. (They point out, by the way, that Akhenaten isolated Egypt politically and did not participate in the international community of the Near East, something that was disruptive to the region.)
One of the most interesting episodes was the discussion of the women rulers of Egypt. There weren’t many, but there were some. A few ruled in their own right, others seem to have acted as regent, as Nefertiti appears to have done with Tutankhamun when he was young. Evidence shows us that these women were smart and capable.
Not being a standard Great Courses lecture series, there is no course guidebook for The Real Ancient Egypt. That’s unfortunate because it would be nice to have such a thing for reference. For example, they several times displayed a graphic timeline showing the various phases of ancient Egyptian history: The Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, interspersed by three Intermediate Periods. It would be nice to have that available to review.
I have long had some familiarity with ancient Egypt, but this series had information with which I was not familiar. I certainly felt it well worth my time.