British Museum Asks What Happened In Egypt After The Pharaohs

Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs, British Museum ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 38 months ago
British Museum Asks What Happened In Egypt After The Pharaohs Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs, British Museum 4
An ivory box depicting Daniel in prayer, flanked by two lions. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Think Egyptian history and the mind jumps to mummies, pyramids and the afterlife. But what happened after this golden age of the pharaohs? The centuries that followed were to a large extent shaped by the major religions of the world — particularly Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The British Museum's new exhibition starts with a brilliant display of major texts from all three of these faiths, all at least 1,000 years old. Many of the artefacts in this document-heavy exhibition are extremely well preserved, but that's not to say there aren't other spectacular objects on display; we were particularly impressed by four silver and gold furniture fittings with goddesses representing Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Constantinople.

The best insights we found were on how each religion adopted what came before it. Horus may be an Egyptian god but he can be found wearing a Roman general's uniform, while his being nursed as a child by his mother Isis is a pose copied by Christians when depicting the Virgin with child. Another example is an eagle of Rome being re-shaped and re-interpreted as a symbol of Christ's triumph over death.

One more impressive document is the output from the Council of Nicea, a gathering that would determine fundamental aspects of Christianity today. It's also a nice touch to have photographs of holy sites, including a mosque set inside a temple complex, behind pillars from a church.

The era after the pharaohs is one most won't know much about, and this in-depth exhibition provides some much needed illumination, taking us on a journey from the conquest of Egypt by the Roman Empire, right through to today.

Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs is on at The British Museum from 29 October until 7 February 2016. Tickets are £10 for adults, concessions available. Also still on at The British Museum is the Celts blockbuster, drawings in silver and gold, and a small display on manga.

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An over-sized bronze head of the first Roman Emperor Augustus. This was made in Egypt, soon after he became emperor © The Trustees of the British Museum
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This is the Egyptian God Horus but he is wearing Roman military uniform. An example of how a previous religion was co-opted by the new rulers. © The Trustees of the British Museum
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Written in Greek, this bible is one of the oldest in existence today. © The Trustees of the British Museum
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Marble relief from a funerary monument with Arabic inscription. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Last Updated 28 October 2015