Photo courtesy of Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum
Cartonnage and Faiyum portrait of a noblewoman
Graeco-Roman Period, 332 B.C.-A.D. 330
Linen, gesso (a kind of plaster), painted and gilded with a wooden panel painted with pigments suspended in hot wax, perhaps from the Faiyum
Alexander the Great entered Egypt in the winter of 332 B.C. without firing a shot. He was greeted by the Egyptians as a hero who had liberated them from the oppressive administration of the Persians who had been occupying the land as conquerors for over a decade.
In time, the administration of Egypt was entrusted to Ptolemy, one of Alexander's most trusted generals. This Ptolemy, himself a Macedonian Greek, declared himself pharaoh of Egypt in 305 B.C. and thereby inaugurated a dynasty, termed the Ptolemaic in his honor. His descendants, all of whom were Macedonian Greeks, were to rule Egypt for three centuries until the death by suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. Thereupon Egypt became the personal property of the Roman Emperors.
During the Ptolemaic Period, the members of the Egyptian elite maintained their millennia-old traditions. They continued to erect temples and tombs in pharaonic style and maintained workshops in which traditional statues, often inscribed with hieroglyphs, were created. The Roman Emperors suppressed some members of the Egyptian elite who demanded independence, and promoted the cause of others who would acquiesce to their control of the land.
In time, these Egyptians turned their backs on their brethren and placed the cultural heritage of ancient Egypt entirely at the disposal of the Romans. In so doing, the ever diminishing numbers of those members of the elite alienated themselves from the vast majority of the Egyptian population.
In time, that majority turned its back on both the Romans and the elite and embraced Christianity, which tradition maintains was introduced into Egypt in the late first century A.D. by St. Mark.
The rise of Christianity on the banks of the Nile was accompanied by the fall of pharaonic culture.
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