Greece in Egypt and Egypt in Greece, from Homer to Rome and Byzantium

About the project

Graeco-Aegyptiaca is a collaborative initiative by colleagues in the fields of Egyptology and Classics based in Hungary and the United Kingdom. We hope the project will grow into an international network bringing together researchers in Europe and across the world who are interested in the history of cultural interaction between Egyptians and Greeks from the very beginning to the Byzantine period.

The initial impetus for this project came from a small collective of scholars in the UCL Department of Greek and Latin in London and the Palladion, a community-focused Classics project based in Budapest.  As a mix of Hellenists and Egyptologists, and of experts on texts and material culture, we aim to break down the disciplinary boundaries that have stifled progress in this area for far too long, stimulating discussion and creating a forum for sharing questions and ideas. 

Who we are

Peter Agócs is a lecturer in Classics specialising in Archaic and Classical Greek poetry at UCL; Árpád M. Nagy is a professor of Classical archaeology at the University of Pécs; and Kata Endreffy is a lecturer in Egyptology at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. Besides being active in Palladion, both the latter have extensive museum experience as former directors of the Classical Collection in the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts.

We in the Graeco-Aegyptiaca collective look forward to your participation, your ideas and enthusiasm, and to working together on projects of importance and interest to us all!


Programme in 2023/2024

In the fall of 2023 we will be continuing our online Graeco-Aegyptiaca seminar inaugurated in January 2022. The series will consist of 40-minute papers given monthly by established scholars in the field of Egyptian and Greek cultural relations. Lectures will be held on ZOOM; participation is free, but registration is required. If you are interested in attending our events, please register on our Eventbrite page.

November 28, 2023. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Richard Hunter (University of Cambridge), ‘Penultimate thoughts: choliambic verse in Graeco-Roman Egypt and beyond’

This paper considers the relatively few examples of choliambic verse, other than the fables of Babrius, which survive from the imperial period; it considers both the resonance of choliambs at this date and the possible reasons for their rarity. The texts examined include two major inscriptions from Egypt and the choliambic poems found in the oldest version of the (Egyptianising) ‘Alexander Romance’.

January 23, 2024. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Hans van Wees (University College London), ‘Greek soldiers in Saite Egypt: myths and realities’

Herodotus’ story of how Psammetichus I and the Saite dynasty came to power with the help of Greek hoplite mercenaries has generally been taken quite seriously by historians of ancient Greece and even by some historians of Late Period Egypt. Assyrian and Egyptian evidence shows, however, that this tale was little more than a myth, typical of the way in which ancient Greeks tended to represent themselves as vastly superior in warfare to non-Greeks. This paper puts together textual and material evidence from Egypt, Assyria and the Greek world to assess in more realistic terms what role Greek soldiers played in Saite history and what role overseas military service played in the economies and societies of archaic Greek city-states.

February 27, 2024. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Svenja Nagel (Universität Würzburg), ‘Erotic Spells in the Demotic and Greek Magical Papyri: Ritual Techniques and Cultural Traditions’

A vast corpus of Demotic and Greek magical handbooks with collections of recipes as well as activated texts and objects produced in the course of magical rituals is preserved from Graeco-Roman Egypt. Spells concerned with the field of sexuality and love form a major part of the categories represented in these sources. According to our definition, ‘erotic magic’ comprises all those ritual practices that are intended to manipulate an individual’s own sexual life and/or that of others, gain control over it and optimise it, including its associated bodily and social functions. Accordingly, the main purposes of these rituals are: to gain or improve one’s own attractiveness, sexual performance and pleasure; to control the sexual life of other persons, e.g. by preventing them from having sexual relationships with others; and especially, to induce someone to crave sexual intercourse or a lasting sexual relationship with the user of the spell him- or herself.
This paper is based on interdisciplinary research conducted within the collaborative DFG project „Sexual dynamis and Dynamics of Magical Practice in Graeco-Roman Egypt: Erotic Spells in the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri (PGM and PDM) and their Cultural Traditions”, and will present some results of this project. After providing an overview of the different categories of erotic spells with their characteristics and development, the second part will be dedicated to a more detailed discussion of selected examples of spells, and shed light on their ritual framework and rationale as well as underlying Egyptian and Greek traditions and their reciprocal interference.

March 26, 2024. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Ian Moyer (University of Michigan), ‘Deliberating in the open: the public areas of the Ptolemaic Egyptian temple as sites of politics and law’

This paper explores the evidence for councils and courts of Egyptian priests deliberating in the open areas of the temple – a political and juridical function that is comparable to the uses of public places such as the agora or forum in other societies.

April 30, 2024. 18:00 (CET; 17:00 GMT). Caitlín Barrett (Cornell University), Household Archaeology and the Domestication of Empire: Egyptian Landscapes at Pompeii

“Nilotic scenes” – Roman depictions of imagined Egyptian landscapes – are important sources for the iconography and material constitution of Roman imperialism. Because these images are most commonly found in household contexts, they provide an opportunity to explore the embeddedness of imperial ideology within everyday life. This paper uses a case study from the archaeology of household gardens to explore the human impact of this “domestication of empire.” In the garden of the large private dwelling known as the “House of the Ephebe” at Pompeii, a series of imagined “Egyptian” landscapes decorated an outdoor dining installation. These Egyptian riverscapes shared space – and interacted with – a complex assemblage of architecture, wall paintings, statuary, and vegetation. All of these elements worked together to shape the experiences available to the people who used this garden. Simultaneously faraway and familiar, the garden’s imagined landscapes transformed domestic space into a microcosm of empire and encouraged their occupants to engage in open-ended ways with changing constructions of imperial, local, and cultural identities.

Previous work on this assemblage, including my own, has focused on the ways that adult diners would have interacted with these images. This paper also considers some ways that this garden assemblage could have shaped the experiences of a different group of viewers: namely, ancient children, for whom these images of empire would have participated in their early socialization.

May 21, 2024. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Eva Mol (University of York), title and abstract to be announced.

Past seasons

Recordings of previous lectures are available in our Video archive.

January 25, 2022. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Véronique Dasen (Université de Fribourg), ‘Visual bilingualism in Graeco-Egyptian amulet gems’

February 22, 2022. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Joachim F. Quack (Universität Heidelberg), ‘Demotic Egyptian traditions of the war of the gods and giants’

March 22, 2022. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Marianne Bergmann (Universität Göttingen), ‘Diocletian’s porphyry workshop. New images for the Tetrarchic rulers made in Egypt and the role of local craftsmanship in their conception.’

April 26, 2022. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Cäcilia Fluck (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), ‘Akhmîm-Panopolis – City of the weavers from Late Antiquity to the Arab Middle Ages’

May 24, 2022. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Ian Rutherford (University of Reading), ‘Theogonies and Theomachies in Egypt, Greece and Elsewhere. Comparisons, Connections and Speculations’

June 28, 2022. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Marina Escolano-Poveda (University of Manchester), ‘The interactions of Egyptian- and Greek-language astronomy: new sources and open questions’

October 25, 2022. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Kata Endreffy (The Palladion Eötvös Loránd University), ‘Seeing double: visualizing creation on Graeco-Egyptian stone dishes’

Correspondence, translation or convergence? The talk focuses on relief-decorated stone dishes, a unique and relatively little-known set of objects from Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, and looks at how the concept of creation is expressed in their diverse iconographical repertoire through a coherent fusion of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman images of renewal and triumph.

November 29, 2022. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge (Collège de France, FNRS), ‘Herodotus as an historian of religions and polytheism: the Egyptian matrix’

My lecture aims at addressing some well-known passages of Herodotus’s Book 2 about the origin of the gods and the place of the divine in his inquiry. The fact that these passages, crucial for the modern historian of religions, are embedded in the developments on Egypt is related to the Greek vision of the depth of Egyptian time, but the overall framework remains purely Greek and refers to what we call “Greek religion”.

January 31, 2023. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Tamar Hodos (University of Bristol), ‘Eggstraordinary Objects: Ostrich Eggs as Luxury Items in the Ancient Mediterranean’

Decorated ostrich eggs were traded as luxury items from the Middle East to the western Mediterranean during the second and first millennia BCE. The eggs were engraved, painted, and occasionally embellished with ivory, precious metals and faience fittings. While archaeologists note their presence as unusual vessels in funerary and dedicatory contexts, little is known about how or from where they were sourced, decorated and traded. Researchers at Bristol University, Durham University, and the British Museum have established techniques to identify where the eggs originated and how they were decorated, while researchers from Bristol, Cranfield, Ghent, Leuven, and Newcastle Universities have assessed comparative methods to identify pigments. This talk shares the results of our studies, revealing the complexity of the production, trade, and economic and social values of luxury organic items between competing cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world.

February 28, 2023. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Raquel Martín-Hernández (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), Composing Magical Formularies in Late Antique Egypt

The so-called Greek Magical Papyri form one of the most interesting and strange groups of ancient texts surviving on papyrus from the Roman period. They were published as individual texts almost since their discovery, but re-edited as a corpus thanks to the joint efforts of a group of scholars under the leadership of K. Preisendanz (1924–1928). The edition of these texts has been fundamental for the study of magical and vernacular religious practices in Greco-Roman Egypt. In recent years, the project “Transmission of Magical Knowledge in Antiquity”, based in Chicago, has been working on a new critical edition of the Greco-Egyptian magical formularies in which the study of the text is combined with information offered by the material study of the books themselves. Until recently, scholarship has tended to view the magical papyri as a monolithic block; thanks to the Chicago project, we are learning to see just how varied and diverse these papyri are. Written mostly in Greek, these texts constitute one of the most interesting, and still largely untapped, resources for the study of Greco-Egyptian cultural interaction in the Roman Empire.
My lecture belongs in this trend of research. I aim to provide an overview of the preserved Greco-Egyptian magical formularies, discussing their particularities and similarities. Certain magical books in particular will be studied in order to present ideas on how magical knowledge was transmitted in Roman Egypt, and for whom the production of such magnificent books may have been destined.

April 25, 2023. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Carolina López-Ruiz (University of Chicago), ‘Egyptian Herakles and Syrian Aphrodite? Disentangling perceptions of Phoenician art and religion in the Greek tradition’

In this talk I will offer some thoughts on the entanglement of Phoenician and Egyptian cultures, and focus on the impact this phenomenon had in the perception of Phoenician art and religion in ancient Greek traditions and modern scholarship.

May 30, 2023. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Lindsey Mazurek (Indiana University, Bloomington), ‘Imagining a Greek Home for an Egyptian Goddess: Time, Landscape, and Architecture in Greek Sanctuaries to Isis’

When Isis first arrived on Greek shores in the 3rd century BCE, her new followers had to build sanctuaries appropriate to an Egyptian goddess. In the process of imagining a place for their Greek Isis to dwell, devotees came up with a wide range of eclectic solutions that intertwined local needs, imperialist fantasy, and fantastical chronology. These sanctuaries do not draw from contemporaneous Egyptian art and architecture, but rather from Greek stereotypes about Egypt and the Nile River. Isis’ Greek temples, I argue, allowed Greek devotees to imagine Egypt in a way that responded to their own experiences as provincial subjects of the Roman Empire.

I begin with a brief overview of Isis’ and Sarapis cults’ arrival in Greece in the early Hellenistic period. Then, I turn to literary evidence, in which Greco-Roman authors from Herodotus to Pliny the Younger characterize Egypt as a timeless and strange place and highlight its unique flora and fauna. I next trace the popularity of these ideas in wall paintings and mosaics, where depictions of the Nile convey ideas of otherness and imperial control. I conclude by discussing the sanctuaries of the Egyptian gods at Marathon and Gortyna. The sanctuary at Marathon combines imaginative architecture that resembles Pharaonic Egyptian temples, archaizing sculpture that evoked a timeless Greco-Egyptian past, and a riverine setting that recalled the Nile Delta. At Gortyna, the sanctuary includes both an underground water crypt that echoed the Nilometers used to measure the river’s annual flood and cattle statuettes that personified the river’s waters. Taken together, this evidence suggests that Greek devotees used sanctuary spaces to explore Greek conceptions of Egypt as an imagined, far-off, and ancient place that they could control in much the same way that Rome controlled and imagined Greece.

June 27, 2023. 17:00 (CET; 16:00 GMT). Alexandra Villing (British Museum), ‘Naukratis: new fieldwork and new results’

Alexandra Villing will discuss her recent fieldwork and monograph on the site of Naukratis, which she carried out together with Ross Thomas, and which has the potential to transform our understanding of this important archaic Greek site in Egypt.

Image credit: The Colossi of Memnon, Thebes, Egypt. Photo: MusikAnimal, source: Wikipedia (CC-BY-SA-4.0).