Curator’s Diary 10/7/12: Pagans, Christians and Muslims – Egypt in the First Millennium AD

The Egyptian god Bes dressed as a Roman soldier (Acc. no. 11244)

The Egyptian god Bes dressed as a Roman soldier (Acc. no. 11244) © Paul Cliff

I have just returned from the Annual Sackler Egyptology Colloquium at the British Museum, this year on the theme of Pagans, Christians and Muslims: Egypt in the First Millennium AD. Out of a total of around 16,000 objects, the Manchester Museum’s Egypt and Sudan collection contains approximately 1500 from this period. Along with most other museums, this material has in the past been over-shadowed by our more well-known Pharaonic material. The colloquium gave an insight into the vibrancy of Egyptian culture at this time – highlighting aspects of both significant change and of continuity. It was particularly informative to hear presentations about the archaeological context of some of our objects (from Late Antique sites such as Oxyrhynchus and Antinoopolis), and types of objects that feature in our collection, such as textiles and glass.

The colloquium also provided a chance to present an overview of our First Millennium AD collection to other curators. Along with colleagues Roberta Mazza and Frances Pritchard, it was an excellent opportunity to highlight the strength and diversity of collections held by the University of Manchester. Our collection of Roman mummy masks and portraits are relatively well-known. The role of collectors in Manchester (‘Cotton-opolis’), and the North West of England generally, in gathering post-pharaonic textiles was rightly emphasised.

Many objects of First Millennium AD date will be used in our new Ancient Worlds galleries to illustrate Roman, Christian and early Islamic life in Egypt and Sudan. In the meantime, our Roman mummy portraits will be part of an exhibition entitled Face and Voices, which opens at the John Rylands Library on 19th July.

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