Elizabeth Frood, ‘Claiming Space and Memory: the Development of Priestly Inscriptional Practices in Late New Kingdom Egypt (ca. 1190-715 BC)’ (Oxford, November 2009)
Paper delivered at the British Epigraphy Society Autumn Colloquium, November 21st, 2009, Oxford. Report by Charlotte Tupman.
Claiming Space and Memory: the Development of Priestly Inscriptional Practices in Late New Kingdom Egypt (ca. 1190-715 BC)
Elizabeth Frood, Oxford, November 21
Dr. Elizabeth Frood of St. Cross College, Oxford, began with a paper which showed that although “epigraphy” does not exist as a discrete discipline within Egyptology, and there are elements to the study of Egyptian texts which do not pertain to the study of inscriptions in Greek and Latin, there is much that is familiar to the classical epigrapher.
Frood introduced a new project, currently in its development phase, to study the epigraphy of Egyptian temple environments. There were three elements to Frood’s paper: an overview of epigraphy in a temple context; a description of the nature and range of this inscribed material; and a case study of one particular inscription that could affect the way in which we understand Egyptian temple environments.
Frood drew our attention to the visual character of hieroglyphic texts, whose meaning was bound directly to their context. Both hieroglyphic and hieratic (i.e. cursive) texts allow a delineation between text and image, and the distinction between media and between forms of script was sometimes used deliberately by the creators of the inscriptions to shape or enhance their message. Epigraphic texts in temple contexts focused mainly upon the relationship between the king and the gods, and these themes are found in both the internal and the external areas of temple complexes. Extended texts addressed royal actions and endowments, while non-royal figures were rarely included, with the occasional exception of anonymous priests.
The primary means for elites to display their presence in temple complexes was through statues and stelae, but most non-royal stelae are no longer in their original contexts. An exception can be found at the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak (Thebes), at which statues of four scribes have been found in context. This temple was part of a larger complex in Thebes dedicated to one of the pre-eminent state gods, Amun-Re. Frood is in the process of recording and editing a number of non-royal inscriptions found at this temple, some of which are classed as “graffiti”. The identification of a text as a graffito does not mean that it was not officially sanctioned, and so it might be preferable to refer to these texts instead as “secondary texts”. These more informal texts tend to be found in the external areas, and illustrate aspects of temple bureaucracy, whereas the more formal texts are found in inner spaces and refer, amongst other things, to cultic practices. A shift in the scope for non-royal representation towards the end of the New Kingdom can be identified at this site, beginning around 1200 BC. The increase in the representation of non-royals in this period suggests a change in the meaning of the temple space itself, which became a more communicative environment.
As a case study, Frood discussed a hieratic text found at this temple, inscribed at head-height in sixteen lines on a block in the wall of a gateway into the central courtyard, and dated to the period 945-715 BC. This text, whose subject is a priest named Horkhebi, raises questions about how we define and delineate space in temple environments. It begins with a prayer to Amun, followed by a semi-fictional genealogy stretching back five hundred years. Horkhebi’s personal access to the sanctuary is mentioned, which, in addition to his priestly ancestry, establishes his claim to initiated status. The text then contains an appeal to Amun, and finally a curse against anyone who might interfere with the inscription. The context and content of this text are unusual: the closest parallels are donation stelae, on which people recorded the dedication of part of their property to temples. Parallels are also apparent between this text and the priestly induction texts that were set up in the centres of sanctuaries. The use of monumental hieratic text aligns it with legal texts. Frood explained that the text points towards a transformation in the meaning of space in the temple context, and that integrated studies of these inscriptions can illustrate the meaning and delineation of Egyptian sacred spaces.