NEAF Lecture: The Roman Gaze in Egypt
Dr Kate da Costa
The Roman Gaze in Egypt: Mummy Portraits and the Egypto-Roman World
Haunting eyes staring directly at the viewer, across nearly 2000 years, link us with the inhabitants of Egypt under Roman rule in a way few other artefacts can do. The funerary portraits of the 1st to 4th centuries CE, found principally in the oasis of Fayyum but also from Alexandria to Upper Egypt, represent a tangible expression of what it was to live not only in the Roman world, but as the product of the entanglement of Egyptian and Greco-Macedonian cultures.
Egypt was indispensable to the operations of the Roman empire – it provided vast quantities of grain, monoliths of red granite and porphyry, a stream of gold in the form of customs duty levied on the seabound trade from India, south east Asia and southern Africa, actual gold, gems and semi-precious stones, alabaster and marble, nitre, balsam, papyrus and hippopotamus.
Using the funerary portraits of young children, men, women, the elderly and the pious, we can explore ways in which the rich heritage of Pharaonic Egypt was incorporated into the Mediterranean empire ruled from Rome. We will begin to see, as in all the rest of the eastern provinces, that it is very hard to say what is Roman.
Dr Kate da Costa graduated from the University of Sydney with a BA in Near Eastern and Classical Archaeology, and a PhD in the material culture of the Roman Levant. She has worked in Jordan, mainly at Pella, but also with the German teams at Um Qais, and as a cataloguer for material from Deir ‘Ayn Abata near the Dead Sea, and Madaba on the plains. Her post-doctoral research – the Borders of Palaestine and Arabia – included field work across north west Jordan. She has also been a director at Pella, responsible for Late Roman to early Islamic material from the ecclesiastical building at the far east of the site. Kate has lectured at Sydney and Macquarie universities on the archaeology of the Roman east and Roman trade in the Mediterranean, and as one of the presenters for NEAF Saturday series over a number of years.
Hosted by the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation (NEAF)