In this episode I am joined by the superb scholar and Egyptologist Dr. Juan Carlos Moreno García on a very fascinating and sometimes controversial topic and that is ancient Egyptian identity and how ethnicity was viewed in ancient Egyptian society.
This interview was based on a fantastic article he had written titled " Coping with ethnicity in Pharaonic Egypt." Did ancient Egyptians care about ethnicity? Judging from the abundant texts and representations that have survived it seems that ethnicity mattered. Processions of foreigners carrying their tribute to the sovereign of Egypt stand out for their colorful characters dressed in distinctive non-Egyptian clothes and wearing unequivocal markers of their ethnic origins. But the almost folkloric features they display in these representations conceal the fact that foreigners were often full members of Egyptian society, well integrated and fulfilling trades and activities even high-ranking offices, indistinguishable from their Egyptian fellow. In fact, were it not by their occasional description as aamu (Asiatic), nehesi (Nubian) or lieu (Libyan) in their own monuments, nothing in their looks, titles, names or cultural markers would reveal any particular ethnic identity.
From an ideological point of view, the pharaonic culture set clear distinctions between Egypt and foreign territories, including their respective lifestyles, values and beliefs. But how much of this was propaganda? How much of this was reality?
Dr. Moreno Garcia explains Egypt was far from being the exclusive abode of high culture, social order and economic prosperity that pharaonic sources were so inclined to boast about, the model to be imitated. In fact, when regional rulers emerged in periods of political division, they frequently considered more favorable to invoke not a prestigious Egyptian royal ancestry but a foreign one. Hyksos kings defining themselves not necessarily as pharaohs but as “rulers of foreign lands”, or regional princes calling themselves “Libyans” show in the end that ethnicity is always a cultural construct, an identity marker devoid of any “national” or biological essentialism fixed once and for ever, open therefore to continuous reinterpretation and re-elaboration.
We go on to cover a variety of other topics from foreigners depicted as Egyptians, Egyptian propaganda in art, the abuse and misuse of ancient DNA, prejudice towards minorities in ancient Egypt and so very much more.
Original article: coping with ethnicity in pharaonic Egypt https://www.asor.org/anetoday/2020/05/ethnicity-pharaonic-egypt
Academia page : https://cnrs.academia.edu/juancarlosmorenogarcia
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