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More than 1,200 years ago, two cities on Egypt’s north coast disappeared into the Mediterranean Sea, victims of rising tides and seismic disruption. Beginning in 1991 underwater excavations have brought a staggering array of artifacts to the surface which have fundamentally changed our understanding of the ancient Egyptian coastal region. The Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds audio guide features a general introduction and expert commentary on 10 works from the exhibition and 3 additional colossal sculptures.

Introduction

Brent Benjamin, The Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, introduces Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds

Introduction of speakers
From left: Brent Benjamin, The Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum; Franck Goddio, director of excavations and President of Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine (European Institute for Maritime Archaeology); Lisa Çakmak, associate curator of ancient art at the Saint Louis Art Museum; Sarah J. Biggs, research assistant at the Saint Louis Art Museum
  • Speaker:
    Brent Benjamin
    Barbara B. Taylor Director
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    Hello, I’m Brent Benjamin, The Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. I’d like to welcome you to our exhibition Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds. Many of the objects you are about to see were lost for more than 1,200 years under the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. In 1996, the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology initiated a search for two cities, whose histories were only known through ancient accounts.

    The research team, led by underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, has since discovered a variety of incredible objects from these underwater excavations and confirmed the two cities’ names: Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. In this exhibition you will find exceptionally preserved artifacts, which offer us a better understanding of life in Egypt in the first millennium. The Museum’s presentation is the first time many of these works of art will be seen in the United States. The recently discovered colossal statues, votive offerings, and jewelry are also supplemented by works of art from
    museums across Egypt. These treasures help tell the story of cities and cultures that flourished together in the ancient world.

    Your journey begins in the 7th century BC in the ancient Egyptian port of Thonis-Heracleion. As you continue through the exhibition, you will learn about the religious customs of the city. Subsequent galleries will highlight Osiris, the Egyptian god of underworld, whose family and legend shaped the Mysteries of Osiris, one of the most important ceremonies celebrated throughout ancient Egypt. You will also travel to Canopus, and discover how cross-cultural interactions created new deities. Finally, the role of another Egyptian port, Alexandria, will complete a picture of living in this ancient world.

    This audio guide offers expert commentary about 10 key objects. The works of art featured in the guide are identified in the galleries with audio icons found on the object labels. Along the way, you will hear from Lisa Ҫakmak, co-curator of this exhibition and associate curator of ancient art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, as well as Sarah J. Biggs, research assistant, and underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio. I hope you enjoy the audio guide and your visit to Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds.

Stop 1

Stele of Thonis-Heracleion

Thonis-Heracleion, 380 BC

Stele of Thonis-Heracleion
Stele of Thonis-Heracleion (detail), Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt; Late Period, 30th Dynasty, in the reign of Nectanebo I (380-362 BC); black granodiorite; height: 74 13/16 inches; National Museum of Alexandria (SCA 277); IEASM Excavations; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

  • Speaker:
    Franck Goddio
    President
    European Institute for Underwater Archaeology

    Hi I’m Franck Goddio, I am the director of the excavation in Egypt, in the city of Alexandria and in the Bay of Aboukir. We were first looking for three cities, as a matter of fact, the cities of Canopus, Thonis, and Heracleion. They were the three mentioned in ancient texts. We started a geophysical survey in 1997 for three years and we started excavations on some tectonic signals and we discovered the city of Canopus first in 1999.

    Then in the year 2000, at 7.5 km from the present sea shore of Egypt, we discovered a large area covered with monuments and sediment. We thought of course that we were in one of the two cities we were looking for, and we were very lucky at the beginning to discover a monument which told us that we were in the city of Heracleion. One week after excavating inside a temple in that city of
    Heracleion, we discovered that beautiful stele that you have here. It is in pristine condition.

    That stele was very important for us because it tells us the name of a pharaoh who came to that city, the pharaoh Nactenebo I. This stele says that he came for the first time of his reign in that city in 380 BC. At the end [of the inscription], the pharaoh is giving an order to erect the stele in the city of Thonis. All of a sudden, we knew that Heracleion and Thonis were one and the same city. Heracleion was the Greek name; Thonis was the very ancient Egyptian name. And that stele solves a 2,000 year enigma.

    We found the stele hidden in the wall of the temple and most probably it was been hidden there in 331 BC, when Alexander the Great came to Egypt, because Alexander the Great decided to found a new capital of Egypt, Alexandria. He ordered that all of the trade of the city of Thonis be transferred to Alexandria. But this was against what pharaoh Nactenebo I decided in 380 BC, and of course it was prejudicial to the big temple of that city because the taxes were fading away. Thus, the priests most probably decided to hide that stele in the temple, because something written in Egypt, even if you don’t see it, was active [or still enforceable]. As it has been
    hidden, it has been perfectly preserved during 2,331 years.

    As you enter the next gallery, directly ahead you will see a case with coins and jewelry, which is the next audio stop. You will find a six-minute video introducing the exhibition. Please feel free to enjoy this video before or after you proceed with the audio guide.

Stop 2

Coins and Jewelry

Coins and Jewelry
Coin with Head of Ptolemy I, Thonis-Heracleion, 305–246 BC; Egyptian; Ptolemaic period (332–30 BC); gold; 3/8 inches; Greco-Roman Museum, Alexandria (SCA 312); IEASM Excavations; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

  • Speaker:
    Lisa Ҫakmak
    Associate Curator of Ancient Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    Hello, I’m Lisa Ҫakmak, the associate curator of ancient art here at the Saint Louis Art Museum and co-curator of the exhibition Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds. In this case we see a variety of items that illustrate how cosmopolitan the city of Thonis-Heracleion was, including coins, jewelry, vessels, and sculptures that come from all over the Mediterranean. Let’s start first with this group of five gold coins that all depict the head of Ptolemy I, who is the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty in 331 BC. On these coins we see Ptolemy depicted very much in the Greek style. He has short wavy hair, a weak curved chin, and a large nose, and you’ll see these traits on the coinage of Ptolemy’s heirs throughout the rest of the dynasty. He’s also wearing a very specific and distinctive headband called a fillet, which indicates his status as a king.

    These five coins and the way that the king is depicted on them are quite distinctive from the three sculpture heads across the way. Although only one of them dates to the Ptolemaic period, all three clearly use Egyptian symbols and styling. You can see all three wearing a very specific Egyptian headdress, and all three have the uraeus on the forehead, which is the sacred rearing cobra, a symbol reserved for gods and royalty in ancient Egypt.

    If you look at the jewelry in this case, you’ll see that it comes from a lot of different places around the Mediterranean. The animal headed earrings, the ring with an engraved bezel of the Greek goddess Nike or Victory. But there is also material from the Near East, including two crescent shaped earrings and another ring with a small pyramid of 18 little dots called granules. Egypt is represented by a fragment of a gold uraeus, another one of these sacred rearing cobras. There is also a group of material from the island of Cyprus, including a gold coin with the image of the hero Herakles. Interestingly enough, this is the only representation of Herakles that has been found so far at Thonis- Heracleion.

    What’s interesting about all of these pieces is that they were all excavated from temples on the central island in Thonis-Heracleion, where they were likely deposited as gifts or votives to a variety of different gods. It could’ve been an Egyptian god, it could’ve been a Near Eastern god, it could’ve been a Cypriot god. Although the temple in which they were deposited was Egyptian in architecture and style, and the ceremonies performed there would’ve been performed by Egyptian priests, these offerings from Greece, from the Near East or Cyprus were all okay. They demonstrate that in Egypt you didn’t necessarily have to donate something specifically Egyptian to an Egyptian god. One of the things that marks Egyptian religion from other religious systems was that it was adaptable and accepting. So you could be a Greek traveler, passing through Thonis- Heracleion after a very harrowing journey and dedicate a piece of jewelry to a particular Greek god, but you could do it in an Egyptian temple.

Stop 3

Naos of Amun-Gereb

Thonis-Heracleion, c.322-120 BC

Naos of the temple of Amun-Gereb
Naos of the temple of Amun-Gereb (detail), Thonis-Heracleion, Ptolemaic period (332-30 BC); red granite; 68 1/2 × 36 5/8 × 39 3/8 inches, weight: 6300 lb.; Maritime Museum of Alexandria (SCA 457); IEASM Excavations; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

  • Speaker:
    Franck Goddio
    President
    European Institute for Underwater Archaeology

    You are here in front of the main monument of the city of Thonis-Heracleion. It’s called a naos. A naos was a kind of a shrine, which was the heart of the temple. Inside that shrine was a statue of the main god of the temple. That shrine was closed by two doors. Only the priest of the temple and the pharaoh himself could open those two doors in order to see the god inside.

    On the face of that monument, there are inscriptions and those inscriptions told us that we were in the temple of Amun-Gereb, and we knew from ancient texts that the temple was located in the city of Heracleion. We discovered that monument the very first week of the excavation, after our discovery of the city. And one week after the start of the work, we knew for sure that we were in the city of Heracleion. This shrine contains the statue of the main god of the temple, Amun-

    Gereb. Amun was one of the greatest gods of the
    Egyptian pantheon. He was the one who gave the title of legitimacy to the new pharaoh. All new pharaohs of that period had to come to that city of Heracleion, go inside the temple, open the two doors of that monument, which is in front of you, and at that time, the god was passing to him the title of his power as universal king. He was then pharaoh of Egypt.

    On the left of that monument, you will see a lot of bronze ritual instruments, which have been found inside that temple and it’s extremely rare to find ritual instruments in situ [or in its original place]. On the left of the ritual instruments, you can see a beautiful statuette of a pharaoh, which has been found in the temple of Amun- Gereb, most probably a personal gift of pharaoh Psamtik II to that temple. On the right of that monument, you will see the foundation deposit of another temple, which was located by the temple of Amun-Gereb. It was the temple of Khonsu, the son of the main god [Amun-Gereb].

    When we found underwater that monument, it was totally buried under the sediment. We first cleaned it and before raising it, we had to decide with the Egyptian [officials], if it was worth raising or not. And when cleaning it, one of the divers could see some inscription on the front face. Underwater, we took some silicone
    prints of those inscriptions and we could read them above. And we saw that we were in the presence of the main shrine of the temple of Amun-Gereb, and of course it’s a very important historical monument. We raised, we restored it, and here it is today.

Stop 4

Osiris and His Family

Osirian divinities set up on the bottom of Aboukir Bay
Osirian divinities set up on the bottom of Aboukir Bay – bronze statuettes discovered on the site on Heracleion, Egypt, 6th- 2nd century BC; IEASM Excavations; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation
  • Speaker:
    Lisa Ҫakmak
    Associate Curator of Ancient Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    In this case we are looking at a wide variety of statuettes and figurines of several different Egyptian deities. Osiris, the king of the underworld, his wife Isis, and their child Horus, who when he’s represented as a child is often called Harpokrates. All of the objects in this case were excavated from Thonis-Heracleion. They weren’t found in a specific temple. Instead, they were found throughout the city. Some were found in the northern part of Thonis- Heracleion, which was the first area of the city that was settled, and also the first area of the city to be abandoned due to the unstable nature of the land upon which the city is founded. Over the course of the life span of the Thonis-Heracleion, population and
    construction migrated south as the northern areas became less stable, and these figurines follow that path.

    If you look at these items, they are not pristinely preserved, they don’t look like some of the gold jewelry that we saw earlier, and this is because of the way these objects reacted to being under the ground for so many thousands of years, not everything comes out looking pristine. What these figurines represent are probably personal votive dedications, made by individuals not from the top of the socio-economic ladder of Thonis- Heracleion, but certainly not at the bottom, because bronze is not a cheap commodity, but sort of a middle class, mid-level offering, left by an individual.

    The other thing that is interesting about these figurines is that they are in contrast to some of the votive offerings that were found in channels and waterways, and specifically associated with certain ceremonies. Many of these figurines were found on land, which suggests that they were not necessarily part of a larger ritual, but a personal dedication. If something good or something bad happened and someone needed to make a dedication, they went to the temple or they went to a sanctuary and they left this kind of figurine. They weren’t waiting for a
    big ceremony and depositing these figurines ritually in the water.

    Let’s talk a little bit about Osiris, his wife Isis, and their child Harpokrates, and who exactly they were. Osiris was the king of the underworld. But how did he happen to become king of the underworld? He started off as king of everything, but what happened is a tale as old as time.

    Osiris had a brother, Seth, and Seth was jealous. Eventually Seth murdered Osiris, cutting his body into 14 different pieces and scattering them across Egypt. Osiris’ devoted wife, Isis, traveled across the country, collected all the body parts, and put Osiris back together, and in so doing created the first mummy.

    Isis was a powerful magician, and so she drew upon her magic to reanimate Osiris and bring him back to life. She also became pregnant and eventually bore their son, Horus. Horus, when he’s a child, is called Harpokrates and is represented with a finger at his mouth and side braid.

    After Isis gives birth to Horus, she has to hide from Seth while Horus is growing up. But eventually, once Horus becomes an adult, he confronts Seth and ultimately
    defeats him. And he, Horus, becomes king. But what about Osiris? Osiris was king and now his son is king. What happens is Horus becomes king of the Earth while Osiris becomes king of the underworld, and so father and son coexist in this way.

Stop 5

Osiris on His Funeral and Revival Bed

Abydos, c.1773–1650 BC

Osiris on his Funeral Bed
Osiris on his Funeral Bed, 1773–1650 BC; Egyptian; Middle Kingdom, 2055–1650 BC; black diorite; 43 5/16 × 35 1/16 × 70 1/16 inches, weight: 4000 lb.; Egyptian Museum, Cairo (JE32090); Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

  • Speaker:
    Sarah J. Biggs
    Research Assistant
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    Hello I’m Sarah J. Biggs, and I’m the research assistant in the department of European art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. This sculpture depicts a vital moment in the myth of Osiris. As we’ve heard already, Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth and his body parts scattered across Egypt. After this happened, his wife, Isis, aided by her sister Nephthys, searched for these body parts.

    Having found him, the two sisters reassembled Osiris and, in so doing, they created the first mummy. We see Osiris here, laid out on a funeral bed composed of two standing lions. Nephthys, in the form of a bird, stands at
    his head. At his feet, a pair of hawks, which are symbols of his future son, Horus, embrace him protectively with their outstretched wings. The goddess Isis has taken the form of a kite, a bird of prey, and she is crouching over the prone body of Osiris. Her beating wings breathe life into him, and at that very moment, Isis mates with him, conceiving their son Horus.

    On this monument, Osiris is wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt and the traditional beard of royalty. In his hands he carries two symbols of sovereignty: the flail in his right hand, and a staff, or cane, in the left, which takes the place of the more common flail.

    This is clearly a sculptural masterwork. The figures are elegantly carved, with vibrancy and detail. While today we can see only dark stone, this piece might once have been gilded, or otherwise decorated with precious metals and paints. Some traces of pigment still survive. This sculpture was discovered within the tomb of king Djer, a pharaoh of the first dynasty of Egypt, who reigned circa 3000 BC. Djer’s tomb was located in the royal necropolis at Abydos, a place that has since become known as the Tomb of Osiris.
    It is not completely clear, however, when this sculpture was produced, or for which pharaoh. A row of hieroglyphic inscriptions runs horizontally around the length of the table on which Osiris rests. If you examine them, you will see that many of these have been chiseled away. This destruction was unfortunately not limited to the inscriptions; the face of Osiris has also been defaced, leaving only the eyes and beard untouched.

    All the titular carvings, or the names by which a king can be determined, have been carefully removed. But one inscription can be read; it says, “Beloved of Osiris, Lord of Abydos, and of Wepwawet (Opener of the Way), Lord of the Sacred Land.” This title was attributed to a pharaoh who ruled around 1747 BC. So why does a sculpture found in a tomb from 3000 BC have an inscription dated over 1,000 years later? Likely it indicates the importance of Osiris’ story all these years later. Osiris’ triumph over death provided the foundation for Egyptians to have a faith in the afterlife. And because Horus was viewed as the first ruler of Egypt, all subsequent pharaohs were seen as his heirs and holy protectors of the country.

Stop 6

The Mysteries of Osiris

Osiris Vegetans Figure in a Falcon-headed Coffin
Osiris Vegetans Figure in a Falcon-headed Coffin, c.800–600 BC; Egyptian; Third Intermediate period, 1069–664 BC; sarcophagus: sycamore wood, figurine: earth and grain; 6 5/16 × 9 13/16 × 23 5/8 inches; Egyptian Museum, Cairo (JE36539); Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation
  • Speaker:
    Sarah J. Biggs
    Research Assistant
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    The Mysteries of Osiris as practiced in Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were part of a long tradition. The ceremony, which was made up of many separate but related rituals, was considered to be the most important and sacred event of the holy calendar, and was believed to ensure fertility and renewal. The Manual of the Temple, a collection of religious regulations, required that every temple or sanctuary in Egypt must have a special chapel set aside for the worship of Osiris and his Mysteries.

    These Mysteries were intimately connected to the myth of Osiris’ murder by his brother, Seth, the efforts of his wife, Isis, to gather his body parts, which had been scattered across the land, and Osiris’ subsequent regeneration and reincarnation. By the Ptolemaic era, each major area of Egypt claimed to have once possessed a particular piece of Osiris’ body, and to be spiritually and symbolically connected to that piece.

    One of the most important tasks of the Mysteries was the creation of the Osiris vegetans figures, also sometimes called corn-mummies. This first ritual took place under great secrecy, within the sanctuary of Shentayt, or the Mysterious Temple. The figures were formed out of a paste of rich Nile silt and barley seeds, and then placed in golden molds. Every temple created a full-figure model, representing the intact god Osiris, but there is some evidence of a parallel tradition. In some regions, priests would also create what became known as a “divine part,” or a model corresponding to the part of Osiris’ body that was believed to have been found in that area.

    These figures and their molds were placed into large stone tanks, where they were watered daily with ritual ladles known as simpula. One simpulum in particular was referred to as the “Great Assembleress.” The Great Assembleress was also an epithet of Nut, the mother of Osiris, and the use of this term clearly connects the womb of Nut to the tank in which the figure of Osiris was being formed. The figures were watered until they germinated, and then dried, before being prepared to preside over the ceremonies to come.

    The Osiris vegetans nearby is a striking example of the kind of figures that would have been produced annually during the Mysteries of Osiris. It is a little more than 19 inches, and is made of earth and seeds, wrapped in linen, and coated with resin. The face has been shaped out of black wax, a color which evoked the rich soil deposited by the Nile, and alongside green, was symbolic of new life to ancient Egyptians.
    The mummy-shaped coffin is made of sycamore, a wood sacred to Osiris and used in many of the rituals of the Mysteries. The coffin is topped by a gilded head of a hawk wearing a blue wig. It was believed that the gods had skin of gold and hair of lapis lazuli, the precious blue stone. Painted hieroglyphs praise Osiris, and below the base is the sign shen, a symbol of wholeness, protection, and renewal.

Stop 7

Scuttled Boat

Photograph Assembly of Wreck number 11
Photograph Assembly of Wreck number 11: sycamore barge, preserved at a length of 10m, discovered in the Grand Canal, Thonis-Heracleion; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation
  • Speaker:
    Sarah J. Biggs
    Research Assistant
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    Evidence that Thonis-Heracleion was once busy port is plentiful. Besides historical written records, archaeologists have so far discovered nearly 75 sunken boats in the harbors and waterways of the city, as well as more than 700 anchors and other pieces of nautical equipment.

    But one stands out, the boat you see before you on the wall. Shown at life-size, this 36 foot long boat was of a type known as a skiff, a small, shallow-bottomed boat, designed for navigating narrow waterways. It is different from the other wrecks that have been so far uncovered— its design matches those of ritual boats depicted on temple carvings.

    The Decree of Canopus, which is a record of a large assembly of priests in the year 238 BC, makes note of a number of decisions reached by this synod. One such is a proclamation concerning the celebration of the Mysteries of Osiris in Thonis-Heracleion. The Decree states that on the 29th of Khoiak—the penultimate day of the Mysteries—the god Osiris would navigate his sacred boat from the Temple of Amun-Gereb in Thonis- Heracleion to the Osirian temple in Canopus. This journey most likely took place along the main waterway

    linking the two towns, which is now known as the Grand Canal.
    It is highly likely that this boat before you was once used in the final nautical procession during one of the annual celebrations of the Mysteries of Osiris. Alone, of all the boats found so far in Thonis-Heracleion, this skiff was made of sycamore, a wood sacred to Osiris and symbolic of rebirth and renewal. Despite its beauty and religious significance, sycamore is not a wood commonly used in shipbuilding, as it lacks stability and durability.

    Further evidence that this skiff was a ritual vessel comes from the fact that it was scuttled, or deliberately sunk, in the very center of the Grand Canal which links Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus. Large collections of stone dishes, ritual ladles, and other votive offerings were found underwater, clustered around the remains of this skiff. This suggests that this site was significant, and that this ritual boat was sunk here deliberately, another loving sacrifice to the great god Osiris.

    Speaker:
    Franck Goddio
    President
    European Institute for Underwater Archaeology

    When we excavate a shipwreck, we have to take all information that we can get from that artifact and we study it very meticulously. We put tags [on the boat] in order to number the ribs and planks, and then after we do 3-D modeling, we can reconstruct this beautiful vessel in 3-D. We excavated that shipwreck very carefully because it is extremely fragile.

    But we decided not to raise that beautiful artifact because it’s so fragile and so important that it has to remain in the place where the ancient Egyptians sank it on purpose. What has happened is that as the boat has been touched by the god, it could not be destroyed. After it was out of order, they could only give it back to the god, and they sank it deliberately into the sacred channel, because the water of the sacred channel was the fluid of the god Osiris. And after being sank on purpose, they surrounded that shipwreck with ritual deposits of great value.

Stop 8

Statue of Arsinoë II

Canopus, c.300–200 BC

Statue of Arsinoë II
Statue of Arsinoë (detail), Canopus, Aboukir Bay, Egypt; 3rd century BC; black granodiorite; Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum (SCA 208); IEASM Excavations; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

  • Speaker:
    Lisa Ҫakmak
    Associate Curator of Ancient Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    The sculpture we are looking at now is probably one of my favorite objects in the entire exhibition. The surface of the stone, the way it’s polished, the way it’s carved, is so luscious. You almost can imagine her coming alive, and taking a step off the platform and walking towards you. Another interesting thing about this sculpture is the way it blends traditional Egyptian style with Greek style. The primary Egyptian feature is her stiff, rigid posture, with her left leg slightly forward, and her arms down at her side. In contrast, the way her dress clings to her body is very much a Greek feature.

    The knot over her right breast was called an Isis knot, and this was a way of identifying the statue with the goddess Isis. It was very common for Queens in Egypt to take on the divine persona of Isis. This statue, in all likelihood, represents Arsinoe II, who was Queen of Egypt. When she died sometime around 270 BC, her husband Ptolemy II deified her and by royal decree stated that a statue of Arsinoe should be placed in every temple across Egypt. And so this statue was probably setup in one of the main temples in the city of Canopus, the Serapeum, which was the temple dedicated to the god Serapis and was the most important temple in the city.

    Another remarkable thing about this statue is if you take a look at the photo on the label, you can get a sense of the state of preservation of this statue as it came out of the water. This is in stark contrast to some of the other objects in the show. She seems to have come out of the water in almost pristine condition, which adds to the beauty and mystique of this statue.

    Arsinoe II has a really interesting back story. As the daughter of a Pharaoh, Ptolemy I, and a princess of Egypt, she was a pawn in the larger political game of the Mediterranean world. At the age of 15, her father decided to marry her to Lysimachus, the king of Thrace, Asia Minor, and Macedonia. At the time of their wedding he was about 60 years old. Arsinoe had three sons with Lysimachus, but as you can imagine, a marriage between a 15 year old and a 60 year old wasn’t destined for a happy ending. Arsinoe was part of a plot to have Lysimachus’ first son executed in hopes of getting one of her sons onto the throne. Eventually, Lysimachus died in battle and, because of her role in the plot, Arsinoe had to flee. She went to her half-brother, Ptolemy Keraunos, who at this time, had become the king of Macedonia in Greece, and the two ended up marrying. This relationship was in trouble from the beginning. Not only did Arsinoe have children from her first marriage, but so did her Ptolemy Keraunos, and so this created quite a bit of family rivalry, if by rivalry we mean trying to kill the children of your spouse.

    Arsinoe conspired against Ptolemy Keraunos, who in return killed two of Arsinoe’s sons. So Arsinoe ended up fleeing back home to Egypt to seek the protection of her full brother Ptolemy II, and the two ended up marrying. They took on the title “Philadelphoi,” which means sibling loving. The fact that Arsinoe married her brother was probably considered scandalous by the Greek population, but there was a long precedent of sibling marriage in ancient Egypt. Eventually Arsinoe was able to establish herself as Queen of Egypt, and she was influential in her own right. She issued coins, participated in government, and according to one Greek historian, she even won chariot races in the Olympic Games. So it seems like the third marriage was certainly more successful than her previous two.

Stop 9

Head of Serapis with Kalathos

Canopus, c.200–100 BC

Head of Serapis with Kalathos
Head of Serapis with kalathos, Canopus, 2nd century BC & Roman period; marble; 33 7/8 × 13 3/8 inches; Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum (SCA 169, 206); IEASM Excavations; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

  • Speaker:
    Lisa Ҫakmak
    Associate Curator of Ancient Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    What we’re looking at here is an over life-size head of the god Serapis. Its size and its discovery at the city of Canopus, suggests that it was probably the head of the cult statue of the temple of Serapis, which was the largest and most important temple in Canopus. Serapis is a really interesting deity, because he’s not completely Egyptian and he’s not completely Greek. He’s a fusion of several Greek deities, including Zeus, the king of the gods, Helios, the god of the sun, Dionysus, god of
    fertility, Hades, god of the afterlife, Asklepius, god of healing, as well as Osiris, the Egyptian king of the underworld. And he takes on all of these different attributes from all of these different deities.

    Although Serapis existed before the Ptolemaic period, his cult was popularized by Ptolemy I as a way of uniting the Egyptian population and the Greek population of Egypt. Serapis is frequently shown wearing a very specific type of headdress, called a kalathos. A kalathos is the Greek
    word for basket and the specific kind of headdress that Serapis is wears, is a basket for measuring grain. This connects Serapis to grain, agriculture, and fertility. He doesn’t always wear the kalathos, you can see him in this gallery wearing a different type of headdress, but it does become a very common attribute of his.

    Serapis was a popular deity, especially in Egyptian towns with large Greek populations. Canopus had a very popular, very large temple to Serapis. The Serapeum of Canopus played an extremely important role in the Mysteries of Osiris ceremony that was celebrated in Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. The temple served as the final resting place for the Osiris figurines that were created during the ceremony, but it was also an extremely famous temple in its own right. In part because of the multi-varied persona of Serapis, the temple became an important place for healing.

    The Serapeum was destroyed sometime in the 4th century AD, but because the temple and its influence was so closely entwined with the fabric of the city, it didn’t disappear completely. The Christians founded a healing shrine on the same site, or close to the same site, as the Serapeum. The Christian destruction of this building is interesting because in the process, they tore down a lot of architectural features and statues from throughout Canopus. And so this statue head, as well as the statue of Arsinoe II, was actually found in sort of a dump where the Christians seemed to sort of just throw all sorts of statues and monuments from Canopus that they had pulled down.

Stop 10

Priest Holding an Osiris-Canopus

Alexandria, c.100 BC–AD 200

Priest holding an Osiris-Canopus jar in veiled hands
Priest holding an Osiris-Canopus jar in veiled hands, Alexandria, 1st century BC-2nd century AD; granodiorite; height: 48 inches; National Museum of Alexandria, (SCA 449); IEASM Excavations; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation

  • Speaker:
    Franck Goddio
    President
    European Institute for Underwater Archaeology

    We found that statue on the rural sunken island of Antirhodos in Alexandria, inside a temple devoted to Osiris. On that island used to live Cleopatra herself during summertime. You can see a priest of Osiris holding Osiris in the form of a vase from where he is emerging. It is called the Osiris-Canopus. The priest cannot touch a god. Thus, he is holding the god through the linen of his tunic. On each side of the priest you can see two sphinxes. They were found exactly as you can see them here, on each side of the statue. The left sphinx is a likeness of Ptolemy XII, father of Cleopatra.

    When we found the statues, we started first to clean them underwater, and when we raised them out of the water, we have to put them in some basins with fresh water for several months in order to extract all the salt. And then after we had to clean them very meticulously in order to take out all marine encrustations.

    The god Osiris existed since the very beginning of Egyptian history in 4,000 BC. His presence was constant all over the exhibition, because we are talking about the history of Egypt and the history of the main gods of Egypt. The cult of Osiris prayed all over the world, even in Europe. It lasted for centuries and centuries.

    You are here at the end of the exhibition and I hope you have enjoyed it. You are in front of the priest holding one of the main gods of Egypt, Osiris, and you went through all of the cult and secret ceremonies held in his name. I hope you will remember this experience and you have gone through the exhibition like going through a patronage. Thank you very much and goodbye.

Sculpture Hall: Colossal Sculptures

The bust of the colossal statue of the god Hapy
The bust of the colossal statue of the god Hapy has been strapped with webbings before being cautiously raised out of the water of Aboukir Bay, Egypt; IEASM Excavations; Photo: Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation
  • Speaker:
    Lisa Ҫakmak
    Associate Curator of Ancient Art
    Saint Louis Art Museum

    We hope you enjoyed the exhibition, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds. Before you leave the Museum, please be sure to visit Sculpture Hall, where we have three colossal ancient Egyptian sculptures, also part of the exhibition, on display. You will not want to miss the chance to experience these incredible statues that have traveled all the way from Egypt to St. Louis!

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