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An Egyptianizing relief from Malta

By Anthony Bonanno


From the very first announcement of the theme of this congress it was evident that\ud the "Egyptianizing" phenomenon would be one of the most recurring topics in the diverse\ud contributions, especially those concerned with cultural aspects, such as art and religion,\ud outside Egypt itself. It would be presumptuous of me, therefore, and futile, even to try to\ud define the phenomenon. At this stage I would only wish to emphasize the distinction\ud between a) the more ancient version of the "Egyptianizing" movement, which was\ud diffused throughout the central and western Mediterranean by the Phoenicians, who not\ud only plagiarized indiscriminately Egyptian art and iconography for their commercial\ud purposes, but made extensive use of Egyptian religious form and content to give some\ud sort of shape to their own religion; and b) the later Hellenistic version, which spread\ud throughout the Graeco-Roman world as a result of the incorporation of Egypt, with its\ud rich cultural and artistic baggage, within the Hellenistic world after the conquest of\ud Alexander.\ud The first movement started practically with the onset of the Iron Age which in the\ud Near East coincided with the arrival on the scene of the Sea Peoples, one of the\ud consequences of which was the emergence of the Phoenicians as a geopolitical reality.\ud The Phoenicians foraged their way through the immense artistic and iconographic\ud heritage of this ancient civilization and made it their own, often changing radically, if not\ud completely, its original meaning. This Egyptianizing movement is also attested in Malta.\ud It was introduced there by the Phoenicians who started their colonization of the islands\ud towards the end of the 8th century and retained their presence in them till the second\ud Punic war, Carthage having in the meantime shifted their political centre of gravity\ud towards her. The physical products of this cultural movement in the Maltese islands\ud have been catalogued and studied in Halbl's corpus of Aegyptiaca (1989).\ud The second, or Hellenistic, Egyptianizing movement saw the diffusion, first of\ud Egyptian artistic iconography, and later also of religious cults, throughout the GraecoRoman\ud world in the process of the formation of that complex, but unified, cultural and\ud artistic koine that characterizes the Hellenistic phenomenon. This immensely rich\ud cultural baggage was taken over, practically wholly, by the Roman empire. With the\ud incorporation of Egypt within the Roman commonwealth, the last of the Hellenistic\ud kingdoms to do so, the Egyptianizing movement in the Roman world intensified even\ud further as an artistic fashion, and introduced the diffusion of Egyptian religious cults in\ud all parts ofthe Empire. In spite of Augustus' initial opposition to Egyptian cults in Rome,\ud temples dedicated to Isis and Serapis proliferated, leading to the abrogation of his\ud prohibiting edict. Egyptian cults were thus practised at all social levels (Lambrechts\ud 1956, pp. 2, 34).\ud This second movement did not leave the Maltese islands untouched and Halbl's\ud corpus of Aegyptiaca includes a number of Egyptian items of this period (Halbl 1989,\ud pp. 160-167). The purpose of this paper is to examine a relief fragment which is\ud classifiable under this second Egyptianizing movement, and to investigate what light it sheds on the "Egyptian presence" in Malta, whether it was the product of a purely\ud artistic fashion, the "Egyptomania" that invaded Rome and Italy in the first century\ud A.D., or a manifestation of a religious worship.N/

Topics: Congresso Internazionale Italo-Egiziano (3rd : 1995 : Pompei, Italy), Egypt -- Relations -- Malta, Malta -- Antiquities, Malta -- Civilization -- Egyptian influences
Publisher: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
Year: 1998
OAI identifier:
Provided by: OAR@UM

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