Asyut through time: conflict and culture in Middle Egypt

Asyut through time: conflict and culture in Middle Egypt

Thursday 20 July and Friday 21st July 2017, 10.00-17.00
BP Lecture Theatre

Colloquium: £50, Members/concessions £35

Joint ticket (Ticket includes access to 2017 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Distinguished Lecture, Colloquium and evening reception) £70, Members/concessions £45

Undergraduate and postgraduate students (UK universities) £25 for joint ticket

Concessions are British Museum Members, Egypt Exploration Society members, British Egyptian Society members, Sudan Archaeological Research Society members

Asyut in Middle Egypt is one of the country’s major cities with almost 400,000 inhabitants and the largest Coptic community in Egypt. Over centuries, traders, nomads, diplomats, travellers and others passed through the area on their way to the Delta or the southern Nile Valley bringing their art, literature, science and other cultural attributes with them. Asyut served as a crossroads along Egyptian trade routes such as the Darb el-Arbain (‘40-day route’) into Sudan. The area has been of great strategic importance for at least five millennia.

This cosmopolitan status transformed the Asyut region into a cultural hub where works of art were copied and recopied for thousands of years. Textual sources from other parts in Egypt confirm that the neighbouring cities of Asyut and Shashotep (capital cities of the 13th and 11th Upper Egyptian nomes) played an important part in shaping and transmitting Egypt’s cultural memory. Despite their proximity, local governors at each centre developed their own iconographic and artistic traditions. Textual and iconographic evidence, mainly from the necropolises of Asyut and Deir Rifa, speaks of cultural interaction, and sometimes conflict.

Renewed fieldwork focuses on Asyut’s necropolis as well as the city (ancient and modern) and the relationship with its suburbs and smaller settlements in the vicinity. The 2017 colloquium will look at the deep history of this region – from 2500 BC up to the present day, including the varied responses of local communities who live atop the layers of history below. Results of recent fieldwork will be complemented by discussions of material culture and archives that ended up in international museum collections.

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology 2017 is part of the colloquium. Please note: when booking a ticket for the Colloquium, only the date 20 July will show during the booking process but any ticket purchased is for both days. 

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology 2017

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Distinguished Lecture in Egyptology 2017

Asyut: capital that never was

Thursday 20 July 2017, 18.00-19.00
BP Lecture Theatre
£30, Members/concessions £25 (Ticket includes access to the evening reception)

This year’s lecture will be given by Jochem Kahl, Free University Berlin.

Located 375km south of Cairo, the city of Asyut was a gateway to important trade routes leading to the oases of Dakhla and Kharga, and on to Darfur in present-day Sudan. Asyut’s very name – translated into English as 'Guardian City' – highlights the city’s considerable strategic importance, which almost inevitably consigned it to the fate of becoming what cultural anthropologists have termed a 'wounded city'. Its geographical location in the middle of Egypt placed Asyut between rival blocs of power on several occasions in the course of history, with damage inflicted in the wake of civil wars and occupation by foreign rule – yet it would appear that the city’s changing fortunes prompted its culture to thrive and flourish. Asyut’s history as a major population centre and a regional capital stretches back more than 4,500 years. Indeed, the ancient Egyptians held Asyut’s artistic and cultural knowhow in high esteem – reusing, reconfiguring and recontextualising products of Asyuti expertise for more than 2,000 years.

The quality of artwork, craftsmanship and architecture originating from pharaonic Asyut has been met with great acclaim by contemporaries and modern Egyptologists alike. Asyut’s heritage of texts, images and architecture forms an integral part of ancient Egypt’s cultural memory, an intellectual reservoir maintained and cultivated by Egyptian elites in order to boost their claim to power, and stabilise and convey their self-image. The texts, iconography and architectural layouts used to great effect in the nomarch tombs from the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom, were passed on to later generations and emulated repeatedly all over Egypt. Unfortunately, Asyut’s temples, palaces, and mansions have all been buried under strata of alluvial plain and the sprawling modern city. Only written sources or clues retrieved from the pharaonic necropolis in the city’s mountainous vicinity, the Gebel Asyut al-gharbi, can shed light on the city.

The Gebel Asyut al-gharbi was not only used as a necropolis, however, but housed military facilities, monasteries, places of prayer, quarries and even a temple, over a period of 6,000 years. Since 2003, a joint German-Egyptian research project has been reinvestigating the Gebel Asyut al-gharbi and its archaeological structures in light of their longue durée. The wealth of material discovered here allow us to write a specific regional history of Asyut emphasising local patterns of thought and craftsmanship in comparison with, for example, the customs followed at the royal residence(s).

The lecture is part of the annual Egyptological colloquium and will be followed by a reception in Room 4, the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery.