Exhibition dates: 29 October 2015 – 7 February 2016
Discover Egypt’s incredible journey over twelve centuries, as Jews, Christians and Muslims transformed this ancient land. It is a story charting the change from a world of many gods to the worship of one god.
The exhibition begins in 30 BC, when Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire after the death of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and continues until AD 1171 when the rule of the Islamic Fatimid dynasty came to an end. The remarkable objects in the exhibition have been uniquely preserved in Egypt’s arid climate, and many have never been on display before. Their survival provides unparalleled access to the lives of individuals and communities, and they tell a rich and complex story of influences, long periods of peaceful coexistence, and intermittent tension and violence between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The state’s use of religion to assert power is shown by fabulous sculptures that mix ancient Egyptian and Roman imperial iconography, and letters on papyrus concerning the treatment of Jews and early Christians. Gravestones and architectural elements demonstrate the reuse and reworking of sacred spaces – temple complexes were reused as churches and, later, mosques.
The changes in people’s private lives are shown through everyday objects – delicate fragments of papyrus preserve some of the earliest surviving Jewish scriptures and lost Christian gospels. Colourful garments and accessories show what people wore, and soft-furnishings show how they dressed their homes. A particular textile highlight of the exhibition is an extraordinary pair of Coptic door curtains (see detail pictured above). These were reused as a burial shroud, hence how they have survived until now.
Together, the objects in the exhibition show how the shift from the traditional worship of many gods to monotheism affected every part of life. Egypt’s journey from Roman to Islamic control reflects the wider transformation from the ancient to medieval world, a transition that has shaped the world we live in today.
For more information, visit the website of the British Museum, London.