Summary (Finally!)

At the beginning of this summer, I set out to answer quite a few questions, all about the name erasure of the 25th dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs. We had briefly touched on this and other erasures in my 2-semester long Deciphering Ancient Egypt course, taught by my research advisor Professor Jeremy Pope. Large numbers of statues and monuments from the 25th dynasty Kushite Period are damaged. This erasure is often attributed to the Saite (26th dynasty) Psamtik II as a campaign of damnatio memoriae, permanently erasing someone’s name, and thus memory, from the public record.

The purpose of my research was to determine if these erasures are actually attributable to him, and if so, why they happened. If they are not attributable to him, I needed to research when the erasure could have occurred, who was responsible instead, and if there are any clear patterns to the erasure that might help me. Finally, I examined possible modern day parallels between the ancient conflict between Kush and Egypt, and Sudan and Egypt today (see update 2).

I quickly learned that arguments positing that Psamtik II could not have been responsible for all of the erasure are newer, and based on new archaeological finds in Sudan that were not known about in the early 20th century when this first became a topic of interest. Unfortunately, I was unable to see a clear picture of the one statue that Carola Koch specifically sites as such a mistaken case of damnatio memoriae, as I wasn’t allowed to see storage items at the Egyptian Museum (EMC) anyways.

However, despite these arguments, I believe at least some of the statues’ names were erased vindictively. The Kushite kings after the fall of the 25th dynasty were labeling themselves as pharaohs and causing political unrest, a circumstance that parallels other cases of erasure in the history of the Egyptian empire. The argument that erasure only occurred out of convenience on statues where kings could easily access names to usurp the statue’s purpose is weakened by the fact that two of the statues I saw had names erased on the back – areas inaccessible if these statues were indeed up against temple walls. Why go to the trouble of erasing a name no one will see, if not for vindictive purposes to permanently erase names from memory? Second of all, figures were often erased. Figures are less likely to be recognized than names, since figures tend to resemble each other quite vividly. Finally, none of the items I saw had any names or figures that were replaced with 26th dynasty names or figures. Some cite the fact that names were replaced as arguments that Psamtik II was just usurping power where he could, but if he didn’t bother to replace the names with his, this argument is also weakened.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but agree with Koch that not all of these cases are specifically against the memory of the 25th dynasty. Some cartouches may have been erased by the Ptolemies for their own purposes. Other cartouches weren’t even erased, perhaps those are the ones that were so far south that Psamtik II never reached them in his campaigns.

Finally, I learned that the EMC catalogue is very disorganized, and hopelessly outdated. Museum studies might be an interesting field to spend a few years in, even if only to update catalogues and add information about the artifacts! Hopefully I can continue this summer Monroe Research with the help of the EMC and other museums next year, too and fulfill my dreams of being Indiana Jones.

And of course, for my final conclusions and actual pictures, check out my presentation at the showcase!