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In the Shadow of Djoser’s Pyramid

Research of Polish Archaeologists in Saqqara

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Karol Jan Myśliwiec

The book presents the discoveries made by the Polish archaeological mission in Saqqara, the central part of the largest ancient Egyptian royal necropolis. The area adjacent to the Pyramid of King Djoser on the monument’s west side, so far neglected by archaeologists, turned out to be an important burial place of the Egyptian nobility from two periods of Pharaonic history: the Old Kingdom (the late third millennium BC) and the Ptolemaic Period (the late first millennium BC). The earlier, lower cemetery yielded rock-hewn tombs with splendid wall decoration in relief and painting. The book also describes methods of conservation applied to the discovered artefacts and episodes from the mission’s life.

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Chapter 10. Renaissance of the necropolis after two thousand years

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Chapter 10. Renaissance of the necropolis after two thousand years

Abstract: Upper necropolis: a cemetery from the Ptolemaic Period. Cartonnages in art and religion. Surprising epaulettes. Reminiscences of the provisional tomb of Alexander the Great?

Keywords: mummification technology, Ptolemies, cosmopolitan Memphis, anthropology, bones as witnesses, diseases.

There are few places in Saqqara with such a clear stratigraphy as the cemetery located on the western side of Djoser’s pyramid. Two layers meet here between which lies a chronological gap amounting to 2000 years. Towards the end of the third millennium BC, when, probably as a consequence of violent climate change, the burial of the dead in the depths of the former quarry was abandoned, sand blown in from the desert began to gradually cover the necropolis (Fig. 1). Over the centuries, enough of it accumulated that its layer in some places – especially in the ‘Dry Moat’ – became more than five metres high. It was only towards the end of the fourth century BC that the inhabitants of Memphis once again began to be buried here, this time on a mass scale. Tombs were no longer constructed. Hollows in the ruins of the mastabas from the Old Kingdom sufficed or even pits hurriedly dug in the sand.1 At times, especially in the beginnings of this period, anthropoid-like hollows were hewn into the rock surface for the dead (fig. 62). These structures were usually covered with stone blocks or mud brick, originating, of course, from the disassembly of 2000-year-old tombs, for this purpose using even the masterfully processed white limestone ashlars, which had originally belonged to the recessed wall surrounding the pyramid temenos. The products of the stone-working masters, who had once worked under Imhotep, found a secondary usage, if among the lower levels of the social ladder.

The excavations conducted up until 2015 revealed almost 600 burials at this late necropolis, which for stratigraphic reasons has been named the Upper Necropolis (Fig. 159). The first to be unearthed was the mummy of a ←331 | 332→teenage person (Figs. 3940).2 Untouched by looters, it lay in a spot we did not yet know was the courtyard in front of Vizier Merefnebef’s cult chapel. Underneath the layer of sand, we unearthed a hollow hewn into a levelled rock surface. There was a clear outline of the part meant for the mummy’s head, then it moved on to the broad rounded shoulders, and – finally – the body, gradually narrowing towards the feet. This hollow with an anthropoid contour had been prepared for an adult as its size significantly exceeded what was needed to fit the dimensions of the adolescent buried there. The mummy had been covered with a mat, secured in place with heavy stones along the edge of the hollow.

We wondered about the clear outlines of two layers visible in the profile of the grave’s walls: the bottom one, made of solid rock, and a coating on top with the structure of a very thick clay pugging containing a large number of animal bone particles inside the mass (Fig. 40).3 The pugging was also clearly stratified into thinner layers, which indicates that it was formed in multiple stages. When we found out that the youth had been buried in the courtyard of a high dignitary’s tomb that was 2000 years older, it became ←332 | 333→clear that the osseous material constituted the remains of offerings made earlier and burnt in front of the chapel as part of the tomb owner’s posthumous cult. The thickness and multiple layers of the pugging turned out to be very important. This contrasted with the thin layer of clay covering the rock surface in the so-called lower courtyard, hewn directly in front of the entrance to the chapel and located a metre lower than the upper courtyard adjacent from the west, with its distinctively thicker pugging.4 This allows for the conclusion that Merefnebef’s tomb was dug within an area occupied by an earlier sepulchral complex, of which only traces have been preserved, e.g. the surface of the courtyard which had been in use for a long time. If this in fact was the case, the unusual location of the burial shaft within Merefnebef’s mastaba, without any correlation to the ‘false door’ sculpted into the west wall of his chapel, would be understandable (Il. 22). This shaft would have originally been part of another sepulchral structure. This once again proves how much can be concluded from the tiniest of details if we observe the terrain carefully during archaeological explorations.

Thus, the mummy of a young person lay in a rock hollow, shrouded in a polychrome cartonnage, with its form suggesting the burial date: the early phase of the Ptolemaic period, probably the third century BC (Figs. 3940). The ‘envelope’ covering the entire mummy, made from a few layers of hardened canvas and with a stucco surface, was fitted to the shape of the body. During the reign of the Ptolemies, it was made primarily from a few separate overlapping elements, connected skilfully using, e.g., transverse bands to seem like one continuous surface.5 The child’s face was covered with yellow ochre with a shiny texture, which could easily be confused with gold foil. The huge, carefully modelled eyes with clear contours express peace and contemplation. The outline of the lips is accentuated by a thin black line. The chin is encompassed from ear to ear by a representation of the winged solar disc, while the entire head is covered by a type of wig or scarf with two sheets falling to the chest and a wider one onto the back. The head attire is an intense blue colour, also encountered in other parts of the decoration on the cartonnage.

After having studied a larger number of mummies at this necropolis, we were to find out that these were precisely the features that characterised a workshop, or perhaps even a ‘school,’ responsible for preparing the dead for their journey into the Netherworld. The winged solar disc encircling the deceased’s jaw, sometimes replaced with a scarab, has only been attested at ←333 | 334→this one cemetery from the Ptolemaic period, while the predominance of intense blue, covering a white foundation, and the yellow ochre imitating gold are features so diagnostic for the cartonnage in the necropolis we had discovered that without fear of making a mistake one can attribute to Saqqara any similar mummies of unknown provenience that have made their way to various world museums, sometimes inherited from treasure seekers.6

The presence of the winged solar disc or scarab clearly indicates the influences of the Heliopolitan religion. The sun, revered under various forms and names, was the main deity in the local pantheon of one of the largest religious centres of ancient Egypt, referred to as Heliopolis by the Greeks, i.e. the ‘City of the Sun.’ Located at a distance of only about 30 km from Memphis, on the opposite, i.e. eastern, side of the Nile, Heliopolis played a leading role in shaping the religious consciousness of the Egyptians, and even in the political history of their country. The ruler was associated with the sun, i.e. the god Re, while the solar disc, referred to by the name Aton, became one of the deities revered by the ‘heretic-pharaoh,’ Akhenaten, towards the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The self-resurrecting sun, called Khepri, depicted in the form of a scarab, would every morning crawl out of the body of the winged goddess of the sky, Nut. The setting sun was called Atum, and one of his many hypostases was a necklace, either offered to him or identified directly as being him. It was believed that this adornment on the neck reanimated the dead and secured their bodies from decaying. Both attributes, the multi-layered necklace and the representation of the Goddess Nut as a female with extended wings, are yet further elements of most cartonnages from the Ptolemaic period. They appear in the upper part of the torso.

However, the head was the most important part of the body.7 The Egyptians were consumed by a fear that it would be torn off the body, while simultaneously hoping that the gods would help it find its proper position in the case of such a misfortune. Such ideas appear earlier, in the Pyramid Texts (third millennium BC), which were in fact a transcript of much older texts, and later also in the Coffin Texts and The Book of the Dead (second millennium BC), i.e. in the most important compendia of religious knowledge that accompanied the dead to the afterworld over the course of Egyptian history. The head was protected by a mask. The idea for such a veil is attested already for the Fifth Dynasty (the Old Kingdom), when a shroud was modelled to cover the deceased’s face. The use of a mask became widespread as of the Middle Kingdom (the first half of the second millennium BC). Its colour imitated gold identified with the skin of the gods. This shows the ←334 | 335→democratisation of religious imagery in the sepulchral sphere that occurred at the turn of the epochs. While earlier only the pharaoh was identified with Osiris, the god of the dead, at that time any Egyptian became him after death. During the New Kingdom, masks made from authentic gold or silver only appeared in royal circles, while cartonnage masks covered the faces of the growing numbers of dignitaries. Their mummies were deposited inside ‘envelopes’ enshrouding the entire body. After the New Kingdom, this custom spread to even broader social circles. The corpses were placed inside a stiff ‘shell’ attached with a thread to the back. Its entire surface was covered in paintings with rich polychromy. This decoration contained mainly mythological scenes with magical content, enabling the deceased to live and avoid any dangers in the Netherworld. With time, the cartonnage began to compete with coffins, because not everyone could afford a chest made from metal, stone or even wood, while the date of the burial was pressing.

Innovations in the techniques used for the production of cartonnage were introduced at the beginning of the Ptolemaic period: the ‘envelope’ encompassing the entire corpse was replaced with a few separate elements which were either applied as a set and partly overlapped, as if forming a whole (Figs. 160–164), or they constitute separate, smaller or larger plaques applied to the linen surface of the mummy in its various parts (Figs. 172173).8 Many mummies received only some elements of this cladding; however, all of them had masks, the most important part of the cartonnage. Separating the mask from the other elements could awaken the fear of tearing the head off the rest of the body. Thus, it comes as no surprise that magical shields were added to some of the masks in Saqqara in the form of the symbol of the Heliopolitan god of the sun, i.e. a solar disc or scarab spreading its wings on the jaw of the deceased. To some, it must have seemed even more effective to attach the head to the torso with a hard stick inserted into the body during mummification. We found a few examples of such stiffening. It cannot be excluded that they were necessary due to the state of preservation of the corpses.

The scarab, which sometimes replaced the solar disc on the chin, also frequently appears in the upper part of the chest, i.e. in the vicinity of the heart. The association of the symbol of the regenerating sun with this organ in a dead person’s body had a long tradition in pharaonic Egypt.9 The Pyramid Texts already contained a formula expressing fear of the heart being ripped out of the body of the deceased. The heart performed the role of one’s conscience during the day of judgement when one stood before Osiris. Towards the end of the First Intermediary Period, i.e. at the turn of the third and the ←335 | 336→second millennia BC, the first ‘heart scarabs’ appear, i.e. a large amulet in the shape of the beetle, placed on top of the mummy near the heart muscle. It contained a magical text carved onto its flat side. This inscription is a fragment of a chapter from The Book of the Dead most frequently recorded on papyri. The quotation from chapter 31A repeated on the scarabs refers to the heart: “My heart of my mother, my heart of my mother, my heart muscle of my incarnations, do not stand against me as witness, do not speak against me in front of the tribunal, do not show hostility towards me in the presence of the guard of weights.” This last association was illustrated in The Book of the Dead with a scene of weighing the heart. Even in the Roman period, the last works of Egyptian religious literature, e.g. The Books of Breathings, attest to the special significance of this organ for the dead.10 Therefore, associations with heart amulets inspired the creators of cartonnages in the Ptolemaic period to depict the scarab, sometimes protectively spreading its wings, in the vicinity of the deceased’s heart muscle.

Exceptionally rich symbolism is attached to the large necklace, portrayed just underneath the neck of the cartonnage mask, frequently between the long sheets of the head attire (Il. 25; Figs. 160161).11 In accordance with its Old Egyptian name (wesekh, “wide”), in some cases the necklace covers the entire upper part of the torso. It is made up of numerous, sometimes even over a dozen concentric rows of pearls in various shapes. The majority of its elements are various symbols of rebirth and resurrection. Floral motifs are frequently repeated, such as lotus flowers and buds of papyrus plants, but also beads in the shape of teardrops or geometric patterns. Rows of beads representing the udjat eye, one of the most popular symbols in Egyptian religion, are an original feature of some necklaces adorning the chest part of the Ptolemaic cartonnages in Saqqara. The eye was associated with the wound inflicted on Horus in his contest against Seth, Osiris’s enemy, and thus with the resurrection of the god of the dead. This same idea is expressed by the clasps locking the necklace at both its ends. It usually has the shape of a falcon’s head with a solar disc on it, sometimes originally stylised (Fig. 161). Thus, this takes us into the sphere of the Osirian myth, as this bird is usually associated with Horus. The solar disc emphasises his role as the lord of the heavens, in which he appears an infinite number of times in the scenes sculpted or painted onto the walls of temples and tombs, spreading his protective falcon’s wings above an action, usually playing out between a king and the gods. It is almost as if the heavens were expressing their acquiescence to everything that was happening on earth.

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Fragments of authentic necklaces are found in many tombs. They show the variety of materials used in the production of the thousands of pearls, from faience, through colourful stones, glass paste, fired clay and shells, to gold and silver. At times, these are masterpieces of Egyptian craftwork. The presence of each of these elements, its shape and colour had a specific meaning in sepulchral magic, the aim of which was to ensure the benevolence of the gods towards the deceased in the afterlife.

Untouched by looters, the burial of the teenager from the beginnings of the Ptolemaic period, discovered during out first excavation campaign in the courtyard of the vizier’s tomb from 2000 years earlier, turned out to be a harbinger of what awaited us in the upper layer of the cemetery. For the Ptolemaic necropolis, it was just as symptomatic as Merefnebef’s tomb was for the Old Kingdom cemetery lying beneath it. The first to be discovered, the vizier’s tomb turned out to be the most beautiful and representative testimony of its times. Similarly, the beautiful cartonnage from the beginnings of the ←337 | 338→Ptolemaic period, found in the same area as that occupied by the vizier’s tomb, can be considered the first link in an evolution that lasted a little longer than 300 years, more or less from the times of Alexander the Great until the death of the famed Cleopatra VII, and perhaps even slightly longer. The agglomeration of burials of the cosmopolitan community which at that time inhabited Memphis, the ancient metropolis of pharaonic Egypt, competing with philhellenic Alexandria for the favour of the Ptolemies, residing in the latter, turned out to be a valuable source of various information about this society, beginning with the anthropological and demographic sphere and ending with burial customs, which appear to have been the sum of various traditions rooted in the pharaonic epoch. History led the Greeks and Romans to extinguish the lights of a great civilisation, which had fascinated them to such an extent that they brought about its symbiosis with Mediterranean culture.

Few of the burials at the Upper Necropolis have been preserved in such a good state as the grave of this young person in the courtyard of the vizier’s tomb. The majority had been plundered already in antiquity by ←338 | 339→‘professionals,’ who knew perfectly well what to expect from the mummies. They were interested primarily in the amulets, frequently made from precious materials. The repositories of these artefacts were located in the vicinity of the heart, i.e. the mummy’s torso; to be more precise, the layer of bandages and shrouds wrapping the embalmed body, among which the magical miniatures were inserted. They were not as easily accessible as it might seem, since the linen encasings were in many cases so hardened with resin that they had to be cracked using hammers. Not the entire mummy was torn apart; it sufficed to break open its upper part, while also ripping open ‘Osiris’s’ torso just to be sure. The thieves developed a quick technique, even constructing a ‘workshop’ that saved time and energy. After unearthing the hollow covered with stone blocks, they would take out the mummy, place it on a slanting platform constructed using stones, in such a way that the torso protruded beyond its upper edge. Using a hammer or a heavy stone they smashed open the upper part of the body, which would immediately give them some idea of the contents of the studied object. We discovered one such ‘workshop’ in the middle of the western part of the necropolis.12 A mummy was still lying on the platform, but without its upper part. The mangled corpse or just its fragment was then deposited back into the rocky hollow and hurriedly covered with stone slabs.

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Only a few mummified bodies managed to escape this fate. One of the most beautiful cartonnages found at this necropolis covered a corpse that had fallen into a hollow atop a burial shaft from the Old Kingdom, probably just after the funeral as it had still been flexible enough to bend in the middle and ‘sit down’ at the edge of the shaft (Fig. 160).13 As a result, the polychromy was perfectly preserved on a few stucco-linen cartonnage segments sewn onto the surface of the mummy (Figs. 161164). An enormous necklace covering almost the entire torso, made up of sixteen rows of pearls in a large variety of shapes, is especially impressive. On the middle part of the body, the crouching Goddess Nut with a solar disc on her head spreads her wings, surrounded by miniature figures of deities and demons accompanying the deceased in the Netherworld.

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In a few cases, burials left alone by the looters contain not only corpses shrouded in cartonnage with fabulously colourful polychromy but also artefacts belonging to the standard equipment of a tomb for a middle-class dignitary during the Ptolemaic period (Figs. 165168). This primarily included a tall wooden canopic chest, which originally might have contained the inner organs of the embalmed body, as well as a mummiform figurine of the god Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, made from the same material (Figs. 166–167). Both these items were also richly polychromed, while the iconography and style of the motifs that adorned it indicate that the same workshop produced them, if not in fact the very same person responsible also for making the cartonnage. We also sometimes find beautiful amulets next to the mummies, usually from ←342 | 343→Egyptian azure- or green-glazed faience. They depict various deities, whose benevolence might come in useful for the deceased in the afterlife. Other frequently encountered items include figurines representing the god of wisdom, Thoth, with the head of a monkey or human, as well as depictions of the patron of mummification, Anubis, with a canine head, or the benevolent Goddess Thoeris in the form of a crocodile-headed hippopotamus.14

In the context of the Upper Necropolis, but without any link to a specific grave, we also found an assemblage of bronze figurines, among which the dominant motif, aside from Osiris, was that of the Apis bull.15 They probably came here to the cemetery designated for humans from the Serapeum, the nearby necropolis of holy animals, which played an exceptionally important role in the religion, especially the political theology of pharaonic Egypt. It seems that the origins were the same for a statue, of which we found the stone base with a carved demotic inscription identifying the ‘sponsor,’ probably an item of a votive nature, discovered in the Upper Necropolis, where it was used secondarily in the brick casing of a cult place.16 There is a lot to ←343 | 344→indicate that in the beginnings of the Ptolemaic period a special ideological affinity developed between the neighbouring places of eternal rest designated for bulls and humans, the sources of which were not necessarily religious.

However, the majority of people were buried much more modestly during this period than holy animals. The graves of the former did not have any architecture aside from the anthropoid hollows hewn into rock, usually covered with irregularly shaped stone blocks. In turn, the monumental structures of Old Kingdom noblemen’s tombs preserved until the final centuries BC were willingly used as spots for secondary burials. As if into an envelope, some mummies were slipped inside the crevices that had formed over the course of millennia between or underneath the brick walls of the mastabas. The upper parts of many ancient burial shafts were used in a special way. If they were broad enough, the mummies were simply deposited into the ancient backfill. In turn, if they were too narrow for a secondary burial, hollows were made in the two opposite walls of the shaft, one for the head, the other for the feet, in order to slip the deceased inside the thus prepared frame. The body would rest on the backfill, which could later turn out to be unstable, e.g., during the next earthquake. In the eastern part of the necropolis, closer to Djoser’s pyramid, in the Ptolemaic period almost every centimetre of the levelled rock surface between the burial shafts had been used for hewing out anthropoid pits to take in increasingly more ‘Osirises’ (Fig. 62).17 After being unearthed by archaeologists, the copse of these holes seems like the surface of Swiss cheese. It is very obvious that the area directly adjacent to the recessed wall encircling the oldest building was the most desired burial place, not only during the Old Kingdom but also 2000 years later.

It even seems one other architectural structure was erected here at that time, meant to evoke an impression of might; however, it soon collapsed as, from the perspective of its construction, it was a colossus with feet of clay.18 Just behind the vizier’s mastaba, we discovered a long wall built from superbly worked white limestone brickwork, doubtless brought here from the façade of the recessed wall encircling the oldest pyramid was located just a few metres further east. The new wall lay parallel both to the eastern wall of the brick mastaba and to Imhotep’s stone masterpiece. However, only its bottom layer has survived, i.e. a row of blocks placed on a thin layer of pure sand, supported only by a dakka, a compact clay and stone mass left behind after the destruction of the mastabas. The lateral walls, which divided this extensive structure into a few smaller rooms, must have had an identical ←344 | 345→structure. However, these walls fell apart completely and only some sequences of loose blocks indicate that there once used to be a structure here. The building did not have any real foundations. Unfortunately, the preserved elements are anepigraphic; thus, it is difficult to date the structure. Nonetheless, we found many burials from the Ptolemaic period within these walls, including some beautifully decorated wooden coffins. One of them stands out due to its original bishop’s purple monochromy.19 A few mummies were deposited here without coffins or cartonnages, but instead in a simple stone casing, for which, e.g., elements of the neighbouring Old Kingdom mastabas were used. For example, a double burial containing a man and a child was covered by a huge offering table made from fine limestone, lacking any inscriptions.20

Closer to the pyramid, we discovered a grave covered with the sherds of two large Greek amphorae, which put together formed almost complete vessels (Figs. 8687).21 Their clay, shape, and the stamp on the handle of one of them attest that they were made by a pottery workshop from Samos Island, with their production dated at the fourth to the second centuries BC. Their sepulchral function is doubtless secondary. They might perhaps have contained some offerings to the deceased, who did not in fact have to be Greek, while the amphora had made its way to Egypt much earlier with some imported goods. A lot indicates that the building without foundations, whose ruins became a cemetery, was erected hurriedly, probably towards the end of the fourth century BC, for ritual purposes. If it had ever been used, we would have found at least the slightest traces of cult activities in the area, or several ceramic vessels. However, as there was only pure sand and clay from the decomposition of Old Kingdom bricks lying here, it can be presumed that its construction was never completed, and that, even if it was, this new cult place quickly collapsed due to its poor construction, giving way to the cemetery.

The Upper Necropolis began to expand quickly in various directions, primarily to the west, where the desert extends, covering the tombs of the noblemen from the Old Kingdom. West of Merefnebef’s mastaba, there are no anthropoid hollows hewn into the rock, even though the levelled terrain left after the quarry would be ideal for such a purpose. The mummies, some of them beautifully decorated, lay here chaotically scattered in the mass of earth and sand (Fig. 159), frequently one on top of another, crowded into ←345 | 346→groups by looters from later epochs, who no longer adhered to the good manners of the ancient professionals.22 It turned out that an ideal place for burials was a thick layer of sand blown into the ‘Dry Moat’ over the centuries. The loose material could be brushed aside without the slightest effort to make a pit for the deceased’s body. The layers of sand accumulated in the depression between both rock façades, the east and the west ones, were especially popular, as the structure of the gigantic trench functioned as an additional frame for the burials, primarily its upper edge hewn in the shape of a massive architrave, similar somewhat to a mushroom cap.

However, the archaeological material indicates that the two-millennia-old ‘Dry Moat’ structure was treated, at least in the beginnings of the Ptolemaic period, as a not-too-elegant part of the cemetery, since in the deepest layer bodies frequently lay that had not been mummified at all or only subjected to superficial embalmment. These are often group burials, sometimes containing as many as four people lying next to each other. It seems that mainly the poor were buried here, perhaps those who served the group that could afford coffins and cartonnages. However, as the necropolis expanded, representatives of the middle class also began to be buried here. Beautiful anthropoid-shaped coffins were found in the surface layer of the Upper Necropolis by the western wall of the ‘Dry Moat.’ One of them was characterised by finesse in the depiction of the face sculpted into the surface of the lid covering a container with an oval section.23 The whole was made from a single tree trunk. The modelling of the face was reminiscent of the best stone sculptures from the first half of the Ptolemaic period. The slightly uplifted corners of the lips gave the face a smiling expression, while the almond-shaped eyes were modelled above the protruding roundness of the cheekbones.

Two coffins lying next to each other received a very peculiar shape (Figs. 3738).24 Put together using a few boards, they were similar in form to a cuboidal chest, but with a clearly distinguished part for the head. The sharp contours of the facial features, expressed through resolute cuts in the wooden surface, especially the deep-set eyes, disappearing into the shadows formed by the protruding eyebrow arch, have given one of the two masks a very serious, almost severe expression. At a short distance from them, just underneath the surface of the layer of sand, another pair of coffins was ←346 | 347→unearthed, this time – terracotta ones.25 The clay was fired to a light red colour. Gradually becoming wider as they near the faces, their flat lids had schematic masks with outlines made with a few strokes of a rather blunt tool. This type of coffin has been frequently attested in the eastern part of the Mediterranean for the early Roman epoch. It cannot be excluded that the Saqqara burials in containers of this type also come from the first decades of our era.

It is interesting to note that the southern sector of the western part of the necropolis, adjoining the find spot of these beautiful coffins, was almost completely lacking any burials of the rich. While conducting excavations here in 2014, we discovered over thirty skeletons and poorly crafted mummies, doubtless representing the lower layers of society, including relatively large numbers of children’s skeletons, which has not occurred often at the studied cemetery. Such a striking contrast leads us to take a closer look from the anthropological and demographic perspective at this huge agglomeration of burials.

In contrast to the burials from the Old Kingdom, which in this necropolis do not show any traces of mummification, the majority of the deceased from the Ptolemaic period were embalmed. Among the 324 studied skeletons originating from this period, as many as 75.3 % bore signs of having been secured from decomposition, while only 8.6 % (twenty-seven individuals) did not show any traces of having undergone embalming procedures.26 The actual situation might have slightly deviated from these numbers, as the state of preservation of some skeletons did not enable providing a definitive result.

The number of men and women in the studied material is also approximate, since the more delicate skeletons of the ladies were more susceptible to damage. In all certainty, the number of child burials discovered is not representative for the percentage of people who died before reaching adulthood. It is doubtless that many children were not buried at the cemetery, while the bones of the buried ones decomposed easily. It is presumed that about 50 % of the children born in those times died prematurely, mainly as a result of various infections and parasitic diseases. The highest adolescent mortality rates have been attested for the 3–7 age group (33.8 %, i.e. 5.9 % more than for the range of 0–3-year-old children).27 It is assumed that such a rapid weakening of the young organisms was linked to weaning the children up to the age of 3. After this critical period, the mortality rate decreases again for the 11–15 age group (about 10.3 %), and then rises somewhat in the 15–18 range (16.2 %).

←347 | 348→

While the Saqqara cemetery makes it possible to suggest a certain predominance of the number of men over the number of women (126 man as compared to ninety-nine women, which would amount to 1.3 men to 1 woman), this proportion might actually have been ca. 1:1, since the state of preservation of female burials is frequently worse than that of the male ones.28

Statistically, women lived shorter than men. The highest mortality rate of the former encompassed the 20–30 age group (59.2 %), while the death rate for men was evenly distributed between the 20–30 and 30–40 age groups (32.5 % for each of these them).29 Without a doubt, the main reason for the catastrophic statistics for women resulted from pregnancy-related fatalities. In consequence, the average age for men at the moment of death was 35.4 years, while the average for women was around 32.7 years old.

The skeletons of the dead provide some idea about the state of health and lifestyle of the inhabitants of Memphis in the Ptolemaic period. The studied group is diagnostic primarily for those illnesses that leave behind permanent traces in the skeletal system and dentition.30 Numerous broken bones or deformations of the spine and limbs attest to heavy physical labour, linked with carrying significant loads. The dentition, even though sometimes preserved perfectly, betrays widespread tooth enamel erosion and dental abscess, probably caused by a raw diet, not without grains of sand in what they ate. The low level of dental caries is attributed to the lack of refined carbohydrates, primarily saccharose, in their sustenance. The structure of the studied bones testifies to a life in constant stress, which must have shortened the path to the realm of Osiris.31

The mummies from the Ptolemaic necropolis in Saqqara are an invaluable source for learning about the methods of preparing and securing the body after death (Fig. 174). In addition, the material clearly indicates social stratification, which we could observe on the example of the coffins and cartonnages. One mummy does not equal another mummy. The embalmers individualised the way they treated their ‘patients,’ similarly as in our times some doctors divide their clients into categories according to criteria that is difficult to determine. The meticulousness of the execution and the amount of used material fills one with admiration, at times due to the ingenuity applied, and – at others – the lack of means. The basic material used ←348 | 349→in mummification was resin. It sometimes saturated and joined the layers of bandage wrapping the body so strongly that this compact mass had to be smashed with a heavy tool.32

A few methods of mummification can be distinguished, attested by the embalmed corpses in Saqqara. One involved wrapping a dead body in strips of linen dipped in resin. A well-made mummy had sometimes over a dozen layers of bandages; some showing signs of secondary usage, while others were new. The external strips were generally wider and made from a better sort of linen. Bandages with a width of ten centimetres were usually cut into pieces, which made the whole longer and enabled the more precise modelling of the cloth surface of the body. The head and neck were wrapped separately, as were the arms and legs, and the fingers and toes. The head was first wrapped in a sheet of cloth, then in layers of bandage that in total were a few metres in length. The external strips of linen on the trunk and legs were arranged diagonally and intersected, forming a plait-like pattern. The entrails were most frequently taken out, more rarely left inside the body. In the second case, they later turned into black or dark brown powder. By using this method, the bones retained their pale colour, while the individual layers of the linen packaging were easily accessible. The brain was removed through the nostrils or left inside, which also meant it eventually changed into powder. There is nothing to indicate that it might have been taken out by another route. The skull was either filled with resin or left with its natural contents.

A synthesis of two bodies was sometimes practiced in the embalmment workshop, connecting, e.g., the trunk of one person with the limbs of another. This was done because the ‘Osiris’ prepared there had to correspond to anthropological standards. We observed this on the example of a child’s mummy, who lived no longer than six to nine months.33 The legs below the knees belonged to another individual, whose age was judged by an experienced anthropologist to have been about 6.5-years-old. In this way, the body had been lengthened by a few centimetres. Such practices were more frequent in provincial centres other than Saqqara. In Hawara, a case was even noted in which the embalmed corpse of a child received an adult head.34 A composite baby’s mummy in Saqqara was additionally reinforced with a palm-leaf ribbing, almost twenty centimetres long and inserted along the spine, reaching down to the last vertebra.

←349 | 350→

Another method of mummification involved pouring ample amounts of resin on the surface of the body multiple times, which in consequence formed a stiff, compact mass, which could only be shattered mechanically.35 The abdominal and thoracic cavities were then filled with packages dipped in resin and wrapped in bandages. It is presumed that they contained the internal organs of the deceased. Such an amount of resin coloured the bones black or dark brown. The black surface layer frequently makes it impossible to conduct precise anthropological studies. However, it has been established that when using this method, the head was also filled with resin, of course after the brain had been removed through the nostrils.

During our excavations, all of the mummies were unwrapped by our anthropologist, who studied each skeleton, regardless of its state of preservation (Figs. 172–174). However, a few perfectly preserved embalmed corpses, especially those of children, were first subjected to radiology examinations using a portable apparatus brought to the excavations by Professor Salim Ikram from the American University in Cairo. One of the individuals to be x-rayed was an eighteen-month-old child.36 After the bandages were unwrapped, it turned out that the body had also been reinforced during mummification with palm-leaf ribbing, appropriately longer than in the above-described case. It was thirty-nine centimetres long and connected the head with the body. The child had been buried along with a man, who had died at the age of 30–35. Inside the child’s body, we found a ball of white fluff, which was tested microbiologically. It turned out that it was composed of three different types of fungi that had developed due to the insufficient desiccation of the inside of the body, which should be perceived as a serious error in the art of embalmment.

The examination of the mummies and skeletons involves the joint efforts of archaeologists, anthropologists and conservators (Figs 89, 90, 159, 174 and 178180). When the bodies of the deceased are still lying in the sand, they require a lot of dusting with various brushes so that they can be recorded in situ, i.e. in the find spot. This demands a lot of patience and gentleness. In these respects, true virtuosity was achieved by two archaeologists responsible for the study and publication of the Upper Necropolis, Małgorzata Radomska and Agnieszka Kowalska. When the subject of study has been measured, described, drawn and photographed, it is moved to the anthropological field lab, where it is taken care of by prominent specialists in the ←350 | 351→fields of anatomy and palaeopathology. For the first few years, this function was performed by Professor Maria Kaczmarek from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, while currently it has been taken over by Dr Iwona Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin from the University of Manchester (UK). Thanks to the publications concerning this research, each of the four listed specialists became an authority in her respective field. Their work would perhaps have not been so ideal if it were not for their cooperation with brilliant drawers and photographers, whose creative effort is sometimes reminiscent of an acrobat’s work. For many years, two brilliant professionals have collaborated with our mission, the architect Beata Błaszczuk (Fig. 68) and the photographer Jarosław Dąbrowski.

The methods of bandaging the corpses were precisely studied on the example of two well-preserved child mummies. Let us take a look at these specimens through the eyes of an anthropologist put to the test of patience during its unwrapping. The mummy of a ten-year-old (burial 183) had a cross-like pattern of 1.5–2-centimetre-wide strips on its external surface, which lengthwise covered a shroud 123.5 centimetres long and forty centimetres wide.37 It covered the entire body and was attached with two long strips twelve centimetres wide, running on both sides of the head. Underneath the shroud, there was once again a network of intersecting strips, this time 3–3.5 centimetres wide, entwining the mummy from head to toe at regular intervals. Beneath these, there was yet another shroud, covering the next layer of strips, this time five to six centimetres wide, also encompassing the entire corpse. It was especially dense between the legs, as this enabled modelling the classical mummy shape. To this purpose, numerous pieces of material were arranged on the chest and neck, to achieve the shape of a living person.

In this layer, the bandages were already coloured black and dark brown due to being saturated with resin. Continuing the journey towards the child’s body, the anthropologist encountered a sheet encompassing the entire head and tied with bandages at the neck. Pieces of a linen sheet were used to model an element in the shape of a nose, depositing it in the hollow left behind by the actual nose. After removing yet another layer of bandages, it turned out that the cover of the corpse was made up of three sheets of canvas. All of them were saturated with resin, coloured black and tightly fitting the body. Almost only the skeleton has been preserved. The dead child was laid down supine, with its arms positioned on the trunk of the body and hands adjacent to each other. In some spots, the delicate black bones were torn away from the rest of the body.

←351 | 352→

Yet another show of embalming mastery and phantasy was revealed by the mummy of an eighteen-month-old child (burial 418).38 The external layer of the bandages consisted of a sequence of creamy white strips 5–5.6 centimetres wide, intertwining the body slightly diagonally and intersecting on the chest. Underneath this layer, there was a shroud with the dimensions 71.5 × 32 centimetres, covering the corpse from head to heel. The shroud was cut into two parts in the fragment running from the chest to the feet. Underneath, there was yet another layer of bandages, i.e. twelve strips arranged diagonally in uneven intervals. Next, we encounter a smaller shroud and once again a thick casing of bandages arranged alternately with pieces of a linen sheet. Dark brown and black colouring of the material appears here, while the irregular arrangement of the linen elements serves to render the anthropoid shape. The shroud forming yet another layer is once again creamy white, while the two sheets attached to it are wrapped around the lower parts of the legs, from the knees to the feet. The torso and head were extremely damaged. A support was installed under the head, made from bandages glued together using resin. The whole upper part of the body was filled with copious numbers of linen fillers in various shapes, impregnated with resin and coloured black. Linen was also used to make artificial feet which ended the anthropoid figure from the bottom.

While the embalmed corpses were usually laid on their backs, their arrangement differed in details, primarily the positioning of the arms.39 Many bodies had arms bent at the elbows and crossed on the chests, in the image of the god of the dead, Osiris, depicted for centuries as a mummy. In the Ptolemaic period, the hands were placed flat on the shoulders. However, some mummies had their arms positioned along the bodies in their front part, with the hands on the hips or joined at the lap. The positioning of the hands was not dependent on the person’s sex. In the case of the arms crossed at the chest, the right hand lay on top of the left one. The left was clenched with the thumb protruding, while the right had outstretched fingers, but the thumb bent inwards. Onions were placed in the left hand of some of the deceased, a talisman sporadically also found in other parts of the body, e.g. on the lap, between the legs or in the vicinity of the feet.40 It cannot be excluded that aside from a magical function, linked to rebirth and the functioning of the deceased in the afterlife, this natural strong-smelling antibiotic might also have played a role as a conserving substance. A type of garland or aureole made from twisted bandage canvas was sometimes placed on ←352 | 353→the mummy’s head.41 Was this a reminiscence of the Old Egyptian ‘crown of justification,’ playing an important role in sepulchral magic, or was this only a type of vestiary jewellery made from the remains of bandages used for the embalmment? Such a custom was probably practised much earlier and its reminiscences can be found in the nineteenth chapter of The Book of the Dead: “Atum, your father, wraps your body in this beautiful garland of triumph, so that you may live and triumph over your enemies, oh Osiris!”

The corpses of the wealthier representatives of the middle class were additionally covered with a linen-stucco cartonnage composed of a few separate parts or at least they were decorated with some of its elements sewn onto the external layer of bandages. We learned about the most frequently repeated, classical elements of such cladding on the example of a mummy from the beginnings of the Ptolemaic period, unearthed in the courtyard of Merefnebef’s tomb. These are primarily a mask covering the head, a necklace in the upper part of the torso and an image of the winged goddess of the sky, Nut, positioned in the middle part of the body. As indicated by the inscription, the deceased was considered to be the child of this goddess,42 which implied his or her identification with the god of the sun, born from her womb every daybreak.

Yet this does not exhaust the possibilities of the imagination shown by the creators who were contracted to make the cartonnages. The two remaining elements belonging to the standard repertoire of cartonnage appliqués also present a huge diversity of shapes and polychrome decorations, i.e. the cladding of the legs and the chest for the feet (Figs. 162164). Before we move on to discuss them, let us focus our attention on a unique cartonnage produced by the Saqqara ‘school’ with an element that has no other analogy throughout Egypt. These are two epaulettes complementing the upper part of the cartonnage, to the sides of the mask and necklace (Il. 23–24; Figs. 169171).43 This unique ‘costume’ belonged to the burial recorded in our documentation under the number 406. It was precisely this ‘Osiris,’ a 40–50-year-old man, who had been saved thanks to the fact his mummy had fallen into an Old Kingdom mastaba and was ‘seated’ on the edge of its burial shaft. Scraping against the wall of the narrow crevice led to some elements of the cartonnage being torn off; however, all of them were lying next to the embalmed corpse. Both the shoulder straps were among these pieces.

←353 | 354→

Fitted tightly to the shoulders, both epaulettes overlap with the bottom part of the mask, which in this place was not completed on purpose to give the impression of an organic connection with the shoulder straps. They overlap its linen edge, on the part lacking stucco. A large falcon with wings outstretched to protect the deceased is painted on each of the epaulettes. The head of each of the two birds is turned towards the mummy’s face. Papyrus tendrils grow out of the wings, and a feather of the Goddess Maat, symbolising order and justice, is stuck into each of them. The falcon’s head is crowned with a solar disc, and its claws hold the shen sign, expressing the cohesion of the world and performing a protective function within Egyptian magic. In the back part of the epaulettes, on the surface covering the back of the body, Isis and Nephthys have been depicted, holding in one hand the ankh sign and making a gesture of greeting with the other. Symmetrically, on the other side of the bird, two uraei have been depicted sitting on the papyrus tendrils, one with the crown of Lower Egypt on its head, the other with that of Upper Egypt. Representations of Isis, Nephthys and Osiris appear above the falcon’s wings. While the modelling of the bird is very detailed, the human figures have been depicted with maximum simplicity. Linking chthonic motifs with solar ones and intertwining symbols of integrity and order, the decoration of the epaulettes defines the deceased as an element of a world full of harmony and cohesion.

The remaining elements of this cartonnage also stand out due to the exceptional fineness of the composition (Fig. 161).44 Atop the extended wings of the Goddess Nut, there are two rectangular fields, repeating the motif of Isis and Nephthys adoring the mummiform Osiris, while miniature crouching figures with the heads of Horus’s sons were depicted underneath her wings. Each of the sons is shown bearing the feather of the Goddess Maat. One can see that the authors of the decoration placed special emphasis on the symbolism of truth and justice. Did the deceased lack these goods during his lifetime? A mummy is depicted in the upper register of the large rectangle covering the legs. It is lying on a bed in the shape of a stylised lion, underneath which four vessels stand for the deceased’s internal organs. These containers have, as usual, lids in the form of the heads of Horus’s four sons. In turn, the bottom, high part of this rectangle has the shape of a multi-layered bebet necklace, which frequently appears in ritual scenes, where the king offers it to a god. The column of an inscription with stereotypical content runs through the middle: “May the king give an offering to Osiris, who is the Lord of the West [= the realm of the dead], the great god, the lord of Abydos, to ensure a beautiful funeral and give an invocation offering of bread, beer, meat and birds, and every good and pure thing, for Osiris Hor-Sheri, born of Wadjet, true of voice.”

←354 | 355→ ←355 | 356→

In this multipart cartonnage, the chest for the feet is especially originally and richly decorated, covering the limbs not only from the top but also from the sides and bottom (Figs. 163164).45 The central part of the upper surface consists of three parallel columns of inscriptions with content almost identical to the text presented above. On both sides of the inscription, a ‘path opener’ was depicted, a zoomorphic canine-shaped deity lying on a shrine, underneath which a large group of uniform miniature figures was presented in a few registers, probably accompanying the deceased to the Netherworld. Each of them held the feather of the Goddess Maat, which doubtless meant that he was already ‘justified of voice.’ Today, we would say that he is in heaven. On the external side of both feet, the soles of sandals were depicted naturalistically, and between them a column in the shape of a stylised papyrus sheave.

Other original elements of the decoration draw one’s attention in the cartonnage from burial no. 483, preserved along with a canopic chest and a figurine of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, made from wood and richly polychromed (Figs. 165168).46 Next to the stereotypical motifs on this mummy’s cartonnage, twice a scene was attested depicting figures wearing the royal khepresh crown and an apron typical for pharaohs giving an offering to Osiris (Il. 25–26). Was this supposed to provide a literal illustration of the first words, cited above, of the usual wishes: “May the king give an offering to Osiris, who is the Lord of the West?” In iconographic terms, the canopic chest from this burial is somewhat like a synthesis of the motifs present on the cartonnage, with a predominance of the vision of the Netherworld filled with rows of tiny crouching figures, each with the Maat feather in its hand.47 On the back wall of the chest, the main motif is a falcon with extended wings and the same attributes as its homologue on the above-described shoulder straps of another cartonnage.48 On its front, two goddesses have been depicted, mourning in front of a djed pillar, a symbol of Osiris,49 while on the lateral walls, the deceased has been portrayed several times in a posture of adoration before Horus’s sons. The style of the paintings decorating the chest, cartonnage and the base of the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris statuette, all coming from one burial, betrays the workmanship of the same artist, probably one of the many forming the ‘Saqqara school.’

←356 | 357→ ←357 | 358→ ←358 | 359→ ←359 | 360→

Even though during the Ptolemaic period every deceased person was considered to be an incarnation of the god Osiris, only one cartonnage among those discovered in Saqqara so far contains elements expressing this identification expressis verbis. This is the artificial beard of a mummy buried in a terracotta coffin not far from Merefnebef’s tomb (burial no. 29) (Figs. 3536).50 Its mask ended in its lower part with a beard narrowing towards the bottom and its tip curving outward. Its structure, rendered in the painting, is reminiscent of a braided plait. This type of beard characterises the Egyptian gods, in contrast to the typical royal beard, which broadens out towards the bottom and is clipped horizontally at the tip. Only one god was portrayed almost always with a royal beard: the Memphite demiurge Ptah. Perhaps one should search for reminiscences of the fact that Memphis was the traditional venue for the coronation of kings?

In contrast to the Old Kingdom burials, in which the bodies of the deceased were almost always aligned north-south with the head on the northern side, mummies from the Ptolemaic period show an east-west orientation with the head on the western side.51 The abundance of mummies and contemporaneous skeleton burials in the Upper Necropolis seems quite mysterious in light of the fact that for 2000 years this area was either forgotten or remained unused for other reasons, difficult to establish now. What led the inhabitants of Memphis from the end of the dynastic period to suddenly return to an area which had for a long time been covered by sand? It seems ←360 | 361→that hints should be searched for in a place located about 300 metres north-west of Djoser’s pyramid.

As already mentioned, Auguste Mariette initiated excavations here in 1850 after seeing the head of a large stone sphinx protruding from the sand, which he linked with the description of this part of Saqqara from Strabo’s text. Guided by ingenious intuition, he came up with the idea that this might by the place where the famous dromos was located, i.e. an avenue of sphinges linking two opposite areas of particular religious significance. At the two ends of this avenue, running from the Serapeum (the burial place of the holy bulls), next to Djoser’s sepulchral complex, up until the eastern edge of the plateau, i.e. the vicinity of the Anubieion (the necropolis of the holy dogs) and the pyramid of Pharaoh Teti, ruler of the Sixth Dynasty, the pharaohs of the Thirtieth Dynasty (mid-fourth century BC), erected sanctuaries and decorated the dromos with a row of sphinges made from white limestone. Each sphinx had the head of a pharaoh and hieroglyphic inscriptions with the name of the ‘sponsor’ carved onto its base. The sponsor was Nectanebo I, one of two pharaohs of the last indigenous dynasty bearing this name. This part of Saqqara was the cult centre of the necropolis in the final phase of the dynastic period.

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It was precisely next to this dromos, not far from the entrance to the Serapeum, that Auguste Mariette unearthed a monument, whose location and iconographic repertoire to this day remain quite a puzzle.52 Over a dozen statues of famous Greek poets and philosophers, sculpted from local, very poor-quality limestone, were placed on a base in the form of a horseshoe. Despite their bad state of preservation, it was possible to identify the figures or at least suggest an attribution to specific historical persons. Even though the inscriptions are probably younger than many of the sculptures, ←362 | 363→the ones that have survived on some of the statues have made it possible to almost definitely identify Pindar, Protagoras and Plato.53 There is also not much doubt raised about the attribution of one to Homer.54 The interpretation of two statues as portraits of Hesiod and Tales remain hypotheses, even though all their features suggest such an identification.55 The figure once considered to be a representation of Heraclitus seems rather to be a depiction of Diogenes.56

Two statues of rulers were also included among the group of famous Greeks; unfortunately, their state of preservation enables only making certain assumptions concerning their attribution. One of them probably depicted Alexander the Great, while the other – Ptolemy I or Ptolemy IV.57 One renowned researcher even suggested that between the statues of the famous poets and philosophers, the representations of all the rulers from the first half of the Ptolemaic period had been placed there, up until Ptolemy VI, who in such a case could be considered to have been the funder of this monument.58 The statues were sculpted in the Greek style; thus, the author must have been a Hellene. Despite certain controversies with respect to the dating of this unique monument, it is generally now agreed that it was created during the Ptolemaic epoch, doubtless in the first half of this period, probably in its beginnings. It is today referred to as the Ptolemaic exedra or hemicycle.

The outskirts of the dromos near the exedra were simultaneously enriched by adding other stone statues presenting mythological motifs from the Greek world of eschatological imagery, frequently of a Dionysian tinge. These include: a sculpture of Dionysus riding a panther (2.25 m high), two figures of the same god seated on a peacock (1.80 m and 1.75 m high), two statues of Greek-version sphinges, i.e. in the form of a winged fantastic female animal, two representations of dancing mermaids playing a lyre or another instrument (one of them is currently found in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), or ←363 | 364→sculptures portraying Dionysus riding a lion and Cerberus (or rather a variation of a griffin with a lion’s head).59 In this same context, there was also a series of Egyptian-type statues, e.g. a falcon with a human head (it is currently almost completely destroyed),60 a representation of the god Onuris, four marble lions (currently in the Louvre), a depiction of the god Horus in the form of a falcon with the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt on its head, a representation of the dwarfish god Bes, two sphinges with the cartouches of the last indigenous ruler of Egypt, Nectanebo II, and other statues.61

Close to this gallery of sculptures, there were two chapels, one in the Greek style and the other in the Egyptian style. This last one was adorned by a polychrome statue of Apis.62 The Greek sanctuary parallel to it bore the name Lykhnaption, which probably described its role.63 This would have been the collegium of the lykhnaptai, i.e. the functionaries responsible for lighting the cult celebrations. Contrary to appearances, this was a logistic function with considerable ideological significance, which in particular cases could take on political meaning. It is enough to bring to mind the fate of a contemporary Pole, who during the imposition of martial law in 1981 in Poland was responsible for the sound management of the New Year’s speech made by the head of state and transmitted on television. He lost a lucrative job as the result of the ‘accidental’ lack of sound.

What are these monumental representations of famous Hellenes doing between the oldest pyramid in the world and the largest underground gallery for the mummies of the holiest animals, i.e. bulls? The complex analysis of the statues, done by the prematurely deceased Polish archaeologist Dr Michał Pietrzykowski, showed that the sculptures were primarily prominent Greeks linked in various ways to Alexander the Great.64 The latter was the only person for whom a monument of such connotations could have been created, located in a spot that had previously had no connections with Hellenic culture. In addition, these are not sculptures imported from Greece, but made on the spot, in Memphis, which is clearly indicated by their material. Michał Pietrzykowski’s studies into this unique assemblage of statues and their find spot showed that the source of inspiration for its creators might have been either votive groups with representations of legendary and historical rulers, popular in the Hellenic world, or sepulchral representations ←364 | 365→of poets and philosophers. Thus, the exedra would have been a monument linked to the Dionysian cult with important political significance for the Lagidae residing in Alexandria, who had raised the Greek god of wine to the rank of a dynastic deity. Everything indicates that it simultaneously performed the function of a sepulchral and commemorative monument, a memorial to the first provisional burial of the great commander, through an outspoken reminiscence of his achievements in the field of culture.

It is a historical fact that the mummified body of Alexander, whom the Egyptian population idolised as liberator from under Persian subjugation, but also as a pharaoh and god, was stolen and taken to Egypt at the order of Ptolemy I, founder of the Lagid dynasty. Still, it did not make its way to Alexandria immediately, because no tomb fit for such an outstanding person had been made ready yet. The only place suitable for a provisional burial of such a persona was the Memphite necropolis. If in fact his body was deposited there for a short period, the most important and honoured spot in the ancient royal cemetery must have been chosen. This is precisely what the vicinity of the Serapeum and avenue of sphinges leading eastward was at that time.

Thus, it seems very probable that this part of Saqqara became the location of the first, short-term burial of the most famous of all the mummies of that time. Where was it deposited? It could not, of course have been in some specially prepared tomb as the Memphites would not have had time to construct one or hew it out into the rock. It was probably not among the holy bulls in Serapeum, even though from the perspective of Egyptian political theology, Alexander was also a ‘mighty bull.’ It was also rather not in the middle of the city of Memphis, as had in fact happened earlier during the so-called Third Intermediary Period to some dignitaries, especially priests of the god Ptah, legitimised by their royal origins.65 With a high dose of probability, it can be assumed that Alexander was buried temporarily in one of the earlier tombs of the highest Old Kingdom dignitaries, perhaps already long emptied by looters, and also that the tomb was located not far from the Serapeum. It seems rather unlikely that this first, provisional burial of Alexander the Great would have left any sort of permanent trace of his short stay in such a tomb. Without a doubt, from the moment that his dead body ←365 | 366→arrived in Egypt, a magnificent tomb – in ancient literature referred to as “Soma” – started being constructed in Alexandria for the great Macedonian. But it is also difficult to assume that the first stop of Alexander’s posthumous journey left no material trace at all. Such a place almost begged for a commemorative monument, and it was probably precisely the discussed hemicycle located near the Serapeum that performed this function, the remains of which are barely noticed today by the crowds of tourists heading at a trot to the sarcophagi of the holy bulls. The memorial exedra was probably constructed at some point after the embalmed body had been transferred to Alexandria, to commemorate the Macedonian’s short stay at the Memphite necropolis.

One can imagine what a terrific impression this noble place made on the inhabitants of Memphis. Even in our times, a throng of snobs from various parts of the world willingly buy places at cemeteries or even purchase tombs located near the place of eternal rest where famous people lie. Such a phenomenon would explain the sudden renaissance of the necropolis adjacent to the Serapeum from the south, forgotten or considered unattractive for 2000 years, i.e. from the First Intermediary Period until the end of the dynastic epoch. This is precisely what the beginnings of the Upper Necropolis discovered by us might have been. It cannot be excluded that the basilophoric reminiscences of this cemetery’s genesis inspired the maker of one of the cartonnages to depict the above-described scenes of giving offerings to Osiris on a mummy’s feet, but it is not the person who was buried here that was the offering bearer, but rather a figure wearing a royal apron and crown (Il. 26). In such a case, could it have come as a surprise that this was the khepresh crown, usually associated with victory in battle and with the coronation ceremony?


1 K. Myśliwiec (ed.), The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), Part 1; M. Radomska et al., The Catalogue with Drawings, Part 2; M. Kaczmarek et al., Studies and Photographic Documentation, Warsaw 2008; Myśliwiec et al., The Tomb, Warsaw 2004, pp. 38–39, 42, pl. XXIV a, c–f, LXXXV a–e, h; Myśliwiec, Kuraszkiewicz, The Funerary Complex, Warsaw 2010, pp. 25–78, pls. I–XXXI.

2 Myśliwiec et al., The Tomb, pls. XXIV e–f, XXVIII a, c; M. Radomska et al., The Catalogue with Drawings (Saqqara III, Part 1), pp. 48–52, pl. CC a–c.

3 Myśliwiec et al., The Tomb, pls. XXVIII a, c, XXVI a–d.

4 Myśliwiec et al., The Tomb, pp. 62–63, pls. XXV g, XXIX a–d, XXXI.

5 A. Schweitzer, “Étude des parures de cartonnage de momies de la nécropole ouest de Saqqara,” in: The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), p. 523.

6 Schweitzer, “Étude,” pp. 538–542.

7 Schweitzer, “Étude,” pp. 521–522.

8 Schweitzer, “Étude,” p. 522.

9 Schweitzer, “Étude,” pp. 539–540.

10 J.-Cl. Goyon, Rituels funéraires de l’Ancienne Égypte (“Littératures anciennes du Proche-Orient” 4), Paris 1972, p. 191.

11 Schweitzer, “Étude,” pp. 524, 527, 532, 535, 540.

12 M. Radomska et al., The Catalogue with Drawings (Saqqara III, Part 1), pp. 291–292, pl. CXLVII a–c.

13 Radomska et al., The Catalogue with Drawings, pp. 531–534, pl. CCXXIV–CCXL.

14 A. Kowalska, “Catalogue of Finds from Outside the Burial Chambers,” in: The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pp. 388–399, 403, 410–415, pls. CCLV–CCLVII.

15 Kowalska, “Catalogue of Finds,” pp. 403–410, pl. CCLIX.

16 J. K. Winnicki, Base of a Statue with Demotic Inscription, in: The Upper Necropolis, pp. 383–388, pl. CCLIV.

17 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pls. X–XI.

18 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pls. XXXVI, CCII; Myśliwiec et al., The Tomb, p. 42, pl. LXXXV a–e.

19 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pl. CCVII.

20 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pp. 86–88, pls. XXXIII–XXXV a–c.

21 Rzeuska, “The Pottery,” in: The Upper Necropolis, pp. 440–441, pls. CXCIX b–c, CCLXIII c–d.

22 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pls. LI–LII, LIV e–LV, LVIII, LX, LXXIII a, LXXVI, C, CII b–d, CCVIII.

23 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pp. 216–221, pls. CVI b–c, CVII a–c, CCXV–CCXVI.

24 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pp. 239–242, pls. CXVI c–CXVII a–c, CCXVII a–b.

25 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pp. 247–250, pls. CXXI a–b, CCXX a–d.

26 M. Kaczmarek, “Human Remains,” in: The Upper Necropolis, pp. 459–460.

27 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), p. 472, fig. 3.

28 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), p. 473, fig. 4.

29 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), fig. 2.

30 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), pp. 504–514.

31 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), p. 516.

32 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), p. 461.

33 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), p. 468.

34 The Upper Necropolis (Saqqara III), p. 468, fn. 2.

35 See fn. 32.

36 Kaczmarek, “Human Remains,” pp. 469–470.

37 Kaczmarek, “Human Remains,” p. 469.

38 Kaczmarek, “Human Remains,” pp. 469–470.

39 Kaczmarek, “Human Remains,” pp. 460, 463.

40 M. Radomska, “Saqqara: Some Remarks on Flora from Funerary Contexts,” Studia Quaternaria 30/2 (2013), pp. 96–97.

41 M. Radomska, “Funerary Equipment,” in: The Upper Necropolis, p. 377 (F., wreaths).

42 Schweitzer, “Étude,” p. 541.

43 Schweitzer, “Étude,” pp. 532, 538, pls. CCXXVI–CCXXIX.

44 Schweitzer, “Étude,” pp. 533–534.

45 Schweitzer, “Étude,” p. 534, pls. CCXXXVIII–CCXXXIX a.

46 Schweitzer, “Étude,” pp. 534–536, pls. CCXLI–CCXLIX; Kowalska, “Catalogue of Finds,” pp. 325–335.

47 Kowalska, “Catalogue of Finds,” pp. 335–343, pls. CCXLIV–CCXLVIII.

48 Kowalska, “Catalogue of Finds,” pls. CCXLIV b, CCXLV b.

49 Kowalska, “Catalogue of Finds,” pls. CCXLIV a, CCXLV a.

50 Kowalska, “Catalogue of Finds,” pp. 81–85, pl. CCI a–c.

51 Kaczmarek, “Human Remains,” pp. 459–460.

52 A. Mariette, Choix de monuments et de dessins découverts ou executés pendant les déblaiements du Sérapeum de Memphis, Paris 1856; A. Mariette, Le Sérapeum de Memphis découvert par Aug. Mariette-Pascha, publié d’après le manuscrit de l’auteur par G. Maspero, Cairo 1882; J. Ph. Lauer, Ch. Picard, Les statues ptolémaïques du Sarapieion de Memphis, Paris 1955; K. Myśliwiec, “Hole or Whole? A Cemetery from the Ptolemaic Period in Saqqara (Egypt),” in: T. Derda, J. Hilder, J. Kwapisz (eds.), Fragments, Holes and Wholes. Reconstructing the Ancient World in Theory and Practice, Journal of Juristic Papyrology Supplement, 30, Warsaw, 2017, pp. 363–367, 377.

53 M. Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie z Serapeum memfickiego – Studium ikonograficzne, Warszawa 1976, pp. 10–13, 29–34, 39–40, 129; see also M. Bergmann, “The Philosophers and Poets in the Serapieion at Memphis,” in: P. Schultz, R. von den Hoff (eds.), Early Hellenistic Portraiture. Image, Style, Context, Cambridge–New York, 2007, pp. 246–263; F. Queyrel, “Alexandrinisme et art alexandrin: nouvelles approches,” in: P. Ballet (éd.), Grecs et Romains en Egypte. Territoires, espaces de la vie et de la mort, objets de prestige et du quotiden, Le Caire 2012, pp. 246–247.

54 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, pp. 22–28, 131.

55 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, pp. 17–20, 35, 129.

56 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, pp. 35–39.

57 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, p. 125.

58 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, p. 126.

59 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, pp. 48–60.

60 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, p. 46.

61 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, pp. 61–62.

62 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, p. 43.

63 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, pp. 41–43.

64 Pietrzykowski, Rzeźby greckie, pp. 132–142.

65 For example, the tomb of Shoshenq, son of Osorkon II: A. Badawy, “Das Grab des Kronprinzen Scheschonk, Sohnes Osorkon’s II. und Hohenpriesters von Memphis, Annales du Service des Antiquités Égyptiennes 54 (1957), pp. 153–177; B. Porter, R. L. B. Moss, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs and Paintings, Vol. 3, Memphis, Part II/3, 2nd ed., Oxford 1981, p. 846; K. Myśliwiec, Herr Beider Länder. Ägypten im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr., Mainz 1998, p. 70.