Roman Emperor Dressed as Pharaoh in Newfound Carving

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An ancient stone carving on the walls of an Egyptian temple depicts the Roman emperor Claudius dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh, wearing an elaborate crown, a team of researchers has discovered.

In the carving, Emperor Claudius, who reigned from A.D. 41 to 54, is shown erecting a giant pole with a lunar crescent at the top. Eight men, each wearing two feathers, are shown climbing the supporting poles, with their legs dangling in midair.

Egyptian hieroglyphs in the carving call Claudius the "Son of Ra, Lord of the Crowns," and say he is "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands." The hieroglyphs say he is raising the pole of the tent (or cult chapel) of Min (an ancient Egyptian god of fertility and power) and notes a date indicating a ritual like this took place around the summertime researchers say. It would have taken place even though Claudius never visited Egypt. A cult chapel is a place of worship and a tent could also be used for this purpose. [See Photos of the Egyptian Carving and Emperor]

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The elaborate crown on Claudius consists of three rushes (plants) set on ram horns with three falcons sitting on top. Three solar discs representing the sun (one for each plant) are shown in front of the rushes. Egyptian rulers are shown wearing crowns like this relatively late in ancient Egyptian history, mainly after 332 B.C., and they were worn only in Egypt. The Roman Empire took over Egypt in 30 B.C., and while the Roman emperors were not Egyptian, they were still depicted as pharaohs Egyptologists have noted.

In the recently discovered carving, the god Min is shown wearing his own crown and has an erect penis, because Min was a god of fertility, the researchers said. The hieroglyphs describe Min as "the one who brings into control the warhorses, whose fear is in the Two Lands." Min tells Claudius, "I give you the (southern) foreign lands," which researchers say could be a reference to the deserts surrounding the Nile River, where minerals could be quarried.

The scene was discovered on the western exterior wall of the Temple of Isis at Shanhur, located on the east bank of the Nile River about 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of Luxor. It is an Egyptian temple built and decorated during the Roman occupation under Augustus (who reigned from about 30 B.C. to A.D. 14) through to Trajan (who reigned from A.D. 98 to 117). The pole-raising scene was first found during the 2000-2001 excavation season and was recorded in full during the 2010 epigraphic (recording) season. The temple originally had 36 scenes on each of its eastern and western exterior walls, and this new scene, protected for millennia by a layer of dirt, is one of the best preserved.

The study was published recently in the journal Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde by Martina Minas-Nerpel, a Reader (the American equivalent of an associate professor) at Swansea University in the United Kingdom, and Marleen De Meyer, a postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven University in Belgium. Careful line drawings of the scene were done by Troy Sagrillo, a senior lecturer at Swansea University.

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Roman pharaohs

Although Cleopatrais often called the "last pharaoh of Egypt," the Egyptian priests depicted the Roman emperors as pharaohs up until the fourth century A.D. The Roman emperors allowed, or even encouraged, these depictions in Egyptian temples in order to keep Egypt — which was an important Roman province — stable. [Cleopatra & Olympias: Top 12 Warrior Moms in History]