Roman Emperor Dressed as Pharaoh in Newfound Carving: Page 2

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This ritual offering is depicted at the axially corresponding scene on the eastern exterior wall and shows the Emperor Claudius, at left, making an offering of lettuce to the god Min, shown at right.
Photo by Marleen De Meyer, line drawing by Troy Sagrillo

"Although we know that Claudius, as most Roman emperors, never visited Egypt, his rule over the land at the Nile and the desert regions was legitimized through cultic means," Minas-Nerpel and De Meyer wrote in the journal article. "By decorating the exterior temple wall with this ritual, Claudius theoretically received Min's characteristics and thus his ability to rule over Egypt."

The researchers noted that similar scenes showing a pole being raised for the god Min date as far back as 4,300 years ago, during the age when pyramids were being built in Egypt. This tradition of creating pole-raising scenes was continued into the period of Roman rule.

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Real-life ritual

In addition, the date on the carving indicates that a ritual like this took place in real life, the researchers said, adding that people may have climbed the central pole of the chapel of Min. In fact, a priest may have stood in for the absent Claudius, and a statue could have been used to represent Min, Minas-Nerpel said.

"What we see depicted on the temple scene is the ideal scenario," Minas-Nerpel told Live Science. She added that, even before the Romans took over Egypt in 30 B.C., Egypt's pharaohs were unable to take part in each temple ceremony in person, and stand-ins would have been necessary.

Lettuce scene

Another ritual offering at the Shanhur temple depicted at the axially corresponding scene on the eastern exterior wall shows Claudius giving an offering of lettuce to Min, which symbolizes the continued fertility of Egypt. It is located on the east wall and did not have to be excavated. In this scene, the Egyptian god Horus (shown as a child) is depicted between the two.

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"[Take for] you the lettuce in order to unite it with your body (or phallus)," Claudius says to Min in hieroglyphs shown on the depiction. At one point, Claudius says, "One is in fear when seeing your face."

The two scenes highlight fertility and victorious power, both of which were important for legitimizing the rule of an absent Roman emperor who wanted to control Egypt, Minas-Nerpel and De Meyer wrote.

The Shanhur project and team

In 2009, Minas-Nerpel (principal investigator) and Harco Willems, a professor of Egyptology at the KU Leuven in Belgium, were jointly awarded the research grant by the Gerda Henkel-Foundation of Düsseldorf, Germany, to continue research at the temple of Isis at Shanhur in Upper Egypt. The project was also sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council in the United Kingdom. The international team also included De Meyer, Peter Dils (of the Universität Leipzig in Germany), René Preys (of the Facultés Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix in Namur and KU Leuven), and Sagrillo. In Egypt, the mission was supported by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, theDeutsches Archäologisches Institut, Cairo (DAI) and the Nederlands-Vlaams Instituut in Cairo.

An article on Shanhur temple by De Meyer and Minas-Nerpel can be seen on the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology at http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5hc3t8dh.

Original article on LiveScience.com.

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