Event #1-Meroe and the African Encounter with Greece

Event #1

On Thursday, September 25, 2013, I attended a talk by Professor Stanley M. Burstein from California State University, Los Angeles.  It was sponsored by LLEA and the Archaeological Institute of America.  The talk centered around archaeological artifacts that demonstrate the spread of Hellenistic culture in the Egyptian area and Africa.

Towards the beginning of his lecture Professor Burstein mentioned two significant archaeologists that made major excavations in archaeology: Sir John Garstang and George Reisner.  Although both were significant, they were somewhat foils of each other– Sir John Garstang was incompetent while George Reisner was the best Egyptian archaeologist of his day.  Garstang excavated royal cemeteries, while Risner figured out how to date pyramids as well as made a history of the Egypt.  I learned that Greek culture first came in contact with the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.  The culture first appeared in Nubia in the 3rd century.

Professor Burstein focused on Ptolemy II and his involvement in Nubia.  In ~270 B.C., Ptolemy decided to invade Meroe with troops to hunt for elephants, which were extremely important in his day and age for military use.  During this time, Meroe royalty used Greek goods as luxury items.

An archaeological find that demonstrates Hellenistic culture in Nubia came in the form of writing left on Ramsey II colossi. When the Greek soldiers campaigned actively in Nubia they defaced the statue with their names.  Professor Burstein laughingly stated that the “Greeks invented graffiti”, which was easy for them because of their alphabet.  The “graffiti” on the colossi is evidence of the spread of Greek in the Egyptian area.

Some other artifacts that demonstrated the spread of Hellenistic culture in the Egyptian area mentioned include a painting of a virgin and a child protecting a Nubian king and a tomb of a 12th century bishop which was covered in inscriptions of the four Gospels in Greek.   Furthermore, Professor Burstein presented evidence that a Bishop Timotheus’ coptic installment document included a greeting written in Greek.  These examples show how the Greek culture and religion spread and how the Nubians even accepted their beliefs and intertwined the two cultures, as shown in these two examples.

Concerning Africa Professor Burstein briefly showed examples of artifacts in which the Africans used Greek objects to express African culture ideas.

Altogether, I learned a lot from Professor Burstein and about the spread of Greek culture.  Something that particularly impacted me was when Professor Burstein talked about Sir John Garstang and criticized his sloppy archaeological work.  I realized the impact of Garstang’s subpar work negatively affected many other archaeologists in his field.  Personally, I learned how important it is to take pride in one’s work and do one’s best because even though you might not care, your work might later have an impact on others who do.

I also found that Greece, a relatively small area, had such a profound impact on the world, and realized how significant Alexander the Great’s conquests were in the spreading and sustaining of the Greek culture.  I found it interesting how the Nubians tied in their culture with the Greek religion through the paintings.


One thought on “Event #1-Meroe and the African Encounter with Greece

  1. Glad you made it to this AIA lecture and sorry I missed it. The insight on bad archaeological work applies to all fields of research, as you note. Also, this topic shows that cross-cultural interactions are very old, not a modern phenomenon.

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