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‘Challenging Time(s)’ – A New Approach to Written Sources for Ancient Egyptian Chronology

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CT (‘Challenging Time(s)’ – A New Approach to Written Sources for Ancient Egyptian Chronology)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

‘Challenging Time(s)’ – A New Approach to Written Sources for Ancient Egyptian Chronology (757951 - CT - ERC-2017-STG)

Ancient Egyptian chronology is a corner stone for the understanding of the rise and fall of early civilisations as well as their interactions. Besides material culture and archaeological excavations, texts and inscriptions are the main sources for establishing and refining Egyptian chronology. The evaluation of data from radiocarbon measurements, archaeo-astronomy and further scientific methodologies depend on a scaffolding of Egyptian history according to excavations and texts. Since the evaluation of none of those three sources of information is independent from the two others, it is indispensable to recognise dependencies and potential vicious circles like in the case of radiocarbon dates, which are usually interpreted and modelled on the basis of historical chronology, e.g. via Bayesian statistics. The data obtained from material culture and texts therefore urgently require proper assessment in their particular cultural context.

The research project ‘Challenging Time(s)’ is devoted to the study of written sources and aims at critically evaluating ancient kinglists such as Manetho’s, contemporaneous inscriptions from the respective kings’ reigns, and prosopographic data in order to establish genealogies. Information obtained from the kinglists will thus be checked against contemporaneous inscriptions, which will allow for the more precise recognition of how ancient Egyptians themselves perceived history and of how they passed along information on history and chronology. Genealogies in other prosopographic information will serve as an additional and until today essentially unexploited approach of testing chronological data from kinglists, historical inscriptions and documentary texts.

It is therefore the paramount goal of this research project to assess the written sources for ancient Egyptian chronology, to evaluate them in their proper cultural context, to judge their reliability, and to make the historical framework of chronology better applicable for further research. In particular, this research project aims at writing the first Egyptological commentary on Manetho’s Greek list of Egyptian kings, which still today is highly influential for Egyptian chronology with its concept of dynasties. The research project ‘Challenging Time(s)’ is thus highly important for a refinement of the chronology of the Near East around Egypt and for a more precise definition of cause and effect for key events of ancient history.
Although Manetho is one of the most important sources for the Egyptian notion of history and genuinely Egyptian data for chronology, not even the date of composition of his kinglist is determined beyond doubt. The research project ‘Challenging Time(s)’ therefore started with the collection and evaluation of testimonia on Manetho in order to address this crucial research question anew. Analysis is not yet completed and the intertextual relations of Manetho’s writings and other authors will require additional research, but new insights will certainly contribute to the proper historical and cultural contextualisation of this crucial kinglist. In addition, the royal names of the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty were analysed on the basis of linguistic and onomastic methodologies in order to investigate the Egyptian perception of royal names. This not only revealed certain tendencies to (re)etymologise programmatic royal names, but it also helped to understand the complex linguistic and cultural interface which allowed for Egyptian kinglists to be translated into Greek.

Another field of research was prosopography and genealogies. On the one hand, studies concentrated on the royal families and the families of the high priests of Amun during the late Twentieth and Twenty-First Dynasties. Besides a refined reconstruction of the family trees, principles of ancient Egyptian lineages such as the expression and definition of filiation and the marital status of women as reflected in their designations have been explored. Special attention was paid to the different kinds of sources such as documentary texts, official inscriptions, and Books of the Dead, which all exhibit markedly different usages of language. On the other hand, some reliefs with the representation of members of the royal family of Cheops from the early Fourth Dynasty were studied in great detail. It is remarkable that, during that period, a special kind of family scenes relates the family relations between those depicted. Unfortunately, those genealogical scenes are preserved in a deplorable state so that the reconstruction of the reliefs and their captions poses major problems. With due attention to the patterns of title strings and the prosopography of other members of the royal family, a revised reconstruction of the family relations has been proposed for some key members with far-reaching consequences for the chronology of that period.
‘Challenging Time(s)’ has contributed to the understanding of the language interface between Egyptian and Greek in the Graeco-Roman Period. The evaluation of the Egyptian royal names was advanced via the reconstruction of the actually pronounced forms which thus was confirmed as a promising, though time-consuming, basis for the future. Expanding this approach beyond the names of the pyramid age will definitely widen our knowledge about historiography and help to improve current models of historical chronology. The results from the reconstruction of family genealogies already proved useful for the examination of parts of the current historical chronology (Fourth and Twenty-First Dynasties). This is a particularly promising field of research which will certainly operate as a useful means for checking regnal lengths and the sequence of kings where necessary. Due attention to cultural details such as the expression of filiation and the marital status of women in various text genres and sources of diverse origin will further contribute to the understanding of the Egyptian society and thus influence future research far beyond the scope of ‘Challenging Time(s)’.

By means of critically examining crucial inscriptions as well as collecting additional data from the combination of kinglists, documentary texts, historical inscriptions, and prosopographical information, ‘Challenging Time(s)’ will without a doubt contribute to the solution of some decade-old conundra of Egyptian historical chronology. This will have a lasting impact not only on future research on ancient Egyptian chronology, but will also stimulate research on the chronology and history of neighbouring ancient cultures across the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East.