Greek kings, Egyptian pharaohs

The general Ptolemy
founded the Greco-Macedonian Ptolemaic dynasty
that ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years after Alexander
the Great
’s death. The Ptolemies tried to gain
the support of Egyptian priests in order to be recognised as legitimate
pharaohs. They renovated temples and also built magnificent new ones. 

These royal portraits illustrate
the determination of the Ptolemaic rulers to
present themselves to their Egyptian subjects as legitimate successors to the
native pharaohs.

This
skilfully executed head shows a Ptolemaic king depicted entirely in accordance
with ancient Egyptian traditions. His head
is adorned by the rearing cobra (uraeus) protruding from the traditional
headcloth of Egyptian pharaohs (nemes).

This
royal head originally belonged to the statue of a sphinx, a type of Egyptian
sculpture usually seen flanking processional routes into temples. It is another example of the Ptolemies’ determination to
draw from Egyptian art and iconography, making them seem less like outsiders.

Find out more about the deep connections
between the ancient civilisations of Greece and Egypt in the BP exhibition Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds (19 May – 27 November 2016).

Ptolemaic king. Canopus, 300–200 BC. Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Antiquities Museum, Alexandria. Photo:
Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti
Foundation.

Royal head from a sphinx. Canopus, 200–30 BC. Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Antiquities Museum, Alexandria. Photo:
Christoph Gerigk. © Franck Goddio/Hilti
Foundation.

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