King Tut’s Crown – a Lapidary Jeweller’s Perspective 

Anticipation was a murmur running beneath the mire of the afternoon sun. It was a weighty thing called forth out of cartooning tradition and penned in by stone pillars. It was in the sudden tweaks of necks snapping to, then forward.  It was in the necessarily short, shallow, babble of amassing, Hello, how are yous‘: token salutations that would have to suffice, anything more would lose purchase when the pharaoh appeared. Yet the presentation porch was vacant save two sparsely clad sentinels, bare chested and baring spears. Anticipation simmered as the crowd waited to be awed.

From the shadows the scribe, Ay, looked on the ignorant and willingly beguiled. They flocked to see a God, the ever-living, ever-present presence, the immutable. They flocked to be uplifted, to be humbled, to be justified in their way of life by his physical incarnation. It was said that the great Pharaoh’s face radiated the golden beams of the desert sun. It was said that it pained the naked eye to gaze upon his countenance for long – just long enough to perceive his lapis-blue locks. Imperious in his stance, he need not speak, his presence was enough. That’s all they wanted. That’s all Khemet needed.

Did it matter that in truth the Pharaoh was only a feeble, nine year old boy who sought his mother when the night terrors set in? Ay would shelter the truth for and from them. He had his tools. He would give the people what they needed to see. He ensured order. He ensured maat. They didn’t need to see a debilitated, child-God as they didn’t need to see a female masquerading as a male God just a few generations ago, nor the 2 year old infant before her. No, The Pharaoh-Goldman was an empirical constant, like maat. Anything other was chaos.

No. Let the mask work its magic once again, while the child played indoors.

king tut

Death Mask

After two lack-lustre attempts at recreating the nemes crown I decided that it was not made out of linen. Forget what egyptologists, historians, even archaeologists, or anyone who has made Ancient Egypt the focus of their lifetime’s research are saying. Listen to the housewife: it was made out of gold. Tut wore a golden crown, not a linen one! Whoever heard of a king ruling with the weight of cloth on his shoulders? Unheard of! And besides, I failed at making it, twice. (It’s all about me ;D). Continuing along this vein. . .

Tutankhamen wore a gold crown. He inherited it from his predecessors. He passed it onto his successor. That’s what happens with monarchs and the chief symbols of their power and majesty. Except . . . it was found on his mummy. So chances are that his predecessors’ and successors’ crowns could have been found with their mummies had their burials remained intact. And then there is that snake and vulture sticking out of it. Tut seems to have been the only pharaoh to have been depicted with this wadjet-nehkbet combination sticking out of his head. No, this crown was definitely made for Tut but was it made during his lifetime or specifically for his afterlife?

Egyptologist, Nicholas Reeves, wrote a paper, Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered focusing on the burial bust. He found that it was probably made reusing other monarch’s jewels. He believes that the face is Nefertiti’s (Tutankhamen’s possible step mother or aunt (1)). If this is the case the mask had to be made before the crown. By looking at the way that the crown and mask were made we can determine which part was made first or whether they were made at the same time. Due to the preferred habits of jeweller-metalsmiths and the immutable facts of science – the melting point of gold, the burning point of lapis, the shock resistance of faienc e- a close look at its joins and surface can reveal much.

Sterling Silver jewellery inlaid with semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli, carnelian and turquoise from my workshop (1996).

As a former lapidary jeweller I would like to take a guess at what the burial bust could tell us. I’m using Nicholas Reeves article as a reference for what I can’t infer from just looking at photos of it. I have never seen the bust itself.

Reeves tells us that there were at least 8 components of the burial bust (the combined face, nemes crown and necklace.) It was assembled using a number of enduring techniques: cold hammering from sheet metal, riveting, casting, soldering and pressure setting. He singles out, “a series of rivets at the base of the throat together with visible lines of solder around the edges of the face and neck,” and ” a line of thickening around the brow band,” to “indicate that the face had been fashioned not as one with the front of the headpiece but as a wholly separate unit.” His 8 distinct parts of the bust are:

  1. the front panel (of the nemes Crown)
  2. the back panel
  3. the uraeus and vulture
  4. the face
  5. an ear
  6. the other ear
  7. the beard
  8. and the collar panel (necklace)(2).

He continues, “In its fully assembled state, the mask’s metal surfaces had been smoothed, inlaid, chased, treated, and provided with the finishing burnish which, externally at least, conceals so convincingly today details of the construction process.” Reeves doesn’t specify which part was subjected to which technique but I’d like to take an educated guess.

1). and 2). The Front and Back Panels of the Nemes Crown

The general shape of these panels would have been hammered from sheet and fitted  and resized as the metal was pushed and hammered into shape; first one panel and then the other, before they were soldered together. Channels for the inlaid blue faience (glass/enamel) would have been traced, scorped out, hammered, heated and quenched, re-scorped, re-hammered and re-quenched to imbue the otherwise malleable metal with strength. Additionally, the use of this technique would result in a pure gold veneer rising to the surface of the metal allowing the faience to bond evenly with the metal. Once the viscose fluid faience was applied to the channels it would quite likely have been fired in a kiln. A blow-pipe (predecessor of the blow-torch) may have been used to set the faience but I’m preferring a kiln due to the large area to be set and the possible risk of damaging lines of faience already set as the jeweller progressed.

Of the lappets represented by the front panel, Reeves has this to say:

“A second group of very different injuries is visible to both the front and the outer edge of the mask’s right lappet: two crudely punched holes made in antiquity to receive a wire to hold the royal flail firmly in position.”

From the death of Akhenaten to the death of Tutenkhamen not a lot of time passed. The same workshop could have catered for all four successive burials. If the Nemes Crown of the bust served a separate purpose during the life of the Pharaoh and then was reused for his burial it may explain the crude damage to the lappet. The nemes crown would have been designed to have a flawless appearance while the living pharaoh wore it but when it was reemployed in the burial bust it was punctured to accommodate the needs of the flail. Doing this to the finished bust for the burial would indicate a badly designed burial piece  – couldn’t the workshop get it right after preparing three other royal funerals in fairly quick succession? Or wasn’t the piece originally intended for the burial bust but the necessity of perhaps a rushed ceremony resulted in clumsy measures and used wares?

26036091613_377870963a_c

Canopic coffinette showing Tutankhamen holding ceremoniously the royal crook and flail. The nemes crown appears to be inlaid with lapis and the flail with faience in this much smaller funerary prop.

3). The Uraeus and Vulture

These animals would have been cast in gold and fired in a kiln, with channels for their ornamentation already part of their design. The wet faience would be applied and then they would be re-fired. The stones would be cut, polished and inlaid with glue. Possibly the second last step of assembling the mask, they would be riveted onto the front panel/forehead.

4). The Face

The face is stylised. The symmetry of the face belies that it’s not a true death mask. It’s a sculpture. It has no particular defining features, it could be anyone’s face really – Nefernefruaten? Smenkhare? Nefertiti? Tutankhamun? Could it have been cast directly from a statue via a mould, thus the official portrait of the pharaoh stayed constant and of Tut? Maybe not.

Reeves reports that the face is 3mm at the edges and 15mm elsewhere (3). This indicates that the mask was worked from a gold sheet, originally about 3mm thick. The features where the hammering and tracing were concentrated became thinner as the sheet was pushed and moulded under the pressure of a forming tool (today we use steel punches and a mallet.) The face, beginning as a gold sheet, would indicate that it was made to fit into the combined front and back panel, not the other way around. For ease of construction this would be done before the faience was set into the front and back panel and before the eyebrows were stone set on the mask. Logically the metal only face would be soldered to the gold-only nemes crown at this point – afterwards it would be almost impossible.

This is where the hard facts of science come in to play. The mask could not be soldered to an already finished gold, faience and stone set bust without damaging the faience and burning the stones (lapis, obsidian and white quartz). The heat required to gold solder a 3mm sheet of gold to another of comparable thickness would crack the faience and burn the lapis (inlaid in the eyebrows). To solder a gold mask to a completely finished gold and faience nemes crown would mean having to remove (destroy) the faience and stones, scorp clear the channels they were set in, clear them of any foreign impurities and then reapply fresh faience and refire the entire bust. This would expose it to the risk – very high – of running the solder joins and the mask dislodging or fully detaching. The stones would then have to be reset into the eyes and eyebrows.

Pectoral Necklace - if it ever needed soldering repair, today lead solder would possibly be used.

Pectoral Necklace – if it ever needs soldering repair today lead solder would possibly be used, perhaps with a heat sink. e.g., if one of the lotus flowers were to break off and needed to be reattached

Today, lead solder is used to make repairs to costume jewellery and some finished jewellery set with ornamental stones. Lead solder melts at a much lower temperature than gold solder but doesn’t provide as secure a bond. We know from an inventory of goods brought back from the Levant during the reign of the 12th Dynasty king, Nebkaure Amenenhat II, (4) that lead was used by the Egyptians for something. In context of the rest of the items mentioned on the list: silver; bronze; copper (for alloying metals, making solders); emery (for polishing stones and metals); sand (for grinding stones); it seems highly likely that the importation of the white lead was for metalsmithing. Was it lead solder?

If the mask was going to be attached to an already finished and set gold nemes crown, lead solder may have been used. Reeves makes no mention of lead in the appearance nor the construction/composition of the bust.

Another possiblity is the use of heat sinks in collaboration with gold soldering to join the face to the crown. Dominic Perry of the Egyptian History Podcast (History of Egypt Podcast) tells us in his introduction to the podcast, Episode 39: The Wealth of Asia, that among the peoples that Egypt traded with were those of the Aegean Sea. It may follow that they obtained ochre (e.g., that mined since pre-historic times in the North Aegean on Thasos) which they could apply to their metalsmithing as a heat sink. By painting the surface of the metal with an ochre paste a jeweller can reduce its heat conductivity. Could the ancient egyptians have used a combination of gold soldering and heat draining to solder the golden face to an already finished and set nemes crown? Could the nemes crown of the burial bust be the nemes crown the young Pharaoh wore in life? Alternatively, could this technique have allowed the face of Nefertiti to be soldered onto the crown for a hasty burial?

The problem facing the jeweller when employing heat sinks is the risk of reticulation (wrinkling up and dulling down of the surface of the metal). Reeves tells us that the mask is burnished. This is where the surface of the metal is rubbed over until it is smooth and shiny by a hard, smooth metal tool. However, the undulations of the face preclude as perfect a finish as it appears to possess, if reticulation occurred, even with emery smoothing and burnishing techniques. Soldering a complete crown to a complete mask is getting harder with each supposition!

And there is the issue of two differing alloys. Reeves reports that the face has a bluish-silver appeareance in comparison to the crown which has a richer golden hue. This has been achieved by employing different alloys – mixes of gold. Could the face have been fashioned out of the highly reflective electrum? Electrum is a naturally occuring alloy of gold and silver. Like all alloys it would have its own working properties – ductility, malleability, tensile strength and melting point –  that differ from a high carat gold alloy – very likely it would be harder. Most jewellers, although capable of working with all manner of metals and their alloys, tend to have a preference for one to streamline their processes. This indicates that the face was either made by a different jeweller from the crown, or in a different workshop, or at a different time. So how were they joined?

The technique that I would have expected them to use if they were to attach the smooth and shiny, stone-set, possibly electrum, face-mask to the golden, faience-set crown would be one that employed rivetting perhaps, but more-so, setting the mask in place from inside the bust. Reeves presents an image of the inside of the bust in his paper. (5) The join appears to have an abundance of metal supposedly depicting a very clumsy soldered line. Soldering lines are generally precise and chiefly contained in their join. This line is ostentatious and wasteful in its overabundance. More akin to a welding join – something achieved today with the pressurised liquid gas flame of an oxy-acetylene blow torch. Highly anachronistic! Could this clumsiness actually be evidence that it has been set from behind? This technique would require a greater amount of metal than soldering. The setting edge would have been rocked, pushed and burnished down to secure the face. Possible?


Photo credit: cfaobam via Foter.com / CC BY

 

A further issue is the hole in the right lappet (see image above). If the lappet was punctured at the burial then the handler/jeweller was running the risk that the tension set face could dislodge and the faience around it cracking. A soldered face, of course was secure.

It would seem that this could be easily sorted out. The same techniques that were applied to determine the differing carats of gold used in the bust could be used to determine whether the join behind the face is a setting lip where it would be the same carat as the face or whether it is solder, whereby the carat of the solder would be markedly less than either the face or the panel it was soldered onto.

At this point I must say that on reading Reeves article I was surprised to see mention of differing carats of gold and soldering technique. I thought their ability to use these jeweller’s tools advanced for their civilization. I expected riveting, pressure setting and the use of threaded screws. Could the alloys of gold be an indication of not the production of differing carats of gold but different sources of gold – as gold forms in natural combinations (alloys).

 5). and 6). The Ears

Reeves notices that the ears have been attached separately, riveted on. This is expected if they have been cast. The holes in the ears are a greater curiosity. Reeves proposes that holes for earrings on a now adult’s burial mask indicate that they have been taken from the funerary equipment of a female, probably Nefernefruaten (whom he equates with Nefertiti). Men didn’t wear earrings but boys and women did.

The discs that were found having fallen out are tattle-tale tellers. Surely they indicate that the ears weren’t made for this burial bust?Reeves asks why carve ears with holes that aren’t meant to be there? Why plug holes with earrings that don’t fit? If the discs were meant to plug the earring holes for eternity, why weren’t sprues soldered onto the back of them so that they could remain where they had been placed. Was the burial that hurried an affair? Why? War?

7). The Beard

My guess is that the beard was finely cast with the gold channels carved into the wax model. Once the gold had been fired the faience was poured into the channels and it was refired. The casting would have to be light as the beard itself was pressure set into place – probably the last procedure in the construction.

That the faience in the beard has faded but that of the crown itself retains its faux-lapis appearance is another indicator that this is a second hand rose. Does the faience of the beard contain a different type of pigment to the crown? Did the beard come out of a separate workshop than that of the front and back panels making up the crown?

Egyptian necklace of faded faience?

8). The Collar Panel / Necklace

I assume that the collar panel was fabricated out of gold sheet. What looks like enamel/faience on the shoulders of the collar would mean that it would have been applied in a kiln or with the aid of a blow-pipe before the carnelian, lapis and turquoise were cut, polished and set into it’s breast panels. It appears to have been fully stone set and to be a stiff representation of a beaded necklace similar to the one above. This collar panel I believe was made at the time of the burial to fit into the front panel of the Nemes crown. Rivets at the base of the throat would indicate that either the collar or the lappets or both were already set when they were combined.

Conclusion

So what is it? Was the Nemes Crown made of cloth or gold? Was the mask originally Nefertiti’s? Could Tutankhamen have worn the crown in life? Was it really just made for his burial?

This sometime prop-maker and once-upon-a-time jeweller has come to this conclusion: the mask and crown were made at roughly the same time, perhaps using more than one workshop; the collar panel was made for the burial;  and the mask-crown was made to represent the boy-king and was worn in life. Egyptians, masters of propaganda, surely knew how to awe, humble, amaze, mesmerize and befuddle their people. A mask and crown combination on a stand-in king may have served to propagate the illusion of the king as god and reaffirm the mythology of the golden skinned, silver-boned and lapis-locked pharaoh.

If you asked another jeweller you may get another conclusion. If you asked a milliner to have a go at making the nemes crown from cloth they may come up with a plausible way of getting the crown to sit square, not fall back and have its lappets stand perpendicular to its head. My problem of balancing the weight of the back and the front of the crown is solved with a golden nemes crown and face-mask combination. I’m neither an egyptologist, nor a milliner and no longer a jeweller, so I will always have room for doubts about this conclusion. For the moment, it has placated my curiosity. Thanks for taking the journey with me

This is the final of a series of posts on the beautiful nemes crown of Tutankhamun. To read them all, they have been published on my blog in the following order:

Tutankhamen: Damnatio Memoriae

  1. Intro to Making Tutankhamen’s Nemes Crown
  2. 2.Making the Nemes Crown: Snake and Vulture
  3. Making the Nemes Crown: Cloth or Gold!
  4. Making the Nemes Crown – 1st attempt (cont..)
  5. Making the Nemes Crown cont… lappets

Gold Rods Low on Lappets, Lapis Locks and Lapidary Allusions… King Khafre

A Second Attempt at the Nemes Crown

Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Ctowns

P.S., Addenda, and then there is …

If I were to have a third attempt at the Nemes Crown, it would definitely be a combination of metal and cloth and there would be a metallic form. Yes I’ve tried designing it but am not happy enough with the outcome, on paper at least, to publish it I will endeavoiur to post the step by step images for the first two attempts on my pinterest page – www.pinterest.com/craftytheatre – over the coming months. The first attempt is already posted on my facebook page.

Footnotes

(1) Dr Eric Wells is convincing when he posits that Tutankhamen may have been the son of a younger brother of Ahkenaten and not his son. See the podcast, Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt.

(2) Reeves, Nicholas, Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered, Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar: The Art and Culture of Ancient Egypt: Studies in honor of Dorothea Arnold, Vol. 19, 2015, p. 516.

(3) ibid. p.512. I have converted the measurements to millimeters as they are the preferred units used by jewellers in Australia at least – and the ones that I relate easiest to when thinking of jewellery manufacturing.

(4) Dominic Perry, Egyptian History Podcast (History of Egypt Podcast), Episode 39:The Wealth of Asia or Epsisode 39:The Wealth and Splendour of Nebkaure Amenemhat II

(5) ibid. p.525.

Photo Credits

King Tut’s Mask, Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/  Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/  CC BY-SA

Canopic Coffinette

Photo Credits – Canopic Coffinette –  Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Tutankhamun’s Death Bust

Photo credit: cfaobam via Foter.com / CC BY

Pectoral Necklace

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Egyptian beaded Necklace perhaps of faience beads

Photo credit: Kodak Agfa via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Interview: Dominic Perry, History of Egypt podcast 

Temple of Rameses II
Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) 90M Views via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

I feel thoroughly spoilt. Dominic Perry of the History of Egypt podcast has allowed me to interview him. Dominic took on the herculean task of presenting the history of Ancient Egypt, reign by reign beginning with the Old Kingdom. I love his podcast. Wonderous but never onerous he delves into religion, mythology, politics, daily life, literature. . .  Literature! I particularly enjoy his readings of translations of ancient texts (Hatshepsut – very dramatic). He includes archaeological updates from the field and gives his take on it all. And then there are accompanying visuals on his website! For my recent series of posts where I have attempted to recreate a cloth Nemes crown, I have leant heavily on his podcasts to get a handle on who the ancient Egyptians were and how they would approach things. Here he answers my questions on Egypt, digs, rituals, theatre, Oedipus and Akhenaten. Enjoy.

 

  1. What first fascinated you about Ancient Egypt?

I got into it as a child, and at first I have to admit it was mostly the gold and the treasure. Over time I became more and more fascinated by the idea of the pharaohs – what they represented, how they lived, what they wore etc. Then finally I became absorbed in finding the little details of their lives – particularly the economic aspect; how people lived and organised themselves, what they had to do to make sure their community functioned properly. It’s been an evolving series of interests!

  1. Do you ever get nervous going on Egyptian digs?

Sure! I’m not a natural traveller – I like home and my creature comforts. But it’s important to overcome that internal desire, in order to do something special. It’s a rare opportunity to get paid to dig up a long-dead civilization, so I just sort of “suck it up” and get stuck in to the work. In terms of safety there’s never been a problem – Egypt and Sudan are a lot safer and friendlier than people realise.

  1. What has been the most surprising thing that you’ve seen come out of the ground?

When I was excavating a Roman-era wall that had been built over an old Egyptian temple we unexpectedly found a pharaonic-era statue that had been used as part of the masonry. This whole torso of an ancient pharaoh suddenly showed up among the bricks. That was definitely a surreal moment.

  1. The Festival of Drunkenness seems like a showy event. Do you think that ancient Egyptian rituals ever crossed over the boundary of ritual into theatre?

Yes. Egyptian festivals and rituals seem to have had pseudo-theatrical “re-enactments” of legendary events. Osiris’ death became a big one; the battle between Horus and Seth; the rampage of Hathor and her slaughter of mankind. These were important stories in the heritage of the ancients, and they were constantly reviving and renewing them to keep the memory alive. I often think of Japanese Noh-theatre as an analogy – legendary figures and supernatural beings interacting with the human world, and making a grand show of it. The Egyptians may have done something similar, but in a more religiously formal context. Over time that probably developed into something we would recognise as a theatre-esque “performance piece.”

  1. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex was a King of Thebes (Greece) who killed his father and married his mother. Do you think that this story may have had Egyptian origins?

Anything is possible, especially when Greek writers like Herodotos were fascinated by Egyptian history and culture

Of course you’re thinking of the pharaohs’ habit of marrying sisters or cousins. That certainly happened, but we’re still not certain of the role these sister-wives played – were they symbolic unions (platonic marriages)? Or did they consummate them? Our moral sensitivity would have us lean to the platonic end; but there must have been some incest going on occasionally. It’s a big question, and it can have a big impact on how you view their morality.

  1. It was accepted for Egyptian kings to marry their daughters. Was there ever a case where the succession passed down via an Egyptian Sister/Daughter of the king marrying her son? Do you think that would that be considered taboo?

Not taboo, but it would be unnecessary. The legitimacy of the line appears to have been carried by the females (though there is debate on that). If a King died without heir, but his sister or daughter had a son, that son would be a perfectly acceptable heir. Queen Khenty-kaus I (about 2450 BCE) was the sister of King Menkaure, and when he died without heir she seems to have put her son Shepseskaf on the throne, ruling as a regent on his behalf.

  1. With your current podcasts set in the New Kingdom, I am eagerly awaiting your take on Akhenaten. Was he a perspicacious, pious profit or more of a profiteering, propagandising politician?

Tough question! He was certainly a megalomaniac, but he doesn’t seem to have been a particularly adept politician – he alienated a great many of his subjects, and built an unsustainable legacy that was expunged after his death. As for his faith…I think he was a true believer in his religion – the kicker is determining exactly what his religion represented? Was Akhenaten worshipping a separate, all-powerful god, or was he worshipping a deified form of his father (the incredibly vain and grandiose Amunhotep III)? A lot hinges on how you interpret the god Aten, and what he represents.

If I can give a (spoiler!) glimpse at my take on Akhenaten I would describe him as a visionary, but a visionary unable to compromise enough to make his dream a reality. I think his religious beliefs became more extreme the more he felt he was being challenged. Akhenaten was not necessarily fit to be a king; he was either unprepared or unsuited to the role, which required a lot more compromise than we might expect. He was a remarkable man, but not always for the right reasons.

Thanks for having me!

Find the History of Egypt Podcast on iTunes, your favourite podcast platform, and at http://egyptianhistorypodcast.com/

5. Making the Nemes Crown cont… Lappets

A question of gravity, currency, and gay flappers or majestic lappets?

Once the cloth covering of the nemes crown and its ponytail was complete I encountered my next obstacle. Under the added weight of fabric, cords and the hollow numchuck form, the crown kept falling back. It wouldn’t sit straight or actually stay on. I had to balance the weight of the front of the crown with that of the back.

The uraeus and vulture on the forehead alone didn’t solve the problem.I decided to attach the beard to the front of the form with hat elastic. This was the trick.

I wondered whether the ancient Egyptians had the same problem? Did Pseusennes I (1047-1001 BCE, 21st Dynasty) have the same problem?

golden-mask-of-psusennes-i-front-view

Death Mask of Pseusennes I

Are those pencil-line side burns sported by Pseusennes, stylized beard straps meant to balance the weight of the crown?

Now that my crown was sitting squarely in place it should have looked right, but it didn’t. There was something about the lappets – the long flappy bits that hang by the side of the pharaoh’s face. Flappy, they shouldn’t have been. Stiff, triangular – pyramidal, in histoy they appear to rigidly frame the face before reaching down over the shoulders from the chin. There is no movement – no flow of diaphanous fabric (okay, I realise this is Ancient Egypt, not Ancient Greece, but was everything as stiff as their statues would indicate?)

img_0162

The lappets of my crown didn’t unerringly frame my son’s face. They didn’t necessarily sit obediently, implacably on his shoulders – they twisted and curled. They needed the disciplinary action of a hard rod. Several actually. I set to work adding rods through the shoulder section of the lappet. I did the lower portion only, wanting to make sure the weight of the crown stayed forward and believing this was the minimum required to solve my dilemma. Time poor, I added a coin to help weigh them down –  something that is done in costuming now and again.

Coins are so convenient, smooth and readily available to use as clothing weights. Would the Ancient Egyptians have used their currency as such a cheat? We are told they didn’t have coins – it was a barter economy. Dominic Perry of the Ancient Egypt History Podcast has suggested that linen may have been used instead of coins. Now I couldn’t cheat with linen but what about a few heavy beads? Beads have been used for bartering in Africa for centuries. Could the Ancient Egyptians also have used them as money? Would Ancient Egyptian seamstresses weighed down their clothing with beads?

Now that I had weighed down my flapping lappets, they towed the line. Did the Ancient Egyptian crown makers need rods for their lappets? Is that why the nemes crown was stripped?

Something started niggling at me. Gold rods low on lappets, lapis locks and lapidary allusions . . . King Khafre! my next post.

khafre

 

Photo Credits

Pseusennes I

Death Mask of Pseusennes I, the Silver Pharoah (1047-1001 BCE 21st Dynasty)

Photo credit:https://www.flickr.com/photos/ddenisen/7364438180/

D.Denisen CC BY-SA

 

King Khafre Statue

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

 

4. Making the Nemes Crown – 1st attempt (cont…)

Question 2: Bald pate or bowl-like form?

Did the Ancient Egyptians shave their heads and place their crown atop it – no form  required? Or did the nemes crown sit over a stiff papyrus form giving it its distinctive shape?

Translucent

Lid from canopic vase of Tutankhamun

Photo credit: dnak via Foter.com / CC BY

 Because I was not going to use a golden tiara to anchor the crown on my child’s head, it suited me to conclude it had a definite form, like a modern-day milliner would use and that it was dressed in fabric. A three-quarter view of the crown, like the one above, seemed to confirm this. Assuming a golden tiara fit around his forehead, metal or papyrus supports holding the fabric up and stretching it around the back of his ears may have been soldered or riveted in place. The fabric would form around his bald pate then fall behind his head.

Problem 1 The snake and vulture protrude out from above the tiara, where the cloth is supposed to drape over the head. Fabric alone would not support the weight of these jewelled creatures. Something hard and durable had to support them – like gold.

Problem 2 – The  tiara doesn’t seem to disappear behind the ears but seems to form the side burns, cupping the head. As a consequence the tiara doesn’t appear to be holding the crown in place. The crown appears to be cupping the head, like a helmet.

Is this visible across other representations of the crown?

Photo Credits – Canopic Coffinette –  Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Shabti – Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Death mask – https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/ Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA

It seems so.

What would the Ancient Egyptians have used to make the royal helmet? Annealed gold? Papyrus reeds? Papyrus reeds could help create the stripes as a form of texture but they don’t go far in explaining away what colour the gold lines of the death mask are meant to represent and could have posed a problem in lining up with the dyed blue stripes of the cloth. However heartily they were manipulated, it’s questionable whether papyrus reeds could hold the weight of the uraeus and vulture. But gold as an alternative couldn’t have been comfortable or practicable for everyday wear.

Regardless, gold or papyrus, neither was an option for me. Nonetheless, I knew exactly what I was going to use.

A perforated plastic colander previously purposed for producing ricotta cheese!

I was able to sew the fabric on, attach the uraeus and vulture – mine are plastic and rubber –  and then solve a problem of gravity and balance by attaching the beard to it.

Answer: Bald pate or milliner’s form? Definitely a form – in my mind anyway.

 

Next: A question of gravity, currency and gay flappers or majestic lappets?

 

2. Making the Nemes Crown: Snake and Vulture

Arch, poised to stike, the deadly cobra sits in the middle of the Pharoah’s forehead. Which Pharoah? Each and every pharoah and king of Egypt it seems from Narmer in the Old Kingdom all the way down to Cleopatra, a couple of thousand years later. So what is King Tut doing putting a bird next to it? Even his heretic father, Akenaten didn’t do that. It seems that this combination of snake and bird is idiosyncratic to Tutankhamun and perhaps his wife, Ankhesenamun. If I was to recreate Tutankhamun’s look accurately then I had to figure out what the bird was and to satisfy my curiosity, why he broke with tradition to wear it.

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Shabti of Tutankhamen- with the two animals on his crown

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Not all images of his crown gave clear enough visuals. Was it a hawk – a representation of Horus?

egypt - falcon

Horus, the Hawk/Falcon god of Egypt

Photo credit: Xuan Che via Foter.com / CC BY

Or was it a vulture, the deadly nemesis of a snake? Royal women wore vultures on their crowns. Sometimes they wore the cobra (uraeus) in assuming the role of King e.g., Hatshepsut or sometimes not, e.g., the Primary Wife of the King Amenhotep III, Queen Tiy, wore 2 cobras. Cleopatra VII wore three.

statue-of-cleopatra-vii

Cleopatra VII, wearing three Uraeus’.

Photo credit: Tiffany Silva via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Why a cobra? The cobra was a symbol of Lower Egypt, the Nile Delta where it could be found. It was a protective motif that was known as the uraeus. Interestingly enough, when Kings referred to themselves they associated their identity with their “uraeus”. Some crucial part of their personality, spirit or soul they considered to be a cobra, a uraeus.

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Canopic Container of Tutankhamun – a vulture and cobra it seems

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Tutankhamun coupled his uraeus uniquely with a vulture. Why? The vulture was a symbol of Upper Egypt. It was also the incarnation of the Goddess Nekbet, she who was the protectoress of royal children.(1) Was Tutankhamun ill? In need of protection? As a royal child was he sickly? Many, many walking canes were found in his tomb. It is said that he had a club foot and a partial cleft palate. Also very decayed teeth. If he was Akhenaten’s son, was he not considered fit enough for rule? He didn’t succeed Akhenaten but was relegated a third in line after a possible daughter, Neferneferuaten, and  then a son-in-law, Smenkhare?

But images of Tutankhamun before his funeral depict only the uraeus. Did he put the vulture there? Or did his successor responsible for his burial? And why would he?

Did the uraeus sit beside the vulture goddess Nekbet as a representation of another goddess, Wadjet? Together did the two affirm a united Egypt?

After Tutankhamun’s death, he was succeeded by the vizier Ay, Nefertiti’s possible father and so possibly his grandfather. Ay’s short reign was succeeded by Tutankhamun’s general, Horemheb. Then Egypt left the hands of two successive dynasties (17th and 18th) from Thebes in the south and fell into the hands of a military family from the north. Was there tension between the north and the south at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Horemheb was the man Tutankhamun wanted to suceed him but he was pushed aside by the elderly Ay. When Horemheb eventually got the throne, he left it to Rameses I, of that northern military family. Was Ay trying to send out a plea for unity among Horemheb’s supporters at a time when Egypt was at war and the rightful heir was away fighting that war in the  Middle-East?

Assuming it was Ay who chose to depict Tutankhamun wearing the cobra and vulture for his funerary rites, was the adoption of the symbol of the united Egypt a necessary political trapping of Tutankhamun’s well attended funeral? Egyptian funeral processions were quite an event – nobility, priests and professional mourners were all in attendance.(2) A clever place to make a political point to a targeted audience? How united was Egypt at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Was Egypt in danger of succumbing to a succession crisis?

For the health of the king or for the health of the kingdom, I was satisfied that the creatures are snake and vulture. So I tried to recreate them thus:

Next … 3.Making the Nems Crown – Cloth or Gold?

References

(1) http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/nekhbet.htm

(2) Dominic Perry’s wonderful Egyptian History Podcast describes a funeral not too long before Tutankhamun’s in the 17th Dynasty in Episode 56c: A Royal Funeral, here.

Tyldesley, Joyce, Tutankhamun’s Curse:The Developing Historyof an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013.

1. Intro to Making Tutankhamen’s Nemes Crown

“He had grown old: his bones became silver; his flesh, gold; his hair of lapis lazuli . . .” (1)

king tut

The Death Mask and Crown of Tutankhamun(2)

When I look at the death mask of Tutankhamun with the view to recreate it, the first question I have to ask myself is how much is it artistic representation? The Ancient Egyptians were notorious for using art as propaganda. How much of it was gold or lapis lazuli? How much was cloth? donkey or goat hair? faience (an ancient mouldable glass with properties apparently similar to clay)?

Egyptologists tell us that Nemes crowns were made of linen, a fabric the ancient Egyptians were adept at spinning coarsely and diaphanously finely. But not all of it could have been made of this material. Notice the two creatures in the centre of the young king’s forehead? They at least must have been fashioned of something more pliable than cloth. And what were they attached to – a tiara of gold?

What about the ponytail that gathers the cloth at the nape of the king’s neck? Is it supposed to represent cloth cords? papyrus ones? a metal sprung coil?

King Tut's Mask

Rear view of Tutankhamun’s Death Mask and Crown (3)

Before I go any further I must disclose my bias: I have worked and trained as a lapidary jeweller. This colours my first thoughts on how this crown and mask were made – how I want for it to have been made. This experience has also  influenced the steps that I took in recreating it as a theatrical costume.

When I look at Tutankhamun’s crown and mask, I see three sections: the crown and its lappets fanning out from his face; his face as a mask behind it; and an enormous inlaid necklace draped around his chest which I believe is a representation of another bib-style necklace that he wore in life, a beaded one. Inlaid jewellery is stiff and so impractical for movement. Strung beads however allow fluidity of movement.

This then invites me to question the beard of this young man, one very similar to another worn by his famous predecessor Hatshepsut. Surely neither Tutankhamun nor Hatshepsut grew their own beards! Did they wear fake ones of goat hair? Wouldn’t one of inlaid Lapis Lazuli or moulded faience have had greater impact and durability?

And then there is that ponytail. Is it bound together with cords of linen, wrapped over and over? Or could it have been a simple copper, silver or gold coil that the fabric was easily pulled through and held securely in place?

Finally, the look of a Nemes Crown made of linen would not have been gold and blue; gold thread hadn’t been invented yet and it would be another 1500 years or so before it was used in Roman era appliques. Of all of the crowns of Egypt, this style is the least ostentatious. Was this part of his everyday wear?

If we could play at being archaeologists on a hunt for the missing crown what would we be looking for? Striped linen cloth attached to a tiara with a couple of token sized totems protruding from the forehead? A coil of cord or wire for a ponytail and a fancy hair beard or an ornate one of faience encased in gold or silver?

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The Crafty Theatre Nemes Crown is posted on the Crafty Theatre facebook page(4)

How much is this famous image propaganda – the “would be god” with his hair shining with the rays of Ra and lapis lazuli, and his skin with the flesh of gold? This is just a taste of Ancient Egyptian propaganda, used even on a coffin and death mask. What about those animal figurines that protrude from the forehead? What are they ? What do they symbolise? Why did Tutankhamun wear two of them and only at the time of his death? What can they tell us of the state of his reign at the time of his death?

Next time : 2.Making the Nemes Crown:Snake and Vulture

Photos and References

(1) As read by Eric Wells on his Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt Podcast, 28th December, 2015, The Festival of Drunkenness and the Destruction of Mankind

(2) Photo Credit, King Tut’s Mask, Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/  Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/  CC BY-SA

(3)Photo Credit King Tut’s Death Mask and Crown, back view:

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/24060770906/”>Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

(4 )https://www.facebook.com/CraftyTheatre/

Tutankhamen: Damnatio Memoriae

egyptian damnatio memoriae

Excised: Damnatio Memoriae – Neither Osirus nor Thoth could protect the forgotten one

Damnatio Memoriae, the erasing of one’s name, reputation, memory, for earthly eternity. In the case of Ancient Egypt, erasing one’s name was akin to black magic. You see, the Ancient Egyptians practised performative magic. By braking the ankles of a stone depiction of a person they crippled him in his afterlife. By erasing the cartouche, the written name of the king, the now-dead king also ceased to exist in the afterlife. The King had to have done something controversial, horrific, blasphemous for this to have been resorted to. At least that is how my 21st Century CE brain works. I can think of 20th Century despots that are worthy of this sort of treatment rather than the infamy they are accorded on their pedestals, celebrated for their excellence in despicability.

What could the boy king, Tutankhamen have done to have deserved this treatment? He, his immediate predecessors, Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten, and his father/uncle(1) Akhenaten were all purposefully forgotten from an Ancient Egyptian list of kings composed 100 years or so after their deaths. Even Akhenaten’s beloved primary wife, Nefertiti didn’t escape this abomination of her memory. Why?

Nefertiti and her daughter

Nefertiti and her daughter

 

Akhenaten was a heretic king who flouted the central cosmic order and balance of Egyptian society, maat, by throwing out the traditional anthropomorphic gods and enforcing the worship of an unknownable solar power, the Aten. Damnatio memoriae in his case was the monster that ate him when his heart was measured against his duty to maat and was found wanting. But Tutankhamun restored the old gods, restored maat, restored the cosmic order. Surely he didn’t deserve to be written out of history.

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten – Not only his face but possibly his cartouche has been excised.

 

When Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb lots of questions arose. Was it Tutankhamen’s tomb?  Why was it unfinished? Was it originally meant for a mere nobleman and was swapped? Was the Chariot Tomb (KV58) originally intended for Tutankhamen but was unfinished due to his early death? (2) What was the pink sediment that draped the tomb’s walls? Was Tutankhamen a cripple? What caused his death? Was he murdered? What was his relationship to his successor Ay like? Was Ay his grandfather? Was he the son of Akhenaten? Who was his mother? If he was Akhenaten’s son, why didn’t he succeed Smenkhare as king? Why did his general, Horemheb begin the campaign of Damnatio Memoriae against his family after he succeeded Ay as king? Why was his widow, Ankhesenamen so threated by the Egyptian court that she wrote to the traditional enemy, the Hittite king, to send her a son to marry, who would then rule Egypt? Why was control of Egypt passed from an upper Egyptian family to a Lower one after Horemheb’s death? And. .. what happened to his crown?

 

Earlier this year my son was set the task of making an iMovie about the life of Tutankhamen. A reluctant learner, nothing I said could inspire him to begin. Tutankhamen was just your age when he reigned. He renounced his parent’s religion about the time you did. He changed his name too. You look so much like him …what if we dressed you up as Tut to narrate your movie? Well, the last one worked. I found myself making a Nemes Crown. By looking at Tutankhamen’s death mask closely some possible answers to the questions above arose. One possibility haunts me.

Could Tutankhamen’s crown be hiding in plain sight?

End Notes

(1) Eric Wells of the wonderful, thought provoking podcast Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt, makes a convincing argument for Akhenaten the uncle.

(2)KV58 is discussed by Joyce Tydesley’s Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing history of an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013, a wonderful, informative read

 

Photo Credits

Excised – Damnatio Memoriae

Photo credit: Allison Mickel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Nefertiti and her Daughter

Photo credit: IslesPunkFan via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten

Photo credit: IslesPunkFan via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Pascal Pageantry & the Green Man

Paschal services (Christian Passover, Easter in the West) have a very long tradition. Some date back to the catacombs. In the early days of the Byzantine Empire church services were celebrated out and around the city. For the service of the Twelve Gospel Readings I imagine that there was twelve stops, “stations” if you like, within the city walls of Constantinople. I imagine the faithful walking reverently through the polis marking God’s earthly domain, the bishops blessing the city. I am reminded of the English practice of walking the boundaries of one’s property, thereby affirming its ownership.  In Jerusalem, we are told by an early witness that during Pentecost worship was made on the Mount of Olives where the Ascension had taken place, as well as the gates and on Mount Zion. (1) The early church in a similar way marked the boundaries of God’s Kingdom on Earth. Constantinople was considered the New Jerusalem, an earthly reflection through the watery sky above of that other Jerusalem, the one that always was.

The Epitaph, Christ's Tomb, in procession through the streets of Adeliade on Good Friday

The Epitaph, Christ’s Tomb, in procession through the streets of Adeliade on Good Friday

Christianity was not the first religion to use religious processions as part of their celebrations. The worship of the Olympian gods had processions too e.g., the Dionysia. Can we equate liturgical procession with the pageantry of the Festival of Dionysius? Did one replace the other? Early Christian witness attests to the taking down of a statue of Aphrodite from over the site of the exhumation of Christ’s cross.(2) A kind of juxtaposition of religious iconography was at play, if you allow, a kind of iconclasm. In Western Europe, the curious face of the Green Man stares out from the architecture of many Medieval Churches. Theirs was a more symbiotic relationship.

But who was he, this Green man, this man made of leaves who shared a coiffure with Dionysius, the ancient god of theatre? He makes me question what came first, the processions and supplication ceremonies or the characters that filled them? Did liturgical dramas of the Middle Ages evolve into the Mystery Cycle / Pageant Plays and onto cleared fields and marketplaces for the first time? Could the opposite be true? Could Medieval / Byzantine drama have grown from pagan practices and festivals and infiltrated the acceptable Christian Drama?

The Green Man,from Ludlow

The Green Man, from Ludlow

When Christianity became the recognized religion of the Late Roman Empire, theatre practice changed drastically. Pagan theatrical practices were not tolerated and so drama disappeared. Gone were the pageants, the festivals, the Baccanalia and many, many plays. Others were just read and no longer enacted. Drama was to reemerge in churches at Easter. Through liturgical singing the three Marys visited the empty tomb while the priest represented the Archangel.(3) The purpose of liturgical dramas to follow was to teach the illiterate bible stories and their faith through parables. As time progressed the stories became more detailed. Stations for different scenes were performed around the inside of churches/cathedrals. Craft guilds were involved. They were each given a different station to build as a scene. They built literally, with hammer and nails. Guilds vied with each other for the best scene. Tumbling and horseplay infiltrated through the guise of larger than life characters e.g., Noah’s nagging wife and devils sent to taunt the protagonists. Finally these plays moved outside of the Church, onto wagons. They were stationary and their audiences moved to them. And they were mobile, moving to their audiences depending on the town that presented them. Once out of the Church, with the aid of the Commedia Dell’arte and the Renaissance, a new secular theatre arose. End of story. But is this the whole story?
Passion Play 1

Passion Play

What about the tradition of Mumming? The Green Man? Puppetry? Tumblers? Bards and Bears and dancers?
Disguise and re-birth/re-generation are apart of the traditions of the Mummers and the Green Man. They are also associated with carnival and pageantry of Medieval Europe. The mummers moved from house to house at Christmas in their festive disguises. The devils moved between stations and carts. In the same way that a very old figure like the Green Man could survive the Christian juggernaut, could these pagan characters have survived in the form of these devils? I believe that the Greek Karagiozis shadow puppet survived Islam through a name change and a change of form from Silenus in the flesh to Karagiozis in the shadow. Could this survival technique have also been employed in the West, preserving pagan entertainments in the form of puppets and the buffoonery of tumbling devils?
In France, glove puppets are seen in the illustrations in the Roman du bon roi Alexandre Manuscript by Jehan de Grise? These illustrations were made in 1344. Is the much loved French cudgel-bearing puppet Guignol present? Guignol is said to have evolved from from the Commedia Dell’arte’s Pulcinella, but could he have existed before? Their names are very different. The English character, Punch from Punch and Judy is also said to have evolved from Pulcinella, aka Punchinella. At least their names are similar and they carry a cudgel. Austria / Germany’s cudgel-bearer, Kaspar/Kasperle is also said to have evolved from Pulcinella. However there is a catch. Kaspar is believed to have been a character in the Medieval Mystery Cycles. He is believed to have represented one of the Three Wise Men.(4)
Could pagan characters like the Mummers and even the Green Man have survived the Christian white-wash over bawdy buffoonery in the guise of puppets like Guignol and Kasper?
Pulchinella

Pulchinella

Have you seen the Crafty Theatre Medieval Theatre and Spectacle Board?
Or Marionettes and Glove Puppets?
References
(1) Egeria’s (fl c.381 CE) description of the Pentecost rituals in Jerusalem, from:
Clark, Elizabeth A.,  Women in the Early Church, Michael Glazier, Inc, Chapter 4:Women in the Wider World, pp192-195.
(2) From Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastica Historia, quoted in:
Clark, Elizabeth A.,  Women in the Early Church, Michael Glazier, Inc, Chapter 4:Women in the Wider World, p184.
(3)Hartnoll, Phyllis, The Theatre: A Concise History, Thames and Hudson, 1985, p.36.
Puppetry in the Middle Ages
The Epitaph
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY
Passion Play
The Green Man
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA
Punchinella / Pulcinella
Photo credit: deadmanjones / Foter / CC BY-NC

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Shen Yen: Chinese Opera or Agitprop Theatre?-1

Shen Yun is back in Sydney! I’m so excited, I’ve actually got tickets this time around. I’ve been wanting to go for a few years now but I have somehow missed out. Visuals of it are lavish: the colour, the pageantry, the orchestra, the dancers, the singers and its huge cast. Can it be Chinese Opera? I’ve studied Asian Theatre but have never attended a live performance of the Chinese Opera.  Most provinces in China have their own state funded Opera but it would be a rare occasion for one of these companies to perform outside of China. Shen Yun, as represented in its marketing pamphlets, CD and website, shares attributes with Chinese Opera.

A large cast performs in front of a backdrop of intricate detail and grandiose proportions.


Chinese Opera Burns! /Foter/ CC BY-NC-SA

Music is an important part of the storytelling. Shen Yun has a mixed orchestra delivering a fusion of traditional Chinese sounds and Occidental instruments.

Musical accompaniment
Stanley Zimny (Thank You for 10 Million views) / Foter / CC BY-NC

Detailed costumes, nuanced props and iconic make-up make up Chinese Opera’s ostentatious delivery. So too, in Shen Yun.

Chinese Opera performer
alcuin lai / Foter / CC BY-SA

But will there be a bit of this?

The Traitor – stock character, Chinese Opera ( photo credit see end of post)

Just a little? This much? A little bit of mythology? A little bit of acting? A parley of speech and movement not delivered in song? A parley for the sake parley!


Actors from the Chinese Opera
alcuin lai / Foter / CC BY-SA

Errrrrhhhh …can’t exactly say.

Well, I asked the ticket seller whether it was Chinese Opera.

“No, it’s from New York.”

That wasn’t the answer that I was expecting. I wanted to know if it was of the traditional form of Chinese Opera. The one with big acting, acrobatics and magico-real storylines. If each province of China has its own company, then it would follow that ex-pat Chinese who operate in a ex-pat Chinese community are capable of producing a Chinese Opera outside of China. So I asked another lame question.

“Does it tell a story?”

Hmm. There was a pause. Of course it tells a story. Of course it tells a story! So does Swan Lake, the ballet. There are no monkey-warriors with supernatural powers or comic servant figures delivered in big, stylized performances in Swan Lake. There is no subtext to ponder over as you leave the theatre after the ballet.

So I started telling my Chinese friends, acquaintances and neighbours that I was going to see Shen Yun. I wanted to know if they had been and if it is Chinese Opera. I was taken aback by the balance of responses I received to what was genuinely, an innocent question. I had no idea that I was asking a political question, a question that led to more on the nature and use of propaganda, human organ harvesting and the use of theatre as a tool of social revolution and social mollification.

What the ….! What the next Crafty Theatre post will be about!

Shen Yun opens at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney on Feb 6, having already played the Gold Coast it will continue its Australian tour. For tour tickets click here.

Have you seen Crafty Theatre’s Chinese Opera board on Pinterest?

The Traitor

Photo credit: jackyczj / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

When Hadjiavatis pulls his beard, will Menander reappear? – Part Two

The Byzantine Empire: God’s Kingdom on Earth. A world of mysticism, asceticism and philanthropy. A colourful world of pantomimes in the hippodrome, bride shows in the palace and liturgical processions through the polis. A byzantine court of intrigue and propaganda where the head of state and the heads of the Church toggled power and policy. A history peopled with philosopher-monks, pirate-archons, poet-nuns, emperor-saints, mercenary soldiers, eunuchs and slaves, marauding crusaders, cross-dressing clerics and fools for Christ. A people who lived their daily lives in, out and around awe-inspiring basilicas, thundering arenas, urban and remote monasteries, civic baths, hospitals and hostels for the poor. The Byzantines: a society that regarded itself as Roman but spoke Greek.

The Rise and Fall of the Byzantine Empire

The Rise and Fall of the Byzantine Empire

When Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the site of the ancient town of Byzantium in 313 C.E.he named his New Rome, Constantinople. The language and culture of his new seat of power was Latin. Theatrical pastimes were those of the late Roman empire. Gone was the popularity of classical dramas and comedies. Carnival and spectacle entertained the masses. Animal fights, chariot races and gladiatorial bouts were enjoyed along with jugglers, dancers, mimes, pantomimes and dramatic recitals.

2009-04-13 ConstantineTheGreat York

Constantine I aka Constantine the Great aka St Constantine

By moving his capital to the East, Constantine may have given himself a fresh start however the Empire would suffer the tensions of a division of east and west for centuries.When eventually the rift saw the independence of the West in 6th century C.E., Greek was adopted as the administrative language of the remaining Empire. The people of the Empire however, still regarded themselves as Romans.

They also believed they were God’s legacy on Earth.  They ordered their world to mirror the organisation of Heaven. As God had His hierarchy of angels, the Byzantines had a hierarchy of priests and civil servants. As the Church gave them laws and admonished their behaviour, the state collected taxes and provided infrastructure.

It was the Church that made a rudimentary education available to all. Ecclesiastical learning was the norm. For the wealthy classes, pagan texts written by the Ancient Greeks  and Romans were available. Texts that complimented the teachings of the Christian Church were encouraged e.g., Plato. However, texts that couldn’t throw light on the understanding of Christian tenants and dogmas were discouraged e.g., Aristotle. Pagan theatre did not fare well.

From the earliest dates, Ancient Greek drama was inseparable from pagan ritual. Early dramatic texts commemorate the pagan gods. The ancient plays were presented at festivals in honour of the Olympian gods e.g., Dionysus and Apollo. The cult of Dionysus with its Bacchanalian  festivities; bawdy humour and the practice of wearing short tunics to show off long, detachable  phalluses  would not be accepted by the new Christian religion.

The Christian God was a jealous god. Worship of all or some of the pantheon of pagan gods was not acceptable. The Trullan Synod, a gathering of over two hundred clerics in c.692 C.E., tried to snuff out pagan practices including theatrical ones. Performers would be denied Christian rights if they did not repent of their sin – performing.

Greek terracotta statuette of a Mime made in Myrina about 100 BCE (1)

Terracotta Statuette of a Greek Mime c. 100 B.C.E.

A consequence of this was the loss of many ancient texts. Monks and nuns didn’t break taboo and transcribe these works freely. By this time the ancient classics were no longer in vogue neither with audiences nor performers. Now even God frowned upon them. The carnival style amusements replacing them were visual, satiric, had an immediate response and were not dependent on scripts. The desire to investigate ancient plays would interest few. And then there was the curse of good house keeping.

In the way of the pre-modern world, nothing was disposable. The papyri of the ancient sources were more precious than the plays written upon them, plays that espoused pagan virtues and excesses. It was a matter of good economy and good virtue to wash out the original text and reuse the papyrus in a higher Christian cause. In this practice many palimpsests were created. It was because of this practice that the work of Menander was lost in the middle ages and then rediscovered in Egypt in 1907.

A Menander Palimpsest on papyrus

A Menander Palimpsest on papyrus

Menander (341/2 B.C.E. – 270 B.C.E.), the greatest writer of New Comedy in Ancient Greece had a heavy-handed influence over the later Roman playwrights, Plautus and Terence. Through the adaption of his scripts by Plautus and Terence his inspiration and style would influence the Commedia Dell’arte and later playwrights such as Shakespeare and Moliere. His work took the subject matter of the Ancients away from the realm of the gods and into the domestic situation of citizens. In his most complete surviving play, O Dyskolos, he acknowledges Pan in the prologue by having him deliver it.

Menander’s comedy was one of character, situations and ribald innuendo. He took the satiric writings of the philosopher, Theophrastus (c.371-c.287 BCE) off the page and created live character types in masks for the stage. Thus he gave prototypes for the stock characters of the Commedia Dell’arte. Despite his dramas winning the Lenaia Festival 8 times and Plautus and Terence acknowledging his influence over their work, knowledge that his comedies existed was all we had for 900 years. The scripts were somehow lost in the Middle Ages.

Can more be recovered?  How many lie dormant, hidden within palimpsests?

In the next part of this article, I will look at Egypt’s unique place in the hopes of recovering ancient texts and the connection the Karagiozi and Karagöz puppet theatre have with late Roman comedies and Byzantine theatrical performances.

See images of Byzantine artefacts  on the Crafty Theatre, Byzantine, Pinterest board.

Map of the Rise and Fall of the Byzantine Empire

Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

Emperor Constantine I

Photo credit: Foter / CC BY

Greek Mime Artist c. 100 B.C.E.

Photo credit: mharrsch / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

A Menander Palimpsest on Papyrus

Photo credit: The Egypt Exploration Fund / Foter / Public domain