While Petrie wrote many specialized books, and they may have been popular for academic works, they were not written for a general audience. His chapter on ancient Egypt in the series of books titled The Book of History (Volume I) is perhaps the best place to gain a better understanding of the level of knowledge available to - if not actually understood by - the general public. There are 16 contributing authors listed, but Petrie is specifically listed as having written the chapter on "The Rise of Civilisation in Egypt." The chapter is very well done by modern standards, as it incorporates authoritative text with excellent illustrations. The latter can range from popular themes, such as one that depicts the construction of the pyramids.
|Figure 15 (p. 253). This fanciful scene contains much artistic licence, as some figures are decidedly European in appearance. The proximity of the ruler to the toiling workers may also not be correct, as the ancient Egyptians had a very marked hierarchical society. The main interest is clearly the romantic scene and not accuracy. However, the text below, presumably written by Petrie, conveys something of the achievement behind the art.|
The answer is simple. There is a complete lack of any moral judgement placed on the ancient Egyptians. The assumption is that they are to be appreciated on their own terms and not viewed through a modern lens. Of course it is impossible to totally free the observer from the prejudices of the age, yet Petrie carefully tries to elucidate what he sees with a minimum of bias. Descriptions of religious festivals, even the sacrificing of many prisoners, is recorded as fact and not subject to morality.
Petrie states: "The objects of the carvings appear to be celebrations of the sed festival; this appears originally to have been the slaying of the king every thirty years, making him Osiris, one with the god, while his daughter was married to be new king. By the time of these carvings, it appears that the king took the place of Osiris in the ceremonials, and his successor masqueraded as the new king, and was hence-forth the crown prince - the heir to the kingdom. Petrie also devotes some time to the ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians. It is clear that theirs was a multi-ethnic empire. There were also several waves of migrants who came into Egypt at different times. Egyptian art was precise enough to allow at least a guess as to the origins of the peoples depicted. Unlike previous authors Petrie did not speculate that Egyptians were Europeans!
SCENE OVER 7,00 YEARS AGO, IN THE REIGN OF KING NARMER, 5,500
B.C. A record of the festival of Narmer, a king of Abydos,
who reigned before the first dynasty of kings of all Egypt. It
indicates that when the festival of his own death was celebrated, in
accordance with the ancient custom of killing the king every thirty
years to make him one with Osiris the god, no fewer than 120,000
captives, 400,000 oxen, and 1,422,000 goats were offered. the numerical
system here is seen to be complete up to the millions.
Figure 16 (p. 247). The caption clearly states what could be understood as a brutal sacrifice, but there is no moral judgement.
|Figure 17 (p. 244). The exploration of ethnicity was a common feature of books in an age of colonialism, but unlike many authors, Petrie did not seek to find links between the ancient advanced civilizations of the east and Europe.||Figure 18 (p. 238) The greatest departure of Petrie from earlier scholars was his emphasis on material culture. The objects themselves could be used to deduce information.|
Previous NextTitle Page