From ancient Rome to the present day, ancient Egypt has been a source of fascin--ation and inspiration in many other cultures. But why? Christina Riggs introduces the history, art and religion of Egypt from its earliest dynasties to its final fall to Rome - and explores the influence ancient Egypt has had through the centuries. Looking for a vanished past, she argues, always serves some purpose in the present. Often characterized as a 'lost' civilization that was 'discovered' by adventurers and archaeologists, Egypt has meant many things to many different people. Ancient Greek and Roman writers admired ancient Egyptian philosophy, a view that influenced ideas about Egypt in Renaissance Europe and the Arabic-speaking world. In the eighteenth century, secret societies like the Freemasons still upheld the wisdom of ancient Egypt. This changed when Egypt became the focus of Western military strategy and economic exploitation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The remains of ancient Egypt came to be seen as exotic, primitive or even dangerous, embroiled as they were in the politics of racial science and archaeology.The curse of the pharaohs, or the seductiveness of Cleopatra, seemed to threaten foreign dominance in the Middle East.
Other visions of ancient Egypt inspired modernist movements in the arts, such as the Harlem Renaissance and Egyptian Pharaonism, fuelled by the 1922 discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Today, ancient Egypt is ubiquitous in museums, television documentaries and tattoo parlours - wherever people look for a past as ancient and impressive as they come.
Christina Riggs is a Reader at the University of East Anglia, specializing in ancient Egyptian art and the history of archaeology. She is the author of Unwrapping Ancient Egypt (2014) and Ancient Egyptian Art and Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (2014).