I’ve recently been on holiday to Rhodes. Before I left, Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and the Sudan at Manchester Museum, asked if I’d take a photograph of an Egyptian statuette with a Greek inscription in the archaeology museum in Rhodes Old Town. When my wife, Christine, and I visited the Archaeological Museum we kept our eyes open for the exhibit and I’m pleased to report that we found it (see photo above). The seated Egyptian statuette fragment is inscribed with letters from the Greek alphabet, which in translation read: ‘….thes dedicated me’. A similar piece in the museum’s epigraphical displays (see below) has the same inscription but this time giving the full name of the dedicatee: [S]myrthes. The museum label says it dates from between 550 and the late 7th century BC. This statuette was dedicated in the sanctuary of Athena on the acropolis of Kamiros. Campbell suggests that the figure above may originally have represented the Egyptian goddess Isis, but was “re-purposed” as a votive to Athena.
In addition to this piece, someone who appears to have been the same man, Smythes, made an offering at the sanctuary of Zeus Atabyrious on the summit of the highest mountain on Rhodes. All that survives is the front part of the thighs of a kneeling human figure on which is incised a three line inscription along with the horizontal lines that served as a guide. In translation it reads ‘I was dedicated by Smyrthes son of Syndros’. This second piece is in the Rhodes Museum’s epigraphic section where photography is not permitted.
Nor are these pieces the only evidence of Egyptian influence in Rhodes. Another display case in the museum was full of Egyptian faience amulets (see photo below). I should point out that the amulets were found in in burials on the island of Rhodes and they are part of displays intended to tell visitors about ancient Egypt as an exhibition topic, as we do in this country even though the Egyptian antiquities were not found here. Some of them do appear to be somewhat different from the ancient Egyptian amulets excavated in Egypt and shown in the Ancient Worlds displays at Manchester Museum. With some of them there is a certain, what I refer to as, ‘fuzziness’. Not all of them quite carry it off as Egyptian. Were they made for export to the Greek world at Greek colonies in Egypt like Naukratis?
I was aware of the support given to the island of Rhodes when the city was being besieged by Demetrius the Besieger in 305-4 BC but the dating of Egyptian material in various grave goods showed that the Egyptian influence on Rhodes went back earlier than the Hellenistic period. Think of Smyrthes above making his dedication in the 6th or 7th centuries. Coincidentally I happened to be reading the second book of Duncan Sprott’s Ptolomies Quartet: Daughter of the Crocodile (Faber and Faber, 2007). Though fictional it is clearly heavily based upon Classical historical sources. It refers to support given by the Ptolemies after the Rhodians suffered an earthquake that toppled the Colossus of Rhodes and destroyed many buildlings. The Ptolemies helped Rhodes on a number of occasions when the island was in difficulty over the years. When we visited Lindos we saw the bases of the statues set up by the Rhodians in honour of the Egyptian royal house for the help it had given. Many of the objects dedicated in the sanctuary of Lindos were imported from Cyprus and Egypt. I was delighted when on my return to the Museum Campbell pointed out that the faience hedgehog on display in the Ancient Worlds Egypt gallery was also found on Rhodes. It is the cousin of two hedgehog perfume vessels I saw in the Rhodes Museum. The two examples shown in the photograph below come from a child’s burial at Kechraki [T218 (23)] dating from the mid 6th century BC.
It is stunning material and although I’ve focused here on the Egypt-in-Rhodes pieces, there are just as many, if not more, ancient Greek treasures, which I’ll come back to in a future Ancient Worlds blog. We have already featured a slingshot from Rhodes in a previous blog. Incidentally the Archaeological Museum in Rhodes Old Town is well worth a visit and it usually costs six euros per person each for admission but was free on the Saturday that we visited (but very busy for that reason).