foxnews homefox home

Bill Pullman Chat

Photo Page

Webcast Video
  • 28k
  • 56k
  • 100k
  • 300k

    Map of the Tomb

    360° Tour of Egypt

    Make a Mummy

    Ancient Tomb
    Opened on Live TV

    An Ancient Oasis
    Is Rediscovered

    Producing TV From
    The Middle of Nowhere

    Egypt Has a Long
    History of Grave Robbers

    Disturbing the Dead

    The Pyramids and Sphinx

    Photo Essays
    Cemetery of Anubis

    Tomb Raiders

    Pyramids in Giza

    Cairo Marketplace

    Egyptian Treasures

    Egyptian Pyramids

    Mummy Dearest

    Death Masks

    Related Stories
    Bahariya Circa World
    War II: From English House
    to English Patient

    The Embalming Industry:
    Mummification for Faith
    and Profit

    Bahariya Has Much to Tell
    of Greco-Roman Egypt

    Greco-Roman Egypt Was
    a Culture in Transition



    Map of Bahariya

    Biography: Hugh Downs

    Biography: Zahi Hawass

    Fox Fast Links
    Link to Dr. Hawass' Site

  • Greco-Roman Egypt Was
    A Culture in Transition

    By Jonathan Broder
    Dead men are supposed to tell no tales. But archaeologists hope the mummies they've uncovered at the Bahariya oasis in Egypt's Western Desert will shed new light on one of the most popular but least understood periods in Egyptian history — the 700-year span when the Greeks and later the Romans ruled the desert kingdom.

    Alexander the Great ushered in the Greek era, an age of prosperity

    The period dates back to 332 B.C., when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, and extends until the fourth century A.D., when the country was a province of the Holy Roman Empire. Historical figures like Alexander and Cleopatra, whose love affairs with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony became the stuff of legend, contribute to the era's popularity.

    But though this period has been the subject of history books and extravagant Hollywood epics, Egyptologists are the first to admit that until now, their predominant focus on Egypt's earlier pharaonic periods left them with little physical evidence to corroborate or disprove the popular legends about day-to-day life during this time. Now, with the excavations at Bahariya, they hope that will change.

    What is known about that period is that the Egyptians, weary after several hundred years of uprisings, wars, and Persian occupation, welcomed Alexander as a liberator. Soon after his arrival, the Macedonian conqueror founded the city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean and then traveled into the Western Desert to consult the oracle of Amon, passing through Bahariya, whose ample water resources supported fruit farming and wine-making.

    Under the rule of Ptolemy, one of Alexander's marshals, and the Ptolemaic dynasty that followed, Egypt flourished. Alexandria, boasting a museum and a library, became one of the great intellectual cosmopolitan capitals of the known world. Places like Bahariya found markets in Greece's far-flung empire, enriching its residents, which numbered about 30,000.

    As Egypt flourished under Greek rule, Greek and Egyptian culture easily mixed. Egyptian styles of dress made their way to Greece, and later Rome, while the gods of Greek and Roman mythology took their place beside their Egyptian counterparts. In Bahariya, for example, there are temples honoring both Alexander and the Greek demigod Heracles.

    This Egyptian mummy was found in a tomb near Cairo

    Some of the 105 mummies uncovered so far in Bahariya suggest this overlap of cultures. In their stone tombs, statues of Egyptian gods like Horus and Anubis stand guard over the mummies, whose painted face masks reflect what was then Greece's concept of beauty — curly hair, delicate noses and chiseled chins.

    The Ptolemaic dynasty reached its apogee in 241 B.C., when its legions conquered the Selucids, expanding Egypt's reach into Asia. But over the next 200 years, the dynasty grew weak and splintered as a result of mismanagement, infighting among the royal family and internal revolts. In 168 B.C., only the intervention of Rome prevented the resurgent Selucids from conquering Egypt.

    The last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt was Cleopatra, who became queen in 51 B.C., when she was still in her teens. Through her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, she probably succeeded in keeping the Romans at bay. But with the defeat of Cleopatra and the love-struck Antony at the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., and their suicides a year later, Egypt came under Roman rule.

    Archaeologists believe that some of the mummies at Bahariya may have been entombed in the first or second centuries, when Egypt once again was a culture in transition between its Greco-Roman past and the widening influence of Christianity. Among the artifacts excavated from the site is a clay statuette depicting a mother and child, suggesting the religious influences that were to sweep over Egypt in later years.