European views on Ancient Egypt until Bonaparte's expedition.

Oct 2017
25
Mordor
#1
I didn't know where should i set it up, as the topic concerns both African and European history and a short span of time, so please forgive me if i posted it in wrong place :) As we all know, the breakthrough for studies on the Ancient Egypt was Napoleon's expedition in late XVIII century. But what Europeans knew about Ancient Egypt before it? Did medieval "sciencists' in monasterys know about the pyramids, for example?
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,638
#3
I didn't know where should i set it up, as the topic concerns both African and European history and a short span of time, so please forgive me if i posted it in wrong place :) As we all know, the breakthrough for studies on the Ancient Egypt was Napoleon's expedition in late XVIII century. But what Europeans knew about Ancient Egypt before it? Did medieval "sciencists' in monasterys know about the pyramids, for example?
Sure they did. Where else would Joseph have told Pharao to store all that grain from the seven fat years, to tide the nation over the seven lean ones? :)
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,895
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#5
Sure they did. Where else would Joseph have told Pharao to store all that grain from the seven fat years, to tide the nation over the seven lean ones? :)
Two Egyptian monuments, the Great Pyramid at Giza and the Pharos at Alexandria, are in the modern list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

in the Sixth Century AD, Bishop Gregory of Tours in Dark Age Gaul listed the Seven Wonders as: Noah's Ark, Babylon, Solomon's Temple, The Grave of the Persian King (possibly the tomb of Mausolus), the Colossus of Rhodes, The Theater of Herakleia carved from a single stone, and the great light house at Alexandria.

Saudi Aramco World : The Seven Wonders

So medieval scholars did have some information about ancient times and far away places.
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,995
Crows nest
#6
In Medieval and Renaissance Europe they knew a lot more than you might suspect. In the 1570 atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum there is a map of Egypt which is remarkably accurate and covers all of Egypt from the Delta to south of Elephantine. It even correctly delineates Upper and Lower Egypt by those terms, in latin of course. A google search did not find this precise map, and my copy is too big for the scanner. There are older maps, some from the 13th Century, though not as detailed.

The long term divide between Christianity and Islam kept many out who may have traveled to Egypt, and so delayed the eventual "discovery" by the French. But it was not "Here be dragons", they knew what was there, or that part not covered in sand, they read the ancient authors and knew it was, "other". They were fascinated by what little they did know, and due to nobody until Champollion being able to read hieroglyphs they just made things up based on what they could extract from the likes of Herodotus, what they knew of Hermes Trismegistus and vivid imagination.

There is a huge book that covers European exploration in Egypt from the Middle Ages to into the 19th Century, with about the first third of the book covering the period up to Napoleon's expedition. "Egypt Lost and Found - Explorers and Travellers on the Nile" by Alberto Siliotti, English edition 1998.
 
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Jun 2010
401
Rhondda, South Wales
#7
I won't pretend that anyone would have had any sort of in-depth knowledge about the long-dead culture as I'd argue that it wasn't really until Champollion deciphered hieroglyphics that we truly started to uncover the Egyptian mindset, but I'd be awfully surprised if pre-Napolenonic Europe wasn't aware of at least some elements of Egyptian history - given that its very difficult to look at Biblical history or the early history of Christianity without also looking at Egypt.
 
Nov 2017
789
Commune
#8
Napoleon initiated Egyptology precisely because Europeans had been fascinated by ancient Egypt for centuries. Greco-Roman historians, poets philosophers like Herodotus, Plato and Ovid praised it. The Alexander legend, which remained popular well into the Middle Ages, featured Egypt prominently, with Alexandria remaining a city of mythical stature regardless of the century in pre-Napoleonic Europe.

Hermetic theology and magic was also a fascination for all kinds of aristocrats and nobles, with the Corpus Hermeticum, a compendium of Egyptian theology purported to have been revealed by the god Thoth, exerting a massive influence in medieval and Renaissance alchemy and astrology. Nicholas Copernicus, Ficino, Giordano Bruno and Johannes Kepler were influenced by it. Masonic orders with their belief of the Grand Architect of the Universe were also greatly influenced by Hermetism.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,889
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#9
Europeans had been in contact with Egypt for centuries, and it was the original Egypt. When Greeks got in touch with that civilization it was still the Egyptian civilization [with foreign influences of this or that great power]. The Romans knew a Greek version of the Egyptian civilization, anyway the great monuments were still there and the ancient traditions were still available in the temples, in the "Houses of life" ...

The fall of Rome first and then the Arab invasion of the territories of the Eastern Roman Empire cut the connection with Egypt. Christian weren't too interested in the preservation of the tradition of ancient Egypt [they weren't kind with pagans], but sure the Arabs made some damages [they used the marbles of the pyramids to build mosques, just to say] and the sands became to cover the Sphinx.

During the medieval age these ancient knowledge survived in the Greek texts [overall in the Eastern Empire]. Who still had the Geographia by Tolomeo was in condition to have a map of the "ecumene" [inhabited world] where Egypt was well represented with the River Nile [that map shows the geographical knowledge in II century CE]. The problem about this is that the manuscript had found again around 1,300CE.

Then there was the " Tabula Peutingeriana" [we've got a copy from XII-XIII century CE] which showed all the Roman streets [so also Egypt was present in that map].

But overall we should keep in mind that in the Middle Egypt the Eastern Roman Empire kept on existing and it had, for sure, a clear knowledge of Egypt, on the base of Roman historical archives.
 
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