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date: 17 May 2021

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Abstract and Keywords

This review article addresses current controversies and opportunities in research on the roles, uses, and meanings of “Egypt” in ancient Roman visual and material culture. Accordingly, the article investigates problems of definition and interpretation; provides a critical review of current scholarly approaches; and analyzes the field’s intersections with current intellectual developments in the broader fields of archaeology and art history. It is argued that research on Roman Aegyptiaca can gain much from, and is poised to contribute substantially to, (1) 21st-century archaeology’s “material turn”; (2) the construction of new interpretive frameworks for cross-cultural interactions and “hybridization”; and (3) increased attention to the relationships among artifacts, contexts, and assemblages. Roman visual representations of Egypt provide a rich testing ground for research on intercultural exchange, the lived experience of empire, and the complex entanglement of people, things, and images.

Keywords: Egypt, Rome, Aegyptiaca, Egyptianizing, archaeology, visual culture, material culture, materiality, hybridization, entanglement


Throughout much of Roman history, the idea of “Egypt” evoked powerful imaginative responses, ranging from fascination to fear. In addition to a wealth of literary and epigraphic evidence for Roman receptions of Egyptian culture1, the material record provides an equally rich source of evidence. Roman visual and material culture generated numerous representations of landscapes, people, deities, and consumer goods that either evoke Egyptian origins or allude to Roman constructions of “Egypt.” However, the relationship among images, objects, values, and meanings is far from straightforward. Much debate still surrounds modern scholarly interpretations of Roman “Aegyptiaca,” and even in antiquity, similar images might mean quite different things in different contexts or to different viewers. The “meaning” of many Roman images of Egypt thus resists reduction to any single fixed interpretation, remaining open to contestation, renegotiation, and reinterpretation according to changing circumstances.

The artifacts in Figures 1–3 demonstrate this flexibility. All three are Roman depictions of crocodiles, an animal frequently presented in Roman art and literature as emblematic of Egypt.2 In all three cases, the animal lies on its stomach, seemingly at rest but watchful, with its snout slightly raised (a pose still detectable even in Figure 3, despite the break at the snout). Despite these iconographic similarities, however, considerations of materiality, framing, and context encourage different viewer responses in each case and activate different cultural associations for “Egypt.”

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Figure 1 Gold coin (aureus), 27 BCE. Diameter: 22 mm. Obverse: Head of Augustus (Octavian) with inscription “Caesar, son of the deified one, consul for the seventh time.” Reverse: Crocodile with inscription “Egypt having been conquered.”

[Credit line: Museum number 1897,0604.4. London, The British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.]

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Figure 2 Granite statue of a crocodile, with some 19th-century restoration (see Bülow Clausen 2015: 221). Length: 1.7 m.

[Credit line: Inv. MC 24. Rome, Musei Capitolini, Palazzo Nuovo, Sala Egizia—Archivio Fotografito dei Musei Capitolini, foto Barbara Malter. © Roma, Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali—Musei Capitolini.]

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Figure 3 Egyptian faience or imitation Egyptian faience statuette of a crocodile. Length: 26 cm.

[Credit line: Inv. 121325, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples. Photograph: Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli. Reproduced by permission of the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo—Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.]

Figure 1 is a gold coin minted to celebrate Octavian’s conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE, with a legend—Aegypt[o] Capta, “Egypt having been conquered”—making explicit the message of imperial triumphalism.3 The crocodile personifies Egypt as subdued enemy, while on the obverse, a portrait of Octavian prompts viewers to interpret this victory as legitimizing his leadership. Struck in the same year (27 BCE) that Octavian adopted the title “Augustus” and received honors from the Senate, this coin honors him as a military victor while further validating his power through inscriptions referring to his consulship and his status as Julius Caesar’s adopted son. Together with the inscription referring to Egypt, the exotic crocodile helps characterize Octavian’s defeat of Antony and Cleopatra as a foreign conquest, emphasizing Egypt’s “otherness” to avoid unwelcome implications of civil war between Octavian and Antony.4

The framing of the crocodile motif—and of “Egypt”—is very different for the object shown in Figure 2. Material and scale present initial contrasts. Instead of a small figure on a coin, this is an approximately half-life-size statue (1.70 meters long) made of red granite from Aswan.5 The material’s own Egyptian origins thus reinforce the crocodile’s associations with Egypt.6 Another factor guiding viewer responses would have been context: this statue comes from a Roman temple of Isis and Sarapis, deities whose cult was adopted (and adapted) from Ptolemaic Egypt.7 Excavated in the late 19th century, the crocodile probably lay next to a canal within the sanctuary.8 Although the history of the Iseum Campense sanctuary has been disputed, its construction may date to the Flavian period, over 100 years after Augustus’ conquest of Egypt.9 At this time, Egypt was no longer an external threat but a productive component of the Roman empire, and Isis and Sarapis were not only integrated into the Roman pantheon but even received extensive imperial patronage.10

This setting encourages viewers to interpret the crocodile—and the “Nile”-like canal from which it likely came—as an indication of Isis’ and Sarapis’ Egyptian origins, recalling Greco-Roman associations of Egypt with religious mysteries and esoteric wisdom.11 The Iseum Campense displayed a wealth of Egyptian and Egyptianizing statuary. Additionally, a relief column from the temple depicted priests feeding sacred crocodiles, reminding worshippers that crocodiles could themselves receive cult in Egypt.12 Martin Bommas has suggested that in addition to statues, the Iseum Campense might even have fostered some live sacred animals.13 If so, its animal statuary might further allude to ongoing cult practice. As on the Augustan coin, then, the crocodile in Figure 2 evokes ideas of “Egypt” for its viewers. However, rather than Egypt as defeated enemy, this temple assemblage presents us with a very different Egypt: a land of wisdom and piety, the domain of deities who protect rather than threaten Roman imperium.

Providing yet another Roman perspective on Egypt is the object in Figure 3: an Egyptian faience or imitation Egyptian faience statuette from a house in Pompeii, buried by Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 CE. In the center of this house’s peristyle garden (Figure 4), excavators found four animal figurines.14 The figurines included two crocodiles and two frogs, all covered with a greenish glaze resembling that of Egyptian faience.15 The statuettes in this assemblage would thus have evoked “Egypt” not only through the inclusion of crocodiles, but also through the employment of a material associated with Egyptian production. All four animals are fountain pieces, whose open mouths were intended as water spouts. Nineteenth-century excavation records state that they originally stood on a circular platform or pedestal, although this structure (and any associated hydraulic facilities) are now lost.16 Parallels to these fountain pieces also exist in other houses; one of the Latin terms for domestic canals was nilus, or “Nile,” and statuettes of Egyptian figures are frequently associated with domestic water features.17

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Figure 4 Peristyle garden in the Casa delle Nozze d’Argento (V 2.1), Pompeii, with view into tablinum.

[Credit line: Photograph by author.]

Since the later twentieth century, scholarship has typically assigned Roman images of Egypt to three major interpretive categories: they are either (1) religious objects associated with Isis cult, (2) politically motivated celebrations of Egypt’s conquest, or (3) fashion statements testifying to Roman “Egyptomania” or a taste for the “exotic.” At first glance, the case studies in Figures 1–3 might appear to reinforce these categories; we may be tempted to label the coin as “political,” the Iseum statue as “religious,” and the domestic statuette as an example of “fashion.” However, many artifacts do not fit neatly into these conceptual boxes, and meanings may often have been much more flexible and shifting. The domestic statuette is a case in point, as on closer inspection, its meaning is by no means transparent. Scholars have interpreted similar domestic artifacts variously as nods to contemporary fashion, indications of Isiac religious affiliation, expressions of pride in Roman imperial expansion, or assertions of wealth and/or cultural sophistication. Indeed, the object may well have conveyed different messages to different viewers (see “Rethinking Contexts”). Furthermore, even the coin and statue fit less tidily into mutually exclusive “religious” and “political” boxes than one might suppose. The Iseum Campense was repaired and probably constructed by Flavian emperors, who employed Egyptian imagery and cults to legitimize their dynasty and thus imparted political as well as religious associations to the sanctuary. Additionally, while the “Aegypto Capta” coin certainly conveys a political message, that message is also charged with religious implications. The inscription on the obverse praises Octavian as son of the deified Caesar, and Octavian’s campaign against Antony and Cleopatra had not only military but also religious and ideological aspects.18 Rather than simply assigning labels such as “politics,” “religion,” or “fashion” to Roman images of Egypt, we need to seek more nuanced approaches that recognize material culture’s “meanings” to be multiple, fluid, and contextual.

Italian visual representations of Egypt and Egyptian culture saw extensive transformation over time, from the earliest Egyptian or Egyptian-style imports of the “Orientalizing period” to the mosaics of Late Antiquity.19 Over the centuries, such representations appeared in numerous media, including wall paintings, mosaics, statuary, terracotta lamps, amulets, jewelry, and seals.20 Rather than attempting to provide a chronological history or comprehensive survey of such objects and images, the present essay offers an investigation of interpretive problems associated with Roman “Aegyptiaca”; a critical analysis of past and present approaches to such material; and a discussion of the field’s intersections with contemporary theoretical and methodological developments in archaeology and art history. This article argues that research on Roman Aegyptiaca can gain much from, and is poised to contribute substantially to, (1) 21st-century archaeology’s “material turn”; (2) the construction of new interpretive frameworks for cross-cultural interactions; and (3) increased attention to the relationships between artifacts, contexts, and assemblages. Roman visual representations of Egypt provide a rich testing ground for research on intercultural exchange, the lived experience of empire, and the complex entanglements of people, things, and images.

Conceptualizing Egypt in Roman Visual Culture: “Egyptian,” “Egyptianizing,” “Aegyptiaca,” and Beyond

What actually constitutes a reference to Egypt in Roman visual and material culture? Research of the past decade has subjected analytical categories such as “Egyptian,” “Egyptianizing,” and “Aegyptiaca” to extensive critical reevaluation. Scholars have traditionally reserved the term “Egyptian” for Egyptian-made imports in Italy, using a different term—“Egyptianizing”—for Italian-made objects that allude to Egypt or employ Egyptian styles. However, Molly Swetnam-Burland argues that Italian consumers may not have attached different valuations to imported versus locally produced objects. Seeking to avoid stigmatizing Italian-made “Egyptianizing” material culture according to “modern notions of authenticity,” Swetnam-Burland interprets all Roman material and visual references to Egypt, regardless of place of production, as “legitimate Roman cultural products.”21 Accordingly, she advocates for the use of one term, “Aegyptiaca,” for all Egyptian-looking artifacts or images from Italy.22 More recently, Eva Mol has also criticized scholarly constructions of “Aegyptiaca.” Mol argues that not all objects perceived by modern scholars as “Egyptian”-looking would have been so perceived in antiquity, and ancient consumers may have valued such artifacts for reasons unconnected to their Egyptian associations. Accordingly, she seeks to destabilize constructions of “Aegyptiaca” as a “homogeneous category of material culture” in Italy.23

Both critiques highlight the undertheorization of traditional scholarship on Egypto-Roman visual culture, as well as the need to reconsider the analytical categories that such scholarship employs. Among other things, these critiques emphasize the need to distinguish between emic and etic perspectives on Egypt in Roman visual culture.24 However, there is nothing inherently problematic about etic categories, as long as we explicitly recognize them as such. For example, even if distinctions between imported and locally produced goods were not relevant to ancient consumers, they may still be relevant to modern researchers who seek to investigate craft production or reconstruct trade networks. In other words, distinctions between local products and imports may still be useful from etic research perspectives, even if they were not important within emic frameworks of value.

This article thus retains the term “Egyptianizing” for objects made in Italy whose style, form, or iconography makes reference to parallels in Egyptian material culture. However, this usage explicitly acknowledges that “Egyptianizing” is an etic term without a precise emic equivalent, and that ancient consumers may not necessarily have valued or recognized such distinctions.25 Furthermore, when we do examine considerations of production and distribution, we need to acknowledge that not all objects fall neatly into binary categories of “Egyptian-made” versus “Italian-made.” Some objects were produced by Italian workshops using imported Egyptian raw materials, while other imports were produced by Egyptian workshops but then reworked or modified after reaching Italy.26 Additionally, production outside Egypt need not always imply local production; an Egyptianizing object at Pompeii, for example, might just as well be imported from Rome as from Alexandria.

This essay also retains “Aegyptiaca” as a conceptual category, albeit one requiring certain qualifications. Arguments against the existence of an emic category corresponding to “Aegyptiaca” should not be overstated. The Latin adjectives Aegyptiacus and Aegyptius can both describe things as well as people (as can the Greek Aigyptios), and Roman literary and visual sources clearly associate the idea of “Egypt” with a variety of tropes, concepts, and images.27 Roman culture thus offered individuals a range of ways to conceptualize “Egyptianness,” and individuals might associate such concepts with a range of material culture. However, modern constructions of “Egyptianness” may not necessarily map onto Roman ideas; images or objects that evoke “Egypt” for modern scholars may not always have done so for ancient Romans, and vice versa.28 Additionally, even when people perceived an object as alluding to “Egypt,” such allusions need not wholly determine that object’s valuation. People might also seek out such objects for other reasons, such as their functional properties, aesthetic qualities, or the value of their raw materials.

In this article, the term “Aegyptiaca” describes material culture that makes emically recognizable visual reference to places, people, or cultural practices associated with Egypt. However, instead of making subjective assumptions about which images or objects fit this description, this essay emphasizes the importance of context and framing. As the Introduction’s three case studies illustrate, motifs may take on very different meanings in different settings. When asking whether ancient viewers would have recognized an object as alluding to “Egypt,” we need to consider not only that object’s iconography, but also the ways in which its context and material properties shaped encounters with viewers.

Historiography and Current Approaches

The past two decades have seen an explosion of scholarship on the cultural, economic, political, and religious networks connecting Egypt to the Greco-Roman world, as well as the functions and meanings of Aegyptiaca in Italy.29 Within this wealth of research, three prominent developments include (1) an emphasis on “cultural” as well as “religious” interpretations of Aegyptiaca; (2) an emphasis on Aegyptiaca as “Roman” rather than (or at least in addition to) “Egyptian”; and (3) an understanding of Aegyptiaca as pointing toward, not an “authentic” Egypt, but a constructed “Egypt” of Roman imagination. These developments have facilitated the deconstruction of old assumptions and spurred much exciting research. However, they also generate new challenges, as some of the implied binary oppositions—“religious”/“cultural,” “Roman”/“Egyptian,” “constructed”/“authentic”—do not always map smoothly onto the messier territory of ancient reality.

The early twenty-first century has seen particular critique of older assumptions that visual references to Egypt invariably evoked Isiac cult. Many early studies of Egyptian imagery in Italy relied heavily on religious explanations. In the mid-twentieth century, Karl Schefold interpreted domestic paintings of Egyptian landscapes and mythological scenes as coded references to mystery cults, especially Isis mysteries.30 Tran tam Tinh’s monumental works on Isis cult also frequently treat any Egyptian motifs as evidence that a house belonged to Isis worshippers.31 For these and many other twentieth-century scholars, Egyptian and Egyptian-style objects were above all indexes of religious identity.

Much scholarship of the past twenty years has rightly reacted against the excesses of this approach, demonstrating that people might value Aegyptiaca for many reasons besides cult affiliation.32 Current consensus reasonably holds that Egyptian and Egyptianizing material culture expressed a wide range of functions, goals, and values, including (among others) a desire to allude to Hellenistic opulence and luxury (tryphe); pride in imperial conquests; enjoyment of prosperity brought by trade in Egyptian grain and other imports; conspicuous display of imported goods as status symbols; or appreciation of the latest fashions.33 The fashion for Aegyptiaca is often described as “Egyptomania,” although some scholars have more recently critiqued this term as anachronistically loaded with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century social, political, and colonial connotations.34

Of course, few would deny that at least some Egyptian-looking objects—such as the statue in Figure 2—do come from contexts associated with Isis worship. However, many recent publications attempt to distinguish between such “religious” artifacts and those Aegyptiaca whose significance is more generally “cultural.” Malaise’s influential call to “distinguer ce qui relève du cultuel et du culturel”35 presupposes that the “cultuel” and the “culturel” will fall into distinct and distinguishable groups: “le cultuel ne se confond pas avec le culturel.”36 Malaise even proposes a new terminology reflecting this distinction, distinguishing “Aegyptiaca” from “Pharaonica” and defining the latter as Egypt-related artifacts used in Isiac sanctuaries or domestic shrines outside Egypt.37 A similar distinction between “religious” Aegyptiaca (or “Pharaonica”) and “cultural” Aegyptiaca, often freighted with similar implications of an either/or choice, appears in many other recent publications.38

Besides pushing back against all-encompassing religious interpretations, much current scholarship makes a forceful case for the “Romanness” of Roman Aegyptiaca.39 While Roman visual allusions to Egypt may evoke a faraway land, they also draw on Roman traditions of representation and express Roman ideas and values. Deviations from Egyptian prototypes or practices should thus not be seen as “misunderstandings,” but as innovations that create new meanings suited to Roman cultural contexts.40

Accordingly, much twenty-first-century scholarship pushes back against interpretations of Aegyptiaca as necessarily expressing “authentic” Egyptian meanings.41 Romans were not simply passive recipients of Egyptian culture, but actively appropriated, reinterpreted, and transformed the objects, images, concepts, and practices that they encountered (see “Rethinking Contacts”). Imported objects and Egyptianizing imagery in Italy thus need not have the same uses, or convey the same cultural significance, as similar objects or images within Egypt.42 One of the most vocal proponents of this approach is Miguel John Versluys, who argues that the “Egypt” conjured by Roman Aegyptiaca is a cultural construct ultimately functioning to shape Roman identities.43 In representing and constructing “Egypt,” Romans were simultaneously representing and constructing “Romanness.”

Without question, the field is much stronger for the availability of interpretive paradigms that position many Aegyptiaca as “cultural,” “Roman,” and “constructed,” instead of (or in addition to) “religious,” “Egyptian,” and “authentic.” Problems arise, however, when we characterize such possibilities as black-and-white alternatives, rather than as positions along a spectrum. Recent years have thus seen increasing calls to move beyond the binary treatment of interpretations of Aegyptiaca as either “religious” objects (and hence “Isiac” and “authentic”) or “exotica” (and hence “cultural,” “secular,” and testifying to “Egyptomania”).44

Attempts to distinguish between “cultic” and “cultural” artifacts run the risk of anachronism, as Roman culture did not recognize strictly binary distinctions between “sacred” and “secular.”45 While Latin has a rich vocabulary for relationships between people, things, and gods, that vocabulary does not map clearly onto modern constructions of “religious versus secular” or “sacred versus profane.”46 Evidence indicates that many objects might serve both religious and practical functions in antiquity. In domestic contexts, for example, oil lamps could function both as utilitarian light sources and ritual implements in lamp-lighting rites at domestic shrines.47 It would therefore be misleading to refer to lamps in Roman houses as either “religious” or “secular” artifacts; they are potentially either or both, depending on context and user choice, and modern distinctions between “religious” and “secular” would not have been relevant to their ancient users. Attempts to fit Aegyptiaca exclusively into one or the other category are thus similarly problematic. For example, a household statuette depicting an Egyptian deity might be simultaneously a god and an item of domestic decoration.48 Ancient audiences might view such objects’ “religious” and “decorative” affordances as complementary, not contradictory.

Rigid oppositions of “Roman” and “Egyptian” may present another false dichotomy.49 Scholarly conceptions of Romanitas have evolved substantially in recent decades, with old paradigms of “Romanization” giving way to more nuanced approaches that acknowledge provincial actors’ agency. Instead of “acculturation,” individuals’ adoption of Roman identities is now more often characterized as self-interested emulation, appropriation, creolization, code-switching, or globalization.50 “Romanness” was ultimately what Wallace-Hadrill calls “a juridical category, defined by citizenship, by membership of the populus Romanus, or by relationship to Roman imperium,” and it was not exclusive of other forms of cultural, ethnic, or even political identity.51 While an awareness of one’s “Romanness” was surely important in certain settings and under certain conditions, that does not mean that everyone who identified in some way, shape, or form as “Roman” necessarily foregrounded that identity at all times or viewed the world through that lens exclusively.52 Additionally, after Egypt became part of the Roman empire, “Roman” and “Egyptian” no longer functioned as invariably oppositional categories. Roman citizenship was not available to most Egyptians until 212 CE, but exceptions existed for citizens of Alexandria and perhaps also army recruits.53 A number of people of Egyptian origin lived in Rome and occupied a broad range of social and economic positions.54

The Roman reception of originally-Egyptian gods illustrates the difficulty of drawing clear lines between “Roman” and “Egyptian.” Much debate surrounds the degree to which Egyptian-derived deities, such as Isis and Sarapis, would actually have been perceived as “Egyptian” by Roman worshippers. Some argue that by the late Hellenistic period, Isis and Sarapis were so fully integrated into Greek and Roman religion as to hardly appear “Egyptian” any longer. Several recent publications thus argue against referring to these deities as “Egyptian” in Roman contexts, characterizing them instead as fully “Roman” gods.55 However, the naturalization of once-foreign cults coexisted with frequent textual and iconographic emphasis on those cults’ “Egyptianness,” suggesting that some conception of “Egypt”—albeit a historically-contingent, culturally-constructed, and potentially semi-fictionalized conception—remained central to their Roman reception.56 Asking whether the Isis of the Roman empire was a “Roman” or “Egyptian” goddess is thus asking the wrong question, artificially attempting to impose a binary framework onto a more complex reality. Instead of a fixed, historically stable line between “Roman” and “Egyptian,” we find fluid, ongoing processes of interaction, negotiation, and reconceptualization.

Finally, while recent scholarship does well to caution against reflexively imposing “authentic” Egyptian meanings onto Roman artifacts, we should be equally wary of dismissing Egyptian meanings, uses, and values as a priori irrelevant to the study of Roman Aegyptiaca. Particularly after Egypt became a province, the empire’s opportunities for individual mobility facilitated intercultural encounters; not only did Egyptians (including intellectuals such as the Egyptian priest and Stoic philosopher Chaeremon) travel to Greece and Italy, but Romans also went to Egypt as tourists, pilgrims, administrators, and soldiers.57 Discussions of Roman travel to Egypt thus cannot simply start and end with Augustus’ ban on senators’ and some equestrians’ access to the province, as this restriction affected only the highest elites and was in any case not completely observed in practice.58 Egyptians, too, were active contributors to evolving Roman discourse(s) on Egypt,59 and Roman adaptations of Egyptian objects or motifs should be understood in the broader context of those objects’ or motifs’ previous “cultural biographies” or “object biographies” (see below, “Object Biographies”). Accordingly, we need not interpret Roman receptions of Egyptian culture as entailing either the museum-quality reproduction of “original” Egyptian practices, or the invention of an imaginary fantasy land with little relationship to the real-life province of Aegyptus. In place of such black-and-white alternatives, reality likely provided many shades of gray.

In pursuit of more nuanced approaches to Roman Aegyptiaca, current research in the broader fields of archaeology and art history suggests several promising directions. One important line of inquiry involves the forging of new approaches to the role of material culture in cross-cultural interactions. Additionally, the so-called “material turn” throughout the social sciences and humanities has generated new perspectives on humans’ relationship with material culture more generally. These developments are increasingly inspiring research that inserts Aegyptiaca into broader, multidisciplinary debates, with substantial implications for our understanding of the roles of “Egypt” in Roman visual and material culture.

Rethinking Things

Material Culture and the “Material Turn”

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the so-called “material turn” in archaeological theory has emphasized that things are not just inert or passive recipients of human agency; the material world plays an active role in shaping human behavior, cognition, and culture.60 Within Classical art history and archaeology, this intensifying scholarly interest in “object agency” coincides with an increasing critique of logocentric approaches to ancient material culture.61 Materiality-oriented or “thing theory”–based approaches to Roman Aegyptiaca thus hold much promise for future research.62 Beyond asking how representations of Egypt reflect ancient attitudes toward cultural identity, such approaches prompt us also to ask how these objects and images might have helped shape behavior and attitudes. How might Egyptian or Egyptianizing material culture have influenced consumers’ behaviors, opinions, and social performances? How did the material properties of Aegyptiaca help shape the ways that people used and valued these objects?

Going back to the two crocodile sculptures in Figure 2 and Figure 3: both of these artifacts’ materials and physical properties would have affected viewers in significant ways. Both the red granite of the Iseum Campense statue and the green glaze of the Pompeii statuette would have visually signaled Egyptian origins, activating associations with “Egypt” for their viewers. Additionally, since both images are less than life-size, issues of scale would also have shaped viewers’ responses. A growing body of “miniaturization theory” emphasizes miniatures’ ability to make viewers feel large, strong, and in possession of the small object.63 Although Roman art and literature often presented crocodiles as dangerous, the small scale of these representations diminishes any implied threat, as the viewer towers reassuringly over the shrunken beasts.

Yet although both crocodiles are smaller than life-size, the statue from the Iseum is still significantly more “monumental” than the statuette from the Pompeian house. The temple statue is made of much stronger, more durable material: solid granite, rather than the domestic figurine’s hollow, breakable faience. Additionally, at almost two meters long, the temple statue may be smaller than a real adult crocodile, but it is still a substantial piece of statuary—more than six times the size of the 26-centimeter-long domestic statuette.64 The granite statue’s relative monumentality echoes the imposing architecture and extensive statuary collection of its sanctuary setting. The choice of material would also have reminded viewers of other monumental evocations of Egypt in Rome, especially obelisks, for which red granite was the preferred material. Since Romano-Egyptian obelisks were typically imperial dedications and/or connected with imperial cult (see “Object Biographies”), the crocodile statue’s material would not only have recalled Egypt, but also reminded ancient viewers of the imperial patronage enjoyed by this sanctuary and its gods. Finally, the statue’s relatively large size enables it to communicate visually with viewers even at a distance and makes it well-suited to a large space.

In contrast, the small, delicate, and finely detailed domestic figurine invites closer, more intimate viewing. In the garden water installation for which it was designed, this figurine would have attracted such attention by appealing to multiple senses: visitors to the garden would see the crocodile’s glazed surface flashing in the sunlight, hear the gurgling of the water spouting from its mouth, and perhaps even feel the cooling spray of mist on their skins. Even though these two crocodile sculptures display nearly identical iconography, their material properties encourage different types of encounters and prompt different responses from viewers. These material properties generate what James Gibson would call different “affordances,” or potentials for facilitating certain actions, outcomes, or encounters.65

Object Biographies

In addition to exploring the ways that things’ material properties affect their users, much recent scholarship also investigates the “social lives” of things: that is, the ways in which they participate in social relationships with people and mediate human relationships.66 One line of research in this vein, focusing on “cultural biographies” or “object biographies,” has been particularly influential in archaeology. Coined by Igor Kopytoff, the term “cultural biography” employs the metaphor of a human lifespan to characterize a thing’s changing roles within society: the “biography of a thing,” from manufacture to disuse.67 Attention to such “biographies” helps elucidate the ways that originally Egyptian artifacts’ uses, values, and perceived meanings might change when passing from one context to another.68

For example, recent work by Parker, Swetnam-Burland, and Versluys applies a “biographical” approach to Romano-Egyptian obelisks.69 In Pharaonic Egypt, obelisks were solar monuments whose shape alluded to the so-called benben-stone, an object associated with the sun god’s cult at Heliopolis.70 Obelisks’ monumental size also made them effective embodiments of state power, well-suited for royal dedications at sanctuaries. After Egypt’s conquest, Roman emperors used some of these monuments for their own ends, importing a series of obelisks from Egypt to Rome.71 One of the earliest and most famous examples is an obelisk now standing in Rome’s Piazza Montecitorio (Figure 5) whose “biography” Swetnam-Burland has explored in two recent publications.72 The sixth century BCE pharaoh Psammetichus II originally constructed the obelisk for a temple at Heliopolis. After conquering Egypt, Augustus shipped this monument to Rome, where he made it the centerpiece of a colossal sundial or solar meridian and dedicated it to the sun god Sol.73 Part of a larger construction assemblage that included the Ara Pacis and Augustus’ own mortuary complex, the appropriated obelisk presented the princeps as conqueror of Egypt and restorer of peace and stability. The obelisk’s post-antique history testifies to still further appropriations, as Pope Pius VI repaired, restored, and augmented the obelisk to convey the papacy’s power and connections to Roman antiquity.

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Figure 5 Obelisk on the Piazza del Montecitorio, Rome. Red granite from Aswan. Height: approximately 22 m.

[Credit line: Photograph by author.]

The “biography” of the Montecitorio obelisk thus demonstrates numerous episodes of dramatic change, appropriation, and reconceptualization, but it also demonstrates that the generation of new meanings need not consign an object’s earlier history to irrelevance. Augustus and subsequent emperors constructed Roman meanings for Egyptian obelisks by drawing selectively on such monuments’ earlier functions and valuations. Roman valuations of obelisks were in many ways very different from the values Egyptian audiences had assigned to them—and yet those Egyptian valuations comprised part of the information on which Roman audiences drew in assigning new values, as suggested by several Latin authors’ explicit recognition of obelisks’ Egyptian significance as solar symbols.74 Accordingly, when Augustus incorporated an Egyptian obelisk into his grand solar timepiece and dedicated it to Sol, he was not only displaying his control over the new province of Aegyptus; he was also adapting an Egyptian symbol to a Roman setting in a way that built on the object’s “original” meaning while also generating new, situationally appropriate meanings of its own.75 Indeed, even the use of obelisks as markers of imperial power and conquest may itself draw on Egyptian precedents; the obelisk’s original commissioner, Psammetichus II, was, among other things, demonstrating his own military power over foreign lands in erecting this monument.76

The “biographies” of this and other Romano-Egyptian obelisks thus testify to the purposeful selection and adaptation of elements from Egyptian visual culture to create new meanings that build on, but also transform, their predecessors. Such examples suggest a need to nuance Versluys’ assertion that it is “mainly the direct previous stage in the ‘life history’ of [a] theme that determines the next; other previous stages perhaps played a role; original ones most probably not.”77 Versluys’ cautions provide a useful warning against assuming that objects necessarily retain their “original” functions in new contexts, but we should also be careful not to assume that cultural memory is necessarily short-lived. As Swetnam-Burland points out, there “may or may not be a relationship between the lives and afterlives of any given object, depending on the knowledge, understanding, and interpretive practices of the people involved.”78 While the pan-Mediterraneanization of originally Egyptian material culture certainly transformed objects’ uses and meanings, this often occurred not through the creation of new uses and meanings “from scratch,” but through more complex processes of adaptation and emulation.

Rethinking Contacts

Connectivity, Hybridization, and Entanglement

Instead of explaining culture change through unidirectional processes of diffusion or acculturation, archaeologists now typically emphasize more active processes of appropriation, emulation, or hybridization.79 This theoretical move has also impacted scholarship on Roman Aegyptiaca. Rather than treating Egyptian motifs in Roman art as examples of diffusion, in which Romans were essentially passive recipients of Egyptian cultural “influence,” recent work typically stresses Romans’ active transformation and re-valuation of Egyptian images and objects (see “Historiography and Current Approaches”).

However, the ongoing reassessment of the interpretive construct of “hybridity” demonstrates that we still need to think critically about the ways we characterize cross-cultural interactions. For many contemporary archaeologists, the concept of “cultural hybridity” assumes a fundamentally flawed premise: the presupposition of some earlier state of cultural purity.80 Since almost all societies have a long history of interactions with “other” groups, it is difficult if not impossible to point to any moment when a group was totally devoid of foreign influence. Accordingly, if all culture is thus in some sense “hybrid,” it is unclear how much analytical weight this term can hold.

One possible way forward may come from recent attempts to construct specifically archaeological approaches to cross-cultural interactions. Philipp Stockhammer’s concept of “cultural entanglement” explicitly addresses the changing valuation of artifacts and images in new cultural contexts. In order to jettison the baggage of contentious terms like “hybridity,” Stockhammer prefers to speak of “entanglement,” which he defines as a broad range of “phenomena that are the result of the creative processes triggered by intercultural encounters.”81 Within these phenomena, he distinguishes two subtypes: (1) “relational entanglement,” in which people appropriate a foreign object and reinterpret it according to their own cultural conceptions, but do not substantially change its material form; and (2) “material entanglement,” in which people create new material forms drawing on multiple cultural traditions.82 In other words, “relational entanglement” involves assigning new meanings to existing objects, while “material entanglement” involves creating new object types that, in turn, generate new meanings.

Stockhammer’s analytical framework may help cut through some of the loaded language often used for Roman Aegyptiaca. The concepts of relational and material entanglement provide an alternative way to describe Italian uses of imported “Egyptian” and locally made “Egyptianizing” objects, acknowledging the possibility of differences between the two but avoiding value-laden assumptions about function, quality, or relative “authenticity.” When imported Egyptian objects appear in Italian contexts, the concept of relational entanglement may provide a value-neutral way to describe the ensuing changes in the objects’ functions and valuations. Even if the journey to Rome produced relatively little material change in the physical form of, for example, a Pharaonic obelisk (Figure 5), it still experienced extensive relational entanglement; people used it in new ways and assigned it new meanings.

Additionally, as Romano-Egyptian obelisks can further attest, initial relational entanglement often inspires subsequent material entanglement. The emperors Domitian (r. 81–96) and Hadrian (r. 117–138) commissioned entirely new obelisks rather than usurping Pharaonic ones (Figure 6). Although the original contexts of both obelisks are debated, both are undoubtedly imperial commissions.83 Both Domitian’s and Hadrian’s obelisks bear new, personalized hieroglyphic texts praising their respective emperors in terms drawn from Egyptian royal cult and solar theology.84 The text on Hadrian’s obelisk further innovates in exalting not only Hadrian but also his companion Antinous, whom Hadrian had deified after his death in Egypt. Some evidence points to the involvement of Egyptian priests in composing and/or translating the inscriptions on both obelisks.85 These new obelisks thus allude to traditions both Egyptian and Roman: not only longstanding Egyptian cultic and monumental practices, but also Roman precedents, going back to Augustus, for the use of obelisks to convey Roman imperial power. However, the new obelisks also communicate another set of new meanings specific to their own political and social contexts. Domitian’s obelisk signaled his global authority while also alluding to his dynasty’s historical association with Egypt, where his father was first acclaimed as emperor. Some decades later, Hadrian’s obelisk not only celebrated the cult of the new deity Antinous but also helped Hadrian cast Egypt, together with Greece, as a productive contributor to—and component of—the Roman world.86

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Figure 6 Obelisk on the Piazza Navona, Rome. Red granite from Aswan. Height: approximately 16.54 m.

[Credit line: Photograph by author.]

Roman Emulation of Earlier Visual Cultures

In addition to participating in archaeological debates about the role of material culture in cross-cultural exchange, research on Aegyptiaca can also contribute to art-historical debates about the roles of adaptation and allusion in Roman art. In contrast to older perceptions of Roman art as “copying” earlier visual cultures (Greek, Egyptian, Italian, et cetera), a large body of evidence now demonstrates that Roman artists and craftsmen also engaged with older source material in more active, innovative ways. Accordingly, rather than asking whether Aegyptiaca are “Egyptian” or “Roman,” we may do better to ask how Roman artists’ eclectic recombinations of Egyptian motifs and styles relate to broader patterns of Roman emulation of older visual cultures.87

In art history and archaeology, much exciting work has reassessed Roman emulations and adaptations of earlier, especially Greek, material culture.88 Such research questions the existence of a clear division between “originals” and “copies” and problematizes assumptions that Roman artists always strove to precisely replicate earlier objects. Instead, Roman artists engaged dynamically with earlier visual cultures, employing many forms of emulation, allusion, selection, and recombination. Roman “retrospective art”89 might combine originally disparate motifs or styles, adapt older works to new functions and contexts, or otherwise engage in purposeful innovation that allowed artists to allude to the past while still generating new meanings for the present. In other words: the existence of a broad spectrum from “authentic” to “mirage,” reproduction to innovation, does not only characterize Roman adaptations of Egyptian visual culture, but is generally typical of Roman approaches to visual culture. Anachronistic modern constructs of “authenticity” have little place in this ancient aesthetics of creative emulation.

Indeed, when Roman material culture draws on iconographic, formal, and/or stylistic features of Egyptian art, such adaptations are often just one aspect of a highly eclectic mix of cultural and retrospective allusions. For example, the garden of the Casa degli Amorini Dorati at Pompeii contained not only Egyptian imagery (a shrine with Isiac paintings, a probably Egyptian-made statuette of Horus, and an oil lamp depicting Egyptian deities), but also a shrine to the Capitoline triad and a wide range of Hellenizing material culture (e.g., Bacchic reliefs and herms and an early Hellenistic votive relief).90

Another type of eclecticism appears in paintings of Egyptian landscapes that employ a style of brushwork derived from Hellenistic and Roman art. For example, Figure 7 shows a fresco painted on a masonry triclinium in the garden of the Casa dell’Efebo, Pompeii.91 This so-called “Nilotic scene”92 depicts a riverine landscape filled with sanctuaries, shrines, and divine statues. Certain geographically or culturally distinctive features—crocodiles, a statue of the Apis bull, an animal-headed boat made of reeds, and human figures who resemble pygmies—locate the scene in Egypt, and many of these motifs have antecedents in Egyptian art.93 Yet despite these Egyptian allusions, other stylistic, formal, and iconographic aspects of the painting draw on Hellenistic and Roman precedents. Both the loose, “impressionistic” brushwork and the depiction of rural, shrine-filled landscapes have their closest parallels in so-called “sacral-idyllic” Roman landscape painting.94 Instead of a straightforward depiction of Egypt or an attempt to duplicate Egyptian visual culture, the scene presents multiple layers of cultural and visual references. Such evidence suggests that Roman visual references to Egypt do not constitute an anomalous “special category” within Roman art but, rather, display the same tendencies toward eclecticism, recombination, and reinterpretation that characterize Roman art more generally.

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Figure 7 Fresco from the Casa dell’Efebo (I 7.10-12), Pompeii. Interior face of the eastern bench of an outdoor masonry triclinium.

[Credit line: Adapted from de Vos 1990: figs. 169b–c, 173a–b.]

Rethinking Contexts

Another growth area for research involves the contextualization of Aegyptiaca, particularly within household settings. While previous work has frequently addressed the roles of Aegyptiaca within imperial, public, and temple contexts95, household Aegyptiaca still remain comparatively understudied. A number of synthetic studies or catalogs of Aegyptiaca have included material from domestic contexts, but detailed contextualization has usually not been such works’ primary purpose.96 Accordingly, there is still much need for research explicitly placing household Aegyptiaca into dialogue with larger domestic assemblages—not just the built structures of a room, but also its paintings, mosaics, statues, stuccoes, and household artifacts, as well as the individuals who would once have occupied the space.97

Within art history and literary studies, the concept of “context” has sometimes attracted critique for its supposed implications of inertness or inflexibility.98 In archaeological usage, however, an artifact’s “context” is explicitly conceptualized as ever-changing, even post-depositionally; as Lucas puts it, for archaeologists, “no context is static.”99 In contrast to the immobile constructions of “context” that Culler, Bal, and others have critiqued, the archaeological conceptualization of “context” is theoretically much closer to recent art-historical discourse on “framing,” which similarly emphasizes the dynamic interactions between images and “frames” and characterizes houses, cities, and even empires as a series of nested framing devices.100

In its archaeological sense, the context of an artifact, ecofact, or feature possesses three components: matrix (the material, typically sediment, around an object); provenience (the object’s three-dimensional location within the matrix); and association (the object’s spatial relationship to other artifacts, features, and ecofacts). Artifacts may further come from primary contexts or secondary contexts. In situ deposits, or de facto assemblages, are those left behind when people abandoned an activity area.101 More common are refuse deposits, which Schiffer divides into primary refuse (deposited at the location of use) and secondary refuse (deposited elsewhere).102 Even when an object is in situ within an activity area, however, that context reflects only one moment of the object’s use-life; people may have earlier used it in many other places or ways. Even after burial, archaeological contexts continue to change; numerous cultural and natural transformations (“C-transforms” and “N-transforms”103), from human disturbance to erosion and decay, ensure that “context” remains eternally in flux.

Recent art-historical research emphasizes the importance of contextual appropriateness (decor, decorum) in Roman visual culture.104 Both textual sources and archaeological finds suggest that people judged certain types of decoration (sculpted, painted, or otherwise) to be more or less appropriate to certain settings. Similar notions of “appropriateness” also appear to inform Roman adaptations of styles from earlier periods and cultures.105 A now-classic study by Tonio Hölscher characterizes Roman art as a “semantic system” in which allusions to various Greek precedents—“modes of representation, figural types and formulae for detail which may be traced back to different epochs in Greek art”106—conveyed different associations and meanings, and were thus suited to different subjects and settings. Some have critiqued the inflexibility of Hölscher’s schema, and one might also question his reliance on linguistic metaphors for material culture.107 However, evidence does suggest that Roman audiences generally expected art to seem appropriate to its context, and that constructions of “appropriateness” might involve formal and stylistic features, iconographic content, or all of the above.108

Accordingly, if we are to understand how Roman Aegyptiaca created meaning for (or derived meaning from) their viewers, we need to understand them in context. When we encounter wall paintings, mosaics, or statues in museums or as photographs in publications, we may be tempted to treat them as self-contained works to be viewed in isolation.109 However, in their original settings, these images and objects were typically part of much larger, three-dimensional installations.

For example, we cannot fully understand the statue in Figure 2 outside of its sanctuary context, or the fountain statuette in Figure 3 outside of the domestic garden from which it came. In the case of the statue (Figure 2), the sanctuary setting would have cast viewers as worshippers, prompting them to interpret the crocodile statue as a reference to the origins and powers of the sanctuary’s gods. A very different set of contextual cues shaped viewers’ encounter with the domestic figurine from the Casa delle Nozze d’Argento. As one component of a probable fountain assemblage that incorporated a whole group of river beasts in Egyptian faience or imitation Egyptian faience, this object would have prompted visitors to imagine a miniature Nile within domestic space. On the upper zone of the walls of the ambulatory surrounding the peristyle, images of water birds and lotuses—common themes in Roman “Nilotic” paintings and mosaics110—reinforced these associations (Figure 8). Also picking up on the Egyptian theme is a small room opening off the peristyle. Paintings on the lower zone of this room’s walls depict pygmies (whom Romans often associated with Egypt) and Egyptian ibises.111 However, Egypt is by no means the only theme of the peristyle paintings; for example, the same upper zone that depicts the lotuses and water birds also includes images of wild animals, leaping dolphins, and theatrical masks.112 A forthcoming study will address this garden’s eclectic decorative and artifactual assemblage in more detail.113

Egypt in Roman Visual and Material Culture

Figure 8 Fresco from the upper zone of the ambulatory of the peristyle, Casa delle Nozze d’Argento (V 2.1), Pompeii. Detail of east wall, depicting a duck, a swan, and lotuses.

[Credit line: Photograph by author.]

The framing of this domestic assemblage does not necessarily impose any single meaning onto the artifacts, whether decorative, religious, or anything else. To different viewers in first-century Pompeii, a domestic crocodile statuette might convey a wide array of possible messages. Depending on their individual backgrounds and perspectives, different viewers might interpret this assemblage as a statement of cultural sophistication, an expression of pride in the breadth of the Roman empire, an allusion to the beneficent powers of Egyptian deities and/or the importance of the Egyptian grain trade, an intimation of Alexandrian luxuries, an opportunity to show off the host’s own wealth and resources—or any of various combinations of the above, and more.

However individual viewers might respond to this assemblage, though, the context implicates the garden’s contents within host-guest relationships and enlists the assemblage as part of the house owner’s self-presentation to visitors. As domestic spaces associated with otium and relatively limited access114, gardens would have functioned, among other things, as settings for social interaction with invited guests. While the Iseum Campense statue acts (at least in part) to mediate relationships between humans and gods, then, the domestic statuette acts (at least in part) to mediate relationships between humans and humans. Yet at the same time, invited guests were not the garden’s only viewers. At different times or from different vantage points, the same garden might also have served as a work space for domestic slaves, a play area for children, or an appealing vista glimpsed through a door by clients in the atrium (or even by passers-by in the street outside). This multiplicity of audiences potentially entangles the garden’s material culture within an equally wide variety of human social relationships. In order to investigate those relationships, we need to situate domestic artifacts within larger settings and assemblages.


Research on Roman Aegyptiaca is a dynamic and rapidly expanding field, poised to make significant contributions to interdisciplinary debates in the humanities and social sciences. Recent theoretical developments in archaeology and art history, including new perspectives on materiality, entanglement, and cross-cultural interactions, offer opportunities to question old paradigms and develop more nuanced approaches to Roman-Egyptian interactions. In place of simple binary oppositions of “religion” versus “Egyptomania,” “Self” versus “Other,” or “authenticity” versus “fantasy,” Roman representations of Egypt enabled ancient consumers to express a broad spectrum of attitudes, interpretations, and behaviors. In some contexts, Aegyptiaca may have reinforced perceived differences between Egyptian and Roman cultures and identities; in other contexts, they may have contributed to breaking down such distinctions and constructing new perceptions of Egypt as part of the Roman world. Through continued investigation of the ways that artifacts and images mediate interactions between members of different cultural groups, research on Roman representations of Egypt has much to contribute to larger debates about connectivity, identity, empire, and the social impacts of human-thing entanglements.


For permission to conduct research onsite at Pompeii and at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN) and to publish images of artifacts, I thank Paolo Giulierini, Valeria Sampaolo, and Giuseppe Proietti (MANN) and Massimo Osanna and Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro (Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici). I also thank Fortunato Stefanizzi and Giorgio Albano for their kind assistance at the MANN. Financial support for this research came from Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania. I thank Miguel John Versluys for his thoughtful and helpful feedback on an earlier draft of this article. As always, responsibility for any errors and all opinions remains my own.

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(1) On the literary and epigraphic evidence, see (inter alia) Maehler 2003; Bricault 2005, 2013; Manolaraki 2013; Leemreize 2014.

(2) Crocodiles in Roman statuary: Roullet 1972: 127–128. In Roman wall paintings and mosaics: Versluys 2002: 280–281, 283–284. On Roman coins: Draycott 2012 (arguing that Octavian’s Aegypto Capta coins were responsible for the subsequent use of the crocodile to symbolize Egypt). In Latin literary references to Egyptian crocodiles and crocodile gods: Smelik and Hemelrijk 1984: 1955–1981. According to Pliny’s description of a famous painting by Nealkes, the depiction of a crocodile stalking a donkey was sufficient to locate a scene in Egypt (NH 35.142).

(4) For parallels in Augustan poetry, see Maehler 2003.

(5) Roullet 1972: 127, no. 254; Lembke 1994: 239–240, no. 39. For restoration work on the statue, see Bülow Clausen 2015: 221.

(6) On Roman awareness that red granite came from Aswan, see Pliny, HN 36.13; Swetnam-Burland 2010: 146–147; Bülow Clausen 2015: 67–68.

(8) Bülow Clausen 2015: 131–132.

(9) The construction date of the temple remains disputed, but Scheid (2004, 2009) argues that neither the Iseum Campense nor Isis’ inclusion in the sacra publica can be securely demonstrated before Vespasian’s reign (supported by Van Haeperen 2006: 44; Belayche and Rebillard 2008: 148; Bülow Clausen 2015: 140, 190–191; resisted by Gasparini 2009: 349).

(10) Takács 1995: 94–104; Manolaraki 2013: 121–132; Gasparini 2009; 2014: 297–298; Grenier 2009; Pfeiffer 2010; Capriotti Vittozzi 2014; Bülow Clausen 2015. Pfeiffer (2010) cautions against overstating Egypt’s importance to Flavian imperial strategies, although Versluys (2013b: 256 n. 67) characterizes Pfeiffer’s approach as “misconceived.”

(11) Egypt as land of esoteric knowledge: Kákosy 1993, 1995; Fowden 1993; Frankfurter 1998a: 217–221; 1998b: 198–237; Hornung 2001; Tracy 2014: 3–6.

(12) On the reception of Egyptian crocodile gods in Roman Italy, including images of priests feeding sacred crocodiles, see Kiss 1998; Malaise 2005: 100–110; 2007: 29–30.

(13) Bommas (2012: 192–194) argues for the presence of live animals, including crocodiles, in Roman Isis sanctuaries.

(14) Specific findspot: peristyle garden of the “Casa delle Nozze d’Argento.” Publications of the figurines: Appleton 1987: 17–19, 64; Di Gioia 2006: 124–127 (nos. 8.1, 8.2, 9.1, 9.4); Mol 2015: 200. Publications of the house, its decoration, and its contents: Parise Badoni 1991; Archer 1994; Allison 2004; Ehrhardt 2004 (see esp. pp. 110–111 on finds in the peristyle).

(15) On such objects as Egyptian faience or imitations of Egyptian faience: Di Gioia 2006; Mol 2015: 185, 198–204. The fabric of such statuettes at Pompeii was usually made with crushed quartz, like Egyptian faience (Mangone et al. 2011). Chemical testing of one of the two crocodile statuettes from this assemblage revealed a quartz-based fabric and suggested it may have actually been produced in Egypt (Mangone et al. 2011).

(16) Ehrhardt 2004: 224 (with discussion of surviving water pipes elsewhere in the peristyle). For hydraulic facilities still preserved in the peristyle, see also Dessales 2013: 128–129, 421–423. Many lead pipes were robbed out of Pompeian houses in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (de Haan 2001: 43).

(17) On the term nilus: see Cic. Q Fr. 3.9.7, Leg. 2.2; Dessales 2013: 59–62; Zarmakoupi 2014: 157–163. On Egyptian statuettes associated with domestic water features: Barrett, forthcoming (a).

(18) For Octavian’s and Antony’s competing uses of religiously charged iconography, see Zanker 1988.

(19) The earliest Egyptian or Egyptianizing imports in Italy go back to the “Orientalizing period” of the seventh c. BCE (Sannibale 2014). Allusions to Egypt in Late Antiquity: see Versluys (2002: 260, 290–291) on Nilotic scenes in Christian churches, and Hagan (forthcoming) on the Egyptian imagery in the so-called “Basilica of Junius Bassus.”

(20) Examples of this range of material culture: Arslan 1997; De Caro 2006; Mol 2015.

(21) Swetnam-Burland 2007, quoting pp. 114, 116.

(22) Swetnam-Burland 2007: 119 (further nuanced in Swetnam-Burland 2015: 12); cf. Versluys 2015b: 147, 150; van Aerde 2015: 32–33, 61, 292. For earlier discussions of Egyptian or Egyptian-style material culture in Italy as “Aegyptiaca,” see Swetnam-Burland 2002; Versluys 2002.

(23) Mol 2013 (quoting p. 118); 2015.

(24) Anthropologists differentiate “emic” concepts, which are internal to a culture, from “etic” concepts, which are employed by modern scholars but may not exist within the cultures they study.

(25) Greek (though not Latin) does possess a verb aigyptiazein, loosely translatable as “to Egyptianize.” However, this verb typically describes human actions (e.g., speaking Egyptian, or engaging in Egyptian-like behavior), rather than the qualities of consumer goods (LSJ Online, s.v. Αἰγυπτιάζω; TLG).

(26) For various examples, see Swetnam-Burland 2015: 18–64.

(27) For example, the Latin word aegyptiaca can describe books or histories (OLD, s.v. “Aegyptiaca”; TLL, s.v., “Aegyptiaca”). Textual attestations of aegyptiacus and aegyptius: Swetnam-Burland 2007: 119. Cf. Greek Aigyptios, which can similarly describe objects as well as people (e.g., a medication called aigyptia: Gal. Comp. Med. per Gen. 13.643 K). Roman tropes concerning “Egypt”: see, for example, Smelik and Hemelrijk 1984; Fowden 1993; Hornung 2001; Maehler 2003; Tracy 2014: 1–12.

(30) For example, Schefold 1972: 61, 172–178.

(31) For example, Tran tam Tinh 1964; 1971; 1972; critiqued by Petersen 2006: 42, 246 n. 80.

(32) For example, Versluys 2002, esp. 15–26, 329–336; Vout 2003: 189–190; Mol 2015: 31–34.

(33) Aegyptiaca or Nilotica as allusions to grain trade: Versluys and Meyboom 2000: 126; Malaise 2005: 211. Note that trade between Egypt and Italy involved not only grain, but also many other Egyptian goods, among which textiles held particular economic importance (Soto, forthcoming). Aegyptiaca or Nilotica as fashion statements: Alfano 2001: 286–288; Daszewski 2002: 22.

(34) Aegyptiaca as “Egyptomania”: de Vos 1980; Malaise 2005: 214–220. Critiques of this interpretation: Van Aerde 2015: 27 n. 59; Mol 2015: 34–37; van Eck and Versluys, forthcoming. Cf. Curran’s early critique of “Egyptomania” as interpretive construct (1996).

(35) Malaise 2005: 15; cf. Malaise 1972: xii; 2007: 34–38.

(36) Malaise 2005: 228.

(37) Malaise 2005: 201–214; 2007: 34-37; cf. Bragantini 2006: 161–165; 2012: 25–30. In his more recent work, Malaise’s “Pharaonica” are also specifically “produites en Égypte” (2007: 35; contrast Malaise 2005: 228, where they may be “oeuvres égyptiennes ou égyptisantes”). The category thus potentially conflates two not necessarily related criteria: place of production and use-context. A third category for Malaise is “Nilotica,” on which see Versluys 2002; Barrett, forthcoming (a), forthcoming (b). Critique of Malaise’s terminology: Bülow Clausen 2015: 40–43; Barrett, forthcoming (a).

(38) E.g., Budischovsky 2004; Cibu and Rémy 2004: 142–143. On the influence of Malaise’s approach, see the praises of Versluys 2010: 3–4; Bricault and Veymiers 2012: 13.

(39) For example, Vout 2003; Swetnam-Burland 2007, 2015; Davies 2011; van Aerde 2015; Bülow Clausen 2015: 34–35.

(41) For example, Malaise 2005; Swetnam-Burland 2007, 2015; Harrisson 2012; Versluys 2012, 2013b; Mol 2013, 2015; Bricault and Versluys 2014a: 26–34.

(42) For example, Italian consumers’ reinterpretation of Egyptian-style ushebti figurines as representations of Osiris: Malaise 2004: 484–485; 2005: 17–19.

(43) See especially Versluys 2012, 2013b.

(44) For example, Söldner 1999; Bragantini 2006: 161; 2012: 25; Mol 2013: 128; 2015: 4–5; van Aerde 2015: 27–28; Versluys 2015b: 147.

(45) On religious/secular dichotomies’ inapplicability to ancient material culture, cf. Fullerton (1997: 433). On modern and ancient constructions of “sacred” and “profane”: Rebillard and Sotinel 2010a. Rebillard critiques the attempt to divide everyday activities “between sacred and secular, or between religious and nonreligious” (2012: 62, 91, 95–96; quoting p. 62).

(46) Compare Bremmer 1998; Rebillard 2012: 62, 91, 95–96; Rebillard and Sotinel 2010b. On the history of the term “religion” and its evolution from Latin religio, see Feil 1986, 1992; Smith 1998; Rüpke 2014: 186–193.

(47) Bielfeldt 2014, especially p. 234; Bowes 2015: 216.

(48) Barrett, forthcoming (c). On Roman approaches to decor, see “Rethinking Contexts.”

(49) Compare Versluys’ recent critique of “container thinking” (2015b; cf. 2013a; 2013b: 258; and similar calls to go “beyond Roman versus Native” in Versluys 2015a: 129) and Dench’s arguments against “polarized categories of ‘colonizers’ and ‘colonized’” (2005: 84).

(50) Recent overviews and reassessments of this enormous topic: Versluys 2014, with responses. Relationship of “Romanization” to “acculturation”: Versluys 2015b: 144–146.

(51) Wallace-Hadrill 2008: 41; compare Versluys 2013a: 436–437.

(52) On the intermittent or transitory relevance of group identities, and the fallacy of treating “groups” (of “Romans,” “Egyptians,” or anything else) as social actors, see Brubaker 2002, 2004; Rebillard 2012, 2015.

(53) Plin. Ep. 10.6; Delia 1991: 39–47; Rowlandson and Harker 2004: 82. Roman citizens in Egypt: Jördens 2012: 250–252.

(56) Alvar 2008; van Andringa 2009: 164–165; Versluys 2012: 33–36; 2013b: 2015b: 148–149; Rüpke 2013: 28; 2014: 17, 204 (arguing that Isis’ Egyptian trappings made the cult recognizable transregionally).

(57) On Chaeremon, who attained a high position in Nero’s court: van der Horst 1984. On Egyptians in Italy, see Malaise 1972: 321–322, 324, 328; Swetnam-Burland 2010: 343; Ricci 1993; Noy 2004; Podvin 2007. On Roman tourism and pilgrimage in Egypt, see (from the late twentieth century onward) Foertmeyer 1989; Frankfurter 1998a; Swetnam-Burland 2002: 37–49; Klotz 2012: 15–31. On the administration of Roman Egypt: Jördens 2009. On soldiers of Italian birth stationed in Egypt: Alston 1995: 42–43, 66; Fischer-Bovet 2014: 112–113.

(58) See, for example, Germanicus’ sightseeing trip to Egypt (Tac. Ann. 2.59–61).

(59) Moyer 2011; Versluys 2015b: 149. On Egyptian priests’ “stereotype appropriation”: Frankfurter 1998b: 224–237.

(60) Within the vast literature, see Hicks 2010; Hodder 2012; Knappett 2012.

(61) Objects as agents in Classical art history: see, for example, Whitley 2007, 2012; Collins 2008: 95–97. Critique of logocentrism: Squire 2009.

(62) Applications of such approaches to Aegyptiaca: Mol 2013; Bülow Clausen 2015; Versluys 2015b: 166; Barrett, forthcoming (a).

(63) Bachelard 1964: 150, 161; Bailey 2005: 33; Langin-Hooper 2015. See also Stewart (1984: 37–69) for cross-cultural associations between miniatures and concepts of the fantastic, marvelous, and artificial.

(64) Statuette measurements: Di Gioia 2006: 124. The length excludes the figure’s missing snout and tail.

(65) Gibson 2015 (1986): 119–136.

(66) For example, Appadurai 1986; Latour 2005; Knappett 2012: 190–192.

(67) Kopytoff 1986 (quoting p. 66). Archaeological approaches to object biographies: Mills and Walker 2008: 10–16. However, note Smith’s cautions about ontological problems with the anthropomorphizing suggestion that objects have “biographies” (2015: 31).

(68) Applications of this approach to Aegyptiaca: Parker 2003; Swetnam-Burland 2010, 2015; Versluys 2012: 25; 2013a: 433–434; 2015a; 2015b: 158, 166–167; van Aerde 2015: 56–57; van Eck and Versluys, forthcoming. Bommas extends the concept of “cultural biography” to the figure of Isis (2012: 177).

(69) Parker 2003; Swetnam-Burland 2010, 2015: 65–104; Versluys 2015a: 139–146.

(71) Roman appropriations of obelisks: see most recently Parker 2003, 2007; Swetnam-Burland 2010; 2015: 65–104; Davies 2011: 360–367; Leemreize 2014: 76–78; van Aerde 2015: 222–260; Versluys 2015a: 139–146. On obelisks erected in honor of the emperor rather than by the emperor, see Swetnam-Burland 2015: 43.

(72) Swetnam-Burland 2010, 2015: 65–104. Much debate has surrounded almost every aspect of the so-called “Horologium of Augustus”: see, for example, Haselberger 2011, 2014.

(73) Rather than tracking the movements of the sun through the day, Augustus’ solar timepiece may have tracked the length of the sun’s shadow throughout an entire year (Swetnam-Burland 2010: 135, collecting previous bibliography). However, the functioning of the monument has been heavily disputed; see Haselberger 2011, 2014. On the dedication to Sol, see Swetnam-Burland 2010: 146; 2015: 65.

(74) Plin. HN 36.14.64; Tert. De spect. 8; Amm. Marc. 17.4.7.

(75) Egypto-Roman obelisks as adaptation and transformation of Egyptian solar symbolism: Davies 2011: 364–367; van Aerde 2015: 222–260; Versluys 2015a: 141.

(76) Swetnam-Burland 2010, followed cautiously by van Aerde 2015: 237–238, 241.

(78) Swetnam-Burland 2015: 11 (emphasis in original).

(79) On hybridity, hybridization, and the applicability of these concepts to Aegyptiaca, see recently Barrett 2011: 33–34. Most post-1990s archaeological literature on hybridity draws directly or indirectly on Bhabha 1994. For a critique of diffusion-based or acculturation-based paradigms for Romano-Egyptian relations, see Versluys 2012: 28; 2015b, especially 144–146.

(81) Quoting Stockhammer 2013: 16; see also Stockhammer 2012a; 2012b; 2012c; 2013; and compare Thomas 1991. Hodder 2012 employs “entanglement” differently, focusing on human-thing relations. Within the study of Aegyptiaca, Versluys has recently used the term “material entanglement” to describe Roman encounters with Egyptian objects (2015a: 150), and Barrett (forthcoming, [a]) applies Stockhammer’s analytical framework to images of Egyptian landscapes in Roman gardens.

(82) Stockhammer 2012a: 49–51; 2013: 16–17.

(83) Now on the Piazza Navona, Domitian’s obelisk may originally have stood either in the Iseum Campense or in the Templum Gentis Flaviae, although both hypotheses remain tentative; see most recently Bülow Clausen 2015: 145–146. Proposed original sites for Hadrian’s obelisk, now on the Monte Pincio, include various locations at Hadrian’s villa (including the supposed “Antinoeion” complex), in Rome, or even at Antinoopolis in Egypt. See the recent overview of Renberg (2010: 181–191), who argues against the identification of part of Hadrian’s villa as a tomb or shrine to Antinous.

(84) Domitian’s obelisk: Quack 2003: 64; Ciampini 2005; Parker 2007: 212–213; Grenier 2009; Bülow Clausen 2015: 145–153. Hadrian’s obelisk: Derchain 1987; Meyer 1994; Grenier 2008: 1–35. Hadrian and Egypt: Versluys 2012.

(85) Derchain 1987; Grenier 1987: 945 n. 19; Capriotti Vittozzi 2014: 250–251; Bülow Clausen 2015: 146 n. 706. It is unclear whether Egyptian or Roman artisans did the actual carving (Renberg 2010: 190 n. 128).

(86) On Hadrian and Egypt, see Versluys 2012.

(87) Previous calls to situate Aegyptiaca within the larger phenomenon of Roman emulative art: Ridgway 1984: 108 n. 54; Elsner 2006; Swetnam-Burland 2007: 116; Bülow Clausen 2012: 94; Tronchin 2012: 264; Versluys 2010: 17–18; 2013a: 430; 2015b; Davies 2011; Leemreize 2014: 57; van Aerde 2013: 7–8; 2015, especially 19, 52–53.

(88) Roman adaptations and emulations of Greek art: within the vast literature, see most recently Kousser 2008; Marvin 2008; Squire 2012.

(89) I follow Fullerton (2003) in employing the term “retrospective” rather than “archaizing” or “classicizing,” as many Roman works allude to both Archaic and Classical (as well as Hellenistic) styles.

(91) For publications of this garden’s contents, see Maiuri 1927; Barrett, forthcoming (a), forthcoming (b).

(92) On “Nilotic scenes” in Roman art, see Versluys 2002; Barrett, forthcoming (a), forthcoming (b).

(94) On brushwork in Roman “sacral-idyllic” paintings, see Ling 1977: 13–14; Silberberg 1980: 243; L’Enfant 1999: 93–94. The absence of an overtly “pharaonizing” style causes some scholars to classify “Nilotica” separately from other Aegyptiaca: for example, Malaise 2005: 201–204; 2007: 34; Bragantini 2006: 161–165; 2012: 25–30.

(95) For example, Lembke 1994; Petersen 2006: 17–56; Kleibl 2009; selected articles in Bricault and Veymiers 2011; Bülow Clausen 2012; 2015; Swetnam-Burland 2015. Müskens 2014 uses contextual analysis to demonstrate that a group of Aegyptiaca need not necessarily have come from a shrine in the Domus Flavia.

(96) E.g., Arslan 1997; De Caro 2006. Tran Tam Tinh draws on material from households as well as sanctuaries to study Isis worship at Pompeii (1964), but his book has been rightly criticized for taking nearly all Egyptian imagery as evidence for “Isis cult” (Petersen 2006: 42, 246 n. 80). De Vos’ catalog of Egyptianizing wall paintings includes much domestic material but provides little contextual analysis (1980). Versluys’ study of Nilotic scenes similarly includes many images from houses, but his corpus’s empire-wide, nearly millennium-long scope inevitably restricts the opportunities for detailed contextual analysis (2002).

(97) Some initial work in this vein: Swetnam-Burland 2002: 70–76; von Stackelberg 2009: 101–106; Petersen 2012; Mol 2013; 2015; Parslow 2013; Pearson 2015, esp. 60–68; Barrett, forthcoming (a), forthcoming (b). Barrett 2011 analyzes (mostly) domestic Aegyptiaca from Hellenistic Delos, an island with a large Italian presence. John Clarke’s work offers many stimulating contextual interpretations of Egyptian motifs in wall paintings and mosaics, although the primary focus remains on the rooms’ architecture, wall paintings, and mosaics, as opposed to statuary or small finds (e.g., Clarke 1991: 170–207; 2003: 191–195; 2007a: 87–107; 2007b). This emphasis on wall paintings and architecture also characterizes studies of Egyptian motifs in Augustus’ house on the Palatine (e.g., Söldner 1999).

(98) Culler 1988, especially viii-ix; Leja 1993: 11–12; Bal 2002: 133–173, especially 133–138; Platt and Squire 2017 (a).

(99) Lucas 2012: 13.

(102) Schiffer 1972: 161; 1987: 58.

(104) Perry 2005; compare Carey 2002: 56; Fullerton 2003: 111; Tronchin 2012: 270 (preferring decor to decorum). Ancient textual sources: Cic. Att. 2.2, 4.2, 10.5; Fam. 7.23.2; Plin. NH 35.2.7-19; Vitr. 7.4.4–7.5.7.

(105) “Style” in art history: Elsner 2003. More specifically archaeological approaches to the problem of “style”: Dietler and Herbich 1998; Barrett 2009: 223. “Egyptian style” in Roman art: Swetnam-Burland 2015: 53–63. Style and identity in Roman material culture: Versluys 2013a: 432–436.

(107) Hölscher’s system as useful, but overly formulaic: Varner 2006: 280; van Aerde 2015: 46–53; Versluys 2015b: 154. On his linguistic metaphors: van Aerde (2015: 46–53); Elsner’s foreword to the English translation of Hölscher’s book (2004: xxv–xxvii).

(108) Juxtapositions of painted motifs may often have emphasized “formal analogies” rather than “narrative coherence” (Mayer 2012: 298; cf. Hodske 2007: 132, 138; Lorenz 2008: 262).

(109) Cogent critiques of such temptations: Clarke 1991: xxiii, 2007a: 119–120; Bergmann 2002, especially pp. 15–18.

(110) On ducks and lotuses in Nilotic scenes: Versluys 2002: 263–266.

(111) Versluys 2002: 113–114. This room may have been painted later than the peristyle (Archer 1994: 150). On pygmies and Egypt: Meyboom and Versluys 2007; Swetnam-Burland 2015: 161–164; Barrett, forthcoming (a), forthcoming (b).

(112) On this house’s Fourth Style paintings, see Archer 1994; Ehrhardt 2004, esp. 257–266.

(114) On gardens in Roman society, see (inter alia) Grimal 1969; Jashemski 1979, 1993; von Stackelberg 2009.