(B2-12) The Semantics of Change: Self-Affirmation, Propaganda, and Magic in the Visual Language of Egypt in the Early First Millennium B.C.

The interrelations of religion and politics become manifest in a particularly complex manner in the visual and textual media of ancient Egypt. On the one hand, all kinds of action, political activities included, were mythologically explained and depicted as occurrences of the realm of the gods. On the other hand, religious concept patterns were used to implement political decisions and administrative changes. The convergence of religious practice and political action can be observed in a particularly vivid manner in the creation and manipulation of temple decorations in Thebes during the 21st to 26th dynasties (c. 1070-525 B.C.).

At the end of the New Empire, during the reign of Ramesses XI, the High Priest of Amun at Karnak, Herihor, proclaimed himself king and demonstrated this step in a novel visual and textual presentation. This occurrence would in fact not repeat itself in this way. However, it proves that installing members of the (Lower Egyptian) royal family in the highest priestly office of Upper Egypt was aimed at safeguarding the political domain through religious office. This practice was continued by subsequent dynasties, too, until the kings of the 25th dynasty – the foreign rulers hailing from Nubia –, in addition to the priestly office just mentioned, also upgraded other religious offices in the Thebaid. In this way, manned by family members, these then served to secure the power base. It is just these foreign rulers who also revived the cult of the old god of the realm, Amun.

In the Thebaid, large-scale restorations of temples and special extensions were completed that suggest a zenith of particular cultic practices in honour of this god, at the same time presenting the new political actors in cultic contexts. After the expulsion of the foreign rulers, the kings of the 26th dynasty had the names of the preceding kings removed in order to inhibit their remembrance – at the same time damaging religious buildings in doing so. It is interesting to note that only the kings’ names were destroyed and not those of the family members holding religious offices so that a separation of politics and religion is rather palpable here. The reaction of the kings of the 26th dynasty is to be included in the project as well, not only as an outlook, but also as a specific element of the negotiation of the boundary between religion and politics. Another element will be the depiction of how the Nubians communicated to their native country their political and religious commitment. This communication, in turn, was carried out by means of architectural, visual and textual media.

The Project is part of interconnecting platforms F Transcultural Entanglements und G Religion, Politics, and Gender Relations and coordinated project group Figurations of the religious and the political.