BMCR 2000.08.18

Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt

, Who's Who in Ancient Egypt. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. lix, 257. $29.99.

Michael Rice has compiled a handy guide and sourcebook with over thousand entries about the people of ancient Egypt from c. 3100 BC until about 200 AD. This book is mainly directed at the general reader who intends to visit Egypt or major museums with Egyptian collections, but it can also be quite useful to ancient historians and classicists who hardly touch on Egypt. The aim of R. is “to identify the most celebrated of the sons and daughters of Egypt, whose attainments forged its unique civilisation. But it also seeks to record the names of less august figures, whose lives may throw a modest but particularly focused shaft of light to show what it may have been like to live in Egypt at the height of its power and prosperity, or in one of its not infrequent periods of hardship and disorder” (p. vii). So, unlike previous publications and reference books, which mainly have focussed on the kings and queens of Egypt,1 R. provides a much broader focus here by including numerous entries about individuals (by name and in alphabetical order) from the following social categories: kings, queens, princes and princesses, viziers and great officers of state (viceroys, chancellors, chamberlains, royal heralds), high priests, nomarchs and governors, nobles and courtiers, officials, scribes, poets, writers, philosophers, scientists, priests and temple officials, royal officials and servants, warriors (army officers, soldiers, military scribes, naval officers, charioteers), medical practitioners, architects (builders, overseers of public works, engineers), astronomers, musicians and singers, painters and draughtsmen, sculptors, craftsmen and tradesmen, festival organizers, police and security personnel, criminals and a small group of unclassified persons. It may be added here that this book also lists foreign rulers and other individuals who had some important influence or connection with Egypt and who either just traveled there (like Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus) or even never went there (like the Hittite kings Muwatallis and Hattusil III [?] and Sennacherib of Assyria).

The lexicographical part of the book is preceded by five introductory chapters. The first “Encountering the Ancient Egyptians” gives a general outlook of the history of Egypt from its origins till the Roman conquest. “The Egyptian Kingship” explains the development and role of the king. R. correctly avoids reference to any king as Pharaoh throughout his book and briefly explains its anachronistic use prior to the New Kingdom (p. 230). The third chapter “The Gods of Egypt” summarizes some elementary aspects of ancient Egyptian religion before listing several divinities (including some rather obscure or less well known gods such as Andjeti, Anhur (= Onuris), Ash, Meshkent and Shesemuw). This is followed by a chronology of the dynasties of Egypt and a first listing of the rulers under their respective epochs. The first kings included in this dictionary are from the predynastic Naqada III period (3300-3150) — the last ruler is the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138). The hierarchy, bureaucracy and social structures are explained in “Rank, title and Office in Ancient Egypt”. Two maps of Egypt and Nubia precede the actual core of the book.

Each biography begins with the subject’s name (sometimes with an alternative name in parenthesis), social status, dynasty, era (like Middle Kingdom), and approximate time (R. has rendered the names of non-Egyptian subjects — “other than those who were recognised kings” (p. ix) in square brackets. The method is a little irritating since it has not been done consistantly. This becomes apparent with entries of Greek individuals who were not born in Egypt and yet are not bracketed). Nearly all entries in Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt are accompanied by bibliographical references to easy accessible translations of Egyptian sources and relevant secondary studies — both mostly in English (or in a few instances in French and German). In some cases where museums’ objects (statues or inscriptions) bear on the subject, an abbreviated reference to the museum (with catalogue-number) is given at the end of the bibliographical listing.

The choice among so many names in a work of such small volume is understandably selective, and the individual entries thus often comprise only the most essential information. R. is to be applauded for this. As stated above one of his primary merits lies in the fact that he covers a substantial number of non-royal people and thus gives a much broader glimpse into the life of the ancient Egyptians. Many of these are known through information largely derived from their tombs and statues.

R. (who is not an Egyptologist but has written on Egypt before) is aware of the problems of making a selection for a book like this and therefore asks for some suggestions that may be added in a future edition. As it is impossible to comment on all the entries of this book I will have to limit myself to some items that came to my attention.

R. mentions the kings Unas (5th Dynasty), Teti and Pepi II (both 6th Dynasty) in connection with the famous Pyramid Texts. A bibliographical entry to Faulkner’s recently re-printed translation would be useful to the general reader.2

In regard of the princess Neferuptah (12th dynasty, c. 1855-1808 BC) it should be noted that her burial is considered to be the only pyramid burial that has been found untouched, even though its content was damaged by groundwater. The publication of the excavation is still available and it might be helpful to add a reference to it here.3

At least three indigenous kings are known to have established themselves in Upper Egypt in opposition to the Ptolemies. Only the first, Horwennefer (Greek: Haronophris), who started his reign in 205/4 BC, is included here. Perhaps his successor, Ankhwennefer (Greek: Chaonnophris; 199/198-186) should be mentioned briefly.4 The last ethnic rebel-king on record is known as Harsiese about 132 BC.5

I have some difficulties with the entries relating to the dynasty of the Ptolemies and suggest some changes. It is doubtful if the practice of marrying the sister goes back to Ptolemy I. The evidence seems to point to Ptolemy II introducing this practice.6 The entry on Ptolemy III Euergetes is far too short in relation to his historical importance. It should be made clear that his campaign in the East resulted in the biggest expansion of the Ptolemaic Kingdom — if not the biggest expansion of “Egypt” as such. Perhaps the notorious minister of Ptolemy IV, Sosibios, should have been given an entry or at last be mentioned in regard of his vital influence. Ptolemy V was not married to the daughter of Antiochos IV (this error is repeated in the entry to Ptolemy VI), but of Antiochos III Megas. Her name, Cleopatra I, should be mentioned, if not given its own entry, since she acted not only as a regent for her infant son, but also as queen on her own. It should be added that her brother Antiochos IV was also the uncle of Ptolemy VI and VIII and Cleopatra II. The exact role of Antiochos IV while he was in Egypt is still obscure since Porphyrius writes that he was crowned in the “Egyptian manner”,7 and thus deserves his own entry. The article on Ptolemy VI is a little too superficial when it comes to ramifications. There is no indication here that Cleopatra I died in 176 and that the three siblings formed a joint reign in 170 BC that was to last with some interruptions until 163 BC. Ptolemy VI was not reinstated by Antiochos IV and then subsequently ruled with his brother. The historical facts, especially of this period, are complex, but three or four lines more may have removed several mistakes here. Also the Roman consular C. Popilius Laenas, who in 168 BC forced Antiochos to leave Egypt, should be given his own entry. His bold intercession was the first Roman intervention in Egyptian territory.

Cleopatra II (who shared the throne or ruled by herself from 176 BC to about 116 BC) is mentioned only indirectly. Her daughter by her brother Ptolemy VI, Cleopatra III (141/140-101 BC) is referred to only in the entries about her sons Ptolemy IX (here with by name) and Ptolemy X. These women had a significant impact on the history of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and also contributed to its decline and thus should be given more emphasis.

The controversy surrounding the name and identity of Ptolemy VII and the title Neos Philopator is not reflected in his entry. This title actually belongs to the son of the 8th Ptolemy who is named in the sources as “Memphites” and who was apparently murdered in Cyprus by his father.8 The article on Ptolemy VIII lacks some necessary precision and detail. It should be added that this king experienced great support from the native Egyptian population and hostility from the Greeks at the same time. He also wrote memoirs, of which a few fragments are extant.9 In the entry to Ptolemy X it should specified that this king murdered his mother Cleopatra III in 101.

I would also like to point out two minor errors: the navigator Eudoxus was not in the service of Ptolemy III Euergetes but of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and his successor Ptolemy IX. The poet Tryphiodorus (or Triphiodorus) did not live in the 26th Dynasty, Late Period, sixth century, but in the 3-4th century AD.

Who’s Who in Ancient Egypt concludes with a very helpful glossary, a list of abbreviation, a select bibliography, and three appendices (1. the grouping of entries by occupations; 2. the subjects in chronological context; 3. the distribution of material relating to entries in leading museum collections). My suggestions above should by no means minimize R.’s contribution. He provides enjoyable reading and interesting and reliable information in compact form.


1. P.A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs. London (Thames) 1994; Th. Schneider, Lexikon der Pharaonen, Zurich (Artemis) 1994, second edition Munich 1996.

2. R.O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford (OUP) 1969, 1998.

3. N. Farag/Z. Iskander, The Discovery of Neferwptah. Cairo (General Organisation for Government Printing Offfices) 1971.

4. For the dates cf. F. Hoffmann, Ägypten. Kultur und Lebenswelt in griechisch-römischer Zeit. Eine Darstellung nach den demotischen Quellen. Studienbücher Geschichte und Kultur der Alten Welt. Berlin (Akademie Verlag) 2000, 87 sq.

5. L. Koenen, Ein einheimischer Gegenkönig in Ägypten (132/1). CdE 34 (1959) 103-119.

6. R. A. Hazzard, Imagination of a Monarchy: Studies in Ptolemaic Propaganda, Toronto-Buffalo-London (University of Toronto Press) 2000, 81-100, esp. 85-90.

7. Porph. = Jacoby, FGrH 260 F 49a-b; cf. G. Hoelbl, Geschichte des Ptolemaëerreiches. Darmstadt (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft) 1994, 133. Hoelbl’s important study will be published in English very soon.

8. Here the two studies by M. Chauveau, Un été 145, BIFAO 90, 135-168; ibid., Un été 145 (Postscriptum), BIFAO 91, 129-134, may be added to the bibliography.

9. Jacoby, FGrH 234 F 1-11.