The Permanent Exhibition of Egyptian Antiquities
The ancient Egyptian civilization is the only other great Mediterranean civilization, besides the Greek, to be represented in the National Archaeological Museum since 1890.
The new display comprises objects of the previous exhibition (1994-2002) and a large number of new artefacts, shown here for the first time. The exhibits (statues, figurines, stelae, sarcophagi, mummy cases, animal mummies, vases, funerary caskets, Fayum portraits, jewellery, etc) cover all aspects of Egyptian civilization.
The purpose of the new display is to acquaint the visitor with daily life in ancient Egypt. The exhibits are arranged on the basis of their function with funerary practices and ancient Egyptian religion having a special place. The close relationship between the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations is also highlighted.
The display is arranged chronologically with each chronological component divided into thematic units (authority, worship and rituals, funerary customs and beliefs, daily life, magic, etc). Diachronic thematic units include music, scarabs, script, and Egyptian deities.
The first room covers the history of Egyptian civilization from the Predynastic period (c. 5400 BC), represented here by the Naqada culture (c. 4000 BC), to the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC). This room introduces the visitor to the world of Egypt through the main aspects of daily life, namely worship, magic, art, religion, and funerary customs.
The second room covers the history of Egyptian civilization from the Third Intermediate period (1070 BC) until the Roman era (30 BC – AD 395). During this important interval, the Egyptian repertoire was enriched through contact with Greece. Here, the visitor can admire sarcophagi and funerary objects that are unique in Egyptian art, learn about the numerous gods of ancient Egypt, and recognize the close relationship between the Egyptian and Greek civilizations in Egyptian artefacts influenced by Greek art.
Egyptian civilization is particularly popular among modern Greeks. The National Archaeological Museum’s display is the only permanent display of Egyptian art in Greece and a pan-Hellenic educational centre for ancient Egypt. The mysteries of Egyptian civilization are explained through the informative materials on the ancient Egyptians’ beliefs and the manufacture and use of their artefacts that accompany the exhibits.
The history of the collection of Egyptian antiquities of the National Archaeological Museum
A small core of Egyptian antiquities was formed during the first years of the newly founded Greek state, when Greek dilettanti donated Egyptian artefacts to Athens University (1837-1868). These objects were subsequently handed over to the Archaeological Society and deposited in the National Archaeological Museum in 1894.
The first large collection of Egyptian antiquities to be donated to the National Archaeological Museum came from Ioannis Dimitriou, a Greek expatriate from Lemnos. A merchant and entrepreneur, Dimitriou settled early in Alexandria, Egypt. He owned large tracts of land in the central and eastern Nile Delta and was involved primarily in cultivating and processing cotton. Dimitrious acquired his collection of Egyptian antiquities and coins gradually as his business grew. His acquaintance with Gaston Maspero, the great man of Egyptian archaeology, was decisive in his effort to form his personal collection. Before it was donated to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the collection was kept in Dimitriou’s mansion at Ramlio, Alexandria, and was displayed in state-of-the-art cases, which demonstrate the collector’s care and love for antiquities.
A second large donation by Alexandros Rostovitch in 1904 complemented Dimitriou’s. An entrepreneur, Rostovitch spent most of his life in Cairo and Alexandria. Among other business ventures, he founded a steamer company that provided tourist services on the Nile and contributed to the nascent and developing Egyptian tourist industry. His personal collection of antiquities was acquired during his constant travels to all of Egypt’s cities and to distant Sudan. The strength of Rostovitch’s collection lies in the high quality of its artefacts, a result of his connections with Egyptologists – connoisseurs of the quality and value of such artefacts.
The collections of Ioannis Dimitriou of Alexandria and Alexandros Rostovitch of Cairo cover all periods of ancient Egyptian art and represent well ancient Egyptian civilization. The rarity of some of the artefacts suggests that both donors belonged to the elite of Egyptian collectors.