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When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great



When Alexander the Great seized Egypt on his mission to conquer the Persian Empire in 332 B.C., he was one in a long line of Greeks who were dazzled by Egypt and its ancient culture. The legendary Greek historian Herodotus had remarked in the fifth century B.C., “this country has more marvels and monuments that defy description than any other,” and indeed those “marvels and monuments” had been drawing Greeks to Egypt for centuries—as tourists, traders, diplomats, and soldiers. Despite this cultural contact, the art and architecture of the Egyptian kingdom had retained its distinct style, uninfluenced by its frequent visitors. In fact, Egypt’s unique art forms had persisted for more than 3,000 years!

When Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s generals, came to rule Egypt, he found it wise to adapt to the older culture. He installed himself as “pharaoh,” built a new capital at Alexandria, and united the two major gods of each nation to form a new universal deity, Zeus Amon. The era of Ptolemy’s dynasty is known as the Ptolemaic Period, acknowledging the 300-year Greek rule that began with Alexander the Great and ended with the suicide of Queen Cleopatra in 30 B.C. It was an age of profound curiosity and rich experimentation, as the Greeks, and later the Romans, met an established culture far older than their own and exchanged artistic, social, and religious ideas with the ancient civilization.

This exhibition explores this confluence of cultures through over 75 artworks. Gilded mummy masks, luxury glass, magical amulets, and portraits in stone and precious metals, demonstrate the integration of foreign styles while also paying tribute to the enduring legacy of ancient Egypt’s distinctive visual culture.


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