Strangers in a Strange Land...

 

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Strangers in a Strange Land: Graeco-Roman Tourists in Ancient Egypt

An Introduction:

Tourism is a major industry and foreign income source for the Arab Republic of Egypt, the modern country of Egypt. Of the millions of tourists who visit Egypt each year to marvel at its ancient wonders, few perhaps realise that they travel tourist paths which are already some 2,400 years old. The ancient Greeks and Romans visited Egypt for the same reasons as modern tourists: to gaze in awe at its monuments (which to them were already ancient!); and to marvel at the strangeness of an alien culture, religion, geography and climate.

As early as the 26th Dynasty (c.672-525 BC) Greek mercenary soldiers were employed by the Pharaohs. Tales of the strange land in which they found themselves prompted a certain Greek man from Halicarnassus named Herodotus, the 'Father of History' (though sometimes called the 'Father of Lies'!), to tour Egypt in c.454 BC. He devoted an entire book of his Histories (the first history book) to recording his travels there, promising his readers that:

About Egypt I shall have a great deal to relate because of the number of remarkable things which the country contains, and because of the fact that more monuments which beggar description are to be found there than anywhere else in the world. Not only is the Egyptian climate peculiar to that country, and the Nile different in its behaviour from other rivers elsewhere, but the Egyptians themselves in their manner and customs seem to have reversed the ordinary practices of mankind.

His tales of wondrous flying reptiles, the Phoenix bird, huge pyramids (and how they were constructed), the source of the Nile and the many strange customs he witnessed excited his readers and prompted them to follow in his wake on tours of the 'Two Lands' of Egypt.

In 332 BC the armies of Alexander the Great swept the known world, establishing Macedonian-Greek rule in Egypt which was to last until the death of Cleopatra (VII) and the absorption of the country into the Roman Empire by Augustus in 30 BC. Having buried Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius, the Emperor Augustus did a little sight-seeing himself. When asked if he wished to visit the Apis Bull of Memphis (the incarnation of the great god Amon-Ra) he replied that he 'was accustomed to worship gods, not cattle'! The emperor passed an edict preventing any person of senatorial rank entering Egypt without his permission. Nevertheless tens of thousands of every-day Romans and Greeks (and high dignitaries too) flocked to Egypt as tourists. Many left graffiti recording their presence, scribbled even within the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings. A major ancient tourist drawcard was the so-called 'Colossi of Memnon' on the plain just before the Valley, one of which 'sang' each morning to the great pleasure of emperors and casual visitors alike.

'Strangers in a Strange Land' will take you on a tour of ancient Egypt through the eyes of its ancient tourists. Egypt's civilization was already some 2,000 years old when the Greeks and Romans first began to plan their itineraries, contact their travel agents and pack their bags. Join them on their 'trip of a lifetime' into a world of ancient wonder and mystery.

Timeline of Events Discussed

 

Feedback from a Corporate Client:

"Thank you very much for your interesting, entertaining and informative presentation ... we particularly appreciated your humour and passion for the subject!" (Australian Institute of Company Directors)