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