Library Dissertation Showcase

Building legitimacy: the sacred topography of Thonis-Heracleion as a study in propagandist topographies in the early Ptolemaic period

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2021

Since its discovery in 1997, Thonis-Heracleion has intrigued and fascinated scholars and the public alike. A real ‘Atlantis’, its sunken nature affords a superb insight into the life of an ancient city. Due, however, to the unrivalled ship ‘graveyard’ discovered therein, much of the scholarship has focused heavily on the nautical history of the city. Therefore, the impact of Thonis’ religious landscape on the legitimacy of the Ptolemies, and how this can be linked to the later success of the subsequent dynasty will be assessed herein. Following the creation of a new central emporium at Alexandria, the topography of Thonis seemingly transitioned to prominently exhibit dynastic religion and as such will be discussed through the lens of divine legitimacy. This will encompass how the links to syncretised dynastic divinities, in both Macedonian and Egyptian contexts, as well as to temporal deities and their links to dynastic succession, can be shown to support the Ptolemaic rule of Egypt. This investment by the early Ptolemies in the religious environment of the Nile Delta could be paramount in their securing of power in a nation which had not seen a continuous dynasty since the incursion of non-indigenous kings in the Late Period. The North-Western Nile Delta holds vast importance in the dynastic religion of Egypt through the compounding myths of Isis, Osiris, and Horus – all of whom are represented in the sacred topography of Thonis – and as such, Thonis affords, perhaps, an unrivalled microcosm of the links between sacred topographies and legitimacy in the Ptolemaic era. Combining this analysis with the potential Greek influence in architectural construction and the dual attribution of many temenoi dedicated to deities vital to both Heracleid and Egyptian succession, positions Thonis as vital to understanding the Ptolemaic fusion of Graeco-Egyptian dynastic religion and its impact on their legacy.

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