The Mummy Portrait of Sarapon from Fayum

Madeline Beck

Abstract


Surviving images of everyday people from antiquity have always fascinated art historians. Especially treasured is an array of painted Roman mummy portraits excavated by Flinders Petrie in Fayum, Egypt. The site is one of the richest sources of ancient portraiture and contained painted panels dating from about the late 1st century BCE onwards. Besides contributing rare information about ancient painting techniques, Roman mummy portraits from Egypt also visually document a historical moment of ethnic hybridization and cultural interaction. This paper explores the context of a young man named Sarapon’s mummy portrait (ca. 2nd century CE) currently housed in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Besides the cataloging done by the Michael C. Carlos Museum, there is almost no information published about Sarapon or his portrait. Though there is no way of ascertaining the intimate details of Sarapon’s life, the iconography in his portrait asks answerable questions about his age, social class, and ethnicity. Using historical research and comparisons with other mummy portraits, this paper aims to contribute a preliminary identity to the captivating face of the young Sarapon. Sarapon most likely belonged to an upper-middle class family and his age is more likely placed into the category of a child than a man. Also, the growth of intercultural relations at this time and place in history suggests that Sarapon belonged to a complex and multivalent society of Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. This research uses these characteristics to grant Sarapon some dignity and remembrance after having most of his personal history lost. Analyzing Sarapon’s portrait, his name, and his existence also works to study the scope of cultural interaction and hybridization in the ancient Roman Empire.


Keywords


Mummy; Mummy Portrait; Ancient Portraiture; Fayum; Sarapon; Egyptology; Ptolemaic; Roman Empire; Funerary Ritual

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