Ma’adi and Wadi Digla To Macedonians (Archaeology of Ancient Egypt)

Ma’adi and Wadi Digla

Ma’adi, the type-site for the Lower Egyptian Predynastic culture of the early and mid-fourth millennium BC, lies south of Cairo on the east bank of the Nile (29°58′ N, 31°16′ E). One of the largest excavated settlements in Egypt (40,000m2), the site has yielded a great quantity of finds, thus providing—together with its nearby cemetery and that of the Wadi Digla—a multi-facetted picture of life in that period.

Excavations at Ma’adi and at Wadi Digla were conducted from 1930 to 1953 by Mustafa Amer, Oswald Menghin and Ibrahim Rizkana on behalf of Cairo University. In 1977, an expedition from the University of Rome resumed research in the area of the Ma’adi settlement.

The Predynastic settlement lay on the summit of a ridge north of the mouth of the valley called Wadi Digla. The area has recently been overrun by the modern community of Ma’adi, a southern suburb of Cairo. The Predynastic remains originally spread over a 100m wide strip running some 1.3km from east to west. This extreme scattering of ruins should not be considered as the remains of one large static community; it surely represents the traces of a smaller population with habitation vacillating on the heights of the ridge. Thus, no fixed zones of specific activity (for example, an industrial area or communal storage facilities) could be recognized. The ground was covered with pits and postholes, indicating the one-time existence of simple oval huts constructed of wood and matting. The interpretation of certain rather small, irregular hollows as possible foundation trenches for such dwellings is highly questionable. There was no evidence whatsoever of stone or mud architecture. Many simple hearths were found inside and among the huts; several open-air hearths up to 2m in diameter had been fashioned within horseshoe-shaped configurations of stone. Quite exceptional were four large structures dug into the earth, probably used as housing. The only known parallels to these are the subterranean dwellings of the Chalcolithic Beersheba culture north of the Negev Desert in Palestine.

Analysis of the animal bones from the site has shown that the people of Ma’adi did little hunting and fishing. They raised their meat: cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. From Ma’adi come the earliest known Egyptian examples of the domesticated donkey, an animal valued for its meat as well as for its services as a beast of burden. Cultivation also enriched the diet. Thanks to the annual flooding of the Nile, the land was very productive, fertile enough—judging from the charred plant remains of Ma’adi—to yield cereal grains much heavier than contemporary equivalents from south-eastern Europe.

As in the Predynastic Upper Egyptian Nagada culture, the Ma’adi culture of Lower Egypt buried its dead some distance from the settlements; only stillborns and infants were found buried in pits or vessels within the settlement. The cemetery of Ma’adi, where seventy-six graves were excavated, is some 150m south of the settlement. The cemetery of Wadi Digla, where 471 graves were located, was about 1km farther south on a low spur in the mouth of the wadi. This second necropolis must have belonged to another community which outlived that at Ma’adi. In both cemeteries the dead were generally found buried in simple oval graves, lying in a contracted position with the hands in front of the face. Traces of the matting and cloth used for bedding and shrouds survived.

The orientation of the Ma’adi burials has a chronological significance. In the earlier phase, represented by the Ma’adi necropolis and some of the graves at Wadi Digla, the dead were placed indiscriminately on the right or left side, with only a barely detectable preference for an orientation with the head to the south; graves were found at all angles. In contrast, the later burials at Wadi Digla demonstrate a pronounced conformity; nearly all the dead had been placed on the right side, with the head to the south, facing east. This orientation, predominant as well in the Predynastic cemetery at Heliopolis and the graves at es-Saff, is contrary to that prevailing in burials of the Upper Egyptian Nagada culture, where the dead were placed on the left side with the head to the south, thus facing west, where—according to later pharaonic tradition—the Realm of the Dead was located.

Nearly half the burials at Ma’adi and Wadi Digla had no grave goods. Many burials were accompanied by only one or two utilitarian vessels. The richest grave at Wadi Digla had only eight. pots. No special pottery, painted or imported, was encountered, and very rarely were there any other artifacts in the graves. A few geometric stone palettes for mixing cosmetic pigments, one stone vessel, an ivory comb, a few necklaces of snail shells and a number of flint tools (mostly small insignificant blades) comprise the small finds from Wadi Digla.

Animal bones indicative of meat offerings were rare. Of interest in these cemeteries, however, are the animal burials: one dog burial at Ma’adi and the burials of fourteen quadrupeds (a dog and several lambs or kids, not gazelles, as has been erroneously reported) at Wadi Digla. Each animal lay in a separate grave, some accompanied by a pot.

The finds from Ma’adi and Wadi Digla indicate an origin in the Neolithic cultures of Lower Egypt (Fayum A, Merimde Beni-salame, el-Omari); they are in great contrast to the highly conventionalized Nagada inventories of the contemporary period in Upper Egypt. The pottery, made of Nile clay, tends to be in darker tones. The pots were all shaped by hand, although a finishing process carried out on a revolving base quite often left "wheelmarks" apparent near the rims. At the Ma’adi settlement many large storage vessels, some quite impressive in size, were found sunk into the ground. Exceptional finds include vessels in the shape of birds and model boats.

Some elements of the Predynastic Nagada culture of Upper Egypt are evident in the Ma’adi pottery, such as a few vessels of Blacktopped Red class and the occasional redpainted bowl. Most of these appear to have been locally manufactured imitations of Nagada wares. However, vessels imported from Palestine, characterized by their pale (usually beige) unburnished surfaces, were also plentiful in the settlement. These must originally have contained goods transported to Ma’adi. Palestinian influence on local production is also apparent in loop-handled jars and in bowls decorated with an impressed line just below the rim. The Palestinian prototypes of the latter, as well as the imported vessels themselves, correspond to the end of the Palestinian Chalcolithic period (Beersheba/Ghassul) and the ensuing Early Bronze Age (EB Ia).

Stone vessels are well represented at Ma’adi. Most characteristic are those of black basalt, barrel-shaped with a ring base or a flat bottom and small lug handles below the rim. Also known from early Nagada contexts in Upper Egypt, these stone vessels developed in Lower Egypt from ceramic prototypes; they were undoubtedly the products of local craftsmen. Other products of the regional stone industry include spindle whorls, beads, palettes, a variety of hammers, whetstones and grinding stones. Some of the stone palettes are rather cursorily shaped ones made of local limestone, but there are also elegant rhomboid examples of slate resembling those found in early Nagada culture contexts, possibly imported into Ma’adi. The few maceheads of stone all display the early, conical form; the pear-shaped form, which became popular by the mid-fourth millennium BC, was not found at the site.

The chipped stone tools from Ma’adi and Wadi Digla represent a typical blade industry, in contrast to the core industry of the preceding Neolithic period. There are very few examples of bifacially retouched tools (daggers, "arrowheads"). The blades include end-scrapers, borers, burins and sickles (with various patterns of dorsal and ventral retouch). A few examples of blades typical of the Palestinian Early Bronze Age (Canaanean blades) were found at Ma’adi, as well as hundreds of Palestinian tabular scrapers.

Very significant at Ma’adi is the presence of copper. Three heavy ingots, two adzes and a variety of pins, spatulas and fishhooks, as well as fragments of sheet copper and pieces of wire, were found in the settlement. The adzes in particular are of importance, signifying that an appreciable quantity of copper was already available. Whereas stone adzes were abundant in the Lower Egyptian Neolithic community and in the early Nagada culture of Upper Egypt, not a single one was recovered at Ma’adi or Wadi Digla (nor at any other Predynastic site in Lower Egypt). In this northern region the copper adze, repairable in the forge and recyclable in the crucible, had already replaced its stone counterpart.

Analyses of the copper suggest a Palestinian source, either the mines at Timna or at Fenan in Wadi Arabah. Raw copper may well have been Lower Egypt’s major import, carried across the Sinai peninsula by donkey caravan along with other goods: pigments, resin, bitumen, oil, cedar, flint tools, and vases and spindle whorls of basalt. Some of these goods were transported in ceramic vessels. Site H in Wadi Gaza to the east (within the modern Gaza Strip), where many artifacts of Lower Egyptian origin have been found, may represent a trading post along the route to Palestine.

Ma'adi pottery

1 (Nile clay) jar with ring base

2 jar with rounded base

3-6 more closed jars, with slightly flattened bases 7 later, more flat-bottomed jar

8-11 bowls with round or flattened bases (8 is red-painted)

12 boat-shaped vessel

13 Black-topped class

14-15 imported Palestinian jars

Figure 58 Ma’adi pottery

In conclusion, the Lower Egyptian Predynastic culture represented at Ma’adi and Wadi Digla must have developed locally from the preceding Neolithic phase. It is contemporary with the early and middle Predynastic phases of the Nagada culture in Upper Egypt (Nagada I through lib), as demonstrated by comparable finds in that region. The calibrated radiocarbon dates would indicate a time span from 3,900 to 3,500 BC. There was thriving trade with Palestine, as shown by the various imports mentioned above. Like other known sites of this culture, at the apex of the Delta and farther south (es-Saff, Tura, Giza and Heliopolis), Ma’adi and Wadi Digla were eventually abandoned, which must have occurred as a result of the gradual conquest of Lower Egypt by people from Upper Egypt. Buto and Tell el-Iswid in the Delta, however, were settlements of this Lower Egyptian Predynastic culture which were not deserted but survived into Early Dynastic times, completely absorbing the material culture of Upper Egypt but perhaps still influential in the eventual unification of Egypt into one large territorial state.


Ma’at (m3′t) is the ethical conception of "truth" and the goddess who personifies truth. The goddess Ma’at is, with few exceptions, depicted as a woman wearing a sheath dress with an erect ostrich feather in her hair. The symbolism of the feather is unclear. Ma ‘at as an ethical concept is known from at least the 3rd Dynasty, and the personification of the deity is attested from the middle of the Old Kingdom. Ma’at continues to be a feature of Egyptian religion through the Graeco-Roman period.

Ma’at was the daughter of the sun god Re and the sister of the air god Shu, whose feather emblem she shares. She was associated with other gods, primarily Ptah and Tefnut. She had many affinities with Thoth through the ritual of judgment that they both attended, and through Thoth’s presentation of the eye of Re, which was equated with Ma’at. By the late New Kingdom, Ma’at entered into a syncretistic relationship with her father Re, and parts of Ma’at’s body were equated with his body. Ma’at was referred to as the "food of the gods," because the principles inherent in Ma’at "nourished" them.

Although Ma’at personified one of the most important principles of ancient Egyptian religion, the few temples (Karnak North, Deir el-Medina, Memphis) dedicated to her date only from the New Kingdom onward. There is little information concerning the cult enacted in these temples. However, at least one ruler (Hatshepsut) was crowned at the Ma’at temple at Karnak, and Papyrus BM 10068 (20th Dynasty, in the British Museum) records that tomb robbers were tried there. Both acts are closely associated with the principles inherent in ma ‘at.

Ma ‘at as an ethical concept incorporates a web of interconnected cosmic and social principles which formed the collective conscious of the Egyptians. Diverse features such as truthfulness in business dealings and personal relationships, as well as the state of the universe, including the most basic events such as the rising of the sun, the inundation of the Nile and rebirth after death, were interrelated aspects of ma’at. Since all facets of ma’at were intertwined, to transgress against a social aspect of ma’at risked upsetting the cosmic balance of the world. Thereby, each member of society was individually responsible for the good of the entire cosmic order, for his own actions and behavior affected other aspects of ma ‘at.

Ma ‘at ensured the permanence of art, dress and ritual, for artistic styles and socially acceptable behavior were canonized as aspects of ma’at. As stated in the Maxims of Ptahhotep, dating to the later Old Kingdom, "ma ‘at is great and its appropriateness is lasting; it has not been disturbed since the time of him who made it…. There is punishment for him who passes over its laws." The association of general aspects of culture with ma’at contributed to the creation of a conservative society which viewed social change as a potentially dangerous deviation from ma ‘at. The principles of ma’at also had a moderating effect upon social behavior, which in turn had implications for the apparently placid response to political change: "Do ma ‘at that you may endure upon earth" (from the Middle Kingdom text, the Instruction for King Merikare).

Although each Egyptian bore the responsibility of acting according to the principles of ma ‘at, the ultimate responsibility for maintaining ma ‘at fell to the king, thereby making the head of state the protector of cosmic order. "Do ma ‘at for the king, [for] ma ‘at is what the god loves. Speak ma ‘at to the king, [for] ma ‘at is what the god loves" (from the Instructions for Kagemni, dating to the Old Kingdom). Ma ‘at was associated with the legitimacy of the king, as reflected by epithets as early as Seneferu (4th Dynasty), who adopted the Horus name "possessor of ma’at’ (nb m3′t). One of the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts (Spell 1105) relates: "I have nurtured ma’at…that I might receive the [wrrt] crown." With the exceptions of Seti II, Siptah and Sethnakht, all kings of the Ramesside period (19th-20th Dynasties) incorporated "ma’at"into their titulary.

From the reign of Tuthmose III through the Roman period, the king is shown on temple walls presenting an image of ma’at to a god. This ritual symbolized the king’s commitment to uphold the precepts of ma’at. Secondarily, it served as a symbol of his royal legitimacy, he being the premier protector of order in the kingdom. In its equation of ma ‘at with all other cult offerings, the Berlin Service Book (20th Dynasty) indicates that ma’at was considered to be the supreme offering into which all others were subsumed, just as ma’at was the supreme sense of order into which all aspects of behavior and natural order were incorporated. The king, as the donor of ma ‘at, indicated that he alone could ensure those necessities for the gods. Although there are a few examples of a non-royal person presenting ma’at, features of the iconography or inscriptions differentiate them from royal scenes.

In the Ramesside period, the king was depicted presenting the gods with a rebus of his prenomen which incorporated the hieroglyph for ma ‘at. In this ritual, the king not only dedicated himself to the gods, but, as the corporate personality of Egypt, he also offered the people of his kingdom to the gods as a substitute for the usual food offerings that sustained the deity. This ritual also emphasized the direct association of ma ‘at and the king, as stated by King Horemheb: "Ma ‘at has united herself with him."

From the New Kingdom onward, it was thought that upon death, the soul of the deceased was judged by a tribunal of the gods. The heart of the deceased was placed on a balance scale to be weighed against the figure of the goddess Ma’at or her feather emblem, and the deceased recited the "Negative Confession" ("I have not robbed the poor, I have not cheated in the fields, I have not done crimes against people…" [Book of the Dead, Spell 125]), swearing to have lived in accordance with ma’at. If the confession was accepted and the heart was not heavy with sin, the deceased became "true of voice" (m3′ hrw) and entered an eternity in the afterlife. In the Ramesside period, Ma’at was increasingly associated with mortuary beliefs. She was equated with the personification of the West (Imntt, the necropolis); she was referred to as "Mistress of the West who resides in the Necropolis," and she was credited with the ability to give a good burial.


The Macedonians were originally one of several Greek tribes living on the northern frontier of the Hellenic world. Their most distinguished descendant was Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt in 331 BC. Alexander inherited from his father, Philip II, an efficient centralized kingdom whose expanded territory embraced Paionia and part of Illyria to the north and extended through Thrace to the Black Sea while exercising control over much of the rest of Greece. It was from this background that Ptolemy, son of Lagos, founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty, came to inherit Egypt in 323 BC as one of Alexander’s successors.

The relatively remote geographical situation of the Macedonians contributed to their retention of a social organization different from the rest of the Greeks. Most notable is their monarchic form of government, which survived as a political legacy in the Hellenistic kingdoms. All authority was vested in the king, who was commander-in-chief of military forces, head of religious observances, owner of all resources of the kingdom and issuer of coinage. The king was normally eldest son of the previous king, though custom dictated that final choice rested with the army. He was surrounded by Companions (hetairoi) and Friends (philoi), who were personal retainers loyal to the king and at his command in war and peace. Thus most of the satrapies, including Egypt, that were created out of Alexander’s empire went to one-time Companions. Royal marriages were contracted according to personal and dynastic policies. Polygamy was accepted, but incest involving full siblings, as practiced by certain of the Ptolemies, was not.

 King Herihor offering ma'at to Khonsu

Figure 59 King Herihor offering ma’at to Khonsu

Physically, Macedonia consisted of a great fertile plain opening onto the Thermaic Gulf to the east and ringed by rugged mountains to the west. Timber and minerals were the two chief exports and the substantial basis for Macedonia’s wealth. Archaeological excavations are beginning to reveal cities, cemeteries and sanctuaries throughout the land. Most important are Aegae (modern Vergina) lying in the foothills of the Pierian mountains, the old capital and traditional burial spot of kings; Pella, then situated near the head of the Thermaic Gulf, the new capital since about 400 BC or so, home of Philip and Alexander and administrative center of their kingdom; and Dion, the great sanctuary sacred to Zeus and the Muses. The Macedonian court had from at least the later fifth century BC promoted cultural activities, attracting artists, writers and thinkers from afar. The refined milieu of scholarly and artistic productivity which later flourished under Ptolemaic patronage in Alexandria surely owes much to the Macedonian heritage of the founding dynasty. Unfortunately, the paucity of Alexandrian physical remains prohibits substantive demonstration of direct artistic linkage in any significant way.

The common folk of Macedonia considered themselves descended from Makedon, according to Hesiod the son of Zeus, while the royal house (the Argead dynasty) traced its ancestry to Temenos, a king of Argos, and through him back to Herakles, also son of Zeus. Religion focused on the orthodox Olympian gods with special emphasis accorded the mystic religions of Dionysos and Orpheus so popular in the north. Noteworthy is the fact that the oracle of Amen-Zeus at Aphytis in the Chalcidice was consulted by the Macedonians long before Alexander’s fateful visit to the related shrine at Siwa. It is likely that the variant forms of traditional worship practiced by Alexander’s army on the eastern campaign may have influenced religious rituals subsequently adopted by the new Hellenistic kingdoms. The precise origin of the so-called Hellenistic ruler cult, known in Egypt and elsewhere in the Successor kingdoms, is controversial. The tradition which has Alexander playing a role in development of ruler-worship is uncertain, however much he may personally have wished to be the object of worship. In any case, no such cult ever evolved in Macedonia itself. What seems clear is that in Egypt the Hellenistic dynastic cult began with the establishment of a cult of Alexander by the first Ptolemy. Assimilation of the living ruler to that cult began with his son, the second Ptolemy.

In the historical record the Macedonians first entered Egypt in the course of the eastern campaigns of Alexander the Great. In 331 BC Alexander arrived in Egypt, where he visited Memphis, founded the city of Alexandria in the Nile Delta and consulted the oracle of Amea at Siwa in the Libyan desert, which apparently confirmed his divine parentage. After Alexander’s sudden death at age 33 in Babylon in 323 BC, his body was craftily claimed by Ptolemy, spirited away and ultimately buried in Alexandria. This event was the initial point of contention in a long history of hostility between the Ptolemies of Egypt and their counterparts in Macedonia, who desired and expected interment of their king at Aegae.

In the struggle for domination following Alexander’s death virtually all the contestants (the Successors or diadochs) were Macedonian generals. Out of a thoroughly chaotic situation which initially saw Alexander’s vast empire divided into numerous satrapies or provinces, three great kingdoms led by Macedonians emerged over the next decades:

Macedonia itself, Egypt, and the Seleucid kingdom based in Syria. Of these, Egypt was first the satrapy and subsequently the kingdom of Alexander’s trusted Companion and general Ptolemy, also known as an important eyewitness chronicler of Alexander’s expedition whose writing was used extensively by the Roman author Arrian in his history of Alexander. Ptolemy (as Ptolemy I Soter) and his descendants controlled Egypt and various outside territories throughout the Hellenistic period until 30 BC, when Cleopatra VII was defeated by the Romans. The Seleucid kingdom, originally a satrapy of Babylonia, grew under the Macedonian general Seleucus (later Seleucus I Nicator) to include most of Asia. Seleucus and his descendants, however, ruled over an unwieldy territory which was quickly reduced by the growth of splinter kingdoms such as that of the Attalids at Pergamon. Macedonia itself was slower to coalesce. Alexander’s homeland suffered decades of unrest, caused in no small part by rivalry over issues of regency and legitimate succession in the Argead dynasty. A measure of stability was reached only during the reign of Antigonos Gonatas beginning in 276 BC. The Antigonid dynasty then ruled northern Greece with Thrace and varying parts of southern Greece for the next century down to the Roman defeat of Macedonia at Pydna in 168 BC.

A fundamental problem in the empire left by Alexander was its artificiality; Macedonia, Egypt and the marginally conquered expanses of Asia formed at best a theoretical coalition held together by sheer force of personality. The almost immediate revolt of the Greek cities in the so-called Lamian War of 323 BC, though successfully quashed by the Macedonians, was a foretaste of things to come. The fluctuating balance of power among the Hellenistic kingdoms, not fully understood in detail, is indicative of a volatile situation and symptomatic of the fractious relations among the personally ambitious successors. The last two decades of the fourth century BC saw the Successor Antigonos Monophthalmos (grandfather of Antigonos Gonatas), initially satrap in western Anatolia, attempting to reunite Alexander’s empire under his leadership. Opposition to his aims led to repeated conflicts with "separatist" forces led by other Successors: Cassander in Macedonia, Ptolemy in Egypt and Lysimachus in Thrace. Cyprus, for instance, was one area of conflict which saw Ptolemaic domination successfully challenged in battle by Macedonian forces in 306 BC. After only a decade of Macedonian control, however, Cyprus fell once again to the Ptolemies, who ruled it until Roman times. Meanwhile, in Macedonia, Cassander sought to strengthen his own position by eliminating legitimate blood succession. He thus engineered the murders of Alexander’s remaining family members: his mentally unstable half-brother Philip III Arrhidaeus (317 BC), his mother Olympias (316 BC) and his underaged posthumous son Alexander IV (310 BC?). Ultimately, hopes of Antigonos’s grand scheme were dashed with his defeat and death at the battle of Ipsus (301 BC), waged against the combined forces of Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Seleucus. The next two chaotic and poorly understood decades saw rival power plays within Macedonia by numerous individuals including Demetrius Poliorcetes (son of Antigonos Monophthalmos), Pyrrhus of Epirus, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Ptolemy Ceraunus. The latter, son of Ptolemy I and Eurydice, and thus a full Macedonian of the second Egyptian generation, was disinherited and exiled from Egypt but ruled over Macedonia from 281 to 280 BC. Marriage to his half-sister Arsinoe (married previously to Lysimachus and subsequently to her full brother Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt) was intended to expand and help consolidate a brief rule which ended with his death in the Gaulish invasion of Macedonia. The subsequent defeat of the Gauls at Lysimacheia in 277 BC by Antigonos Gonatas ushered in the relative stablilty of the Antigonid dynasty.

In the Hellenistic period there developed a measure of cultural uniformity or koine which tended to blur the lines of certain ethnic and regional characteristics. Mercenaries, merchants and itinerant craftsmen were among those who spread both customs and artifacts over widely disparate areas. Thus, for instance, we see the widespread adoption of the Egyptian gods throughout much of the ancient world. Macedonia itself had major sanctuaries of Serapis at Thessalonica, and Isis and Osiris at Dion, while at Amphipolis there is a remarkable dedication by a private citizen to the gods Serapis, Isis and King Philip V. Historical considerations of Egypto-Macedonian relations, however, make it unlikely that direct Ptolemaic influence lies behind this phenomenon. Rather, like the occasional Egyptian trinket found in Macedonia, it can be attributed to the general receptivity of the age.

The Macedonian background of the Ptolemaic dynasty lived on and was actively promoted by the Ptolemies themselves. They not only founded their dynastic cult on Alexander the Great, but also established from early times a fictitious kinship between the Ptolemies and the Argead dynasty. In a further twist on this bit of propaganda, mythology was rearranged (in a tradition recorded by Diodorus Siculus) so that Makedon, eponymous founder of the Macedonian people, appeared as son of Egyptian Osiris rather than of Greek Zeus.

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