Caitlín Barrett

Associate Scholar

20102011 Forum on Virtuality

Caitlín Barrett

SAS Postdoctoral Fellow
Classical Studies

The Festival of the Nile Inundation in the Greco-Roman World: A Study in Cultural Hybridity and Popular Theology

My research investigates the theology of the Egyptian Inundation in the Greco-Roman world, drawing on a contextual and iconographic analysis of so-called “Nilotic scenes”: mosaics and wall paintings, common throughout the Mediterranean in the later Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire, depicting the Nile in flood. Because the protagonists of these scenes frequently engage in unusual behavior, such as battling with river animals or engaging in sexual activity, many scholars see these scenes as presenting a comical, derogatory view of Egypt and Egyptians. However, iconographic parallels in Egyptian religious art and texts suggest that these images actually reflect a fair amount of knowledge of the Egyptian theology of the Inundation – a hypothesis also supported by the archaeological contexts of certain Nilotic scenes. A new study of paintings and mosaics from late Hellenistic and early Imperial Campania suggests that many of these Roman scenes reveal a serious engagement with Egyptian ideas.