Naukratis: Greeks in Egypt

Alexandra Villing, Marianne Bergeron, Giorgos Bourogiannis, Alan Johnston, François Leclère, Aurélia Masson and Ross Thomas

With Daniel von Recklinghausen, Jeffrey Spencer, Valerie Smallwood, Virginia Webb and Susan Woodford

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Supported by

The Leverhulme Trust
  • The Shelby White - Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications
  • Christian Levett and the Mougins Museum of Classical Art
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Scarabs, scaraboids and amulets


Aurélia Masson

Amulets are small-sized objects with magic or prophylactic properties. At Naukratis, they represent a significant group of material with almost 1,400 finds spanning a time range from the Middle Kingdom to the Roman period, with a particular prominence in the 6th-3rd century BC. Scarabs and scaraboids, locally produced in the so-called Scarab Factory, have received much interest in scholarship for they were widely distributed across the Mediterranean and feature a variety of motifs that reflect the cross-cultural dynamics at Naukratis. By contrast, more than 90% of the Egyptian amulets brought back from Naukratis remained unpublished, and many more were left at the site as they were deemed not worthy to be collected.

The present study aims to provide a more complete vision of the extant finds from the early excavations, allowing for a fundamental reassessment of the amuletic corpus from Naukratis and its significance. It starts with a presentation of the Scarab Factory—its products and associated moulds—followed by a discussion of a group of less-known and difficult to interpret scarabs and scaraboids made in stone. It then focusses on the variety of other types of amulets discovered at the site, some of which were probably locally produced and possibly formed another key export from Naukratis. Their subjects tally in general with contemporary amulets found elsewhere in Egypt and the Mediterranean world. Finally, the recontextualisation of amuletic finds from Naukratis reveals how this material was not exclusively aimed at export, but also found a more local and traditional market. Beyond the trade perspective, amulets reflect beliefs and ritual practices by inhabitants and visitors to this international riverine port. Exploring questions of production and distribution as well as consumption of these amulets at Naukratis, this work opens new debates and stresses the need for new typological classifications, as much as for consideration of provenance, significance and use.

Egyptian blue figure of Taweret. Cairo, Egyptian Museum JE33534. Photography © Egyptian Museum, Cairo.