Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Billed as "more reliable than Herodotus and more upbeat than the Book of the Dead," Ancient Egypt on 5 Deben a Day is written as a tongue-in-cheek travel guide from 1250 B.C., when Egypt was at its pinnacle during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II. This format and the author's wry sense of humor create an entertaining introduction to the land of the Nile.

The book begins, as most travel guides do, with information to orient tourists. "Money Matters" details the Egyptian exchange system (one deben is the value of a sack of wheat, four to five deben a tunic, and 50 a cow). "Getting There" gives the lowdown on land routes to Egypt through Palestine, or sailing there via Phoenicia. Of course, there is advice on cultural niceties (don't laugh at the animal-headed gods). Scattered throughout are boxes with brief notes about historical figures, customs, and beliefs, and even an ancient Egyptian cure for baldness!

At the end, true to guidebook format, there are suggestions for souvenirs such as linen, papyrus, and amulets. Monkeys? "Forget about them. They make good souvenirs only for your enemies." There's also a list of useful phrases for the traveler:

My donkey is ill.
Mer pay-ee aa.

Does this ship go to Memphis?
In pay menesh nay er Men-nefer?

Truthfully, mummies frighten me.
Too-ee senedj-kooee er-hat sahoo em-maat.

Author Donald Ryan, a well-known Egyptologist at Pacific Lutheran University, has done a great job with Ancient Egypt on 5 Deben a Day (Thames & Hudson, $18.95). It's a good overview of the land of the Nile. Other books in this same series include Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day and Shakespeare's London on 5 Groats a Day.