Demons under the spotlight: New grant to help ancient Egypt study

Swansea University has been awarded a Leverhulme Trust grant worth £158k to fund the ‘Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project: Second Millennium BC’ directed by Dr Kasia Szpakowska from the Department of History and Classics.

The project will explore the world of demons in 2nd millennium BC Ancient Egypt (2000-1000 BC) and one of its aims is to help develop criteria to map or construct an encyclopedia, (or demonology), as no such resource currently exists.

In both the modern and ancient world, hostile demons are blamed for a host of physical and psychological afflictions, while helpful entities are called upon to aid the sufferer. But while much is known about temple religions and gods of Ancient Egypt, the darker side of Egyptian religion remains hidden. Luckily, many spells have survived that mention demons, and many images and objects remain that were used to fight them — these resources are crucial to the project.                                                                                   

Burning cobra demon

One of the distinctive aspects of this project is that its usefulness will not end with 1st millennium BC Egypt. The database, or demonology, will be available for colleagues working on supernatural entities from other times and cultures, and this will allow an understanding of demonic entities through time.

This data pool will also be an enduring resource for the general public to search for information on ancient demons and a web-based innovative visualisation will allow them a glimpse into the, until now, hidden aspect of Ancient Egyptian life.

On a practical level, the objects that are included in the research will be classified allowing the public, and researchers, access to many objects that would have been previously unidentified in collections.

The Leverhulme funded project will last for three years and during that time Dr Szpakowska, and her team, will be working in Swansea, and attending conferences in Egypt and North America.

Attached to the project are two fully-funded Leverhulme Trust PhD studentships and the successful applicants will join the Department of History and Classics from 2013 under the supervision of Dr Szpakowska.

Dr Szpakowska said, “I am absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity to bring the world of demons into the limelight. While gods such as Osiris or Isis are familiar, the darker side of religion and ominous entities such as “Sehaqeq”, “Fiery-Breath”, or “Consumer of Hearts,” have remained in the shadows. New digital technology will allow our team to explore their world and make it accessible. I just hope that the demons don’t mind being brought out of hiding and behave themselves.”

Dr Elaine Canning, research support officer for the Research Institute for Arts and Humanities, said: “Dr Szpakowska is to be congratulated on winning this highly prestigious award which will not only facilitate the development of fascinating insights into the world of ancient Egyptian demonology but will also place Digital Humanities at Swansea on the map.” 

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