Visiting Assistant Professor Spotlight: Emily Cole


As a social historian of Ptolemaic and Roman period Egypt, I focus on the intersection of different cultures. Throughout the first millennium BCE, a succession of foreign rulers invaded and governed Egypt, beginning with the Assyrians, then the Persians, the Ptolemies, and finally the Romans. In my research, I ask how native Egyptians negotiated and defended their position within these new political frameworks and with this increased foreign presence.

While at ISAW as a Visiting Assistant Professor, I engage with these issues through two projects. The first examines how language was displayed in post-Pharaonic Egypt. At this time, a number of languages were being spoken and written, among them several phases of Egyptian, Greek dialects, and Aramaic. Under the Greek administration, the Egyptian language, which had been in existence for millennia, became much more important as a symbol of cultural affiliation in the face of increased Hellenization. Bilingual and trilingual documents that used both the older version of Egyptian, known as Middle Egyptian and written in Hieroglyphs, and later Egyptian, known as Demotic, began to appear in greater numbers. The most famous examples of such documents are the Ptolemaic Trilingual Decrees, of which the Rosetta Stone is an example. I am using these and other multilingual inscriptions from the period in order to study how individuals presented their cultural ties through displayed text.

As well as my personal research, I am co-directing an excavation in the Fayum region of Egypt with my colleague, Bethany Simpson. The Qarah el-Hamra Fayum Project began work on the village site in 2016. This settlement, dated to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, was likely founded as part of the expansion of agricultural activity in the Fayum under the early Ptolemaic kings. Initial excavation consisted in confirming the results of a magnetometry survey conducted in 2004 by targeting areas with clearly delineated structures. We have three goals for our forthcoming season: first, we are establishing a chronology of foundation, habitation, and abandonment for the site; second, we are investigating agricultural and husbandry practices in the area; and third, we will use those data to tie the site into a larger network of settlements throughout the Fayum region. With the area threatened by both expanding agricultural activity and looting, we are eager to return to the field this summer.

Panorama of the site of Qarah el-Hamra. Pottery and other ancient artifacts cover the site, which is about two hectares.

Read more about Emily Cole's work on her bio page here.