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Abstract: Towards an archaeology of borderland communities in Hellenistic Upper Egypt

The archaeology of ancient borderlands has in the past been a study of the dynamics of communities which exist at the perceived edges of cultural and/or political entities—for example the limes of the Roman provinces, the borders of ancient city-states, or the edges of the ‘Hellenized’ world. This model depends upon a conflation of territorial and cultural identity as either relatively homogenized or as deeply centralized and therefore shaped by a fundamental core-periphery tension wherein core values and ideals are played out in diluted form, but carry similar meanings. In recent decades, however, scholars working at the margins of ancient (and modern) entities have fundamentally reoriented perspectives on these communities and focused not on a powerful core and receptive periphery, but rather on borderlands as “zones of interaction” (Lightfoot and Martinez 1995) where social identities are negotiated by individuals who navigate a range of intersecting social and cultural imperatives. Taking Upper Egypt as a case study, this short paper will offer some thoughts about the factors involved in the formation of borderland identities in Upper Egypt during the the Hellenistic Age and the challenges involved in understanding these complex formulations through the lens of the archaeological record. This material is part of a larger project examining the archaeology of community identity Upper Egypt in the Hellenistic era.

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