Book Club


Publishers of award-winning illustrated books on art, history, archaeology, world cultures and more.

Women in the Ancient World

Yesterday saw Forbes announce their annual list of the  World’s 100 Most Powerful Women with Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton and Dilma Rouseff topping a list that includes politicians, CEOs, bankers, cultural icons, billionaires and entrepreneurs.

This inspiring reminder of the achievements of women in modern day society was closely followed by the arrival of our forthcoming title Women in the Ancient World (available from 26 September), offering us an alternative roll-call of women whose lives and roles went far beyond the traditional view of a ‘woman’s work’;  here are Drusilla, the first Roman woman to be recognized as a goddess;  Hatsheput, who bolstered her authority as Queen of Egypt by boldly adopting a male persona; Hypatia of Alexandria, an admired philosopher; and Sappho, one of the most famous musicians in antiquity.

9780714130772_Women in the Ancient World_Jacket

Juxtaposing these  public figures with themes such as domestic life, motherhood, stereotypes and depictions of the female body, Women in the Ancient World explores the different traditions, trends and attitudes towards women in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Near East, as well as revealing some surprising resonances with our own time.

Read the rest of this entry for some of our favourite images from the book:

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Retail Recommends

Specialist booksellers from the British Museum Bookshop give their recommendations for the best illustrated titles across art, archaeology history and world cultures. This week Natasha and Sandra suggest  titles that give insights into two very distinct ancient cultures:

Babylon PBcover_aw_10

“Babylon: Myth and Reality – From the magnificence of Nebuchadnezzar’s state buildings and the ziggurat that inspired the tower of Babel, to the myths that surround the city of Babylon today, this book provides the reader with an insight into what was a truly captivating city.”  – Natasha, Bookseller

Neb jacket Front Cover

“The Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun – This profusely illustrated book is the ultimate guided tour through the tomb-chapel of Nebamun. The author takes us on a detailed journey into the elite society of Ancient Egypt through the tombs beautiful paintings.” – Sandra, Bookseller

Both these recomended titles are available now on the British Museum online shop – with free delivery on all UK book orders.

Author Q and A: Jenny Balfour-Paul

In the first of our new series of author interviews we spoke to Jenny Balfour-Paul, author, artist and intrepid traveller, about her new book Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans, the organic dye revolution and the differences between writing and film-making.

Jenny Balfour-Paul

How did you first become involved in the study of Indigo?

I always loved textiles and colours, especially after travelling around India in my late teens.  When living in the Arab world in my early twenties I became fascinated by local textile skills and learnt weaving and batik.  Back in UK, and by this time a practicing batik artist and teacher, I worked with the late Susan Bosence, renowned block-printer and dyer. She was passionate about indigo dyeing and encouraged me to return to Yemen in 1983 when I told her its age-old indigo traditions were on the verge of collapse. (I had visited the country earlier that year with my husband when he was organizing a conference on Yemen for Exeter University’s Arabic dept).  A first field trip to Yemen led to many more such studies all over the Arab world, resulting in a PhD (later published) at Exeter University called ‘Indigo in the Arab World’ and then to research worldwide for ‘Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans’.

How have developments in the last ten years changed the way we should look at natural dyes? Is the study of indigo more or less relevant to the world today?

It is far more relevant today.   The importance of sustainability is obvious because over-consumption is affecting us all – humans, animals and the whole planet.  The textile and fashion industries are enormous and cause huge amounts of pollution and waste.  Dyes form a large part of this.  Synthetic indigo is made from toxic ingredients whereas natural indigo from plants is non- toxic, enriches the soil, and in hotter climates indigo can be farmed in rotation with other crops, or on waste land. It also provides employment in rural regions.

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Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure

Professor Munakata's British Museum Adventure

Here’s a sneak preview of the cover artwork for our upcoming manga, Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure.

Due out in October, Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure is the first ever manga published by the British Museum Press and the result of a great collaboration between the Museum and leading Japanese artist, Hoshino Yukinobu.

The story revolves around Hoshino sensei’s most famous character, Japanese ethnologist Professor Munakata Tadakusu who has dedicated his life to unravelling the mysteries of Japan’s past.  When the Professor travels to Britain for the first time to deliver a special lecture at the British Museum he is quickly and unexpectedly drawn into a criminal plot that endangers the museum and its famous collections. The threats appear to stem from repatriation claims – but do they? And who is demanding the objects’ return?

Professor Munakata eventually uncovers a conspiracy embedded in the very heart of the museum-  but that is all we can say for  now, for the full story you will have to read the book!

Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure will be available from the British Museum shop from 26th October 2011. For more information visit the British Museum Press webpage.

Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics

Look up the sky tonight and you should see the August full moon: a lunar event that has resonated throughout history. Next year this mysterious night will fall right in the middle of  the London 2012 Olympic Games and we’ve asked David Stuttard, author of our forthcoming title Power Games, to explain why this is more than just coincidence.

Power Games

For over a millennium, the August full moon marked the focal point of the four-yearly Festival which included the Olympic Games. To many Ancient Greeks the moon was a goddess, so the full moon had especial power. Like our Easter, the timing of the Olympic Festival was closely linked to the movement of the heavenly bodies – and, although we do not know exactly how the date was calculated, it seems to have coincided with the second or third full moon after the summer solstice, thus associating it with important dates in both the lunar and solar calendars.

The Greeks’ days began at sunset, and the central ‘day’ of the Olympics, when the moon was full, was spent in evening banqueting, morning sacrifices, and a few races in the afternoon. For the ancient Olympics were not just about athletics. They were part of ancient religious observations, where ritual was just as important as the sport – perhaps even more so. In 2012 the Olympic full moon is on 2nd August – but, although contestants in beach volley-ball, table-tennis or cycling events might take encouragement from the auspicious date, of all that day’s contestants, only the boxers can boast a truly ancient Olympic pedigree.

Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Olympic Games will be publishing on 7 November 2011. ‘Read the rest of this entry’ for an extract from Chapter Four -  ‘the full moon chapter’

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Cheltenham Literature Festival

We may be half-way through the summer but today brings a welcome reminder that festival season is far from over. The full programme for this year’s Times Cheltenham Literature Festival (7-16 October) has just been released and as usual the line up looks fantastic – not least because it includes a great range of British Museum Press events!  From illustrated talks to curator lectures and children’s story telling sessions we’ll be at the festival from 13-15th October.

The full programme is available here or read the rest of this entry for details of all British Museum Press events:

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Retail Recommends

Specialist booksellers from the British Museum Bookshop give their recommendations for the best illustrated titles across art, archaeology history and world cultures. This week Sandra and Akemi pick their favourite gift books:

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Look Here is a little book filled with big surprises! This wordless book is a playful take on the museums’ collection which invites you to explore the visual idiosyncrasies and  connections across cultures and time in a witty way. Parents and children alike will love it.” – Sandra


” Illustrated with beautiful paintings, the Haiku Animals anthology is full of warm, nostalgic stories that will instantly transport any reader to old time Japan.” – Akemi, bookseller

Want to tell the world about your favourite BMP title? We’re always happy to hear that our books are well-loved, so why not post your recommendations below…

Hello, Sunshine

Whether the Greek God Helios, the Ancient Egyptian Ra or the Mayan God G,  Sun Gods were hugely important figures in the pantheons of many ancient cultures. With the weekend in sight and those of us still in the country praying for  sunshine we take a look at the significance of sun worship in ancient Egypt, as explored in our recent exhibition catalogue Journey through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead

Egyptian sun god

Ra, the ancient Egyptian Sun God in one of his many forms

Seen as one the most significant of all ancient Egyptian gods,  the sun god Ra was perceived as the creator of the world and of all living things. As he travelled across the sky by day he brought life to the inhabitants of the earth. At sunset he was thought to experience a symbolic death, after which he journeyed through the Netherworld during the night, retracing his path from west back to east, to re-emerge from the horizon at dawn.

The ancient Egyptians wrote many hymns to Ra – most importantly in the The Books of the Dead where they praised the sun-god in the hope of joining him on his endless cycle of recurring life.  This passage from the Book of the Dead of Ani is typical:

“…give praise to Ra, Lord of the Sky, the Sovereign who made the gods. Worship him in his goodly shape when he appears in the Day-baroque… May he grant that I see the sun-disc and behold the moon unceasingly every day; may my soul go forth to travel to every place it desires… may a place be made for me in the solar baroque on the day when the god ferries across, and may I received into the presence of Osiris in the Land of Vindication” Spell 15, papyrus Ani

Here’s to a spell of good weather this weekend!

Journey through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead is available now from the British Museum shop