The Egyptian Collection consists of objects from a period of over 5,000 years. The objects came to Sweden from Egypt in various ways and at different times. A few Egyptian antiquities started arriving in Sweden as early as in the 18th century. Merchants and sailors brought home ceramics, amulets and papyrus from Alexandria. Once home, the Egyptian souvenirs usually ended up as private collections in Swedish houses or schools. Some of these have over time been incorporated into the Egyptian Collection at Medelhavsmuseet (The Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities).
Egyptian objects reach Sweden
The number of Egyptian antiquities arriving in Sweden kept rising during the 19th century. Researchers and explorers travelling along the Nile collected many objects, which were subsequently donated to the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities and the Konglig Museum at the Royal Palace.
In 1826, Konglig Museum received a large donation from the Swedish Consul-General in Egypt, Giovanni Anastasi. The donation consisted of various objects including mummies, coffins, sculptures and reliefs. These Egyptian objects were relocated to the newly established National Museum in the 1860's. The collection was published by the Norwegian Egyptologist, J.D. Lieblein. At the end of the 19th century, it is contained around 1,000 objects. The first Egyptologist in Sweden, Karl Piehl, published a few of the hieroglyphic inscriptions, but in general the interest in the Egyptian collection was negligible.
The Egyptian Museum in Stockholm
The discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1922 gave rise to a surge of interest in ancient Egypt across Europe. This also led to a renewed interest in Egyptology and the Egyptian collections in Stockholm. With Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and the Director of National Antiquities, Sigurd Curman, at the forefront, the Egyptian Museum opened its doors in Stockholm in 1928. The premises of the Old National Bank of Sweden (Gamla Riksbankshuset) at Järntorget in Gamla Stan were made available for the museum and Egyptologist Pehr Lugn became the first Director of the museum.
The collections of the National Museum and the Historical Museum were relocated to the new Egyptian Museum, but it was through new acquisitions that a word-class collection of Egyptian artefacts was eventually built up. Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf's involvement in the new museum became invaluable. With the help of the Crown Prince, contacts were made with the collector R.G. Gayer-Anderson, who ended up selling entire sections of his collection of ancient Egyptian relics to the museum. R.G. Gayer-Anderson was based in Cairo and one of the major benefactors of the Egyptian Museum. Following his death, the remainder of R.G. Gayer- Anderson's ancient Egyptian collection was divided between the Egyptian Museum in Stockholm and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.
Pehr Lugn also bought antiquities for the museum directly from the Egyptian Government. Such acquisitions were largely financed by private donations from patrons of the Egyptian Museum. While travelling in the Middle East and Egypt in 1934-1935, the Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf acquired a significant number of objects directly from the Department of Antiquities in Egypt.
Swedish excavations in Egypt
The Egyptian Museum organised its own excavations in Egypt, which led to additional acquisitions and findings for its collections. The Swedish archaeologists gained valuable experience in the field from working alongside on-site archaeologists such as Professor Hermann Junker, Director of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo. The Egyptian Museum continued to support Hermann Junker's excavations in Egypt for many years and in return, received a large amount of the findings made on-site.
In 1931, Pehr Lugn instigated the first Swedish excavation expedition to Egypt. The Swedish archaeologists were primarily interested in prehistoric Egypt as they hoped to gather comparative materials for the collection of Egyptian antiquities in Sweden. The location chosen by the Swedish archaeologists, Merimde Abu Ghalib, turned out to contain the remains of a settlement from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and a large quantity of everyday pottery and ceramics, which today are part of the Egyptian Collection at Medelhavsmuseet.
In 1937, the excavations in Merimde Abu Ghalib came to an end. Swedish archaeologist Hjalmar Larsen published the results of the excavations and findings made during the expedition. He also directed a small Swedish archaeological expedition at Helwan (Maassara), south of Cairo. In just one excavation season, Hjalmar Larsen and his team successfully unearthed sections of a cemetery from the Early Dynastic period (ancient Egyptian dynasties).
An expanding and evolving collection
Numerous excavations, acquisitions and individual donations contributed to the growth of the Egyptian Collection. The donors included Nils Rettig (First Secretary in the Swedish Legation in Cairo), Dr. Otto Smith, Dr. Per Clarholm, E. Bredberg, C. Molin, R Holtermann and S. Kinnwall, among others. The premises of the museum at the old National Bank of Sweden eventually became too small. Medelhavsmuseet had already been established in 1954, through the merger of the Egyptian Museum and the Cyprus Collections. In 1982, Medelhavsmuseet was relocated to the former premises of Inteckningsbanken at Fredsgatan 2 in Stockholm, where part of the Egyptian Collection is now exhibited in the former bank vault.