Ancient Worlds in Stockholm: From Egypt to Rome

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The Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities, Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden

Clearly if a town has a museum dedicated to the ancient world, I’m there.  And I’ll probably be there for a long time.  And I was at the Mediterranean Museum for much longer than I expected –  and still didn’t see the entire collection.  I totally missed the Islamic section, which was a bummer, especially since it contains some important bronzes discovered in Luristan, Iran.  Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed what I saw, and the quality of some of the exhibits was extraordinary.

It was in 1954 that the museum was founded – an Act of Parliament, no less, brought it into existence to basically house the collections of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition 1927-1931, as well as an Ancient Egyptian collection.  While these form the core of the museum, there have been many other donations from diplomats, travellers and royalty to create a more broad display of objects from the Mediterranean world, including the Greek vases of King Gustav III, which he acquired during his trip to Italy in 1783/4.

Roman Era

The Roman collection on display is not large, but it is impressive in quality – mainly because quite a few of the objects are from Rome and from Ostia, which was Rome’s harbour.

Greek Works

Most of the Greek art on display is actually from Cyprus, which I have made a separate section for, but there are also some objects from other parts of the Greek world.


Stockholm houses one of the largest archaeological collections from Cyprus.  This is in large part thanks to the excavations undertaken in 1927-1931 by the Swedish Cyprus Expedition.  They dug in about twenty locations and discovered material from the Stone Age to the Roman era.  The team were also notable for their scholarship in that they not only conducted scientific and organised excavations, but they also published their finds and findings over six volumes.

The gold and silver objects remained in Cyprus, but the rest of the team’s excavations were shipped to Sweden – some 771 crates of stuff.  These boxes stayed in the Historical Museum basement from the 1940s until 1982, when the current museum opened – and now they are shown off beautifully.

The star exhibit of the collection, though, is the amazing display of votive statues from a sanctuary discovered in the 1930s in Ayia Irini.  It is not known who the deity worshipped here was – though it’s been speculated that it was a fertility god.  It was in use from about 1000BC, and was regularly added to and repaired until destructive floods in c500BC, although it was used again in the 1st century BC.  The selection of statues that have been found are therefore from all time periods, and are absolutely fascinating.


The Mediterranean Museum has a very fine Egyptian collection.  It contains objects which were brought to Sweden in the 1700s by merchants and seamen who collected pottery, amulets and papyrus as souvenirs.  In the 1800s, scientists and explorers traveled along the Nile and often donated objects to the Royal collection, as did the Consul General of Sweden in Egypt.  By the end of the 19th century, there were over 1000 objects on display in the National Museum.

Interest in all things Egyptian was renewed with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 – six years later, an Egyptian museum opened in Stockholm.  The museum subsequently set about acquiring further objects, including through Swedish excavations and direct purchases from the Egyptian government.  Crown Prince Gustav Adolf, who was instrumental in getting the museum established, also contributed his own objects, purchased during his trip to the Middle East in 1934/5.  Subsequent donations have also bulked up the collection, and now you can see some really fascinating objects, some stunning objects and some which may make you laugh.


Be sure not to ignore a staircase going down at the end of the Egyptian gallery – there is a fantastic collection of tomb goods and mummy masks.

What was particularly exciting was seeing a range of Fayum portraits, in all their varying-quality glory.  I have been fascinated by these portraits since I went to an exhibition at the British Museum in what I think was 1997.  It isn’t known when in a person’s life these portraits were made, or if they were exhibited in the person’s home while they were still alive.  In fact, there are many mysteries surrounding them, which is why I wrote an excellent essay on this subject for my MA.  Anyway, the painted wooden panels were placed on mummies buried during the Roman rule of Egypt, and some of them are extraordinary in their realism and their ability to capture the sitter’s character through subtle expressions and beautifully painted eyes.  Others are crap.  However, they are always interesting.

So In Summary

I (nearly) always enjoy museums about the ancient world, because you always see something unusual or peculiar, or that makes you think about the past in a different way.  That, to me, is what a museum is about.  The Medelhavsmuseet was packed full of curiosities but it also had some stunning objects which were beautifully displayed – the highlight for me was the Egyptian collection, although the Cypriot gallery was fascinating, striking and educational and had an almost hypnotic power that makes for a strange but impressive experience.

Further Information

Entry to the museum is free and it also has a cute gift shop.

The museum has its own website, available in English, with good details about its collections:

The museum’s child-friendliness is dependent on the child.  However, there were some fun activities for them in the Egyptian section, including the chance to follow in my footsteps and put on a wig and what-not.

I don’t quite understand how this works, but they also have some sort of Minecraft game – or something.  I’m sure it’s cool for those who play it.

How To Get There

The museum is located by the river, near the Parliament.  For how to get there by public transport, check out the handy SL website:





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