If the title of the two-part documentary Egyptian Vice, now available on SBS On Demand, isn’t enough of an indication that the program might showcase some sordid behaviour from the pharaohs who ruled Egypt for 3000 years, the narration by actor Alexander Siddig straight-up informs you, the viewer, to get ready for a walk (like an Egyptian) on the wild side.
“The pharaohs, corrupted by absolute power, succumbed to the temptations of their dark sides,” he intones.
Oh, this is gonna be good.
Indeed, Siddig seems to be having a ball as he savours ripe narration that includes phrases like “sadists and seductresses” and “…even incest”.
And chances are you’ll have a blast as well, even if you consider yourself a serious student of Egyptology. After all, there’s a fair bit of valid historical info in here to complement the lurid visuals that seem to be ripped straight from a knock-off of that sexy, bloody sword-and-sandal movie 300.
To augment these dramatisations of the pharoahs’ bad behaviour, Egyptian Vice also calls upon the wisdom of a collection of archaeologists, Egyptologists and experts in culture, religion and military strategy.
But let’s be honest – you’re in for the sin, right? On that count, the show does not disappoint.
Egyptian Vice admits that not all the pharaohs were bloodthirsty nutcases, extreme hedonists or incest enthusiasts. Some indulged themselves a fair bit but not a great deal.
But there were some who just couldn’t say no, whether it came to accumulating wealth or decimating enemies. And some were just plain greedy, gluttonous and selfish.
Take Pepi II, for example. He’d invade foreign lands in search of pygmies because he wanted them to dance for his amusement. He hated flies so much he’d coat a servant in honey to turn him into human flypaper.
Pepi’s successor, Ramesses II, was a master of media manipulation. He rewrote the outcome of the greatest chariot battle in history to depict himself as the hero of the conflict, going so far as to commission elaborate hieroglyphics illustrating his courage. Fake news was even a problem in ancient Egypt. Sad!
Then you have Akhenten, who’s really only known these days as the father of Tutankhamun, AKA King Tut.
There’s a reason Akhenten isn’t as well-known as some of the other pharaohs. He took it upon himself to dismantle the polythetic religion of his era, replacing the many gods Egyptians worshipped with one single deity. He also fucked up the economy and was generally regarded as something of a loon.
So when Tut – the Barron Trump of ancient Egypt – took control at the age of nine, he quickly set about making Egypt great again by reverting back to the old ways and striking dear old dad from the record. “Even his mummy was destroyed,” says Siddig.
Egyptian Vice acknowledges that the pharaohs could have it tough at times. After all, Egypt was the centre of the world, and the pharaoh was the centre of Egypt. A ruler could conceivably be at war their entire life.
Some, however, really took to the task. Like Amenhotep II, presented here as a killing machine who welcome the opportunity to “use his iron fist” to anyone who stepped to him.
“In the movie Terminator 2 we have this really powerful image of a robotic foot crushing human skulls as it walks along,” says ‘military expert’ Terry Schappert. “Amenhotep II definitely deserves the name Terminator 2 because he literally crushed the skulls of his enemies.”
When it came to vulgar displays of power, though, Ramesses III was the man to beat. He’d cut off heads. He’d cut off hands. And he’d cut off junk. He was reputed to have severed in the neighbourhood of 12,000 penises during his bloody military campaigns. In one of the earliest incident of karmic payback, however, he was allegedly murdered in his own harem.
All this sounds pretty bad. But Egyptian Vice saves the worst for last, because the end of the Egyptian empire was overseen by the Ptolemy dynasty, who indulged in 300 years of beastly nastiness and frightful wickedness.
They killed other people. They killed each other. They inbred like rabbits. Ptolemy VIII, nicknamed ‘Pot Belly’, indulged in misdeeds so gross it would spoil the fun to reveal them here – just watch the episode.
So the Ptolemy dynasty was, to quote modern literature, fifty shades of fucked-up. But it did produce one of Egypt’s most legendary rulers – Cleopatra, who was a savvy political strategist but also a master of using sex appeal to win friends and influence people (let’s just say the phrase “burning up the bedsheets” is uttered during the narration).
Sprinkled with adult themes and splattered with CGI blood, Egyptian Vice is a history lesson that brings the past to life…and then kills it quite spectacularly. Enjoy.
Egyptian Vice airs Sunday night on SBS at 8:30pm. Watch part 1 on SBS On Demand: