ALRI Ancient Egypt Course
Unit 8: Other Egyptian Places
This page is designed
primarily to highlight places in Egypt not yet covered in depth.
on images or
links for larger versions of the images.
information will be given on the sites listed.
The modern Egyptian town of Mit Rahina ("Hundred Hostages") is at the
edge of the Memphis temple complex of Ptah. The extent of Memphis
is unknown, but it was always either the first or second city of
Ancient Egypt, i.e., much bigger than Mit Rahina.
The Ptah temple complex has been under more or less constant excavation
since the early 1890s.
As he did elsewhere, Ramesses II set up massive statues of himself in
the temple complex. Only two survive, this one on its back in a
small modern building at the site, and another of equal size that was
recently moved from Ramesses Square, Cairo, to the site of the Great
Egyptian Museum, which is under construction just north of the Giza
pyramids (see below).
The pictured Ramesses statue at Mit Rahina is a modern copy.
This exquisite Old Kingdom statue of Pharaoh Khafre, whose pyramid at
Giza is second only to that of his father, Khufu, was recovered at Mit
Rahina and is now in the Cairo Egyptian Museum.
The Memphis alabaster sphinx is 26 feet long and 13 feet tall.
The face may be Hatshepsut or one of the Amenhoteps.
Another Memphis Sphinx now sits in the University of Pennsylvania
Museum of Archeology and Anthropology amid columns from the Palace of
Meremptah, also from Memphis. Among the University's
graduates is Zahi Hawass, who received his Ph.D. from UPenn. The Museum
has permanent Egyptian exhibits and is now celebrating the "Year of
Egypt". For information, see http://www.museum.upenn.edu/index.php
An 11 meter statue of Ramesses II found at Mit Rahina (Memphis) stood
in front of the Cairo railway station for 50 years before it was moved
to the site of the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza. The new
museum will not replace the Cairo Egyptian Museum, but rather it will
allow for the display of much that has been in storage for lack of
display space. The collection will be shared between the two
A one pharaoh dynasty.
Fayoum is one of several natural depressions west of the Nile River,
but it's the only one close enough to have once been part of the
river's course. In pharaonic times canals were dug to enhance the
flow of inundation water into Lake Moeris, and this confused both
ancient and modern observers who thought that the connection of the
lake and the river was fully man-made.
Legend has it that Pharaoh Menes was saved from an attack by his own
hunting dogs by a passing crocodile who carried the pharaoh across Lake
Moeris on his back. The pharaoh, in gratitude, declared the lake
a crocodile sanctuary and founded the city of Shedet on the spot --
later the Ptolemies called the place Crokodilopolis. The city
that Menes founded was the location of one of the cults of Sobek, the
Amunemhet III built his second pyramid at Hawara in the Fayoum after
first effort collapsed at Dahshur. He took a great interest in
the Fayoum as an agricultural area and eventually moved his capital
there. The agricultural wealth of the Fayoum made his reign one
the most sucessful of the Middle Kingdom. The temple that he
built (to Sobek, of course) at Narmuthis (now
Medinet Madi) is very large and has never been completely
excavated. It is the only known Middle Kingdom temple that was
neither despoiled not re-built. The Ptolemies did build a temple
to Sobek at Medinet Madi, but the built it adjoining the Middle Kingdom
temple rather than replacing or expanding it. Amunemhet's pyramid
is now just a huge pile, and in front of it is a huge hummocky field
which is thought to be the remains of the "labyrinth" that Herodotus
described: the "3000 rooms on two levels" that was probably
Amunemhet's large pyramid temple.
The Fayoum is also the source of very many of the "mummy paintings",
often encaustic on wood, with the famous large "look right at you"
eyes. Some say that the paintings were the origin of a Roman
portraiture tradition and even that the mummy paintings were painted
from life and displayed in houses before death. Whether painted
from life or after death, they were cut to fit and then wrapped into
the outer layer of Ptolemaic and Roman period mummy wrappings over the
face of the deceased. The paintings look very alive and each is
unique leading to the belief that they are actual portraits (but
perhaps with exaggerated eyes). This one has the pursed lips of
the Ptolemaic style, but it's impossible to tell whether this was an
artistic convention or a personal or an ethnic facial
characteristic. Encaustic painting involves mixing pure pigment
or oil based paint with hot wax (usually beeswax). The mixture
was/is applied hot and gives remarkable depth. It was preferred
over distemper painting in which a small amount of animal glue was
mixed with chalk and pigment. Distemper was used in later times
for temporary work -- banners, signs, and stage sets (where it is still
Abydos was the capital of first dynasties of the Old Kingdom. It
was sacred to Osiris, who was thought to have been reanimated here
before his intercourse with Isis that produced Horus. (But that
was also said to have happened elsewhere.) After being temporarily
reanimated Osiris was said to have been chopped up by his enemy/brother
Set and the reassembled and burried in Abydos. There is also a
legendary connection between Osiris and mummy wrapping: it was
believed that the wrappings were first applied to Osiris to hold
together his various parts that Isis had collected. There is some
diagreement about the order of all these events. Some legends say
that he had to be reassembled before the sex, but that's illogical
since his penis is the one part that never was found, according to
legend -- illogical, but it is a myth after all.
Seti I built his cenotaph (equivalent to a "Valley Temple" but far from
his tomb) directly in front of what was by his time a long established
shrine to Osiris (called the Osireion by the Ptolemies and so until
today). The shape of Seti's structure in unorthodox, and several
unproven theories have been advanced for the anomaly, the most
convincing one being that something discovered during construction was
thought to be important enough for inclusion. The Osireion is
thought to have been a water shrine built below ground level so that
ground water would surround a central area which would then represent
the mound on which the slain -- but not yet dismembered -- Osiris
washed up out of the Nile. (Grammar query: can three consecutive
prepositions possibly be correct?) Ramesses II, the son and
successor of Seti I, finished his father's temple and then built a
smaller temple nearby. A gesture of filial piety? It
was one of the few times he didn't try to tower over whatever was there
first at a site first used by an earlier builder
The list of pharaohs in the Seti I cenotaph is extremely important to
the twelve or so people in the world who really feel the need to know
exactly which pharaohs preceeded and which came after other
pharaohs. But there is some political correctness involved in the
list. Some of the self-proclaimed Lower Egyptian pharaohs of the
second intermediate period didn't get a mention -- only the Upper
Egyptian guys counted. Seti was, of course, an upper
Egyptian. Luckily, those twelve people, who just must know, also
have other sources of information.
A fleet of at least 14 large boats, about 25 meters long, a few meters
wide, and one meter deep are entombed in mud brick eight miles from the
the west side of the Nile in the desert behind
Abydos near the burial complex
of the late 2nd Dynasty pharaoh Khasekhemwy. Excavations in 2000
revealed that the boats were river-worthy (not just models), that they
might have held as many as 24 rowers, and that they were considerably
older than Khaskhemwy's reign, perhaps as old as the reign of the
semi-mythical Aha, the second -- or first, or both -- pharaoh of the
First Dynasty. Like the two boats found at the Pyramid at Giza,
the single boat that was actually partially excavated in 2000 was held
together by mortised ropes. There was no internal stucture (i.e.,
no ribs). These are the earliest known built boats (as opposed to
dugouts or bound reeds) but their complexity leads to the belief
that earlier and simpler boats would also have existed and that they
are perhaps awaiting discovery. Much more detail is at http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Alley/4482/Abydosboat.html
and at http://www.archaeology.org/online/news/abydos.html.
New facades were sometimes added to older temples by the Ptolemies and
the Romans. Sometimes an entirely new shell would be constructed
to surround a smaller and older temple. Greco-Roman temple
facades were a mixture of classical and Egyptian architecture. A
classical pronaos (it means "in front of the naos or holy place) would
be built, but the pillars and their capitals would be Egyptian.
Intercolumnar spaces were half walled: it allowed more space for
Egyptian vignettes and hieroglyic inscriptions. Behind the
pronaos might be a courtyard or a hypostyle hall and a standard
Egyptian temple. The Temple at Esna (in the middle of the modern
Arab town of Isna) was dedicated to Khnum, a ram or ram-headed god who
supposedly created and animated men and animals. In some versions
of the myth he made prototypes on his potter's wheel who then
reproduced themselves. In other versions, a special creation
occurred for each individual: a miniature human or animal would
be spun on Khnum's pottery wheel and then inserted in the womb
(sometimes with the aid of a human sexual act).
For a short article on Khnum, see http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/khnum.htm.
Surfaces in Egyptian temples were always covered with vignettes
(pictures) and hieroglyphs (writing). Later pharaohs and
officials had to either rework older example or expinge them to get
their own names and imafes up on the walls and pillars.
In Esna, Khnum's consort was the ferocious lioness goddess
Menchit. But at Elephantine Island, where Khnum was also
worshipped, his consort was the benign Heket, a frog goddess. How
did he get away with that? The simple answer is politics (with
perhaps an admixture of economics.) Egyptian towns formed
alliances and federations and local gods and goddesses of thos towns,
naturally, got together. Bigger alliances produced larger
groupings: the Heliopolitan Ogdoad had eight members, four gods and
four goddesses who together made up the elements of the Middle Kingdom
creation myth. The more common grouping was a triad: there
were dozens of them including the ones at Esna and Elephantine, in
which Khnum participated. They all followed a similar pattern:
girl meets boy (alliance), a child results (fusion of the two local
beliefs), the three rule until overtaken by events (either
expansion into a greater federation, or the treaty breaks down, or
sombody bigger overwhelms your triad.
Or somebody bigger overwhelms your country. The arrival of Rome
marked a very big change for Egypt. Previous conquerors like the
Hyksos, Libyans, Nubians, and Greeks (Ptolemies) moved in and ruled
from somewhere in Egypt. It's true that for two short periods the
Persians ruled from outside, but the Romans did so long term.
When a Roman vignette appears on a temple wall, like this one of Trajan
at the Esna Khnum temple, the enemies that Pharaoh Trajan smites are
likely to be conquered Egyptians rather than foreign enemies. We need
to remember that for internal political reasons, the Romans (Octavian
Caesar, later Augustus, and the Senate) declared war on Cleopatra and
not on Mark Antony. As one of his first acts after defeating
Cleopatra -- and, of course, Antony -- Octavian had himself declared
Pharaoh in Alexandria.
And, by the way: the suicide of Cleopatra VII left her son
by Julius Caesar, whose name was Ptolemy Caesar, as sole pharaoh:
both Cleo and Ptolemy Caesar had the title of pharaoh even though he
was just a child. Octavian Caesar had Ptolemy Caesar killed,
reportedly saying there could only be one Caesar. So the
pharaonic succession went from Cleo VII to Ptolemy Caesar to Octavian
Caesar and therafter to succeeding Roman and Byzantine emperors.
That meant that Egypt was always a personal fiefdom of the emperors and
that any Roman governor who embezzled was also guilty of lèse-majesté.
(Etymology: laesae, feminine genitive of laesus,
past participle of [latin] laedere, to injure + miesttis,
genitive of miests,
Edfu had a traditional connection with Horus and was part of one of the
triad god alliances: Osiris and his sister/wife, Aset/Isis
produced Horus, who was also a reincarnation of the dead Osiris and the
pharaoh, in turn was the physical embodiment of Horus. From very early
days, Edfu was a Horus cult center.
Despite the age of the cult center, the major elements of the Horus
temple are among the most recently constructed. It appears to
have been the last major temple built by the Ptolemies, and therefore
the last major temple built in Egypt. It is certainly the best
preserved Egyptian Temple. From in front of the first pylon, it
looks like the standard Egyptian temple complex.
The inner facade, however, is clearly Greco-Roman-Egyptian. At
the left side of the temple door stands a huge Horus bird and part of
one is on the ground at the other side of the door.
An older photo taken from the top of the left pylon shows the passagewy
surrounding the inner temple. The Horus birds are nowhere to be
Gods and goddesses visited each other and they got to each other's
houses in Solar Boats. Early on, these may have been real boats
that carried cult images on the river and on canals, but in later
periods they were man carried models like the one in the image and were
never intended to be put in the water. In fact there were other
boats -- barges -- that carried one or more the ceremonial models and
their bearers. The models carried visiting cult images to rooms
adjoining the inner sanctums of the god-owners of the temples.
This "solar barque" was made to carry a cult image of Hathor to the
abode of he husband Horus. The name of Hathor was really Het Hora
and was written as Het Horet or as Het Hert, the last "t" being an
unpronounced feminine determinative hieroglyph -- one of the
hieroglyphs that in other uses signified a "t" sound, but not here.
It's generally accepted that Hathor's name is derived from "Het"
meaning "house" and "Horu", that is, Horus. Het Horet was the
(feminine) House of Horus, either the Sky where the Horus bird flew,
or, more allegorically, her location, wherever it might be, was where
he felt "at home". Some interpreters add a sexual significance to
her name, i.e., his home (Het Horet) was where he went for
intercourse. Whenever gods and goddesses who were consorts
visited each other they were, in fact, given some private time for a
conjugal visit in a part of the temple complex -- usually a separate
dedicated chamber or building -- which was called a mamisi by the
Ptolemies and the Romans. For much more information about Het
Horet, see http://www.hethert.org/.
The unique double temple at Kom Ombo was dedicated to Haroeris and
Sobek. Haroeris is a Ptolemaic Greek name derived from the
Egyptian Har Wer, one of the oldest forms of Horus, which, in turn was
derived from a combination of the falcon-god, Har (Greek Horus) with an
indigenous deity, Wer, "the Great One," a god of light whose eyes were
the sun and the moon. Through increasing emphasis was placed upon the
right eye, the sun, Haroeris was worshipped as Mekhenti-irty, "He on
whose brow are the Two Eyes" or, on moonless nights as
Mekhenti-en-irty, "He on whose brow there are no eyes," in which aspect
he was the patron of the blind. Mekhenti-irty or Hor-merti was
represented holding in his hands the wedjat or uraeus eyes of Horus.
So Haroeris/Har Wer was "Horus the Greater", and that title is
sometimes misconstrued as the Elder, an error initiated by the Romans,
who, in their own Latin, used maior and minor to mean elder and younge
as well as greater and lesser. Haroeris, is sometimes recognized
as the son or consort of Hathor; also he was the brother of Osiris and
Seth. Various myths or legends surround the fight, or battle, involving
Horus and Seth in which Horus lost one eye. One version is that Horus
seemed to have recovered with two eyes, one he gave to Osiris as a
token of life (and here there was conflation of the Wedjat eye and the
Osirian ankh, the loop of which was eye-shaped), and the other for
himself (the Wedjat eye). Horus then ascended the throne justified by
the assembly of gods. This myth allowed Horus of Two Eyes to give way
to Hor Nubti, "Horus (the Nubian) Vanquisher of Seth," or Horus of
Ombos (the cult center of Seth), in other forms of the myth Horus is
identified with Re or as the offspring of Isis and Osiris, in which
case it would be Osiris who fought with Seth. Since Horus is also
is both the son of Osiris and the new vessel of the Osirian Ba (life
force) the confusion and conflation of the legends was acceptable.
The question remains, how did Har Wer get paired with Sobek, the
crocodile god, who lived all up and down the Nile, not just in the
Fayoum? Actually, the double temple is the result of the worship
of two separate triads of deities -- not merged into a sextet. One set
consists of Sobek, Hathor and their child Khonsu, while the other
consists of Haroeris (Har Wer equated by the Ptolemaic Greeks with
Apollo, or Horus the Greater/Elder), Tasenetnofret (the Perfect
Companion) and their child Panebtawy (the Lord of the Two Lands). The
last two have artificial names that express the goddess's function in
such a group as a "consort," and the young god's to have the double
kingship of Upper and Lower Egypt: in other words, the consort
and pharaonic son of Har Wer. Of course, the two most important gods
were Sobek, whose part of the temple is on the south and Horus the
Greater/Elder, whose part of the temple is on the north, to which the
temple was dedicated equally. This was why the temple was called both
"House of the Crocodile" and "Castle of the Falcon". For more,
Tourists' boats often arrive at Kom Ombo at evening twilight, so visits
to the temple after dark are not uncommon.
Ombo was "Egyptian" at least as early as the late Old Kingdom (and
already inhabited in pre-dynastic times) everything in the temple
complex, which is pretty much all that has been excavated, is
Ptolemaic. We don't know how far back the twin triads go.
The Ptolemies were explicit about who they thought was the Perfect
Companion of Har Wer: they built a chapel for Hathor and a Mamisi where
she and Har Wer could have a little privacy. The chapel,
however, has now been taken over by a bunch of mummified crocodiles
that are shown to tourists.
The Crocodile's Toothache, by Shel Silverstein
(1932 - 1999)
Crocodile went to the dentist,
sat down in the chair,
the dentist said, "Now tell me, sir,
does it hurt and where?"
the Crocodile said, "I'll tell you the truth,
have a terrible ache in my tooth,"
he opened his jaws so wide, so wide,
the dentist, he climbed right inside,
the dentist laughed, "Oh isn't this fun?"
he pulled the teeth out, one by one.
the Crocodile cried, "You're hurting me so!
put down your pliers and let me go."
the dentist just laughed with a Ho Ho Ho,
he said, "I still have twelve to go--
that's the wrong one, I confess,
what's one crocodile's tooth, more or less?"
suddenly, the jaws went SNAP,
the dentist was gone, right off the map,
where he went one could only guess...
North or South or East or West...
left no forwarding address.
what's one dentist, more or less?
Nilometers were invented by Pharaonic Egyptians but named by the
Ptolemies. The name says it all, it measured the Nile's
level. This was important because farm taxes were based on the
level of the inundation multiplied by the area of owned land.
At Kom Ombo, but not necessarily at other sites, Ptolemaic and Roman
reliefs are easily distinguished. The Ptolemies paid for Raised
relief while the Romans used the cheaper incised relief form.
Incised reliefs last longer than raised reliefs, because they are below
the stone surfaces. They are also harder to erase and replace
with later reliefs.
A partial relief of medical instruments being offered to the deified
Imhotep survives on a wall of the Kom Ombo temple. Although he is
perhaps best remembered as the architect of the Djoser Step Pyramid,
the first pyramid in Egypt, he also wrote medical texts which were used
not only in Egypt but throughout the region and for many centuries
after Egypt had declined. For more on Imhotep, see http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/imhotep.htm.
That first map again to remind us of where we're talking about.
Elephantine Island is at the First Cataract of the Nile River, just a
bit north of the Old Aswan Dam. From early pre-dynastic times it
has marked the unofficial border between Egypt and Nubia and has been a
secure settlement area and trading entrepot. The chief god of the
Island was ram-headed Khnum in his guise as controller of the waters of
the Nile. He is part of a triad with Satis (a formerly Nubian
Gazelle goddess) and their daughter Anukhet. But he's also linked
to the frog goddess Heket, whose cult center was also on the island.
The Ptolemaic Greeks named the island Elephantine because they thought
these rocks looked like a herd of elephants lumbering out of the
water. The earliest known recognizable elephant ancestors evolved
in the Nubian Nile Valley about 65 million years ago, but the
population had died out by 2000 BC. The Ptolemies, however were
familiar with Indian elephants: King Ptolemy I (Soter) fought
with Alexander the Great in India at the Battle of the Hydaspes,
against two hundred Indian war elephants. The beasts nearly defeated
the Greeks, but careful tactics saved the day for Alexander, in 326 BC.
At various times the Ptolemies even owned some war elephants that they
had captured in battle (Battle of Gaza, 312 BC). About 297 BC,
Ptolemy I Soter forbade killing African elephants for their ivory in southern hunting
expeditions -- he wanted to train them for war. (Remember
that this is also the time when King Pyrrhus of Epirus, a cousin of Alexander
and a ruler of another of
Alexander's successor states, was arming himself with elephants that he
later used in war against Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans.
Elephants were just coming on line as every nation's weapons of mass
The Khnum temple (if fact all the temples) on Elephantine Island is
almost totally and literally dilapidated. Lapidus is a Latin word
for a stone, and in particular for a worked stone. Dilapidated
means that the stones were taken out or away.
There is more to see at the Satis temple site, but it also is a recent
reconstruction of the temple's Ptolemaic iteration using more new stone
than old. This might be appropriate since even in ancient times
the temple was reconstructed repeatedly.
Elephantine Island archeology is, therefore, a matter of finding
foundations and then finding stones to match and making replacement
stones for those not yet (or never to be) found.
The Elephantine Island Nilometer was one of the most important:
at the border with Nubia, it was the place where Egyptian officials got
the first indication of the expected depth of the annual inundation.
A painted sandstone relief of Thutmose III was taken from Elephantine
and is now in the Louvre.
relief that is still on the Island shows a pharaoh in a bundled reed
On the eastern side of the Nile, opposite the southern temple area on
Elephantine are the red granite quarries that made Aswan the source of
monumental stone. This failed obelisk would have been the most
monumental of all if it hadn't cracked due to a hidden flaw in the
stone. At 42 meters and an estimated 1216 tons, it would have
been the biggest and heaviest stone ever moved. The tallest
existing obelisk is the one in the plaza behind the Lateran cathedral
in Rome at 32 meters -- it was 36 meters before it was cut when it was
removed from the Circus Maximus. When this obelisk cracked,
efforts were made to salvage parts of it by sawing out sections, but
the flaw ran deep and long: the sawn sections also developed
cracks. If the obelisk had been a success, it still would have to
be slid to a landing area when the river was at its height and then
transported by ship to it's downriver destination, presumably the Luxor
or Karnak temple complex. This one was a failure, but that 36
meter obelisk that Augustine brought to Rome would have made the same
journey, then later to Alexandria, and finally to Rome, all in wooden
ships that weren't surpassed until the 19th century.
Agilika Island, like the now submerged Philae Island is in the middle
of the small lake between the Old Aswan Dam and the Aswan High
Dam. Be for the High dam was built, Philae and its temple complex
was periodically flooded, but after the completion of the High Dam it
was flooded permanently, and, worse, the water level fluctuated around
the temples leading to rapid deterioration. Eventually a
cofferdam was built around the Philae complex, all the water was pumped
out, and the whole temple complex was moved to Agilika, which is high
enough to keep the temples out of water. The whole project was
completed by 1980, and since then the complex has become a fixture of
the Egyptian tourism routes.
Views of the Philae temple complex. The main temple belongs to
Isis / Aset / Aysay. but there is also a smaller Roman temple that the
Arabs call the Pharaoh's Bed and the archeologists call Trajan's Kiosk.
Trajan's Kiosk flooded on Philae Island and at its new location on
The David Roberts drawing of the Isis temple on Agilika, copied from a
print from one of the Roberts travel books.
Philae Temple complex on Agilika: ground plan (without Trajan's
Kiosk). Philae is the Macedonian Greek and Roman name for the
Island. The ancient Egyptians called it something like P'aalek
(vowel sounds merely conventional) which meant: the edge, the
end, or the border.