The blog post for this week is written by Sam Powell, an Egypt Centre volunteer who moderates the chat of these short courses.
Last week we started the new five week course of the history and sites of Thebes. The first week was the introduction, with Ken covering the geography and background of this fascinating area. This course has proven the most popular to date with over 180 delegates attending over the Sunday and Wednesday sessions. As the moderator for the course, this was a little daunting, but fortunately everything worked out perfectly!
The Egypt Centre has over 100 objects known to originate from the region, and possibly many more that cannot be conclusively defined as Theban (fig. 1). This includes additional objects that can be attributed to the Theban region on stylistic grounds, although their provenance has regrettably been lost (such as funerary figure W434).
|Fig. 1: Tomb relief from Thebes|
After an introduction to the Egypt Centre for those new to these courses, Ken started by discussing the correct terminology for the area covered by this course, which was a lot more complicated than I’d previously considered. The area I would describe as Luxor or Thebes is known by a variety of names, all of which describe slightly different areas. The area is located within the nome of Waset. Nomes are territorial divisions used in ancient Egypt, with Waset being the capital of the fourth Upper Egyptian nome. The ancient Egyptian name for the site (at least during the New Kingdom) was ni͗wt, ‘the city’, or ni͗wt-rst, ‘the Southern city’, as opposed to the Northern city of Memphis. This also lead to the name I͗wnw-šmꜣ ‘Southern Heliopolis’, in reference to the great religious site in the north. In Demotic times, the site was referred to as tꜣ i͗pt ‘the temple’, due to the size and scale of Karnak Temple. The term ‘Thebes’ comes from the Greek name for the site, although the Greeks also referred to the site as Diospolis Magna (‘the Great Diospolis’) because of the association of the god Amun with Zeus (fig. 2). The modern term for the site is Luxor, but even this is not without confusion. Modern inhabitants of Luxor will typically only refer to the East Bank, and in particular, downtown, as Luxor rather than including the West Bank or Karnak. In light of this, Ken chose to stick with the term Thebes whilst acknowledging all these other names.
|Fig. 2: A city of many names!|
After discussion on the name of the area, Ken treated us to a chronological run through of the main developments, noting evidence of human occupation on both sides of the river from Palaeolithic times. The population were largely hunter gatherers, attested by the quantity of lithics surviving. The Egypt Centre has a number of Palaeolithic flints, which will be the subject of a future blog post by the Egypt Centre curator, Carolyn Graves-Brown (fig. 3). Ken also covered the beginning of settlements at el-Tarif in the Neolithic period, the Predynastic pottery and stone vessels found on the West Bank providing evidence of settlements.
|Fig. 3: Early flints from Thebes|
By the Old Kingdom, there are signs of activity at Karnak, and two brick built mastabas appear at el-Tarif, as well as several rock cut tombs at the el Khokha necropolis. Ken also discussed the First Intermediate Period, and the increase in power of provincial rulers such as Intef, and the subsequent reunification of Egypt by Montuhotep II marking the beginning of the Middle Kingdom (fig. 4). By the Second Intermediate Period, the latter kings of the Thirteenth Dynasty are possibly based in Thebes, as they dedicate many statues at Karnak. The Seventeenth Dynasty rulers are also Theban. The New Kingdom is definitely the ‘golden age’ of the site with a wide range of temples and tombs being constructed, many of which will be discussed in more detail in subsequent weeks.
|Fig. 4: Memorial Temple of Montuhotep II|
The Third Intermediate Period marks a decline from the glories of the New Kingdom, with the High Priests of Amun becoming the virtual rulers of Thebes during the Twenty-first Dynasty. By the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, under Kushite rule, the worship of Amun increases resulting in huge building projects at Karnak (fig. 5). In 663 BC, the Sack of Thebes by Ashurbanipal of the Neo-Assyrian Empire occurs. Obviously this is not recorded in the Egyptian texts, which always conveniently ‘forgets’ the bad news, but Assyrian sources identify that the destruction was significant and long remembered. The Ptolemaic Period involves some sporadic building projects at Karnak, as well as the temple at Deir el Medina, but the region was largely known as a centre of dissent, and by the Roman Period, Strabo describes Thebes as ‘a mere village’. The Coptic Period and the advent of Christianity leads to the reuse of some tombs being inhabited by Christian monks, and the building of several monasteries in the region. By the Islamic Period, many of the monasteries close, and the mosque of Abu el Haggag is built at Luxor Temple.
|Fig. 5: Kiosk of Taharqa at Karnak|
This is only a very brief run through of some of the key points covered in the first week of this course, and despite attending both the Sunday and Wednesday sessions, it was impossible to cover everything. We also looked at some of the key deities of the site, such as the state god Amun (fig. 6) and the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut, and Khonsu), and Montu, as well as some of the ‘local’ gods such as Meretseger and Ahmose Nefertari.
|Fig. 6: Statue of Amun|
As always, Ken somehow manages to make these courses appealing and accessible to both the novice and those with a more extensive background knowledge, and his encyclopaedic knowledge is invaluable when dealing with such a broad topic. I’m really looking forward to returning to the site in the future with a much deeper understanding of the area.
In subsequent weeks, we will be looking at the temples of the East Bank (Karnak and Luxor), the royal necropoleis, memorial temples, and the tombs of the nobles.
Arnold, Dieter 1976. Gräber des Alten und Mittleren Reiches in El-Tarif. Archäologische Veröffentlichungen, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 17. Mainz: Zabern. Mit einem Beitrag von Wolfgang Schenkel und Zeichnungen von Wolf-Günther Legde. Plan der Nekropole von Joseph Dorner.
Nims, Charles F. 1965. Thebes of the pharaohs: pattern for every city. Photographs by Wim Swaan. London; Toronto: Elek; Ryerson.
Saleh, Mohamed 1977. Three Old-Kingdom tombs at Thebes: 1. the tomb of Unas-Ankh no. 413. 2. the tomb of Khenty no. 405. 3. the tomb of Ihy no. 186. Archäologische Veröffentlichungen, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 14. Mainz: Zabern.
Soliman, Rasha 2009. Old and Middle Kingdom Theban tombs. Egyptian site series. London: Golden House.
Strudwick, Nigel and John H. Taylor (eds) 2003. The Theban necropolis: past, present and future. London: British Museum Press.
Strudwick, Nigel and Helen Strudwick 1999. Thebes in Egypt: a guide to the tombs and temples of ancient Luxor. London: The British Museum Press.