March 26, 2012

The Founding of Memphis

The Founding of Memphis
 Hor-Aha's greatest achievement

Hor-Aha's greatest achievement was the founding of the capital city at Memphis, just south of the apex of the Delta. This was to endure throughout Egypt's history and become one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. The site was obviously chosen initially for its geographical and thus political importance in a newly unified country, rather than its situation as a good building site, which it was not. Herodotus records (Bk 2: 99) that Menes dammed the Nile just south of the future site of the city, diverting it so that he could build on the reclaimed land. A strict watch was kept on the dam - the Persians, he said, strengthened it every year because, should it be breached, Memphis would have been overwhelmed. Recent deep soundings taken by the Egypt Exploration Society expedition to Memphis have shown that the course of the Nile has been gradually moving eastwards in historical times.

The seiekh used for royal names represents the 'palace fagade system of panelled brickwork, seen here in elevation and plan views.

According to Manetho, Hor-Aha (there called Menes) reigned for 62 years and met his end when he was carried off by a hippopotamus. He must have been of a great age and presumably out hippopotamus hunting. The Palermo Stone records a hippopotamus hunt in the reign of Udimu (Den), later in the dynasty, and their savage attacks on crocodiles are represented in a number of reliefs in later Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty tombs.

After Memphis was founded the early Egyptian kings began to construct their tombs at the sacred site of Abydos in middle Egypt and the nobles theirs on the edge of the desert plateau at Saqqara, overlooking Memphis. Controversy has raged as to whether the king built at both sites. Archaeological evidence is quite scarce with regard to specific attributions since the structures at both sites were badly damaged and heavily robbed throughout the ages. Those at Abydos were literally ransacked by the Frenchman Amelineau and much evidence destroyed at the end of the last century. Flinders Petrie took over the re-excavation and recording of the site, recovering plans of the early substructures and the meagre yet often important leavings of the earlier robbers, such as the wood and ivory labels referred to. Professor W.B. Emery excavated the Saqqara site, mainly between 1936 and 1956 (except for the war years). He, likewise, found only pitiful remains of once fine funerary provision.

The tombs at Abydos and Saqqara are not decorated, so evidence of their owners can come only from material remains, largely in the form of seal impressions, rolled out from cylinder seals on the wet clay stoppers of wine jars and the like. They may have the name of the high official responsible for the burial, on occasion a royal name, but it is not necessarily that of the tomb's occupant. In the light of recent analysis of the clay sealings, and the re-excavation of a number of the early tombs at Abydos by Professor G. Dreyer of the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, Egyptological opinion now favours Abydos as being the site of the royal tombs. At Abydos there is also now recognized from the later Predynastic Period a sequence of tombs that leads into the early royal tombs and their evolution can be traced through the succeeding reigns. The large tombs at Saqqara are those of the nobles of the period; so mighty were some that it would seem they could, in several instances, emulate their royal masters and have satellite (sacrificial) burials associated with their tomb.

Alabaster Sphinx : The Alabaster Sphinx of King Tuthmosis III This sphinx is found in Memphis, the oldest capital of Egypt. The city was built by King Menes (Narmer) around 3000 BC, and lies 24 kms southwest of Cairo in Al - Badrasheen.  Also found here is a beautiful statue of Ramses II (exhibited in a small museum) and the Temple for Embalming (the Sacred Apis Bull).
In the early cemetery at Saqqara, Emery located a large rectangular tomb (no. 3357) that he ascribed to Hor-Aha (but his tomb is now B 19 at Abydos). It had 27 storerooms at ground level for funerary equipment, and five rooms below ground. The mudbrick exterior was panelled all round in a style referred to as the 'palace fagade', which it resembles. This was to be copied later as a decorative element in jewellery (it is the lower half of the seiekh, p. 18) and for the first time in stone nearby in the 3rd Dynasty complex of Djoser (p. 34). On the north side of the structure, a brick-built pit had once held a wooden solar boat. At Abydos, in October 1991, a fleet of 12 boats dating from about 3000 BC were found buried side by side. The boats - the oldest surviving large-scale vessels in the world - were up to 100 ft (30 m) in length and their superstructures had been protected by mudbrick structures protruding slightly above the desert surface. Several individual, and now empty, boat pits were later provided around the Great Pyramid at Giza in the 4th Dynasty and one discovered there in 1954 was found still to contain a wooden boat (p. 49). All these boats and boat pits were presumably connected with royal funerary ritual, although their precise function remains unknown.

Hor-Aha's tomb at Abydos (B 19) is the largest in the north-western section of the cemetery, and another tomb close by produced small labels with the name Berner-Ib, literally 'Sweet-heart'. It is possible that the lady was Hor-Aha's queen, and her name also appeared on items from Naqada, the site of the great tomb of his possible mother, Queen Nithotep.

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