July 30, 2013

Deir el-Medina Pictures and Maps

Valley of the Workmen
Today the name Deir el-Medina is used to indicate the valley with the village and necropolis of all the workmen who built and decorated the royal tombs of Thebes.

These were the stonecutters, masons, painters and sculptors who every day made their way to the royal necropolis through a path leading over the hills of Deir el- Bahari. The women remained in the village, cultivating the wheat and barley. The teams of workmen were directed by overseers (architects or artists of various kinds). The painters were divided into two groups: those who worked on the right-hand wa and those who worked on the le hand walls. The houses of these workers were extremely simple dwellings. Built of dried brick, whitewashed inside, they were, very small with a tiny entrance hall, one room and a kitchen. Sometimes, but not often, they had a cellar and a terrace.

Deir el-Medina

Deir el-Medina

Deir el-Medina

Deir el-Medina

Tomb of Inherkha Pictures

Tomb of Inherkha
At the time of Ramses III and Ramses IV, Inherkha was « Deputy Master of the Two Egypts in the Place of Truth». He had two tombs built at the same time. The one lower down the valley, nearer to the village, shows vivid fantasy and great inventive capacity, especially in the scenes illustrating family life, such as the one where a husband and wife, dressed alike in linen garments, are shown affectionately seated together at a banquet.

Tomb of Inherkha

Tomb of Inherkha

Tomb of Inherkha

Ramosis’s Tomb Pictures and Facts

Ramosis’s Tomb
Ramosis had the title «Governor of the City and Viceroy» under the heretical pharaoh Akhen-Aton. At the death of his sovereign Ramosis had to abandon the tomb which he had started building, which must have been at Tell el-Amarna although no trace of it has yet been found, and build another at Thebes. The bas-reliefs are particularly beautiful both for their plastic qualities and for the naturalness, especially of the human face.

Ramosis’s Tomb

Ramosis’s Tomb

Ramosis’s Tomb

Rakh-Mara’s Tomb

Rakh-Mara’s Tomb
This tomb, one of the biggest of the XVIIIth dynasty, belonged to Rakh-Mara who was governor of the city and visir under both Tutmose III and Amon-Ofis II. The most interesting scenes are those showing the arrival of tribute from foreign countries. Thus there are shown the envoys from Punt, from Kefti (which can perhaps be identified with Crete), and those from Ratenu who are northern Assyrians and Syrians, and finally black envoys from Kush.

Rakh-Mara’s Tomb
Rakh-Mara’s Tomb

July 29, 2013


The present town of Aswan is built on the site of the old market of the city of Abu, which the Greeks called Elefantina, and which means «elephant island». Capital of the 1st nome or province of Upper Egypt its former name was Syene. The red granite, syenite, which was used in religious building, for obelises, for colossi, for the temples themselves, was extracted from its numerous wealthy quarries. The quarries were still being used in Roman times when the poet Juvenal was exiled to Syene by Tiberius. Another curiosity of the area is a well whose vertical sides are only illuminated by the rays of the sun on the day of the summer solstice because of its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer. Eratostenes, the writer, took it as the point of departure for the measurement of the circumference of the earth.
On the west bank of the Nile cut into the hill called Tabet el-Haua (the «windy peak») can be found a necropolis containing about fourty tombs going back to the Illrd millenium N.C. By means of steep narrow stairways one can climb up to the various hypogea, small funerary chapels many of which still have their terraces, colonnades, doors and windows. The tombs then, situated one above the other, give the impression of a rocky city. Many of the hypogea were destroyed and burnt during the Christian era by the Copts. They erected a fortified monastery on the top of the hill and this in its turn was destroyed during an incursion by Saladin’s army. Also to be found in this area is the famous mausoleum of the Aga.

Aswan before High Dam


Edfu’s main claim to fame in Egyptian history is that in this other-wise unimportant small town there is the best preserved temple in the whole of Egypt. The ancient capital of the Ilnd nome of Upper Egypt, it was called Apollinopolis Magna by the Greeks.

The temple, which is dedicated to Horus, was built during the Ptolemaic period on top of an older temple dating from the time of Tutmose III. Because of its imposing dimensions it is considered the most important after Karnak. It is 137 metres long and the front is 79 metres wide. It has a pylon 36 metres high. On guard at the entrance to the temple are two very beautiful black granite statues depicting Horus in the form of a falcon. The name of the god in fact derives from the word «hr» which means hawk. Behind the two statues stand the external walls of the temple together with massive figure of Horus and Hathor. The wide grooves either side of the doorway once housed the flag masts from which fluttered their standards. Inside the sancturary, still in a perfect state of preservation, is a very beautiful tabernacle carved from a single block of grey granite and which stands about 4 metres high. The inscriptions tell us that it was constructed under Nectanebus II (360 B.C.).

Edfu Statue
Before entering the temple it is interesting to look at the «mam- misi» constructed under Evergete II. In the Coptic language «mam- misi» means «the place of childbirth» and refers to the spot where symbolically Horus is reborn every day. It is for this reason that it has become sacred to those in child-birth and to all women who want to have a child.

Khan who died in 1957 and Aswan Dam

Khan who died in 1957
It is now necessary to talk about the celebrated Aswan Dam, Egypt’s «protection against hunger». The project was entrusted to the Soviet Union and construction was started in January 1960. On the 14th May 1964 the waters of the Nile were released into the derivation canal. The construction of this dam with the consequent formation of an artificial lake, lake Nasser, 500 kilometres long with a capacity of 157 thousand million cubic metres making it the world’s second largest after the one on the Zambesi, has resolved quite a few of Egypt’s economic problems. Egypt’s problems can be summed up in two figures. Of a surface area of 900,000 square kilometres only 38,000 were previously under cultivation, that is about 4%. With the dam not only would it be possible to increase the area under cultivation but an ambitious system of irrigation would be set up and the annual production of electrical energy would be increased.

Egypt before Aswan Dam
On the other hand monuments of priceless historical and artistic value in the area covered by the lake would have been lost. The whole world waited with bated breath while an incredible salvage operation enabled the dam to be built without the total loss of so much of the country’s artistic and cultural patrimony.

Aswan Dam

July 28, 2013

Monastery of Saint Catherine Sinai

Monastery of Saint Catherine
The smallest diocesis in the world is at the same time the oldest Christian monastery still in existence in the world and houses also the richest collection of icons and precious manuscripts.

Monastery of Saint Catherine
We can find the first news regarding the Monastery of St Catherine in the chronicles of the Patriarch of Alexandria, Eutychios, who lived during the 9th century: said chronicles tell us how Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, remained so impressed by the sacredness of these places that in the year 330 she ordered the construction of a small chapel on the site where the burning bush had been located. The chapel was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Monastery of Saint Catherine Sinai
Emperor Justinian in 530 ordered the construction of a much larger basilica: the one which would be the Church of the Transfiguration. It was then that the monastery took on the appearance of a massive fortification which characterizes it even today.

Monastery of Saint Catherine

The Sinai Peninsula Map

The Sinai Peninsula
About twenty million years ago, Egypt, Sinai and the Arab peninsula were united in a single block. Then, huge terrestrial devastations led to the separation of the lands, and the southern Sinai peninsula remained isolated, giving rise to two large gulfs: to the west, the Gulf of Suez, whose maximum depth is barely 95 metres, and the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, which instead reaches a depth of 1,800 metres. The latter gulf is a part of the big land fissure called Rift which extends from the chain of Taurus as far as Kenya. The great sismic activity of the past and the tremendous eruptive phenomena have given Sinai its characteristic imprint. The most important peaks are the Gebel Musa (Moses’ mountain, 2285 metres) and Mount St Catherine (Gebel Kathrina, 2642 metres), the highest on the peninsula.

The Sinai Peninsula
The west coast, then, that from Sharm el Sheikh to Ras Mohammed goes as far as Taba, is distinguished by numerous coral reefs that occur in succession, one after the other.

The Sinai Peninsula

Kom Ombo

Kom Ombo
Situated between Edfu and Aswan, Kom Ombo is the ancient city of Pa-Sebek, that is the «home of Sebek» the crocodile god who was already worshipped in pre- dynastic times. In Kom Ombo is to be found the impressive remains of a temple of somewhat unusual style. In fact it is a double temple obtained by joining two temples along one side.

Kom Ombo
The right-hand temple is the one consecrated to the god Sebek, the god of fertility who is also believed to be the creator of the world, while the left-hand temple is dedicated to the god Haroeris, that is «Horus the Great» the solar god of war. This temple was also rebuilt by the Ptolemies who adapted a temple built at the time of Tutmose III. The two temples were surrounded by a large outer wall which opened into the Nile via two gateways. In the hypostyle hall there are three rows of columns, one of which runs down the centre dividing it into two separate sanctuaries in a rather original manner. Then come the sanctuaries clearly separated by a space.

Kom Ombo Temple

July 27, 2013

Tomb of Sabni

Tomb of Sabni
Sabni’s text relates how he travelled to Wawat and duly punished the tribe responsible for his father’s death. Then he recovered the body and started his journey home.

Tomb of Sabni

Meanwhile, his sovereign, Pepi II, had despatched a whole convoy of royal embalmers and mortuary priests along with the necessary oils and linens for mummification and internment. Such honour paid to a nobleman of Elephantine confirms the close ties between Memphis, the capital, and Aswan, the Southern Gate. In an expression of gratitude Sabni later set out for Memphis to hand over to Pepi Mekhu’s rich cargo.

Tomb of Sabni
 The entrance to Sabni’s tomb is unusually divided by a cross beam. The lower section forms the actual doorway and the upper section a window. The tomb chamber, which has fourteen square pillars, is of no special interest, apart from a relief on the rear wall that shows the deceased hunting from a boat in the company of his daughters. This is an appealing representation combining action and sensitivity. Sabni holds the javelin in his right hand and the slain birds in his left. To the right, he harpoons two fish at a single strike. At the centre, birds take to the air above a papyrus thicket.

July 25, 2013

6th Dynasty Tombs of Ancient Egypt

6th Dynasty Tombs (2345-2181 BC)
The autobiographical texts inscribed on these tombs relate to administrative abilities and show a pioneering spirit; expeditions were made into the then unknown upper-cataract region. The noblemen declare themselves to be men of high moral character, and recorded how they fed the hungry, clothed the needy, and spoke ‘only that which was good’. The texts also reveal filial devotion:

Mekhu was a nobleman of Elephantine in the reign ofPepi II. He held the title Governor of the South. While on an expedition in Wawat (Lower Nubia) his convoy was attacked by desert tribes, and he was killed. When his son Sabni received the news of his father’s death, he quickly mustered a convoy of troops and pack-donkeys to march southwards and recover the body. He informed the pharaoh of his intention and recorded his experience in his tomb, which adjoins the one he built for his father.

July 23, 2013

Elephantine Island

Elephantine Island
This island, which was once of such strategic importance and great renown, is of little touristic interest. The ruins near the quay are all that remain of two New Kingdom Temples that were destroyed by a ruler in 1821 who disliked tourists coming to see them!

Elephantine Island
 The Museum, which contains antiquities excavated from Aswan and its environs and from Nubia, was first built as a resting place for those engaged on building the original Aswan Dam. The exhibits include miscellaneous pre-dynastic objects recovered from Nubia before it was inundated, some Old and Middle Kingdom objects, especially from the Hekaib Sanctuary, various objects of the New Kingdom, and discoveries of the Graeco-Roman period; the latter include mummies of a priest and priestess of Philae found on the Island of Hesseh, and a mummy of the sacred ram.

Plans are under way to build a new museum at Aswan to house these and other selected pieces from Nubia that arc now in Cairo Museum. Meanwhile, many of the most important pieces are stored.

An ancient Nilometer faces Aswan. It consists of a stairway on the river’s bank constructed of regular-shaped stones; it was so designed that the water, rising and falling with the ebb and flow of the flood, could register maximum, minimum and average water levels. A text inscribed on a wall of the Temple of Edfu tells us that when the river rose to 24 cubits and 3^ hands at Elephantine, there was sufficient water to supply the needs of the whole country. Plutarch, the Greek writer, recorded that the Nile once rose at Elephantine to a height of 28 cubits (14.70 metres).
Elephantine Island
The Nilometer was repaired by the Khedive Ismail in 1870. He recorded his work in both French and Arabic. A new scale was established and the ancient construction, unused for centuries, came into use once more. On the walls of the staircase are records in Demotic (fluid hieroglyphic hand) and Greek, showing different water levels.

A second Nilometer, dating to the 26th Dynasty, was recently found by the German-Swiss Institutes of Archaeology, who have been excavating and reconstructing the ruins of the Old Town, at the southern tip of the island, for the last twelve years. Among the monuments there are a granite portal, which once formed the entrance to a large temple, and which is one of few structures in the Nile valley with reliefs of Alexander IV, the son of Alexander the Macedonian conqueror, by Roxane; and the foundations of a small temple built by Nektanebos II, the last native pharaoh, Julius Caesar and Trajan (98-117 AD), whose inscription survives on the single remaining stump of column. Blocks from the edifices of earlier temples with inscriptions of Thutmose III, Ramses III and other New Kingdom pharaohs, had been reused in this temple, and also in another temple of Satis.

Rock Tombs Of Kubbet El Hawa (Western Bank)
AH were broken into at an early date and are not easy of access to the average tourist.

The Kubbet el Hawa, or Dome of the Wind, takes its name from the tiny tomb of a sheikh that rises in lonely silhouette on the summit of the hill almost opposite the northern end of Elephantine. Beneath it, cut into the rock face of the cliff, are the tombs of the noblemen of Elephantine.

July 21, 2013

Aswan and Early sightseers

Early sightseers
Greeks, Macedonians, Carians, Romans, and Egyptians travelled to Aswan. All fell under the spell of its beauty. Strabo the Roman geographer, Ibn Khaldun the historian-diplomat of mediaeval times, Shelley and Keates the nineteenth-century romantics and countless others succumbed to the legendary river, its fabled ruins, and the healthy climate and breathtaking sunsets of Aswan.

Aswan and Early sightseers
Among the people who left their mark at Aswan were Sir F. Grenfell who, before starting his campaign in the Sudan, took time to clear many of the rock tombs at Kubbet el Hawa (1885-86), Lady Cecil, the wife of a diplomat, who also cleared a tomb, and Lord Kitchener, who imported and planted a large variety of African and Indian plants on one of the islands.

Lady Duff Gordon set a fashion when she travelled to Upper Egypt to seek a cure for tuberculosis. After her, came many of Europe’s notables who sought a retreat from Europe’s cruel winter. They journeyed slowly up the Nile in plush-fitted river vessels that were not much different from those used by the ancient pharaohs and successive Roman, Arab and Ottoman visitors before them. The pink and purple hills in the distance, pierced by a honeycomb of tombs, were yet unexplored. The temples of the pharaohs, their colonnades lying broken or askew, where half-buried in the sand. Luxor had yielded but a small part of its great treasure. Aswan languished in its depot-like tradition. The island of Philae had not yet been engulfed by the waters behind the Aswan Dam. Elephantine and ‘Kitchener Island’ were so fertile that, according to tradition, grapes grew on them all the year round.

July 19, 2013

More facts about Aswan Egypt

The Greek word Syene (from which the Coptic Suan is derived) stems from the ancient Egyptian Swenet, meaning ‘making business’ or trade. And herein lies the character of Aswan. It has been a flourishing borderline market for thousands of years; the link between two cultures: Egyptian and Nubian.

Aswan Egypt and the Nile River
The surrounding land was rich in building materials: the Aswan quarries were the source of fine and coarse quality granite from whence builders and sculptors throughout ancient Egyptian history drew their supplies. Quartz, which was used for polishing stone, was mined from the so-called alabaster quarry north of Aswan and also from the western desert. In the eastern desert there were iron mines where red ochre was extracted for paint. And the largest sandstone quarry in Egypt was situated at Silsilla, further northwards.

Aswan Egypt
 In antiquity the island of Elephantine was known as Abu or Elephant Land. It commanded the Nile cataracts that formed a natural boundary to the south. These great granite-toothed boulders had been tugged and torn from the mother rock by countless floods and lay like huge obstacles on the river-bed. At low Nile a sluggish river would wind a sinuous six-kilometre descent from the island of Hesseh to Aswan. When the water began to swell with the annual flood, however, the river’s mood would become restless. Confined by mountain ranges on each side of the valley, the river would dance or whip around the granite obstructions. Fed by the monsoons on the Ethiopian tableland, the Nile would continue to rise until, reeling and rushing, churning and roaring in agony to find an outlet, it would hurl into the channels of Aswan. Classical writers described the sound as so great as to cause deafness.

Aswan Egypt

July 17, 2013

Aswan and Keepers of the Southern Gate

‘Keepers of the Southern Gate’
Though Aswan was situated at the farthest limit of Egypt, it was spiritually closer to the capital of Memphis than any other city. This was because, during the Old Kingdom, the noblemen of Elephantine were the ‘Keepers of the Southern Gate’; Aswan was the starting point for the caravan routes along which the earliest commercial and later military expeditions were carried out. The noblemen held extremely responsible positions. They were entrusted with supervising the quarrying of granite for the great monuments of the Giza plateau. They watched over the exchange of Egyptian grain and oil for minerals, ebony, gum, stone beads, incense, and animal skins from the south. They supervised the shipments to the royal capital.

Aswan Dam
The noblemen of Elephantine were a proud and independent breed who lived at a time when the pharaoh encouraged initiative and responsible action; a time when many Lower Egyptians travelled to Upper Egypt to find work, just as, today, Upper Egyptians travel to the Delta.

Aswan attained its greatest political prestige in the 6th Dynasty (2345-2181 BC). The tombs of the noblemen at Kubbet el Hawa (page 41) have autobiographical texts that show them to have been administrators, warriors and explorers as well as politicians.

One nobleman called Hekaib (‘Brave of Heart’) appears to have had all these qualities and more. In fact, he was so widely respected that, after his death, he was revered by noblemen and high priests for no less than eight generations. Over two centuries after his death, a prince of Elephantine in the reign of the pharaoh Senusert I, finally constructed a sanctuary in Hekaib’s name on Elephantine. This sanctuary was discovered in 1946 by Labib Habachi, who noted that never before had such honour been paid to an ordinary man. Habachi was able to identify the deified Hekaib with Pepi- Nakht, from whose tomb (page 43) we learn that he was respected for a distinguished career and an aggressive spirit as well as for bravery. For example, at that time ships were built on the eastern end of the caravan route from Coptos, and a naval officer on duty there was slaughtered by nomads. The pharaoh chose one of his most competent officials to rescue the body and punish the offenders. It was Hekaib, and he so fearlessly chastised the troublemakers that he was later described as ‘one who controlled his heart when others stayed at home’.

Aswan Egypt
It is not surprising that the noblemen of Elephantine were among the first to try and shake off the restraint of the central government and establish independence towards the end of the Old Kingdom. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived achievement, soon to be followed by chaos and civil war.

Aswan’s time of glory was over. It was never again to have such prestige. An effort was made in the Middle Kingdom to resuscitate the spirit by reviving Old Kingdom titles such as ‘Governor of the South’. But, in fact, Aswan had lost its role as Gateway to the South when Egyptian influence spread into Nubia (2133 BC). The high priests of Elephantine watched over the Temple of Khnum and continued to promote the cult of Hekaib, but Aswan was, in fact, no more than a military base and an emporium for Nubian and African exotica.

Some pharaohs of later periods constructed temples on Elephantine, as can be seen from numerous reused blocks, but it was not until the Graeco-Roman period that Aswan regained its importance, and then for very different reasons.

During the reign of Ptolemy II (285-246 BC) the popular cults of Osiris, Isis and Horus were transferred from Abydos to the area around Aswan, and particularly the cataract region immediately to the south of Elephantine. The regional gods of the cataracts, Khnum the ram-headed god with his wife Satis and daughter Anukis, were supplanted by the triad from Abydos. The chief centre for the worship of Isis became the Island of Philae which gained a mystical aura. The temple of Isis soon came to be regarded as the holiest in the land, especially famed for the mysterious healing properties of the goddess.

July 15, 2013

Temple of Ramses II

Temple of Ramses II
This temple is by no means the largest of the temples built by Ramses II, nor is it well preserved; in fact some of the blocks were removed from the monument and reused during the last century. Only the lower part of the walls and the bases of the columns remain. Nevertheless, it will be briefly described because it must once have been among the most beautiful temples in the Nile valley. It was built of fine-grained white limestone, black granite, rose granite, red and brown sandstone, and flawless alabaster. The granite was used for the doorways, sandstone for the columns and alabaster lined the inner shrine.

Temple of Ramses II
 The Entrance Pylon and the First Court have, unfortunately, been destroyed. The Second Court (1) is surrounded by a colonnade supported by rectangular pillars; before each was a statue of Ramses in Osiride form. The raised section to the rear (2) was approached by three flights of steps. Its roof was supported by sixteen rectangular sandstone pillars. The highly polished black granite doorway at the centre led to the first Hypostyle Hall (3) and the second Hypostyle Hall (4), one behind the other and both the same size; each contained eight rectangular pillars supporting the roof. There are three shrines on each side of the second Hypostyle Hall. It is not certain to whom they were dedicated.

The door to the rear led to the Sanctuary (5). The roof was constructed of red granite, the upper part of the walls of alabaster, and the lower part of red sandstone. This must undoubtedly have been the most beautiful Sanctuary built in Egypt. The rear wall is an imitation door built of a huge slab of alabaster, which rests on a sill of red granite. The two sculptured panels represent Ramses embracing Osiris.

As with all Egyptian temples, the temple of Ramses II was completely decorated, both inside and out. The walls on the inside were covered with religious subject matter: scenes of priests bearing flowers and sacrificial animals towards the temple; and processions of people singing, clapping hands, blowing trumpets and carrying banners. On the outside walls there were scenes of official journeys, wars and activities abroad.

Temple of Ramses II Night
A typical religious scene may be found in the Second Court (i) on the right-hand wall (a), where a procession of servants bear dishes of food on their heads; it is preceded by a priest burning incense in front of a statuette of the king that is borne on the shoulders of the leading priest. The scribe of the temple records the offerings received by another priest. On the left-hand wall (b) are butchers, slaughtering and cutting up sacrificial bulls. Servants run forward with the joints of meat. Each piece is purified by a priest who carries a vase of libation water.

The surviving battle scenes on the outside of the temple can be found on the eastern face of the northern tower (c) and the western wall (d). These are not in good condition, and will be but briefly described.

The scene at (c), from left to right, shows the text of the battle (i) that differs from that at Abu Simbel by a special decree that Ramses’ two chariot horses should be commended for their bravery by henceforth receiving food in his presence for ever. Ramses II is depicted in his chariot (2) with Egyptian soldiers beneath him (3).

Ramses II at Abydos; outer wall of temple (c)
He watches scribes who count and record the hands of the slain enemy (4) and prisoners of war (5). The Hittite army and camp are depicted (6), with Ramses surrounded by the enemy (7). The great battle scene is to the right (8) showing Hittite chariots, the Hittites rescuing their friends from the river Orontes into which they were driven, and the king of Aleppo being held upside down to disgorge water.

The scene on the western wall (d) shows (from left to right) hand- to-hand combat between Hittites, Egyptian and Sherdan soldiers; Ramses’ camp protected by infantry carrying shields; Ramses’ chariot, with sunshade and w'ith groom holding the reigns; and the Egyptian infantry and chariots.

All representations of Ramses II, unlike those of his father Seti I, are proud, arrogant, and confident. His head is always held high and his shoulders are squared.

July 13, 2013

Osirion Facts

This separate structure lies behind the temple of Seti I, to the southwest. Its purpose is unclear and its architectural features are unique. It has variously been called a cenotaph, though it bears no resemblance to such a funerary structure, and a mortuary temple, though there is no other like it. In fact no other structure was surrounded by water.

Osirion Egypt
 The Osirion is sunk into a depression on a level with the water table. The central hall (i) is surrounded by ditches (2) around which are seventeen rock-hewn niches (3); in front of each was a ledge. The central hall is approached from east and west down a narrow flight of stairs, then led up from the channel of water to the ‘island’ at the centre. The main part of the structure was built by Seti I, and it was completed by Merenptah, son of Ramses II.

The ante-chamber (4) is decorated with scenes from the mortuary literature, relating to the journey through the under-world (page 87). The transverse chamber to the east (5) is also decorated with scenes from the mortuary literature; that to the west (6) has an arched ceiling and some badly damaged scenes of the cosmogony, featuring the sky-goddess Nut, the earth-god Geb, and Shu the god of the atmosphere.
Osirion Egypt
There seems to have been a long-standing tradition of the sanctity of the area around the Osirion. The 13th Dynasty Pharaoh Neferhotep (c. 1786 BC) erected a boundary stele at Abydos; it states that none should set foot there. Such a lingering tradition may have been the reason for Seti choosing to build his temple there. Even today the waters of the Osirion are regarded as advantageous to health. This recalls to mind the hundreds of texts connecting Osiris with Abydos, Osiris with water, and Osiris with rebirth, in which this most beloved figure of ancient Egyptian tradition ‘sleeps in the midst of water.’

July 9, 2013

Cult Centre at Abydos

Cult Centre at Abydos
During the Middle Kingdom (2133-1786 BC) Abydos was fully established as a city of prime importance and a place of pilgrimage. The 12th Dynasty pharaoh Senusert I erected a large edifice on the site of the earlier shrine at Kom el Sultan, which became known as the Temple of Osiris. Senusert III completely renovated it during his reign, and surrounded it with an enclosure wall. Influential noblemen were permitted to place stelae or erect cenotaphs near the sacred area. For it had become desirable to have a monument constructed at or near Abydos, in order for the spirit of the deceased to join in the annual dramatization of the life, death and triumph of Osiris, enacted by the priests.

Cult Centre at Abydos
Each year, settlers would come from far and wide to see the ritualistic killing of Osiris by his brother Set, followed by several days of mourning. The people would show appropriate sorrow for the murdered god apd weep and lament in the manner of Isis. Funerary wreaths and flowers would be placed on a mummified figure of Osiris that was borne through the city. The cortege would be led by Wepwawat, the wolf-jackal, ‘He who opens the way’. The people would sing hymns ajid make offerings, and at a prescribed site a mock battle would take place between Horus and Set. The murder of Osiris was avenged, and the triumphant procession returned to the temple. The crowning scene was the erection of the backbone of Osiris, the Djed or pillar-like fetish. In horizontal position the Djed represented the slain hero and the low Nile. Upright it symbolised the resurrection of Osiris, as well as the flood and the rebirth of the land.

One of the functions of mythology was to explain certain natural, social or political ideas. The mythical Osiris (who was associated with the rebirth of the land) falling victim to Set (who was associated with the relentless desert) explained the physical environment; the constant battle against the encroaching desert. Set’s tearing the body of Osiris to pieces and scattering its parts up and down the Nile valley may be interpreted as the concept of sowing grain, following which, with the necessary incantations (like those performed by Isis and Nephthys), or rural festivals, the stalks of grain would be reborn (as Osiris was reborn). Horus, the son of the gods related to the rebirth of the land, triumphed over the desert (Set) and became prototype of the pharaohs.

Cult Centre at Abydos

In the Middle Kingdom the ordinary man could aspire to do what only members of the aristocracy had done before: pay homage to the legendary ancestor. Thousands of pilgrims from all walks of life made their way to the necropolis where Osiris was worshipped as ‘Osiris Khenti-Amentiu’, an epithet that means ‘he who rules the west’. Generation’s after generation’s offerings in pottery vessels were left at the cenotaph of Djer, which was believed to be the tomb of Osiris. Today the site has acquired the name of Om el Gaab (‘mother of potsherds’).

To identify with the resurrected deity, it had long become common practice to place grain in a mummy-shaped linen container, water it and let it germinate through the cloth. This so-called ‘Body of Osiris’ was an example of his power to give life. It was believed that the mummy, like the grain, would revive.

The cult of Osiris had thoroughly captured the popular imagination. The provincial priests who wished to give importance to their areas each claimed that a part of the body, dismembered by Set, was buried in their province. In one variation of the myth the head was said to be buried at Abydos. In another version it was the whole body that had been found there with the exception of the phallus that had been eaten by an Oxyrynchos fish. Abdu, Abydos, had by this time become the centre of the cult. It means ‘the mound of the Osiris head emblem’.

During the New Kingdom (1567-1080 BC), Abydos rose to its peak as a holy city. This was the empire period, when the state could afford to be generous. Thutmose I ordered a barge of cedar and electrum to be built for Osiris, and almost every pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty left evidence of his devotion to the god, making additions to the temple at Kom el Sultan. Thutmose III, in particular, carried out new work and restoration; and Thutmose IV arranged for the regular supply of sacrificial animals and birds for feasts and festivals.

Deceased noblemen from Thebes, the capital, were often borne, after embalming, to Abydos and placed in the precinct of the temple. Afterwards they were returned and interred at Thebes. If they could not make the pilgrimage, it was made symbolically; many tomb reliefs show boats bearing the deceased to Abydos (page iosf).

Cult Centre at Abydos
In the 19th Dynasty, Abydos and its chief deity were honoured by Seti I on an unprecedented scale. He raised the three gods of the Osi/ian Triad (Osiris, Isis and Horus) to an even higher level than the greatest gods of the land (Ptah of Memphis, Amon-Ra of Thebes, and Ra-Harakhte of Heliopolis). He constructed a marvellous temple (4), with separate sanctuaries for each deity and with a seventh chamber, of equal size, to himself as a god (page 26). His son and successor, Ramses II, built a temple of his own (5) to the north (page 29).

The decline of the cult of Osiris only came in the Graeco-Roman period (Part II, Ch. 6), when the seat of Osiris worship was shifted to Bigeh Island, and that of Isis to Philae. This might well have been done in an attempt to break the power of the wealthy and influential priesthood at Abydos. Thenceforth the cult of Isis outrivalled that of Osiris. Philae became the most holy place in Egypt and the centre of the most popular cult (page 183).

During the Graeco-Roman period, Abydos came to be regarded as a place of healing. Sufferers from all over the Graeco-Roman world gathered in the corridors and halls of the temple of Seti I, making humble pleas for health or fertility. The graffiti are in hieratic (a late development of hieroglyphics), Greek, Phoenician and Aramaic.

When Christianity spread to Upper Egypt, Seti’s temple was used by the early Christians escaping from Roman persecution. Later two ancient structures were used as convents, and the Monastery of St Moses was built to the north (6). (Chapter 8, page 204.)  

July 7, 2013

Temple of Seti I

Description of Monuments

The monuments that are most frequently visited at Abydos are the New Kingdom temples of Seti I and Ramses II, and not those for which the ancient city was famous. The cenotaphs of the ist and 2nd Dynasties are no more than ruins. Of the great temple of Osiris at Kom el Sultan, only the granite doorways and paving stones remain. The many cemeteries of different periods are not tourist sites. The temple of Seti I, however, makes a visit to Abydos well worthwhile because it is decorated with some of the finest relief sculpture of any age to be found in the Nile valley. Moreover, the reliefs of the nearby temple of Ramses II are so finely carved that they lead us to suspect that the temple was constructed at the beginning of his reign, and decorated by the very artists who worked under his father, Seti I.

Temple of Seti I

Temple of Seti I
Seti I was the son of an army officer. In fact, he himself commanded the frontier garrison at what is known as Kantara in the eastern Delta. When he came to the throne in 1318 BC, he proved to be one of Egypt’s most able pharaohs, known particularly for encouraging an artistic and architectural revival. Seti I seems to have desired a return to the orthodox canons of Egyptian art after the breakaway art movement in the ‘Amarna period’ (page 118). The representations in his temple are majestic, delicate and conservative; they also have an additional quality reminiscent of the naturalism of the Amarna period; emotional expression. Although the many representations of Seti appear to be alike, on close scrutiny they will be seen to be slightly different from one another. As he looks into the face of an honoured deity, for example, his expression is one of reverence. Before a goddess, there is a look of loving trust. Before one of the great gods, he bends slightly at the waist to indicate awe. This latter pose is not to be found in any representations of the 18th Dynasty, w here the pharaoh always stood proudly erect and exalted. The gods, too, are depicted with human emotions. Osiris looks benevolent and majestic. Isis is gracious and tender. Horus is competent and direct.

The temple of Seti I is built of fine-textured limestone and has many unique features: one is a wing at the southwest corner (compare with traditional temple page 63), another is the so-called Osirion (page 28), and, most unusual, is the seven-fold dedication. The temple of Seti has sanctuaries for Osiris, Isis and Horus (the Triad associated with Abydos), Ptah the god of Memphis (the first  capital of a united country), Ra-Harakhte (the Sun-god of Heliopolis), Amon-Ra (the ‘King of Gods’ and God of Thebes) and the last shrine for Seti himself.

The Entrance Pylon and First Court (i) are in ruin. Only the rear section of the Second Court (2) is preserved. It is approached by a graded stairway leading to a terrace on which there were twelve square pillars; on each pillar Ramses II, son of Seti I, is depicted embracing the principal gods of Egypt. The text on the walls to the rear relate, at (a), that when Ramses came to Abydos and found that the temple of his father was unfinished and neglected he completed it for him. To the left of the central doorway (b) is a large representation of Ramses offering the symbol of Truth to Osiris, Isis and to his late father Seti I.

To the right of the doorway (c) there are representations of Horus, Isis and Seti I, following which, at (d), Ramses II is shown beside the sacred tree of Heliopolis. Ptah, god of Memphis, writes his name on the leaves. Thoth, the god of Wisdom, records the event. Ra-Harakhte presents Ramses with the royal crook and flail. Behind Ra-Harakhte, Osiris is depicted.

Temple of Seti I

The first Hypostyle Hall (3) is 60 metres wide and about 14 metres deep. It is roofed and supported by 24 papyrus-bud columns arranged in pairs. The hall was originally designed to be entered through seven doorways, which led to another seven doorways, and ultimately to the appropriate shrine of each of the seven deities. All but two were, however, blocked by Ramses II.

The decoration of this hall was also carried out by Ramses II. He is shown making offerings to, or obtaining blessings from, the various gods and goddesses. Noteworthy are the scenes showing his active participation in planning the temple. At (e) he is depicted facing the goddess Seshat, patron deity of records and archives; the goddess is driving stakes into the ground to measure out the ground- plan. Behind Seshat is Osiris, who watches over the activities being conducted on his behalf. Above this scene Ramses breaks ground with a hoe before Osiris. Further along, at (f), Ramses, assisted by Horus, stretches out a measuring rope.

Also noteworthy are the scenes showing temple rituals. All those entering a holy shrine, even royal personages, had to be barefooted and ceremonially pure. Certain acts of ablution were supervised by the priests. This rite is depicted to the left of the entrance doorway (g) where Seti is purified by Amon-Ra of Thebes, and Atum, ancient sun-god of Heliopolis. They pour the emblems symbolising Life and Prosperity over Seti from golden vessels. Near the left- hand corner (h) Seti is purified with water by Thoth and Horus. He is being suckled by Hathor the cow-goddess (i), and is presented to Ptah by Khnum the ram-headed god (j).

To the left of the doorway leading to the Second Hypostyle Hall, at (k), Ramses makes an offering to Amon-Ra and Mut, his consort. To the right (1) he offers them statuettes and burns incense before them. In the corner (m) he presents to Osiris, as owner of the temple, the title deeds that have been written on papyrus, rolled up and placed in an ornamental container.

The Second Hypostyle Hall (4) is divided into a front section that is supported by twenty-four sandstone papyrus-bud columns in pairs, and a platform to the rear; the latter forms the threshold to the seven sanctuaries.

Turning to the right-hand wall (n) we find Seti in one scene offering incense and water to Osiris, whose son Horus stands behind him. In the second scene Seti I is shown before a shrine in which Osiris is enthroned (o). This is one of the finest reliefs to be found in the Nile valley. Standing before him are Maat, goddess of Truth and Justice; Renpet, goddess of the year; Isis, who gently supports his arm; Amentet, a goddess of the dead; and Nephthys, sister of Isis.

The seven shrines, from right to left, belong to Horus, Isis, Osiris, Amon-Ra, Ra-Harakhte, Ptah and the deified Seti I. The walls between the doorways have niches for offerings. The chambers are decorated with reliefs of Seti making offerings to the appropriate god or to a member of his family. Each shrine has a vaulted roof decorated with stars, flying vultures and Seti’s name in oval ca rtouches. To the rear of each shrine, apart from that of Osiris that leads to the Hall of Osiris in the rear, is a representation of a false doorway, a freize of cobras and a place for a model boat in which the gods themselves made pilgrimages. On feast days these boats would be carried in procession, supported on poles resting on the shoulders of priests.

The representations in the seven shrines depict daily ceremonies performed in each, including the burning of incense, perfuming and anointing the statue of the god, and adorning it with crown and jewels.

In the Shrine of Horus, for example, Seti is depicted entering the shrine bearing an incense burner and a libation vase. He opens the doors of the shrine and the various scenes show him offering water and incense to Horus, placing the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt upon his head, adorning him with a necklace (known as the menat), the usekh collar, and strips of linen that symbolise clothing. Having completed these gestures, Seti leaves the shrine, sweeping the floor behind him in order to remove his footprints.

Similar scenes may be found in the shrines of Isis, Osiris (where some of the figures were damaged by early Christians) and Amon- Ra. All the reliefs are in beautifully preserved colour. In the latter shrine Amon-Ra is depicted in mummified human form and is painted blue. He wears a flat-topped crown and two tall plumes. He is also depicted as Kamutef in ithyphallic form. In another representation the boat of Amon-Ra is shown, with smaller boats for his wife Mut and son Khonsu. The shrines dedicated to Ra- Harakhte and Ptah have similar scenes, but the last shrine, that of Seti, is different from the others.

Shrine of Seti I: Instead of representations of Seti honouring different deities, who, in turn grant him life and prosperity, a priest, representing the god Horus, addresses the nine gods of the Ennead of Heliopolis - Atum-Ra (the Sun-god), Geb (earth) Nut (sky), Shu (air), Tefnut (moisture), Osiris and Isis, Set and Nepthys - on behalf of Seti. We find the goddess Seshat, patron of writing, recording Seti’s name and titles. Seti is depicted seated between the goddesses Nekhbet and Wadjet (the vulture and the cobra) that represent Upper and Low er Egypt. Thoth, the god of Wisdom, and Horus, bind together the lotus and the papyrus in a gesture that represents the unity of the Two Lands, beneath the king’s name. A priest recites the list of offerings that should be presented to the soul of the deceased.

Seti is also shown seated before a table of offerings, with Thoth reciting the offering list. Above him is his royal barge. The three figures beneath the boat are statues of Seti himself, his father, Ramses I, and Queen Sat-Ra, his mother. A scene from Seti’s jubilee shows him seated on a throne borne aloft by three hawkheaded and three jackal-headed figures representing the ancient capitals of Egypt.

Between the shrines are facades in marvellously preserved colour. That between the shrines of Horus and Isis (p) shows Seti receiving the emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt from Horus, and the symbol for a Long Reign from Isis. Below he is embraced by Horus, and receives the symbol of Life from Isis. The fafade between the shrines of Osiris and Amon-Ra (q) shows Seti, in the lower scene, seated like a child on the lap of Isis, who caresses him and refers to him as her son. To the left he is embraced by Khonsu, son of Amon- Ra, who holds symbols Life and Prosperity to his face.

The Hall of Osiris (5) (approached from the Shrine of Osiris). This hall is twelve metres long and ten metres wide with its roof supported by ten columns. Though it was used by the early Christians, and the hands and faces of the figures were destroyed, the reliefs still retain their original colour. The three small shrines to the right are dedicated to Isis, Seti in Osiris form (i.e. deceased) and Horus.

In the shrine of Horus (r) Seti washes a golden offering table with his hands while Horus extends the emblems of Life, Stability and Long Reign to him. The inscription proudly records ‘Washing the offering-table by the king himself’, while Horus declares ‘I give you years like those of the Sun-god Ra.’ Seti presents incense and libation water to Osiris and Isis. Horus throws a stream of incense into the hot brazier.

In the shrine of Osiris (s), Seti (here identified with Osiris) has holy water poured over him by Horus. The water comes in three streams from triple vases of gold; one stream is in the form of the emblems of Life and Prosperity. Thoth, the god of wisdom, presents the symbol for Life to Osiris and also holds the symbols for each of the Two Lands. Finally, Seti is depicted in the robes of a funerary priest reciting prayers for the dead.

In the shrine of Isis (t) the gentle Isis is shown embracing, protecting and honouring Osiris, Seti, and her son Horus in turn. She stands behind Osiris, holding him with her left arm, and according to the text, she says: ‘My two arms are behind thee; I embrace thy beauty.’ Then, Seti offers her water and incense and a tray of offerings of bread and fruit, meat and poultry.

On the rear wall (u) of the main hall, Seti I anoints the standard of Abydos while Isis caresses it. To the left is the Djed pillar which is ceremoniously raised and placed on its base, symbolising resurrection. Seti offers it strips of linen, in the manner of the adornment of the gods in the various shrines. Then, he lowers it and hands it to Isis for safekeeping.

The Southern Wing of the Temple is composed of a Hall of Sokar (6) and the famous Corridor of Kings (7). Also, there is a western corridor started by Seti but completed by Ramses II; a Hall of Boats where the sacred barges were stored on stone benches along the walls; a court for the slaughter of sacrificial animals; and other chambers for administrative and storage purposes.

The Corridor of Kings contains the famous ‘List of Kings’ beginning with Narmer and containing seventy-six names in oblong cartouches. This important historical record, apart from some notable chronological discrepancies, provides the list of Seti’s royal ancestors. The scenes in this corridor give prominence to the young prince Ramses, who was later to reign as Ramses II. He is shown four times as a child helping his father, Seti I, in various religious ceremonies and reading from a papyrus.

Recent excavations have been carried out in the rectangle formed by the main temple and the wing (8). A complex of mud-brick structures was cleared, revealing a large number of store-rooms and also a palace with enthronement hall where Seti received ablutions and observed the progress being made on the building of his temple.

July 5, 2013

Abydos and The Osiris Myth

Pharaonic Period (3100-332 BC)


Abydos (the Greek version of the ancient Egyptian name Abdu) is situated on the western bank of the Nile about seven kilometres west of the modern town of Balyana. It made its debut on the stage of Egypt’s ancient history even before the Dynastic period and retained its aura of sanctity longer than any other site in Egypt. This was because Abydos was the cult centre of Osiris, Egypt’s most beloved hero and the central figure of the country’s most popular myth.

Abydos Egypt
The Osiris Myth
The Osiris myth is one of the most poignant, and probably the most well-known of ancient Egypt. Surviving in oral tradition and variably recounted over the centuries, it has come down to us in many versions and with many contradictions. The earliest Egyptian sources are the Pyramid Texts (c. 2345-2181 BC), where the story is not in connected form. The most complete version is given by Plutarch, the Greek writer (c. 46-c. 126 AD).

According to the earliest version of the myth, Osiris, with his devoted wife Isis at his side, was a just god who ruled wisely and well. His brother Set, however, was jealous of his popularity and secretly sought to do away with him. At a rural festival Set enticed his visitors to try out a marvellously fashioned chest for size. When it came to Osiris’ turn, he unsuspectingly obliged, unaware that it had been made to his exact measurements. As soon as he lay down in it Set and his accomplices fell on the chest, shut the lid, and cast it into the Nile to be carried away by the flood.

Osiris God
Isis was overwhelmed with grief at the news. She Cast sand on her hair, rent her robes in sorrow, and set out in search of the chest. When she finally found it, she hid it beneath a tamarisk tree. Unfortunately, Set was out hunting and came upon the hiding place. He extracted the body, which he brutally tore into fourteen pieces, scattering them far and wide.

The tormented Isis, this time in the company of her sister, the goddess Nephthys, set out once more on a harrowing journey to collect the pieces of the body. Having done so, she and Nephthys called on the gods to help them bind the parts together and restore the body to life. Isis crooned incantations until breath came to the nostrils of Osiris, sight to his eyes and movement to his limbs. Then, the devoted wife, in the form of a bird, descended on Osiris and received his seed. When Isis gave birth to her son, Horus, she nursed him in solitude, and raised him to manhood to avenge his father’s death.

The tales of Isis’ devotion to her son Horus are many and varied. She brought him up secretly in the marshes of the Delta until he was strong. Then Horus set out in search of Set, his father’s slayer, and many and terrible were the battles between them. Horus, however, triumphed over evil, and emerged as victor. With the approval of the gods the throne was restored to him.

The Pyramid Texts are full of references to the faithful wife seeking the body of her husband. The weeping and lamentations of Isis and Nephthys for Osiris were a widespread and sacred expression of sorrow to the Egyptians. They loved to dwell on the loyalty and devotion of Isis, the evil of Set and the filial piety of Horus. They rewove the tale in their many oral renditions and dramatized them in public performances. (For later versions of the myth see pages 184 and 186.)

July 3, 2013

Historical Outline of Ancient Egypt

Historical Outline of Ancient Egypt
We owe the division of Egypt’s ancient history into thirty royal Dynasties from Menes to Alexander the Great to an Egyptian historian called Manetho, who lived in the reign of Ptolemy II (285-247 BC). The Dynasties were subsequently combined and grouped into three main periods: the Old Kingdom or Pyramid Age, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. These have been further divided by modern historians into:

Egyptian Social Pyramid
  • Early Dynastic Period (3100-332 BC)
  • Old Kingdom   
  • First Intermediate Period
  • Middle Kingdom
  • Second Intermediate Period
  • New Kingdom
  • Third Intermediate Period (Period of Decline)
  • Late Period
It is perhaps not surprising, in view of the more hostile environment in Upper Egypt and the economic attraction of the fertile Delta, that the thrust towards unification was always spearheaded from Upper Egypt.

Menes came from ancient Thinis, near Abydos, and according to Manetho the first and second Dynasties were ruled by ‘eight kings of Thinis’ and ‘nine kings of Thinis’ respectively. This was a period in which there appears to have been active resistance against unity. Once consolidated, however, Egypt embarked on a period of economic prosperity, technical achievement, productivity and inventiveness. During the Old Kingdom (2686-2345 BC) a series of vigorous monarchs established and maintained a highly centralised government. This was when the pharaohs Khufu (Cheops), Khafre (Chephren) and Menkaure (Mycerinus) raised the great pyramids on the Giza plateau.

Unfortunately, forces of internal erosion finally reduced the country to lawlessness, and the monarchy fell. The provincial lords who had gained prestige under the great pharaohs agitated for independence. The country fragmented into small provincial kingdoms, and though several leaders governed independently during the First Intermediate Period, none was powerful enough to rule the Two Lands.

Ancient Egyptian Map
It was an Upper Egyptian from the Theban area, Luxor, who provided the stimulus to reunify the country and pave the way for the Middle Kingdom (2133-1786 BC), the second cultural peak. Four pharaohs by the name of Amenemhet and three called Senusert (Sesostris) ruled during the 12th Dynasty, a period of great prosperity. It was comparable to, but in many ways different from, the Old Kingdom. Fine monuments were raised throughout the land; arts and crafts again flourished, and irrigation projects were carried out. Furthermore, Egypt extended its frontiers well into Kush, where a series of enormous frontier fortresses were established.

As before, there was a breakdown in the central government. Petty kings ruled simultaneously from Luxor in Upper Egypt and from some centres in Lower Egypt. Rapid decline set in and the country soon passed under the domination of the Hyksos, ‘rulers of foreign countries’, warlike tribes from western Asia.

The Hyksos occupation lasted for about a century/Again it was a family from Thebes who triggered the war of liberation and provided the galvanic response to pursue the enemy right into their own camp, which was situated in the north-eastern Delta. Having successfully defeated the enemy and driven them out of Egypt, a liberated, reunited country could embark on its third cultural peak.

Under the rulers of the New Kingdom (1567-1080 BC), Egypt developed into an important power. The successful wars against the Hyksos had already transformed the country into a military state with a standing army. Now it remained to create an empire and extend the frontiers southwards to Kush and north-eastwards to the countries ofPalestine and Syria. The monuments raised throughout the land during the New Kingdom, particularly those in Upper Egypt, reflect the wealth and prosperity of the nation. Unfortunately, the pharaohs fell under the domination of the high priests of Amon at Thebes, until eventually one of them seized the throne.

In the 21st Dynasty, the country was once more divided: Upper Egypt was ruled by the high priests at Thebes, and Lower Egypt by a family in Tanis. Under a divided and weakened rule, Egypt succumbed again to foreign invasion: tribes of Libyan origin, Kushites from beyond Nubia, the Assyrian conquest and then, following a short-lived revival known as the Saite Period, came the Persian invasions, and finally the Greek and Roman occupations.

White Crown
In times of strong central government, the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt were united. In times of weakened rule they broke apart. When united, the culture was built on strong foundations of inherited values and traditions. When divided, the Delta, Lower Egypt, was open to diverse foreign influences, while it was in Upper Egypt, and in neighbouring Nubia, that the traditional spirit of ancient Egypt survived.

July 1, 2013

The Environment of Ancient Egypt

The Environment
Egypt is a land with well defined boundaries. To the east and west are vast deserts. To the north is the Mediterranean Sea. To the south there was a formidable granite barrier - now inundated - beyond which lay the barren land of Nubia.

The Environment of Ancient Egypt
These physical barriers were, of course, open to cultural influences, and could be traversed by groups of traders. But they impeded large bodies of troops. This gave the ancient Egyptians a great sense of security and confidence. They had the feeling that divine providence protected their land and set them apart from their neighbours. They were the remeth, ‘the (true) men’. The others were ‘sand-dwellers’, ‘sand-wanderers’, or people other than Egyptians. Theirs was a flat and largely uniform landscape, blessed with eternal sunshine and a lifegiving annual flood. Hill country was foreign land.

Within these recognisable boundaries, however, was a land divided: Upper Egypt, which extended from Aswan to a point just south of modern Cairo, was, apart from the narrow strip of land flanking the river, largely barren. The triangle of the Delta, or Lower Egypt, was extremely fertile. The climate in Upper Egypt was semi-tropical. That of the Delta was temperate. Such physical and climatic differences naturally gave rise to different cultures, different experiences and different outlooks.

Pre-dynastic pottery, for example, was stamped, like the land itself, by a distinct character; black-topped, burnished ware was found in Upper Egypt, and wide-lipped, buff-coloured pottery in Lower Egypt. The inhabitants of Upper Egypt remained semi- nomadic even after those of Lower Egypt had settled down to farming. Control of river water in largely barren Upper Egypt required the digging of canals and blockage in basins against times of need. In the Delta settlements were made on natural knolls. The hardy Upper Egyptians, who were closely linked with Nubia and Kush, tended to be somewhat suspicious by nature. The Lower Egyptians, culturally oriented to the Mediterranean and the lands of Asia, were tolerant of strangers.

Little wonder, then, that dualism should enter into the very political organisation of the country, which was reflected in the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt. The ruler was Lord of the Two Lands, even at a time when the frontiers of Egypt were extended well beyond its borders.

Ancient Egypt Environment
 Unification has been ascribed to Narmer (Menes). He was the first king to be portrayed wearing both the White Crown of Upper Egypt and the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, having brought the whole of the Nile valley under his domination from the First Cataract, south of Aswan, to the Mediterranean sea.

Social attitudes, however, did not end with unification. In fact they remained such that an Egyptian exile, bewildered at finding himself in a foreign country, wrote that . .it was as if a man of the Delta were to see himself in Elephantine.'’ And the different dialects of the people of Upper and Lower Egypt were expressed thus: ‘. . . your speeches . . . are confused when heard . . . they are like the words of a man of the Delta marshes with a man of Elephantine.'’
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