Monday, March 4, 2013

Middle Egypt: El-Ashmunein to Ihnasya El-Medina

Ramessid calcite statuette of a priest with
leopard-skin garment and a baboon squatting
around his neck. Oxford, Ashmolean museum

El-Ashmunein
El-Ashmunein, ancient Egyptian Khmun (“8-town”). Named for the group of eight deities (ogdoad) who represented the world before crea-tion, was called in Greek Hermopolis after Hermes (= Egyptian Thoth). It was the capital of the 15th Upper Egyptian nome and the main cult center of Thoth, the god of healing and of wisdom, and the patron of scribes. No early remains have been found there, but this is probably the result of chance destruction.
 The site is in a broad and rich area of the Nile valley. It is now very badly ruined, with small parts of temples standing above the general rubble. Only the Roman Period agora with its early Christian basilica is at all well preserved, giving evidence of the great prosperity of the town in late antiquity .

Granite columns of late Roman
basilica at  El-Ashmunein
 A native Egyptian monument that was still standing in 1820 consisted of two rows of columns from the hypostyle hall of the temple of Thoth, dating to Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus. About 200 m south of this temple was an earlier pylon of Ramesses II, in whose foundations more than 1,500 blocks from dismantled temples of Akhenaten at El-‘Amarna were found by a German expedition under Günther Roeder between 1929 and 1939. Other monuments of the Dynastic Period that can now be seen are the entrance to a temple of Amenemhet II and the first pylon of a 19th  Dynasty temple of Amun with reliefs of Sethos II. All these buildings were in a central sacred area of the town , surrounded by a massive mud-brick enclosure of the 30th Dynasty .
 The prosperity of the Greco-Roman Period was due to agriculture and to the prestige of Thoth, who was worshiped as Hermes Trismegistos (“thrice-great Hermes”) by Greek and Egyptian alike, and had the Hermetic Corpus of mystical writings ascribed to him. Hermopolis and Tuna el-Gebel became centers of pilgrimage for Greeks and Egyptians.

Tuna El-Gebel

Greco-Egyptian painting in
mortuary house 21 at Tuna El-Gebel
The site of Tuna El-Gebel is scattered for about 3 km along the desert 7 km west of El-Ashmunein. A boundary steak of Akhenaten, the earliest monument, is one of the most accessible of a series of such stelae. A group of six, of which this is the northwestern  (stela A), is named in the text as marking the limits of El-‘Amarna with its agricultural hinterland . The monument consists of a rock-cut “shrine” a little way up the escarpment, with the stela, with its much-eroded text, to one side. The top of the stela has a relief of the royal couple adoring the solar disk. Beside it are two pair statues of the king and queen, also rock-cut, whose arms are in different gestures, probably of adoration and of offering ; the pairs are accompanied by much smaller figures of princesses.
To the south is the late necropolis of El-Ashmunein. The earliest objects found here are Aramaic papyri of the 5th century BC. These administrative documents of the Persian occupation were in a jar in the catacombs of ibis and baboon burials that are the largest feature of the site, and included a baboon sarcophagus dated to the Persian Kind Darius I. Most of the material in the catacombs was Greco-Roman in date, and a selection of pottery, bronze statuettes and mummies is now shown in the museum in the nearby town of Mallawi. Ibis and baboon are the two chief sacred animals of Thoth, the god of El-Ashmunein.
The site also contains the almost unique tomb of the family of Petosiris, which dates to the reign of Philip Arrhidaeus. It is in the from of a temple, with an entrance portico and a cult chapel behind (the burials are in underground chambers). In the portico there are scenes of daily life and of offering bearers in a mixed Egyptian-Greek style. The chapel contains traditional religious scens and important texts, including an extensive description of works in the temples of Hermopolis.
South of the tomb of Petosiris is a large Greek city of the dead of the first centuries AD, with tombs and mortuary houses decorated in a complex mixture of Greek and Egyptian styles. Both the galleries and the city of the dead were excavated by the Egyptian Egyptologist Sami Gabra between the two world wars.

El-Sheikh ‘Ibada

This is the site of the ancient Antinoopolis, founded by Emperor Hadrian in 130 AD to commemorate his favorite Antinous who had drowned here. Among the earlier monuments the largest is the temple of Ramesses II, dedicated to the gods of El-Ashmunein and Heliopolis.

Beni Hasan with Speos Artemidos

Beni Hasan, some 23 km south of El-Minya, on the east bank of the Nile, is the most important and informative Middle Kingdom provincial necropolis between Asyut and Memphis. It contains 39 large rock-cut tombs, at least eight of them belonging to the “Great Overlords of the Oryx name” (the 16th nome of Upper Egypt) of the end of the 11th and the early 12th Dynasties.
 The biographical text in th tomb (No. 2) of the last of the holders of the title, Amenemhet, is dated “Year 43, month 2 of the inundation season, day 15” of the reign of Senwosret I. Although the tombs of his two successors, Khnumhotpe II (No. 13) and Khnumhotpe III (No. 3), do not show an appreciable diminution of material resources, the centralization that was gradually achieved by the early kings of the 12th Dynasty ultimately broke the string of the families of nomarchs in the whole of Middle Egypt, and large rock-cut tombs ceased to be built. The plan of the latest among the tombs consists of (1) and outer court with a portico formed by two pillars, (2) a rectangular main room with four polygonal pillars and (3) a statue niche . The decoration, now rapidly deteriorating, is painted throughout, and military activities, such as siege scenes, figure very prominently. Below these tombs there are others, more modest, some of which go back to the 6th Dynasty .
South of Beni Hasan is Speos Artemidos (locally known as Istabl ‘Antar), a rock temple dedicated to the local lioness goddess Pakhet, built by Queen Hatshepsut. The architrave bears a long dedicatory text with the famous denunciation of Hyksos.

Zawyet el-Amwat

The most important features at this site are a step pyramid, perhaps of the 3rd Dynasty, and a necropolis of rock-cut tombs, mainly of the end of the Old kingdom, which belonged to ancient Hebenu (modern Kom el-Ahmar), the early capital of the 16th Upper Egyptian nome .

Tihna el-Gebel

The rock-cut tombs (“Fraser Tombs”) at Tihna date to the Old Kingdom. A bout 2 km north of them, close to the modern  village ,there are remains of the ancient town Akoris and three small temples and a necropolis of the Greco-Roman period.

El-Bahnasa
Little is known about Per-medjed (Coptic Pemdje), the capital of the 19th Upper Egyptian nome, from the Dynastic Period. Although it played an interesting part in Egyptian mythology, its pha-raonic remains are unknown.
The town came to prominence during the Greco-Roman Period when it was called Oxyrhynchus, after the local cult of the Mormyrus fish. Its rubbish heaps have produced many thousands of Greek papyri (Grenfell and Hunt, 1896-1907), equaled in numbers only by those found in the towns of the Faiyum.

El-Hiba

This is a town site (ancient Egyptian Teudjoi) with a much-destroyed temple built by Shoshenq I. It was the northern limit of the Thebaid during the 21st-25th Dynasties.

Dishasha

Dishasha is known for its late Old Kingdom tombs, including some belonging to the chief officials of the 20th Upper Egyptian nome. The rock-cut tomb of Inti contains a rare scene of the siege of a fortified town .

The detective side of Egyptology: The tomb relief on the right ,
now  in Museo Arqueologico National in Madrid  was found during
excavations of a 1st intermediate period cemetery south of the
temple of Harsaphes at Ihnasya El-Madina in 1968. The fragment
on the left was already in market in New York since 1964
incorrectly dated  and with a misleading indication of its provenance.
Ihnasya el-Medina
A bout 15 km west of Beni suef, on the right bank of the Bahr Yusuf, is the modern village of Ihmasya el-Medina . The village derives its name from ancient Egyptian Henen-nesut (Coptic Hnes), the capital of the 20th Upper Egyptian nome, which was situated nearby , Probably mainly west of it . As the chief god of the ancient town was the ram-headed Harsaphes (Egyptian Herishef, literally “He who is on his lake” ), later identified with Greek Herakles, it acquired the Classical name Herakleopolis Magna. 
The remains of the temple of Harsaphes lie southwest of the village, and have been excavated by E. Naville ( 1891-92), w. m. Flinders Petrie (1904) and in recent years by a Spanish expedition (J. Lopez). The earliest monuments date to the 12 th Dynasty. During the 18 th Dynasty the temple was enlarged. But the major rebuilding program was due to Ramesses II. The temple continued to be used during the 3rd Intermediate and Late periods.
The most prominent part Herakleopolis ever played in Egyptian history was during the 1st Intermediate period when it was the seat of the rulers of the 9th/10th (Herakleopolitan) Dynasty.
No temples of this or earlier periods have yet been located, but tombs of contemporary officials have been found some 300 m south of the temple.
Southeast of the temple of Harsaphes, at Kom el- Aqarib, there was another temple built by Ramesses II. Sidmant el-Gebel, about 7 km to the west, was probably the main necropolis serving the town, with graves and rock-cut tombs ranging from the 1st Intermediate to the Greco-Roman periods.

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