Ancient Near East
Images & Art
Maps & Geography
Mythology & Beliefs
People in History
Timelines & Charts
Map of the Roman Empire - Thebes
M-6 on the Map
Ancient Thebes - Thebes was the capital city of Upper Egypt, and the city of the god Amon, with marvelous temples, royal tombs etc. (Luxor, Karnak, Medinet Habu, etc.) Thebes is mentioned in the Bible by the name 'No' as in Jer. 46:25; Ezek. 30:14-16; and Nah. 3:8.
Jer. 46:25 - The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saith; Behold, I will punish the multitude of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, with their gods, and their kings; even Pharaoh, and [all] them that trust in him:
Ezek. 30:14 - And I will make Pathros desolate, and will set fire in Zoan, and will execute judgments in No.
Nah. 3:8 - Art thou better than populous No, that was situate among the rivers, [that had] the waters round about it, whose rampart [was] the sea, [and] her wall [was] from the sea?
Thebae (Θῆβαι), in the poets sometimes Thebé (Θήβη; Dor. Θήβα), later
Diospŏlis Magna (Διόσπολις Μεγάλη, i. e. “Great City of Zeus”), in Egyptian
Tuabu, in Scripture No or No The capital of Thebaïs, or Upper Egypt, and, for a
long time, of the whole country. It was reputed the oldest city of the world. It
stood in about the centre of the Thebaïd, on both banks of the Nile, above
Coptos, and in the Nomos Coptites. It is said to have been founded under the
first dynasty by Menes; but this is unsupported by any evidence. Others ascribed
its foundation to Osiris, who named it after his mother, and others to Busiris.
It appears to have been at the height of its splendour, as the capital of Egypt,
and as a chief seat of worship of Ammon, about B.C. 1330 under the Nineteenth
Dynasty. The fame of its grandeur had reached the Greeks as early as the time of
Homer, who describes it, with poetical exaggeration, as having a hundred gates,
from each of which it could send out 200 war chariots fully armed ( Il. ix.
381). Homer's epithet of “HundredGated” (ἑκατόμπυλοι) is repeatedly applied to
the city by later writers. Its real extent was calculated by the Greek writers
at 140 stadia (fourteen geographical miles) in circuit; and in Strabo's time,
when the long transference of the seat of power to Lower Egypt had caused it to
decline greatly, it still had a circuit of eighty stadia (Diod.i. 50; xv. 45;
Strabo, pp. 805, 815). That these computations are not exaggerated is proved by
the existing ruins, which extend from side to side of the valley of the Nile,
here about six miles wide; while the rocks which bound the valley are perforated
with tombs. These ruins, which are perhaps the most magnificent in the world,
enclose within their site the four modern villages of Karnak, Luxor (El Uksur),
Medînet Habou, and Kurna—the two former on the eastern and the two latter on the
western side of the river. They consist of temples, colossi, sphinxes, and
obelisks, and, on the western side, of tombs, many of which are cut in the rock
and adorned with paintings, which are still as fresh as if just finished. These
ruins are remarkable alike for their great antiquity and for the purity of their
style. It is most probable that the great buildings were all erected before the
Persian invasion, when Thebes was taken by Cambyses, who secured treasure to the
amount of some $10,000,000, and burned the wooden habitations, after which time
it never regained the rank of a capital city; and thus its architectural
monuments escaped that Greek influence which is so marked in the edifices of
Lower Egypt. Among its chief buildings, the ancient writers mention the
Memnonium, with the two colossi in front of it, the temple of Ammon, in which
one of the three chief colleges of priests was established, and the tombs of the
kings. See Memnon.
To describe the ruins in detail, and to discuss their identification, would far exceed the possible limits of this article. Suffice it to mention among the monuments on the western (Libyan) side the three temples of Seti I., Rameses II., and Rameses III. Near the second is the fallen colossus of Rameses II., the largest statue in Egypt. (See Rameses.) Beyond is the terraced temple of Queen Hatasu of the Eighteenth Dynasty, near which a remarkable series of mummies and papyri were found by Brugsch in 1881. At Medînet Habou is a great temple of Rameses III., with interesting sculptures describing his victories over the Philistines, and also a calendar. Northwest of this are the cemeteries of the sacred apes and the Valley of the Tombs of the Queens (seventeen sepulchres). On the eastern bank at Luxor is the beautiful temple of Amenoph III., with an obelisk whose fellow now stands in the Place de la Concorde at Paris. At Karnak is a splendid group of temples built under the Twelfth Dynasty. The finest portion of this maze of architectural magnificence is the Great Hall, 170 by 329 feet, with twelve imposing columns 62 feet in height and 12 feet in diameter, and 122 minor columns, and two obelisks, of which one is the tallest in Egypt, being 108 feet in height. On the walls are fine sculptures depicting the battles of Seti I. and Rameses II. against the Hittites, Arabs, Syrians, and Armenians. In one of the porticos is recorded the expedition of Shishak I. against Jerusalem in B.C. 971. In classical times Thebes was a great showplace, and was visited by both Greek and Roman tourists, among the latter being the emperor Hadrian. - Harry Thurston Peck. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers.
Thebes (Θῆβαι, Thēbai, Arabic: طيبة, Ṭībah) is the Greek name for a city in Ancient Egypt located about 800 km south of the Mediterranean, on the east bank of the river Nile. The Valley of the Kings is located in Thebes. It was inhabited beginning in around 3200 BC. It was the eponymous capital of Waset, the fourth Upper Egyptian nome. Waset was the capital of Egypt during part of the 11th Dynasty (Middle Kingdom) and most of the 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom), when Hatshepsut built a Red Sea fleet to facilitate trade between Thebes Red Sea port of Elim, modern Quasir, and Elat at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Traders bought frankincense, myrrh, bitumen, natron, fine woven linen, juniper oil and copper amulets for the mortuary industry at Karnak with Nubian gold. With the 19th Dynasty the seat of government moved to the Delta. The archaeological remains of Thebes offer a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height. The Greek poet Homer extolled the wealth of Thebes in the Iliad, Book 9 (c. 8th Century BC): "... in Egyptian Thebes the heaps of precious ingots gleam, the hundred-gated Thebes." The name Thebai is the Greek designation of the ancient Egyptian opet "The Karnak Temple" (from coptic ta-pe, Ta-opet became Thebai). At the seat of the Theban triad of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, Thebes was known in the Egyptian language from the end of the New Kingdom as niwt-imn, "The City of Amun." This found its way into the Hebrew Bible as נא אמון nōʼ ʼāmôn (Nahum 3:8),"no" in Hebrew meaning city with "no amon" or "City of Amon" referring to the Egyptian deity Amon-Ra, most likely it is also the same as נא ("No") (Ezekiel 30:14). In Greek this name was rendered Διόσπολις Diospolis, "City of Zeus", as Zeus was the god whom the Greeks identified with Amun, see interpretatio graeca. The Greeks surnamed the city μεγάλη megale, "the Great", to differentiate it from numerous other cities called Diospolis. The Romans rendered the name Diospolis Magna. In modern usage, the mortuary temples and tombs on the west bank of the river Nile are generally thought of as part of Thebes. The two great temples, now called Luxor (Arabic: الأقصر, Al-Uqṣur, "The palaces") and al-Karnak (الكرنك), the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens are among the great achievements of ancient Egypt. - Wikipedia
Thebae, (Tape, "head," Diospolis Magna, No-Ammon), capital of Thebais, and later of all Egypt, on both banks of the Nile, bet. Apollinopolis Parva and Tuphium, below Hermonthis. Built by Busiris. Surnamed Hecatompylos traditionally from its 100 gates, each of which, it was said, could send forth 200 men, with horses and chariots; but in reality Thebes was a city without walls. The gates in question were probably those of its many temples. In the quarter called Tathyris, " sacred to Athor," on the left bank of the Nile, was the famous Memnonium. The city was almost entirely destroyed by Cambyses. Luxor, Carnac, Gournou, and Medeenet-Haboo. - Classical Gazetteer
Maps are essential for any serious study, they help students of Roman history understand the geographical locations and historical backgrounds of the places mentioned in historical sources.
THEBAE (Θῆθαι, Hdt. 1.182, 2.42; Strab. xvii. pp. 805,815, foil.; Thebe, Plin. Nat. 5.9. s. 11), the No (Ezekiel, 30.14) or NO-AMMON (Nahum, vv. 3, 8) of the Hebrew Scriptures; at alater period DIOSPOLIS the Great of the Greeks and Romans (Διόσπολις μεγάλη, Ptol. 4.5.73; Steph. B. sub voce was one of the most ancient cities of Aegypt, and even, according to Diodorus (1.50, comp. 15.45), of the world. Its foundation, like that of Memphis, was attributed to Menes, the first mortal king of Aegypt, i. e. it went back to the mythical period of Aegyptian history. By some writers, however, Memphis was reported to have been a colony of Thebes. It was the capital of the nome formed by the city itself and its environs, though Ptolemy (l.c.) describes it as pertaining to the Nome of Coptos. In all Upper Aegypt no spot is so adapted for the site of a great capital as the plain occupied by ancient Thebes. The mountain chains, the Libyan on the western, and the Arabian on the eastern, side of the Nile, sweep boldly from the river, and leave on both banks a spacious area, whose breadth, including the river, amounts to nearly 4 leagues, and the length from N. to S. is nearly as much. Towards the N. the plain is again closed in by the return of the hills to the Nile; but on the S., where the western chain continues distant, it remains open. The ground, therefore, on which Thebes stood was large enough to contain a city of at least equal extent with ancient Rome or modern Paris; and, according to Strabo, ancient Thebes covered the entire plain. Only a portion of it, however, was available for population. An immense area was covered with the temples and their avenues of sphinxes; and on the western side, as far as the Libyan hills, lay the monuments of the dead. On the eastern bank, therefore, the population was generally collected; and there it was probably densely crowded, since ancient writers assign to Thebes an almost incredible number of inhabitants, and Diodorus (1.45) describes the houses as consisting of many stories. The extent of the city is very differently stated by ancient authors. Rumours of its greatness had reached the Greeks of Homer's age, who (Il. 9.381) speaks of its “hundred gates” and its 20,000 war-chariots, just as the Arabian story-tellers speak of the glories of Bagdad or Damascus under the Caliphs. Before the Persian invasion (B.C. 525) no Greek writer had visited Thebes; and after that catastrophe its dimensions had considerably shrunk, since Cambyses is said to have burnt all such portions of Thebes as fire would destroy, i. e. all the private buildings; and under the Persian viceroys no Aegyptian city was likely to regain its original proportions. It does not appear that Herodotus ever visited Upper Egypt, and his account of Thebes is extremely vague and meagre. Diodorus, on the contrary, who saw it after its capture by Ptolemy Lathyrus, about B.C. 87, beheld Thebes in the second period of its decay, and after Alexandreia had diverted much of its commerce to Berenice and the Arsinoite bay. He estimates its circuit at 140 stadia or about 17 miles. Strabo, again, who went thither with the expedition of Aelius Gallus in B.C. 24, beheld Thebes at a still lower stage of decadence, and assigns it a compass of about 10 miles. But at that time the continuity of its parts was broken up, and it was divided into certain large hamlets (κωμήδον) detached from one another. Neither of these writers, accordingly, was in a position to state accurately the real dimensions of the city in its flourishing estate, i. e. between 1600 and 800 i. c. Modern travellers, again, have still further reduced its extent; for example, Sir Gardner Wilkinson supposes the area of Thebes not to have exceeded 5 1/2 English miles. As, however, during the space of 2600 years (800 B.C.--1800 A.D.) there have been very material changes in the soil from the contraction of the habitable ground, partly by the depositions of the Nile, and partly, by the drifting of the sands, it is scarcely possible for modern travellers to determine how far Aegyptian labour and art may once have extended their capital. An author quoted by Stephanus of Byzantium, probably Hecataeus, runs into the opposite extreme, and ascribes to Thebes a population (7,000,000) hardly possible for the entire Nilevalley, and an extent (400 stadia, or 50 miles) larger than the Theban plain itself. (Steph. B. sub voce Διόσπολις.) The name of Thebes is formed from the Taped of the ancient Aegyptian language, pronounced Thaba in the Memphitic dialect of Coptic, and thence easily converted into Θῆθαι, Thebè, or Thebes. In hieroglyphics it is written AP or APE, with the feminine article, T-APE, the meaning of which is said to be “head,” Thebes being the “head” or capital of the Upper Kingdom. Its later appellation of Diospolis Magna (Διόσπολις ἡ μεγάλη) answers also to the Aegyptian title Amunei or “abode of Amun,” --Ammon or Zeus, the ram-headed god, being the principal object of worship at Thebes, The name Tapè or Thebes applied to the entire city on either bank of the Nile; but the western quarter had the distinctive name of Pathyris, or, according to Ptolemy (4.5.69), Tathyris, as being under the special protection of Athor, who is sometimes called the President of the West. The necropolis, indeed, on the Libyan side was appropriately placed under [p. 2.1138]the guardianship of this deity, since she was believed to receive the sun in her arms as he sank behind the western hills. This quarter, again, in the age of the Ptolemies, was termed “the Libyan suburb,” which was subdivided also into particular districts, such as the Memnoneia (τὰ Μεμνονειά, Young, Hieroglyph. Literature, pp. 69, 73) and Thynabunum, where the priests of Osiris were interred. (Wilkinson, Anc. Egyptians, vol. v. p. 387.)
The power and prosperity of Thebes arose from three sources--trade, manufactures, and religion. Its position on the Nile, near the great avenues through the Arabian hills to the Red Sea, and to the interior of Libya through the western desert, rendering it a common entrepôt for the Indian trade on the one side, and the caravan trade with the gold, ivory, and aromatic districts on the other, and its comparative vicinity to the mines which intersect the limestone borders of the Red Sea, combined to make Thebes the greatest emporium in Eastern Africa, until Alexandreia turned the stream of commerce into another channel. It was also celebrated for its linen manufacture--an important fabric in a country where a numerous priesthood was interdicted from the use of woollen garments (Plin. Nat. 9.1. s. 4). The glass, pottery, and intaglios of Thebes were also in high repute, and generally the number and magnitude of its edifices, sacred and secular, must have attracted to the city a multitude of artisans, who were employed in constructing, decorating, or repairing them. The priests alone and their attendants doubtless constituted an enormous population, for, as regarded Aegypt, and for centuries Aethiopia also, Thebes stood in the relation occupied by Rome in medieval Christendom,--it was the sacerdotal capital of all who worshipped Ammon from Pelusium to Axume, and from the Oases of Libya to the Red Sea.
The history of Thebes is not. entirely the same with that of Aegypt itself, since the predominance of the Upper Kingdom implies a very.different era in Aegyptian annals from that of the lower, or the Delta. It may perhaps be divided into three epochs: 1. The period which preceded the occupation of Lower Aegypt by the Assyrian nomades, when it is doubtful whether Memphis or Thebes were the capital of the, entire country, or whether indeed both the Thebaid and the Delta were not divided into several smaller states, such as that of Heliopolis in the N., and Abydus in the S., the rivals respectively of Memphis and Thebes. 2. The interval between the expulsion of the Assyrians by Thoutmosis, and the 21st dynasty of Tanite kings. During all this period, Thebes was unquestionably the capital of all the Nile-valley, from the Mediterranean to the island of Argo in lat. 19° 31′ N. 3. The period of decadence, when the government of Aegypt was centered in the Delta, and Thebes was probably little more than the head-quarters of the sacerdotal caste and the principal refuge of old Aegyptian life and manners. And this threefold division is rendered the more probable by the consideration that, until the Assyrian empire became formidable, and Phoenicia important from its maritime power, Aethiopia, rather than Arabia or Syria, was the formidable neighbour of Aegypt.
Under the Old Monarchy there is no trace of Aegyptian dominion extending beyond the peninsula of Sinai, the northern shores of the Red Sea, or the Libyan tribes adjoining the Delta. During this period invasion was apprehended almost exclusively from the S. The Aethiopians were no less warlike, and perhaps as civilised, as the Aegyptians: the Nile afforded them direct ingress to the regions north of the Cataracts, and they were then, as the Syrians and north-eastern states became afterwards, the immediate objects of war, treaties, or intermarriages with the Pharaohs of Thebes. When the Theban state was powerful enough to expel the Assyrian nomades, it must have already secured the alliance or the subjection of Aethiopia; and the attention of its rulers was thenceforward directed to the eastern frontier of the Lower Kingdom. Accordingly we find that while only one nome in the Thebaid and one in Middle Aegypt were assigned to the native militia, the bulk of the Calasirians and Hermobytians was permanently quartered in the Delta.
The greatness of Thebes commences with the 18th dynasty of the Pharaohs, and the immediate cause of it appears to have been the collective efforts of the Upper Country to expel the Assyrian shepherds from the Delta. The Thebaid and its capital were, probably, at no period occupied by these invaders; since, according to Manetho‘s account of the 17th dynasty, there were then two contemporaneous kingdoms in Aegypt--the Delta governed by the Hyksos, and the Thebaid by native monarchs. Thoutmosis, king of Thebes, was the principal agent in the expulsion of the intruders, and his exploits against them are commemorated on the temples at Karnak. Memphis and the Delta, together with the lesser states, such as Xois, delivered from the invaders, thenceforward were under the dominion of the kings of Thebes. Its flourishing era lasted nearly eight centuries, i. e. from about 1600 to 800 B.C.
During this period the most conspicuous monarchs. were Amenophis I., who appears, from the monuments, to have received divine honours after his decease, and to have been regarded as the second founder of the monarchy. He probably carried his arms beyond the north-eastern frontier of the Delta into Syria, and his presence in Aethiopia is recorded in a grotto at Ibrim near Aboosimbel. The victories or conquests of Amenophis in the N. and S. are inferred from the circumstance that in the sculptures he is represented as destroying or leading captive Asiatic and Aethiopian tribes. Next in succession is Thothmes I, with whose reign appears to have begun the series of Theban edifices which excited the wonder of the Greeks, who beheld them almost in their original magnificence, and of all subsequent travellers. The foundations, at least, of the palace of the kings were laid by this monarch. Thothmes also, like his predecessors, appears, from the monuments, to have made war with Assyria, and to have extended his dominion as high up the Nile as the island of Argo in upper Nubia. Thothmes II. maintained or even enlarged the realm which he inherited, since his name has been found at Gebel-el-Birkel, the Napata of the Romans, lat. 18° 30′ N. At this period Aethiopia was apparently an appanage of the Theban kingdom, and its rulers or viceroys seem to have been of the blood royal of Aegypt, since now for the first time, and until the reign of Setei Menephthah (Rosellini,i Mon. Reg. tab.xxxi.--iv.), we meet with the title of the royal son or prince of Aethiopia. The records of this reign have nearly perished; the great obelisks of Karnak, however, attest the flourishing condition of contemporary art. They were erected by Nemt Amen, the sister of Thothmes II., who appears, like the Nitocris of the [p. 2.1139]Old Monarchy, to have exercised the functions of royalty. The reign of Thothmes III. is one of the most splendid in the annals of the 18th dynasty. The frontiers of Aegypt extended S. a little beyond the second cataract, and E. nearly to Mount Sinai. Thothmes III. completed in Thebes itself many of the structures begun by his predecessors, e. g. the palace of the kings,--and generally enriched the cities of the Thebaid with sumptuous buildings. He commenced the temple at Amada, which was completed by Amunoph II. and Thothmes IV; and his name was inscribed on the monuments of Ombi, Apollinopolis Magna, and Eilithya. Thebes, however, was the centre of his architectural labours, and even the ruins of his great works there have served to adorn other capital cities. In the Hippodrome of Constantinople is a mutilated obelisk of the reign of Thothmes III., which was brought from Aegypt by one of the Byzantine emperors, and which originally adorned the central court of Karnak. Again the obelisk which Pope Sixtus V. set up in front of the church of St. John Lateran at Rome, the loftiest and most perfect structure of its kind, was first raised in this reign, and bears its founder's titles on the central column of its hieroglyphics. The records of this reign are inscribed on two interesting monuments,--a painting in a tomb at Gourneh (Hoskins, Travels in Aethiopia, p. 437, foll.; Wilkinson, Mod. Egypt and Thebes, vol. ii. p. 234), and the great Tablet of Karnak, which is strictly an historical and statistical document, and which, there can be little doubt, is the very Tablet which the priests of Thebes exhibited and expounded to Caesar Germanicus in A.D. 16 (Tac. Ann. 2.60). From the paintings and the hieroglyphics, so far as the latter have been read, on these monuments, it appears that in this reign tribute was paid into the Theban treasury by nations dwelling on the borders of the Caspian sea, on the banks of the Tigris, in the kingdom of Meroe or Aethiopia, and by the more savage tribes who wandered over the eastern flank of the great Sahara. Thirteen expeditions, indeed, of Thothmes III., are distinctly registered, and the 35th year of his reign, according to Lepsius, is recorded. At this period the kingdom of Thebes must have been the most powerful and opulent in the world. Of the son of Thothmes, Amunophis II., little is known; but he also added to the erections at Thebes, and reared other monuments in Nubia. Inscriptions found at Surabit-el-Kaalim, in the peninsula of Sinai, record his name, and at Primis (Ibrim) he appears in a speos, or excavated chapel, seated with two principal officers, and receiving the account of a great chase of wild beasts.
Next in importance, though not in succession, of the Theban kings of the 18th dynasty, is Amunoph, or Amenophis III. His name is found at Toumbos, near the third Cataract, and he permanently extended the frontiers of the Theban kingdom to Soleb, a degree further to S. than it had hitherto reached. These extensions are not only geographically, but commercially, important, inasmuch as the farther southward the boundaries extended, the nearer did the Aegyptians approach to the regions which produced gold, ivory, gems, and aromatics, and the more considerable, therefore, was the trade of Thebes itself. Only on the supposition that it was for many generations one of the greatest emporiums in the world can we understand the lavish expenditure of its monarchs, and its fame among northern nations as the greatest and richest of cities. And this consideration is the more important towards a correct estimate of the resources of the Theban kingdom, since its proper territory barely sufficed for the support of its dense population, and there is no evidence of its having any remarkable traffic by sea. It is probable, indeed, that the dominions of Amenophis III. stretched to within five days' journey of Axume on the Red Sea; for a scarabaeus inscribed with his name and that of his wife Taia mentions the land of Karoei or Kaloei, supposed to be Coloe (Rosellini, Mon. Stor. 3.1, 261; Birch, Gall. Brit. Mus. p. 83), as their southern limit. Thebes was enriched by this monarch with two vast palaces, one on the eastern, the other on the western bank of the Nile. He also commenced and erected the greater portion of the buildings at Luxor. On the walls of their chambers Amenophis was designated “The vanquisher of the Mennahoun,” an unknown people, and the “Pacificator of Aegypt.” From the fragment of a monolithal granite statue now in the Louvre, it may be inferred that his victories were obtained over negro races, and consequently were the results of campaigns in the interior of Libya and the S. of Aethiopia. Amenophis has a further claim to notice, since he was probably the Memnon, son of Aurora, whom Achilles slew at the siege of Troy. Of all the Aethiopian works the Memnonian statues, from their real magnitude and from the fabulous stories related of them, have attracted the largest share of attention. By the word Memnon the Greeks understood an Aethiopian or man of dark complexion (Steph. B. sub voce Agathem. ap. Gr. Geograph. Min.), or rather, perhaps, a dark-complexioned warrior (comp. Eustath. ad Il. 5.639); and the term may very properly have been applied to the conqueror of the southern land, who was also hereditary prince of Aethiopia. The statues of Memnon, which now stand alone on the plain of Thebes, originally may have been the figures at the entrance of the long dromos of crio-sphinxes which led up to the Amenopheion or palace of Amenophis. Of the eastern and northern limits of the Theban kingdom under the third Amenophis, we have no evidence similar to that afforded by the tablet of Karnak; yet from the monuments of his battles we may infer that he levied tribute from the Arabians on the Red Sea and in the peninsula of Sinai, and at one time pushed his conquests as far as Mesopotamia. According to Manetho he reigned 31 years: his tomb is the most ancient of the sepulchres in the Bab-el-Melook; and even so late as the Ptolemaic age he had divine honours paid him by a special priest-college called “The pastophori of Amenophis in the Memnoneia.” (Kenrick, Ancient Aegypt, vol. ii. p. 246.)
Setei Menephthah is the next monarch of the 18th dynasty who, in connection with Thebes, deserves mention. Besides the temples which he constructed at Amada in Nubia and at Silsilis (Silseleh,) he began the great palace. called Menephtheion in that city, although he left it to be completed by his successors Rameses II. and III. From the paintings and inscriptions on the ruins at Karnak and Luxor it appears that this monarch triumphed over five Asiatic nations as well as over races whose position cannot be ascertained, but whose features and dress point to the interior of Libya. The tomb and sarcophagus of Setei Menephthah were discovered by Belzoni in the Bab-el-Melook. (Travels, vol. i. p. 167.) If he be the same with the Sethos of the lists, he reigned 50 or 51 years. We now come to [p. 2.1140]the name of Rameses II. and III., the latter of whom is the Sesostris of Herodotus, and who may therefore be regarded as a clearly historical personage. There can be no doubt of the greatness of Thebes under his sceptre. In this, as in many other instances where Aegypt is concerned, the monuments of the country enable us to approach the truth, while the credulity of the Greek travellers and historians in accepting the narrations of the Aegyptian priests--naturally eager, after their subjection by the Persians, to exalt their earlier condition--only tends to bewilder and mislead. Thus, for example, Diodorus (1.54) was informed that Sesostris led into the field 600,000 infantry, 24,000 cavalry, and 27,000 chariots; and he appeals to the passage already cited from Homer to show that Thebes sent so many chariots out of its hundred gates. There is no evidence that the Aegyptians then possessed a fleet in the Mediterranean; yet Diodorus numbers among his conquests the Cyclades, and Dicaearchus (Schol. in Apoll. Rhod. 4.272) assigns to him “the greater part of Europe.” The monuments, on the contrary, record nothing so incredible of this monarch; although if we may infer the extent of his conquests and the number of his victories from the space occupied on the monuments by their pictorial records, he carried the arms of Aegypt beyond any previous boundaries, and counted among his subjects races as various as those which, nearly 17 centuries later, were ruled by Trajan and the Antonines. The reign of Rameses was of 60 years' duration, that is nearly of equal length with his life, for the first of his victories--that recorded on the propylaea of the temple of Luxor, and much more fully on those of Aboosimbel--was gained in his fifth year. We must refer to works professedly dealing with Aegyptian annals for his hisotry: here it will be sufficient to observe of Rameses or Sesostris that he added to Thebes the Rameseion, now generally admitted to be the “monument of Osymandyas,” upon the western bank of the Nile; that he was distinguished from all his predecessors by the extent of his conquests and the wisdom of his laws; and among his subjects for his strength, comeliness, and valour. The very pre-eminence of Rameses III. has, indeed, obscured his authentic history. To him were ascribed many works of earlier and of later monarchs,--such as the canal of the Pharaohs, between the Nile and the Red Sea; the dykes and embankments which rendered the Delta habitable; the great wall, 1500 stadia in length, between Pelusium and Heliopolis, raised as a barrier against the Syrians and Arabians; a re-partition of the land of Aegypt; the law of hereditary occupation (Aristot. Pol. 7.10); and foreign conquests, or at least expeditions into Western Asia, which rendered tributary to him even the Colchians and the Bactrians. (Tac. Ann. 2.60.)
With the 21st dynasty appear the traces of a revolution affecting the Upper Kingdom. Tanite and Bubastite Pharaohs are now lords of the Nile-valley: and these are succeeded by an Aethiopian dynasty, marking invasion and occupation of the Thebaid by a foreigner. Perhaps, as Aegypt became more involved with the affairs of Asia--a result of the conquests of the house of Rameses--it may have proved expedient to remove the seat of government nearer to the Syrian frontier. The dynasty of Sethos, the Aethiopian, however, indicates a revolt of the provinces S. of the cataracts; and even after the Aethiopians had withdrawn, the Lower Kingdom retained its pre-eminence. The Saite Pharaohs feared or despised the native militia, and surrounded themselves with foreign mercenaries. Greek colonies were established in the Delta; and Aegypt maintained a fleet--an innovation extremely prejudicial to Thebes, since it implied that the old isolation of the land was at an end, and that the seat of power was on the Syrian, and not on the Aethiopian frontier. The stages of its decline cannot be traced; but Thebes seems to have offered no opposition, after the fall of Memphis, to the Persians, and certainly, after its occupation by Cambyses, never resumed its place as a metropolitan city. That Thebes was partially restored after the destruction of at least its secular buildings by the Persians, admits of no doubt, since it was strong enough in B.C. 86 to hold out against the forces of Ptolemy Lathyrus. But although the circuit of its walls may have been undiminished, it seems never again to have been filled as before with a dense population. The foundation of Alexandreia was more fatal to Thebes than even the violence of Cambyses; and its rebellion against the Macedonians was perhaps prompted by jealousy of Greek commerce and religion. The hand of Lathyrus lay heavy on Thebes; and from this epoch probably dates the second stage of its decline. From the glimpses we gain of it through the writings of the Greeks and Romans, it appears to have remained the head-quarters of the sacerdotal order and of old Aegyptian life and manners. As a Macedonian or Roman prefecture, it took little or no part in the affairs of Aegypt; yet it profited by the general peace of the world under the Caesars, and employed its wealth or labour in the repair or decoration of its monuments. The names of Alexander and some of the Ptolemies, of the Caesars from Tiberius to the Antonines, are inscribed on its monuments; and even in the fourth century A.D. it was of sufficient importance to attract the notice of historians and travellers. Perhaps its final ruin was owing as much to the fanaticism of the Christians of the Thebaid, who saw in its sculptures only the abominations of idol-worship, as to its occupation by the Blemmyes and other barbarians from Nubia and Arabia. When the Saracens, who also were iconoclasts, broke forth from Arabia, Thebes endured its final desolation, and for many centuries its name almost disappears: nor can its monuments be said to have generally attracted the notice of Europeans, until the French expedition to Aegypt once again disclosed its monuments. From that period, and especially since the labours of Belzoni, no ancient city has been more frequently visited or described.
The growth of Thebes and the additions made to it by successive monarchs or dynasties have been partly traced in the foregoing sketch of its political history. A few only of its principal remains can here be noticed, since the ruins of this city form the subject of many works, and even the most condensed account of them would almost demand a volume for itself. Ancient Thebes, as has already been observed, occupied both the eastern and western banks of the Nile; and four villages, two, on each side of the river, now occupy a portion of its original area. Of these villages two, Luxor and Karnak, are on the eastern bank, and two, Gourneh and Medinet-Aboo, on the western. There is some difference in the character and purpose of the structures in the opposite quarters of the city. Those on the western bank formed part of its vast necropolis; and here are found the rock-hewn painted tombs,--“the tombs [p. 2.1141]of the kings,” --whose sculptures so copiously illustrate the history, the arts, and the social life of Aegypt. On this side there are also the remains of temples, palaces, and halls of assembly or judicature, with their vast enclosure of walls and their long avenues of sphinxes. But the western quarter of Thebes was reserved principally for the dead, and for the service of religion and the state, while the mass of the population was contained in the eastern. Yet the numbers who inhabited the western side of the city must have been considerable, since each temple had its own establishment of priests, and each palace or public edifice its proper officers and servants. Still we shall probably be correct in describing the eastern quarter as the civil, and the western as the royal and ecclesiastical, portion of Thebes. At present no obelisks have been discovered in the western quarter, but, with this exception, the monuments of Gourneh and Medinet-Aboo yield little in grandeur, beauty, or interest to those of Luxor and Karnak, and in one respect indeed are the more important of the two, since they afford the best existing specimens of Aegyptian colossal or portrait statues.
Beginning then with the western quarter,--the Memnoneia of the Ptolemaic times,--we find at the northern limit of the plain, about three quarters of a mile from the river, the remains of a building to which Champollion has given the name of Menephtheion, because the name of Setei-Menephthah is inscribed upon its walls. It appears to have been both a temple and a palace, and was approached by a dromos of 128 feet in length. Its pillars belong to the oldest style of Aegyptian architecture, and its bas-reliefs are singularly fine.
The next remarkable ruin is the Memnoneium of Strabo (xvii. p.728), the tomb of Osymandyas of Diodorus, now commonly called the Rameseion on the authority of its sculptures. The situation, the extent, and the beauty of this relic of Thebes are all equally striking. It occupies the first base of the hills, as they rise from the plain; and before the alluvial soil had encroached on the lower ground, it must have been even a more conspicuous object from the city than it now appears. The inequalities of the ground on which it was erected were overcome by flights of steps from one court to another, and the Rameseion actually stood on a succession of natural terraces improved by art. The main entrance from the city is flanked by two pyramidal towers: the first court is open to the sky, surrounded by a double colonnade, and 140 feet in length and 18 in breadth. On the left of the staircase that ascends to the second court still stands the pedestal of the statue of Rameses, the largest, according to Diodorus (1.49), of the colossi of Aegypt. From the dimensions of its foot, parts of which still remain, it is calculated that this statue was 54 feet in height and 22 feet 4 inches in breadth across the shoulders. The court is strewn with its fragments. How it was erected, or how overthrown in a land not liable to earthquakes, are alike subjects of wonder; since, without mechanical aids wholly beyond the reach of barbarians, it must have been almost as difficult to cast it down from its pedestal as to transport it originally from the quarries. The walls of the second court are covered with sculptures representing the wars of Rameses III., a continuation and complement of the historical groups upon the interior walls of the pylon. Diodorus (1.47) speaks of “monolithal figures, 16 cubits high, supplying the place of columns,” and these are probably the pillars of this second court. He also mentions the attack of a city surrounded by a river; and this group of sculpture, still extant, identifies the Memnoneium with the monument of Osymandyas. A third flight of stairs conducts from the court to a hall, which, according to Champollion was used for public assemblies. A sitting statue of Rameses flanked each side of the steps, and the head of one of them, now called the young Memnon adorns the British Museum. The columns and walls of the court are covered with sculptures partly of a religious, partly of a civil character, representing the homage of the 23 sons of Rameses to their parent and his offerings to the gods. Nine smaller apartments succeed to the hall. One of these was doubtless the library or “Dispensary of the Mind” (ψυχῆς ἰατρεῖον) of which Diodorus (1.49) speaks, since in it are found sculptures of Thoth, the inventor of letters, and his companion Saf, the “lady of letters” and “President of the Hall of Books.” This chamber had also at one time an astronomical ceiling adorned with the figures or symbols of the Aegyptian months; but it was carried off by the Persians, and the Greek travellers, Diodorus, Hecataeus &c., knew of it only from hearsay. Of the nine original chambers, two only remain, the one just described, and a second, in which Rameses is depicted sacrificing to various divinities of the Theban Pantheon. Beneath the upper portion of the Memnoneium rock-sepulchres and brick graves have been discovered, both coeval with the Rameseian dynasty (Lepsius, Rev. Arch. Jan. 1845). The entire area of the Memnoneium was enclosed by a brick wall, in the double arches of which are occasionally imbedded fragments of still more ancient structures, the remains probably of the Thebes which the 18th dynasty of the Pharaohs enlarged, and adorned. A dromos NW. of the Memnoneium, formed of not less than 200 sphinxes, and at least 1600 feet in length, led to a very ancient temple in a recess of the Libyan hills. This was probably a place of strength before the lowlands on each side of the Nile were artificially converted by drainage and masonry into the solid area upon which Thebes was built.
The next object which meets the traveller's eye is a mound of rubbish, the fragments of a building once. occupying the ground. It is called by the Arabs Koum-el-Hattam, or mountain of sandstone, and is, composed of the ruins of the Amenopheion, the palace or temple of Amunoph III.--the Memnon of the Greeks. About a quarter of a mile distant from the Amenopheion, and nearer to the Nile, are the two colossal statues called Tama and Chama by the natives, standing isolated on the plain and eminent above it. The most northerly of these statues is the celebrated vocal Memnon. Their present isolation, however, is probably accidental, and arises from the subsidence or destruction of an intermediate dromos, of which they formed the portals, and which led to the Amenopheion, These statues have already been, described in the Dictionary of Biography, s. v. MEMNON [Vol. II. p. 1028.] It may be added here that the present height of these colossal figures, inclusive of the pedestal, is 60 feet. The alluvial soil, however, rises to nearly one half of the pedestal, and as there is an inscription of the age of Antoninus Pius, A.D. 139, foll., i. e. about 1720 years old, we obtain some measure of the amount of deposition in so many centuries. The blocks from which [p. 2.1142]the statues are formed are composed of a coarse, hard breccia, intermixed with agatised pebbles. (Russegger, Reisen, vol. ii. pt. 1. p. 410.) The village of Medinet-Aboo stands about one third of a mile SW. of Koum-el-Hattam, upon a lofty mound formed by the ruins of the most splendid structure in western Thebes. It consisted of two portions, a temple and a palace, connected with each other by a pylon and a dromos. The temple was the work of successive monarchs of the name of Thothmes, and hence has received the name of the Thothmeseion. Apparently this site found favour with the sovereigns of Aegypt in all ages, since, either on the main building or on its numerous outworks, which extend towards the river, are inscribed the names of Tirhakah the Aethiopian, of Nectanebus, the last independent king of Aegypt, of Ptolemy Soter II., and of Antoninus Pius. The original Thothmeseion comprises merely a sanctuary surrounded by galleries and eight chambers; the additions to it represent the different periods of its patrons and architects. The palace of Rameses--the southern Rameseion of Champollion--far exceeds in dimensions and the splendour of its decorations the Thothmeseion. It stands a little S. of the temple, nearer the foot of the hills. The dromos which connects them is 265 feet in length. The sculptures on the pylon relate to the coronation of Rameses IV. and his victories over the Aethiopians. A portion of the southern Rameseion seems to have been appropriated to the private uses of the king. The mural decorations of this portion are of singular interest, inasmuch as they represent Rameses in his hours of privacy and recreation.
The walls of the southern Rameseion generally are covered both on the inside and the out with representations of battles, sacrifices, religious processions and ceremonies, relating to the 18th dynasty. A plain succeeds, bounded by sand-hills and heaps of Nile-mud. It is variously described by modern travellers as the site of a race-course, of a camp or barrack, or an artificial lake, over which, according to Sir Gardner Wilkinson, the dead were ferried to the neighbouring necropolis. Whatever may have been its purpose, this plain is of considerable extent, being somewhat less than a mile and half in length, and more than half a mile in breadth.
The contrast between the portion of Thebes once crowded with the living, and that which was equally thronged with the dead, is less striking now, when the whole city is a desert or occupied only by a few straggling villages. But under the Pharaohs the vicinity of life and death must have been most solemn and expressive. From Gourneh to Medinet-Aboo the Libyan hills, along a curve of nearly 5 miles, are honey-combed with sepulchres, and conspicuous among them are the Tombs of the Kings, situated in the valley of Bab-el-Melook. The Theban necropolis is excavated in the native calcareous rock. The meaner dead were interred in the lower ground, where the limestone is of a softer grain, and more exposed to decomposition by wind and water. This portion of the cemetery has, accordingly, fallen into decay. But the upper and harder strata of the hills are of finer and more durable texture, and here the priest-caste and nobles were interred. The tombs of the lower orders are generally without sculpture, but filled with mummies of animals accounted sacred by the Aegyptians. A favourite companion in death appears to have been the ape; and such numbers of this animal have been found in one portion of the necropolis that the valley containing their mummies bears the name of the “Apes' Burial Place.” Upon the graves of the upper classes painting and sculpture were lavished in a measure hardly inferior to that which marks the sepulchres of the kings. The entire rock is tunnelled by them, and by the galleries and staircases which led to the various chambers. The entrances to these tombs are rectangular, and open into passages which either pierce the rock in straight lines, or wind through it by ascending and descending shafts. Where the limestone is of a crumbling nature, it was supported by brick arches, and drains were provided for carrying off standing or casual water. The walls of these passages and chambers were carefully prepared for the artist. Rough or carious portions were cut out, and their place filled up with bricks and plaster. Their entire surface was then covered with stucco, on which the paintings were designed and highly coloured. The decorations are rarely in relief, but either drawn on the flat surface, or cut into the stucco. They are mostly framed in squares of chequer and arabesque work. The subjects portrayed within these frames or niches are very various,--ranging through religious ceremonies and the incidents of public or private life. The ornaments of these tombs may indeed be termed the miniature painting of the Aegyptians. Within a space of between 40 and 50 feet no less than 1200 hieroglyphics are often traced, and finished with a minute delicacy unsurpassed even in buildings above ground, which were meant for the eyes of the living.
The Royal Sepulchres, however, form the most striking feature of the Theban necropolis. They stand in a lonely and barren valley, seemingly a natural chasm in the limestone, and resembling in its perpendicular sides and oblong shape a sarcophagus. At the lower end of this basin an entrance has been cut--there seems to be no natural mode of ingress--in the rock. Forty-seven tombs were, at one time, known to the ancients. (Diod. 1.46.) Of these twenty or twenty-one have been counted by modern explorers. Here reposed the Theban Pharaohs from the 18th to the 21st dynasty. The only tombs, hitherto discovered, complete are those of Amunoph III., Rameses Meiamun, and Rameses III. To prepare a grave seems to have been one of the duties or pleasures of Aegyptian royalty; and since the longest survivor of these monarchs rests in the most sumptuous tomb, it may be inferred that the majority of them died before they had completed their last habitation.
The queens of Aegypt were buried apart from the kings, in a spot about three-fourths of a mile NW. of the temple of Medinet-Aboo. Each of them bears the title of “Wife of Amun,” indicating either that their consorts combined with their proper names that also of the great Theban deity, or that, after death, they were dignified by apotheosis. Twenty-four tombs have at present been discovered in this cemetery, twelve of which are ascertained to be those of the queens. The least injured of them by time or violence bears the name of Taia, wife of Amunoph III.
On the eastern bank of the Nile, the monuments are even more magnificent. The villages of Luxor and Karnak occupy a small portion only of the true Diospolis. The ruins at Luxor stand close to the river. The ancient landing place was a jetty of stone, which [p. 2.1143]also served to break the current of the stream. The most remarkable monuments are two obelisk of Rameses III., respectively 70 and 60 feet high, one of which still remains there, while the other has been removed to the Place de la Concorde at Paris. Their unequal height was partially concealed from the spectator by the lower obelisk being placed upon the higher pedestal. Behind them were two monolithal These are now covered from the breast downwards with rubbish and fluvial deposit, but were, originally, including their chairs or bases, 39 feet high. Next succeeds a court, surrounded by a corridor of double columns, 190 feet long and 170 broad. It is entered through a portal 51 feet in height, whose pyramidal wings are inscribed with the battles of Rameses. On the opposite side of the court a second portal, erected by Amunoph III., opens upon a colonnade which leads to a smaller court, and this again terminates with a portico composed of four rows of columns, eight in each row. Beyond the third portico follows a considerable number of apartments. flanking a sanctuary on the walls of which are represented the birth of Amunoph, and his presentation to Amun.
A dromos of andro-sphinxes, and various buildings now covered with sand and dried mud, formerly connected the quarter of eastern Thebes, represented by Luxor, with that represented by Karnak. Near to the latter place a portion of the dromos still exists, and a little to the right of it a second dromos of crio-sphinxes branches off, which must have been one of the most remarkable structures in the city. It led up to the palace of the kings, and consisted of a double row of statues, sixty or seventy in number, each 11 feet distant from the next, and each having a lion's body and a ram's head. The SW. entrance of the palace is a lofty portal, followed by four spacious courts with intervening gateways.
The grandeur of the palace is, in some degree, lessened by later additions to its plan, for on the right side of the great court was a cluster of small chambers, while on its left were only two apartments. Their object is unknown, but they probably served as lodgings or offices for the royal attendants. In the first of the two main courts stand two obelisks of Thothmes I., one in fragments, the other still erect and uninjured. In a second court to the right of the first, there were two obelisks also: the one which remains is 92 feet high. The oldest portion of the palace of Karnak appears to be a few chambers, and some polygonal columns bearing the shield of Sesortasen I. To these--the nucleus of the later structures--Thothmes III. made considerable additions; among them a chamber whose sculptures compose the great Karnak Tablet, so important a document for Aegyptian chronology.
But the Great Court is surpassed in magnificence by the Great Hall. This is 80 feet in height, and 329 feet long by 179 broad. The roof is supported by 134 columns, 12 in the centre and 122 in the aisles. The central columns are each 66 feet high, clear of their pedestals, and each 11 feet in diameter. The pedestals were 10 feet high, and the abacus over their capitals, on which rested the architraves of the ceiling, was 4 feet in depth. The columns were each about 27 feet apart from one another. The aisle-columns stood in 7 rows, were each 41 feet high, and 9 feet in girth Light and air were admitted into the building through apertures in the side walls. The founder of the palace was Setei-Menephthah, of the 18th dynasty; but one reign cannot have sufficed for building so gigantic a court, and we know indeed not only that many of the historical bas-reliefs which cover the walls were contributed by his son Rameses II., but also that the latter added to the Great Hall, on its NW. side, a vast hypethral court, 275 feet in breadth, by 329 in length. This, like the hall, had a double row of columns down its centre, and a covered corridor round its sides. Four gateways opening to the four quarters gave admission into this court: and to the prineipal one which fronted the Nile an avenue of crio-sphinxes led up, headed by two granite statues of Rameses II.
The purpose for which these spacious courts and their annexed halls and esplanades were erected was perhaps partly religious, and partly secular. Though the kings of the 18th and succeeding dynasties had ceased to be chief-priests, they still retained many ceremonial functions, and the sacred calendar of Aegypt abounded in days of periodical meetings for religious objects. At such panegyries the priests alone were a host, and the people were not excluded. From the sculptures also it appears that the Court of Royal Palaces was the place where troops were reviewed, embassies received, captives executed or distributed, and the spoils or honours of victory apportioned. Both temples and palaces also served occasionally for the encampment of soldiers and the administration of justice. The temperature of the Thebaid rendered vast spaces indispensable for the congregation of numbers, and utility as well as pomp may have combined in giving their colossal scale to the structures of the Pharaohs.
In the Great Hall a great number of the columns are still erect. The many which have fallen have been undermined by water loosening the soil below: and they fall the more easily, because the architraves of the roof no longer hold them upright. The most costly materials were employed in some parts of the palace. Cornices of the finest marble were inlaid with ivory mouldings or sheathed with beaten gold.
These were the principal structures of the eastern moiety of Thebes: but either dromoi and gateways stand within the circuit of its walls, and by their sculptures or inscriptions attest that the Macedonian as well as the native rulers extended, renovated, or adorned the capital of the Upper Country. The eastern branch of the dromos which connects Luxor with Karnak appears from its remains to have been originally 500 feet in length, and composed of a double row of ram-headed lions 58 in number. The loftiest of Aegyptian portals stands at its SW. extremity. It is 64 feet high, but without the usual pyramidal propyla. It is indeed a work of the Greek era, and was raised by Ptolemy Euergetes I. Rameses IV. and Rameses VIII. added temples and a dromos to the city. Nor was Thebes without its benefactors even so late as the era of the Roman Caesars. The name of Tiberius was inscribed on one of its temples; and Hadrian, while engaged in his general survey of the Empire, directed some repairs or additions to be made to the temple of Zeus-Ammon. That Thebes, as Herodotus and Diodorus saw it, stood upon the site and incorporated the remains of a yet more ancient city, is rendered probable by its sudden expansion under the 18th dynasty of the Pharaohs, as well as by extant specimens of its architecture, more in affinity with the monuments S. of the cataracts than with the proper Aegyptian style. It seems hardly questionable that [p. 2.1144]Thebes was indebted for its greatness originally to its being the principal centre of Ammon-worship,--a worship which, on the one hand, connected it with Meroe, and, on the other, with the islands of the Libyan desert. The strength which the Thebaid and its capital thus acquired not only enabled it to rise superior to Abydus in the earlier period, but also to expel the Assyrian invaders from the Delta. It becomes then an interesting question which quarter of Thebes was its cradle? Did it spread itself from the eastern or the western shore of the Nile? Both Diodorus and Strabo are agreed in placing the “old town,” with its Ammonian temple, on the eastern bank of the river; and this site too was the more accessible of the two, whether its population came from the left or, as it is more likely they did, from the right shore. Between Luxor and Karnak lies the claim to be considered as the site of the earliest Diospolis. Now in the former place there is no conspicuous trace of Ammon-worship, whereas the latter, in its ram-headed dromoi, abounds with symbols of it. At Karnak every monument attests the presence of Ammon. Osiris indeed appears as his son or companion on the sculptures, and in some of the temple-legends they were represented as joint founders of the shrine. But Ammon was without doubt the elder of the two. We may accordingly infer that the first Thebes stood nearly on the site of the present Karnak, at a period anterior to all record: that it expanded towards the river, and was separated by the whole breadth of the stream and of the plain to the foot of the Libyan hills from the necropolis. Finally, that as its population became too large for the precincts of the eastern plain, a suburb, which grew into a second city, arose on the opposite bank of the Nile; and thus the original distinction between eastern and western Thebes partially disappeared, and the river, having thenceforward habitations on both its banks, no longer parted by a broad barrier the city of the living from the city of the dead.
(Kenrick, Ancient Aegypt under the Pharaohs, vol. i. pp. 149--178; Heeren, Historical Researches, Thebes and its Monuments, vol. ii. pp. 201--342; Champollion, Lettres sur l'Egypte; Hamilton, Aegyptiaca; Belzoni, Travels, &c.）
The territory of Thebes was named THEBAIS (ἡ Θηβαΐς, sc. χώρα, or οἱ ἄνω τόποι, the Upper Country, Ptol. 4.5.62), the modern Sais or Pathros, and was one of the three principal divisions of Aegypt. Its frontiers to the S. varied accordingly as Aegypt or Aethiopia preponderated, the Theban Pharaohs at times ruling over the region above the Cataracts as far S. as Hiera Sycamina lat. 23° 6′ N.; while, at others, the kings of Meroe planted their garrisons N. of Syene, and, at one period, occupied the Thebais itself. But the ordinary limits of Upper Aegypt were Syene to S., lat. 24° 5′ N., and Hermopolis Magna to N., lat. 27° 45′ N. On the E. it was bounded by the Arabian, on the W. by the Libyan hills and desert. As rain seldom falls in the Thebais (Hdt. 3.10), and as its general surface is rocky or sandy, the breadth of cultivable land depends on the alluvial deposit of the Nile, and this again is regulated by the conformation of the banks on either side. For a similar cause the population of the Thebais was mostly gathered into towns and large villages, both of which are often dignified by ancient writers with the appellation of cities. But numerous cities were incompatible with the physical character of this region, and its population must have been considerably below the estimate of it by the Greeks and Romans.
The Thebais was divided into ten nomes (Strab. xvii. p.787), and consequently ten halls in the Labyrinth were appropriated to its Nonarchs. But this number apparently varied with the boundaries of Upper Aegypt, since Pliny (5.9) enumerates eleven. and other writers mention fourteen Nomes. The physical aspect of the Thebais requires especial notice, since it differed, both geologically and in its Fauna and Flora, from that of Lower Aegypt.
For the most part it is a narrow valley, intersected by the river and bounded by a double line of hills, lofty and abrupt on the eastern or Arabian side, lower and interrupted by sandy plains and valleys on the Libyan or western. The desert on either side produces a stunted vegetation of shrubs and herbs, which emit a slight aromatic odour. The cultivable soil is a narrow strip on each side of the Nile, forming, with its bright verdure, a strong contrast to the brown and arid hue of the surrounding district. The entire breadth of this valley, including the river, does not exceed 11 miles, and sometimes is contracted by the rocky banks of the Nile even to two.
Upper Aegypt belongs to Nubia rather than to the Heptanomis or the Delta. Herodotus (3.10) was mistaken in his statement that rain never falls in the Thebais. It is, however, of rare occurrence. Showers fall annually during four or five days in each year, and about once in eight or ten years heavy rains fill the torrent-beds of the mountains, and convert the valleys on either side of the Nile into temporary pools. That this was so even in the age of Hecataeus and Herodotus is proved by the circumstance that the lions on the cornices of the Theban temples have tubes in their mouths to let the water off.
But the fertility of the Thebais depends on the overflow of the Nile. From Syene nearly to Latopolis, lat. 25° 17′ N., the cultivable soil is a narrow rim of alluvial deposit, bounded by steep walls of sandstone. On the Arabian shore were the quarries from which the great temples of Upper Aegypt were constructed. At Apollinopolis Magna (Edfu) the sandstone disappears from the W. bank of the river, and on the E. it extends but a little below that city. Four miles below Eilithya, the limestone region begins, and stretches down nearly to the apex of the Delta, descending on the Libyan side in terraces to the Mediterranean. At this point a greater breadth of land is cultivable, and in the Arabian hills deep gorges open towards the Red Sea, the most considerable of which are the valleys that run from Eilithya in a SE. direction to Berenice, and from Coptos, past the porphyry quarries, to Cosseir on the Red Sea. The tanks and stations for the caravans which the Theban Pharaohs or the Ptolemies constructed in these valleys are still occasionally found buried in the sand. At Latopolis the Nile-valley is nearly 5 miles wide, but it is again contracted by the rocks at Gebelein, where, owing to the precipitous character of the banks, the road quits the river and crosses the eastern desert to Hermonthis.
The next material expansion of the Nile-valley is at the plain of Thebes. At this point both chains of hills curve boldly away from the river, and leave an area of more than 5 miles in length and 3 in breadth. At the northern extremity of this plain the banks again contract, and at Gourneh are almost close to the Nile. Re-opening again, the [p. 2.1145]borders of the stream as far as Hermopolis Magna, the northern boundary of the Thebaid, generally extend inland on the E. side about one mile and a half, on the W. about two miles. They do not indeed observe an unbroken line, but the alluvial soil, where the mouths of the collateral valleys permit, occasionally stretches much farther into the country. Canals and dykes in the Pharaonic period admitted and retained the Nile's deposit to an extent unknown either in Grecian, Roman, or modern eras.
Seen from the river the Thebaid, in the flourishing periods of Aegypt, presented a wide and animated spectacle of cultivation and industry, wherever the banks admitted of room for cities or villages. Of the scenery of the Nile, its teeming population and multitudinous river-craft, mention has already been made in the article NILUS Among many others, the following objects were beheld by those who travelled from Syene to Hermopolis. At first the general appearance of the shores is barren and dreary. Koum-Ombos, the ancient Ombi, would first arrest attention by the brilliant colours of its temples, and, at certain seasons of the year, by the festivals held in honour of the crocodile-headed deity Sevak. At times also, if we may credit the Roman satirist (Juvenal, Sat. xv.), the shore at Ombi was the scene of bloody frays with the crocodile exterminators from Tentyra. Sixteen miles below Ombi was the seat of the special worship of the Nile, which at this point, owing to the escarped form of its sandstone banks, admits of a narrow road only on either side, and seems to occupy the whole breadth of Aegypt. Here too, and on the eastern bank especially are the vast quarries of stone which supplied the Theban architects with their durable and beautiful materials. Various landing-places from the river gave access to those quarries: the names of successive sovereigns and princes of the xviiith dynasty, their wars and triumphs, are recorded on the rocks; and blocks of stone and monolithal shrines are still visible in their galleries. The temples of Apollinopolis Magna (Edfu), the hypogaea of Eilithya, Thebes occupying either bank, Coptos, long the seat of Aegyptian commerce with India, the temples of Athor and Isis at Tentyra, the mouth of the ancient branch of the Nile, the canal of Jusuf at Diospolis Parva, the necropolis of Abydos, near which runs the highroad to the greater Oasis, the linen-works and stone-masons' yards of Chemmis or Panopolis (Ekhmin), the sepulchral chambers at Lycopolis, and, finally, the superb portico of Hermopolis Magna, all evince, within a compass of about 380 miles, the wealth, enterprise, and teeming population of Upper Aegypt.
The vegetation of this region announces the approach to the tropics. The productions of the desert, stunted shrubs and trees, resemble those of the Arabian and Libyan wastes. But wherever the Nile fertilises, the trees and plants belong rather to Aethiopia than to the lower country. The sycamore nearly disappears: the Theban palm and the date-palm take its place. The lotus (Nymphaea Lotus and Nymphaea caerulea) is as abundant in the Thebais as the papyrus in the Delta. It is the symbol of the Upper Land: its blue and white cups enliven the pools and canals, and representations of them furnished a frequent and graceful ornament to architecture. Its bulb afforded a plentiful and nutritious diet to the poorer classes. The deserts of the Thebais, which in Christian times swarmed with monasteries and hermitages, contained the wolf, hyaena, and jackal: but the larger carnivorous animals of Libya were rarely seen in Aegypt. (Hdt. 2.65.) In the Pharaonic times the hippopotamus was found in the Nile below the Cataracts: more recently it has seldom been found N. of them. The crocodile, being an object of worship in several of the Theban nomes, was doubtless more abundant than it is now. From both papyri and sculptures we know that the Theban landowners possessed horned cattle and sheep in abundance, although they kept the latter for their wool and milk principally; and the chariots of Thebes attest the breeding and training of horses. From extant drawings on the monuments we know also that horticulture was a favourite occupation in Upper Aegypt.
The population of the Thebais was probably of a purer Aegyptian stamp than that of the Delta; at least its admixtures were derived from Arabia or Meroe rather than from Phoenicia or Greece. Its revolutions, too, proceeded from the south, and it was comparatively unaffected by those of the Lower Country. Even as late as the age of Tiberius, A.D. 14--37, the land was prosperous, as is proved by the extension and restoration of so many of its public monuments; and it was not until the reign of Diocletian that its rain was consummated by the inroad of the Blemmyes, and other barbarous tribes from Nubia and the Arabian desert. - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith, LLD, Ed.
Map of the Roman Empire - Places