Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great  (352–323 b.c.)  Macedonian ruler who conquered Egypt and was declared  a god. When his father, Philip II, died, Alexander  became king of the small Greek state, Macedon.  Within a few years, he and his army of devoted men  united the Greek states and conquered the Levant  and a good part of western Asia. When Alexander and  his army marched into Egypt and defeated the hated  Persians who occupied the land, the Egyptians hailed  Alexander as a liberator.

 Alexander, ever mindful of  local customs, made offerings to the Egyptian gods at  Memphis, Karnak, and Luxor temples and at Siwa  Oasis in the western desert near the Libyan border. This was more than just a goodwill gesture on his  part. Alexander believed that he was descended from  the legendary Greek hero Heracles (Hercules) and  Achilles through his mother and father. To strengthen  his claim to the throne of Egypt he needed to be  acknowledged as a god by the Egyptian oracle at Siwa  Oasis in the western desert. Legend has it that on the  long march through the desert, when Alexander and  his men became lost, a flock of crows appeared in the  sky and led them to the safety of the oasis. When Alexander approached the Oracle of Amun- Re (called Zeus-Amun by the Greeks), he asked one  question: “Who is my father?” When the Oracle  answered “Amun,” Alexander knew he would rule.

 With the endorsement of the Oracle, Alexander, like  all Egyptian kings before him, was recognized as the  son of Amun and a god on Earth and was crowned  king of Egypt. Alexander founded his capital city, Alexandria,  in 331 b.c. on the site of a small fishing village,  Rhakotis (Raqote), on the Egyptian shore of the  Mediterranean. The architect Deinocrates, who was summoned from the Greek island of Rhodes, drew  the plans for the city. Alexandria was based on the  Greek city model, complete with a grid design open  to the cool breezes from the Mediterranean. The  city, completed after Alexander’s death, grew to be  a thriving international port with a population of  more than half a million. The most famous building  in ancient Alexandria was the “pharos” lighthouse,  designated one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient  World by a Greek librarian.

 Little of the original  structure remains today. Another famous landmark in  ancient Alexandria was the library, with its priceless  collection of papyrus manuscripts. Legend tells us  that the library was burned to the ground when Julius  Caesar entered Egypt to settle a quarrel between  Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIII. Alexander never saw his city but moved on to  continue his conquest of the Persian Empire. For all  his dreams of ruling as a living god, Alexander died  of a fever in Babylon in 323 b.c. When asked by his  generals, upon his deathbed, who should succeed  him, he simply said, “The strongest.” Eventually  Alexander’s empire was divided among the generals.  General Ptolemy chose Egypt and established the  Ptolemaic dynasty there. His was the last dynasty,  ending when Cleopatra VII committed suicide and  the Roman Empire annexed Egypt.


Tel El Amarna

Amarna  (also akhet-aten  or     “Horizon     of     the     Aten”)  Amarna was built by Akhenaten (the heretic  king) as a cult city to honor his new god, the Aten,  whose motto was: ankh m maat, or “living in truth.”  Worship of the Aten brought with it a new art style.  Emphasis was placed especially on “truth in nature.”  Artists and craftsmen abandoned the traditional static  style of depiction and began painting scenes from  nature and carving lifelike natural statues of the royal  court.

Amarna North Palace
Amarna North Palace

When Akhenaten (1352–1336 b.c.) changed  Egypt’s religion from the worship of many gods  (polytheism) to the worship of one god (mono- theism), he claimed he was guided by the Aten.  Akhenaten moved his court from the old capital  city Thebes (modern Luxor) to a new desert loca- tion some 200 miles north. Akhenaten marked the  boundaries of his new city with 15 stelae (stone slabs).  Some stelae were carved into the limestone cliffs like  shrines; others were actual stone slabs erected along  the east and west sides of the Nile.

On the stelae,  Akhenaten recorded his vow never to leave the holy  city of Akhet-Aten:

 The southern stela which is on the eastern  mountain on Akhet-Aten . . . I shall not pass  beyond it southward ever. The middle stela . . .  [Eastern] I shall not pass beyond it eastward ever.  The northeastern stela . . . I shall not pass beyond  it northward ever. Likewise from the southwest  stela of Akhet-Aten to the northwest stela on  the western mountain [he will not pass beyond  the western stelae] within these four stelae from  the eastern mountain to the western mountain is  Akhet-Aten itself. It belongs to my father, [the  Aten] who gives life forever. I shall not violate  this oath which I have made to the Aten my  father in all eternity.

 Amarna was built on the east bank of the Nile,  with three broad streets parallel to the river. Wide  enough to accommodate the great chariot proces- sions of Akhenaten and his queen, Nefertiti, the  Royal Road was the main street. Because it was a  planned city with defined neighborhoods (called the  North and the South Suburbs and the Central City),  Akhet-Aten grew in an orderly way. Akhenaten’s royal  palace, official buildings, the Great Aten Temple, and  the Small Aten Temple were in the Central City—the  hub of all activity. Officials and nobles lived in the  North and South Suburbs. The famous Nefertiti  bust, now in the Charlottenburg Egyptian Museum  in Berlin, was found in the South Suburb house of  Amarna Thutmose the sculptor, along with other portraits of  the royal family.

 Because Amarna is one of the most thoroughly  excavated sites along the Nile, Egyptologists know a  lot about ancient life there. At the height of Akhenat- en’s reign, the city had about 20,000 people. All of  the buildings were constructed of mud brick with  plastered walls, except for the Great Aten Temple  called Gem-Pa-Aten (the Aten is Found). Its facade  was gleaming white limestone. The temple complex  included several structures, open courtyards, and  365 altars for offerings from Upper Egypt and from  Lower Egypt (see sun temple). The great palace  (Mansion of Rejoicing in Akhet-Aten) for receiving  foreign dignitaries and conducting palace business  was at the end of the Royal Road. A bridge over  the Royal Road connected the main palace with the  king’s living quarters, and the bridge may be the site  of the “window of appearances,” where Akhenaten  and Nefertiti appeared to give necklaces of gold to  the Aten’s faithful followers.

A smaller Aten temple  next to the king’s living quarters was called hwt-aten  “Mansion of the Aten” and was probably used exclu- sively by the royal family. Houses in Amarna were usually square-shaped,  with a large open courtyard in the center. Reception  rooms, bedrooms, storage rooms, and a kitchen with  a clay bread oven were all built around the open  courtyard. Houses of the nobles and wealthy citizens  had tall enclosure walls designed with multiple  purposes for security, roof terraces, and rooms for  bathing. These walls were lined with limestone, and  the floors slanted to form a basin. After water was  poured over the bather, it drained outside into a large  jar. Some houses even had commodes.  After 17 years, Amarna was abandoned when  Akhenaten died (1355 b.c.). One of the last remaining  royal children was young Tut-ankh-aten, who later  changed his name to Tutankhamen and ruled from  Thebes.


Amenhotep Son of hapu

A royal scribe in  the court of Amenhotep III (1390–1352 b.c.), Amen- hotep-son-of-Hapu, was deified during Ptolemaic  times (332–32 b.c.) as a man of great wisdom. His  cult center was at Karnak Temple in Thebes (mod- ern Luxor), where he was worshipped as a healer  and benefactor. Petitioners brought their requests  and prayers to Amenhotep in the hope that he would  serve as an intermediary for their prayers to the great  god Amun.

Amenhotep Son of hapu

Amenhotep was a northerner born in the Delta,  but he spent most of his 80 years in Thebes in the service of his king. Working his way up through the  ranks in the court of Amenhotep III, he impressed  superiors with his ability to recruit men for the  pharaoh’s army and to supervise monumental build- ing projects. He earned the title “chief architect of  all the king’s building projects.” As Amenhotep III’s  most trusted official, Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu was  depicted, along with the king, on the wall of the great  temple at Soleb in southern Nubia. A man of many  talents, Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu became manager of  the vast estates of the royal family and was rewarded  with his own mortuary temple on the West Bank  at Thebes.

He was enormously popular among the  people, and his mortuary temple soon became the  center for his growing cult. A copy of a royal decree  from the Twenty-first Dynasty grants permission  for the construction of his temple, the only nonroyal  temple to be built among the royal monuments on  the West Bank. Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu, in spite of his fame,  seemed to be most pleased with his title as a royal  scribe, for his statues often show him sitting with a  roll of papyrus across his knee. Many of Amenhotep- son-of-Hapu’s statues were found in Karnak temple,  and their inscriptions tell us much of what we know  about him.


Book of Amduat  

“The book of that which is in the  Underworld” is an account of the nightly journey  of the sun god in his sacred boat through the realm  of the Underworld. Unlike earlier funerary texts,  the Amduat gives a detailed description of what the  god will encounter during the 12-hour journey. The  Amduat explains in text and pictures what happens to  the sun when it falls below the horizon each night a  phenomenon that must have been debated by Egyptian priests. The Amduat chronicles the perils of the  Underworld and the victorious emergence of the sun  each dawn. Amduat, “The book of that which is in the Under- world,” first appeared in the tomb of Thutmose  III (1504–1492 b.c.) in the Valley of the Kings. 

Book of Amduat 

His walls were painted to resemble papyrus, and  the text of the Amduat was in cursive script. The  many variations of the Amduat were favorite tomb  decorations for Egyptian kings. Most important to  the deceased king was the set of directions contained  in the Amduat to help him make his way through the  12 dark and dangerous hours of the Underworld.  When priests began to collect and condense  assorted myths in the temple libraries, they must have seen the similarity of human life on Earth and  the daily life of Re, the sun god. Just as the sun was  reborn each day, so, too, could humans be reborn by  resurrecting in the next world. If the proper burial  rituals were performed, the deceased could join Re  in his sacred boat and travel in safety through the 12  hours of the Duat.

In the Amduat, Re and Osiris  each worked to ensure eternal life for the souls of  the deceased, but Re was the more important god.  Although his light died each night, Re was still  the chief protector and guide for the souls of the  deceased as they made their way through the terrors  and darkness of the Duat. The Amduat is divided into chapters representing  the 12 hours of the night, each one describing the  dangers encountered during each hour. The First Hour of the night is called “Crusher  of the forehead of the enemies of Re.” Re and  the solar (sun) boat are between the sky and  the Underworld. The god has lost his vitality  and has become a “sun of night,” a sun without  light. The Second Hour of the night is called “She who  knows how to protect her lord.” Re and the  souls of the deceased enter the Ur-Nes, the  land near the Nile of the Underworld.

They  meet the souls or gods of the Duat and are  advised to address them by their names. In the Third Hour of the night, the solar boat  enters the realm of “those who slay” and passes  over the Stream of Osiris, accompanied by  three boats rowed by Osiris, who appears in  various forms. In the Fourth Hour of the night, Re and the souls  of the deceased travel into the realm of Sokar,  a desert guarded by snakes. In order to travel  across the sand, the sacred boat turns into a  snake and slithers across the desert. In the Fifth Hour of the night, Re and the souls  of the deceased, still in their serpent boat, con- tinue through the domain of Sokar.

Seven gods  and seven goddesses, representing 14 days of  a month, tow the sacred boat and accompany  the travelers as they approach the secret cave  of Sokar. In the Sixth Hour of the night, Re and the souls  of the deceased return to the solar boat. They  approach the Shrines of Osiris in the Delta.  The Shrines of Osiris occupy a large hall with  16 rooms, each holding a mummy. Re com- mands the 16 mummies to be pleased with his offering, to protect him, and to kill his enemy,  the serpent Apophis. The Seventh Hour of the night takes the solar  boat into the hidden place of Osiris. It describes  the terrible battle between Re and his archen- emy, the serpent Apophis, who blocks the way  of the sacred barque.

In the Eighth Hour, Re and his entourage enter  the city of Tebat-Neteru, where they come  under the protection of the mighty serpent  called Mehen.It is here that the gods and souls  come to life as Re passes their secret homes,  and Re commands them to kill his enemies and  all the demons in that domain. In the Ninth Hour, the solar boat reaches the  “Hidden Circle of Amentet,” where anyone  who learns the names of the gods and their  places shall be honored in the city. They are  accompanied by 12 divine sailors, each car- rying an oar so that he might splash water  upon the spirits that stand on the banks of  the river. In the Tenth Hour, the solar boat continues its  journey, with Re holding a snake as his staff. 

Several boats carrying gods of the Underworld  have joined the solar boat, and the gods of the  Underworld kill the enemies of Re as they  make their way to the eleventh hour. In the  Eleventh Hour, Re holds a scepter of  authority, and on the bow of the boat a solar  disk represents the sun with a serpent around  it. The serpent, Pestu, symbolizes time and  swallows the stars that represent the hours of  the night that have passed. In the Twelfth Hour, Re and the souls of the  deceased leave the darkness of the Duat and  enter the circle where they will be reborn.  Re will enter this world as the rising sun, and  the deceased safely enter the Netherworld  (heaven).

Four Canopic Jars of Maherepri

The four canopic jars are made of fine alabaster and were found in a wooden cubic chest placed over a sledge, according to the traditions of the eighteenth dynasty.

The jars contained the internal organs extracted from the mummy of the "Fan Bearer to the right of the king and child of the nursery" who lived during the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty called Maherepri.

The canopic jars have human heads as stoppers and are inscribed with hieroglyphic signs filled with blue paste containing the name of the deceased and the names of the gods in-charge of protecting the internal organs of the deceased. The facial features of the heads are marked; the contour of the eyes and the eyebrows are painted in black while the white of the eye is painted with lime containing a slight red point in the internal angle of the eye to give the impression of lively human heads.

The content of the jars were found wrapped in linen impregnated in aromatic material such as the mummy itself that was found in a sarcophagus inside the tomb.


Abu Simbel temple of Ramses II

A site in Egypt where Ramses the  Great (Ramses II) (1304–1237 b.c.) carved a pair of  rock cut temples. Situated on the west bank of the  Nile at Egypt’s southern border,  lies 180  miles south of Aswan. The larger of the two temples,  the Great Temple, Hwt Ramesses Meryamun, called  the Temple of Ramses Beloved of Amun, is dedicated  to Egypt’s principal gods: Amun Re, Rehorakhty,  Ptah, and the deified Ramses. The walls of the  Great Temple are decorated with religious scenes,  including an array of gods and goddesses, and scenes  of Ramses’s most important battles the most well- known being the Battle of Kaddesh, which depicts  Ramses’s victory over the Hittites. The most impressive parts of the temple are four  67-foot-tall seated statues of Ramses that occupy the  open air court in front of the entrance to the temple. 

Each one was carved from the rock face of the mountain. (It has been suggested that Mount Rushmore in  South Dakota was based on these figures of Ramses.)  One of the statues (on the left as you face the temple)  was damaged by an earthquake in antiquity, and the  head lies on the ground. Carved on the sides of each  throne are Nile gods tying lotus and papyrus plants  around the hieroglyph “to unite,” symbolizing the  unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. Statues of the royal family are carved between and  beside the legs of all four colossal statues of Ramses.  Prominently shown around the first southern statue  are: Queen Nefertari (the Great Wife), Muttuya  (king’s mother), and Prince Amen-hir-khep-shef  (the firstborn son). From the second southern statue  are: Princess Bint-Anat, Princess Nebet-awy-by, and  a female figure whose name has been lost, perhaps  Esenofre, a minor wife.

The family members shown with the two northern statues are: Queen Nefertari,  Princess Beket-mut, Prince Pi-Ramses, Princess  Merit-Amun, Queen Muttuya, and Princess Nofre- tari. Beneath the statues are figures of bound cap- tives, and above the entrance to the Great Temple is  a carving of the sun god Rehorakhty. To his right  is a jackal-head symbol meaning “power”; to the left  is Maat, the goddess of truth. Together the three  symbols form an ancient Egyptian pun: they spell  one of Ramses’s names, Usr-Maat-Re, “the Truth of  Re is Power.” In front of the Great Temple were two  stone basins where the priests purified themselves  with Nile water before entering the temple.

The Great Temple has four rooms: The first,  called the great hall, has eight square pillars each  with a statue of Ramses. The four on the right wear  the double crown, signifying the unification of  Upper and Lower Egypt, and those on the left wear  the white crown of Upper Egypt. In the second  hall, the four pillars are decorated with religious  scenes—the king in the company of the gods: Anubis,  Satis, Min, Mut, Wadjet, Amun-Re, Hathor,  Montu, and several manifestations of Horus. On the  entrance to the vestibule the king makes offerings of  wine, incense, bread, and flowers to the gods. The  vestibule leads to the sanctuary, where statues of  the gods are cut into the rock. From left to right are  Ptah, Amun-Re, Ramses II (as a god), and Re-Hora- khty. The image of Ramses is the same size as those  of the gods, suggesting he is the equal of the gods he  is honoring.

 The holy of holies at Abu Simbel is  oriented so that on February 21 (Ramses’s birthday)  and October 21 (Ramses’s coronation date), the rays  of the sun shine through the corridor into the sanctu- ary and illuminate Ramses and the gods. Just north of Ramses’s temple is the Small Temple,  built for Queen Nefertari, and dedicated to Hathor  as Abshek, an obscure Nubian goddess of love and  beauty. The front of Nefertari’s temple is shaped like  a pylon and faced with six colossal statues: four of  Ramses and two of Nefertari, each about 33 feet tall. An inscription over the door reads: Rameses II, he has made a temple, excavated in  the mountain, of eternal workmanship, for the  chief queen Nefertari, beloved of Mut, in Nubia,  forever and ever, Nefertari for whose sake the  very sun does shine. Inside, the great hall is supported by six Hathor- head columns that incorporate the shape of the sis- trum, the sacred rattle used in religious ceremonies.

 In the vestibule, or second room, are religious scenes with Nefertari in the company of goddesses. On the right of the main vestibule door, Hathor-Abshek  looks on as Isis places a crown upon Nefertari’s head. On the left side of the vestibule door, Nefertari stands with Ramses, who presents a bouquet of flowers to  Tauret, the goddess of pregnancy and childbirth.  The third room, the Holy of Holies, where the cult statues were kept, is decorated with various goddesses. One wall is carved to show Hathor as a cow goddess emerging from a mountain to protect the king, who stands in front of her. On the side walls, Ramses and Nefertari appear in the company of the gods with  Ramses offering incense and libations to himself and his queen, indicating that they are both deified.

The temples at Abu Simbel are unique because  they were carved from a mountain, not built of  stone blocks. When the Aswan High Dam was being constructed in the 1960s, both temples were saved  from the rising water that formed Lake Nasr behind the dam. UNESCO, the United Nations Educa- tional, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the Egyptian government dismantled the temples, cut  the facades into blocks, numbered them, and moved them to higher ground. The reassembled temples  were carefully placed so the sun still shines into the  holy of holies on February 21 and October 21, just as in ancient times.