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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
THEBES (O17 1 3ae), the Greek name of the ancient capital of Upper Egypt, presumably an Egyptian name (e.g. Zemi, seen in - aiµts, -rmuts) assimilated to that of the Greek city. It occurs in Homer ( Il. ix. 381-4) where it has the epithet Ercar6p. ruXos, "hundred-gated," probably derived in the first place from the gateways of its endless temples, though perhaps. misunderstood as if it referred to a city with a hundred gates in the circuit of its walls. Thebes was never a walled city in this sense, though its vast temple enclosures in different quarters would form as many fortresses in case of siege or tumult. Its Egyptian name was Wesi (or Wis?), later Ne, "the city" (sometimes NeAmun, hence No-Amon in Nahum iii. 8), and different quarters were known by special names. In non-literary Greek Thebes was regularly called Diospolis the Great. Ammon, Amen-RE, or Amenrasonther ("Ammon-Re king of the gods") was its deity, with his consort Mut and their child Khons. Mont also was a local deity and Hathor presided over the western cliffs of Thebes. In very ancient times the city lay on the east bank, the necropolis on the west. As it grew, however, although the necropolis was still confined to the west bank, a vast city of temples, priests and necropolis people, to which were added royal palaces and their accompaniments, covered the western shore as far back as the desert hills. The chief nucleus of the ancient Wesi was a town about the temple of Karnak: it probably reaches back to the prehistoric period. At Drah abu'l nagga, opposite to it, are tombs of its princes under the VIth Dynasty. The temple of Karnak is no doubt of immemorial antiquity. Perhaps no sculpture earlier than the XIIth Dynasty has survived there, but Senwosri I. dedicated statues to his predecessors of the Vth Dynasty who had probably showed their devotion to Ammon in a substantial manner, and Cheops of the IVth Dynasty is named in it. After the end of the Old Kingdom Thebes grew from an obscure provincial town to be the seat of a strong line of princes who contended for supremacy with Heracleopolis and eventually triumphed in the XIth Dynasty of Manetho. The most important monument of the Middle Kingdom now extant at Thebes is the funerary temple of Menthotp III. of this dynasty, which has been revealed by the excavations of the Egypt Exploration Fund at Deir el Bahri (see Architecture, section Egyptian, fig. 4): and the period is well represented by an abundance of statues of the XIIth and XIIIth dynasties from the temple of Karnak. The name Amenemhe, so common in the XIIth Dynasty, shows the importance of the Theban god at this time. It was not, however, till the XVIIIth Dynasty, the beginning of the New Empire, that the whole site began to be occupied by monuments which have survived to the present day. The early rulers of this dynasty down to Tethmosis III. developed Karnak, and on the west bank built the great funerary temple of Deir el Bahri and smaller temples as far south as Medinet Habu, and began the long series of royal tombs in the famous Valley of the Tombs of the Kings far back in the desert behind Deir el Bahri. Amenophis III. continuing, transformed western Thebes monumentally: built three great temples in addition, that of Mont on the north of Karnak, the temple of Mut on the south and the temple of Ammon at Luxor, and connected the last two with the state temple of Karnak by avenues of sphinxes. On the west bank of the huge colossi of Memnon marked the entrance of his funerary temple, a magnificent building which was afterwards destroyed, and the great lake of Birket Habu was dug and embanked in front of his brick palace at the extreme south. The chief energies of this king in fact were expended on developing the south extremity of Thebes on both banks. The city and its monuments now covered an area about three miles square. After this Thebes experienced a serious set-back with the heresy of Akhenaton, the son of Amenophis III. He moved his capital northward to Akhetaton (El Amarna) and strove to suppress the worship of Ammon, doing infinite damage to the monuments of Thebes by defacing his name and figure. After about twenty years, however, the reaction came, Thebes was again the capital, and a little later under Seti (Sethos) I. and Rameses II. of the XXth Dynasty it was raised to greater architectural magnificence than ever. These two kings built the great columnar hall of Karnak, added a large court with pylons to Luxor, and on the west bank built the funerary temple of Seti at Kurna, and the Ramesseum with its gigantic colossus, besides other edifices of which only traces remain. Under the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties Thebes was at the height of its greatness. Conquering Pharaohs brought home trains of prisoners and spoil, embassies came thither of strange people in every variety of costume and of every hue of skin, from Ethiopia, Puoni (Punt), Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Libya, and the islands of the Mediterranean, bringing precious stones, rare animals, beautiful slaves, costly garments and vessels of gold and silver, while the ground shook with the movement of colossal architraves, statues and obelisks. The tombs of the XVIIIth Dynasty on the west bank and the sculptures in the temples reflect the brilliancy of these days, but even the reign of Rameses II. marks the beginning of the decline of Thebes. The enormous constructive energy of the proud Pharaoh, instead of being concentrated on the capital, was expended with almost equal lavishness on other parts of the country. In every city he left his mark. A great temple at Tanis boasted a larger colossus than existed in Thebes: Heliopolis and Memphis must have been lavishly adorned, and the temples of Abu Simbel alone would have been sufficient to satisfy the ambition of many of the great Pharaohs. After Rameses II. the efforts of all his successors combined could add little to the wonders of Thebes. The temple and tower of Rameses III. (XXth Dynasty) at Medinet Habu, his tomb in the Biban el Moluk, the temple of Khons (Rameses III. and later) and the court of Sheshonk I. (XXIInd Dynasty) at Karnak are the only great achievements.
For the rest there are the tombs of many kings in the Biban el Moluk and a good deal of comparatively petty construction and tinkering, with the help of stone robbed from older structures. Earlier and greater kings had remorselessly destroyed buildings which interfered with their own plans. The "Memnon" temple of Amenophis III. had already gone, sacrificed perhaps to Akhenaton's god. Rameses II. had plundered his predecessors' monuments for materials. Hitherto Thebes had been glorified by the process, but henceforth it was rather to perish. The tide of prosperity was flowing northward and such monumental energy as remained was expended more widely. For several centuries after the fall of the New Empire Thebes was but one of several alternating or contemporaneous capitals. Memphis, Tanis, Bubastis, Sais, Heracleopolis had at one time or another at least equal claims. The Ethiopian conquerors of Egypt made Thebes their Egyptian capital, but in 668 Assur-bani-pal sacked the city. Psammetichus did not neglect it, and during the XXVIth Dynasty Petemenopi, a wealthy priest and official, excavated for himself the greatest private tomb that ever was made. Probably every king that included Thebes in his realm, except the Assyrians and the Persians, left his memorial there in chapels erected or sculptures added. Of the Persians, however, not even Darius is traceable at Thebes; on the other hand, there is no support for the tradition that Cambyses destroyed its monuments. Ptolemy I. gave a new capital to the upper country in the Greek foundation of Ptolemais, and thus struck a fresh blow at the prosperity of Thebes. For a short period in the reign of Epiphanes, when Upper Egypt was in rebellion against the Ptolemaic rule, Thebes was the capital of independent native. dynasts. In a later rebellion, Thebes was captured after a three years' siege and severely punished by Lathyrus (Ptolemy X., Soter II.). In the reign of Augustus, having joined in the insurrection against the tax-gatherers, it was destroyed by Cornelius Gallus and became a collection of villages. Though its vast buildings have since served as quarries for mill-stones and for the limeburner, Thebes still offers the greatest assemblage of monumental ruins in the world.
We will now briefly enumerate the principal groups of monuments. On the east bank at Karnak stand the great state temple of Amen-Re with its obelisks of Hatshepsut and Tethmosis I. and the vast columnar hall of Rameses II.; the temple of and the well-preserved temple of Khons; the temple of Luxor and avenues of rams and sphinxes connecting all these. These temples are described in the articles Karnak, Luxor and Architecture: Egyptian. On the west bank, in front of the necropolis, on the edge of the desert or projecting into the cultivation, was a low row of temples: the northernmost, placed far in front of the others, is the well-preserved temple of Seti I. at Kurna; then follow the Ramesseum and Medinet Habu; and the foundations of many others can be traced. The temple of Amenophis III., to which the colossi of "Memnon" were attached, was again far forward of the line. The Ramesseum contains the remains of a stupendous seated colossus, in black granite, of its builder Rameses II., thrown on its face. When perfect it was probably 57 ft. high and weighed about 1000 tons, surpassing the "Memnon" statues of Amenophis III. in size and weight. The temple Pof Rameses III. at Medinet Habu, sculptured with very interesting scenes from his Syrian, Libyan and other wars and from religious festivals, is remarkable also for the unique entrance-tower which probably formed part of the royal palace. Northward and far back in the foot-hills is the Ptolemaic temple of Deir el Medina, and beyond under the cliffs of Deir el Bahri the terrace temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the walls of which are adorned with scenes from her expedition to Puoni (Somaliland) in search of incense trees, and many other subjects. The necropolis extends from Kurna in the north through Drah abu'l nagga, the Assasif, and Shekh abd el Kurna to Kurnet Murrai of Medinet Habu. The finest tombs are of the XVIIIth Dynasty. Far behind Medinet Habu are the Tombs of the Queens, where royal relatives of the XXth Dynasty are buried; and immediately behind the lofty cliffs of Deir el Bahri, but accessible only by a very circuitous route from Kurna, are the tombs of the kings (from Tethmosis I. onward to the end of the XXth Dynasty) in the Biban el Moluk and the Western Valley. They are decorated with religious scenes and texts, especially those which describe the passage of the sun through the underworld. Those of Seti I. and Rameses III. are the most remarkable. These royal sepulchres are long galleries excavated in the rock with chambers at intervals: in one of the innermost chambers was laid the body in its sarcophagus. In the XXIst Dynasty, when tomb robberies were rife and most of their valuables had been stolen, the royal mummies were removed from place to place and at last deposited for safety in the tomb of Amenophis II. and in the burial-place of the priest-kings at Deir el Bahri. The finding of the two cachettes nearly intact has been among the greatest marvels of archaeological discovery, and the systematic exploration of the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings by Theodore M. Davis has been annually rewarded with results of the highest interest.
See Baedeker's Egypt; E. Naville, (Temple of) Deir el Bahari, introduction and parts i. - v. (London, 1894-1906); W. M. F. Petrie, Six Temples at Thebes (ruined temples on west bank), (London, 1897); G. Daressy, Notice explicative des ruines de Medinet Habu (Cairo, 1897); G. Maspero, "Les Momies royales de Deir el Bahari" in Memoires de la mission archeologique francaise au Caire, tome I.; and many other works. (F. LL. G.)
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Thebes, Egypt'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/t/thebes-egypt.html. 1910.