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Article

Robert S. Bianchi

[Arab. Bahbayt al-Hagar; anc. Egyp. Pr-ḥbyt; Lat. Iseum]

Site in northern Egypt, c. 100 km north of Cairo, an important cult centre for the worship of the goddess Isis, which flourished during the 4th century bc. The modern name is a combination of the ancient Egyptian name and the Arabic epithet ‘al-hagar’ (‘the stone’), referring to the jumbled mass of granite blocks from the collapsed Temple of Isis that now litters the site. The site is mentioned in inscriptions of the New Kingdom, but it rose to prominence during the 30th Dynasty (380–343 bc) when Nectanebo II (reg 360–343 bc) sponsored the construction of the Temple of Isis. The geographic proximity of Behbeit el-Hagar to Sebennytos, the capital during the 30th Dynasty, less than 10 km away, implies that Isis was the Dynasty’s titular deity. Behbeit el-Hagar (Iseum) eventually became the capital of an independent nome (administrative province) during the Ptolemaic period (after ...

Article

Charles C. Van Siclen III

[Egyp. Per-Bastet; now Tell Basta, nr Zaqāzīq, Egypt]. Site in the eastern Nile Delta 77 km north-east of Cairo. It flourished c. 2575 bcc. ad 300. The ancient city of Basta (Gr. Bubastis) was the home of the feline goddess Bastet (Egyp.: ‘She of Basta’), often associated in the later periods of Egyptian history with the cat. Both the city and the cult of Bastet date back at least to the beginning of the Old Kingdom (c. 2575 bc). Bubastis was a significant political, economic and religious centre, and during the 22nd Dynasty (c. 950–c. 730 bc) it was home to a family of pharaohs named Osorkon and Shoshenq, who ruled the whole of Egypt. The importance of the city declined with shifting trade routes, changing political structures and above all the appearance of Christianity and later Islam, when the site was abandoned. The great temple to Bastet and her joyous festival are both described by Herodotus (...

Article

Faiyum  

R. J. Leprohon and T. G. Wilfong

Egyptian semi-oasis region c. 80 km south-west of Cairo on the Bahr Yusuf, an ancient channel of the Nile (see fig.). In the north-west is Lake Qarun, a remnant of the ancient Lake Moeris, an important part of ancient Egyptian cosmogony since it was reputed by some to be the site of Nun, the primeval ocean. Throughout the Dynastic and Greco-Roman periods (c. 2925 bcad 395) the major god worshipped in the Faiyum was the crocodile-headed Sebek (Gr. Suchos), but the region had a large Jewish community from the 3rd century bc, and Christianity probably arrived in the 1st century ad. Major sites in the Faiyum include the Middle Kingdom monuments at Hawara, el-Lahun and Qasr el-Sagha, and Greco-Roman towns at Qasr Qarun and Kom Ushim. The principal Coptic monuments are the monasteries of Deir el-Azab and Deir el-Malak, and there is a 15th-century mosque in the regional capital of ...

Article

Nabil Swelim

[anc. Egyp. Iunu; Bibl. On; now Tell Hisn]. Site near Cairo, Egypt. It was the capital of the 13th Lower Egyptian nome (administrative province) and a cult centre of the sun-god in its various guises (Re, Atum, Khephri). The symbol of Heliopolis was the benben, the precursor of the pyramid and obelisk, which represented the primeval hill on which the sun first rose. The oldest monolithic benben found at Heliopolis dates to the 6th Dynasty (c. 2325–c. 2150 bc). An obelisk of Sesostris I (reg c. 1918–c. 1875 bc) still stands on the site; two other obelisks of Heliopolitan origin—‘Cleopatra’s needles’—are now in London and New York. Remains of a temenos wall and chapel reliefs testify to the city’s importance as a religious centre as early as the Early Dynastic period (c. 2925–c. 2575 bc). Imhotep, who bore the title ‘Greatest of seers’ and served in Heliopolis under the 3rd Dynasty (...

Article

Philae  

Erich Winter

Island situated immediately south of Aswan in Upper Egypt, which was the original location of an ancient temple of the goddess Isis, surrounded by associated cult buildings. The earliest surviving parts of the temple date from the reign of Nectanebo I (reg 380–362 bc), and it was subsequently extended and enlarged until the 2nd century ad. Between 1972 and 1980, in an internationally financed rescue operation mounted by UNESCO, the buildings of Philae were transferred to the higher ground on the neighbouring island of Agilqiyya. In the course of this work some 300 blocks from an older construction, dating to the time of the 26th Dynasty ruler Amasis (reg 570–526 bc), were found in and around the later (Ptolemaic) 2nd pylon. These reliefs of Amasis show that there was already a cult of Isis on Philae in the 26th Dynasty. However, even earlier reliefs, dating to the time of the 25th Dynasty ruler Taharqa (...

Article

A. J. Mills

[Arab. Sīwa]

Area in Egypt, close to the Libyan border, which flourished from the 26th Dynasty (664–525 bc) until Roman times. It was renowned throughout the Classical world as the seat of the oracle of Jupiter–Amun, particularly after the visit of Alexander the Great in 331 bc. The style of the monuments and their decoration shows the influence of pharaonic Egypt, despite strong connections with the desert peoples of North Africa and the Sahara. Of the many sites at the Siwa Oasis, three are of particular interest: the Temple of the Oracle of Amun, another Temple of Amun and a necropolis at Gebel el-Mawta. The Temple of the Oracle of Amun is situated on a bluff at Aghurmi and was excavated by Ahmed Fakhry in 1970–71; probably built during the reign of Amasis (570–526 bc), the plain limestone building has a moulding around the entrance and traces of relief decoration in the sanctuary. The other Temple of Amun, at ...

Article

Tanis  

D. A. Aston

[anc. Djane; now Ṣān al-Ḥagar, Egypt]

Capital city of Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1075–c. 750 bc). The main architectural feature of the city is the Temple of Amun, surrounded by mud-brick enclosure walls. The site, in the north-eastern Nile Delta, was excavated by Auguste Mariette (1830–60), Flinders Petrie (1883–6) and Pierre Montet (1929–51).

Between 1939 and 1945 Montet uncovered several subterranean royal tombs within the precincts of the Temple of Amun. These tombs were built of limestone and granite and engraved with mythological scenes on their interior walls. They are famous for the grave goods found inside them, which are now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The burials of Psusennes I, Amenemope, Wendjebawendjed, Shoshenq II, Takelot I, Osorkon III and Harnakht reveal a high standard of elegant and artistic workmanship characteristic of the Third Intermediate Period. Foremost among these are the silver coffins and gold masks of Psusennes I and Shoshenq II and the gold, silver and bronze cult vessels of Psusennes and Amenemope (Cairo, Egyp. Mus.)....