1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abydos (Egypt)

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ABYDOS, one of the most ancient cities of Upper Egypt, about 7 m. W. of the Nile in lat. 26° 10′ N. The Egyptian name was Abdu, "the hill of the symbol or reliquary," in which the sacred head of Osiris was preserved. Thence the Greeks named it Abydos, like the city on the Hellespont; the modern Arabic name is Arabet el Madfuneh. The history of the city begins in the late prehistoric age, it having been founded by the pre-Menite kings (Petrie, Abydos, ii. 64), whose town, temple and tombs have been found there. The kings of the Ist dynasty, and some of the IInd dynasty, were also buried here, and the temple was renewed and enlarged by them. Great forts were built on the desert behind the town by three kings of the IInd dynasty. The temple and town continued to be rebuilt at intervals down to the times of the XXXth dynasty, and the cemetery was used continuously. In the XIIth dynasty a gigantic tomb was cut in the rock by Senwosri (or Senusert) III. Seti I. in the XIXth dynasty founded a great new temple to the south of the town in honour of the ancestral kings of the early dynasties; this was finished by Rameses (or Ramessu) II., who also built a lesser temple of his own. Mineptah (Merenptah) added a great Hypogeum of Osiris to the temple of Seti. The latest building was a new temple of Nekhtnebf in the XXXth dynasty. From the Ptolemaic times the place continued to decay and no later works are known (Petrie, Abydos, i. and ii.).

The worship here was of the jackal god Upuaut (Ophoïs, Wepwoi), who "opened the way" to the realm of the dead, increasing from the Ist dynasty to the time of the XIIth dynasty and then disappearing after the XVIIIth. Anher appears in the XIth dynasty; and Khentamenti, the god of the western Hades, rises to importance in the middle kingdom and then vanishes in the XVIIIth. The worship here of Osiris in his various forms begins in the XIIth dynasty and becomes more important in later times, so that at last the whole place was considered as sacred to him (Abydos, ii. 47).

The temples successively built here on one site were nine or ten in number, from the Ist dynasty, 5500 B.C. to the XXVIth dynasty, 500 B.C. The first was an enclosure, about 30 × 50 ft., surrounded by a thin wall of unbaked bricks. Covering one wall of this came the second temple of about 40 ft. square in a wall about 10 ft. thick. An outer temenos (enclosure) wall surrounded the ground. This outer wall was thickened about the IInd or IIIrd dynasty. The old temple entirely vanished in the IVth dynasty, and a smaller building was erected behind it, enclosing a wide hearth of black ashes. Pottery models of offerings are found in the ashes, and these were probably the substitutes for sacrifices decreed by Cheops (Khufu) in his temple reforms. A great clearance of temple offerings was made now, or earlier, and a chamber full of them has yielded the fine ivory carvings and the glazed figures and tiles which show the splendid work of the Ist dynasty. A vase of Menes with purple inlaid hieroglyphs in green glaze and the tiles with relief figures are the most important pieces. The noble statuette of Cheops in ivory, found in the stone chamber of the temple, gives the only portrait of this greatest ruler. The temple was rebuilt entirely on a larger scale by Pepi I. in the VIth dynasty. He placed a great stone gateway to the temenos, an outer temenos wall and gateway, with a colonnade between the gates. His temple was about 40 × 50 ft. inside, with stone gateways front and back, showing that it was of the processional type. In the XIth dynasty Menthotp (Mentuhotep) III. added a colonnade and altars. Soon after, Sankhkerē entirely rebuilt the temple, laying a stone pavement over the area, about 45 ft. square, besides subsidiary chambers. Soon after Senwosri (Senusert) I. in the XIIth dynasty laid massive foundations of stone over the pavement of his predecessor. A great temenos was laid out enclosing a much larger area, and the temple itself was about three times the earlier size.

The XVIIIth dynasty began with a large chapel of Amasis (Ahmosi, Aahmes) I., and then Tethmosis (Thothmes, Tahutmes) III. built a far larger temple, about 130 × 200 ft. He made also a processional way past the side of the temple to the cemetery beyond, with a great gateway of granite. Rameses III. added a large building; and Amasis II. in the XXVIth dynasty rebuilt the temple again, and placed in it a large monolith shrine of red granite, finely wrought. The foundations of the successive temples were comprised within about 18 ft. depth of ruins; these needed the closest examination to discriminate the various buildings, and were recorded by over 4000 measurements and 1000 levellings (Petrie, Abydos, ii.).

The temple of Seti I. was built on entirely new ground half a mile to the south of the long series of temples just described. This is the building best known as the Great Temple of Abydos, being nearly complete and an impressive sight. A principal object of it was the adoration of the early kings, whose cemetery, to which it forms a great funerary chapel, lies behind it. The long list of the kings of the principal dynasties carved on a wall is known as the "Table of Abydos." There were also seven chapels for the worship of the king and principal gods. At the back were large chambers connected with the Osiris worship (Caulfield, Temple of the Kings); and probably from these led out the great Hypogeum for the celebration of the Osiris mysteries, built by Mineptah (Murray, Osireion). The temple was originally 550 ft. long, but the forecourts are scarcely recognizable, and the part in good state is about 250 ft. long and 350 ft. wide, including the wing at the side. Excepting the list of kings and a panegyric on Rameses II., the subjects are not historical but mythological. The work is celebrated for its delicacy and refinement, but lacks the life and character of that in earlier ages. The sculptures have been mostly published in hand copy, not facsimile, by Mariette in his Abydos, i. The adjacent temple of Rameses II. was much smaller and simpler in plan; but it had a fine historical series of scenes around the outside, of which the lower parts remain. A list of kings, similar to that of Seti, formerly stood here; but the fragments were removed by the French consul and sold to the British Museum.

The Royal Tombs of the earliest dynasties were placed about a mile back on the great desert plain. The earliest is about 10 × 20 ft. inside, a pit lined with brick walls, and originally roofed with timber and matting. Others also before Menes are 15 × 25 ft. The tomb probably of Menes is of the latter size. After this the tombs increase in size and complexity. The tomb-pit is surrounded by chambers to hold the offerings, the actual sepulchre being a great wooden chamber in the midst of the brick-lined pit. Rows of small tomb-pits for the servants of the king surround the royal chamber, many dozens of such burials being usual. By the end of the IInd dynasty the type changed to a long passage bordered with chambers on either hand, the royal burial being in the middle of the length. The greatest of these tombs with its dependencies covered a space of over 3000 square yards. The contents of the tombs have been nearly destroyed by successive plunderers; enough remained to show that rich jewellery was placed on the mummies, a profusion of vases of hard and valuable stones from the royal table service stood about the body, the store-rooms were filled with great jars of wine, perfumed ointment and other supplies, and tablets of ivory and of ebony were engraved with a record of the yearly annals of the reigns. The sealings of the various officials, of which over 200 varieties have been found, give an insight into the public arrangements (Petrie, Royal Tombs, i. and ii.).

The cemetery of private persons begins in the Ist dynasty with some pit tombs in the town. It was extensive in the XIIth and XIIIth dynasties and contained many rich tombs. In the XVIIIth-XXth dynasties a large number of fine tombs were made, and later ages continued to bury here till Roman times. Many hundred funeral steles were removed by Mariette's workmen, without any record of the burials (Mariette, Abydos, ii. and iii.). Later excavations have been recorded by Ayrton, Abydos, iii.; MacIver, El Amrah and Abydos; and Garstang, El Arabah.

The forts lay behind the town. That known as Shunet ez Zebib is about 450 × 250 ft. over all, and still stands 30 ft. high. It was built by Khasekhemui, the last king of the IInd dynasty. Another fort nearly as large adjoined it, and is probably rather older. A third fort of a squarer form is now occupied by the Coptic convent; its age cannot be ascertained (Ayrton, Abydos, iii.).

(W. M. F. P.)