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Types of temples in ancient Egypt - spread of the formal temple

Barry Kemp has proposed a chronological sequence for understanding the form of temples as they expanded over time (Kemp1989: 65-107). This sequence is not universally accepted, and the nomenclature not yet stable. Nevertheless the Kemp sequence offers an archaeologically grounded introduction to the variety of form to be expected at all periods. The focus of the sequence is the expanding reach of the central state, expressing unifying kingship and religion with the aid of formal art and hieroglyphic script. As in house types, there may be a shift in dominant mode from circle to rectangle (as much as, or concomitant of, a shift from brick to stone).

Although there is a clear development over time, it may be advisable to avoid using periods to name each phase, because this chronological sequence does not present discrete blocks of time, and the surviving material may be misleading, as the forms of temples from the centres of Egyptian kingship do not survive (Memphis, Iunu/Heliopolis). For the general trend across time, note the following:

  1. Circular forms survive from periods earlier than the earliest surviving rectilinear temples, in some cases directly beneath them (Hierakonpolis, Medamud).
  2. Early rectilinear temples illustrate the intervention of the central state (kingship) in urban centres far from the residence and burial place of the king; the reign of Senusret I saw a particular expansionist period in temple-building on this plan, as for example at Thebes (main temple of Amun), Medamud and Koptos.
  3. In the surviving record, all-stone rectilinear temples are characteristic of the New Kingdom, with a concentration of building in the long reigns of Thutmose III, Amenhotep III and Ramesses II
  4. All-decorated rectilinear temples represent the farthest extreme in the spread of hieroglyphic script and formal art to every corner of a temple, most clearly in the late Ptolemaic and early Roman Period structures at Denderah, where the Hathor temple has decorated chapels on its roof, decorated stairways to the roof, and decorated cellars; the project of all-encompassing decoration becomes visible in the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, and is resumed in force under the Thirtieth Dynasty, but most of the surviving material dates to the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods. The trend is anticipated in the Theban temples of the New Kingdom, and it is possible that there was already extensive inscription covering temples at Memphis and Iunu/Heliopolis; therefore, the form should be used to name each phase, rather than the date of the best-preserved examples.

The 'reading of the temple' has been applied mainly to temple structures representing phases 3 and 4 above.

See the list of provinces of ancient Egypt for note of the surviving record for temples in the principal cities of each province.



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