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Memphis: background information

Name in Egyptian: inb-HD - white wall. Later names of the city include mn-nfr (which was the name of the Pyramid of Pepy II) and Hwt-kA-ptH (the house of the ka of Ptah). The Greek form Memphis derives from mn-nfr.

Administrative centre of Egypt in the Old Kingdom, much of the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC), and the Late Period, located near the modern village of Mit Rahineh. The principal surviving remains known date to the New Kingdom, and Late Period to the Roman Period. Through changes in the course of the Nile the location of the actual city moved from the North, close to the tombs of the First Dynasty to the area of the modern village Mit Rahineh. The Old Kingdom city was located a little farther south, still well to the north of Mit Rahineh. These earlier locations for the city have only recently been identified. The city has a perfect strategic position, at the border of Lower and Upper Egypt, towards the northern end of a narrower stretch of river valley running between the Fayum and the apex of the Delta. It is no accident that Cairo, the capital of modern Egypt, is not far away, closer to the Delta apex. The Memphite region was the first province of Lower Egypt in ancient Egyptian times.

Memphis was in all periods a major industrial centre. In the Old Kingdom Egypt was very heavily centralised. Major royal workshops were almost certainly located at the city, though this has yet to be confirmed from archaeological investigation. The main deity of Memphis is Ptah, the god of arts and crafts, already in the Old Kingdom. The title of the high priest of Ptah was 'greatest of the directors of craftsmen' (wr xrp Hmwwt). For the New Kingdom several workshops are known from inscriptions. Excavations by Petrie and more recently have revealed small workshops for a range of crafts, including faience and stone vessel production, mainly from the Late Period to early Roman Period.

The main temple of the city was dedicated to Ptah. Its exact position remains a subject of debate; it may lie beneath the modern village, and the heavily destroyed New Kingdom temple remains to the east may be from a temple to the cult of king Ramesses II, like the Ramesseum at Thebes. Until it has been located on the ground, the character and form of this heart to the 'temple of the ka of Ptah' is likely to remain enigmatic. The palace of Merenptah and the palace of Apries are better preserved, providing a picture of royal domestic architecture in the New Kingdom and the Late Period. Several excavators have worked at Memphis, offering an idea of the size and the arrangement of the city. The main cemeteries for Memphis are located at some distance to the west along the nearest desert plateau, at Saqqara.


On Ptolemaic Memphis:


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