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Thebes: background information

Thebes was one of the main urban centres of Egypt. It is located in the fourth province of Upper Egypt in the ancient listing. Thebes is remarkable for the relatively good preservation of monuments, and the concentration of tombs/temples of kings on the West Bank, and royal monuments at the main Amun temple on the East Bank. No other place in Egypt has such a concentration of surviving ancient art and architecture.

There are some Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC) tombs known from Thebes. The place became most important in the First Intermediate Period (2181-2025 BC): the rulers of Thebes became local kings (early 11th Dynasty). Mentuhotep II (2046-1995 BC) from Thebes unified the country. He is the founder of the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC): for the remainder of the 11th Dynasty Thebes remained one of the main cities of the country, with monuments including the cult complex and tomb for each king. In the 12th Dynasty Amenemhat I (1976-1947 BC) moved the administrative centre of country to the North, locating his pyramid complex at Lisht, and Thebes lost its importance. At the end of the 13th Dynasty the city returned to prominence, and at some point in the Second Intermediate Period the court moved to the city, as centre of a smaller kingdom covering southern Upper Egypt (17th Dynasty). The kings who reunited Egypt at the end of the Second Intermediate Period were again from Thebes.

In the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) Thebes was the main religious centre of the country, while the administrative centre moved already early in the 18th Dynasty to Memphis. Most kings of the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties were buried at Thebes, and each of these built on the West Bank a mortuary temple. New Kingdom kings also expanded the Amun temple on the East Bank: from the time that the king is buried at Thebes, solar features such as obelisks are added to the Amun temple, and Thebes becomes 'Iunu (Heliopolis) of Upper Egypt' (iwnw Sma). Almost all high court officials of the 18th Dynasty before the Amarna period built their tombs at Thebes. In the Ramesside Period Thebes was still prominent, although the highest officials were now generally buried at Saqqara or elsewhere in the north.

In the Third Intermediate Period and Late Period (1069 - 525 BC) the focus of the country moved finally to the North. Thebes remained a centre of exceptional status for Upper Egypt, not least in the development of religious written traditions. In the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods the centre for Upper Egypt became Ptolemais, north of Thebes, near Akhmim.

There are many objects from Thebes in the Petrie Museum; but Petrie only dug a few seasons at Thebes - many of the items in the collection were purchased by Petrie or others. Therefore this important site is not represented in all of its aspects in Digital Egypt for Universities.


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