Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 5)

What archaeological evidence is there to support the theory that Kantir / Tell ed-Dab’a was the location of Pi-ramesse / Avaris? Excavations at Kantir have revealed a wealth of material from the Ramesside Period, which proves the existence of a large occupation site in the area. Hundreds of glazed tiles (as well as the molds used to make them) have been found. These glazed tiles once formed a part of a palace of Ramesses II[1]. There is also a well with the name of Ramesses II at Kantir, as well as scarabs of Khian, Tell el-Yahudieh pottery and a stela of a Hyksos princess named Tany[2]. The area around Kantir has yielded two statues of Sobekneferu and one of Aamu-Sahor-Nedjheritef (both of Dynasty Thirteen) as well as pyramidions of two Thirteenth Dynasty Pharaohs[3]. It is possible that the statues and pyramidions may not be in situ, but the well and smaller objects (such as the scarabs, tiles and molds) must be in situ as these small objects are not the kind of things that later builders would cart away to another site and the well of course could not have been moved for fairly obvious reasons. Further, there are foundation deposits from the reign of Ramesses II at Kantir (again, the kind of things which must be in situ)[4]. To further strengthen the case it can be added that a temple of Seth is known to have existed at Kantir[5].

Thus emerges a scenario where two separate sites both contain sufficient archaeological evidence (let us temporarily ignore the literary evidence) to lay claim to being Pi-ramesse / Avaris. If a strong case could be made for the evidence in one of these two sites having been brought to that site long after both the Second Intermediate Period and the Ramesside Period had ended, it would surely strengthen the case of the rival site. Save-Soderbergh[6], van Seeters[7], and Habachi[8] are surely correct in claiming that the Hyksos and Ramesside objects at Tanis are not in situ, and were brought to the site no earlier than Dynasty 21 (it should be pointed out that even Gardiner, who supported the designation of Tanis as the site of Pi-Ramesse, was willing to admit that many of the Ramesside objects at Tanis were not in situ[9]). The evidence to support this is readily available. Most telling of all is the fact that there are no pre-Dynasty XXI occupation levels at Tanis. Nor are there any small objects (like pottery, scarabs and private stelae) dating earlier than Dynasty XXI and there are no foundation deposits dating any earlier than the Twenty-first Dynasty[10].

Is it possible that the material which was found in the vicinity of Kantir and which dates to the Second Intermediate Period or the Ramesside Period could have been brought from elsewhere? Much of the material in question can be proven to be in its original location at Kantir. As mentioned above, people do not move wells from one city to another, and it is highly unlikely that small objects such as the glazed tiles and the molds used to make them would be so transported. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Kantir was occupied later than Ramesside times[11], which would make it unlikely tat Ramesside monuments were moved there by later Kings. In solving this question one must ignore the large, showy objects used by Montet to make his case for Tanis (as these are precisely the most likely objects to be moved to a new site by later pharaohs), and instead concentrate on the small, clearly in situ, objects used by Habachi, van Seeters and others to prove the presence of the Ramesside kings at Kantir.

[1] William Hayes, Glazed Titles from a Palace of Ramesses II at Kantir, (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1937), p. 5 and passim.

[2] Van Seeters, pp. 134 – 5.

[3] Van Seeters, p. 133.

[4] Hayes, pp. 5 – 7.

[5] Hayes, p. 7.

[6] T. Save-Soderbergh, “The Hyksos Rule in Egypt,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 37 (1951): p. 64.

[7] Van Seeters, pp. 130 – 1.

[8] Habachi, L. Second Stela of Kamose. Gluckstadt: Verlag J. J. Augustin, 1972, p. 61.

[9] Gardiner, Alan. “Tanis and Pi’ramesse: a Retraction”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 19, 1933, , p. 124.

[10] Van Seeters, p. 131 and Habachi, p. 61.

[11] Van Seeters, p. 136.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 4)

There is another piece of evidence against the designation of Tanis as Pi-ramesse. An ancient list of Delta cities published by Golenscheff counts Tanis and Pi-ramesse as separate cities, a fact which Gardiner could not explain[1]. Montet argued that this list is confused, and that its listing of Tanis and Pi-ramesse as separate cities is not to be trusted[2]. It seems best, however, to take the Golenscheff list literally and state that Tanis and Pi-ramesse are listed as separate cities because they were separate cities.

If the evidence for Tanis being Pi-ramesse is inconclusive at best, what is the evidence for Kantir? Ancient sources (Papyrus Anatasi III) describe Pi-ramesse as a beautiful area filled with figs, pomegranates, apples and olives and, most importantly , it claims that Pi-ramesse has a harbor[3]. The Kamose Stela describes Kamose’s sacking the “hundreds of ships”[4] of the Hyksos at Avaris, and this strongly suggests a harbor. The area around Kantir is today one of the agriculturally richest in Egypt while the area around Tanis is a barren wasteland of salt flats incapable of supporting the lush vegetation described in ancient texts. The area of Tanis seems to have been, during the Ramesside period, and area of lagoons reached with great difficulty and incapable of having a large harbor, while Tell ed-Dab’a has a harbor along its North side[5].

Another textual reference to Pi-ramesse is that of Abbess Aetheria (who traveled in the area in AD. 533 – 540), who claims that there were only four Roman miles between Faqus (the location of which we know for certain today) and Pi-ramesse. The city of Faqus is only four Roman miles from Tell ed-Dab’a[6]. Furthermore, on the wall of the temple of Ptah is a list of Lower Egyptian districts upon which Tanis and Avaris are mentioned as separate places[7]. This now gives us a text listing Pi-ramesse and Tanis as separate places and a text listing Avaris and Tanis as separate places. This second text casts further doubt upon Montet’s assertion that the Golenscheff list is confused, as both lists must be “confused “ if one of them is.

[1] Ray Weill, “The Problem of the Site of Avaris,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21 (1935): p. 18.

[2] Weill, p. 17.

[3] Van Seeters, John, The Hyksos (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), pp. , pp. 137 – 9.

[4] Habachi, Labib, Second Stela of Kamose (Gluckstadt: Varlag J. J. Augustin, 1972), , p. 49.

[5] Van Seeters, pp. 139 – 41.

[6] Van Seeters, pp. 148 9.

[7] Weill, p. 21.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 3)

There is one other piece of evidence in favor of Tanis being the site of Pi-Ramesse / Avaris, and that is Gardiner’s assertion that there are more monuments from the Ramesside Period at Tanis than at any other city in Egypt other than Thebes, but that if Tanis is not Pi-Ramesse then there are no Ramesside literary references to Tanis known[1]. This is a major point and any attempt to prove that Tanis was not Pi-Ramesse must explain this seeming paradox.

This collection of evidence in favor of Tanis being Avaris / Pi-Ramesses is not without its flaws. Montet’s emendation of Manetho to make the text read Sethroite instead of Saite is possible[2], but it must be pointed out that no emendation is necessary if Kantir / Tell-ed-Daba is the site of Avaris. Emending a text to fit a theory is not a good practice, especially when leaving the test unchanged yields sensible results.

In regard to Montet’s assertion that the burials beneath the temple walls prove Levantine influence there are two points to be considered. These burials do show Levantine influence, but Montet has not proved that these burials date to the Hyksos Period. That they were under a wall proves that they were contemporary with or earlier than that wall, but without other evidence no assertion as to their exact date can be made. As will be seen when the evidence at Tell-ed-Dab’a is examined, there is far more evidence for Levantine influence there than at Tanis and that this material can be precisely dated to the Second Intermediate Period.

The monuments at Tanis bearing inscriptions from the Second Intermediate Period are rare and probably not in situ[3]. Montet’s usage of two statues bearing inscriptions referring to Seth, Lord of Avaris to prove that Tanis was Avaris is highly questionable. First of all, there is a statue at Tell el-Moqdam which also refers to Seth, Lord of Avaris, while at Bubastis there are many blocks mentioning Seth[4]. Also, there are many objects bearing the names of Hyksos pharaohs Khian and Apopis at Bubastis[5]. Thus it seems clear that the mere presence of an object bearing either the name of a Hyksos pharaoh or of the god Seth does not prove that the site where the object was found is Avaris.

Montet is certainly correct when he states that the Four Hundred Year Stela must have been erected in a major cut center of Seth, but it must be stressed that there is no evidence that the cult center was at Tanis rather than somewhere else. It must be remembered that Egyptian pharaohs often took the monuments of other kings and moved them to other sites as a way of “filling” a newly built city faster than could be done if they depended entirely on the production of their own artisans. This practice would potentially be even more common in the Delta (where there is a complete lack of local building stone) than it was in Upper Egypt, where such transportation of objects is quite common in spite of the widespread availability of excellent building stone. One example of this which can be cited is the re-use at Hermopolis of stone blocks originally erected at Tell el-Amarna[6].

[1] Ray Weill, “The Problem of the Site of Avaris,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21 (1935): , p.18.

[2] Weill, p. 13.

[3] Habachi, Labib, Second Stela of Kamose (Gluckstadt: J. J. Augustin, 1972),, p. 61.

[4] Habachi, p. 60.

[5] Habachi, p. 60.

[6] Cooney, John, Amarna Reliefs from Hermopolis in American Collections (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1964), p. 2.

The 400 Year Stela

The Four Hundred Year Stela (mentioned in my last post) is such an interesting find that it calls for extended discussion. This object is a large slab of stone erected by Ramesses II to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the reign of the god “Seth, Great of Power, the Ombite”[1]. Originally this stela had been interpreted as referring to a Hyksos Pharaoh named Seth[2], but in interpreting the name as that of a god Kurt Sethe is clearly correct. Sethe also concluded that this anniversary did not occur during the reign of Ramesses II but rather somewhat earlier, during the reign of Horemhab[3]. If we count backwards four hundred years from the reign of Horemhab, we arrive at a point somewhere during the Second Intermediate Period.

This would place the founding of Avaris at about the time we would expect, provided that it could be proven that this stela referred to the foundation of Avaris. However, this stela does not mention Avaris at all (nor does it mention Tanis). Junker argues that the Hyksos built Avaris on an existing site[4] but points out that Manetho’s report contradicts itself by claiming first that the Hyksos founded Avaris and by then later claiming that they built their capital at a previously existing site[5]. Thus the Four Hundred Year Stela cannot be used to clear up Manetho’s contradiction as to whether or not the Hyksos founded Avaris. Nevertheless, Montet claimed that such an impressive and important stela must have been erected in the main cult center of Seth[6].

Some of this has been completely accepted by scholars over the course of time. Everyone, myself included, accepts that this stela was erected in a major cult center of Seth. But some scholars (and I am one of them) do not accept that the 400 Year Stela has anything at all to do with the founation of Avaris. For an interesting, if speculative, re-appraisal of the 400 Year Stela see: Hans Goedicke, "The 400 Year Stela Reconsidered", Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar, Vol. 3, (1981).

Also, even though this stela was found at Tanis, that does not mean that Ramesess II originally had the stela erected there. I will have more to say about objects being moved to Tanis from other sites in future posts.
[1] Kurt Sethe, “Der Denkstein mit dem Datum des Jahres 400 der Ara von Tanis,” Zeitscrift Fur Aegyptische Sprache 65 (1930): p. 85.

[2] Sethe, p. 86.

[3] Sethe, p. 86.

[4] Junker, Junker, H. “Phnfr”, Zeitscrift fur Aegyptische Sprache, vol. 75, 1939, p. 80.

[5] Junker, p. 80.

[6] Weill, Weill, R. “The Problem of the Site of Avaris”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 21,
1935, p. 13.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Location of Avaris (Part 2)

The location of the Hyksos capital of Avaris has long been discussed by Egyptologists. The sites suggested include Heliopolis (Weill)[1], Tell-el-Yahudieh (Petrie)[2], Pelusium (Gardiner)[3], Tanis (Montet)[4], and Kantir / Tell-ed-Daba (Habachi[5], van Seeters[6], Hayes[7], and Bietak[8]). To complicate the matter further is the theory that the later capital of Pi-Ramesse was built during the Nineteenth Dynasty upon the abandoned site of Avaris; thus any discussion of the location of Avaris must include a discussion of the location of Pi-Ramesse.

It must be stated from the start that the equating of Pi-Ramesse and Avaris is based on very slim evidence. Both cities had Seth as their primary deity, and ancient literary sources claim that both cities were located upon the Pelusaic branch of the Nile River[9]. This is enough to suggest the equation of the cities and most Egyptologists accept this theory, but it must be stressed that the theory is by no means proven as of yet.

Most of the above listed sites have been abandoned as suggested locations for the city of Avaris. The evidence at Tell-el-Yahudieh is not enough to compare with other proposed locations, Weill has retracted his suggestion of Heliopolis[10], and Gardiner has retracted his proposal of Pelusium in favor of Tanis[11]. This leaves only Tanis and Kantir / Tell-ed-Daba as proposed locations for Avaris. The following discussion will take the form of listing the evidence in favor of Tanis (both pro and con) and then making a case for Kantir / Tell-ed-Daba.

Tanis was identified as the location of Avaris as early as the middle of the nineteenth century when de Rouge recorded a mention of Seth, Lord of Avaris on Tanite monuments. De Rouge claimed that the designation Seth, Lord of Avaris was frequent on monuments found at Tanis[12]. Weill points out that this is an exaggeration as there are presently only two monuments known from Tanis with a mention of Seth, Lord of Avaris on them[13].

In 1930 Montet identified Tanis as Pi-Ramesse / Avaris[14] and this identification was supported by Junker[15]. Montet’s evidence was summarized by Weill[16]and will be discussed here at length.

First Montet took a passage from the writings of Manetho, which claimed that Pi-Ramesse was located in the Saite Nome, emended Manetho’s text to read “Sethroite” Nome, and then, quoting Strabo and Herodatus, claimed that the Sethroite Nome was the same as the Tanite Nome[17].

Secondly, Montet points out an example of Levantine influence at Tanis by showing that the main temple is surrounded by a wall and that below this wall were found two skeletons (one inside a large pottery jar). Montet called these skeletons a “foundation sacrifice” and points out (quite correctly) that the Egyptians did not have this custom even though it is well attested in Canaan[18].

Montet’s third point is that inscriptions from both the Hyksos Period and the Ramesside Period occur at Tanis[19], while his fourth is the presence of the Four Hundred Year Stela at Tanis[20].

[1] Ray Weill, “The Problem of the Site of Avaris,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21 (1935): p 10.

[2] Weill, sources cited therein, p. 10.

[3] Weill, sources cited therein, p. 11.

[4] Weill, sources cited therein, p. 11.

[5] Habachi, Labib, Second Stela of Kamose (Gluckstadt: J. J. Augustin, 1972), pp. 60 – 3.

[6] Van Seeters, John, The Hyksos (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), pp. 127 – 150.

[7] Hayes, William, Glazed Tiles from a Palace of Ramesses II at Kantir (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1937), p. 5.

[8] Bietak, Manfred, Tell el-Dab’a II (Vienna: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1975), pp 128 – 9.

[9] Habachi, Stela, p. 60.

[10] Weill, p. 10.

[11] Alan Gardiner, “Tanis and Pi-Ra’messe: a Retraction,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 19 (1933): pp: 122- 8.

[12] Weill, p. 10.

[13] Weill, p. 10.

[14] Weill, p. 12.

[15] Herman Junker, “Phrnfr,” Zeitscrift Fur Aegyptische Sprache 75 (1939): p. 82.

[16] Weill, pp. 10- 25.

[17] Weill, p. 12.

[18] Weill, p. 12.

[19] Weill, p. 13.

[20] Weill, p. 13.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Location of Avaris

While it is very clear today, based on the excavations of Manfred Bietak, that the Hyksos (Dynasty 15) capital in Egypt was at Tell-ed-Dab'a, there once was a very heated debate on this topic. Some scholars favored Tell ed-Dab'a / Kantir, while others favored Tanis.

I wrote a paper back in 1986, in which I argued strongly for Tell ed-Dab'a. I based my reasons on a variety of arguments that had nothing to do with Dr. Bietak's excavations (which were not widely known at the time, except to working Egyptologists). I have incorporated into that paper a number of arguments based on Bietak's excavations.

I will begin posting the relevent portions of my paper tomorrow or the next day, and will post all of it over the next few days.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Glyph Tutor

One of the people in the Middle Egyptian study group I have joined sent out a link which I will pass along to the readers of this blog.

The link is for a program called GlyphTutor. The program displays a bi-literal or tri-literal middle Egyptian sign and allows you to select the single letter characters that make up the sound of the b-literal or tri-literal. The program then tells you that you got the answer correct or displays (and pronounces) the correct response if you got the question wrong.

The program definitely will help you learn the values of the major bi-literals and tri-literals! It also comes at an ideal price - free! Click on the link above, download the software and install it. Then start learning bi- and tri-literals in a way that is much more fun than staring at a list of characters over and over.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hieroglyph Flash Cards

A few posts back I mentioned that I had joined a Middle Egyptian study group. One of the group members has found an interesting product for anyone who is learning Ancient Egyptain, a set of flashcards.

The set includes signs and vocabulary words. I have not seen the cards myself, but they can be ordered on the internet here.

The study group began working on July 12. As we progress I will give everyone an update regarding how this sort of thing works.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Minerva Magazine

Minerva Magzine is an archaeology magazine published in the United Kingdom, which is available in many bookstores here in the United States. The May / June issue has several articles of interest to readers of this blog.

There is a short article on the Assyrian Palace sculptures that are in the British Museum. These sculptures are among the most famous works of art to have survived from ancient Assyria and the article has numerous, high-quality photos of them in full color.

There is also an article on some of the ancient Egyptian art in the Turin Museum in Italy. The Turin collection is one of the most important collections of Egyptian art outside of Egypt. There is also a review, with photos, of the Brooklyn Museum's special exhibition "Unearthing the Truth: Egypt's Pagan and Coptic Sculptures".

Other articles cover the classical world of Greece and Rome and there is also an article devoted to Mayan murals.

Minerva aims for the interested lay reader and is not a heavy, overly-scholarly magazine. The articles are short and beautifully illustrated.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Greco-Persian Wars (a Review)

The battles between the Persians and the Greeks were some of the most important events in the entirety of human history, but are rarely given much though today. But what if the Persians had won the Greco-Persian wars instead of the Greeks? How different would the course of European history have been? Would Rome have ever existed as a great empire? Would Alexander have ever conquered the "world"?

Peter Green's book "The Greco-Persian Wars" does a great job of describing the wars, mostly from the Greek point of view. The book is well written and full of fascinating details about the behind-the-scenes politics in the Greek camp as they awaited the Persian invasions.

Part one tries to illustrate some of the Greks misconceptions about the Persians and then the author launches into a dscription of the historical events in question, from the Battle of Marathon to the final Greek victories of the war. The reader is caried along by the narrative and given all the information one could want about this fascinating topic.

Anyone interested in either Greek or Near Eastern history should find this to be a fascinating and worthwhile read.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Forgotten Empire (a Review)

Most of us who are interested in Near Eastern Archaeology are familiar with Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. A smaller number of us are interested in the Hittites. But the Near Eastern civilization that attracts the least attention is probably the Persian Empire.

"The Forgotten Empire" is the beautifully done catalogue for an exhibit of the same name. The book not only is filled with gorgeous photographs, but it also has a series of excellent articles written by experts in the field. The articles include a brief history of the Persian Empire, the story of the decipherment of Old Persian and Elamite, an overview of the known archaeological sites (with special emphasis on Persepolis), gold work (jewellery and "dinnerware"), religion and burial customs, warfare and an overview of Persia's "relationship" with the Greeks.

This is a good book which contains a better text than many museum exhibit catalogs, and I recommend it to anyone who would like to learn more about the Persian Empire.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Some Useful Links

Here are a few more interesting links that I have found on the internet:

The official site of the excavations at Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos Dynasty in ancient Egypt: This site is in German and English. has inscriptions in Akkadian, transliteration and translation.

A number of texts in Egyptian Hieroglyphs, without translation, can be found here:

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Pyramid of Khafre (Part 2)

The interior of Khafre's pyramid is different from that of his father. The burial chamber is located much lower in the pyramid, being partially above ground level and partially below it.

The sarcophagus (see photo) is undecorated and is set into the floor of the burial chamber. The burial chamber's roof is designed to relief the weight of the pyramid above it (see photo). Numerous famous people have visited Khafre's pyramid, with the famous "archaeologist" Belzoni leaving his name on the wall of the burial chamber (see photo).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Pyramid of Khafre

The pyramid of the Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh Khafre is the second largest of Egypt's "Great" pyramids (it is the middle pyramid in the photo). Like other pyramids this one had a mortuary temple adjacent to the pyramid and a "Valley Temple" where the King's mummified body would have been initially brought for the Pharaoh's funeral. A long causeway connected the two temples.

The Valley Temple has very little decoration, consisting of plain rectangular granite columns and lintels. It originally contained statues of Khafre; one of which is preserved in the Cairo Museum and is one of the great works of art in Egyptian history.
The mortuary temple had what would become the standard plan for this type of temple, an entrance hall followed by a courtyard, statue niches and an inner sanctuary where offerings would have been made to the King's Ka (soul). It is thought that the final services would have been performed for the King's mummy in this temple.

The famous Great Sphinx sits just north of the causeway of the pyramid, very near the Valley Temple. Between paws of the Sphinx is a stela (see photo) erected many centuries after the death of Khafre. This stela tells the story of a young prince who fell asleep in the shadow cast by the mostly sand-covered body of the sphinx. As the prince slept, the Sphinx appeared to him in a dream and promised him the throne if the prince would have the sand cleared away from the Sphinx. The prince did so and became King of Egypt as Tuthmose IV. The stela has two representations of the Pharaoh offering to the Sphinx above the text describing Tuthmose's dream.

Photos copyright John Freed

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Litany of Re

The Litany of Re is a religious text which appears in a number of Egyptian royal tombs dating to the New Kingdom. It is composed of a number of texts invoking the sun god in his various forms. At the end of the texts, the King is identified as the sun god to general rejoicing by the inhabitants of the underworld.

The representations of the sun god consist of his morning form (Kheper), his evening form (Atum) and many other forms in between. He shown in some scenes as a ram headed diety and in others as a baboon. The sun god is also shown as a mummy with the head of a lion or of a human being.

In the tomb of Tuthmose III, the Litany of Re is in the King's burial chamber. The book then disappears until the reign of Seti I in the Ninetenth Dynasty. From that point on it was usually put in the tomb's entrance corridor.

Egyptologists do not fully understand al of the details of these texts (translating and understanding are two different things!).

The Tomb of Tuthmose III (Part 2)

This scene from the Litany of Re in the Tomb of Tuthmose III shows Kheper pushing the sun along (the beatle with the red disk in the lower left of the picture) and an enemy of the sun god is shown tied to a stake.

I mentioned in the previous post that I think that drawings on the walls imitate a a papyrus copy of the texts in question. If you look at this picture you can see that the hieroglyphs are drawn in a very cursive manner, much as they would be written on a papyrus. The same can be seen in the second photo, which shows the Pharaoh rowing a boat in the underworld, with Isis standing in the boat behind him.
Photos Copyright John Freed 2009