Sunday, July 26, 2009

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.

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