BMCR 2000.01.06

Themes in Egypt. A Guide to the Tombs and Temples of Ancient Luxor

, , Themes in Egypt. A Guide to the Tombs and Temples of Ancient Luxor. London/New York: Cornell University Press/British Museum Press, 1999. 232, 1 map. $24.95.

Luxor, the site of ancient Thebes, was the residence of the Eleventh Dynasty in New Kingdom Egypt. Thebes became a United Nations heritage site since 1979, and has always been a centre of attraction and fascination of people from all over the world. Luxor is one of the very few sites that has yielded materials from all major periods of Egyptian History. No visit to Egypt would be complete without a trip to Luxor and a tour of the sites of ancient Thebes.

The first of the book’s nine chapters starts with a review of the topography of Thebes in order to orientate the reader to the sites which are about to be investigated in much more detail. In the second chapter the authors recount the history of Thebes from city’s rise in the later phase of the Old Kingdom to the Graeco-Roman period. The third chapter starts the scholarly tour with a visit to the east bank of Thebes. The authors provide the reader an insight to the history and different architectural phases of the great temples of Karnak and Luxor. The fourth chapter discusses the role played by the divine kings in the community’s religious life, and takes us on a tour of the royal temples on the west bank. These cult temples were the counterpart to the royal burial in the hills, in the Valley of the Kings. A section in this chapter also examines other small temples and shrines that were dedicated to particular local cults. The Strudwicks explain not only the religious importance of these cult institutions but also the role they played in the state’s economy. The fifth chapter examines royal burials from later part of the First Intermediate Period down to the Late Period. The most important of all was, of course, the ‘Valley of the Kings’. The authors recount the history and development of this valley and examine the architectural development of the royal tombs. They also analyse the decorative schemes, the remains of the equipment, furniture and funerary objects that once filled the rooms of the royal burials. The sixth chapter discusses the burials of the royal family, in particular the location of their tombs. It also examines the architectural design, decoration and burial equipment of these tombs. An interesting section in this chapter investigates the burials of the Spouses of Amun, the Divine Adoratrices. The quasi-royal status of these Divine Adoratrices justifies the inclusion of their burials in this chapter. The seventh chapter is devoted to the ‘Tombs of the Nobles’. It is made clear by the authors that these tombs belong to the most eminent individuals of the area, governors, high priests, administrators and their like from the end of the Old Kingdom onwards. However, the real importance of Thebes and its west bank as burial grounds came into being with the reunification of Egypt under the powerful ruling house of the province, the Eleventh Dynasty. During this time the west bank and its hills witnessed significant building activities. These activities diminished by the Twelfth Dynasty when new ruling family transferred the capital north, to an area near Fayum called Itjittawy, now Lisht, not far from Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom. At the end of the Second Intermediate Period, Thebes and its ruling house emerged to take control of Egypt. During this period and the next few centuries, Thebes became the capital of a large empire, and on its west bank the monarchs and their high elite constructed their tombs. The tombs of these private individuals are found on all parts of the west bank of Thebes from Qurnet Marai in the south to Dra Abu el-Naga in the north. The design of these tombs, the architectural development, and the subject matter that was painted on the walls of these burial are analysed here. An account of later burials completes this interesting survey, together with a brief account of tomb equipment that illustrates some aspects of the wealth of these burials. The eighth chapter provides insight into the people of Deir el Madina who actually produced these art works. The Strudwicks recount the wealth of information about the inhabitants of the village and the way they lived. They also provide us with preview of their tombs, their design and decoration. The ninth chapter examines the archaeological remains of Thebes after the pharaonic period, assessing its gradual decline in the Graeco-Roman period. Although archaeological remains of this era are poor in comparison with those of earlier periods, the papyri and other written documents found in Choachytes archives are the most valuable sources on burial activities during this period. The last section of this chapter describes the impact of both Christianity and Islam on the area as it exists today. This chapter concludes with an overview of the archaeological research undertaken there, recounting the history of the rediscovery of this magnificent city. The book concludes with a glossary of words and terms of related interest, notes and references, an extensive bibliography, and a comprehensive index. The inclusion of these items adds considerably to the value of this book.

However, there are inevitably few editorial niggles and other points of criticism should be considered in future additions of this book:

On page 12, the Arabic word Qurn has a variety of meanings depending on its vowel points. Qurn here, is likely to mean hill or projection rather than Horn as suggested by the authors. Some of the Arabic names of villages are misinterpreted, for instance ‘Sheikh Abd-Qurna’ and ‘Qurnet Marai’.

On page 18, change ‘model’, to ‘modern’. There are some other typographical slips, but it would be pedantic to list them here.

Other points can be summarised as follows:

Some of the monuments receive scant treatment in comparison to others, for example the Aten temple at Karnak, early New Kingdom tombs and Later Period tombs.

One major gap is discussion of major scenes from Karnak or Luxor; a brief review of scenes would have supplemented both the historical and architectural aspects of these two great temples.

In conclusion, this book will be welcome addition to the library of any one interested in Ancient Egypt. The book provide scholarly understanding of the development of the site. At the end I can only share the authors’ appeal to all of us to carry the burden of preserving this dazzling site.