“Monuments to Amun-Ra ‘King of the Gods’: The Temples of Thebes” George Hart (EEG Meeting Talk)

On Sunday George Hart came to the Essex Egyptology Group to give us a talk about the temples at Thebes. He started by talking about the god to whom most of them were dedicated: Amun-Ra. Amun was a creator god from at least Old Kingdom times – he is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts on the wall of Unas’s pyramid. He starts to rise to prominence during the Middle Kingdom and Hart showed us a few reliefs from this era and used them as illustration of Amun’s name & iconography. The name “Amun” literally means “hidden one” or “self-concealing one”, it’s not so much a name as a reference to the god. Hart said the belief was that if Amun’s true name were ever known then the people who heard it would drop down dead, it was that powerful & that much of a secret. This is also why the god is normally shown in human form, so that his true nature is not depicted. He wears a crown with 2 feathers, these are representing the goose that cackled and created the world. Later in the New Kingdom Amun is merged with the sun god Ra, and so has a sun-disk as well. He’s also often shown in Karnak as Amun-Min or Amun-Ra ka-mut-ef, using the same imagery as the god Min. “Ithyphallic” is the technical (and polite) term, that means he’s shown as wrapped up like a mummy with his erect penis sticking out of the wrappings. Ka-mut-ef literally means “bull of his mother”, ie he is his own father. This fits in with the creator aspect of Amun. Later Amun-Ra was also depicted as a ram-headed sphinx, like those that line the approach to Karnak temple. In Karnak Amun-Ra is worshipped with his consort Mut (a lion-headed goddess) and their offspring Khonsu (the moon god).

Hart then spent the rest of the talk telling us about (and showing us pictures of) the various temples and monuments in the Theban area. He moved round them in part geographical, part historical order, starting with Karnak. The feature he picked out for most attention here was the great Hypostyle Hall, built in Rameses II & Seti I’s time. Moving inwards in the temple to the obelisks put up by Hatshepsut, Hart discussed her reign as Pharaoh. A female Pharaoh wasn’t quite unprecedented in Egypt, but it was a rare occurrence in this period of Egyptian history. Hart now moved across the river to Deir el-Bahri, where Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple stands. After looking at this for a while he talked briefly about the removal of Hatshepsut’s image & name from accessible & visible parts of temples – this was done by Thutmose III, her stepson who succeeded her (and whose regent she’d been before she was Pharaoh in her own right). But it didn’t happen immediately, Hart’s theory is that it happened later in his reign when he was concerned about his son’s succession and making sure that his daughters didn’t seem like viable heirs.

Hart then told us about other monuments on the West Bank, including the Colossi of Memnon. These are actually gigantic statues of Amenhotep III which stood at the front of his mortuary temple, and Hart told the story of how they got their more modern name. In classical times the temple had already gone and the statues were already damaged, and were a tourist attraction. There was something about the damage that made one of the statues make noises when the temperature changed at dawn – so it was thought of as singing, and identified with Memnon the son of the goddess of the dawn. We then moved forward chronologically from Amenhotep III with a brief detour into Akhenaten’s new theology, and the subsequent restoration of the old religion under Tutankhamun. He mentioned that bits of Luxor Temple were put up by Tutankhamun, and that we can tell even though they’ve been usurped by Horemheb because along the tops of the colonnade the cartouches of Tutankhamun still exist. And Hart finished his talk up by talking about the Ramesseum with its reliefs depicting Rameses II’s “victory” against the Hittites, and about Rameses III’s temple.

This talk was pretty hard to summarise, and I feel like it’s ended up more of a list than a summary. Hart covered a lot of ground both in terms of monuments he showed us and the amount of the history & culture of Egypt that he covered. He also told us little snippets of more current research – like a bit about the on-going excavations at Amenhotep III’s temple of which the Colossi of Memnon are the only visible remnants. I’m not sure I learnt much from the talk, it was mostly things I already knew but it was still an interesting talk 🙂