Great Capital of the Nubian Pharaohs
Ancient Thebes was one of ancient Egypt’s capital cities during part of the Middle and New Kingdoms. It is now part of the city of Luxor, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I don’t know if you know this, but Luxor has one-third of the world’s ancient artifacts. That’s right, the entire world’s! So this may shed some light on the importance of ancient Thebes to the Egyptians. Thought it wasn’t always so…
…in fact, this piece of land was of little importance in the first thousand years of ancient Egyptian history.
The Rise to Glory
It was after the collapse of the Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period that ancient Thebes began to establish its importance. Up until then, it was just the capital of an Upper Egyptian nome called waset.
But then, a noble family from south of the city started to gain power through wealth and trade, and then began to head north…
Egypt was split into two lands at the time: Upper and Lower. The family began aiming to unite the two lands and take over leadership.
This didn’t go over too well with Lower Egypt, which had Memphis as its capital city. The two sides waged war and the Thebans emerged victorious, once again unifying the two lands.
But it wasn’t till much later that ancient Thebes began to gain popularity.
This happened when its local god, Amun, merged with the sun god Ra to form Amun-Ra. He became more and more important over time. The city itself was called niwt imn in Egyptian, which means “City of Amun”. The name Thebes originates from the Greek name of the city, which is Thebai.
What finally sealed the city’s fate of greatness was when the Thebans managed to liberate Egypt from the Hyksos occupation and drove them out completely. This marked the beginning of the New Kingdom and the city’s age of glory.
It was the time of the Empire Builders.
Egypt had never been so wealthy and powerful – trade began to flourish as did the artistic and architectural projects that Luxor is so famous for.
The Temple and Necropolis of Ancient Thebes
The site of the city is a really suitable location for what the ancient Egyptians had in mind. The mountain ranges there opened up to form a plain that is split by the Nile into two opposite sides: the East and West Banks.
The East Banks was dedicated to the living, and this is where Luxor is. It was the seat of government, where homes and temples were built. Some of the most beautiful temples in the world are there, such as the Temple of Karnak.
The annual festival took place on this side of the river, between the Karnak and Luxor temples, and was dedicated to the Theban Triad (see below).
The West Bank was the land of the dead, with the amazing Theban Necropolis – home to thousands of royal tombs. The Valley of the Kings and Queens is where some of the most amazing treasures and artifacts were found, including the dazzling tomb of Tutankhamun.
The Royal Mummy Caches, the Colossi of Memnon and the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut are also among the treasures of the West Bank.
The Theban Triad
The three most important Theban deities were Amun, his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu.
Before the rise to power of ancient Thebes, Amun was a little-known local god. Once the city became the capital of a unified Egypt, he started to get some outside attention.
Ra was the chief deity of Egypt at the time. He was seen as the creator god of the universe according to the Heliopolitan Creation Myth.
When Amun started to gain popularity, the ancient Egyptians began identifying them with each other, and finally merged them into one. Amun-Ra then became one of the most important and complex deities of ancient Egypt.
His influence reached ancient Nubia and ancient Libya.
Amun’s wife, Mut, is a maternal figure in ancient Egyptian mythology, with the word mut meaning “mother”. She was associated with the dark waters out of which the mound of creation arose.
Amun and Mut had a son named Khonsu, meaning “traveler” in ancient Egyptian. Khonsu was a lunar deity, associated with the moon and the passage of time.
There are several other familial configurations for Amun and Mut, he was associated with other wives and she was associated with other adopted sons, but this was the main triad associated with Thebes. It was this triad that was honored annually with the Opet Festival at the temples of Luxor and Karnak.
Until now, there are traces of the Opet in another festival that still takes place in Luxor every year.
Decline of the City and the Country
The cult and priests of Amun had gained so much strength with the rising of Thebes’s importance that they began to rival the pharaoh himself. The power struggle began and eventually led to the divide of the country once again.
One of the priests usurped the throne and became the leader of Upper Egypt – but a divided and weakened country was vulnerable to attack.
The mighty Libyans invaded, Nubia split, and Egypt lost Syria and Palestine. Many others invaded later on, including the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks and finally the Romans. That marked the end of pharaonic Egypt and the fading of our ancient culture into obscurity for millennia.
Still, even though the city and country declined, Luxor itself is a testament to the greatness and glory of the ancient empire. Like I said, ancient Thebes produced one-third of the world’s ancient artifacts.
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