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Manual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt By G. Maspero Characters: 54117

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Archaeologists, when visiting Egypt, have so concentrated their attention upon temples and tombs, that not one has devoted himself to a careful examination of the existing remains of private dwellings and military buildings. Few countries, nevertheless, have preserved so many relics of their ancient civil architecture. Setting aside towns of Roman or Byzantine date, such as are found almost intact at Koft (Coptos), at Kom Ombo, and at El Agandiyeh, one-half at least of ancient Thebes still exists on the east and south of Karnak. The site of Memphis is covered with mounds, some of which are from fifty to sixty feet in height, each containing a core of houses in good preservation. At Kah?n, the ruins and remains of a whole provincial Twelfth Dynasty town have been laid bare; at Tell el Mask-h?tah, the granaries of Pithom are yet standing; at S?n (Tanis) and Tell Basta (Bubastis), the Ptolemaic and Sa?tic cities contain quarters of which plans might be made (Note 1), and in many localities which escape the traveller's notice, there may be seen ruins of private dwellings which date back to the age of the Ramessides, or to a still earlier period. As regards fortresses, there are two in the town of Abydos alone, one of which is at least contemporary with the Sixth Dynasty; while the ramparts of El Kab, of Kom el Ahmar, of El Hibeh, and of Dakkeh, as well as part of the fortifications of Thebes, are still standing, and await the architect who shall deign to make them an object of serious study.


The soil of Egypt, periodically washed by the inundation, is a black, compact, homogeneous clay, which becomes of stony hardness when dry. From immemorial time, the fellahin have used it for the construction of their houses. The hut of the poorest peasant is a mere rudely-shaped mass of this clay. A rectangular space, some eight or ten feet in width, by perhaps sixteen or eighteen feet in length, is enclosed in a wickerwork of palm- branches, coated on both sides with a layer of mud. As this coating cracks in the drying the fissures are filled in, and more coats of mud are daubed on until the walls attain a thickness of from four inches to a foot. Finally, the whole is roofed over with palm-branches and straw, the top being covered in with a thin layer of beaten earth. The height varies. In most huts, the ceiling is so low that to rise suddenly is dangerous both to one's head and to the structure, while in others the roof is six or seven feet from the floor. Windows, of course, there are none. Sometimes a hole is left in the middle of the roof to let the smoke out; but this is a refinement undreamed of by many.

Fig 1.--Brickmaking, from Eighteenth Dynasty tomb-painting, Tomb of Rekhmara.

At the first glance, it is not always easy to distinguish between these huts of wattle and daub and those built with crude bricks. The ordinary Egyptian brick is a mere oblong block of mud mixed with chopped straw and a little sand, and dried in the sun. At a spot where they are about to build, one man is told off to break up the ground; others carry the clods, and pile them in a heap, while others again mix them with water, knead the clay with their feet, and reduce it to a homogeneous paste. This paste, when sufficiently worked (Note 2), is pressed by the head workman in moulds made of hard wood, while an assistant carries away the bricks as fast as they are shaped, and lays them out in rows at a little distance apart, to dry in the sun (fig. 1). A careful brickmaker will leave them thus for half a day, or even for a whole day, after which the bricks are piled in stacks in such wise that the air can circulate freely among them; and so they remain for a week or two before they are used. More frequently, however, they are exposed for only a few hours to the heat of the sun, and the building is begun while they are yet damp. The mud, however, is so tenacious that, notwithstanding this carelessness, they are not readily put out of shape. The outer faces of the bricks become disintegrated by the action of the weather, but those in the inner part of the wall remain intact, and are still separable. A good modern workman will easily mould a thousand bricks a day, and after a week's practice he may turn out 1,200, 1,500, or even 1,800. The ancient workmen, whose appliances in no wise differed from those of the present day, produced equally satisfactory results. The dimensions they generally adopted were 8.7 x 4.3 x 5.5 inches for ordinary bricks, or 15.0 x 7.1 x 5.5 for a larger size (Note 3), though both larger and smaller are often met with in the ruins. Bricks issued from the royal workshops were sometimes stamped with the cartouches of the reigning monarch; while those made in private factories bore on the side a trade mark in red ochre, a squeeze of the moulder's fingers, or the stamp of the maker. By far the greater number have, however, no distinctive mark. Burnt bricks were not often used before the Roman period (Note 4), nor tiles, either flat or curved. Glazed bricks appear to have been the fashion in the Delta. The finest specimen that I have seen, namely, one in the Gizeh Museum, is inscribed in black ink with the cartouches of Rameses III. The glaze of this brick is green, but other fragments are coloured blue, red, yellow, or white.

The nature of the soil does not allow of deep foundations. It consists of a thin bed of made earth, which, except in large towns, never reaches any degree of thickness; below this comes a very dense humus, permeated by slender veins of sand; and below this again--at the level of infiltration-- comes a bed of mud, more or less soft, according to the season. The native builders of the present day are content to remove only the made earth, and lay their foundations on the primeval soil; or, if that lies too deep, they stop at a yard or so below the surface. The old Egyptians did likewise; and I have never seen any ancient house of which the foundations were more than four feet deep. Even this is exceptional, the depth in most cases being not more than two feet. They very often did not trouble themselves to cut trenches at all; they merely levelled the space intended to be covered, and, having probably watered it to settle the soil, they at once laid the bricks upon the surface. When the house was finished, the scraps of mortar, the broken bricks, and all the accumulated refuse of the work, made a bed of eight inches or a foot in depth, and the base of the wall thus buried served instead of a foundation. When the new house rose on the ruins of an older one decayed by time or ruined by accident, the builders did not even take the trouble to raze the old walls to the ground. Levelling the surface of the ruins, they-built upon them at a level a few feet higher than before: thus each town stands upon one or several artificial mounds, the tops of which may occasionally rise to a height of from sixty to eighty feet above the surrounding country. The Greek historians attributed these artificial mounds to the wisdom of the kings, and especially to Sesostris, who, as they supposed, wished to raise the towns above the inundation. Some modern writers have even described the process, which they explain thus:--A cellular framework of brick walls, like a huge chess-board, formed the substructure, the cells being next filled in with earth, and the houses built upon this immense platform (Note 5). Fig 2.--Ancient house with vaulted floors, against the northern wall of the great temple of Medinet Habù

But where I have excavated, especially at Thebes, I have never found anything answering to this conception. The intersecting walls which one finds beneath the later houses are nothing but the ruins of older dwellings, which in turn rest on others still older. The slightness of the foundations did not prevent the builders from boldly running up quite lofty structures. In the ruins of Memphis, I have observed walls still standing from thirty to forty feet in height. The builders took no precaution beyond enlarging the base of the wall, and vaulting the floors (fig. 2).[1] The thickness of an ordinary wall was about sixteen inches for a low house; but for one of several storeys, it was increased to three or four feet. Large beams, embedded here and there in the brickwork or masonry, bound the whole together, and strengthened the structure. The ground floor was also frequently built with dressed stones, while the upper parts were of brick. The limestone of the neighbouring hills was the stone commonly used for such purposes. The fragments of sandstone, granite, and alabaster, which are often found mixed in with it, are generally from some ruined temple; the ancient Egyptians having pulled their neglected monuments to pieces quite as unscrupulously as do their modern successors. The houses of an ancient Egyptian town were clustered round its temple, and the temple stood in a rectangular enclosure to which access was obtained through monumental gateways in the surrounding brick wall.

Fig 3.--Plan of three-quarters of the town of Hat-Hotep-?sertesen (Kah?n), built for the accommodation of the officials and workmen employed in connection with the pyramid of ?sertesen II. at Illah?n. The workmen's quarters are principally on the west, and separated from the eastern part of the town by a thick wall. At the south-west corner, outside the town, stood the pyramid temple, and in front of it the porter's lodge. Reproduced from Plate XIV. of Illah?n, Kahun, and Gurob, W.M.F. Petrie.

The gods dwelt in fortified mansions, or at any rate in redoubts to which the people of the place might fly for safety in the event of any sudden attack upon their town. Fig. 4.--Plan of house, Medinet Hab?

Such towns as were built all at once by prince or king were fairly regular in plan, having wide paved streets at right angles to each other, and the buildings in line. The older cities, whose growth had been determined by the chances and changes of centuries, were characterised by no such regularity. Their houses stood in a maze of blind alleys, and narrow, dark, and straggling streets, with here and there the branch of a canal, almost dried up during the greater part of the year, and a muddy pond where the cattle drank and women came for water. Somewhere in each town was an open space shaded by sycamores or acacias, and hither on market days came the peas-ants of the district two or three times in the month. There were also waste places where rubbish and refuse was thrown, to be quarrelled over by vultures, hawks, and dogs.

The lower classes lived in mere huts which, though built of bricks, were no better than those of the present fellahin. Fig 5.--Plan of house, Medinet Hab?.

At Karnak, in the Pharaonic town; at Kom Ombo, in the Roman town; and at Medinet Hab?, in the Coptic town, the houses in the poorer quarters have seldom more than twelve or sixteen feet of frontage. They consist of a ground floor, with sometimes one or two living-rooms above. The middle- class folk, as shopkeepers, sub-officials, and foremen, were better housed. Their houses were brick-built and rather small, yet contained some half- dozen rooms communicating by means of doorways, which were usually arched over, and having vaulted roofs in some cases, and in others flat ones. Fig. 6.--Fa?ade of a house toward the street, second Theban period.

Some few of the houses were two or three storeys high, and many were separated from the street by a narrow court, beyond which the rooms were ranged on either side of a long passage (fig. 4). More frequently, the court was surrounded on three sides by chambers (fig. 5); and yet oftener the house fronted close upon the street. In the latter case the fa?ade consisted of a high wall, whitewashed or painted, and surmounted by a cornice. Fig 7.--Plan of central court of house, second Theban period.

Even in better houses the only ornamentation of their outer walls consisted in angular grooving, the grooves being surmounted by representations of two lotus flowers, each pair with the upper parts of the stalks in contact (see figs. 24, 25). The door was the only opening, save perhaps a few small windows pierced at irregular intervals (fig. 6). Even in unpretentious houses, the door was often made of stone. The doorposts projected slightly beyond the surface of the wall, and the lintel supported a painted or sculptured cornice. Having crossed the threshold, one passed successively through two dimly-lighted entrance chambers, the second of which opened into the central court (fig. 7). The best rooms in the houses of wealthier citizens were sometimes lighted through a square opening in the centre of a ceiling supported on wooden columns. In the Twelfth Dynasty town of Kah?n the shafts of these columns rested upon round stone bases; they were octagonal, and about ten inches in diameter (fig. 8).

Fig 8.--Restoration of the hall in a Twelfth Dynasty house. In the middle of the floor is a tank surrounded by a covered colonnade. Reproduced from Plate XVI. of Illah?n, Kahun, and Gurob, W.M.F. Petrie.

Notwithstanding the prevalence of enteric disease and ophthalmia, the family crowded together into one or two rooms during the winter, and slept out on the roof under the shelter of mosquito nets in summer. On the roof also the women gossiped and cooked. The ground floor included both store- rooms, barns, and stables. Private granaries were generally in pairs (see fig. 11), brick-built in the same long conical shape as the state granaries, and carefully plastered with mud inside and out. Neither did the people of a house forget to find or to make hiding places in the walls or floors of their home, where they could secrete their household treasures--such as nuggets of gold and silver, precious stones, and jewellery for men and women--from thieves and tax-collectors alike. Wherever the upper floors still remain standing, they reproduce the ground-floor plan with scarcely any differences. These upper rooms were reached by an outside staircase, steep and narrow, and divided at short intervals by small square landings. Fig 9.--Box representing a house (British Museum).

The rooms were oblong, and were lighted only from the doorway; when it was decided to open windows on the street, they were mere air-holes near the ceiling, pierced without regularity or symmetry, fitted with a lattice of wooden cross bars, and secured by wooden shutters. The floors were bricked or paved, or consisted still more frequently of merely a layer of rammed earth. The rooms were not left undecorated; the mud-plaster of the walls, generally in its native grey, although whitewashed in some cases, was painted with red or yellow, and ornamented with drawings of interior and exterior views of a house, and of household vessels and eatables (fig. 10).

Fig 10.--Wall-painting in a Twelfth Dynasty house. Below is a view of the outside, and above a view of the inside of a dwelling. Reproduced from Plate XVI. of Illah?n, Kahun, and Gurob, W.M.F. Petrie.

The roof was flat, and made probably, as at the present day, of closely laid rows of palm-branches covered with a coating of mud thick enough to withstand the effects of rain. Fig 11.--View of mansion from the tomb of Anna, Eighteenth Dynasty.

Sometimes it was surmounted by only one or two of the usual Egyptian ventilators; but generally there was a small washhouse on the roof (fig. 9), and a little chamber for the slaves or guards to sleep in. The household fire was made in a hollow of the earthen floor, usually to one side of the room, and the smoke escaped through a hole in the ceiling; branches of trees, charcoal, and dried cakes of ass or cow dung were used for fuel.

The mansions of the rich and great covered a large space of ground. They most frequently stood in the midst of a garden, or of an enclosed court planted with trees; and, like the commoner houses, they turned a blank front to the street, consisting of bare walls, battlemented like those of a fortress (fig. 11). Thus, home-life was strictly secluded, and the pleasure of seeing was sacrificed for the advantages of not being seen. The door was approached by a flight of two or three steps, or by a porch supported on columns (fig. 12) and adorned with statues (fig. 13), which gave it a monumental appearance, and indicated the social importance of the family.


Fig. 12.--Porch of mansion, second Theban period,

Fig. 13.--Porch of mansion, second Theban period.

Sometimes this was preceded by a pylon-gateway, such as usually heralded the approach to a temple. Inside the enclosure it was like a small town, divided into quarters by irregular walls. The dwelling-house stood at the farther end; the granaries, stabling, and open spaces being distributed in different parts of the grounds, according to some system to which we as yet possess no clue. These arrangements, however, were infinitely varied. If I would convey some idea of the residence of an Egyptian noble,--a residence half palace, half villa,--I cannot do better than reproduce two out of the many pictorial plans which have come down to us among the tomb-paintings of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The first (figs. 14, 15) represent a Theban house. The enclosure is square, and surrounded by an embattled wall. The main gate opens upon a road bordered with trees, which runs beside a canal, or perhaps an arm of the Nile. Low stone walls divide the garden into symmetrical compartments, like those which are seen to this day in the great gardens of Ekhm?m or Girgeh.

Fig 14.--Plan of a Theban house with garden, from Eighteenth Dynasty tomb-painting.

In the centre is a large trellis supported on four rows of slender pillars. Four small ponds, two to the right and two to the left, are stocked with ducks and geese. Two nurseries, two summer-houses, and various avenues of sycamores, date-palms, and d?m-palms fill up the intermediate space; while at the end, facing the entrance, stands a small three-storied house surmounted by a painted cornice.

Fig 15.--Perspective view of the Theban house, from Eighteenth Dynasty tomb-painting.

The second plan is copied from one of the rock-cut tombs of Tell el Amarna (figs. 16, 17). Here we see a house situate at the end of the gardens of the great lord A?, son-in-law of the Pharaoh Kh?enaten, and himself afterwards king of Egypt. An oblong stone tank with sloping sides, and two descending flights of steps, faces the entrance. The building is rectangular, the width being somewhat greater than the depth. A large doorway opens in the middle of the front, and gives access to a court planted with trees and flanked by store-houses fully stocked with provisions. Fig 16.--Part of the palace of A?, from tomb-painting, Eighteenth Dynasty, El Amarna.

Two small courts, placed symmetrically in the two farthest corners, contain the staircases which lead up to the roof terrace. This first building, however, is but the frame which surrounds the owner's dwelling. The two frontages are each adorned with a pillared portico and a pylon. Passing the outer door, we enter a sort of long central passage, divided by two walls pierced with doorways, so as to form three successive courts. The inside court is bordered by chambers; the two others open to right and left upon two smaller courts, whence flights of steps lead up to the terraced roof. This central building is called the Akhon?ti, or private dwelling of kings or nobles, to which only the family and intimate friends had access. The number of storeys and the arrangement of the fa?ade varied according to the taste of the owner. The frontage was generally a straight wall. Sometimes it was divided into three parts, with the middle division projecting, in which case the two wings were ornamented with a colonnade to each storey (fig. 18), or surmounted by an open gallery (fig. 19).

Fig 17.--Perspective view of the Palace of AT, Eighteenth Dynasty, El Amarna.

The central pavilion sometimes presents the appearance of a tower, which dominates the rest of the building (fig. 20). The fa?ade is often decorated with slender colonnettes of painted wood, which bear no weight, and merely serve to lighten the somewhat severe aspect of the exterior. Of the internal arrangements, we know but little. As in the middle-class houses, the sleeping rooms were probably small and dark; but, on the other hand, the reception rooms must have been nearly as large as those still in use in the Arab houses of modern Egypt. The decoration of walls and ceilings in no wise resembled such scenes or designs as we find in the tombs.

Fig 18.--Frontage of house, second Theban period.

The panels were whitewashed or colour-washed, and bordered with a polychrome band.

Fig 19.--Frontage of house, second Theban period.

Fig 20.--Central pavilion of house, in form of tower, second Theban period.

The ceilings were usually left white; sometimes, however they were decorated with geometrical patterns, which repeated the leading motives employed in the sepulchral wall-paintings. Thus we find examples of meanders interspersed with rosettes (fig. 21), parti-coloured squares (fig. 22), ox- heads seen frontwise, scrolls, and flights of geese (fig. 23).

I have touched chiefly upon houses of the second Theban period,[2] this being in fact the time of which we have most examples. Fig 21.--Ceiling pattern from behind, Medinet Hab?, Twentieth Dynasty.

The house-shaped lamps which are found in such large numbers in the Fay?m date only from Roman times; but the Egyptians of that period continued to build according to the rules which were in force under the Pharaohs of the Twelfth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties. Fig 22.--Ceiling pattern similar to one at El Bersheh, Twelfth Dynasty.

As regards the domestic architecture of the ancient kingdom, the evidences are few and obscure. Nevertheless, the stelae, tombs, and coffins of that period often furnish designs which show us the style of the doorways (fig. 24), and one Fourth Dynasty sarcophagus, that of Kh?f? Poskh?, is carved in the likeness of a house (fig. 25).


Most of the towns, and even most of the larger villages, of ancient Egypt were walled. Fig 23.--Ceiling pattern from tomb of Aimad?a, Twentieth Dynasty.

This was an almost necessary consequence of the geographical characteristics and the political constitution of the country. The mouths of the defiles which led into the desert needed to be closed against the Bedaw?n; while the great feudal nobles fortified their houses, their towns, and the villages upon their domains which commanded either the mountain passes or the narrow parts of the river, against their king or their neighbours.

The oldest fortresses are those of Abydos, El Kab, and Semneh. Abydos contained a sanctuary dedicated to Osiris, and was situate at the entrance to one of the roads leading to the Oasis. As the renown of the temple attracted pilgrims, so the position of the city caused it to be frequented by merchants; hence the prosperity which it derived from the influx of both classes of strangers exposed the city to incursions of the Libyan tribes. Fig 24.--Door of a house of the Ancient Empire, from the wall of a tomb of the Sixth Dynasty.

At Abydos there yet remain two almost perfect strongholds. The older forms, as it were, the core of that tumulus called by the Arabs "Kom es Sultan," or "the Mound of the King." The interior of this building has been excavated to a point some ten or twelve feet above the ground level, but the walls outside have not yet been cleared from the surrounding sand and rubbish. In its present condition, it forms a parallelogram of crude brickwork measuring 410 feet from north to south, and 223 feet from east to west. The main axis of the structure extends, therefore, from north to south. The principal gateway opens in the western wall, not far from the northwest corner: but there would appear to have been two smaller gates, one in the south front, and one in the east. The walls, which now stand from twenty-four to thirty-six feet high, have lost somewhat of their original height. They are about six feet thick at the top. They were not built all together in uniform layers, but in huge vertical panels, easily distinguished by the arrangement of the brickwork. In one division the bedding of the bricks is strictly horizontal; in the next it is slightly concave, and forms a very flat reversed arch, of which the extrados rests upon the ground.

Fig 25.--Fa?ade of a Fourth Dynasty house, from the sarcophagus of Kh?f? Poskh?.

The alternation of these two methods is regularly repeated. The object of this arrangement is obscure; but it is said that buildings thus constructed are especially fitted to resist earthquake shocks. However this may be, the fortress is extremely ancient, for in the Fifth Dynasty, the nobles of Abydos took possession of the interior, and, ultimately, so piled it up with their graves as to deprive it of all strategic value. A second stronghold, erected a few hundred yards further to the south-east, replaced that of Kom es Sultan about the time of the Twelfth Dynasty, and narrowly escaped the fate of the first, under the rule of the Ramessides. Nothing, in fact, but the sudden decline of the city, saved the second from being similarly choked and buried.

The early Egyptians possessed no engines calculated to make an impression on very massive walls. Fig 26.--Plan of second fortress at Abydos, Eleventh or Twelfth Dynasty.

They knew of but three ways of forcing a stronghold; namely, scaling the walls, sapping them, or bursting open the gates. The plan adopted by their engineers in building the second fort is admirably well calculated to resist each of these modes of attack (fig. 26). The outer walls are long and straight, without towers or projections of any kind; they measure 430 feet in length from north to south, by 255 feet in width. The foundations rest on the sand, and do not go down more than a foot. The wall (fig. 27) is of crude brick, in horizontal courses. It has a slight batter; is solid, without slits or loopholes; and is decorated outside with long vertical grooves or panels, like those depicted on the stelae of the ancient empire. Fig 27.--Walls of second fort at Abydos, restored.

In its present state, it rises to a height of some thirty-six feet above the plain; when perfect, it would scarcely have exceeded forty feet, which height would amply suffice to protect the garrison from all danger of scaling by portable ladders. The thickness of the wall is about twenty feet at the base, and sixteen feet above. The top is destroyed, but the bas- reliefs and mural paintings (fig. 28) show that it must have been crowned with a continuous cornice, boldly projecting, furnished with a slight low parapet, and surmounted by battlements, which were generally r

ounded, but sometimes, though rarely, squared. Fig 28.--Fa?ade of fort, from wall-scene, Beni Hasan, Twelfth Dynasty.

The walk round the top of the ramparts, though diminished by the parapet, was still twelve or fifteen feet wide. It ran uninterruptedly along the four sides, and was reached by narrow staircases formed in the thickness of the walls, but now destroyed. There was no ditch, but in order to protect the base of the main wall from sappers, they erected, about ten feet in advance of it, a battlemented covering wall, some sixteen feet in height. Fig 29.--Plan of main gate, second fortress of Abydos.

These precautions sufficed against sap and scaling; but the gates remained as open gaps in the circuit. It was upon these weak points that besiegers and besieged alike concentrated their efforts. The fortress of Abydos had two gates, the main one being situate at the east end of the north front (fig. 29). Fig 30.--Plan of south-east gate, second fortress of Abydos.

A narrow cutting (A), closed by a massive wooden door, marked the place in the covering wall. Behind it was a small place d'armes (B), cut partly in the thickness of the wall, and leading to a second gate (C) as narrow as the first. When, notwithstanding the showers of missiles poured upon them from the top of the walls, not only in front, but also from both sides, the attacking party had succeeded in carrying this second door, they were not yet in the heart of the place. Fig 31.--Plan of gate, fortress of Kom el Ahmar.

They would still have to traverse an oblong court (D), closely hemmed in between the outer walls and the cross walls, which last stood at right angles to the first. Finally, they must force a last postern (E), which was purposely placed in the most awkward corner. The leading principle in the construction of fortress-gates was always the same, but the details varied according to the taste of the engineer. At the south-east gate of the fort of Abydos (fig. 30) the place d'armes between the two walls is abolished, and the court is constructed entirely in the thickness of the main wall; while at Kom el Ahmar, opposite El Kab (fig. 31), the block of brickwork in the midst of which the gate is cut projects boldly in front. Fig 32.--Plan of the walled city at El Kab.

The posterns opening at various points facilitated the movements of the garrison, and enabled them to multiply their sorties.

The same system of fortification which was in use for isolated fortresses was also employed for the protection of towns. At Heliopollis, at S?n, at Sais, at Thebes, everywhere in short, we find long straight walls forming plain squares or parallelograms, without towers or bastions, ditches or outworks. The thickness of the walls, which varied from thirty to eighty feet, made such precautions needless. The gates, or at all events the principal ones, had jambs and lintels of stone, decorated with scenes and inscriptions; as, for instance, that of Ombos, which Champollion beheld yet in situ, and which dated from the reign of Thothmes III. The oldest and best preserved walled city in Egypt, namely, El Kab, belongs probably to the ancient empire (fig. 32). The Nile washed part of it away some years ago; but at the beginning of the present century it formed an irregular quadrilateral enclosure, measuring some 2,100 feet in length, by about a quarter less in breadth. The south front is constructed on the same principles as the wall at Kom es Sultan, the bricks being bedded in alternate horizontal and concave sections. Along the north and west fronts they are laid in undulating layers from end to end. Fig 33.--Plan of walled city at Kom Ombo.

The thickness is thirty-eight feet, and the average height thirty feet; and spacious ramps lead up to the walk upon the walls. The gates are placed irregularly, one in each side to north, east, and west, but none in the south face; they are, however, in too ruinous a state to admit of any plan being taken of them. The enclosure contained a considerable population, whose dwellings were unequally distributed, the greater part being concentrated towards the north and west, where excavations have disclosed the remains of a large number of houses. The temples were grouped together in a square enclosure, concentric with the outer wall; and this second enclosure served for a keep, where the garrison could hold out long after the rest of the town had fallen into the hands of the enemy.

The rectangular plan, though excellent in a plain, was not always available in a hilly country. Fig 34.--Plan of fortress of Kùmmeh.

When the spot to be fortified was situate upon a height, the Egyptian engineers knew perfectly well how to adapt their lines of defence to the nature of the site. At Kom Ombo (fig. 33) the walls exactly followed the outline of the isolated mound on which the town was perched, and presented towards the east a front bristling with irregular projections, the style of which roughly resembles our modern bastions. At K?mmeh and Semneh, in Nubia, where the Nile rushes over the rocks of the second cataract, the engineering arrangements are very ingenious, and display much real skill. ?sertesen III. had fixed on this pass as the frontier of Egypt, and the fortresses which he there constructed were intended to bar the water-way against the vessels of the neighbouring negro tribes. At K?mmeh, on the right bank, the position was naturally strong (fig. 34). Fig 35.--Plan of fortress of Semneh.

Upon a rocky height surrounded by precipices was planned an irregular square measuring about 200 feet each way. Two elongated bastions, one on the north-east and the other on the south-east, guarded respectively the path leading to the gate, and the course of the river. The covering wall stood thirteen feet high, and closely followed the line of the main wall, except at the north and south corners, where it formed two bastion-like projections. At Semneh, on the opposite bank, the site was less favourable. Fig 36.--Section of the platform at A B, of the preceding plan.

The east side was protected by a belt of cliffs going sheer down to the water's edge; but the three other sides were well-nigh open (fig. 35). A straight wall, about fifty feet in height, carried along the cliffs on the side next the river; but the walls looking towards the plain rose to eighty feet, and bristled with bastion-like projections (A.B.) jutting out for a distance of fifty feet from the curtain wall, measuring thirty feet thick at the base and thirteen feet at the top, and irregularly spaced, according to the requirements of the defence. These spurs, which are not battlemented, served in place of towers. Fig 37.--Syrian fort.

They added to the strength of the walls, protected the walk round the top, and enabled the besieged to direct a flank attack against the enemy if any attempt were made upon the wall of circuit. The intervals between these spurs are accurately calculated as to distance, in order that the archers should be able to sweep the intervening ground with their arrows. Curtains and salients are alike built of crude brick, with beams bedded horizontally in the mass. The outer face is in two parts, the lower division being nearly vertical, and the upper one inclined at an angle of about seventy degrees, which made scaling very difficult, if not impossible. The whole of the ground enclosed by the wall of circuit was filled in to nearly the level of the ramparts (fig. 36). Externally, the covering wall of stone was separated from the body of the fortress by a dry ditch, some 100 to 130 feet in width. Fig 38.--The town-walls of Dapür.

This wall closely followed the main outline, and rose to a height which varied according to the situation from six to ten feet above the level of the plain. On the northward side it was cut by the winding road, which led down into the plain. These arrangements, skilful as they were, did not prevent the fall of the place. A large breach in the southward face, between the two salients nearest to the river, marks the point of attack selected by the enemy.

New methods of fortification were revealed to the Egyptians in the course of the great Asiatic wars undertaken by the Pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Fig 39.--City of Kadesh, Ramesseum.

The nomadic tribes of Syria erected small forts in which they took refuge when threatened with invasion (fig. 37). The Canaanite and Hittite cities, as Ascalon, Dapur, and Merom, were surrounded by strong walls, generally built of stone and flanked with towers (fig. 38). Those which stood in the open country, as, for instance, Qodsh? (Kadesh), were enclosed by a double moat (fig. 39). Having proved the efficacy of these new types of defensive architecture in the course of their campaigns, the Pharaohs reproduced them in the valley of the Nile. From the beginning of the Nineteenth Dynasty, the eastern frontier of the Delta (always the weakest) was protected by a line of forts constructed after the Canaanite model. Fig 40.--Plan of the pavilion of Medinet Habu.

The Egyptians, moreover, not content with appropriating the thing, appropriated also the name, and called these frontier towers by the Semitic name of Magdil? or Migdols. For these purposes, or at all events for cities which were exposed to the incursions of the Asiatic tribes, brick was not deemed to be sufficiently strong; hence the walls of Heliopolis, and even those of Memphis, were faced with stone. Of these new fortresses no ruins remain; and but for a royal caprice which happens to have left us a model Migdol in that most unlikely place, the necropolis of Thebes, we should now be constrained to attempt a restoration of their probable appearance from the representations in certain mural tableaux.

Fig 41.--Elevation of pavilion, Medinet Hab?.

When, however, Rameses III. erected his memorial temple [3] (figs. 40 and 41), he desired, in remembrance of his Syrian victories, to give it an outwardly military aspect. Along the eastward front of the enclosure there accordingly runs a battlemented covering wall of stone, averaging some thirteen feet in height. The gate, protected by a large quadrangular bastion, opened in the middle of this wall. It was three feet four inches in width, and was flanked by two small oblong guard-houses, the flat roofs of which stood about three feet higher than the ramparts. Passing this gate, we stand face to face with a real Migdol. Two blocks of building enclose a succession of court-yards, which narrow as they recede, and are connected at the lower end by a kind of gate-house, consisting of one massive gateway surmounted by two storeys of chambers. The eastward faces of the towers rise above an inclined basement, which slopes to a height of from fifteen to sixteen feet from the ground. This answered two purposes. It increased the strength of the wall at the part exposed to sappers; it also caused the rebound of projectiles thrown from above, and so helped to keep assailants at a distance. The whole height is about seventy-two feet, and the width of each tower is thirty-two feet. The buildings situate at the back, to right and left of the gate, were destroyed in ancient times. The details of the decoration are partly religious, partly triumphal, as befits the character of the structure. It is unlikely, however, that actual fortresses were adorned with brackets and bas-relief sculptures, such as we here see on either side of the fore-court. Such as it is, the so-called "pavilion" of Medinet Habu offers an unique example of the high degree of perfection to which the victorious Pharaohs of this period had carried their military architecture.

Material evidence fails us almost entirely, after the reign of Rameses III. Towards the close of the eleventh century B.C., the high-priests of Amen repaired the walls of Thebes, of Gebeleyn, and of El Hibeh opposite Feshn. The territorial subdivision of the country, which took place under the successors of Sheshonk, compelled the provincial princes to multiply their strongholds. The campaign of Piankhi on the banks of the Nile is a series of successful sieges. Nothing, however, leads us to suppose that the art of fortification had at that time made any distinct progress; and when the Greek rulers succeeded the native Pharaohs, they most probably found it at much the same stage as it was left by the engineers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties.


A permanent network of roads would be useless in a country like Egypt. The Nile here is the natural highway for purposes of commerce, and the pathways which intersect the fields suffice for foot-passengers, for cattle, and for the transport of goods from village to village. Ferry-boats for crossing the river, fords wherever the canals were shallow enough, and embanked dams thrown up here and there where the water was too deep for fordings, completed the system of internal communication. Bridges were rare. Up to the present time, we know of but one in the whole territory of ancient Egypt; and whether that one was long or short, built of stone or of wood, supported on arches or boldly flung across the stream from bank to bank, we cannot even conjecture. This bridge, close under the very walls of Zar?, [4] crossed the canal which separated the eastern frontier of Egypt from the desert regions of Arabia Petraea. A fortified enclosure protected this canal on the Asiatic side, as shown in the accompanying illustration (fig. 42). Fig 42.--Canal and bridge, Zar?, Karnak.

The maintenance of public highways, which figures as so costly an item in the expenses of modern nations, played, therefore, but a very small part in the annual disbursements of the Pharaohs, who had only to provide for the due execution of three great branches of government works,--namely, storage, irrigation, mining and quarrying.

The taxation of ancient Egypt was levied in kind, and government servants were paid after the same system. To workmen, there were monthly distributions of corn, oil, and wine, wherewith to support their families; while from end to end of the social scale, each functionary, in exchange for his labour, received cattle, stuffs, manufactured goods, and certain quantities of copper or precious metals. Thus it became necessary that the treasury officials should have the command of vast storehouses for the safe keeping of the various goods collected under the head of taxation. These were classified and stored in separate quarters, each storehouse being surrounded by walls and guarded by vigilant keepers. Fig 43.--Cellar, with amphorae.

There was enormous stabling for cattle; there were cellars where the amphorae were piled in regular layers (fig. 43), or hung in rows upon the walls, each with the date written on the side of the jar; there were oven-shaped granaries where the corn was poured in through a trap at the top (fig. 44), and taken out through a trap at the bottom. At Th?k?, identified with Pithom by M. Naville,[5] the store-chambers (A) are rectangular and of different dimensions (fig. 45), originally divided by floors, and having no communication with each other. Here the corn had to be not only put in but taken out through the aperture at the top. Fig 44.--Granary.

At the Ramesseum, Thebes, thousands of ostraka and jar-stoppers found upon the spot prove that the brick-built remains at the back of the temple were the cellars of the local deity. The ruins consist of a series of vaulted chambers, originally surmounted by a platform or terrace (fig. 46). At Philae, Ombos, Daphnae,[6] and most of the frontier towns of the Delta, there were magazines of this description, and many more will doubtless be discovered when made the object of serious exploration.

The irrigation system of Egypt is but little changed since the olden time. Fig 45.--Plan of Pithom.

Some new canals have been cut, and yet more have been silted up through the negligence of those in power; but the general scheme, and the methods employed, continue much the same, and demand but little engineering skill. Wherever I have investigated the remains of ancient canals, I have been unable to detect any traces of masonry at the weak points, or at the mouths, of these cuttings. They are mere excavated ditches, from twenty to sixty or seventy feet in width. The earth flung out during the work was thrown to right and left, forming irregular embankments from seven to fourteen feet in height.

Fig 46.--Store-chambers of the Ramesseum.

The course of the ancient canals was generally straight: but that rule was not strictly observed, and enormous curves were often described in order to avoid even slight irregularities of surface. Dikes thrown up from the foot of the cliffs to the banks of the Nile divided the plain at intervals into a series of artificial basins, where the overflow formed back-waters at the time of inundation. These dikes are generally earth-works, though they are sometimes constructed of baked brick, as in the province of Girgeh. Very rarely are they built of hewn stone, like that great dike of Kosheish which was constructed by Mena in primaeval times, in order to divert the course of the Nile from the spot on which he founded Memphis.[7] The network of canals began near Silsilis and extended to the sea-board, without ever losing touch of the river, save at one spot near Beni S?ef, where it throws out a branch in the direction of the Fay?m. Here, through a narrow and sinuous gorge, deepened probably by the hand of man, it passes the rocky barrier which divides that low-lying province from the valley of the Nile, and thence expands into a fanlike ramification of innumerable channels. Having thus irrigated the district, the waters flow out again; those nearest the Nile returning by the same way that they flowed in, while the rest form a series of lakes, the largest of which is known as the Birket el K?r?n. If we are to believe Herodotus, the work was not so simply done. A king, named Moeris, desired to create a reservoir in the Fay?m which should neutralise the evil effects of insufficient or superabundant inundations. This reservoir was named, after him, Lake Moeris. If the supply fell below the average, then the stored waters were let loose, and Lower Egypt and the Western Delta were flooded to the needful height. If next year the inundation came down in too great force, Lake Moeris received and stored the surplus till such time as the waters began to subside. Two pyramids, each surmounted by a sitting colossus, one representing the king and the other his queen, were erected in the midst of the lake. Such is the tale told by Herodotus, and it is a tale which has considerably embarrassed our modern engineers and topographers. How, in fact, was it possible to find in the Fay?m a site which could have contained a basin measuring at least ninety miles in circumference? Linant supposed "Lake Moeris" to have extended over the whole of the low-lying land which skirts the Libyan cliffs between Illah?n and Medinet el Fay?m; but recent explorations have proved that the dikes by which this pretended reservoir was bounded are modern works, erected probably within the last two hundred years. Major Brown has lately shown that the nucleus of "Lake Moeris" was the Birket el K?r?n.[8] This was known to the Egyptians as Miri, Mi-?ri, the Great Lake, whence the Greeks derived their Moiris a name extended also to the inundation of the Fay?m. If Herodotus did actually visit this province, it was probably in summer, at the time of the high Nile, when the whole district presents the appearance of an inland sea. What he took for the shores of this lake were the embankments which divided it into basins and acted as highways between the various towns. His narrative, repeated by the classic authors, has been accepted by the moderns; and Egypt, neither accepting nor rejecting it, was gratified long after date with the reputation of a gigantic work which would in truth have been the glory of her civil engineers, if it had ever existed. I do not believe that "Lake Moeris" ever did exist. Fig 47.--Dike at Wady Gerraweh.

The only works of the kind which the Egyptians undertook were much less pretentious. These consist of stone-built dams erected at the mouths of many of those lateral ravines, or wadys, which lead down from the mountain ranges into the valley of the Nile. One of the most important among them was pointed out, in 1885, by Dr. Schweinfurth, at a distance of about six miles and a half from the Baths of Helwan, at the mouth of the Wady Gerraweh (fig. 47). It answered two purposes, firstly, as a means of storing the water of the inundation for the use of the workmen in the neighbouring quarries; and, secondly, as a barrier to break the force of the torrents which rush down from the desert after the heavy rains of springtime and winter. The ravine measures about 240 feet in width, the sides being on an average from 40 to 50 feet in height. The dam, which is 143 feet in thickness, consists of three layers of material; at the bottom, a bed of clay and rubble; next, a piled mass of limestone blocks (A); lastly, a wall of cut stone built in retreating stages, like an enormous flight of steps (B). Thirty-two of the original thirty-five stages are yet in situ, and about one-fourth part of the dam remains piled up against the sides of the ravine to right and left; but the middle part has been swept away by the force of the torrent (fig. 48). A similar dike transformed the end of Wady Genneh into a little lake which supplied the Sinaitic miners with water.

Fig 48.--Section of dike at Wady Gerraweh.

Most of the localities from which the Egyptians derived their metals and choicest materials in hard stone, were difficult of access, and would have been useless had roads not been made, and works of this kind carried out, so as to make life somewhat less insupportable there.

In order to reach the diorite and grey granite quarries of the Hammamat Valley, the Pharaohs caused a series of rock-cut cisterns to be constructed along the line of route. Some few insignificant springs, skilfully conducted into these reservoirs, made it possible to plant workmen's villages in the neighbourhood of the quarries, and also near the emerald mines on the borders of the Red Sea. Hundreds of hired labourers, slaves, and condemned criminals here led a wretched existence under the rule of some eight or ten overseers, and the brutal surveillance of a company of Libyan or negro mercenary troops. The least political disturbance in Egypt, an unsuccessful campaign, or any untoward incident of a troubled reign, sufficed to break up the precarious stability of these remote establishments. The Bedaw?n at once attacked the colony; the workmen deserted; the guards, weary of exile, hastened back to the valley of the Nile, and all was at a standstill.

The choicest materials, as diorite, basalt, black granite, porphyry, and red and yellow breccia, which are only found in the desert, were rarely used for architectural purposes. In order to procure them, it was necessary to organise regular expeditions of soldiers and workmen; therefore they were reserved for sarcophagi and important works of art. Those quarries which supplied building materials for temples and funerary monuments, such as limestone, sandstone, alabaster, and red granite, were all found in the Nile valley, and were, therefore, easy of access. When the vein which it was intended to work traversed the lower strata of the rock, the miners excavated chambers and passages, which were often prolonged to a considerable distance. Square pillars, left standing at intervals, supported the superincumbent mass, while tablets sculptured in the most conspicuous places commemorated the kings and engineers who began or continued the work. Several exhausted or abandoned quarries have been transformed into votive chapels; as, for instance, the Speos Artemidos, which was consecrated by Hatshepsut, Thothmes III. and Seti I. to the local goddess Pakhet.[9]

The most important limestone quarries are at T?rah and Massarah, nearly opposite Memphis. This stone lends itself admirably to the most delicate touches of the chisel, hardens when exposed to the air, and acquires a creamy tone most restful to the eye. Hence it was much in request by architects and sculptors. The most extensive sandstone formations are at Silsilis (fig. 49). Here the cliffs were quarried from above, and under the open sky.

Fig 49.--Quarries of Silsilis.

Clean cut and absolutely vertical, they rise to a height of from forty to fifty feet, sometimes presenting a smooth surface from top to bottom, and sometimes cut in stages accessible by means of steps scarcely large enough for one man at a time. The walls of these cuttings are covered with parallel striae, sometimes horizontal, sometimes slanting to the left, and sometimes to the right, so forming lines of serried chevrons framed, as it were, between grooves an inch, or an inch and a half, in width, by nine or ten feet in length.

Fig 50.--Draught of Hathor capital in quarry of Gebel Ab?feydeh.

These are the scars left upon the surface by the tools of the ancient workmen, and they show the method employed in detaching the blocks. The size was outlined in red ink, and this outline sometimes indicated the form which the stone was to take in the projected building. The members of the French Commission, when they visited the quarries of Gebel Ab?feydeh, copied the diagrams and squared designs of several capitals, one being of the campaniform pattern, and others prepared for the Hathor-head pattern (fig. 50).[10] The outline made, the vertical faces of the block were divided by means of a long iron chisel, which was driven in perpendicularly or obliquely by heavy blows of the mallet. In order to detach the horizontal faces, they made use of wooden or bronze wedges, inserted the way of the natural strata of the stone. Very frequently the stone was roughly blocked out before being actually extracted from the bed. Thus at Syene (As?an) we see a couchant obelisk of granite, the under side of which is one with the rock itself; and at Tehneh there are drums of columns but half disengaged.

Fig 51.--Bas-relief from one of the stelae of Ahmes, at T?rrah, Eighteenth Dynasty.

The transport of quarried stone was effected in various ways. At Syene, at Silsilis, at Gebel Sheikh Herideh, and at Gebel Ab?feydeh, the quarries are literally washed by the waters of the Nile, so that the stone was lowered at once into the barges. At Kasr es Sa?d,[11] at T?rah, and other localities situate at some distance from the river, canals dug expressly for the purpose conveyed the transport boats to the foot of the cliffs. When water transit was out of the question, the stone was placed on sledges drawn by oxen (fig. 51), or dragged to its destination by gangs of labourers, and by the help of rollers.

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