MoboReader > Literature > Manual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt


Manual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt By G. Maspero Characters: 79387

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

In the civil and military architecture of Ancient Egypt brick played the principal part; but in the religious architecture of the nation it occupied a very secondary position. The Pharaohs were ambitious of building eternal dwellings for their deities, and stone was the only material which seemed sufficiently durable to withstand the ravages of time and man.


It is an error to suppose that the Egyptians employed only large blocks for building purposes. The size of their materials varied very considerably according to the uses for which they were destined. Architraves, drums of columns, lintel-stones, and door-jambs were sometimes of great size. The longest architraves known--those, namely, which bridge the nave of the hypostyle hall of Karnak--have a mean length of 30 feet. They each contain 40 cubic yards, and weigh about 65 tons. Ordinarily, however, the blocks are not much larger than those now used in Europe. They measure, that is to say, about 2-1/2 to 4 feet in height, from 3 to 8 feet in length, and from 2 to 6 feet in thickness.

Some temples are built of only one kind of stone; but more frequently materials of different kinds are put together in unequal proportions. Thus the main part of the temples of Abydos consists of very fine limestone; but in the temple of Seti I., the columns, architraves, jambs, and lintels,--all parts, in short, where it might be feared that the limestone would not offer sufficient resistance,--the architect has had recourse to sandstone; while in that of Rameses II., sandstone, granite, and alabaster were used. At Karnak, Luxor, Tanis, and Memphis, similar combinations may be seen. At the Ramesseum, and in some of the Nubian temples, the columns stand on massive supports of crude brick. The stones were dressed more or less carefully, according to the positions they were to occupy. When the walls were of medium thickness, as in most partition walls, they are well wrought on all sides. When the wall was thick, the core blocks were roughed out as nearly cubic as might be, and piled together without much care, the hollows being filled up with smaller flakes, pebbles, or mortar. Casing stones were carefully wrought on the faces, and the joints dressed for two-thirds or three-quarters of the length, the rest being merely picked with a point (Note 6). The largest blocks were reserved for the lower parts of the building; and this precaution was the more necessary because the architects of Pharaonic times sank the foundations of their temples no deeper than those of their houses. At Karnak, they are not carried lower than from 7 to 10 feet; at Luxor, on the side anciently washed by the river, three courses of masonry, each measuring about 2-1/2 feet in depth, form a great platform on which the walls rest; while at the Ramesseum, the brickwork bed on which the colonnade stands does not seem to be more than 10 feet deep. These are but slight depths for the foundations of such great buildings, but the experience of ages proves that they are sufficient. The hard and compact humus of which the soil of the Nile valley is composed, contracts every year after the subsidence of the inundation, and thus becomes almost incompressible. As the building progressed, the weight of the superincumbent masonry gradually became greater, till the maximum of pressure was attained, and a solid basis secured. Wherever I have bared the foundations of the walls, I can testify that they have not shifted.

The system of construction in force among the ancient Egyptians resembles in many respects that of the Greeks. The stones are often placed together with dry joints, and without the employment of any binding contrivance, the masons relying on the mere weight of the materials to keep them in place. Sometimes they are held together by metal cramps, or sometimes--as in the temple of Seti I., at Abydos--by dovetails of sycamore wood bearing the cartouche of the founder. Most commonly, they are united by a mortar-joint, more or less thick. All the mortars of which I have collected samples are thus far of three kinds: the first is white, and easily reduced to an impalpable powder, being of lime only; the others are grey, and rough to the touch, being mixtures of lime and sand; while some are of a reddish colour, owing to the pounded brick powder with which they are mixed. A judicious use of these various methods enabled the Egyptians to rival the Greeks in their treatment of regular courses, equal blocks, and upright joints in alternate bond. If they did not always work equally well, their shortcomings must be charged to the imperfect mechanical means at their disposal. The enclosure walls, partitions, and secondary fa?ades were upright; and they raised the materials by means of a rude kind of crane planted on the top. The pylon walls and the principal fa?ades (and sometimes even the secondary fa?ades) were sloped at an angle which varied according to the taste of the architect. In order to build these, they formed inclined planes, the slopes of which were lengthened as the structure rose in height. Fig 52.--Masonry in temple of Seti I. at Abydos.

These two methods were equally perilous; for, however carefully the blocks might be protected while being raised, they were constantly in danger of losing their edges or corners, or of being fractured before they reached the top (Note 7). Thus it was almost always necessary to re-work them; and the object being to sacrifice as little as possible of the stone, the workmen often left them of most abnormal shapes (fig. 52). They would level off one of the side faces, and then the joint, instead of being vertical, leaned askew. If the block had neither height nor length to spare, they made up the loss by means of a supplementary slip. Sometimes even they left a projection which fitted into a corresponding hollow in the next upper or lower course. Being first of all expedients designed to remedy accidents, these methods degenerated into habitually careless ways of working. The masons who had inadvertently hoisted too large a block, no longer troubled themselves to lower it back again, but worked it into the building in one or other of the ways before mentioned. The architect neglected to duly supervise the dressing and placing of the blocks. He allowed the courses to vary, and the vertical joints, two or three deep, to come one over the other. The rough work done, the masons dressed down the stone, reworked the joints, and overlaid the whole with a coat of cement or stucco, coloured to match the material, which concealed the faults of the real work. The walls rarely end with a sharp edge. Fig 53.--Temple wall with cornice.

Bordered with a torus, around which a sculptured riband is entwined, they are crowned by the cavetto cornice surmounted by a flat band (fig. 53); or, as at Semneh, by a square cornice; or, as at Medinet Habu, by a line of battlements. Thus framed in, the walls looked like enormous panels, each panel complete in itself, without projections and almost without openings. Windows, always rare in Egyptian architecture, are mere ventilators when introduced into the walls of temples, being intended to light the staircases, as in the second pylon of Horemheb at Karnak, or else to support decorative woodwork on festival days. The doorways project but slightly from the body of the buildings (fig. 54), except where the lintel is over-shadowed by a projecting cornice. Real windows occur only in the pavilion of Medinet Habu; but that building was constructed on the model of a fortress, and must rank as an exception among religious monuments.

Fig 54.--Niche and doorway in temple of Seti I. at Abydos.

The ground-level of the courts and halls was flagged with rectangular paving stones, well enough fitted, except in the intercolumniations, where the architects, hopeless of harmonising the lines of the pavement with the curved bases of the columns, have filled in the space with small pieces, set without order or method (fig. 55). Contrary to their practice when house building, they have scarcely ever employed the vault or arch in temple architecture. We nowhere meet with it, except at Deir el Bahar?, and in the seven parallel sanctuaries of Abydos. Fig 55.--Pavement of the portico of Osiris in the temple of Seti I. at Abydos.

Even in these instances, the arch is produced by "corbelling"; that is to say, the curve is formed by three or four superimposed horizontal courses of stone, chiselled out to the form required (fig. 56). The ordinary roofing consists of flat paving slabs. When the space between the walls was not too wide, these slabs bridged it over at a single stretch; otherwise the roof had to be supported at intervals, and the wider the space the more these supports needed to be multiplied. The supports were connected by immense stone architraves, on which the roofing slabs rested.

The supports are of two types,--the pillar and the column. Some are cut from single blocks. Thus, the monolithic pillars of the temple of the sphinx (Note 8), the oldest hitherto found, measure 16 feet in height by 4-1/2 feet in width. Fig 56.--"Corbelled" arch, temple of Seti I. at Abydos.

Monolithic columns of red granite are also found among the ruins of Alexandria, Bubastis,[12] and Memphis, which date from the reigns of Horemheb and Rameses II., and measure some 20 to 26 feet in height. But columns and pillars are commonly built in courses, which are often unequal and irregular, like those of the walls which surround them. The great columns of Luxor are not even solid, two-thirds of the diameter being filled up with yellow cement, which has lost its strength, and crumbles between the fingers. The capital of the column of Taharka at Karnak contains three courses, each about 48 inches high. The last and most projecting course is made up of twenty-six convergent stones, which are held in place by merely the weight of the abacus. The same carelessness which we have already noted in the workmanship of the walls is found in the workmanship of the columns.

The quadrangular pillar, with parallel or slightly inclined sides, and generally without either base or capital, frequently occurs in tombs of the ancient empire. It reappears later at Medinet Hab?, in the temple of Thothmes III., and again at Karnak, in what is known as the processional hall. Fig 57.--Hathor pillar, Ab? Simbel.

The sides of these square pillars are often covered with painted scenes, while the front faces were more decoratively treated, being sculptured with lotus or papyrus stems in high relief, as on the pillar-stelae of Karnak, or adorned with a head of Hathor crowned with the sistrum, as in the small speos of Ab? Simbel (fig. 57), or sculptured with a full-length standing figure of Osiris, as in the second court of Medinet Hab?; or, as at Denderah and Gebel Barkal, with the figure of the god Bes. At Karnak, in an edifice which was probably erected by Horemheb with building material taken from the ruins of a sanctuary of Amenhotep II. and III., the pillar is capped by a cornice, separated from the architrave by a thin abacus (fig. 58). By cutting away its four edges, the square pillar becomes an octagonal prism, and further, by cutting off the eight new edges, it becomes a sixteen-sided prism. Fig 58.--Pillar of Amenhotep III., Karnak.

Some pillars in the tombs of As?an and Beni Hasan, and in the processional hall at Karnak (fig. 59), as well as in the chapels of Deir el Bahar?, are of this type. Besides the forms thus regularly evolved, there are others of irregular derivation, with six, twelve, fifteen, or twenty sides, or verging almost upon a perfect circle. The portico pillars of the temple of Osiris at Abydos come last in the series; the drum is curved, but not round, the curve being interrupted at both extremities of the same diameter by a flat stripe. More frequently the sides are slightly channelled; and sometimes, as at Kalabsheh, the flutings are divided into four groups of five each by four vertical flat stripes (fig. 60). The polygonal pillar has always a large, shallow plinth, in the form of a rounded disc. At El Kab it bears the head of Hathor, sculptured in relief upon the front (fig. 61); but almost everywhere else it is crowned with a simple square abacus, which joins it to the architrave. Thus treated, it bears a certain family likeness to the Doric column; and one understands how Jomard and Champollion, in the first ardour of discovery, were tempted to give it the scarcely justifiable name of "proto-Doric."

Fig 59.--Sixteen-sided pillars, Karnak.

The column does not rest immediately upon the soil. It is always furnished with a base like that of the polygonal pillar, sometimes square with the ground, and sometimes slightly rounded. This base is either plain, or ornamented only with a line of hieroglyphs. The principal forms fall into three types: (1) the column with campaniform, or lotus-flower capital; (2) the column with lotus-bud capital; (3) the column with Hathor-head capital.

I. Columns with Campaniform Capitals.--The shaft is generally plain, or merely engraved with inscriptions or bas-reliefs. Fig 60.--Fluted pillar, Kalabsheh.

Sometimes, however, as at Medamot, it is formed of six large and six small colonnettes in alternation. In Pharaonic times, it is bulbous, being curved inward at the base, and ornamented with triangles one within another, imitating the large leaves which sheathe the sprouting plant. The curve is so regulated that the diameter at the base and the top shall be about equal. In the Ptolemaic period, the bulb often disappears, owing probably to Greek influences. The columns which surround the first court at Edf? rise straight from their plinths. The shaft always tapers towards the top. Fig 61.--Polygonal Hathor-headed pillar, El Kab.

It is finished by three or five flat bands, one above the other. At Medamot, where the shaft is clustered, the architect has doubtless thought that one tie at the top appeared insufficient to hold in a dozen colonnettes; he has therefore marked two other rings of bands at regular intervals. The campaniform capital is decorated from the spring of the curve with a row of leaves, like those which sheathe the base. Between these are figured shoots of lotus and papyrus in flower and bud. Fig 62.--Column with square die, Contra Esneh.

The height of the capital, and the extent of its projection beyond the line of the shaft, varied with the taste of the architect. Fig 63.--Column with campaniform capital, Ramesseum.

At Luxor, the campaniform capitals are eleven and a half feet in diameter at the neck, eighteen feet in diameter at the top, and eleven and a half feet in height. At Karnak, in the hypostyle hall, the height of the capital is twelve and a quarter feet, and the greatest diameter twenty-one feet. A square die surmounts the whole. This die is almost hidden by the curve of the capital, though occasionally, as at Denderah, it is higher, and bears on each face a figure of the god Bes (fig. 62).

The column with campaniform capital is mostly employed in the middle avenue of hypostyle halls, as at Karnak, the Ramesseum, and Luxor (fig. 63); but it was not restricted to this position, for we also find it in porticoes, as at Medinet Hab?, Edf?, and Philae. Fig 64.--Inverted campaniform capital, Karnak.

The processional hall[13] of Thothmes III., at Karnak, contains one most curious variety (fig. 64); the flower is inverted like a bell, and the shaft is turned upside down, the smaller end being sunk in the plinth, while the larger is fitted to the wide part of the overturned bell. Fig 65.--Palm capital, Bubastis.

This ungraceful innovation achieved no success, and is found nowhere else. Other novelties were happier, especially those which enabled the artist to introduce decorative elements taken from the flora of the country. In the earlier examples at Soleb, Sesebeh, Bubastis, and Memphis, we find a crown of palm branches springing from the band, their heads being curved beneath the weight of the abacus (fig. 65). Later on, as we approach the Ptolemaic period, the date and the half-unfolded lotus were added to the palm- branches (fig. 66). Fig 66.--Compound capital.

Under the Ptolemies and the Caesars the capital became a complete basket of flowers and leaves, ranged row above row, and painted in the brightest colours (fig. 67.) Fig 67.--Ornate capitals, Ptolemaic.

At Edf?, Ombos, and Philae one would fancy that the designer had vowed never to repeat the same pattern in the same portico.

II. Columns with Lotus-bud Capitals.--Originally these may perhaps have represented a bunch of lotus plants, the buds being bound together at the neck to form the capital. The columns of Beni Hasan consist of four rounded stems (fig. 68). Fig 68.--Lotus-bud column, Beni Hasan.

Fig 69.--Lotus-bud column, processional hall, Thothmes III., Karnak.

Those of the Labyrinth, of the processional hall of Thothmes III., and of Medamot, consist of eight stems, each presenting a sharp edge on the outer side (fig. 69). The bottom of the column is bulbous, and set round with triangular leaves. The top is surrounded by three or five bands. A moulding composed of groups of three vertical stripes hangs like a fringe from the lowest band in the space between every two stems. So varied a surface does not admit of hieroglyphic decoration; therefore the projections were by degrees suppressed, and the whole shaft was made smooth. In the hypostyle hall at G?rneh, the shaft is divided in three parts, the middle one being smooth and covered with sculptures, while the upper and lower divisions are formed of clustered stems. Fig 70.--Column in the aisles of the hypostyle hall at Karnak.

In the temple of Khons?, in the aisles of the hypostyle hall of Karnak, and in the portico of Medinet Hab?, the shaft is quite smooth, the fringe alone being retained below the top bands, while a slight ridge between each of the three bands recalls the original stems (fig. 70). The capital underwent a like process of degradation. At Beni Hasan, it is finely clustered throughout its height. In the processional hall of Thothmes III., at Luxor, and at Medamot, a circle of small pointed leaves and channellings around the base lessens the effect, and reduces it to a mere grooved and truncated cone. In the hypostyle hall of Karnak, at Abydos, at the Ramesseum, and at Medinet Hab?, various other ornaments, as triangular leaves, hieroglyphic inscriptions, or bands of cartouches flanked by uraei, fill the space thus unfortunately obtained. Neither is the abacus hidden as in the campaniform capital, but stands out boldly, and displays the cartouche of the royal founder.

III. Columns with Hathor-head Capitals.--We find examples of the Hathor-headed column dating from ancient times, as at Deir el Bahar?; but this order is best known in buildings of the Ptolemaic period, as at Contra Latopolis, Philae, and Denderah. Fig 71.--Hathor-head capital, Ptolemaic.

The shaft and the base present no special characteristics. They resemble those of the campaniform columns. The capital is in two divisions. Below we have a square block, bearing on each face a woman's head in high relief and crowned with a naos. The woman has the ears of a heifer. Her hair, confined over the brow by three vertical bands, falls behind the ears, and hangs long on the shoulders. Each head supports a fluted cornice, on which stands a naos framed between two volutes, and crowned by a slender abacus (fig. 71). Thus each column has for its capital four heads of Hathor. Seen from a distance, it at once recalls the form of the sistrum, so frequently represented in the bas-reliefs as held in the hands of queens and goddesses. It is in fact a sistrum, in which the regular proportions of the parts are disregarded. The handle is gigantic, while the upper part of the instrument is unduly reduced. This notion so pleased the Egyptian fancy that architects did not hesitate to combine the sistrum design with elements borrowed from other orders. The four heads of Hathor placed above a campaniform capital, furnished Nectenebo with a composite type for his pavilion at Philae (fig. 72). I cannot say that the compound is very satisfactory, but the column is in reality less ugly than it appears in engravings.

Shafts of columns were regulated by no fixed rules of proportion or arrangement. Fig 72.--Campaniform and Hathor-headed capital, Philae.

The architect might, if he chose, make use of equal heights with very different diameters, and, regardless of any considerations apart from those of general harmony, might design the various parts according to whatever scale best suited him. The dimensions of the capital had no invariable connection with those of the shaft, nor was the height of the shaft dependent on the diameter of the column. At Karnak, the campaniform columns of the hypostyle hall measure 10 feet high in the capital, and 55 feet high in the shaft, with a lower diameter of 11 feet 8 inches. At Luxor, the capital measures 11-1/2 feet, the shaft 49 feet, and the diameter at the spring of the base 11-1/4 feet. At the Ramesseum, the shaft and capital measure 35 feet, and the spring diameter is 6-1/2 feet. The lotus-bud or clustered column gives similar results. At Karnak, in the aisles of the hypostyle hall, the capital is 10 feet high, the shaft 33 feet, and the base diameter 6-3/4 feet. At the Ramesseum, the capital is 5-1/2 feet high, the shaft 24-1/2 feet, and the base diameter 5 feet 10 inches. We find the same irregularity as to architraves. Their height is determined only by the taste of the architect or the necessities of the building. So also with the spacing of columns. Not only does the inter-columnar space vary considerably between temple and temple, or chamber and chamber, but sometimes--as in the first court at Medinet Hab?--they vary in the same portico.

Fig 73.--Section of the hypostyle hall at Karnak to show the arrangement of the two varieties: campaniform and lotus-bud columns.

We have thus far treated separately of each type; but when various types were associated in a single building, no fixed relative proportions were observed. In the hypostyle hall at Karnak, the campaniform columns support the nave, while the lotus-bud variety is relegated to the aisles (fig. 73). There are halls in the temple of Khons? where the lotus-bud column is the loftiest, and others where the campaniform dominates the rest. In what remains of the Medamot structure, campaniform and lotus-bud columns are of equal height. Egypt had no definite orders like those of Greece, but tried every combination to which the elements of the column could be made to lend themselves; hence, we can never determine the dimensions of an Egyptian column from those of one of its parts.


Most of the famous sanctuaries--Denderah, Edf?, Abydos--were founded before Men a by the Servants of Hor.[14] Becoming dilapidated or ruined in the course of ages, they have been restored, rebuilt, remodelled, one after the other, till nothing remains of the primitive design to show us what the first Egyptian architecture was like. The funerary temples built by the kings of the Fourth Dynasty have left some traces.[15] That of the second pyramid of Gizeh was so far preserved at the beginning of the last century, that Maillet saw four large pillars standing. It is now almost entirely destroyed; but this loss has been more than compensated by the discovery, in 1853, of a temple situate about fifty yards to the southward of the sphinx (fig. 74). The fa?ade is still hidden by the sand, and the inside is but partly uncovered. The core masonry is of fine T?rah limestone. The casing, pillars, architraves, and roof were constructed with immense blocks of alabaster or red granite (Note 9). Fig 74.--Plan of temple of the Sphinx.

The plan is most simple: In the middle (A) is a great hall in shape of the letter T, adorned with sixteen square pillars 16 feet in height; at the north-west corner of this hall is a narrow passage on an inclined plane (B), by which the building is now entered;[16] at the south-west corner is a recess (C) which contains six niches, in pairs one over the other. A long gallery opening at each end into a square chamber, now filled with rubbish (E), completes the plan. Without any main door, without windows, and entered through a passage too long to admit the light of day, the building can only have received light and air through slanting air-slits in the roofing, of which traces are yet visible on the tops of the walls (e, e) on each side of the main hall (Note 10). Inscriptions, bas-reliefs, paintings, such as we are accustomed to find everywhere in Egypt, are all wanting; and yet these bare walls produce as great an impression upon the spectator as the most richly decorated temples of Thebes. Not only grandeur but sublimity has been achieved in the mere juxtaposition of blocks of granite and alabaster, by means of purity of line and exactness of proportion.

Some few scattered ruins in Nubia, the Fay?m, and Sinai, do not suffice to prove whether the temples of the Twelfth Dynasty merited the praises lavished on them in contemporary inscriptions or not. Those of the Theban kings, of the Ptolemies, and of the Caesars which are yet standing are in some cases nearly perfect, while almost all are easy of restoration to those who conscientiously study them upon the spot. At first sight, they seem to present an infinite variety as to arrangement; but on a closer view they are found to conform to a single type. We will begin with the sanctuary. This is a low, small, obscure, rectangular chamber, inaccessible to all save Pharaoh and the priests. As a rule it contained neither statue nor emblem, but only the sacred bark, or a tabernacle of painted wood placed upon a pedestal. A niche in the wall, or an isolated shrine formed of a single block of stone, received on certain days the statue, or inanimate symbol of the local god, or the living animal, or the image of the animal, sacred to that god. A temple must necessarily contain this one chamber; and if it contained but this one chamber, it would be no less a temple than the most complex buildings. Very rarely, however, especially in large towns, was the service of the gods thus limited to the strictly necessary. Around the sanctuary, or "divine house," was grouped a series of chambers in which sacrificial and ceremonial objects were stored, as flowers, perfumes, stuffs, and precious vessels. In advance of this block of buildings were next built one or more halls supported on columns; and in advance of these came a courtyard, where the priests and devotees assembled. This courtyard was surrounded by a colonnade to which the public had access, and was entered through a gateway flanked by two towers, in front of which were placed statues, or obelisks; the whole being surrounded by an enclosure wall of brickwork, and approached through an avenue of sphinxes. Every Pharaoh was free to erect a hall still more sumptuous in front of those which his predecessors had built; and what he did, others might do after him. Thus, successive series of chambers and courts, of pylons and porticoes, were added reign after reign to the original nucleus; and--vanity or piety prompting the work--the temple continued to increase in every direction, till space or means had failed.

The most simple temples were sometimes the most beautiful. This was the case as regards the sanctuaries erected by Amenhotep III. in the island of Elephantine, which were figured by the members of the French expedition at the end of the last century, and destroyed by the Turkish governor of As?an in 1822. The best preserved, namely, the south temple (fig. 75), consisted of but a single chamber of sandstone, 14 feet high, 31 feet wide, and 39 feet long. The walls, which were straight, and crowned with the usual cornice, rested on a platform of masonry some 8 feet above the ground. This platform was surrounded by a parapet wall, breast high. All around the temple ran a colonnade, the sides each consisting of seven square pillars, without capital or base, and the two fa?ades, front and back, being supported by two columns with the lotus-bud capital.

Fig 75.--South Temple of Amenhotep III. at Elephantine.

Both pillars and columns rose direct from the parapet; except on the east front, where a flight of ten or twelve steps, enclosed between two walls of the same height as the platform, led up to the cella. The two columns at the head of the steps were wider apart than those of the opposite face, and through the space thus opened was seen a richly- decorated door. A second door opened at the other end, beneath the portico. Later, in Roman times, this feature was utilised in altering the building. The inter-columnar space at the end was filled up, and thus was obtained a second hall, rough and bare, but useful for the purposes of the temple service. These Elephantine sanctuaries bring to mind the peripteral temples of the Greeks, and this resemblance to one of the most familiar forms of classical architecture explains perhaps the boundless admiration with which they were regarded by the French savants. Those of Mesheikh, of El Kab, and of Sharonah are somewhat more elaborate. Fig 76.--Plan of temple of Amenhotep III., at El Kab.

The building at El Kab is in three divisions (fig. 76); first, a hall of four columns (A); next, a chamber (B) supported by four Hathor-headed pillars; and in the end wall, opposite the door, a niche (C), approached by four steps. Of these small oratories the most complete model now remaining belongs to the Ptolemaic period; namely, the temple of Hathor at Deir el Medineh (fig. 77). Its length is just double its breadth. The walls are built with a batter inclining inwards,[17] and are externally bare, save at the door, which is framed in a projecting border covered with finely- sculptured scenes. The interior is in three parts: A portico (B), supported by two lotus flower columns; a pronaos (C), reached by a flight of four steps, and separated from the portico by a wall which connects the two lotus flower columns with two Hathor-headed pilasters in antis; lastly, the sanctuary (D), flanked by two small chambers (E, E), which are lighted by square openings cut in the ceiling. Fig 77.--Plan of temple of Hathor, Deir el Medineh.

The ascent to the terrace is by way of a staircase, very ingeniously placed in the south corner of the portico, and furnished with a beautiful open window (F). This is merely a temple in miniature; but the parts, though small, are so well proportioned that it would be impossible to conceive anything more delicate or graceful.

We cannot say as much for the temple which the Pharaohs of the Twentieth Dynasty erected to the south of Karnak, in honour of the god Khons? (fig. 78); but if the style is not irreproachable, the plan is nevertheless so clear, that one is tempted to accept it as the type of an Egyptian temple, in preference to others more elegant or majestic. On analysis, it resolves itself into two parts separated by a thick wall (A, A). In the centre of the lesser division is the Holy of Holies (B), open at both ends and isolated from the rest of the building by a surrounding passage (C) 10 feet in width. To the right and left of this sanctuary are small dark chambers (D, D), and behind it is a hall of four columns (E), from which open seven other chambers (F, F). Such was the house of the god, having no communication with the adjoining parts, except by two doors (G) in the southern wall (A, A). Fig 78.--Plan of temple of Khons?, Karnak.

These opened into a wide and shallow hypostyle hall (H), divided into nave and aisles. The nave is supported by four lotus-flower columns, 23 feet in height; the aisles each contain two lotus-bud columns 18 feet high. The roof of the nave is, therefore, 5 feet higher than that of the sides. This elevation was made use of for lighting purposes, the clerestory being fitted with stone gratings, which admitted the daylight. The court (I) was square, and surrounded by a double colonnade entered by way of four side- gates and a great central gateway flanked by two quadrangular towers with sloping fronts. This pylon (K) measures 105 feet in length, 33 feet in width, and 60 feet in height. It contains no chambers, but only a narrow staircase, which leads to the top of the gate, and thence up to the towers. Four long grooves in the fa?ade, reaching to a third of its height, correspond to four quadrangular openings cut through. the whole thickness of the masonry. Here were fixed four great wooden masts, formed of joined beams and held in place by a wooden framework fixed in the four openings above mentioned. Fig 79.--Pylon, with masts, from a bas-relief in the temple of Khons? at Karnak.

From these masts floated long streamers of various colours (fig. 79). Such was the temple of Khons?, and such, in their main features, were the majority of the greater temples of Theban and Ptolemaic times, as Luxor, the Ramesseum, Medinet Hab?, Edf?, and Denderah. Though for the most part half in ruins, they affect one with a strange and disquieting sense of oppression. As mystery was a favourite attribute of the Egyptian gods, even so the plan of their temples is in such wise devised as to lead gradually from the full sunshine of the outer world to the obscurity of their retreats.

Fig 80.--The Ramesseum restored, to show the rising of the ground.

At the entrance we find large open spaces, where air and light stream freely in. The hypostyle hall is pervaded by a sober twilight; the sanctuary is more than half lost in a vague darkness; and at the end of the building, in the farthest of the chambers, night all but reigns completely. The effect of distance which was produced by this gradual diminution of light, was still further heightened by various structural artifices.

Fig 81.--Crypts in the thickness of the walls, round the sanctuary at Denderah.

The parts, for instance, are not on the same level. The ground rises from the entrance (fig. 80), and there are always a few steps to mount in passing from one part to another. In the temple of Khons? the difference of level is not more than 5-1/4 feet, but it is combined with a lowering of the roof, which in most cases is very strongly marked. From the pylon to the wall at the farther end, the height decreases continuously.

Fig 82.--The pronaos of Edf?, as seen from the top of the eastern pylon.

The peristyle is loftier than the hypostyle hall, and the hypostyle hall is loftier than the sanctuary. The last hall of columns and the farthest chamber are lower and lower still. The architects of Ptolemaic times changed certain details of arrangement. They erected chapels and oratories on the terraced roofs, and reserved space for the construction of secret passages and crypts in the thickness of the walls, wherein to hide the treasure of the god (fig. 81). They, however, introduced only two important modifications of the original plan. The sanctuary was formerly entered by two opposite doors; they left but one. Fig 83.--Plan of temple, Edf?.

Also the colonnade, which was originally continued round the upper end of the court, or, where there was no court, along the fa?ade of the temple, became now the pronaos, so forming an additional chamber. The columns of the outer row are retained, but built into a wall reaching to about half their height. This connecting wall is surmounted by a cornice, which thus forms a screen, and so prevented the outer throng from seeing what took place within (fig. 82). The pronaos is supported by two, three, or even four rows of columns, according to the size of the edifice. For the rest, it is useful to compare the plan of the temple of Edf? (fig. 83) with that of the temple of Khons?, observing how little they differ the one from the other.

Thus designed, the building sufficed for all the needs of worship. If enlargement was needed, the sanctuary and surrounding chambers were generally left untouched, and only the ceremonial parts of the building, as the hypostyle halls, the courts, or pylons, were attacked.

Fig 84.--Plan of the temple of Karnak in the reign of Amenhotep III.

The procedure of the Egyptians under these circumstances is best illustrated by the history of the great temple of Karnak. Founded by ?sertesen I., probably on the site of a still earlier temple, it was but a small building, constructed of limestone and sandstone, with granite doorways. The inside was decorated with sixteen-sided pillars. The second and third Amenemhats added some work to it, and the princes of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties adorned it with statues and tables of offerings. It was still unaltered when, in the eighteenth century B.C., Thothmes I., enriched with booty of war, resolved to enlarge it. In advance of what already stood there, he erected two chambers, preceded by a court and flanked by two isolated chapels. In advance of these again, he erected three successive pylons, one behind the other. The whole presented the appearance of a vast rectangle placed crosswise at the end of another rectangle. Thothmes II. and Hatsheps?t[18] covered the walls erected by their father with bas-relief sculptures, but added no more buildings. Hatsheps?t, however, in order to bring in her obelisks between the pylons of Thothmes I., opened a breach in the south wall, and overthrew sixteen of the columns which stood in that spot. Thothmes III., probably finding certain parts of the structure unworthy of the god, rebuilt the first pylon, and also the double sanctuary, which he renewed in the red granite of Syene. To the eastward, he rebuilt some old chambers, the most important among them being the processional hall, used for the starting-point and halting-place of ceremonial processions, and these he surrounded with a stone wall. He also made the lake whereon the sacred boats were launched on festival days; and, with a sharp change of axis, he built two pylons facing towards the south, thus violating the true relative proportion which had till then subsisted between the body and the front of the general mass of the building. The outer enclosure was now too large for the earlier pylons, and did not properly accord with the later ones. Fig 85.--Plan of Hypostyle Hall, Karnak.

Amenhotep III. corrected this defect. He erected a sixth and yet more massive pylon, which was, therefore, better suited for the fa?ade. As it now stood (fig. 84), the temple surpassed even the boldest architectural enterprises hitherto attempted; but the Pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty succeeded in achieving still more. They added only a hypostyle hall (fig. 85) and a pylon; but the hypostyle hall measured 170 feet in length by 329 feet in breadth. Down the centre they carried a main avenue of twelve columns, with lotus-flower capitals, being the loftiest ever erected in the interior of a building; while in the aisles, ranged in seven rows on either side, they planted 122 columns with lotus-bud capitals. The roof of the great nave rose to a height of 75 feet above the level of the ground, and the pylon stood some fifty feet higher still. Fig 86.--Plan of great temple, Luxor.

During a whole century, three kings laboured to perfect this hypostyle hall. Rameses I. conceived the idea; Seti I. finished the bulk of the work,

and Rameses II. wrought nearly the whole of the decoration. The Pharaohs of the next following dynasties vied with each other for such blank spaces as might be found, wherein to engrave their names upon the columns, and so to share the glory of the three founders; but farther they did not venture. Left thus, however, the monument was still incomplete. It still needed one last pylon and a colonnaded court. Nearly three centuries elapsed before the task was again taken in hand. At last the Bubastite kings decided to begin the colonnades, but their work was as feeble as their, resources were limited. Taharkah, the Ethiopian, imagined for a moment that he was capable of rivalling the great Theban Pharaohs, and planned a hypostyle hall even larger than the first; but he made a false start. The columns of the great nave, which were all that he had time to erect, were placed too wide apart to admit of being roofed over; so they never supported anything, but remained as memorials of his failure. Finally, the Ptolemies, faithful to the traditions of the native monarchy, threw themselves into the work; but their labours were interrupted by revolts at Thebes, and the earthquake of the year 27 B.C. destroyed part of the temple, so that the pylon remained for ever unfinished. The history of Karnak is identical with that of all the great Egyptian temples. When closely studied, the reason why they are for the most part so irregular becomes evident. The general plan is practically the same, and the progress of the building was carried forward in the same way; but the architects could not always foresee the future importance of their work, and the site was not always favourable to the development of the building. Fig 87.--Plan of the Isle of Philae.

At Luxor (fig. 86), the progress went on methodically enough under Amenhotep III. and Seti I., but when Rameses II. desired to add to the work of his predecessors, a bend in the river compelled him to turn eastwards. His pylon is not parallel to that of Amenhotep III., and his colonnades make a distinct angle with the general axis of the earlier work. At Philae (fig. 87) the deviation is still greater. Not only is the larger pylon out of alignment with the smaller, but the two colonnades are not parallel with each other. Neither are they attached to the pylon with a due regard to symmetry. This arises neither from negligence nor wilfulness, as is popularly supposed. Fig 88.--Plan of Speos, Kalaat Addah, Nubia.

The first plan was as regular as the most symmetrically-minded designer could wish; but it became necessary to adapt it to the requirements of the site, and the architects were thenceforth chiefly concerned to make the best of the irregularities to which they were condemned by the configuration of the ground. Such difficulties were, in fact, a frequent source of inspiration; and Philae shows with what skill the Egyptians extracted every element of beauty and picturesqueness from enforced disorder.

Fig 89.--Plan of Speos, Gebel Silsileh.

The idea of the rock-cut temple must have occurred to the Egyptians at an early period. Fig 90.--Plan of the Great Speos, Ab? Simbel.

They carved the houses of the dead in the mountain side; why, therefore, should they not in like manner carve the houses of the gods? Yet the earliest known Speos-sanctuaries date from only the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty. They are generally found in those parts of the valley where the cultivable land is narrowest, as near Beni Hasan, at Gebel Silsileh, and in Nubia. All varieties of the constructed temple are found in the rock-cut temple, though more or less modified by local conditions. The Speos Artemidos is approached by a pillared portico, but contains only a square chamber with a niche at the end for the statue of the goddess Pakhet. Fig 91.--Speos of Hathor, Ab? Simbel.

At Kalaat Addah (fig. 88), a flat narrow fa?ade (A) faces the river, and is reached by a steep flight of steps; next comes a hypostyle hall (B), flanked by two dark chambers (C), and lastly a sanctuary in two storeys, one above the other (D). The chapel of Horemheb (fig. 89), at Gebel Silsileh, is formed of a gallery parallel to the river (A), supported by four massive pillars left in the rock. From this gallery, the sanctuary chamber opens at right angles. At Ab? Simbel, the two temples are excavated entirely in the cliff. The front of the great speos (fig. 90) imitates a sloping pylon crowned with a cornice, and guarded as usual by four seated colossi flanked by smaller statues. Fig 92.--Plan of the upper portion of the temple of Deir el Bahar?, showing the state of the excavations, the Speos of Hathor (A); the rock-cut sanctuary (B); the rock-cut funerary chapel of Thothmes I. (C); the Speos of Anubis (D); and the excavated niches of the northern colonnade. Reproduced from Plate III. of the Archaeological Report of the Egypt Exploration Fund for 1893-4.

These colossi are sixty-six feet high. The doorway passed, there comes a first hall measuring 130 feet in length by 60 feet in width, which corresponds to the usual peristyle. Eight Osiride statues backed by as many square pillars, seem to bear the mountain on their heads. Beyond this come (1) a hypostyle hall; (2) a transverse gallery, isolating the sanctuary, and (3) the sanctuary itself, between two smaller chambers. Eight crypts, sunk at a somewhat lower level than that of the main excavation, are unequally distributed to right and left of the peristyle. Fig 93.--Plan of temple of Seti I., at Abydos.

The whole excavation measures 180 feet from the doorway to the end of the sanctuary. The small speos of Hathor, about a hundred paces to the northward, is of smaller dimensions. The fa?ade is adorned with six standing colossi, four representing Rameses II., and two his wife, Nefertari. The peristyle and the crypts are lacking (fig. 91), and the small chambers are placed at either end of the transverse passage, instead of being parallel with the sanctuary. The hypostyle hall, however, is supported by six Hathor-headed pillars. Where space permitted, the rock-cut temple was but partly excavated in the cliff, the forepart being constructed outside with blocks cut and dressed, and becoming half grotto, half building. In the hemi-speos at Derr, the peristyle is external to the cliff; at Beit el Wally, the pylon and court are built; at Gerf Husein and Wady Sab?ah, pylon, court, and hypostyle hall are all outside the mountain, The most celebrated and original hemi-speos is that built by Queen Hatsheps?t, at Deir el Bahar?, in the Theban necropolis (fig. 92),[19] The sanctuary and chapels which, as usual, accompany it, were cut about 100 ft. above the level of the valley. In order to arrive at that height, slopes were made and terraces laid out according to a plan which was not understood until the site was thoroughly excavated.

Between the hemi-speos and the isolated temple, the Egyptians created yet another variety, namely, the built temple backed by, but not carried into, the cliff. The temple of the sphinx at Gizeh, and the temple of Seti I. at Abydos, may be cited as two good examples. I have already described the former; the area of the latter (fig. 93) was cleared in a narrow and shallow belt of sand, which here divides the plain from the desert. It was sunk up to the roof, the tops of the walls but just showing above the level of the ground. The staircase which led up to the terraced roof led also to the top of the hill. The front, which stood completely out, seemed in nowise extraordinary. It was approached by two pylons, two courts, and a shallow portico supported on square pillars. The unusual part of the building only began beyond this point. First, there were two hypostyle halls instead of one. These are separated by a wall with seven doorways. There is no nave, and the sanctuary opens direct from the second hall. This, as usual, consists of an oblong chamber with a door at each end; but the rooms by which it is usually surrounded are here placed side by side in a line, two to the right and four to the left; further, they are covered by "corbelled" vaults, and are lighted only from the doors. Behind the sanctuary are further novelties. Another hypostyle hall (K) abuts on the end wall, and its dependencies are unequally distributed to right and left. As if this were not enough, the architect also constructed, to the left of the main building, a court, five chambers of columns, various passages and dark chambers--in short, an entire wing branching off at right angles to the axis of the temple proper, with no counterbalancing structures on the other side. These irregularities become intelligible when the site is examined. The cliff is shallow at this part, and the smaller hypostyle hall is backed by only a thin partition of rock. If the usual plan had been followed, it would have been necessary to cut the cliff entirely away, and the structure would have forfeited its special characteristic--that of a temple backed by a cliff--as desired by the founder. The architect, therefore, distributed in width those portions of the edifice which he could not carry out in length; and he even threw out a wing. Some years later, when Rameses II. constructed a monument to his own memory, about a hundred yards to the northward of the older building, he was careful not to follow in his father's footsteps. Built on the top of an elevation, his temple had sufficient space for development, and the conventional plan was followed in all its strictness.

Most temples, even the smallest, should be surrounded by a square enclosure or temenos.[20] At Medinet Habu, this enclosure wall is of sandstone-- low, and embattled. The innovation is due to a whim of Rameses III., who, in giving to his monument the outward appearance of a fortress, sought to commemorate his Syrian victories. Elsewhere, the doorways are of stone, and the walls are built in irregular courses of crude bricks. The great enclosure wall was not, as frequently stated, intended to isolate the temple and screen the priestly ceremonies from eyes profane. It marked the limits of the divine dwelling, and served, when needful, to resist the attacks of enemies whose cupidity might be excited by the accumulated riches of the sanctuary. As at Karnak, avenues of sphinxes and series of pylons led up to the various gates, and formed triumphal approaches. The rest of the ground was in part occupied by stables, cellarage, granaries, and private houses. Just as in Europe during the Middle Ages the population crowded most densely round about the churches and abbeys, so in Egypt they swarmed around the temples, profiting by that security which the terror of his name and the solidity of his ramparts ensured to the local deity. A clear space was at first reserved round the pylons and the walls; but in course of time the houses encroached upon this ground, and were even built up against the boundary wall. Destroyed and rebuilt century after century upon the self-same spot, the débris of these surrounding dwellings so raised the level of the soil, that the temples ended for the most part by being gradually buried in a hollow formed by the artificial elevation of the surrounding city. Herodotus noticed this at Bubastis, and on examination it is seen to have been the same in many other localities. At Ombos, at Edf?, at Denderah, the whole city nestled inside the precincts of the divine dwelling.

Fig 94.--Crio-sphinx from Wady Es Sab?ah.

At El Kab, where the temple temenos formed a separate enclosure within the boundary of the city walls, it served as a sort of donjon, or keep, in which the garrison could seek a last refuge.

Fig 95.--Couchant ram, with statuette of royal founder, restored from the Avenue of Sphinxes at Karnak.

At Memphis and at Thebes, there were as many keeps as there were great temples, and these sacred fortresses, each at first standing alone in the midst of houses, were, from the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty, connected each with each by avenues of sphinxes. These were commonly andro-sphinxes, combining the head of a man and the body of a lion; but we also find crio- sphinxes, which united a ram's head with a lion's body (fig. 94). Elsewhere, in places where the local worship admitted of such substitution, a couchant ram, holding a statuette of the royal founder between his bent forelegs, takes the place of the conventional sphinx (fig. 95). The avenue leading from Luxor to Karnak was composed of these diverse elements. It was one mile and a quarter in length, and there were many bends in it; but this fact affords no fresh proof of Egyptian "symmetrophobia." The enclosures of the two temples were not oriented alike, and the avenues which started squarely from the fronts of each could never have met had they not deviated from their first course. Finally, it may be said that the inhabitants of Thebes saw about as much of their temples as we see at the present day. The sanctuary and its immediate surroundings were closed against them; but they had access to the fa?ades, the courts, and even the hypostyle halls, and might admire the masterpieces of their architects as freely as we admire them now.


Ancient tradition affirmed that the earliest Egyptian temples contained neither sculptured images, inscriptions, nor symbols; and in point of fact, the Temple of the Sphinx is bare. But this is a unique example. The fragments of architraves and masonry bearing the name of Khafra, which were used for building material in the northern pyramid of Lisht, show that this primitive simplicity had already been abandoned by the time of the Fourth Dynasty. During the Theban period, all smooth surfaces, all pylons, wall-faces, and shafts of columns, were covered with figure-groups and inscriptions. Under the Ptolemies and the Caesars, figures and hieroglyphs became so crowded that the stone on which they are sculptured seems to be lost under the masses of ornament with which it is charged. We recognise at a glance that these scenes are not placed at random. They follow in sequence, are interlinked, and form as it were a great mystic book in which the official relations between gods and men, as well as between men and gods, are clearly set forth for such as are skilled to read them. The temple was built in the likeness of the world, as the world was known to the Egyptians. The earth, as they believed, was a flat and shallow plane, longer than its width. The sky, according to some, extended overhead like an immense iron ceiling, and according to others, like a huge shallow vault. As it could not remain suspended in space without some support, they imagined it to be held in place by four immense props or pillars. The floor of the temple naturally represented the earth. The columns, and if needful the four corners of the chambers, stood for the pillars. The roof, vaulted at Abydos, flat elsewhere, corresponded exactly with the Egyptian idea of the sky. Each of these parts was, therefore, decorated in consonance with its meaning. Those next to the ground were clothed with vegetation. The bases of the columns were surrounded by leaves, and the lower parts of the walls were adorned with long stems of lotus or papyrus (fig. 96), in the midst of which animals were occasionally depicted. Bouquets of water-plants emerging from the water (fig. 97), enlivened the bottom of the wall-space in certain chambers.


Fig 96. Fig 97..

Elsewhere, we find full-blown flowers interspersed with buds (fig. 98), or tied together with cords (fig. 99); or those emblematic plants which symbolise the union of Upper and Lower Egypt under the rule of a single Pharaoh (fig. 100); or birds with human hands and arms, perched in an attitude of adoration on the sign which represents a solemn festival; or kneeling prisoners tied to the stake in couples, each couple consisting of an Asiatic and a negro (fig. 101). Fig 98. Fig. 99.

Male and female Niles (fig. 102), laden with flowers and fruits, either kneel, or advance in majestic procession, along the ground level. These are the nomes, lakes, and districts of Egypt, bringing offerings of their products to the god. Fig 100. Fig. 101.

In one instance, at Karnak, Thothmes III. caused the fruits, flowers, and animals indigenous to the foreign lands which he had conquered, to be sculptured on the lower courses of his walls (fig. 103). Fig 102.--Two Nile-gods, bearing lotus flowers and libation vases.

The ceilings were painted blue, and sprinkled with five-pointed stars painted yellow, occasionally interspersed with the cartouches of the royal founder. The monotony of this Egyptian heaven was also relieved by long bands of hieroglyphic inscriptions. The vultures of Nekheb and ?ati, the goddesses of the south and north, crowned and armed with divine emblems (fig. 104), hovered above the nave of the hypostyle halls, and on the under side of the lintels of the great doors, above the head of the king as he passed through on his way to the sanctuary.

Fig 103.--Dado decoration, hall of Thothmes III., Karnak.

At the Ramesseum, at Edf?, at Philae, at Denderah, at Ombos, at Esneh, the depths of the firmament seemed to open to the eyes of the faithful, revealing the dwellers therein. There the celestial ocean poured forth its floods navigated by the sun and moon with their attendant escort of planets, constellations, and decani; and there also the genii of the months and days marched in long procession. Fig 104.--Ceiling decoration, from tomb of Bakenrenf (Bocchoris), Sakkarah, Twenty-sixth Dynasty.

In the Ptolemaic age, zodiacs fashioned after Greek models were sculptured side by side with astronomical tables of purely native origin (fig. 105). The decoration of the architraves which supported the massive roofing slabs was entirely independent of that of the ceiling itself. On these were wrought nothing save boldly cut inscriptions, in which the beauty of the temple, the names of the builder-kings who had erected it, and the glory of the gods to whom it was consecrated, are emphatically celebrated. Finally, the decoration of the lowest part of the walls and of the ceiling was restricted to a small number of subjects, which were always similar: the most important and varied scenes being suspended, as it were, between earth and heaven, on the sides of the chambers and the pylons.

Fig 105.--Zodiacal circle of Denderah.

These scenes illustrate the official relations which subsisted between Egypt and the gods. The people had no right of direct intercourse with the deities. They needed a mediator, who, partaking of both human and divine nature, was qualified to communicate with both. The king alone, Son of the Sun, was of sufficiently high descent to contemplate the god in his temple, to serve him, and to speak with him face to face. Sacrifices could be offered only by him, or through him, and in his name. Even the customary offerings to the dead were supposed to pass through his hands, and the family availed themselves of his name in the formula s?ten ta hotep to forward them to the other world. The king is seen, therefore, in all parts of the temple, standing, seated, kneeling, slaying the victim, presenting the parts, pouring out the wine, the milk, and the oil, and burning the incense. All humankind acts through him, and through him performs its duty towards the gods. When the ceremonies to be performed required the assistance of many persons, then alone did mortal subordinates (consisting, as much as possible, of his own family) appear by his side. The queen, standing behind him like Isis behind Osiris, uplifts her hand to protect him, shakes the sistrum, beats the tambourine to dispel evil spirits, or holds the libation vase or bouquet. The eldest son carries the net or lassoes the bull, and recites the prayer while his father successively presents to the god each object prescribed by the ritual. A priest may occasionally act as substitute for the prince, but other men perform only the most menial offices. They are slaughterers or servants, or they bear the boat or canopy of the god. The god, for his part, is not always alone. He has his wife and his son by his side; next after them the gods of the neighbouring homes, and, in a general way, all the gods of Egypt. From the moment that the temple is regarded as representing the world, it must, like the world, contain all gods, both great and small. They are most frequently ranged behind the principal god, seated or standing; and with him they share in the homage paid by the king. Sometimes, however, they take an active part in the ceremonies. The spirits of On and Khon?[21] kneel before the sun, and proclaim his praise. Hor, Set, or Thoth conducts Pharaoh into the presence of his father Amen Ra, or performs the functions elsewhere assigned to the prince or the priest. They help him to overthrow the victim or to snare birds for the sacrifice; and in order to wash away his impurities, they pour upon his head the waters of youth and life. The position and functions of these co-operating gods were strictly defined in the theology. The sun, travelling from east to west, divided the universe into two worlds, the world of the north and the world of the south. The temple, like the universe, was double, and an imaginary line passing through the axis of the sanctuary divided it into two temples --the temple of the south on the right hand, and the temple of the north on the left. The gods and their various manifestations were divided between these two temples, according as they belonged to the northern or southern hemisphere. This fiction of duality was carried yet further. Each chamber was divided, in imitation of the temple, into two halves, the right half belonging to the south, and the left half to the north. The royal homage, to be complete, must be rendered in the temples of the south and of the north, and to the gods of the south and of the north, and with the products of the south and of the north. Each sculptured tableau must, therefore, be repeated at least twice in each temple--on a right wall and on a left wall. Fig 106.--Frieze of uraei and cartouches.

Amen, on the right, receives the corn, the wine, the liquids of the south; while on the left he receives the corn, the wine, and the liquids of the north. As with Amen, so with Maut, Khons?, Ment?, and many other gods. Want of space frequently frustrated the due execution of this scheme, and we often meet with a tableau in which the products of north and south together are placed before an Amen who represents both Amen of the south and Amen of the north. These departures from decorative usage are, however, exceptional, and the dual symmetry is always observed where space permits.

In Pharaonic times, the tableaux were not over-crowded. The wall-surface intended to be covered was marked off below by a line carried just above the ground level decoration, and was bounded above by the usual cornice, or by a frieze. This frieze might be composed of uraei, or of bunches of lotus; or of royal cartouches (fig. 106) supported on either side by divine symbols; or of emblems borrowed from the local cult (by heads of Hathor, for instance, in a temple dedicated to Hathor); or of a horizontal line of dedicatory inscription engraved in large and deeply-cut hieroglyphs. The wall space thus framed in contained sometimes a single scene and sometimes two scenes, one above the other. The wall must be very lofty, if this number is exceeded. Figures and inscriptions were widely spaced, and the scenes succeeded one another with scarcely a break. The spectator had to discover for himself where they began or ended. The head of the king was always studied from the life, and the faces of the gods reproduced the royal portrait as closely as possible. As Pharaoh was the son of the gods, the surest way to obtain portraits of the gods was to model their faces after the face of the king. The secondary figures were no less carefully wrought; but when these were very numerous, they were arranged on two or three levels, the total height of which never exceeded that of the principal personages. The offerings, the sceptres, the jewels, the vestments, the head-dresses, and all the accessories were treated with a genuine feeling for elegance and truth. The colours, moreover, were so combined as to produce in each tableau the effect of one general and prevailing tone; so that in many temples there were chambers which can be justly distinguished as the Blue Hall, the Red Hall, or the Golden Hall. So much for the classical period of decoration.

As we come down to later times, these tableaux are multiplied, and under the Greeks and Romans they become so numerous that the smallest wall contained not less than four (fig. 107), five, six, or even eight registers. The principal figures are, as it were, compressed, so as to occupy less room, and all the intermediate space is crowded with thousands of tiny hieroglyphs. The gods and kings are no longer portraits of the reigning sovereign, but mere conventional types without vigour or life.

Fig 107.--Wall of a chamber at Denderah, to show the arrangement of the tableaux.

As for the secondary figures and accessories, the sculptor's only care is to crowd in as many as possible. This was not due to a defect of taste, and to the prevalence of a religious idea which decided but enforced these changes. The object of decoration was not merely the delight of the eye. Applied to a piece of furniture, a coffin, a house, a temple, decoration possessed a certain magic property, of which the power and nature were determined by each being or action represented, by each word inscribed or spoken, at the moment of consecration. Every subject was, therefore, an amulet as well as an ornament. So long as it endured, it ensured to the god the continuance of homage rendered, or sacrifices offered, by the king. To the king, whether living or dead, it confirmed the favours granted to him by the god in recompense for his piety. It also preserved from destruction the very wall upon which it was depicted. At the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty, it was thought that two or three such amulets sufficed to compass the desired effect; but at a later period it was believed that their number could not be too freely multiplied, and the walls were covered with as many as the surface would contain. An average chamber of Edf? or Denderah yields more material for study than the hypostyle hall of Karnak; and the chapel of Antoninus Pius at Philae, had it been finished, would have contained more scenes than the sanctuary of Luxor and the passages by which it is surrounded.

Observing the variety of subjects treated on the walls of any one temple, one might at first be tempted to think that the decoration does not form a connected whole, and that, although many series of scenes must undoubtedly contain the development of an historic idea or a religious dogma, yet that others are merely strung together without any necessary link. At Luxor, and again at the Ramesseum, each face of the pylon is a battle- field on which may be studied, almost day for day, the campaign of Rameses II. against the Kheta, which took place in the fifth year of his reign. There we see the Egyptian camp attacked by night; the king's bodyguard surprised during the march; the defeat of the enemy; their flight; the garrison of Kadesh sallying forth to the relief of the vanquished; and the disasters which befell the prince of the Kheta and his generals. Elsewhere, it is not the war which is represented, but the human sacrifices which anciently celebrated the close of each campaign. The king is seen in the act of seizing his prostrate prisoners by the hair of their heads, and uplifting his mace as if about to shatter their heads at a single blow. At Karnak, along the whole length of the outer wall, Seti I. pursues the Bedaw?n of Sinai. At Medinet Hab? Rameses III. destroys the fleet of the peoples of the great sea, or receives the cut-off hands of the Libyans, which his soldiers bring to him as trophies. In the next scene, all is peace; and we behold Pharaoh pouring out a libation of perfumed water to his father Amen. It would seem as if no link could be established between these subjects, and yet the one is the necessary consequence of the others. If the god had not granted victory to the king, the king in his turn would not have performed these ceremonies in the temple. The sculptor has recorded the events in their order:--first the victory, then the sacrifice. The favour of the god precedes the thank-offering of the king. Thus, on closer examination, we find this multitude of episodes forming the several links of one continuous chain, while every scene, including such as seem at first sight to be wholly unexplained, represents one stage in the development of a single action which begins at the door, is carried through the various halls, and penetrates to the farthest recesses of the sanctuary. The king enters the temple. In the courts, he is everywhere confronted by reminiscences of his victories; and here the god comes forth to greet him, hidden in his shrine and surrounded by priests. The rites prescribed for these occasions are graven on the walls of the hypostyle hall in which they were performed. These being over, king and god together take their way to the sanctuary. At the door which leads from the public hall to the mysterious part of the temple, the escort halts. The king crosses the threshold alone, and is welcomed by the gods. He then performs in due order all the sacred ceremonies enjoined by usage. His merits increase by virtue of his prayers; his senses become exalted; he rises to the level of the divine type. Finally he enters the sanctuary, where the god reveals himself unwitnessed, and speaks to him face to face. The sculptures faithfully reproduce the order of this mystic presentation:--the welcoming reception on the part of the god; the acts and offerings of the king; the vestments which he puts on and off in succession; the various crowns which he places on his head. The prayers which he recites and the favours which are conferred upon him are also recorded upon the walls in order of time and place. The king, and the few who accompany him, have their backs towards the entrance and their faces towards the door of the sanctuary. The gods, on the contrary, or at least such as do not make part of the procession, face the entrance, and have their backs turned towards the sanctuary. If during the ceremony the royal memory failed, the king needed but to raise his eyes to the wall, whereon his duties were mapped out for him.

Nor was this all. Fig 108.--Obelisk of ?sertesen I., of Heliopolis.

Each part of the temple had its accessory decoration and its furniture. The outer faces of the pylons were ornamented, not only with the masts and streamers before mentioned, but with statues and obelisks. The statues, four or six in number, were of limestone, granite, or sandstone. They invariably represented the royal founder, and were sometimes of prodigious size. The two Memnons seated at the entrance of the temple of Amenhotep III., at Thebes, measured about fifty feet in height. The colossal Rameses II. of the Ramesseum measured fifty-seven feet, and that of Tanis at least seventy feet. The greater number, however, did not exceed twenty feet. They mounted guard before the temple, facing outwards, as if confronting an approaching enemy. The obelisks of Karnak are mostly hidden amid the central courts; and those of Queen Hatshepsut were imbedded for seventeen feet of their height in masses of masonry which concealed their bases. These are accidental circumstances, and easy of explanation. Each of the pylons before which they are stationed had in its turn been the entrance to the temple, and was thrown into the rear by the works of succeeding Pharaohs. The true place of all obelisks was in front of the colossi, on each side of the main entrance.[22] They are always in pairs, but often of unequal height. Some have professed to see in them the emblem of Amen, the Generator; or a finger of the god; or a ray of the sun. In sober truth, they are a more shapely form of the standing stone, or menhir, which is raised by semi- civilised peoples in commemoration of their gods or their dead. Small obelisks, about three feet in height, are found in tombs as early as the Fourth Dynasty. They are placed to right and left of the stela; that is to say, on either side of the door which leads to the dwelling of the dead. Erected before the pylon-gates of temples, they are made of granite, and their dimensions are considerable. The obelisk of Heliopolis (fig. 108) measures sixty-eight feet in the shaft, and the obelisks of Luxor stand seventy-seven and seventy-five and a half feet high, respectively. The loftiest known is the obelisk of Queen Hatsheps?t at Karnak, which rises to a height of 109 feet. To convey such masses, and to place them in equilibrium, was a sufficiently difficult task, and one is at a loss to understand how the Egyptians succeeded in erecting them with no other appliances than ropes and sacks of sand. Queen Hatsheps?t boasts that her obelisks were quarried, shaped, transported, and erected in seven months; and we have no reason to doubt the truth of her statement.[23]

Obelisks were almost always square, with the faces slightly convex, and a slight slope from top to bottom. Fig 109.--Obelisk of ?sertesen I., Begig, Fay?m.

The pedestal was formed of a single square block adorned with inscriptions, or with cynocephali in high relief, adoring the sun. The point was cut as a pyramidion, and sometimes covered with bronze or gilt copper. Scenes of offerings to Ra Harmakhis, Hor, T?m, or Amen are engraved on the sides of the pyramidion and on the upper part of the prism. The four upright faces are generally decorated with only vertical lines of inscription in praise of the king (Note 11). Such is the usual type of obelisk; but we here and there meet with exceptions. That of Begig in the Fay?m (fig. 109) is in shape a rectangular oblong, with a blunt top. A groove upon it shows that it was surmounted by some emblem in metal, perhaps a hawk, like the obelisk represented on a funerary stela in the Gizeh Museum. This form, which like the first is a survival of the menhir, was in vogue till the last days of Egyptian art. It is even found at Ax?m, in the middle of Ethiopia, dating from about the fourth century of our era, at a time when in Egypt the ancient obelisks were being carried out of the country, and none dreamed of erecting new ones. Such was the accessory decoration of the pylon. The inner courts and hypostyle halls of the temple contained more colossi. Some, placed with their backs against the outer sides of pillars or walls, were half engaged in the masonry, and built up in courses. At Luxor under the peristyle, and at Karnak between each column of the great nave, were also placed statues of Pharaoh; but these were statues of Pharaoh the victor, clad in his robe of state. The right of consecrating a statue in the temple was above all a royal prerogative; yet the king sometimes permitted private persons to dedicate their statues by the side of his own. This was, however, a special favour, and such monuments always bear an inscription stating that it is "by the king's grace" that they occupy that position. Rarely as this privilege was granted, it resulted in a vast accumulation of votive statues, so that in the course of centuries the courts of some temples became crowded with them. At Karnak, the sanctuary enclosure was furnished outside with a kind of broad bench, breast high, like a long base. Upon this the statues were placed, with their backs to the wall. Attached to each was an oblong block of stone, with a projecting spout on one side; these are known as "tables of offerings" (fig. 110). The upper face is more or less hollowed, and is often sculptured with bas-relief representations of loaves, joints of beef, libation vases, and other objects usually presented to the dead or to the gods. Fig 110.--Table of offerings, Karnak.

Those of King Ameni Entef Amenemhat, at Gizeh, are blocks of red granite more than three feet in length, the top of which is hollowed out in regular rows of cup-holes, each cup-hole being reserved for one particular offering. There was, in fact, an established form of worship provided for statues, and these tables were really altars upon which were deposited sacrificial offerings of meat, cakes, fruits, vegetables, and the like.

The sanctuary and the surrounding chambers contained the objects used in the ceremonial of worship. The bases of altars varied in shape, some being square and massive, others polygonal or cylindrical. Fig 111.--Limestone altar.

Some of these last are in form not unlike a small cannon, which is the name given to them by the Arabs. The most ancient are those of the Fifth Dynasty; the most beautiful is one dedicated by Seti I., now in the Gizeh Museum. The only perfect specimen of an altar known to me was discovered at Mensh?yeh in 1884 (fig. 111). It is of white limestone, hard and polished like marble. It stands upon a pedestal in the form of a long cone, having no other ornament than a torus about half an inch below the top. Upon this pedestal, in a hollow specially prepared for its reception, stands a large hemispherical basin. The shrines are little chapels of wood or stone (fig. 112), in which the spirit of the deity was supposed at all times to dwell, and which, on ceremonial occasions, contained his image. The sacred barks were built after the model of the Bari, or boat, in which the sun performed his daily course.

Fig 112.--Naos of wood in the Museum at Turin.

The shrine was placed amidship of the boat, and covered with a veil, or curtain, to conceal its contents from all spectators. The crew were also represented, each god being at his post of duty, the pilot at the helm, the look-out at the prow, the king upon his knees before the door of the shrine. We have not as yet discovered any of the statues employed in the ceremonial, but we know what they were like, what part they played, and of what materials they were made. They were animated, and in addition to their bodies of stone, metal, or wood, they had each a soul magically derived from the soul of the divinity which they represented. They spoke, moved, acted--not metaphorically, but actually. The later Ramessides ventured upon no enterprises without consulting them. They stated their difficulties, and the god replied to each question by a movement of the head. According to the Stela of Bakhtan,[24] a statue of Khons? places its hands four times on the nape of the neck of another statue, so transmitting the power of expelling demons. It was after a conversation with the statue of Amen in the dusk of the sanctuary, that Queen Hatsheps?t despatched her squadron to the shores of the Land of Incense.[25] Theoretically, the divine soul of the image was understood to be the only miracle worker; practically, its speech and motion were the results of a pious fraud. Interminable avenues of sphinxes, gigantic obelisks, massive pylons, halls of a hundred columns, mysterious chambers of perpetual night--in a word, the whole Egyptian temple and its dependencies--were built by way of a hiding-place for a performing puppet, of which the wires were worked by a priest.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top