Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor at Deir el-Medina

Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor at Deir el-Medina

by Jane Akshar

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An overview of the Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor at Deir el-Medina

The Workmans village at Deir el Medina is a very popular site, although not to be compared to the Valley of the Kings, but often groups to the West Bank of Luxor (ancient Thebes) have a quick glance at the village and then go into the two or more tombs they will visit in the Valley of the Kings. Usually they completely miss the temple at the other end of the village and yet I personally find it very charming and well worth a visit. It remains today in very good condition. Also, it is very much a temple of the workmen and peculiar to their own requirements.

The temple is primarily dedicated to Hathor, with sanctuaries also for Amun-Sokar-Osiris and Amun-Re-Osiris

Entrance to the temple of Hathor itself

It is very small being only 15 x 24 meters and is the last in a series of temples on this site going back to the foundation of the village. Surrounded by a 50 square meter enclosure wall, it is at the Northern end of the village, the opposite end to the tombs of Senedjem and Anherkhau.

It is covered with graffiti as it was well visited in ancient times, just as it was by wealthy Europeans doing the grand tours of the by gone modern era. So we have Greek travelers, Coptic visitors, and finally Europeans from the 19th century, all leaving their mark. There is even a drawing of a camel done by Blemyes who were an Ethiopian Christian group.

Inside the Hathor Temple, with a view of the stairway to the roof and the high window

Today's structure was built and decorated by Ptolemy IV Philopater and and several later Ptolemaic Kings in a rock bay to replace an earlier building of the New Kingdom that had been damaged by the Persians and repaired by Ptolemy II and III. A cult terrace was constructed opposite the temple entrance, in the east wall of the enclosure. The temple itself is fronted by a staircase of Ramesses II. The plain exterior walls of the temple enclosed an interesting architectural arrangement that unites an entrance hall or forecourt, which includes columns with papyrus capitals done in the late period style, with the facade of a pronaos. The pronaos front rises on a step behind the entrance hall and has two columns with composite

Plan of the Temple

capitals in antis. On three sides the antae piers display engaged Hathor columns. Columns and piers are connected by screen walls. The broad room behind the columns and piers corresponds to an offering hall and includes the usual staircase to the temple roof. No doubt some rituals to Hathor as the daughter of the sun God were conducted up there. In the side wall above the staircase is a clerestory window with a fine stone grill composed of two miniature Hathor columns and a composite column. Three parallel shrines open beyond the offering hall. The right hand sanctuary has scenes of Ptolemy IV before Maat and Hathor as well as many of the other Gods and this sanctuary retains much of its color. It was dedicated to Amun-Re-Osiris. The middle sanctuary is dedicated to Hathor and its entrance was accordingly decorated with a frieze of seven Hathor heads.

Judgment Scene within the sanctuary

Within, there are also a number of baboons worshipping the rising sun, Kephri. The left hand sanctuary, dedicated to Amun-Sokar-Osiris has a particularly fine judgement scene which is most unusual in a temple. Maat is one of the principal players at the judgment. She is often described as the goddess of truth but in fact her role is much wider and more complex than that. I like to describe her as anti chaos. Ideally, everything is right with the world, pharaoh is on his throne, the Nile has flooded, the sun has risen, and everything is as it should be. From the 28th Dynasty onwards she is described as the daughter of Re, as is Hathor. Kings would often describe themselves as Beloved of Maat signifying their right to rule and the stability they give the land. It is the divine order of things.

Another view of the temple

To explain it further Akhenaton, the heretic king was considered to have gone against Maat and therefore much of the trouble of that period was because Maat was destabilized. She is often depicted as having a feather on top of her head or merely as a feather. The judgment scene shows the 42 accessor Gods who will have quizzed the deceased about his life. The list of crimes is long but many we would recognize today. They include depriving an orphan of his property, killing, eavesdropping, homosexuality, anger but some are special to Egypt and the Nile. These include not encroaching on other peoples fields and not An early drawing of the temple showing the screened wall with Hathor columnsdamming the flood water. Apparently one was allowed to use magic to get past these Gods but then it was the moment of truth. Your heart, the centre of intelligence according to the Egyptians, was weighed against Maat. Would you get through to Osiris and live in the after world or end up as Ammits dinner. These judgment scenes are often seen in tombs and on papyrus but this is the only one I know that is on a temple wall.

Opposite this judgment scene is the barque of Sokar and the emblem of Nefertum. Above the door way is a four headed ram symbolizing the four winds. here also are found, as they also are in the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri, chapels dedicated to both Imhotep and Amenophis son of Hapu, two of the most famous deified architects of ancient Egypt. The remains of several small votive chapels stand around the enclosure's north wall. Also, there is a tiny birth house that leaned against the southern external wall The Temple shows the continued sanctity of this sacred site long after its associated dwellings were deserted. Eventually, the complex was transformed into a Coptic monastery from which the site's present name, Deir el Medina, meaning "Monastery of the Town, is derived.

Ptolemaic Temples Seton-Williams
Gods of Ancient Egypt Barbara Watterson
Book of the Dead R Faulkner
Egyptian Gods and Goddesses George Hart

Last Update: 05/31/2005