Egypt: Akhmim (Ipu)

Akhmim (Ipu)

by Alan Winsto

Akhmim, is an area on the east bank of the Nile opposite modern Sohag. The ancient Egyptians called it Ipu or Khent-min. To the Coptics it was Khmin or Shmin, and so the Greeks called it Khemmis. It was once a great center in Egypt, and the capital of the 9th Upper Egyptian nome. Regrettably, very little of its monuments remain today, as most building material was dismantled and used in nearby villages during the Middle Ages. Its ancient necropolis has never been systematically excavated.

Northeast of Akmin there is a rock chapel at el-Salamuni that was dedicated to the local god Min. The Greek god Pan was associated with Min, so the town was also called Panopolis. The chapel was probably build during the reign of Tuthmosis III. The chapel was probably decorated by the "First Prophet of Min, Nakhtmin during the reign of Aya. These reliefs show Aya and his wife, Teye worshipping local gods. Some one thousand years later, the "Chief Priest of Min, Harma'kheru, also decorated the tomb with representations of Ptolemy II Philadelphus also worshipping local gods. We also know that Psammuthis was an active builder in the area.

Left: Lid of the outer coffin of Espamai, A priest at Akhmim in the 26th and 27th Dynasties.

There are also ruins of two temple that once stood west of the modern town of Akhmim. They were built for Min and the goddess Repyt (Triphis), who was regarded as Min's companion. We believe they date from the Greek and Roman periods, although some building material is older. It is not clear whether these blocks were part of an older construct of the temples, are were reused from other locations.

There are also a number of rock-cut tombs of various dates in the area, particularly at el-Hawawish, northeast of Akhmim and at el-Salamuni. Some are decorated with painted circular zodiacs, and belong to officials of the nome from the late Old Kingdom and early Middle Kingdom. Apparently, these local rulers were able to acquire a great deal of wealth and some power. Amenhotep III, and 18th Dynasty Pharaoh, even married the daughter (Tiy) of Yuya, who was an official at Akhmim. Tiy became a very important Queen during this period, and is believed to have been the mother of Akhenaten, the heretic King. The tombs in this area were first excavated by Percy Newberry in 1912, but unfortunately had been largely plundered during the 1880s. The tombs were more recently re-examined and recorded by Naguib Kanawati.

Right: Colossal Statue of Meryetamun, which measures 21 feet (6.5 meters) tall. She was the principal consort of Rameses II after the death of Nefertari.

In addition, and not surprisingly, Christian cemeteries have also been found in the area which were excavated in the late nineteenth century. Sohag across the Nile is considered a major Christian center in Egypt. These provided many examples of wool, linen and silk fabric which have helped to define a chronological framework for the study of textiles between the Hellenistic and Islamic periods.

Recent excavations by Egyptian archaeologists have uncovered a colossal statue of Rameses II and Meryetamun.

There are many artifacts in various museums, including stelae and coffins, which are known to have come from Akmim. Unfortunately, the circumstances around their discoveries are mostly unknown.

Coffin of a woman named Tamin from the Roman period cemetery at Akmin