Egypt: Minor Temple and Other Ruins of the Nile Delta, Part II

Minor Temple and Other Ruins of the Nile Delta of Egypt, Part II

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Monroe Edgar

This is the continuation of Part I in this series examining minor ruins of temples and other monuments in the Nile Delta. For information on Abusir (in the Delta), Tell Atrib (Arhribis), Ausim (Letopolis), Behbeit el-Hagar, and Tell el-Dab'a, as well as a listing of the major ruins in the Nile Delta, please see Minor Temple and Other Ruins of the Nile Delta, Part I. In this article, we will take a look at the sites of Ezbet Rushdi, Tell Far'un (Tell Fara'un), Kom el-Hisn (ancient Imu), Kom Abu Billo (known to the Greeks as Terenuthis) and Tell el-Maskhuta near Ismaliya. For information on Tell el-Muqdam (Leontopolis), Tell el-Qirqafa and Tell el-Rub'a (Tell El Robee, Greek Mendes) see part three in this series and for information on Tell el-Retaba, Saft el-Hinna, Samannud (Sebennytos) and Tell el-Yahudiya, see part four.

Ezbet Rushdi

Ground Plan of the Temple at Ezbet Rushdi in Egypt

Today known as Ezbet Rushdi el-Saghira, this site near Tell el-Dab'a was apparently the location of a Middle Kingdom town. The local temple, discovered during the 1950s by an Egyptian archaeologist named Shehata Adam, seems to have been founded by Amenemhet I and probably expanded by Senusret III in his 5th year of rule. Both of these rulers reigned during Egypt's 12th Dynasty. The temple was primarily made of mudbrick but had some stone architectural elements such as doorways and columns. The structure's design was typical of Middle Kingdom temples, with a small pillared court followed by a tripartite sanctuary.

In 1996, the Austrian Archaeological Institute under the directorship of Manfred Bietak decided to re-excavate the temple. It was a major surprise to discover that the temple wallcut into the structures of an older settlement that stretch beneath it. This lower strata has yielded a lot of purely domestic pottery, and some pottery types which are related to cult activities were discovered. Hence, it is believed that there was probably an earlier temple cult on this site. Canaanite and Aegean pottery, much of it dating from about the time of Amenemhet II, was present in most of the substrata, but showed different distribution patterns. Prior to this excavation, the earliest finds of pottery from the Levant and Crete dated to the very end of the 12th Dynasty, but these pieces likely date from the first half or middle of that dynasty.

Tell Far'un

Near the eastern Delta village of el-Huseiniya are the ancient remains of the Egyptian city named Imet. Today, it is called Tell Far'un, or sometimes Tell Nabasha or Tell Bedawi. The city was the capital of the local nome and the local deity was Wadjit The outlines of a temple enclosure dedicated to her may still be seen. It measures 215 x 205 meters (705 x 673 ft). From the scant ruins, there appearss to be two temples within the enclosure. The larger of the two was a Ramessid era temple measuring 65 x 30 m (213 x 98 ft 6 in). The smaller temple to the northeast of the Ramessid temple dates from the Late Period, and was 30 x 15m (98 ft 6 in x 49 ft). It was apparently built during the reign of Amasis. There are usurped architectural elements form Middle Kingdom monuments, which seems to imply that there was once a temple of that period here as well.

Petrie, who explored the area, also discovered a cemetery that he thought turned out to be a very curious place, quite unlike the cemeteries of Memphis, Abydos, and Thebes. It consisted of an immense number of small chambers, or isolated groups of chambers, scattered irregularly over a sandy plain. These were built of unbaked brick and roofed using a barrel-vault design. Some of the largest were cased (or lined if subterranean) with limestone. These tomb chambers dated from about the period of the 20th Dynasty (Ramessid period). Unfortunately, most of these tombs had been plundered early on, and some even leveled so that new tombs could be built.

In one of the earlier tombs no fewer than two hundred uninscribed funerary statuettes in green-glazed pottery were found. In another, some thirty thousand beads of glass, silver, and lapis lazuli were also discovered. Bronze spear-heads, amulets, scarabs and other items were also turned up in considerable numbers. Last, but in point of interest certainly not least, came the discovery of two sets of masonic (foundation) deposits under the corners of an unimportant building in the cemetery. These consisted of miniature mortars, corn-rubbers, and specimen plaques of materials used in building, such as glazed-ware, various colored marbles, jasper, and the like.

A magnificent gray granite sarcophagus inscribed for a prince and priest of the 26th Dynasty, and part of a limestone statue dedicated to Harpakhrat, the "child Horus," whose legendary birthplace was in these Delta marshlands, were also discovered. Among other valuable items unearthed in the course of Petrie's excavations included a black granite altar from the reign of Amenemhet II, two thrones in red sandstone belonging to statues of royal personages of the same line, a colossal seated statue of Ramesses II in black granite, and most interesting of all, a headless black granite sphinx, upon which successive Pharaohs had engraved their cartouches, each in turn erasing the names and titles of his predecessors.

Kom el-Hisn

Ruins of the Temple at Kom el-Hisn

Between Kom Abu Billo and Naukratis lies what is left of the ancient town of Imu (imAw), today known as Kom el-Hisn. In Arabic, Kom el-Hisn means "Hill of the Fort", probably referring to the ruins of the local temple.

In text, we find the name of this community mentioned as early as the 5th Dynasty, so it is not surprising that at least several excavations have also revealed a rich Old Kingdom occupation fairly near the modern ground level, and above the water table. A large part of the structures so far investigated were related to food storage and preparation. These included facilities for large scale grain storage, as well as specialized structures for cooking, plant and animal processing. The overall impression is that Kom el-Hisn functioned as a specialized center for cattle processing. The community probably sent most of its herds to Memphis and other cult and settlement areas. In the same nome as Kom el-Hisn was another town designated as "The Estate of the Cattle," or Hwt-iHwt, which was one of the oldest of the state foundations in all of Egypt, dating to the reign of King Den of the 1st Dynasty

Imu was an important New Kingdom local administrative center as well. In antiquity, it was situated near a branch of the Nile that has since shifted eastward and was near the desert edge on the route to the Libyan frontier. A temple of Sekhmet-Hathor (here, Hathor is known as Het-Hert) was located in the town, but all that remains of it today is the outline of a rectangular enclosure. The site was identified by inscribed statues of Amenemhet III and Ramesses II found in the area.

Information about Het-Hert's worship in this location comes from the New Kingdom grave of Khesuwer. He was a priest of Het-Hert and Supervisor of the Priests and of the temple precinct. His designation as Chief of the Harem and Chief of the Maidens probably denotes a position as supervisor of the women who were in the service of Het-Hert. During the 19th Dynasty, Ramesses II renovated the temple and in the 22nd Dynasty, Sheshonq III expanded it.In the Late Period, the town was known as pr-nbt-imau, meaning "Domain of the Mistress of Imau". Regrettably, much of the ruins of Kom el-Hisn are rapidly yielding to agricultural expansion in the area.

Kom Abu Billo (Terenuthis)

Just outside the town of Tarranam, a name derived from the Coptic era name of Terenouti,, known in classical times as Terenuthis, lies the mound of Kom Abu Billo. Actually, Kom Abu Billo refers specifically to the part of the site where the Greco-Roman cemetery is found, and this name probably derives from the Greek god Apollo, who had a temple at the northern edge of the site. The site lies on the western edge of the Delta about 70 kilometers northwest of Cairo. It sits on the Rosetta branch of the Nile, and is located on the route to the Wadi Natrun, today famous for its monasteries but in ancient times a source for Natrun (salt). The name of the ancient city appears to be connected with the snake goddess Renenutet or Termuthis, so we assume that they were important local deities.

A Depiction in the Temple at Kom Abu Billo (Terenuthis)

However, the area may have been earlier known as Per-Huthor-nbt-Mefket, or the "House of Hathor, Lady of Turquoise"". In fact, in 1897, F.L.I. Griffith discovered a temple dedicated to this Goddess, who was also worshiped in the Sinai,. This is an alternate guise for Hathor as the Mistress of Mefket (Turquoise). The temple may have been started by Ptolemy I, the first ruler of Egypt's Greek period, and may have been completed by his son, Ptolemy II. If so, it would be one of the few surviving monuments built by the founder of the Greek Dynasty.

Most of the excavation of this temple actually took place between 1969 and 1974, when the construction of the Nasser Canal required a salvage exploration of the site. The ruins of this temple contained blocks with finely carved bas relief scenes depicting Ptolemy I and Hathor. A cattle cemetery associated with the worship of Het-Hert (Hathor) was also found in the vicinity. In addition faience statues and statuettes inscribed with hieroglyphs of Yinepu, Aset (Isis), Taweret and Bes were found at this site.

The large cemetery of Kom Abu Billo contains thousands of tombs dating from the 6th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom through the 4th century AD Coptic Period. The Coptics (Egyptian Christians) were probably established in the area by St. Poemon, known as one of the fathers of the Egyptian Desert who settled in the ruins of the pagan temple during the Christian era. The mud-brick tombs have superstructures which are rectangular or square with barrel vaulted roofs or truncated pyramid shapes. New Kingdom ceramic coffins, sometimes called Philistine type coffins, or "slipper coffins" with large, often unusual and grotesque faces modeled on the lids have been found there, in addition to a special type of stele made during the first four centuries of the Common Era.

Ptolemy I Sorter from Kom Abu Billo

Ptolemy I Sorter from Kom Abu Billo

These non-Egyptian style stele, called "Terenuthis stelae", depict the deceased standing with upraised arms between two columns with Greek pediments, or reclining on a couch. Usually, they have text in demotic or Greek at the base.

Evidence in the tombs suggest that offerings consisting of lettuce, grapes, and wine for the deceased. On occasions, lamps were lit within the tombs, while music was played. Hunting and fishing were common occupations of the people who lived here, but there were also many vintners, potters, jewelers, and other craftsmen. In addition, the area was known as a major trading center, particularly of wine and salt (Natrun).

Many ceramic lamps have been found within the tombs taking the shape of olive branches, Nile fish, and the frog Netjert Heket. In addition, gold and silver rings, bracelets, gold earrings, necklaces, hair clips, ivory combs, and amulets have been discovered. Pottery painted in different colors and dating from the end of the pharaonic period through the Coptic period, plus amphorae, have also turned up in excavations.

Little evidence of the settlement with which these burials were associated has been found so precisely what was happening here in the New Kingdom is difficult to establish. Beyond the cemeteries, the only evidence of activity during this period seems to be a limestone block which bears the names and titles of Ramesses II. Other blocks ascribed to him have also been found in the area. It is possible that some of the foreigners buried in the unusual coffins in the necropolises may have been foreign soldiers employed by Ramesses II in the battle of Qadesh.

It has been suggests that this site may have been the southernmost in a chain of fortified settlements, though not much evidence exists to prove such. The cemeteries seem to indicate that a settlement existed in the area from the Old Kingdom which might, by the reign of Ramesses II, have been important enough to have required fortification. If so, it was because of its location at the head of the ancient route between the Delta and the Wadi Natrun.

Tell el-Maskhuta

First excavated by Edouard Naville in 1883, Tjeku, known today as Tell el-Maskhuta, is strategically located in the Wadi Tumilat about 15 km west of the modern Suez Canal town of Ismaliya. Here, Naville unearthed a large enclosure (210 x 210 meters (689 x 689 ft), inside of which was a badly ruined temple to the god Atum. Naville believes it is the biblical city of Pithom (per Atum, meaning house of Atum), related in the story of the Exodus.

However, a more recent excavation conducted by the University of Toronto under the direction of J. S. Holladay revealed that the site was founded by Necho (Nekau) II, well after the probable time of the Exodus. Further, their excavations showed that the site was probably associated with the building of a canal, one of the Suez Canal's early predecessors. This canal cut through the wadi (canyon) and connected with the northern reaches of the Gulf of Suez. However, soon after Necho the area declined in importance and the canal became unmanageable. The community seems to have been revived under Ptolemy II, who reopened the canal, as well as establishing a mortuary cult to Arsinoe II in the vicinity.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Atlas of Ancient Egypt Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir 1980 Les Livres De France None Stated
Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The Wilkinson, Richard H. 2000 Thames and Hudson, Ltd ISBN 0-500-05100-3
History of Egyptian Architecture, A (The Empire (the New Kingdom) From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the End of the Twentieth Dynasty 1580-1085 B.C. Badawy, Alexander 1968 University of California Press LCCC A5-4746
Mythical Origin of the Egyptian Temple, The Reymond, E. A. E. 1969 Manchester University Press G.B. SBN 7190-0311-3
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Last Updated: June 9th, 2011