The Temple of Tuthmosis III at Abydos

The Temple of Tuthmosis III at Abydos

Jimmy Dunn writing as Peter Rome

There seems to have always been a certain holiness about Abydos, from the very earliest periods in Egypt. It was the most revered of places for Osiris, a very important Egyptian god, and here, Egypt's pharaohs would build massive monuments to glorify this deity of death and the underworld. Some of these monuments are well known to us, such as the Seti I mortuary temple and its attached Osireion. Others are relatively recent finds, but they do seem to demonstrate the reverence that was, and continued to be shown for this locale.

Part of the remains of the Temple of Tuthmosis III at Abydos

In northern Abydos, near the Osirian temple complex at Kom el-Sultan, around which considerable excavations have been conducted by a team from the Pennsylvania-Yale Institute of Fine Arts expedition, a temple believed to have been built by Tuthmosis III was discovered in 1996. This site was located southeast of the "Portal Temple" of Ramesses II within the extent of the relatively undisturbed archaeological debris against the exterior face of the Osiris Temple enclosure wall, on a direct line between the visible remains of that temple and the entrance to the wadi which leads to Umm el Ga'ab.

An inscription next ot the base of one of the colossal Osiride statues of Tuthmosis III with the king's renomen (Menkheperre) carved in raised relief.

Almost two meters under the original ground surface, the team began to encounter a densely packed layer of limestone fragments which evidenced the destruction of a stone building of significant size. Under this layer, the team finally encountered the lowermost courses of standing limestone walls belonging to a small temple structure. The temple builder is believed to be the great 18th Dynasty pharaoh, Tuthmosis III, due to the large number of relief fragments inscribed with his nomen and prenomen (names), as well as mud bricks from the temple enclosure wall that were stamped with his name, along with a short prayer to Osiris.

The excavations revealed the remains of a temple enclosure wall of mudbrick measuring some 17.82 by 27.82 meters preserved to about 2.5 meters above the original floor level, and the temple proper measuring about 9 by 15 meters (29 feet 6 inches by 49 feet) in size.

Relief fragments from the Temple

Relief fragments from the Temple, clockwise from upper left: Priests carrying a shrine, probably from the Osiris festival; limestone fragemtn depicting offerings; limestone fragment with raised relief inscription (njwt.f, "his city"; and large fragment with text from a god's speech.

The temple is fronted by a forecourt between its entrance and the mudbrick pylon of the enclosure wall, which is about 2.5 meters (8 feet) thick. Within the forecourt, which is also paved with mudbrick, two large sacred trees that appear to date from the Greek period were planted. Within the entrance, the columns are sixteen sided and made of limestone. At least one face of each of these columns was inscribed with sunk relief text, painted red. Fragments of this text that have been preserved record the nomen and prenomen of Tuthmosis III.

Part of the base of a painted limestone colossal statue of Tuthmosis III.

Behind the columns were a pair of colossal Osride statues of Tuthmosis III. Fragments of these statues reveal the mummified king with his arms crossing his chest, and in each hand a blue painted ankh sign. His face and hands are painted red, while the details of his eyes, eyebrows and beard have traces of black, white and blue pigments. These statues, as well as other architectural elements of the entrance, are similar to those found at the southern entrance of the King's Festival hall at the rear of the great Temple of Amun at Karnak. Beyond the entrance, through a short corridor is a transverse inner chamber which, interestingly, doubles back into the two sanctuaries While it is by no means clear, this design and orientation of this temple may reflect the needs of a symbolic alignment, with the sanctuaries facing the site of Umm el Ga'ab and the so-called "Tomb of Osiris" that is located there, while the rest of the structure oriented towards the "dwelling" of the god within the Osiris Temple Enclosure.

The temple was paved with large, well fitted limestone blocks and it had a roof of the same material with its ceiling painted blue and decorated with a pattern of yellow stars. Large limestone blocks also surmounted the exterior walls. While these had roughly incised and painted cavetto cornices, more delicately carved and painted cavetto cornices capped the walls of the two sanctuaries. The upper register of decorated walls were adorned with Kheker friezes, while the lower registers were defined by yellow, black and red boarders.

Floorplan of the temple

The decorative theme of the temple is difficult to precisely define, due to the quantity of limestone fragments with relief carvings that have been recovered during the source of the temple's excavation. However, we do know that the image of Osiris, usually painted with green paint, along with large depictions of Tuthmosis III adorn the walls. He apparently makes offerings to Osiris and in return, receives life, stability and Dominion. Hence, we also find scenes of offering bearers presenting food and flowers which may have originally adorned the walls of the sanctuaries. One depiction of priests carrying what may be a shrine are barque could be a representation of the annual Festival of Osiris, when a procession that led from the Temple of Osiris to Umm el Ga'ab.

The fragments of decorations that have been unearthed at this temple suggest that they were at least as fine as those produced for this king's temple at Thebes. We find that this is true of monuments built for Ramesses II and his grandfather, Seti I as well, leading us to believe that, at least certainly during Egypt's New Kingdom, Abydos was seen to be of equal importance its southern neighbor city.

In fact, this particular temple seems to have remained important as a cult center through much of the remainder of Egypt's pharaonic history. For example, a sequence of debris strata above the limestone floor of the building attests to the use of the structure over a long period of time and certainly far beyond the Eighteenth Dynasty. We find inscriptions including several cartouches of Ramesses IV on the walls of the building, as well as repairs to the mudbrick pylons which date to the Third Intermediate and Late Periods. And of course, there are three forecourt trees, with ceramic evidence mixed within their root systems that date them to the Ptolemaic (Greek) times.






Reference Number

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

KMT A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt

Pouls, Mary Ann

Volume 8, Number 4, Winter 1997-98, Page 48