Friday, July 15, 2011

The Destruction of a Temple Monument

This slab is one of five known examples which may have once been a screen wall in a temple though the location of that temple is vague. The slab was found reused in Alexandria and appears to be one of the British Museum's earliest Egyptian objects entered in its collection as a gift of King George III in 1766, (EA22).

When I saw the slab in the "Eternal Egypt" exhibition at the Royal British Columbia Museum it was a gorgeous object and the wall must have been a remarkable site in whichever temple it once stood. On the more damaged side is a crude inscription in Greek relating to a restoration in the Roman period.(1a)

Three of these slabs are inscribed for the first king of the 30th Dynasty King Nectanebo I and two are inscribed for earlier kings of the 26th Dynasty including the first king of the dynasty Psamtik I and Psamtik II.(2) On the British Museum's slab the decoration of the more damaged side includes an offering scene with the king kneeling before a god and to the right another standing god belonging to another part of an offering scene the completion of the scene belonging on an adjoining block.

The cornices on both sides have been attacked with a chisel the cornice on the better-preserved side shows a row of frontal facing falcons, the feet of which still are present. On the more damaged side, there is little sign of the cornice except that the slab in Vienna(213), dedicated to Psamtik II shows a row of erect cobras (3). The Vienna slab cornice goes around one end of the stone indicating this slab was the beginning or end of the wall with no further elements at that end.

The inscriptions of the blocks indicate the wall might have been erected at Sais in the delta, ancient Heliopolis.  The Vienna stone differs from the later Nectanebo slab in that King Psamtik is shown in a much more prostrate position with both legs showing and side view of both feet while the British museum's slab shows King Nectanebo with only one leg and more than one toe.

At least part of the monument was present at the beginning of Egypt's 26th Dynasty and in good enough condition 300 years later for Nectanebo I to have his name inscribed on some of the slabs. The wall may have become badly damaged in the earthquake of 27 BC which destroyed the remains of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III or in the 365 AD earthquake(4) which destroyed much of Alexandria after which the rough largely illegible(1b), heretic inscription on the British Museum slab may have been hacked into the top of the slab during the reuse of the block.

When the drilled holes were added to the blocks is not known but may well indicate a further reuse after the Roman period. Since the block was found at Alexandria it may indicate the stone was taken to that city after the 365 AD earthquake to be reused in the rebuilding of Alexandria and thus eventually found there.

Perhaps someday more of the stone slabs in the wall will turn up and tell us more about what happened to the wall in between Psamtik II and Nectanebo I and hopefully why and when the beautiful wall was dismantled and used as filler in a later construction.


1(a,b). Many thanks to Elizabeth R. O'Connell Assistant Keeper (curator) Roman and late Antique Egypt at the British Museum for her help in the interpretation of the text.
2. Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art From The British Museum, Edna R. Russmann, 2001, #134 pgs. 244-247
3. Global Egyptian Museum 
4. Timelines: Earthquakes

Photo Courtesy of Michael Harding

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