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Buhen Fort

Nubian Forts - Forts - The Military

Erected on the Nile River’s West Bank north of the Second Cataract in modern day Sudan, the enormous Fortress of Buhen is now under the waters of Lake Nasser since Egypt put in place its High Dam in Aswan which flooded the Fort in 1964.

It appears that there was some settlement on the same site dating from Egypt’s 2nd Dynasty of Pharaohs. By the reign of Pharaoh Snefru in Dynasty 4 the settlement had alongside it a small trading post which had access to copper ore and copper working facilities. This settlement seems to have been active for at least 200 years when the Nubians may have forced the Egyptians back north. How do we know this? Ancient graffiti left by its inhabitants.

Built slightly to the south of this Settlement, the Fort was constructed on a massive scale compared to its slightly southern Nubian Line counterpart Forts, during the reigns of Pharaoh Senusret I and Pharaoh Senusret III during Egypt’s 12th Dynasty.

The Fort was made of Mud Bricks with Timbers and Matting for stability and measured 13,000 meters squared with walls of 10 meters high and 5 meters thick. The Fort included many of the features that Medieval Castles would employ themselves near 3,000 years later. These features included:

                    • Drawbridges
                    • Buttresses
                    • Battlements
                    • Ramparts
                    • Arrow or Loop Holes
                    • Bastions
                    • 3-meter-deep Moat
                    • Catapult

Internally, the Fort had its own town which was laid out on a standardised Grid System which housed around 3 and a half thousand occupants at its peak habitation. These figures are thought to be broken down to 1,000 permanent Soldiers; 300 permanent Archers; and the remaining numbers were made up with Administrators, Priests and their supporting cast and families. It is known from documentation that the Fortress was the home and workplace for the Administration Department for the whole region of the Second Cataract. These occupants were allocated spiritually by:

  • A Temple on the Fortress site which deified the builders of the Fort, Pharaoh Senusret I and Pharaoh Senusret III, and they were worshiped whilst the Fortress was in use by the Egyptians
  • A Temple dedicated to the God Horus which Pharaoh Hatshepsut ordered to be built

Copper working in all forms took place here as evidenced by the amount of ‘Fire Dogs’ or Copper Kilns which have been archaeologically recorded inside the Fort before its submergence under Lake Nasser. Egyptologists are still trying to ascertain where the Egyptians were obtaining their supply of Copper Ore from at this time in order to keep the number of kilns found working.

Fort Buhen was a home for its occupants but also was a hub of activity for trade and haven for Traders and their Goods, which included Ebony Wood, Oils, Animals Skins, Pottery, Incense, Ivory, Resin, Ostrich Feathers and most importantly Gold from Nubia which the Royal Family and the uppermost Nobles craved.

Buhen continued to be occupied by the Egyptians, then the Kushites in Egyptian Dynasty 13, the Egyptians again when Pharaoh Ahmose I recaptured the Fort at the start of Dynasty 18, and finally by the Nubians at the end of Egypt’s Dynasty 20.


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