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Theban History

Thebes - Capital Cities - The Places

Old Kingdom Period

Waset was little more than a trading stop-over.  The capital city was based in Memphis (click here for more details about the Capital City Memphis). Although it is thought that the posting had a small permanent residency and was graced with its own Temple, the precursor to Karnak?

First Intermediate Period 

Thebes was ruled by the so-called Theban Rulers whilst most of the rest of Egypt was under the 9th and 10th Dynasties from Het Nesut (click here for more details about the Capital City Het Nesut).

Middle Kingdom Period

Pharaoh Mentuhotep II reclaimed and reunited all Egypt and commenced the period of the Middle Kingdom. He built the first Mortuary Temple on the West Bank of the Nile at Deir el-Bahri, now well known for Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s own Mortuary Temple.

By the 12th Dynasty, Waset had developed into a large Town, although it was not the Capital, as this was based in the north at Itjtawy (click here for more details about the Capital City Itjtawy) it continued to flourish as a Cult Centre for the local God (at this point of history).

Second Intermediate Period

After the founding of a rival dynasty of Pharaohs by the settled Canaanites in the 14th Dynasty with their Capital established at Avaris (click here for more details about the Capital City Avaris).

In turn they were overthrown by the Hyksos peoples who had also immigrated into Egypt and settled, ousting the Egyptian 13th Dynasty from Memphis who took shelter in Thebes. Now Waset became the Capital City of the Theban Princes.

An Agreement was settled that the Hyksos would reign over the Delta to the middle of Egypt and the Theban Princes would rule over the majority of Upper Egypt. This allowed the Hyksos to trade with the Nubians to the south and the Thebans could graze their cattle in the Delta region.

The Theban Princes marched out against the Hyksos after their ruler, Pharaoh Seqenenere Tao of the 15th Dynasty, was insulted by the Hyksos Ruler Apophis of the 17th Dynasty. The campaigning concluded with the victory of Pharaoh Ahmose I when he captured their Capital at Avaris and drove them out of Egypt and beyond, eventually winning claim to the previously Hyksos owned lands.

New Kingdom Period

The birth of the New Kingdom commenced with this victory. Waset earned its place as the Capital City of all Egypt. The newly commissioned Civil Service was created and based in Thebes with a high employment level for highly literate Egyptians as Scribes for the Royal Archives and Royal Administration.

Thebes, its localised God, Amun, and Amun’s Temple at Karnak were gifted with riches by Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Amun rose to be the prominent Deity in Egypt when he was linked with creator God, Ra, to become Amun-Ra. Pharaoh then constructed as semi-permanently settled in Waset on the West Bank in his Palace City of Malkata which was also the home of his giant Mortuary Temple.

The Capital City’s reputation was diminished when Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, better known as Pharaoh Akhenaten, moved the Royal Court as well as the Capital to Amarna (click here for more details about the Capital City Amarna).

Its reputation was restored with the inheritance of the Throne by Pharaoh Akhenaten’s son, Pharaoh Tutankhamun who moved the Capital City to Memphis but continued with Thebes as its religious centre (click here for more details about the Capital City Memphis), and enhanced Luxor and Karnak Temples with his building.

The only rival to Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s enhancement of Waset was that of Pharaoh Ramses II, or Ramses the Great, granted he did have a sufficiently longer period of a 66 reign to accomplish this! Even though Pharaoh Ramses II and his father, Pharaoh Seti I, had their Capital elsewhere, they still spent a few months out of each year as residents of the City.

The later Ramesside Pharaoh’s reigned over a declining Government and Administration which fell into corruption along with serious financial distress. Pharaoh Ramses IX presided over one of the worst levels of Royal Tomb plundering to occur in the Theban Necropolis’ Valley of the Kings and Queens. Priests moved the Royal Mummies, for their own protection from their Valley Tombs eventually into a Shaft Tomb at Deir el-Bahri.

Unsurprisingly, for us looking back as Historians, the corruption within the Government and Administration led to Egypt’s fall into its next Intermediate Period.

Third Intermediate Period

 Due to the corruption of the Governance and Administrators power over local affairs came to be adjudicated by the High Priests of Amun with the great temples, so much so that by the timings of the 21st and 22nd Dynasty Pharaohs, they only ruled the Delta area of Egypt. The High Priests of Amun rules with absolute power over Southern Egypt from Waset. By wielding their family influences as well as their power by intermarrying into the Priestesses who held the position of God’s Wife of Amun at Thebes, who were usually the daughters of the Pharaohs, bringing to fruition what Pharaoh Akhenaten had feared by laying power in the hand of the Priests rather than that of the Royal Family.

As the Nubians, or Kushites, grew in power in 750BC their influence on Waset and the rest of Upper Egypt also grew. Kushite King Shabaka, in 721BC, defeated 22nd Dynasty’s Pharaoh Osorkon IV; 23rd Dynasty’s Pharaoh Peftjauawybast; and 24th Dynasty’s Pharaoh Bakenranef troops. In doing so, he reunified Egypt and began his own building projects within Thebes.

Late Period

In 667BC Egypt is attached by the Assyrian King’s Army, King Ashurbanipal. Egypt’s Pharaoh fled Lower Egypt and took refugee with the Priesthood in Thebes. On the death of Pharaoh in 664BC his nephew, Nubian Pharaoh Tantamani re-captured Thebes and then went to lay siege to Memphis. His attempts failed and in 663BC he retreated. The Assyrians counter attacked and conquered Thebes, stripping it of vast amounts of its wealth, according to King Ashurbanipal, who wrote:

This city, the whole of it, I conquered it with the help of Ashur and Ishtar. Silver, gold, precious stones, all the wealth of the palace, rich cloth, precious linen, great horses, supervising men and women, two obelisks of splendid electrum, weighing 2,500 talents, the doors of temples I tore from their bases and carried them off to Assyria. With this weighty booty I left Thebes. Against Egypt and Kush, I have lifted my spear and shown my power. With full hands I have returned to Nineveh, in good health”

Waset never recovered as a Political City but still retained its Religious importance.

Greek Period

With the takeover of Alexander the Great as Pharaoh and despite his continued upholding of the Egyptian Deities with celebration of the Opet Festival, Thebes grew to sow the seeds of disunity and disobedience to the Pharaoh. Waset’s priesthood supported the successful revolt against the Pharaohs by Nubian Leader Hugronaphor and the Nubian-Theban alliance held strong until 185BC, when Pharaoh Ptolemy V suppressed the Nubians. Politically and religiously Pharaoh needed the Theban priesthood, so he was forced to forgive them.

50 years later, not seeming to have learnt any lessons about revolts, the Thebans rose up again with the priesthood firmly on their side. In 132BC they appointed Harsiesi as Pharaoh. Within a year he promptly purloined Royal Funds from the Royal Bank in Thebes and fled to avoid any punishment. 91BC saw more dissent with another revolt.

Thebes was sobered and lost its flair, politically and religiously. The City gradually broke down.

Roman Period

The residents lived around the Luxor Temple Area where a Roman Legion was stationed. Regrettably, Waset was in total decline from a city to a village.