An Egyptian and German archaeological team sifting through the ruins of a temple dedicated to
the ancient King Nectanebo I has found building blocks and parts of the ceiling, which was decorated with stars. Authorities hope to rebuild and restore the shrine.
The 30th Dynasty king, whose name is also spelled Nakhtanebu, lived in the fourth century BC. His house was the last native Egyptian royal line before Persians reconquered Egypt in 343 BC and overthrew Nectanebo’s grandson.
The team unearthed blocks of the king’s shrine while working in the Ain Shams area of Cairo, which was known as Oun city in ancient times, reports Ahram Online. The team also found mud bricks that were part of a fence surrounding Oun.
The shrine blocks measure between 75 cm (30 inches) and 1.25 meters (50 inches). They are carved of basalt and have engraved on them the names of Egyptian regions of the time. Two of the blocks also show the god Hapi holding offerings.
Oun is one Egypt’s oldest cities, but it was largely destroyed when stones from its temples and buildings were used to construct medieval Cairo, Ahram Online says.
In April, the team excavating Heliopolis Temple found part of a royal statue of King Merineptah, who was of a much earlier time than Nectanebo—the 19th Dynasty (1291 to 1187 BC). Merineptah was depicted making offerings to deities. The archaeologists found pottery and other evidence of human habitation from the pre-dynastic and early dynastic periods.
A carved basalt block, part of the shrine to Nectanebo found last spring, depicts a falcon. The bird may be the god Horus.
This carved basalt block showing a falcon was found earlier this year at Nectanebo’s shrine. (Egyptian Ministry of Antquities photo)The Late Dynastic period was one of upheaval in ancient Egypt. The nation had been controlled by Persia for a time, then won independence, and was controlled by Persia again just prior to Alexander’s conquest.
King Nectanebo I ruled from 379 to 360 BC after he overthrew the 29th Dynasty ruler Nepherites. Nectanebo’s grandson, Nectanebo II, was king when Persians retook the country around 343 BC.
Persian rule may have seemed like a yoke to Egypt’s rulers, but it very well may have been beneficial to the common people because Persian rulers abolished slavery and instituted other human rights reforms when they came to power. Persian kings extended their reforms to lands they conquered while allowing religious freedom.
In a clay cylinder that has been called the first Charter of Human Rights, King Cyrus of Persia talks about lifting “unbecoming yokes” of Babylonians and abolishing forced labor. The Persians apparently also gave grain and meat to poor people, though from the website The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies it is unclear if such rations were given in Egypt.
Alexander wanted to conquer Egypt and its ports because he needed a coastal base for commercial and military reasons.
Remnant of the bust of Pharaoh Merineptah (Egypt Ministry of Antiquities photo)The end of the 30th Dynasty came about a decade before Alexander arrived. Nectanebo II, the grandson of the man depicted in the shrine unearthed this year, had fled to the Sudan in 343 BC in the face of Persian incursions. The Persians left when Alexander and his forces arrived.
Egypt’s Persian governor Mazaces met Alexander without any armed forces and turned over the treasury’s 800 talents. Mazaces remained as part of the new administration of governor Cleomenes and established Egypt’s royal mint around 331 BC.
After Alexander died, the Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt until around 30 BC, when Rome conquered Egypt. The Byzantine Empire ruled Egypt later, until eventually Arabs conquered Egypt in the seventh century AD.
Featured image: Part of the shrine showing Pharaoh Nectanebo I, who was the last native king to rule Egypt before the Greeks conquered. (Ahram Online photo)
By Mark Miller