Apart from Thebes itself, most of the major towns and cities on the Qena Bend of the Nile share some common attributes. They are all urban centres that have a relatively long history, as attested by their temples, which have long periods of use and rebuilding on or near the same spot. This suggests a continuity of occupation of the town or city to go along with its temple. In the case of Tod (just to the south of Thebes), the temple was probably in existence during the Old Kingdom and continued until the Ptolemaic Period; at Armant (across the river from Tod) the temple spans the period from the 11th Dynasty to the Romans; and at Medamud (north of Thebes) from the Old Kingdom to the Ptolemaic Period. Nothing is known about the settlements that were attached to these temples. The importance of Nagada in the late Predynastic Period has already been noted.
Coptos had an even earlier history, as attested by Petrie’s excavations of the Predynastic/Early Dynastic temple in 1893–94, and was clearly the most important town in this part of Egypt apart from Thebes, but once again it is only known archaeologically from its extensive temple complex, added to until well into the Roman Period, within the modern city of Qift.
Best known today for its impressive Graeco-Roman temple, Dendera in fact also has, to the east of the enclosure wall of this temple, a substantial amount of its town-mound yet to be excavated. To the south of the temple enclosure, on the desert edge, is an important cemetery whose most significant excavated tombs are the substantial mastabas built for local administrators in the late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period, an indication of the importance of Dendera as a semi-autonomous regional centre in southern Egypt at that time.
Abydos (and Thinis)
An unusual site, Abydos owed its importance to religious, or rather funerary, concerns. It was the site of the pre-eminent royal cemetery for the Early Dynastic Period and later (and relatedly) was associated with the Osiris cult, because it was seen as the place where the god was buried. It therefore developed an importance different from that of other ‘towns’, for it was distant from the Nile and had a population that was probably almost entirely geared to servicing the tombs and other funerary monuments, not unlike the situation we have seen in the Middle Kingdom town of Wah-Sut and the New Kingdom ‘Ahmose Town’. The longest-lasting settlement at Abydos was relatively limited and dates from the Old Kingdom to the Second Intermediate Period. It developed close to the temple of Osiris at the Kom es-Sultan at Abydos. The nome capital for Abydos was at the now-lost town of Thinis which may be beneath the modern city of Girga.
The modern city of Akhmim largely obscures the ancient city, whose importance in the New Kingdom is nevertheless obvious thanks to the presence of this colossal statue of Meritamun, daughter of Ramesses II. Rutherford Picture Library.
Another particularly spectacular example of traces of an ancient city poking through a modern one is at Akhmim, capital of the 9th Upper Egyptian nome, where a very large town-mound is substantially covered by the modern city, with the significant exception of the accidental discovery of a Ramesside temple whose major surviving element is a re-erected colossal statue of Meritamun, daughter of Ramesses II.