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Foreign Folks and New
Place Names in the Temple of Amenhotep III
Dr. Rainer Stadelmann is the Emeritus Director of the German Archaeological
Institute in Cairo, and co-director with his wife, Hourig Sourouzian, of the
Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Mortuary Temple Conservation Project.
The many monumental and colossal statues found in the “Temple of Millions of
Years” built by Amenhotep III, were originally standing on bases decorated with
representations of foreigners from all the countries surrounding Egypt, both to
the north and to the south.
The seated colossal statues of the king which stood in front of both the second
and the third pylons were placed on very large bases carefully decorated with
depictions of foreign folks.
In the peristyle court, between the 12 to 14 meter high monumental columns, 8
meter tall statues of the standing king were placed, each on a black granite
plinth. The bases of these statues are decorated with personifications of
foreign countries. The text on one of these bases describes them approaching the
king “on their knees”, in order to receive the “breath of life” from him. These
foreigners are represented with their arms bound behind them at the elbows and
their necks encircled with the stems and roots of lilies and papyrus stalks.
Each is represented with a fortified oval overlaying his body in which the name
of his homeland is written.
When we examine the bases of the colossi at the second pylon, the decoration on
the front sides of the bases are much more carefully modeled than those on the
other three sides.
The base of the north colossus of the Second Pylon features a sema-tawy – the
symbol of a unified Egypt – in the center of the front side, with three
foreigners on each side facing the sema-tawy. On the left half, the heads of the
three southern folks are masterpieces of sculpture, revealing individualized
features. For example, the Kushite is portrayed with the elongated eyes, close
cropped hair, full lips and high cheekbones typical of his countrymen. Some
faces show the deep scarification lines, prominent chin and full lips of other
African tribal groups. Interestingly, each one, regardless of origin wears a
long feather in his hair and large, hoop earrings. (Identification of these
tribes was until now not possible.)
On the south face of that base the depictions are less detailed and less deeply
cut but still exquisitely rendered. In several cases the conservation team has
been able to bring together multiple pieces from the south side of the plinth
which ultimately revealed foreign people heretofore unknown.
Back on the front face of the base of the north colossus, the first two northern
folks which were depicted to the right side of the sema-tawy sign are still
missing. At the end of the front face, a representation of an unidentified
foreigner is preserved. According to the sequence of countries in other lists
Dr. Stadelmann believes he may be the representation of the land of Assur. The
north face of the base is decorated with representation of three northern
peoples; first a Hittite depicted with the typical hair style of a Hittite
prince. Dr. Stadelmann noted that earlier representations of Hittites had a
pointed beard, but the Hittites on the statuary at the Amenhotep III temple have
no beards at all. Next is a Syrian, then an individual whose country name is
transliterated Isyu who might be the same as those mentioned in Hittite sources
as residing in the highlands later; followed by the land of Irtju, then Arzawa,
situated on the southwestern of coast of Asia Minor. The team has gathered
fragments of other Syrian types, last of whom is a Beduin of the eastern desert,
followed by a papyrus bundle, the heraldic plant of the north. On both bases of
the colossi at the 2nd Pylon the second land represented is Irem followed by
smaller polities. Many of the country names encountered can be read but not
accurately identified. Dr. Stadelmann postulated that they may be Egyptian
interpretations of names in a foreign language. Some of the many other fragments
found during excavation and reassembled surely belong to depictions of northern
representations of Syrian types who have pointed beards.
Most of the fortified ovals containing the place name of depicted foreigners on
the colossi from the 2nd pylon are carved with squared bastions, but some, for
no readily apparent reason, have rounded bastions. Where might they come from?
The representation of foreigners as decorative elements on royal statuary goes
back to the earliest periods of Egyptian history. Predynastic palettes bear
depictions of fortified cities with rectangular bastions. Some battle scenes in
tombs of the Old Kingdom bear circular bastions on the fortifications. Rounded
bastions also appear in late Old Kingdom representations, sometimes with a
prisoner inside the fortification.
Statue bases found earlier in the Peristyle Court of the Amenhotep III temple
bear the names of the great countries included in the decoration; names of
northern countries, like Syria, Palestine, Babylon, etc. as well as names of
Syrian cities, like Damascus, all with round bastions rather than square ones.
Dr. Stadelmann postulated that the shape of the bastions may have some
chronological value within the reign and in the temple precinct, and this
feature is under study.
The Colossi of Memnon are the largest and highest of the monumental statuary at
the Temple of Amenhotep III. Their bases should have been decorated just as all
the other colossal statue bases are. We do see some monumental inscriptions of
Amenhotep III, but unfortunately, over time, many have been cut out. Dr.
Stadelmann feels that parts of both statue plinths were never finished or were
decorated with paint, rather than relief carving, and of course, the paint has
long ago worn away.
Similar decorated statue bases have been discovered at Karnak-South in front of
the Mut Precinct, which date from the late period. Some were undoubtedly brought
to Karnak-South from Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple and reused. By kind
permission of the Supreme Council of Antiquities these blocks were returned to
the Amenhotep III temple where they have been cleaned and it has been clearly
determined that they came originally from Western Thebes and the Amenhotep III
temple. The inscription on these blocks reports about monuments in alabaster
brought from the quarries of Hartnub. The decoration on these blocks also
comprises representations of northern and southern folks carved respectively on
the south and north halves of each colossal statue’s plinth.
As had been noted by Dr. Sourouzian during her lecture, the colossi which had
once stood at the entrance to the 3rd Pylon of the Amenhotep III temple, are
still hidden beneath the ground where they fell in antiquity. They are known to
be of alabaster; therefore, these blocks from Karnak-South belong most probably
to the plinths of the alabaster colossi of the third pylon. If new funds are
found, these colossi will need to be addressed due to extensive conservation
The depictions of foreign folks in the peristyle court corresponds to the
division of the court into northern and southern halves. On the south side the
royal statuary was carved from red granite and the king is represented wearing
the crown of Upper Egypt. On the north side the statuary is carved from
quartzite and the king is represented wearing the crown of Lower Egypt.
Accordingly, the decoration found on the statue bases bears depictions of the
southern folks in the south half of the court, and northern folks in the north
half. New statue bases found by The Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Temple
Conservation Project confirms this division. The dominant personification on the
southern statue bases seem to be that of the empire of Kush, followed by other
smaller countries or polities. The same sequence in the decoration is observed
on a limestone base of a sphinx, found earlier in the temple precinct; the
Kushite and Bedouins of the south are specifically bound with the lily of the
On a newly discovered block deriving from one of the northern statue bases are
three representations of folks which look very much like Greek warriors of the
archaic period. From the inscription the first might be the mythic land of the
Louvians known from ancient sources. The second is certainly the personfication
of Great Ionia, i.e an Ionian, recorded here for the first time, and the third
representation may be that of Mitanni. On a second block the reading is much
more dubious; the representation on the right may be that of a Danaen and the
second possibly, again, a folk from Mitanni. Further fragments of
representations from bases continue to name northern and Greek peoples. Dr.
Stadelmann noted that he is now looking for a third great ethnic entity, the
Akyawasha – the Achaeans – to complete the list of the Greek populations. He
noted as well, that the depiction of foreigners is, in fact, really a
geographical list of people around Egypt. According to the Pharaonic dogma,
Egypt could depict them only as subdued. It is interesting to speculate about
what happened when the ambassadors of these countries came for feasts and
festivals and saw the princes of their countries beneath the feet of the king.
The exquisite relief carvings which have been found as the colossal statuary of
the Amenhotep III Temple is unearthed are shedding new light not only on the
quality of craftsmanship of the ancients, but on the names of tribes and
countries not heretofore known. With many more pieces of statuary yet to be
excavated and studied, it is likely that these beautiful works will expand our
The Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III Mortuary Temple Conservation Project has
accomplish extraordinary things to date, and will, hopefully, accomplish many,
many more in the future. If you are interested in supporting this project make
your check to World Monuments Fund for MTA III, and send it to World Monuments
Fund, 95 Madison Avenue, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10016
—Nancy Corbin, Hourig Sourouzian and Rainer Stadlemann