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The city was also the place that marked the boundary between Upper and Lower Egypt. The 22nd nome of Upper Egypt and 1st nome of Lower Egypt.
Population[ edit ] The island of the city is today uninhabited. The closest settlement is the town of Mit Rahina. Estimates of historical population size differ widely between sources. According to Tertius Chandler , Memphis had some 30,000 inhabitants and was by far the largest settlement worldwide from the time of its foundation until around 2250 BCE and from 1557 to 1400 BCE. Memphis became the capital of Ancient Egypt for over eight consecutive dynasties during the Old Kingdom.
The city reached a peak of prestige under the 6th dynasty as a centre for the worship of Ptah , the god of creation and artworks. Memphis declined briefly after the 18th dynasty with the rise of Thebes and the New Kingdom, and was revived under the Persians before falling firmly into second place following the foundation of Alexandria. Under the Roman Empire , Alexandria remained the most important Egyptian city. It was then largely abandoned and became a source of stone for the surrounding settlements.
It was still an imposing set of ruins in the 12th century but soon became a little more than an expanse of low ruins and scattered stone. Rameses II flanked by Ptah and Sekhmet. Legendary history[ edit ] The legend recorded by Manetho was that Menes , the first pharaoh to unite the Two Lands , established his capital on the banks of the Nile by diverting the river with dikes. The Greek historian Herodotus , who tells a similar story, relates that during his visit to the city, the Persians , at that point the suzerains of the country, paid particular attention to the condition of these dams so that the city was saved from the annual flooding.
Some scholars suggest that Egypt most likely became unified through mutual need, developing cultural ties and trading partnerships, although it is undisputed that the first capital of united Egypt was the city of Memphis. This palette has been dated to ca. However, in 2012 an inscription depicting the visit of the predynastic king Iry-Hor to Memphis was discovered in the Sinai.
It was the state capital of the godlike pharaohs, who reigned from Memphis from the date of the 1st dynasty. During the earliest years of the reign of Menes, according to Manetho, the seat of power was further to the south, at Thinis. According to Manetho, ancient sources suggest the "white walls" Ineb-hedj were founded by Menes. Referred to in some texts as the "Fortress of the White Wall", it is likely that the king established himself here to better control this new union between the two rival kingdoms.
The complex of Djoser of the 3rd dynasty , located in the ancient necropolis at Saqqara , would then be the royal funerary chamber, housing all the elements necessary to royalty: The golden age began with the 4th dynasty , which seems to have furthered the primary role of Memphis as a royal residence where rulers received the double crown , the divine manifestation of the unification of the Two Lands.
Coronations and jubilees such as the Sed festival were celebrated in the temple of Ptah. The earliest signs of such ceremonies were found in the chambers of Djoser. It was also during this period that developed the clergy of the temple of Ptah.
The importance of the shrine is attested in this period with payments of food and other goods necessary for the funerary rites of royal and noble dignitaries. The architecture of this period was similar to that seen at Giza , royal necropolis of the Fourth dynasty, where recent excavations have revealed that the essential focus of the kingdom at that time centred on the construction of the royal tomb.
A strong suggestion of this notion is the etymology of the name of the city itself, which matched that of the pyramid of Pepi I of the 6th dynasty. Memphis was then the heir to a long artistic and architectural practice, constantly encouraged by the monuments of preceding reigns. All these necropoleis were surrounded by camps inhabited by craftsmen and labourers, dedicated exclusively to the construction of royal tombs. Spread over several kilometres stretching in all directions, Memphis formed a true megalopolis , with temples connected by sacred temenos , and ports connected by roadways and canals.
Its centre remained around the temple complex of Ptah. Middle Kingdom[ edit ] In the beginning of the Middle Kingdom , the capital and court of the pharaoh had moved to Thebes in the south, leaving Memphis for a time in the shade. Although the seat of political power had been shifted, however, Memphis remained perhaps the most important commercial and artistic centre, as evidenced by the discovery of handicrafts districts and cemeteries, located west of the temple of Ptah.
A large granite offering table on behalf of Amenemhat I mentioned the erection by the king of a shrine to the god Ptah, master of Truth. These kings were also known to have ordered mining expeditions, raids or military campaigns beyond the borders, erecting monuments or statues to the consecration of deities, evinced by a panel recording official acts of the royal court during this time.
In the ruins of the Temple of Ptah, a block in the name of Senusret II bears an inscription indicating an architectural commission as a gift to the gods of Memphis. Examples include the two stone giants that have been recovered amidst the temple ruins, which were later restored under the name of Rameses II.
Remains attributed to this pharaoh were indeed found during the excavations in this area conducted by Flinders Petrie , who confirmed the connection. It is also worth noting that, during this time, mastabas of the high priests of Ptah were constructed near the royal pyramids at Saqqara, showing that the royalty and the clergy of Memphis at that time were closely linked. The 13th dynasty continued this trend, and some pharaohs of this line were buried at Saqqara, attesting that Memphis retained its place at the heart of the monarchy.
With the invasion of the Hyksos , and their rise to power ca. Following its capture, many monuments and statues of the ancient capital and were dismantled, looted or damaged by the Hyksos kings, who later carried them to adorn their new capital at Avaris. New Kingdom[ edit ] The 18th dynasty thus opened with the victory over the invaders by the Thebans. Although the reigns of Amenhotep II r.
Strengthening trade ties with other empires meant that the port of Peru-nefer literally means "Bon Voyage" became the gateway to the kingdom for neighbouring regions, including Byblos and the Levant. In the New Kingdom , Memphis became a centre for the education of royal princes and the sons of the nobility. Amenhotep II, born and raised in Memphis, was made the setem—the high priest over Lower Egypt—during the reign of his father.
His son, Thutmose IV received his famed and recorded dream whilst residing as a young prince in Memphis. During his exploration of the site, Karl Richard Lepsius identified a series of blocks and broken colonnades in the name of Thutmose IV to the east of the Temple of Ptah. They had to belong to a royal building, most likely a ceremonial palace. The greatest work of this pharaoh in Memphis, however, was a temple called "Nebmaatra united with Ptah", which is cited by many sources from the period of his reign, including artefacts listing the works of Huy , the High Steward of Memphis.
This leads some Egyptologists to suggest that the latter temple had been built over the site of the first. Whilst in Memphis, Tutankhamun initiated a period of restoration of the temples and traditions following the monotheistic era of Atenism , which was regarded as heresy. The tombs of important officials from his reign, such as Horemheb and Maya , are situated in Saqqara, although Horemheb was eventually buried in the Valley of the Kings after reigning as pharaoh himself r.
He had been Commander of the Army under Tutankhamun and Ay. Her fate is unknown. There is evidence that, under Ramesses II , the city developed new importance in the political sphere through its proximity to the new capital Pi-Ramesses.
The pharaoh devoted many monuments in Memphis and adorned them with colossal symbols of glory. For the early part of the 19th dynasty , Memphis received the privileges of royal attention, and it is this dynasty that is most evident among the ruins of the city today.
Relief representing the High Priest of Ptah , Shoshenq. With the 21st and 22nd dynasties , we see a continuation of the religious development initiated by Ramesses. Memphis does not seem to suffer a decline during the Third Intermediate Period , which saw great changes in the geopolitics of the country. Instead it is likely that the pharaohs worked to develop the Memphite cult in their new capital of Tanis , to the northeast. In light of some remains found at the site, it is known that a temple of Ptah was based there.
Siamun is cited as having built a temple dedicated to Amun , the remains of which were found by Flinders Petrie in the early 20th century, in the south of the temple of Ptah complex. The funerary cult surrounding this monument, well known in the New Kingdom, was still functioning several generations after its establishment at the temple, leading some scholars to suggest that it may have contained the royal burial chamber of the pharaoh himself.
The chapel is currently visible in the gardens of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, behind a trio of colossi of Ramesses II, which are also from Memphis. Late Period[ edit ] During the Third Intermediate Period and the Late Period , Memphis is often the scene of liberation struggles of the local dynasties against an occupying force, such as the Kushites, Assyrians and Persians. The triumphant campaign of Piankhi , ruler of the Kushites , saw the establishment of the 25th dynasty , whose seat of power was in Napata.
Following the capture of Memphis, he restored the temples and cults neglected during the reign of the Libyans. His successors are known for building for chapels in the southwest corner of the temple of Ptah. Under Taharqa , the city formed the frontier base of the resistance, which soon crumbled as the Kushite king was driven back into Nubia.
His forces sacked and raided the city, slaughtered villagers and erected piles of their heads. Esarhaddon returned to his capital Nineveh with rich booty, and erected a victory stele showing the son of Taharqa in chains. Almost as soon as the king left, Egypt rebelled against Assyrian rule. Ruins of the palace of Apries, in Memphis. In Assyria, Ashurbanipal succeeded his father and resumed the offensive against Egypt.
In a massive invasion in 664 BCE, the city of Memphis was again sacked and looted, and the king Tantamani was pursued into Nubia and defeated, putting a definitive end to the Kushite reign over Egypt.
Power then returned to the Saite pharaohs , who, fearful of an invasion from the Babylonians , reconstructed and even fortified structures in the city, as is attested by the palace built by Apries.
Under the Persians , structures in the city were preserved and strengthened, and Memphis was made the administrative headquarters of the newly conquered satrapy. A Persian garrison was permanently installed within the city, probably in the great north wall, near the domineering palace of Apries. The excavations by Flinders Petrie revealed that this sector included armouries. The steles dedicated to Apis in the Serapeum at Saqqara, commissioned by the reigning monarch, represent a key element in understanding the events of this period.
Thus, a monument dedicated by Cambyses II seems to refute the testimony of Herodotus, who lends the conquerors a criminal attitude of disrespect against the sacred traditions.
The nationalist awakening came with the rise to power, however briefly, of Amyrtaeus in 404 BCE, who ended the Persian occupation. The execution was recorded in an Aramaic papyrus document Papyrus Brooklyn 13. Nepherites moved the capital to Mendes , in the eastern delta, and Memphis lost its status in the political sphere. It retained, however, its religious, commercial, and strategic importance, and was instrumental in resisting Persian attempts to reconquer Egypt.
Under Nectanebo I , a major rebuilding program was initiated for temples across the country. In Memphis, a powerful new wall was rebuilt for the Temple of Ptah, and developments were made to temples and chapels inside the complex. Nectanebo II meanwhile, while continuing the work of his predecessor, began building large sanctuaries, especially in the necropolis of Saqqara, adorning them with pylons, statues and paved roads lined with rows of sphinxes.
Despite his efforts to prevent the recovery of the country by the Persians, he succumbed to a massive invasion in 343 BCE, and was defeated at Pelusium. A brief liberation of the city under the rebel-king Khababash 338 to 335 BCE is evinced by an Apis bull sarcophagus bearing his name, which was discovered at Saqqara dating from his second year. The armies of Darius III eventually regained control of the city. Memphis under the Late Period saw recurring invasions followed by successive liberations.
Several times besieged, it was the scene of several of the bloodiest battles in the history of the country.