Egypt: Minor Temple and Other Ruins of the Nile Delta, Part I

Minor Temple and Other Ruins of the Nile Delta, Part I

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Monroe Edgar

We have fairly extensive sections on major ruins in the Nile Delta of Egypt, so we will not attempt to cover these in this reference. These other sections include information on:

For Information on Ezbet Rushdi, Tell Far'un (Tell Fara'un), Kom el-Hisn (ancient Imu), Kom Abu Billo (known to the Greeks as Terenuthis) and Tell el-Maskhuta near Ismaliya, see part two of this series.. For information on Tell el-Muqdam (Leontopolis), Tell el-Qirqafa and Tell el-Rub'a (Tell El Robee, Greek Mendes) see part three in this series and for information on Tell el-Retaba, Saft el-Hinna, Samannud (Sebennytos) and Tell el-Yahudiya, see part four.

It is very easy to think that most building activity occurred in southern Egypt, but this is because the conditions in the Egyptian delta are not conducive to surviving structures. For all of the period prior to the building of the High Dam just south of Aswan, it was flooded yearly, burying any buildings remains which are often even underneath the water table! Often, our best source of information on these temples and other remains are not archaeological digs, but ancient documentation.


This area is not to be confused with the pyramid field named Abusir near Saqqara. It is located about 48 km (30 miles) west of Alexandria, and is the site of the ancient Taposiris Magna, which was an important city of the Ptolemaic Period. The temple we call Taposiris Mana probably dates from the same period. The temple was dedicated to Osiris. Only the outer wall, which were strangely made of limestone, while most other structures in the Delta during this period were made of mudbrick, and the pylons remain from the temple. There is evidence to prove that sacred animals were worshipped there. Archeologists found an animal necropolis near the temple. Remains of a Christian church show that the temple was used as a church in later centuries. Also found in the same area are remains of public baths built by the emperor Justinian, a seawall, quays and a bridge. Near the beach side of the area, we can see the remains of a tower built by Ptolemy II Philadelphus. The tower was an exact replica of the destroyed Alexandria's Pharos Lighthouse.

Tell Atrib (Athribis)

This site is located just to the northeast of the modern town of Benha on the Damietta branch of the Nile, about 48 miles north of Cairo. It is the site of ancient Hut-hery-ib, called Athribis by the Greeks. Today, it is called Kom Sidi Youssuf. It was the capital of this nome (10th), and the city's history dates back into the Old Kingdom period. A number of kings built here, including Amenhotep III, who's northernmost building project was a temple in the city. It is now completely gone, but the remains of a number of temples has been located. Several of these date to the Graeco-Roman period, and another dates to the reign of the King Amasis, of Egypt's Late Period. Unfortunately, the ruins are too destroyed to even allow a full reconstruction. Most of the minor monuments found here can be dated to the 25th through 30th Dynasties, with none being earlier than the 12th Dynasty. There is also an extensive Graeco-Roman cemetery. Some 26th to 30th Dynasties silver ingots and jewelry that were found at the Athribis site that are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Minor Temple and Other Ruins of the Nile Delta

Unfortunately, considerable excavation work needs to be done in the location quickly, for the area is slowly sinking even has modern apartment buildings are being built atop it. It is the Polish-Egyptian Archaeological Mission that is carrying out this work.

There work has been concentrated in the northwestern part of the Ptolemaic quarter, where the remains of workshops and a bath compound had been found. In the area extending west and southwest of the baths, three different Ptolemaic strata could be distinguished. The majority of the ceramic material found here was produced by local workshops. The vessels demonstrate a continuation of ancient Egyptian traditions or an imitation of Greek patterns, or a combination of both. Such mixed traditions are also visible in the terracotta figurines found in the Ptolemaic strata. Various furnaces and stoves were unearthed, and workshops for the production of faience vessels and the sculpting of limestone votive objects could be identified. The excavations of the Mid-Ptolemaic baths were continued as well.

Ausim (Letopolis)

Ausim is located only about 13 kilometers northwest of Cairo, and is the site of the ancient Egyptian town of Khem. The Greeks called it Letopolis. It was the capital of the second Lower Egyptian nome. Ausim is an ancient city, and it, along with its principle god, Khenty-irty (Khenty-Khem) are both mentioned in text dating to the Old Kingdom. Though this god probably had a temple in the city, we have found nothing of it, and the few scattered and fragmentary remains that have been found bear the names of Necho II, Psammetichus II, Hakoris and Nectanebo I, of the 26th through 30th Dynasties.

Behbeit el-Hagar

Behbeit el-Hagar

Behbeit el-Hagar is located about 8 km (5 miles) west of el-Mansura. It is situated on the Damietta branch of the Nile very near Samannud, which in ancient times was known as Sebennytos, and was the home of the kings of the 30th Dynasty. The temple at Behbeit el-Hagar was dedicated to Isis, to whom the 30th Dynasty kings were particularly devoted. Egyptologists believe that it was one of the most important temples to Isis in Egypt, possibly acting as a northern counterpart of the Isis temple at Philae. In fact, some inscriptions to Isis in the temple probably predate those at Philae. Within its enclosure walls, some remains of the early Ptolemaic Period temple may still be seen. However, the temple has collapsed, possible as early as the late in Egypt's dynastic history. Almost uniquely, however, the structure seems to have been built almost entirely out of granite. So fine are the carved reliefs of the wall decorations, which well surpasses that found in the Ptolemaic temples of Upper Egypt, that in classical times one block from the temple was transported to the chief Isis temple at Rome.

Behbeit el-Hagar

Recently, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has decided to use computers to reconstruct the Temple of Isis there. Plans call for determining the basic layout of the temple, then replicating that in stone. Accompanying excavations in the area should yield exciting new information about the Late and Ptolemaic periods.

Tell el-Dab'a

Tell el-Dab'a

Located just east of Tell el-qirqafa, near the village of el-Khata'na, about six kilometers north of Faqus in the eastern Nile Delta, this is likely the site of the Hyksos era capital of Avaris. However, even as early as the 12th Dynasty, apparently the Egyptian royalty granted liberal access to the town of Tell el-Dab'a, which seems to have become something like a free trading town. This probably resulted in the marked increase in the number of settlers of Syro-Palestinian origin. Very little remains here, but the site is apparently being excavated by a Czech team at this time. Other archaeologists in the region seem to include the Austrian Archaeological Institute of Cairo and the Institute of Egyptology of the University of Vienna. It has a complex history, and New Kingdom building activity by Horemheb and the Ramessids included a large temple which was probably dedicated to the god, Seth.

Apparently the Austrian teams are investigating a mortuary precinct with several necropolises dating to the 2nd Intermediate Period. These included several strata of burials dating from the late 13th Dynasty to the very end of the Hyksos Period. Three main types of burials were found, including vaulted mud brick tombs set into pits, simple pit burials, and infant burials in large vessels of Egyptian and foreign origin. There are 32 burials in this relatively small area. Interestingly, most of the tombs were undisturbed.

The most prominent tomb in the area was orientated NW-SE with the burial chamber (measuring 2,65 x 1,65 m) and single vault constructed of mud-bricks. The vault collapsed some time after the covering of the tomb and seemed therefore to be destroyed by grave-robbers. Luckily, this conclusion was incorrect. A single skeleton was found in the entrance area together with a round bottomed cup and a jar. Next to the northeastern wall a young female servant was buried in a slightly contracted position looking towards the tomb chamber. The body was placed in this position at the time of the main burial. Because of the circumstances of this and other burials of the period there is a strong possibility that the girl was offered to her master as a human sacrifice. This would have been a very rare occurrence practically unheard of since the earliest of of Egypt's history.

Apparently, the owner of the tomb was a soldier. He was buried with his weapons and an assemblage of different pottery types. Bones of goats or sheep placed on a dish next to his head are remains of a meat offering. He wore a copper belt with an attached dagger with five middle ribs on his left side. In his arms he held a scimitar still in its sheath. The sword itself was made of copper and well preserved; the sheath, consisting of an organic material, probably leather, is still to be examined, the handle was made of bone. The blade is cast with a riveted socket, it's point voluted and therefore unique. It is the oldest specimen of this type yet found in Egypt.

An overall view of the funerary equipment in combination with Egyptian and foreign goods and Egyptian and foreign habits confirms the typical picture of most tombs belonging to this period in Tell el-Dab'a. The tomb is accompanied by several other partly excavated tombs and seems to be at the center of the group, possibly a hint at social implications.

In addition, the Austrian team has recently unearthed a number of horse burials at Tell el-Dab'a.

See also:






Reference Number

Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir


Les Livres De France

None Stated

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

History of Egyptian Architecture, A (The Empire (the New Kingdom) From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the End of the Twentieth Dynasty 1580-1085 B.C.

Badawy, Alexander


University of California Press

LCCC A5-4746

Mythical Origin of the Egyptian Temple, The

Reymond, E. A. E.


Manchester University Press

G.B. SBN 7190-0311-3

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Last Updated: June 9th, 2011