Deir el-Bahri, royal mummy cache To Demography (Archaeology of Ancient Egypt)

Deir el-Bahri, royal mummy cache

The Deir el-Bahri cache, Theban Tomb (TT) 320, was the larger of two caches of royal mummies discovered near the end of the nineteenth century in the Theban necropolis, opposite modern Luxor. TT 320 is located in the northern corner of a small bay in the cliffs just south of Deir el-Bahri. The date of its original excavation and the history of its reuse are currently being debated, but certain facts are undisputed. From inscriptions we know that tomb robbery was a serious problem at Thebes by the end of the 20th Dynasty. Inscriptions also indicate that for about thirty-five years, from year 5 of Siamen (21st Dynasty) to years 10-13 of Sheshonk I (22nd Dynasty), TT 320 served as a crypt for the family of the High Priest of Amen, Pinudjem II, and for some of his ancestors whose original tombs may have been robbed. During most of this period, the tomb was also used periodically for the reburial of some of the most famous kings of the New Kingdom, their relatives and valued retainers. Inscriptions on the wrappings and coffins of the royal mummies record that some had been moved several times before finding their way into the cache.

The choice of TT 320 as a secure hiding place for the royal mummies was an inspired one. Its entrance is a wide shaft, approximately 10m deep, excavated into an alcove at the level where a talus slope meets the base of the high cliffs. The shaft was easily filled and camouflaged to resemble its surroundings. After it was finally sealed about 935 BC, it lay undetected for more than 2,800 years. It was rediscovered in the summer of 1871 by members of the Abd er-Rassul family from the nearby village of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna.

During the next ten years, the tomb was entered about three times and some of the more portable and marketable objects, including papyri, shawabtis, heart scarabs and canopic jars, were removed and sold on the antiquities market. Most of the pieces came from the 21st Dynasty burials and when funerary objects naming the high priests of Amen and their relatives began appearing in Europe in 1874, Gaston Maspero suspected that one or more tombs belonging to this powerful Theban family had been found by modern tomb-robbers. In January of 1881, after succeeding August Mariette as Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, Maspero had gathered enough information to initiate an official inquiry. Late in June, when Maspero was out of Egypt, the tomb’s location was revealed to local authorities in Upper Egypt.

In Maspero’s absence, Emile Brugsch, one of his assistants at the Bulaq Museum (precursor of the present Egyptian Museum), was sent to investigate. When he entered the tomb, Brugsch was astonished to find, lying along a lengthy corridor and in a side chamber, the mummies and fragmentary burial equipment of pharaohs and royal relatives from the 17th-20th Dynasties. The 21st Dynasty burials that Brugsch had expected to find lay in a large chamber at the end of the tomb. For security reasons, Brugsch felt compelled to clear the tomb as quickly as possible. As a result, the mummies and funerary equipment were removed in a mere forty-eight hours. No complete inventory of the tomb’s contents was ever made, either during the clearance or later. The most complete contemporary descriptions of the cache were written by Maspero, who never saw the objects in situ, although he visited the tomb with Brugsch early in 1882.

As far as it is possible to reconstruct, the disposition of burials in the tomb was somewhat confused. This was partly because of the modern robbers, but also because most of the mummies and equipment had been salvaged in ancient times from pillaged tombs. The names of forty-five individuals were preserved in inscriptions on the funerary furniture, but only forty mummies were present. These were enclosed in a variety of coffins, not necessarily their own. For example, the mummy of Queen Ahmose-Inhapy (18th Dynasty) was found in the coffin of the royal nurse Rai (18th Dynasty), whose mummy was discovered in the coffin of a man named Paheripedjet (21st Dynasty), whose mummy was not in the cache. Among the mummies were those identified as Seqenenre Ta’o II of the 17th Dynasty, who appears to have died in the wars against the Hyksos; Ahmose, first king of the 18th Dynasty, and his immediate successors Amenhotep I, Tuthmose I, Tuthmose II and Tuthmose III; Ramesses I, Seti I and Ramesses II, the first three rulers of the 19th Dynasty; and Ramesses III and Ramesses IX of the 20th Dynasty. The majority were identified in inscriptions written on their wrappings and coffins by officials of the 21st and 22nd Dynasties who were attempting to protect them from further desecration. However, a number of the bodies had been rewrapped in ancient times and the identities of several have been questioned on forensic grounds.

Two suggestions have been made concerning the origin of TT 320: either that it was excavated for Ahmose-Inhapy or another queen of the 18th Dynasty and modified in the 21st Dynasty; or that it was entirely excavated in the 21st Dynasty. Only the discovery of foundation deposits will conclusively identify the intended owner; however, the dimensions and plan of the first half of the tomb (as recorded by Maspero and Brugsch) suggest that it was excavated early in the 18th Dynasty and expanded in the 21st Dynasty. The placement of the mummies within the tomb, as far as we know it, indicates that, in the 21st Dynasty, TT 320 was intended as a crypt for the family of the high priests of Amen, but that it gradually became viewed as a secure cache for some of the displaced royal mummies of the New Kingdom.

Deir el-Bahri, Tuthmose III temple

Discovered by Polish archaeologists working on behalf of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization in 1962, the Deir el-Bahri temple of Tuthmose III lies immediately south of the temple of Hatshepsut (25°44′ N, 31°36′ E). The excavations brought to light the ruined building and thousands of broken polychrome wall reliefs, originating from the temple decoration. Royal and private statues were found, dating from the New Kingdom, along with hieratic graffiti left by the Ramesside pilgrims on the columns and walls, hieratic and Coptic ostraca, and a large collection of stone-cutting tools. The latter served in dismantling the temple and recutting its building materials for reuse. This happened at the very end of New Kingdom.

The temple was probably founded in the middle of the Tuthmose III’s reign and was named "Holy of Monuments" (Djeser-menu). Later, in the last decade of that reign, under the supervision of Vizier Rekhmire, it was redesigned and renamed "Holy Horizon" (Djeser-akhet). In general, the building followed the earlier terraced temples at Deir el-Bahri, having three levels joined by ramps flanked with porticoes. The upper level, a platform partly cut into the cliff and partly constructed, supported the main body of the edifice. This consisted of a large (26x38m) hypostyle hall, and a row of smaller shrines behind it. A granite doorway led to the bark shrine. The hypostyle hall had an unusual inner arrangement, with a double row of eight polygonal, 32-sided columns in its center, situated transversally to the main axis. From all sides this central "kiosk" was surrounded by seventy-six smaller, 16-sided columns. The roof of the side colonnades was lower, with mullion windows filling the space between two levels of the roof. This hall can be considered as one of few predecessors of later ones with a raised central aisle.

The main god of the temple was Amen-Re in two forms: Amen-Re and Amen-Re-Kamutef. Hathor had a special chapel with an inner speos in which the famous cow statue was discovered by Edouard Naville in 1904. Both the richly decorated shrine and the statue are displayed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The chapel was located behind the northern side of the Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II temple, below the Tuthmose III temple platform.

The entire interior of the temple was decorated with finely carved polychrome reliefs depicting various offering scenes and the procession of the sacred bark of Amen during the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. During the demolition of the building, probably after it was damaged by a rock slide, all the walls were dismantled. Before recutting of the stone blocks was finished the stonecutters left the site, which was then buried deep in the evergrowing mound of rocky debris. The monks of the neighboring Coptic monastery used the site as a burial ground and dump.

Some of the wall blocks cracked during the demolition and were left as useless; the rest of the building material was reshaped, and in the process its decoration was hacked out. The flakes were left behind, creating a gigantic jigsaw puzzle for the team of Polish archaeologists, who have been working since 1978 to reconstruct on paper the original decoration of most of the temple walls. The actual reconstruction of the beautifully painted reliefs was undertaken by professional restorers. Two of the completely preserved wall blocks—one with the image of black-faced Amen-Re-Kamutef and one with the head of Tuthmose III-are displayed in the Luxor Museum. A small museum is planned in the building at the site in which the Tuthmoside material is stored. A restored wall of the sanctuary will be a major exhibit there.

Deir el-Ballas

The ancient settlement of Deir el-Ballas is located on the west bank of the Nile in northern Upper Egypt, next to the modern village of Deir el-Gharbi, also known as ed- Deir (26°03′N, 32°45′E). The area had been noted by early travelers as a pottery production center for a type of marl-ware water jar known as a ballas. During excavations at Nagada and Ballas, a brief investigation of the site was undertaken for the Egypt Exploration Fund by Flinders Petrie and J.E.Quibell. At Quibell’s suggestion, George Reisner, who had been appointed head of an expedition from the University of California at Berkeley, began working at Deir el-Ballas in 1900, with the Hearst Expedition.

The Hearst Expedition uncovered a large royal palace, a settlement and a series of cemeteries dating to the late Second Intermediate Period and early 18th Dynasty. The ancient settlement at Deir el-Ballas is situated in a natural amphitheater formed in the limestone cliffs bordering the high desert to the west. The two ends of this bay circumscribe the area of settlement which ran along the desert edge of the cultivation for a distance of approximately 2km. The terrain is a low gravel plain dissected by wadi beds. The site can be divided into six main areas as defined by topographic features. From north to south they are: the North End, the North Hill, the North Wadi, the Central Wadi, the South Hill and the South Wadi. Occupation stretched back only a few hundred meters from the edge of the cultivation; however, the settlement may have originally extended under the present edge of the modern town and surrounding agricultural lands.

Situated at the approximate center of the bay are the remains of the largest and most prominent structure at the site. The importance of this building was immediately recognized by Reisner and it was termed the "North Palace." It is a large mudbrick structure surrounded by a large enclosure wall, approximately 300x150m. The eastern end of the enclosure ran under the modern cultivation and has never been traced. A smaller walled court, roughly 60m square, is appended to the northwest corner of the main enclosure. Both these enclosures cover an area of at least 45,000m square.

The North Palace was positioned at the center of the large enclosure and was laid out as a series of courts with a long entrance corridor. The whole complex was grouped around an elevated platform constructed on casemate foundations which consisted of long mudbrick chambers filled in with rubble and capped by a mudbrick pavement. Some of these casemates are preserved to a height of approximately 5m, and since traces of pavement were found above them, this must have been their original height. Presumably, this core of casemates supported the raised private apartments of the palace.

As with other royal residences, the North Palace was decorated with wall paintings. In this case little of any figural decoration remained except for fragments of a platoon of men carrying battleaxes. The Hearst Expedition also discovered fragments of gold leaf and faience tiles, which appear to have embellished the structure.

To the west of the small enclosure were three large houses (circa 5×10-20m). The interiors had been decorated with wall paintings, only traces of which remained. These dwellings were fairly lavish and must be related to some significant function of the palace. Another nearby structure consisted of a large rectangular court, circa 25m2, surrounded by smaller rooms along with two grain silos within the court and a large semicircular oven on the northern side of the building which probably had been a bakery built to serve the palace.

Many of the private houses excavated by Reisner’s expedition were poorly recorded; however, it is clear from the recent surveys that a substantial part of the ancient settlement has survived unexcavated and a significant amount of information is still recoverable, even in the areas previously exposed.

To the south of the central wadi is a low rise which was designated as the "South Hill." On the northern side of this hill a group of small, roughly built, contiguous-walled dwellings were uncovered by the original expedition. The plan of this group suggests a workmen’s village, comparable to the initial stage of the Deir el-Medina village. Traces of about thirty-five individual structures were uncovered by the Hearst Expedition. The houses vary in size and plan, but basically there are three-room units with a large court and two smaller rooms opening onto it. The courts were sometimes paved with mudbrick and contained hearths and mangers for animals. The individual buildings varied in size, approximately 5-15m2.

Near this area, on the east side of the hill by the village, the recent expedition discovered scattered traces of small rectangular structures roughly built and partially cut into the hillside. Varying in size and plan, they generally appear to be about 20x10m, and occasionally have short flights of stairs. The design of these buildings resembles the chapels of the workmen’s village at Tell el-Amarna, which consisted of one or more courts connected with a short flight of steps and a niche for the placement of votive artifacts. The layout and positioning of these shrines also corresponds to the chapels associated with the Tell el-Amarna workmen’s village.

At the southern end of the site in the South Wadi, Reisner excavated a number of very large structures. They were among the most lavish in the site and some had columned halls, grain silos, mangers and associated outbuildings.

Farther east of the wadi was another group of buildings which did not appear to be of the same character. Here there are traces of structures forming a very orderly arrangement and of unusually large size (circa 60x40m). They appear to be tightly grouped in an orderly pattern, and bordered by long narrow structures (circa 70+x10m). This layout suggests an administrative complex analogous to that found in the central city at Tell el-Amarna.

The southernmost structure was termed the "South Palace" by the Hearst Expedition. In reality, the structure does not appear to be a palace at all. It sits atop a high hill that marks the southern end of the site and consists of a large rectangular platform built on casemates, measuring 100x44m. The top tier reaches a height of 25m above the plain and commands a view of the Nile and surrounding territory. A broad stairway runs 5.5m from the top of the platform to the lower level of the building. Atop the platform must have been an additional structure, and large quantities of mudbrick rubble and gypsum plaster rise several meters above the top of the upper casemates. Its design and location suggest that it must have served as an observation post.

From the stratigraphy uncovered here and noted elsewhere at the site, it was evident, as indicated by the records of the Hearst Expedition, that the site had a single period of occupation with some possible "squatter" reoccupation after a period of abandonment in the early 18th Dynasty.

The site seems to have been occupied for only a very brief period of time. A lintel of Sekhenenre Ta’o II (circa 1591-1576 BC) was discovered reused in the modern village, which probably came from the North Palace. The ceramic material likewise seems to be of exclusively late Second Intermediate Period types. Jar sealings of Ahmose and votive models of ships and weapons were found in a level of post-abandonment debris in the North Palace. Graves which cut through the workmen’s village date to the early 18th Dynasty, suggesting that this part of the site was also vacated at this date.

The archaeological evidence, including the inscribed material, indicates that Deir el-Ballas functioned as a "campaign palace" for the Theban pharaohs during the Hyksos expulsion. This would also explain its rather rapid abandonment in the early 18th Dynasty after the reunification of Egypt. Recent fieldwork at the Hyksos capital in the Delta by Manfred Bietak and the Austrian Archaeological Institute at the site of Ezbet Helmi have uncovered two large structures remarkably similar to the North and South Palaces at Deir el-Ballas and they have now been ascribed to this period.

Deir el-Bersha

Near and partly under the modern village of Deir el-Bersha (27°45′ N, 30°54′ E), this site is mainly known for its rock-cut tombs of the Middle Kingdom. Located on the east bank of the Nile, the site is opposite the town of Mallawi. Due east of the village is the Wadi Deir en-Nakhla. Rock-cut tombs of the Old Kingdom are on the southern side of the wadi, near its mouth, and the Middle Kingdom tombs are higher up on the north side. North of the later tombs are the remains of a Coptic hermitage.

The Middle Kingdom tombs are mainly those of the governors (nomarchs) of the Hare nome, who resided in Hermopolis (modern el-Ashmunein). The owners of the earlier Old Kingdom tombs, however, were not nomarchs, for these tombs were located at Sheikh Sa’id.

On the desert plain east of the village is an extensive Middle Kingdom cemetery with simple tombs of mudbrick. Some tombs in this area, however, were fairly large, as demonstrated by a recently discovered mudbrick superstructure (mastaba) with false doors and reliefs. The rock-cut tombs must have been beautifully decorated, although they were somewhat smaller than the contemporary ones at Beni Hasan. Unfortunately, most are now badly damaged by quarrying in the New Kingdom and Late period.

The quarries were excavated over an extensive area, from deep in the wadi to its mouth. Some features of the quarries are still visible, such as transport roads and the remains of workers’ huts. Limestone columns and sarcophagi for ibises and baboons, used at Tuna el-Gebel, were produced here.

After the initial publication of the Middle Kingdom texts and reliefs, extensive excavation took place around the turn of the century. Currently, an American-Dutch mission is investigating these tombs and the quarries.

Deir el-Medina

This is a site in western Thebes (25°44′ N, 32°36′ E) consisting of the village and tombs of the workmen who carved and decorated the royal New Kingdom tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. The village was laid out probably during the reign of Amenhotep I, as he and his queen Ahmose-Nefertari became its divine patrons during its later history. The site lies between the two royal valleys and behind Gurnet Murai, the first range of hills of the Theban west-bank mountain. The village was situated in this locale for security and control by the royal necropolis authorities. Starting with Tuthmose I, special precautions were taken to protect the locale and the work on the royal tomb, as Ineni’s autobiography records. The village was walled and guarded, and its houses were laid out along a central street, as block units of several rooms each. Houses of the village foremen and scribe were larger, and were situated at the entrance and exit of the surrounding wall.

All of the villagers’ needs were provided by the royal government, from grains to meat, fish, vegetables, water and firewood, as they were not expected to perform any agricultural labor. The workmen received their pay in grain and commodities on a monthly basis, and all their tools and other equipment were government-supplied also. Damaged and worn tools were collected for replacement by the scribe and foremen. The workers spent eight days of the ten-day Egyptian week camped near their work site in the Valley of the Kings, while work on the king’s tomb was in progress. The scribe, appointed by the vizier, kept a daily record of attendance at the work site, and also of absences. Absences were permitted for illness, for certain religious holidays and for certain family problems or celebrations. In addition, they also received days off during major religious festivals, such as the Opet Feast of Amen in Thebes.

The working day on the tomb occupiedroughly the daylight hours, and in deeper stages of the work, candles were issued. For work purposes, the crew was divided into a right and left side, each with its own foreman and assistant. Each crew worked its respective side of the tomb walls. The workers included quarrymen, plasterers, and the more skilled outline draftsmen and painters. These artisans laid out the drawings of the scenes and their accompanying inscriptions, which the painters then finished. Each workman was responsible for his government-issued tools. Every "weekend" and for holidays, the workmen returned to the village, where their families resided. The village personnel included a carpenter and a physician.

During their free time, villagers were able to make coffins and other funerary objects for sale to outside people, thus supplementing their incomes. They also could work on their own family tombs, located in the hills just above the village. Outside the village, there were several shrines to deities, some built by them, others built by the government. The more prosperous villagers owned various small properties around the village. All this meant that the village functioned as a somewhat specialized economic unit. Because of their pay and supplemental income, some villagers had private property concerns. Like any other village or town, Deir el-Medina had its own local court to adjudicate local legal matters. The court was constituted of the village heads, foremen and highest ranked workmen. The court sat on an ad hoc basis and could hear local disputes over property and exchanges, and also register deeds of conveyance of property and hear complaints about the conduct of individuals. When more serious cases arose, involving theft from a tomb, shrine or other government property, the court referred the case to the vizier’s court sitting in the city of Thebes.

Additionally, if a particularly sensitive case arose, such as a workman accusing a foreman, or foreman’s relative, of theft, appeal could be made to the oracle. The oracle consisted of the statues of the village’s founders, that on festival occasions were paraded around the village by bearers of the divine barks in which the image rested. The queries were framed in "yes" or "no" format, and evidently, movements of the bark’s bearers were interpreted as responses by the deity. Thus the oracle served as a valuable release mechanism for tensions that might arise in the village. No one, not even a foreman or scribe, could contest an oracular decision, though some individuals tried by consulting other oracles; the force of religion backed the oracular decisions.

During Akhenaten’s reign, the village was closed and transferred to Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna), the new capital. Horemheb refounded the village at Deir el-Medina for the work on his own sizable tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The Ramesside pharaohs who followed enlarged the village, as they added tombs in the Valley of the Queens to the workload of the village. During Seti I’s reign, the long reign of Ramesses II, and on into Merenptah’s reign, the village operated smoothly and efficiently under competent, honest scribes and foremen. The recently rediscovered K.V. 5, the tomb of Ramesses II’s sons, exhibits their excellent work. Troubles began after Merenptah’s reign, when Amenmesses usurped the throne from Seti II, the intended successor. He removed the last vizier appointed by Merenptah and installed his own man. Soon after the start of work on Amenmesses’ tomb (KV 10), a village crisis erupted. An orphaned boy, Pa-neb, began to threaten his father-by-adoption, Neferhotep. When Neferhotep filed a complaint to the vizier, Pa-neb filed a counter-complaint, and was successful. Emboldened, Pa-neb continued with his threats, and probably murdered Neferhotep. Next, Pa-neb took five of Neferhotep’s servants, and handed them over to Seti II’s new vizier as a bribe to secure the foreman’s post and was again successful.

Under Pa-neb’s tenure, the village endured a turbulent period. There was a series of court cases arising from crimes committed during the war between Amenmesses and Seti II. Worse yet, Pa-neb began to pilfer stone from the king’s tomb and to divert workmen to build his own family tomb near the village. Pa-neb also misappropriated workmen in other ways, for example, employing them to feed his ox. Next he started to persecute the members of the family of Neferhotep, the slain foreman. When Seti II died and was buried, Pa-neb entered the royal tomb after it had been sealed; he also began to rob tombs of some of the village workmen. Then he began to rape the wives of certain workmen, while his son raped their daughters. All these deeds were recorded by Amennakht, Neferhotep’s brother. So long as the bribe-taking vizier, Pareemhab, was in office, Amennakht dared not file the complaint. Siptah, who succeeded Seti II, appointed a new vizier, a grandson of Ramesses II. Under this respected vizier, Amennakht filed the complaint; tfonbrought Pa-neb and his son to trial. Pa-neb and his son were demoted and sent to labor for the rest of their days in the quarries of the Wadi Hammamat.

Under Queen Tawosret and the early 20th Dynasty rulers Sethnakht and Ramesses III, the village returned to smooth, tranquil life, and the work quality on the royal tombs improved markedly. Ramesses III kept the workmen busy with his own tomb, and with others for his queen and for several sons in the Valley of the Queens. Later in Ramesses III’s reign, another crisis struck the village; Ramesses III had difficulty supplying grain to the village on the monthly schedule. Desperate, the villagers appealed to their officials, laid down their tools and went on strike. Though discouraged, they marched out of the village, and went down to the administrative headquarters, demanding to see the vizier. Finally, the vizier heard their appeal, and promised to release some grain stored in the funerary temples to them, and they returned to work. Under Ramesses IV, the royal administration gave up trying to support the village, and turned over its administration to the High Priest of Amen in Thebes. Ramesses IV doubled the size of the work force, as he ambitiously tried to speed up work on his tomb, but his reign was short. Later in the mid-20th Dynasty, the workmen’s labor was halted because of marauding Libyans in the vicinity.

Under Ramesses VI-VIII, grain prices rose sharply. With the attending hardship, some people on the west bank now turned to tomb-robbing, starting with the tombs of the nobility. Under Ramesses IX, the mayor of the east bank at Thebes received a report from two scribes on the west bank of the robbery of a royal tomb. Outraged, he filed a complaint before the vizier, and the vizier thereupon appointed a commission to investigate the claims. A late Middle Kingdom tomb of a king was indeed found violated. A gang of robbers was apprehended and confessions were wrung from them under duress. They admitted robbing the Middle Kingdom tomb and the commission found the other royal tombs unviolated. They noted that most private tombs had been violated, and their mummies lay strewn over the hills.

Under Ramesses XI, a rebellion erupted in Thebes and the rebels drove out the High Priest of Amen, who fled. Pharaoh called upon the Viceroy of Nubia with his army to restore order, and the viceroy, P*Mb£y*complied. The High Priest was restored, and trials of all sorts were instituted. During the rebellion, priests had left their temples, stripping their valuables, and the Deir el-Medina villagers had turned to robbing tombs. Now caught with the stolen goods, the village of Deir el-Medina was shut down. The authorities transferred its people to Ramesses III’s funerary temple enclosure at Medinet Habu. Work on the tomb of Ramesses XI ground to a halt. The Deir el-Medina village had seen its final days; its people eventually merged into the west bank Theban populace.


The only hard data to estimate population, when written sources are unavailable, are the surface areas of contemporary settlements. Beyond that one can suggest models, based on explicit assumptions. "Reconstructions" over time are therefore no more than interpretations that may serve a heuristic purpose when overviewing the historical ensemble of change. For Dynastic Egypt even the information on settlement sizes is sparse, because of the sprawl of modern towns, and the tendency of traditional archaeology to excavate monumental buildings rather than to test residential areas. Furthermore, nineteenth-century excavators simply stripped away younger occupation traces from such monuments without making any records.

For Early Dynastic to Old Kingdom times, the following settlement areas are available (excluding temple enclosures): Memphis, 31ha; Hierakonpolis, 5ha; Elkab, 9ha; Kom el-Hisn, over 6ha; Elephantine, 1.6ha; Abydos, over 1ha. For the Middle Kingdom, there are Elephantine, 3.5ha, and Lahun, 12ha. For the New Kingdom, the northern capital was either Pi-Ramesses (Tell ed-Dab’a), 350ha, or Tanis, 105ha, while the southern capital, Luxor, exceeded 280ha. The short-lived capital at Tell el-Amarna expanded across 380ha, but had a very low density. Other New Kingdom towns were either intermediate in size (Hermopolis, 100ha; Memphis, more than 79ha), or much smaller, e.g. Tell el-Yahudiya with 13.7ha. During the Late period and Graeco-Roman times, the largest provincial centers were in the order of 85-170ha, intermediate provincial towns, 25-65ha, and smaller provincial capitals, 8-15ha.

Converting such spatial dimensions into population numbers involves difficult assumptions. In 1882, six Upper Egyptian cities had a population density of 3,000 persons per hectare (after adjusting for a 16 percent undercount), with relatively tightly packed, two-story or three-story buildings. That is probably applicable to most New Kingdom and Late period cities, but Old Kingdom towns such as Hierakonpolis had spacious courtyards or gardens, and were mainly single-storied. Here, a density of 200 per hectare seems generous. On this basis, cautious estimates can be offered for town populations at different times.

For the Old Kingdom, Memphis by this method would have had 6,000 inhabitants, with perhaps 1,000-2,000 in the larger provincial towns, and as few as 250 in their smaller counterparts. With some forty provinces (nomes), and assuming that half of these had capitals with an average population of 1,500, it can be posited that only 35,00040,000 people lived in places with more than 1,000 inhabitants. By standards of Early Bronze Age Palestine, this was a decidedly rural society.

That picture had changed by New Kingdom times, with close to 85,000 in Luxor, perhaps 100,000 in Pi-Ramesses, but a maximum of only 31,000 in Tanis, its successor. Since the size and role of these capitals varied over time, the combined population of the northern and southern metropoles is best assessed at no more than 125,000. Major provincial centers may have had 15,000-30,000 inhabitants, with perhaps fifteen places in that category, making about 300,000. Data for another perhaps twenty-five smaller provincial capitals are sparse, but 125,000 can serve as a working figure, to estimate an urban population of up to 550,000 for the early Ramesside period (19th Dynasty).

For the later periods, there may have been ten large provincial cities with 25,000 to 50,000 people, another fifteen with 7,500-25,000, and at least twenty-five with 2,5005,000 or so. That would total 600,000-650,000, plus the estimate of over 300,000 for the capital, Alexandria (first century BC), by Diodorus (17.52.6), making close to one million urban Egyptians. Possibly based on actual data, Diodorus (1.31.8) also gives a figure of seven million for the total population. That figure, and the size classes of provincial towns estimated here, closely approximate those of the adjusted census of 1882, if the new, hegemonic entrepot of Alexandria is omitted, to leave Cairo as the single primate city: 7.65 million for Egypt, with 880,000 people in towns over 15,000. During the first century BC, an estimate for towns over 15,000 would be in the order of 800,000. Diodorus’s seven million figure therefore seems reasonable.

Assuming a similar urban ratio, early Ramesside total population would have been roughly half that of the first century BC, i.e. about 3.5 million. A range of 3.0-3.5 million for circa 1250 BC gives a reasonable order of magnitude. Estimating Old Kingdom population is far more difficult, because of the limited nucleated settlement. Herodotus (2.177) gives 20,000 inhabited places for the sixth century BC, remarkably close to the 18,000 of 1882. That serves as a caution in regard to inferring national population size from the paltry urban sum. An estimate must balance the labor forces necessary to build the pyramids with the inference of the Hekanakht letters (circa 2002 BC) that half of the floodplain was either in pasture or fallow. Something in the order of 1.5 million is no more than an educated guess.

The hypothetical progression, in the absence of adequate data for the Middle Kingdom, posits three successive peaks of perhaps 1.5 million circa 2500 BC, 3.0-3.5 million circa 1250 BC, and close to 7.0 million circa 50 BC. Major population growth must be assumed in Egypt during the centuries prior to the mid-1st Dynasty; toward the end of the 2nd Dynasty, the population seems to have dipped, perhaps reflecting a 30 percent decline in flood volume. Demographic retraction can be assumed during (a) the political chaos of the First Intermediate Period, (b) the high flood disasters of the late 12th and 13th Dynasties, followed by the political impotence of the Hyksos period (15th-16th Dynasties), and (c) the collapse of the New Kingdom and its aftermath. A potential factor to estimate decline is suggested by medieval Islamic trends. In the Fayum the number of villages and towns increased from 66 in 1094, to 156 circa 1250, and 164 in 1290, then fell to 144 circa 1320, even before the Black Death, and 97 as reported circa 1375. This particular proxy suggests a decline of 41 percent in response to mismanagement and epidemic, similar to the 38 percent decrease in cultivated area. A comparable decline of 35-40 percent can be suggested circa 2950-2750, 2350-2100, 1800-1600 and 1150-950 BC.

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