Nehi and Hornakht at Sai Island

Getting ready for the 8. Tagung zur ägyptischen Königsideologie in Budapest (12-14 May, 2016)!

Budka_Budapest 2016

I will speak on this occasion about “Constructing royal authority in New Kingdom towns in Nubia: some thoughts based on inscribed monuments from private residences”. The practice of decorating private residences with scenes of adoring the ruling king, represented by his cartouches, and with corresponding texts giving praise to the king is well attested in the New Kingdom. From the reign of Thutmose III onwards, there are examples from officials of various ranks and with diverse duties at sites located in both Egypt and Nubia. These scenes and texts—like other sources—clearly illustrate that for an Egyptian official, loyalty to the king was the key to general well-being and promotion. My paper will highlight a number of aspects of royal authority and its construction in the New Kingdom temple towns of Nubia, which were built on behalf of the living ruler within a “foreign” landscape.

One important aspect is that power of the king was embodied in Lower and Upper Nubia by the viceroy of Kush and his deputies. This can be nicely illustrated by finds from Sai Island, as I tried to show at the last Königsideologietagung in Prague. At Budapest, I will present new discoveries by AcrossBorders attesting to two well-known high officials:  viceroy Nehi under the reign of Thutmose III and deputy of Kush Hornakht under Ramesses II.

SAV1E 2326 (thumbnail)Among the numerous clay sealings from feature 15, there is also one piece (SAV1E 2326), which gives the name and a specific title for Nehi.

Hornakht was already well attested from several door jambs and lintels found at Sai and Abri – but recent work in cemetery SAC5 allows reconstructing the pyramid tomb of this deputy of Kush from the 19th Dynasty on Sai.

Budka_Budapest HornakhtAll in all, I will propose some new thoughts on the perception of the power of Egyptian kingship in New Kingdom Nubia – looking much forward to feedback and discussions and of course to all of the other papers at the Königstagung in Budapest!

Some thoughts on the Legitimization of Pharaonic Power in Nubia

Back in 2013, I was fortunate to participate in the highly interesting 7. Tagung zur Königsideologie (June 26-28 2013), hosted by the Charles University in Prague and dedicated to “Royal versus Divine Authority. Acquisition, Legitimization and Renewal of Power”. The proceedings are now published and I would like to summarise some of my ideas given in this paper (Budka 2015).

Taking Sai Island and the evolution of its fortified town of the New Kingdom with a small sandstone temple as a case study, I tried to re-examine the evidence for Egyptian authority in Upper Nubia during the Eighteenth Dynasty. Focal points are the viceregal administration, the most important deities, the temples and the royal cult in Nubia. Considerable limits in assessing real dynamics in Upper Nubia during the early New Kingdom are highlighted and the potential of an approach which includes both archaeological and textual sources is stressed.

AcrossBorders’ work on the evolution of the Pharaonic settlement at Sai Island is still in progress – our 2015 field season resulted in many interesting new finds highly relevant for administrative aspects. In 2013, the purpose of my Prague paper was presenting preliminary results and highlighting the potential contribution of settlement archaeology to understand power structures during the New Kingdom.

The basic outline of the Egyptian Administration in Nubia is well understood and has been discussed by several scholars, most recently by Müller (2013) and Morkot (2013). Tracing the local administration on a regional level becomes more difficult, and here it is especially challenging to speak about the persons involved. I tried to address in the paper some of the individuals behind the “re-conquest” of Kush and speak about personal dynamics, taking the viceroys of Kush and mayors as examples. Two individuals with the title “H3tj-c” have been buried on Sai (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012), but as yet no in situ evidence for the mayor of Sai was found within the walled town.

MayorsAll in all, I hope to have illustrated in the article the changing character of Sai from the reign of Ahmose Nebpehtyra to Thutmose III, very well traceable in both the architecture and the material culture. The “re-conquest” of Kush was a long process with changing Pharaonic authority and differing areas of influence. The new administrative system and the divine kingship established under Thutmose III reflect political changes and altered power structures in Upper Nubia (cf. Török 2009), and within this system Sai developed to become a very important centre.

Budka Prague Königsideologie 2013aOur still limited understanding of the real dynamics in Upper Nubia during the early New Kingdom will hopefully be improved by the ongoing fieldwork on key sites like Sai, Sesebi and others. Quoting from my paper: “At present, it is essential to consider the lack of evidence for Egyptian authority in Kush at the beginning of the New Kingdom, but to carefully distinguish it from confirmed lack of presence.” (Budka 2015, 81).


Budka 2015 = J. Budka, The Egyptian “Re-conquest of Nubia” in the New Kingdom – Some Thoughts on the Legitimization of Pharaonic Power in the South, in: Royal versus Divine Authrority. Acquisiation, Legitimization and Renewal of Power, 7th Symposium on Egyptian Royal Ideology, Prague, June 26-28, 2013, ed. by F. Coppens, J. Janák & H. Vymazalová, Königtum, Staat und Gesellschaft früher Hochkulturen 4,4, Wiesbaden 2015, 63-82.

Minault-Gout/Thill 2012 = A. Minault-Gout, F. Thill, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), Fouilles de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 69, Cairo 2012.

Morkot 2013 = R. Morkot, From conquered to conqueror: the organization of Nubia in the New Kingdom and the Kushite administration of Egypt, in J. C. Moreno García (ed.), The Administration of Egypt, Handbuch der Orientalistik 104, Leiden 2013, 911-963.

Müller 2013 = I. Müller, Die Verwaltung Nubiens im Neuen Reich, Meroitica 18, Wiesbaden 2013.

Török 2009 = L. Török, Between Two Worlds: The Frontier Region between Ancient Nubia and Egypt 3700 BC – 500 AD, Probleme der Ägyptologie 29, Leiden 2009.

Conference on Königsideologie at Prague

Getting ready to travel this afternoon to Prague for the 7. Tagung zur Königsideologie (June 26-28 2013). The Conference is hosted by Charles University in Prague and dedicated to “Royal versus Divine Authority. Acquisition, Legitimization and Renewal of Power”. A heterogeneous group of international scholars will tackle this highly interesting subject from diverse perspectives and for different time periods – from the Early Dynastic to Roman times with a number of papers on the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Both the programme and the abstracts are available online:

Budka Prague Nubia 2013 2506 Folie 1

My own paper is entitled “The Egyptian “re-conquest of Nubia” in the New Kingdom – some thoughts on the legitimization of Pharaonic power in the South”.  Much has been written about the so-called “re-conquest of Nubia” during the early New Kingdom. Thanks to current fieldwork in both Egypt and Nubia, our state of knowledge has markedly improved in the last years, but nevertheless the details of this period of Egyptian campaigns against the South are still not firmly established. Recent work by the French Sai Island Archaeological Mission (Lille 3 University) and AcrossBorders on Sai Island has produced new evidence for the establishment of Pharaonic administration in Upper Nubia. Taking Sai Island and the evolution of its fortified town with a small sandstone temple as a case study, this paper will re-examine the evidence for Egyptian authority in Upper Nubia during the 18th Dynasty. The viceregal administration, gods and temples and royal cult are the focal points of the presentation.

I am very much looking forward to the conference and to a hopefully vivid discussion – after all, my paper is based on work in progress; future fieldwork in Sudan – at Sai Island, but also important sites like Sesebi, Tombos and Dukki Gel – will hopefully improve our current state of knowledge.

Thutmoside officials and royal building activity in Nubia

The fortified town of Sai Island saw its heyday during the reign of Thutmose III – this was confirmed and well-illustrated by our recent excavation in SAV1 East and the discovery of Building A, possibly contemporaneous to both Temple A and the buildings with an orthogonal layout in the Southern part of the town, including the governor’s residence.

The major sanctuary on Sai, the Amun temple labelled Temple A and built by viceroy Nehi under Thutmose III, had several building phases, recently presented by Jean-François Carlotti (Carlotti 2011-2012).  Carlotti has stressed similarities of Temple A at Sai with the temples of Semna and Kumma.

The temple of Kumma in its modern surrounding.

The temple of Kumma in its modern surrounding.

Interestingly, the major building phases of these temples, nowadays open for visitors in the garden of the National Museum of Antiquities in Khartoum, are also associated with Thutmose III. Like on Sai, the involvement of viceroy Nehi is attested who followed a royal decree to build the monuments.

One inscription and a representation of Nehi have survived in Semna (Caminos 1998, 38-40, panel 10). At Kumma, evidence for one of the predecessors of Nehi, viceroy Senny is preserved.

Viceroy Senny, temple of Kumma.
Viceroy Senny, temple of Kumma.

It is well known that the supervision of building activities was one of the major tasks of the viceroy of Kush as highest official of the Nubian administration (cf. Zibelius-Chen 2013, 140-146). What is still unclear and debated is whether (and if for how long) the viceroys stayed in Nubia – this will be investigated by AcrossBorders in the upcoming years with Sai Island as prime case study. From the late 18th Dynasty onwards, the office of a deputy of the viceroy is attested, soon being divided as jdnw n KAS and jdnw n WAwAt. Two deputies of the viceroy were thus responsible for Lower and Upper Nubia, maybe indicating that their superior himself was mainly residing in Egypt proper and could rely on loyal representatives in Nubia.

Many temples in Nubia have been found without any evidence of settlement remains in the surroundings – this is probably due to the state of preservation of mud brick buildings and does not indicate an isolation of religious buildings in the area. Only in the case of the so-called temple towns (Sai Island falls amongst others in this category), temples can be interpreted within their ancient context of administrative buildings and storage facilities. Possible residential quarters for viceroys of Kush are attested during the 18th Dynasty primarily at Aniba and possibly Faras. At Semna, inscriptions of viceroys with domestic origin, indicating a residence at the site, are only attested from the Ramesside period, thus post-dating the Thutmoside temple (see Budka 2001, 87). The abundant evidence for Nehi and other viceroys of the Thutmoside era (e.g. Usersatet, see Thill 2011-2012, 285) at Sai Island strongly suggests a temporary residence of these officials at the site – details of which remain to be assessed taking into account the complex archaeology of the New Kingdom town of Sai.


Budka 2001 = J. Budka, Der König an der Haustür. Die Rolle des ägyptischen Herrschers an dekorierten Türgewänden von Be­a­m­ten im Neuen Reich, Beiträge zur Ägyptologie 19, Vienna 2001.

 Caminos 1998 = R. Caminos, Semna-Kumma I. The Temple of Semna, Archaeological Survey of Egypt 37th Mem., EES, London 1998.

Carlotti 2011-2012 = J.-F. Carlotti, II. L’architecture du temple A et ses modifications, 36-47, in: M. Azim/J.-F. Carlotti, Le temple à de l’île de Saï et ses abords, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 29, 2011-2012, 11–63.

Thill 2011-2012 = F- Thill, Statuaire privée égyptienne de Saï, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 29, 2011-2012, 253-295.

Zibelius-Chen 2013 = K. Zibelius-Chen, Nubien wird ägyptische Kolonie, in: St. Wenig/K. Zibelius-Chen (eds.), Die Kulturen Nubiens – ein afrikanisches Vermächtnis, Dettelbach 2013, 135-155.

New thoughts on Building A

Back in Vienna, processing the data from the field season is keeping us busy. The most important discovery of 2013, Building A is of course still one of the focal points. In general, the new work in area SAV1 East has produced further evidence that the New Kingdom town on Sai experienced its heyday during the reign of Thutmose III and added important knowledge concerning the general layout of the town.

Despite of its fragmentary state, a tentative reconstruction of Building A is possible. Please note that this is a first assessment, any comments are very welcome!

Building A reconstruction small

Our “North”, “East” and “South” walls clearly frame a central part of the complex, but are not the outer enclosures or outer walls. This became clear as we unearthed an area covered by a floor north of wall 21 in Square 1a. This floor (marked as hatched area on the sketch above) was partly cut by later pits filled with dump material, but it is clearly contemporaneous to Building A. So we have a paved area towards our northern limits of excavations. The “Northern” wall running East-West has an obvious corner in the Northwest part of Square 1 – we might interpret this as an entrance situation, a possible doorway into a large courtyard, occupying most of Square 1 and extending into Square 2. Within this courtyard there were several pits, of which feature 6 was the most substantial circular storage installation. Towards the east, this courtyard is flanked by wall 3. This wall allows calculating the North-South extension of this part of Building A as 16.3 m; the East-West extension of the courtyard is still not fully exposed, but was traced as up to 10 m until the baulk of Square 2.

As was posted earlier, Building A finds a very close parallel in the so-called governor’s residence SAF2 in the Southern part of the New Kingdom town. The central part of this building is not a courtyard but a large columned hall with a mud brick pavement. The eastern extension of SAF2 can be compared to our traces of a mud brick wall in the Northeastern corner of SAV1 E – broken off towards the East due to the sloping ground, it is very likely that there was once a kind of annex alongside the courtyard.

Furthermore, and in analogy with SAF2, one might expect a series of small entrance rooms in the western part of Building A which is still not yet excavated. This will be investigated by means of excavations in 2014!

The functional interpretation of Building A must stay open for the moment, but we might have unearthed another administrative building within the Pharaonic town of Sai, with possible links to Temple A and/or SAF2. It is striking that we could date Building A as contemporaneous to these major buildings in the Southern part of the town which all share a common East-West-alignment along a North-South axis, thus following the typical grid pattern of fortified New Kingdom town in Nubia.

All in all, our newly discovered complex at SAV1E seems to support the important role of Sai within the Egyptian administration in Upper Nubia during the 18th Dynasty.

Crossing Borders, Encounters with “Old Friends”

One of the aims of AcrossBorders is identifying human behaviour of specific individuals under different circumstances – some persons have left textual records at both Sai and on other sites. As prominent example, Nehi, viceroy of Kush under Thutmose III, is well attested at Sai, Elephantine and also elsewhere.

One of the door jambs of Nehi, reused as treshold in the New Kingdom town

One of the door jambs of Nehi, reused as treshold in the New Kingdom town

Nehi’s monuments illustrate that mobility of administrative staff and officials is not a modern phenomenon, but was also common in Pharaonic Egypt. During the New Kingdom there is both archaeological and textual evidence that officials had temporary living quarters in different parts of Egypt as well as in Nubia. In addition, statues, stelae, shrines and in particular rock inscriptions allow tracing Egyptian officials at more than one site.

Having spent the last three days in the beautiful region of Aswan, I had the chance to think about the busy lives of the protagonists of the complex Pharaonic administration during the New Kingdom. Egyptian officials who participated in expedition and/or military campaigns towards the South had to pass through Aswan and Elephantine. Obviously they spent some time there before their departure to Nubia as hundreds of rock inscriptions attest.

Bild1 sehel

The island of Sehel is covered with hundreds of rock graffiti, a majority originating from the New Kingdom

Most importantly, I enjoyed the reunion with viceroy Nehi at Aswan – we visited Elephantine where a doorjamb of him was found and one of his most beautiful statues is kept today at the Nubian Museum in Aswan (a kneeling statue holding a sistrum).

In the upcoming years, AcrossBorders will try to tackle questions like: how did Egyptian officials like Nehi experience their job-related mobility and especially their assignments to specific sites, in our case to Sai island? Was a mission outside of Egypt more/less desirable/prestigious? Can we find differences in the ancient reception of staying in the frontier region of the First Cataract or in Nubia proper?