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.

The so-called temple towns of Nubia in the New Kingdom

Temple towns, also known as fortified towns, are a special phenomenon according to studies dealing with settlement patterns and urbanism in ancient Nubia during the New Kingdom. In most cases the published works in question are general overviews, introductions or entries in encyclopediae concerning the archaeology of ancient Egypt. Following these studies, Egyptian stone temples as well as enclosure walls were major features of New Kingdom settlements in Nubia, like Sai Island. Because of these two major elements such sites are typically called temple towns or fortified towns (e.g. Heidorn 1999; Welsby 2001; Bard 2007; for actual fortresses and military bases in New Kingdom Egypt see Morris 2005).

Presumed layout of the New Kingdom town of Sai after Azim 1975.

Presumed layout of the New Kingdom town of Sai after Azim 1975.

Kemp was one of the very first scholars, who dealt with these special settlement structures and presented the then almost generally accepted model of how a fortified town in Nubia has to look like (Kemp 1972a). The design of the towns is assumed to have been fairly uniform and they were enclosed with a mud brick wall as a rule. The internal structure was basically dominated by three types of building: a stone temple of characteristic Egyptian design as well as domestic and administrative mud brick buildings, including the civil government residence (Kemp 1972a: 653). As references Kemp cited only the settlements at Amara West and Sesebi, reflecting the restricted state of knowledge and publication back in the 1970ties.

At present, we know much more about settlements and towns founded or being reoccupied in the New Kingdom in Nubia – all of which received the designation of a temple town. Most probably the labelling is solely based on the existence of a temple. None of the authors seem to respect the other features postulated by Kemp. Furthermore, from the published works, it is impossible to say how many of these sites have been labelled as a temple town, as the opinions range from only three temple towns (Welsby 2001, Bard 2007) to 28 (Zibelius-Chen 2013)! Another contentious issue is the motivation for its development: was this due to political and religious factors (as proposed, e.g.  by Morkot 1993, 2001; Spence 2004; Bard 2007 and Zibelius-Chen 2013) or to purely economical ones (Trigger 1965; Kemp 1972a, 1972b; Heidorn 1999)?

As one can see there is much potential for a new consideration of the topic of the so-called temple towns starting with a fresh evaluation of Kemps model from 1972 considering the current state of research to the general question how a city or town has to look like for the Egyptians in Egypt and in turn in Nubia (the so-called town problem, e.g. Bietak 1979). Special attention has also to be given to the question whether some or even all of the refurbished and reoccupied Middle Kingdom-fortresses have been taken into account speaking about New Kingdom temple towns, like obviously Zibelius-Chen is doing (Zibelius-Chen 2013).

View of part of the New Kingdom Town SAV1 at Sai.

View of part of the New Kingdom Town SAV1 at Sai.

Especially Sai Island is one of the most interesting settlements among the potential temple towns or fortified towns as it was the first newly established town founded most probably by Ahmose. With all of its strategic advantages, Sai served as a bridgehead during the further expansion into Nubia (Davies 2005). As recent fieldwork has clearly illustrated, we are far away from understanding the complete layout and development of the New Kingdom town of Sai. How did the very early town founded by the Egyptians look like? Was there a predecessor for the Egyptian Amun temple built by Thutmose III? All of these questions are currently investigated by AcrossBorders.

Thus Sai fits perfectly into my envisaged PhD-Thesis at Humboldt-University Berlin briefly summarized here and I am very happy and grateful to Julia Budka, not only for her supervision of my PhD, but also for giving me the great opportunity to work as a PhD-researcher in her fantastic project. I am very pleased to have joined the AcrossBorders team!


Bard, Kathryn A. 2007. An introduction to the archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publ.

Bietak, Manfred 1979. Urban archaeology and the ‘town problem’ in ancient Egypt, in: Kent R. Weeks (eds.), Egyptology and the social sciences. 5 studies. Cairo: American Univ. in Cairo Press. 97–144.

Davies, Vivian W. 2005. Egypt and Nubia. Conflict with the Kingdom of Kush, in: Catharine H. Roehrig (ed.), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. New York, 49-56

Heidorn, Lisa A. 1999. Nubian towns and temples, in: Kathryn A. Bard & Steven Blake Shubert (eds.), Encyclopedia of the archaeology of ancient Egypt. London, New York: Routledge.   579–583.

Kemp, Barry J. 1972a. Fortified towns in Nubia, in: Peter J. Ucko & Ruth Tringham, et al. (eds.), Man, settlement and urbanism. Proceedings of a meeting of the Research Seminar in Archaeology and Related Subjects held at the Institute of Archaeology, London University. Gloucester. 651–656.

Kemp, Barry J. 1978. Imperialism and Empire in the New Kingdom Egypt (c. 1575-1087 B.C.), in: Peter Garnsey & C. R. Whittaker (eds.), Imperialism in the ancient world. The Cambridge University research seminar in ancient history. Cambridge classical studies. Cambridge [Eng.], New York: Cambridge University Press. 7–57.

Morkot, Robert G. 1993. Economic and cultural exchange between Kush and Egypt. London. Unpublished PhD thesis.

Morkot, Robert G. 2001. Egypt and Nubia, in: Susan E. Alcock (eds.), Empires. Perspectives from archaeology and history. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. 227–251

Morris, Ellen F. 2005. The architecture of imperialism: military bases and the evolution of foreign policy in Egypt’s New Kingdom. Probleme der Ägyptologie 22. Leiden: Brill.

Trigger, Bruce 1965. History and settlement in lower Nubia. Yale University publications in anthropology 69. New Haven: Dept. of Anthropology.

Welsby, Derek A. 2001. Nubia, in: Donald B. Redford (eds.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt 2. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. 551–557.

Zibelius-Chen, Karola 2013. Nubien wird ägyptische Kolonie, in: Steffen Wenig & Karola Zibelius-Chen (eds.), Die Kulturen Nubiens – ein afrikanisches Vermächtnis. Dettelbach: Röll. 135–155.

Preparing the field season, getting advice from Herodotus

The preparation of the upcoming 2014 field season is getting more and more advanced – new equipment was bought or at least ordered, including a new workstation with the fabulous software aspect3D (“Photos become 3D models – REALTIME”), a brand new Canon EOS 70D and other material for the excavation at Sai Island. Tomorrow, there will be a meeting held at Lille to finalize the schedule and to talk about future plans for research on the New Kingdom at Sai.

Very soon I’ll be booking the flights and practical information will be distributed among the fieldwork team members. All of them have been already informed about the nimiti and the strength they take… It was also hard to keep them a secret as this blog is full of pictures with people carrying handsome head mosquito nets, :-)! To lift our spirits, I would once again like to come back to Herodotus and the wealth of information he has left for us with his “The Histories”. In an earlier post I have given a translation of Book Two, 95 referring to mosquitoes. A few weeks ago the brilliant new translation by Tom Holland was published – it’s an absorbing new edition which I really enjoy flipping through (not yet enough time for proper reading…) and would recommend to every lover of the Ancient World!

Here is the mosquito paragraph in the new translation by Tom Holland (Herodotus. The Histories, Penguin Classics, London 2013):

Book Two, 95: “Various methods have been devised by the Egyptians to cope with the swarms of mosquitoes. Those who live south of the marshes benefit from the towers which they climb before going to sleep, for the winds ensure that the mosquitoes fly close to the ground. Those who live beside the marshes, however, have to make other arrangements. Every man among them possesses a net which during the day is used for fishing, but at night-time is put to an alternative use. First, its owner drapes the net over the bed in which he plans to take his rest, then he slips underneath it and goes to sleep. It is no use going to sleep wrapped up in cloth or linen, for mosquitoes can bite straight through them. Through the net, however, they do not make an attempt.” (Holland 2013, p. 145)

The last sentence is the most important one if we transfer this account to modern Sudan and to nimiti bothering us during the day – “Through the net, however, they do not make an attempt!” – insha’allah!

nimiti at Kerma cemetery

P.S.: For Herodotus and Egypt see most recently: Hérodote et l’Égypte. Regards croisés sur le Livre II de l’Enquête d’Hérodote. Actes de la journée d’étude organisée à la Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée – Lyon, le 10 mai 2010. Collection de la Maison de l’Orient méditerranéen ancien 51. Série littéraire et philosophique 18. Lyon: Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux, 2013. Available online!

We Proudly Present: AcrossBorders’ First Ph.D. Student

Starting with today, our team is further strengthenedJördis: Jördis Vieth has signed her contract for the next three years as researcher of AcrossBorders. She is well known to those who have followed our blog during the fieldwork in January to March – being one of the heroines fighting nimiti, wind & more!

I am very happy to have managed to bring Jördis in – not only as temporary field staff member but now enlarging the core team of my project! Being acquainted with her since 2006, I had plenty of time to get to know her as a person, both in the class room and on excavations in Egypt (Abydos), and as a very promising and highly motivated young colleague.

It was in particular her MA thesis which impressed me much: She wrote about “Egyptian Palace architecture in the New Kingdom” (original title: “Ägyptische Palastarchitektur des Neuen Reichs”) – a very difficult topic which she re-assessed meticulously and with new ideas, challenging some of the established terminology for settlement architecture in Egypt. With this excellent thesis, which received the highest grade at Humboldt University Berlin, Jördis is perfectly qualified to join AcrossBorders. She will primarily focus on the character of the fortified town of Sai Island, including the site into her envisaged PhD thesis about the so-called temple towns of Nubia in the New Kingdom. Jördis will conduct her PhD at Humboldt University Berlin and I am proud and honored acting as one of her supervisors to-be. Lots of aspects of settlement archaeology and the character of the Egyptian sites in Nubia during the New Kingdom are still little understood – with the ongoing fieldwork at Sai Island (and neighboring sites) and AcrossBorders’ focus on reconstructing the material world and its parameters, there is much potential: a study like Jördis is going to undertake seems timely and important.

Pots & pieces

In some respect I am very old-fashioned when it comes to analysing pottery – for example, I am still a big fan of organising a preliminary corpus of shapes on paper, with the copied drawings! It nice to have all of them together on a table and arranging them into groups, with the big advantage to simple add pieces or rearrange them differently.

DW 2908-2013

A very uncomplaining cutter…

Over 800 pencil drawings from 3 field seasons at Sai Island (2011-2013) have been quite a challenge for Daniela the last weeks – after the heroic accomplishment of copying all the drawings, she is now using the spaciousness of our nice office to deal with the arrangement of the copied pieces.

This old-fashioned but effective mode of arranging pottery drawings according to shapes and ware groups goes back to my training at Elephantine – first supervised by Dietrich Raue, helping with his Old Kingdom material and later adapting it to my New Kingdom material. At Elephantine, one of the prime considerations was to have a back-up copy of all drawings in the dig house.

Samples of paper copies of pottery drawings from Elephantine.

Samples of paper copies of pottery drawings from Elephantine: fragments of decorated marl clay vessels.

A nice group of decorated vessels from mid 18th Dynasty contexts at Elephantine provides good parallels for sherds from the New Kingdom Town of Sai Island. Marl clay bottles with a long neck are painted either in red and black, in red, black and blue, or in black only. The motifs comprise simple linear designs as well as floral and faunal elements (e.g. flowers, lotus buds, ducks and papyrus). The as-yet published parallels are dated to the reigns of Amenhotep II to Thutmose IV (see especially Hope 1987, 108–109 and 116), which corresponds well with the stratigraphic evidence at Elephantine (see Budka 2010) and also the findings from Sai. On the basis of the parallels, a Theban provenience has been proposed for the decorated vessels found at Elephantine – and this seems also very likely for Sai. We will address this issue of provenience in the upcoming years by means of scientific analysis, especially with Neutron Activation Analysis and XRF, hopefully providing more information about the contacts and exchange of wares and pots between Upper Egypt and Upper Nubia.


Budka 2010 = J. Budka, The New Kingdom-Pottery from Elephantine, in D. Raue, C. von Pilgrim, P. Kopp, F. Arnold, M. Bommas, J. Budka, M. Schultz, J. Gresky, A. Kozak and St. J. Seidlmayer, Report on the 37th season of excavation and restoration on the island of Elephantine, Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte 84, 2010, 350-352.

Hope 1987= C. A. Hope, Innovation and Decoration of Ceramics in the Mid-18th Dynasty, CCÉ 1, 1987, 97-122.

Annual Egyptological Colloquium at the British Museum: Nubia in the New Kingdom

On our way to London: Giulia, Florence and me will be attending scientific events at the British Museum, organized by our British colleagues headed by Neal Spencer. In addition, Veronica Hinterhuber, much waited-for future collaborator of AcrossBorders, will also join us on this occasion from Berlin! And I am especially happy that Huda Magzoub, our inspector from NCAM, kindly accepted an invitation as well and is already waiting for us in London!

Tomorrow we will be busy with two informal workshops, bringing together scholars currently working on New Kingdom sites in Nubia as well as some other colleagues with specific expertise. Giulia will present our pottery samples and I will mainly focus on questions of the early development of Sai at the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty. Huda has prepared a presentation on some nice New Kingdom pot sherds from the Sudan National Museum’s collection, among them an amphora from Sai with an hieratic docket.

Thursday and Friday will be completely occupied by the two-day colloquium “Nubia in the New Kingdom: Lived experience, pharaonic control and local traditions” – a very rich programme focusing on new insights from the latest fieldwork at major settlements and cemeteries in Nubia. Elephantine, Aniba, Amara West, Sai, Sesebi, Dukki Gel, Tombos and other sites will be in the spotlight – temple architecture, settlements, tombs, statues, ceramics and other finds will illustrate the complex picture of the material culture and social identities at Egyptian sites in Nubia during the New Kingdom. Abstracts of the colloquium are available via the British Museum website!

Paper in current issue of “Sokar”

The table of content of the current issue of the German journal “Sokar” is online, it will appear in print by mid July. Sokar 26 features my paper in German with the title “Die 18. Dynastie auf Sai Island (Nordsudan) – neue Puzzlesteine als Ergebnisse der Feldkampagne 2013“ (The 18th Dynasty on Sai Island – new bits and pieces as results of the 2013 field season). This well-illustrated paper (13 colour figures!) summarizes the most important outcomes of our recent work at SAV1East. I explain the discovery of Building A and its significance for our understanding of the general layout of the town – highlighting also the prominent position held by Sai Island during the mid 18th Dynasty in Upper Nubia. Besides further confirmation that the New Kingdom town at the island was founded at the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty, the 2013 excavations at SAV1East revealed a marked development and heyday of the site during the time of Thutmose III/Amenhotep II.

I can’t wait to hold the current Sokar in hands – especially because of a number of other very interesting articles, including another paper on Ancient Sudan – Angelika Lohwasser presents her recent assessment of Sanam.


During the last two weeks, I had the pleasure to share the lab with Huda, our inspector, Vicky and Nicole – still very busy and concentrate on her plenty nice fire-dogs! – and to have a first look at the Nubian ceramic assemblages from both SAV 1N (excavations 2008-12) and SAV 1E (the new excavation) areas within the Pharaonic town of Sai Island. new balance 574
I am very grateful to Julia Budka to allow me to access these materials and to daily exchange with me precious remarks and ideas about pottery! Having the opportunity to study and to compare these ceramics already now, on the field, is really useful to me and also very important in order to elaborate the best sampling strategy for the future laboratory analyses (OM, XRPD, XRF, INAA)!

In these days, a preliminary macroscopic classification of the wares was realized and four different fabrics were recognized, basing on content and the typology of the main non-plastic inclusions present in the pastes. nike free gym
As a general remark, all the Nubian wares are characterized by a sandy-silt matrix and contain – in a variable amount – small (< 0,5 mm) to medium (1 < 2 mm) quartz grains, mica plus white calcareous inclusions (probably micritic calcite aggregates?). Organics (dung and/or straw and chaff remains) are also present and they seem to represent the main tempering agent used by the ancient potters.

Example of Nubian Fabric 1 - Fine ware, dung tempered

Example of Nubian Fabric 1 – Fine ware, dung tempered

Example of Nubian Fabric 3 - Coarse ware, chaff tempered

Example of Nubian Fabric 3 – Coarse ware, chaff tempered

It was a very nice ‘surprise’ to me realizing close similarities between these ceramics of the New Kingdom (c. 1500-1100 BC) and their ‘ancestors’ from the Pre-Kerma period (c. 3000- 2600 BC)!  Such a continuity observed in the selection of both raw material and tempers appears to be the result of a very ancient and durable local tradition; highly important to recognize and to understand in its cultural and social meaning!
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In the next days, I will have also the opportunity to compare this Nubian material with the Egyptian-style pottery from the same contexts!