12 Greatest Cities in Ancient Egypt
Majority of ancient Egyptian cities that thrived economically and culturally usually had one thing in common: the Nile River. The Nile, the longest river in the world, played an important and an almost god-like function for the ancient Egyptians. It made farmlands fertile and fueled massive technological advancements for the tribes that settled around it. Most of the trade routes were also connected through such cities.
A typical ancient Egyptian city was walled off and had two big gates on either sides of the city. Another very important feature of those cities was the unpaved interconnecting roads situated at the hearts of towns. In terms of housing, the ancient Egyptians used mud-brick in constructing their homes. This material was easily accessible in and around the Nile.
In the course of about 3,000 years, ancient Egypt had several famous cities that ended up serving as economic and political centers of the kingdom. There were also some cities solely dedicated to the worship of particular Egyptian god or goddess. Other cities may also have served as places to house the vast number of workers that built the various magnificent temples, obelisks and Egyptian pyramids.
The following is a compilation of 12 greatest cities that existed in ancient Egypt:
Memphis- the administrative capital
Location: Lower Egypt Date established: Before 3000 BCE (the First Dynasty of Egypt) Patron Deity: the god Ptah Modern name: Mit Rahina
Memphis is considered the oldest capital city of ancient Egypt, serving from 2950 BCE to 2180 BCE. All through the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100 – c. 2686 BCE), Memphis bustled with lots of trade, arts, and craft works. At its zenith, in the year 300 BCE, Memphis could boast of about 250,000 dwellers.
Founded by King Menes, Memphis started to flourish socially and economically because it had fertile grounds suitable for farming. This was complemented by its easy access to labor and several trading posts and routes. Many of those trading routes led all the way to the Levant.
Without a doubt, Memphis was at that time the largest city on earth. People from all over Lower Egypt would come to Memphis to pray and offer sacrifices at the various temples of Egyptian gods and goddesses. The most famous god in Memphis was Ptah. The Memphis dwellers believed that Ptah was the god in charge of creation. They considered him the master craftsman that created heaven and earth. Memphis also benefited a lot from its sheer number of workers and professionals such as priests and priestesses, scribes, architects, engineers, and potters.
Today, a large section of Memphis is buried beneath an area near the village Mit Rahina.
Thebes— the religious capital
Location: Upper Egypt Date established: Before 3000 BCE (during the 4th Dynasty of Egypt) Patron Deity: the god Amun-Ra Modern name: Luxor
During the reign of very powerful rulers in Upper Egypt, the capital of the kingdom was moved from Memphis to Thebes around the 22nd century BCE. Under Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II’s rule, Thebes defeated the Herakleopolitan rulers and reunited Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Historians estimate that this reunification took place around 2055 BCE. It also ushered in the Middle Kingdom (2134 -1690 BCE). Thus, Thebes continued to remain the kingdom’s capital under several dynasties until 1279 BCE.
Thebes had an efficient means of irrigating its vast arable lands on the Nile. The leaders in the city also made sure that the city had a sound justice system. All of those factors made Thebes popular in the known world. The city peaked during the New Kingdom period (1539 to 1075 BCE) with a population of about 1 million people.
Together, Thebes and Memphis constituted the two greatest cities in ancient Egypt. Thebes was not much different than Memphis in the sense that it had functioning city administrators as well. As a result of this, Thebes became the political and religious hub of ancient Egypt.
The Temples of Karnak, located in Thebes, were famous among the people for the worship of the gods Amun-Ra, Aten, Montu and goddess Mut. The temples were considered the largest temples ever built in Egypt. Thebes also had the Temple of Luxor. Also, the famous Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens were situated a few miles from Thebes. The tomb of Tutankhamun and the Colossi of Memnon can also be found near Thebes.
The ruins of Thebes were found buried beneath modern-day Egyptian city of Luxor.
- Horus – the Egyptian God of the Sky and the Sun
- Meaning and Symbols of Amun-Ra in Egyptian Mythology
- Egyptian Goddess Hathor – Symbols, Meaning and Significance
Location: Lower Egypt Date established: 332 BCE Patron Deity: the god Serapis Modern name: Alexandria
The city of Alexandria was established after Alexander the Great of Macedon invaded Egypt in the third century BCE. There was very little or no resistance from the Egyptian rulers. As a matter of fact, historians believe that the Egyptians craved for a foreign intervention because the then-Egyptian rulers were very corrupt, oppressive and brutal. When Alexander took control of Egypt in 332 B.C.E, the people lined up to welcome and greet him.
Alexander installed a Macedonian dynasty called the Ptolemy Dynasty to rule all Egypt. He established Alexandria as the new capital of Egypt. From 332 B.C.E to 641 CE, Alexandria, a Mediterranean coast city, remained the capital of Egypt.
The Ptolemists were very instrumental in the growth of Alexandria. They were liberals and never forced Greek culture and beliefs on the Egyptians. By so doing, they nurtured Alexandria into a very developed cosmopolitan city. The city became a place of learning and technological innovations. There was the famous Library of Alexandria, named in honor of Alexander the Great. Also, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was just one of the numerous initiatives designed to create a conducive environment for business, trade, and knowledge sharing across the city.
Today, the city of Alexandria still exists along the Mediterranean. It ranks as the second largest city in modern Egypt.
Location: Upper Egypt Date established: Around 1300 BCE (During the 14th Dynasty of Egypt) Patron Deity: the god Aten Modern name: Tell el-Amarna
The reign of Amenhotep IV, also known as Pharaoh Akhenaten, saw a lot of radical and unpleasant reforms across Egypt. One of such moves undertaken by the Pharaoh was moving the capital city to Amarna (also known as the city of Akhenaten). Another very radical move was that he made the sun deity, Aten, the supreme god of Egypt.
Egyptologist and archaeologists believe that Pharaoh Akhenaten purposely built the city of Amarna for the worship of Aten. Furthermore, he imposed lots of religious restrictions on his subjects. After Akhenaten’s passing, his predecessors swiftly reversed all his decisions.
Location: Upper Egypt Date established: During the 15th Dynasty of Egypt Patron Deity: the gods Thoth and Ogdoad Modern name: El Ashmunein
Hermopolis, also known as Khmunu, was an ancient Egyptian city sandwiched between Upper and Lower Egypt. It had lots of religious priests and priestesses. The city’s inhabitants mainly worshiped the god Thoth, the god of wisdom and knowledge. Also, the city was famous for its affluent class of people. Another very interesting point worth mentioning is that the people believed Hermpolis was the birthplace of the sun.
Location: Upper Egypt Date established: During the 21st Dynasty of Egypt Patron Deity: the god Sobek Modern name: Faiyum
As the name rightly implies, Crocodilopolis was a city devoted to the worship of the crocodile god Sobek. Crocodilopolis is actually a Greek name.
It is estimated that the first inhabitants of Crocodilopolis came around about 4,000 BCE. As a result of this, many historians consider it to be one of the oldest cities in Egypt. In our day and age, the city goes by the name Faiyum.
Location: Upper Egypt Date established: Before 3000 BCE Patron Deity: the gods Osiris and Isis Modern name: al-Birba
Before the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2600- 2180 BCE), Abydos existed. That is how old Abydos is. The city held the title of being one of the most sacred cities in ancient Egypt. Egyptian mythology states that the god Osiris was buried in Abydos after he was murdered by his jealous brother, the god Set (the god of chaos and destruction).
Abydos went into a decline but was later revitalized by Ahmose in the middle of the 16th BCE. Abydos was the place where Ahmose constructed what would later become the last royal pyramid of Egypt.
The city housed quite a number of temples in honor of not just Osiris but Set as well. The temple of Seti I, which was constructed during the reigns of Seti I and Ramses II, till this day remains, although not as intact as it was about 4,000 years ago.
Nubt (Kom Ombo)
Location: Upper Egypt Date established: Before 3000 BCE (First Dynasty) Patron Deity: the god Sobek Modern name: Kom Ombo
Nubt was largely an agriculture city famous in ancient Egypt for housing the Temple of Kom Ombo. As a trading route city merged between Egypt and Nubia (what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt), Kom Ombo held a lot of strategic value to both the Egyptians and the Nubians. The Egyptians called the city Nubt which means “city of gold”. This title was in reference to the city’s vast gold deposits and other precious minerals. Kom Ombo’s deity was the crocodile god Sobek.
Location: Upper Egypt Date established: Before 3000 BCE (First Dynasty) Patron Deity: the god Khnum Modern name: Aswan
Elephantine was the border city between Egypt and the Nubians in the south. The Egyptians militarized this city to guard against attacks from the Nubia. The city was most famously associated with the gods and goddesses of water. One such example of these ancient Egyptian gods was Khnum, the god of the waters.
Location: Lower Egypt Date established: During the Old Kingdom of Egypt (Third Dynasty) Patron Deity: the goddess Hathor Modern name: Kom el-Hsn
The city of Yamu lasted from the Old Kingdom of Egypt to the Middle Kingdom. Yamu was instrumental in facilitating the movement of cattle in ancient Egypt. Also, the famous tomb of Khesuwer was sited in Yamu. The city housed the Temple of Sekhmet dedicated to the Hathor, the sky deity and divine mother of the Egyptian pharaoh.
Location: Lower Egypt Date established: Late New Kingdom (19th Dynasty) Patron Deity: the god Amun-Ra Modern name: Tell Nebesha
When the 19th dynasty of ancient Egypt came to power, their choice of capital was Tanis. The city was located in north east of the Nile Delta. Prior to the 19th Dynasty, Tanis was a vibrant city under the 14th Nome of Lower Egypt. For a period of time, Tanis served as the royal home of the 21st and 22 Dynasty of Egypt. This period saw massive expansion and renovation works made in the god Amun-Ra’s temple in Tanis. During Rome’s reign over Egypt, Tanis was abandoned completely. In 1866, archaeologists Flinders Petrie and Auguste Mariette conducted excavation works to reveal several artworks and artifact of the buried city of Tanis.
Location: Lower Egypt Date established: During the Middle Kingdom (19th Dynasty) Patron Deity: the god Set Modern name: Tell el-Dab’a
Located in the Northeastern part of the Nile Delta, Avaris existed during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. The 14th and 15th Dynasties (the Hyksos) of Egypt made it their capital. The city’s patron deity was the god Set- the god of chaos and disorder. The Hyksos King Apophis was particularly devout worshipers of Set.