Thebes (THEBHE, or DIOSPOLIS MAGNA) was the Greek name of a city of Egypt, and its capital during the empire, called in the Bible No-Amon (נאֹ אָמוֹן; Sept. μερὶς Α᾿μμών; Na 3:8) or No (נאֹ; Sept. Διόσ πολις; Jer 46:25; Eze 30:14-16), famous in all ancient history.
I. Name. —The ancient Egyptian names of Thebes are, as usual, two. The civil name, perhaps the more ancient of the two, is Ap-t, Ap-tu (Brugsch, Geographische Inschriften, 1. 177, pl. 36:No. 781-784). Hence the Coptic tape, which shows that the fem. article was in this case transferred in pronunciation, and explains the origin of the classical forms, θήβη, θῆβαι, Thebe, Thebae (see Wilkinson, Modern Egypt and Thebes, 2, 136, 137). The sacred name has two forms, Pt-A men or perhaps Par-Amen (Brugsch, Geographische Inschriften, 1, 177, No. 780), the "house of Amen," or Jupiter-Ammon, preserved in the Coptic pianoun; and Nru-Amen, the "city of Amen," the sound of the first part of which has been discovered by M. Chabas, who reads No-Amun (Recherches sur le Nors Egypt. de Thebes, p. 5). The latter form of the sacred name is transcribed in the Hebrew No- Amon, and it is easy to understand the use of its first part Nu, "the city," instead of the whole, at a time when Thebes was still the most important city of Egypt. This sacred name of Thebes, "the abode of Amon," the Greeks reproduced in their Diospolis (Διὸς πόλις), especially with the addition the Great (ἡ μεγάλη), denoting that this was the chief seat of Jupiter-Ammon, and distinguishing it from Diospolis the Less (ἡ μικρά). Of the twenty names, or districts, into which Upper Egypt was divided, the fourth in order, 'proceeding northward from Nubia, was designated in the hieroglyphics as Za'm-the Phathyrite of the Greeks — and Thebes appears as the Za'm-city," the principal city or metropolis of the Za'm name. In later times the name Za'm was applied in common speech to a particular locality on the western side of Thebes.
II. Position. —The situation of Thebes with reference to the rest of Egypt well suited it to be the capital of the country. Though farther from the Mediterranean and Syria than Memphis, it was more secure from invasion; and if it was far from the northern trade, it commanded the chief line of commerce from the Red Sea. The actual site is, perhaps, the best of any ancient town of Upper Egypt. Here the valley, usually straitened by the mountains on one side, if not on both, opens out into a plain, which is comparatively spacious. On the west bank the mountains leave a broad band of cultivable land; on the east they recede in a semicircle. On the former side they rise to a fine peak about 1200 feet high, unlike the level cliff-like form of the opposite range, a form seldom varied on either bank throughout the whole valley. The plain between is about two miles long, and has an extreme breadth of about four miles, no large space for a great capital except in Egypt. Through the center of this plain flows the river Nile, usually at this point about half a mile in width, but at the inundation overflowing the plain, especially upon the western bank, for a breadth of two or more miles.
The monuments do not arrest the attention of the traveler as he sails up the river as do the pyramids of Memphis. On the east the massive fort-like winged portal of El-Karnak and the colonnade of El-Uksur (Luxor), and on the west the hills honeycombed with sepulchral grottos, are the most remarkable objects to be seen, but, being far apart, they are singly seen from the river. If viewed from the western mountain, the many monuments of Thebes give an idea of the grandeur of this ancient city, the greatest in the world for magnificence.
1. Classical. —The origin of the city is lost in antiquity. Niebuhr is of opinion that Thebes was much older than Memphis, and that "after the center of Egyptian life was transferred to Lower Egypt, Memphis acquired its greatness through the ruin of Thebes" (Lectures on Ancient History, lect. 7). Other authorities assign priority to Memphis. But both cities date from our earliest authentic knowledge of Egyptian history. The first allusion to Thebes in classical literature is the familiar passage of the Iliad (9, 381-385): "Egyptian Thebes, where are vast treasures laid up in the houses; where are a hundred gates, and from each two hundred men go forth with horses and chariots." Homer-speaking with a poet's license, and not with the accuracy of a statistician--no doubt incorporated into his verse the glowing accounts of the Egyptian capital current in his time. Wilkinson thinks it conclusive against a literal understanding of Homer that no traces of an ancient city-wall can be found at Thebes, and accepts as probable the suggestion of Diodorus Siculus that the "gates" of Homer may have been the propylsea of the temples: "Non centum portas habuisse urbem, sed multa et ingentia templorum vestibula" (1, 45, 7). In the time of Diodorus, the city-wall, if any there was, had already disappeared, and the question of its existence -in Homer's time was in dispute. But, on the other hand, to regard the "gates" of Homer as temple-porches is to make these the barracks of the army, since from these gates the horsemen and chariots issue forth to war. The almost universal custom of walling the cities of antiquity, and the poet's reference to the gates as pouring forth troops, point strongly to the supposition that the vast area of Thebes was surrounded with a wall having many gates.
Homer's allusion to the treasures of the city, and to the size of its: standing army, numbering 20,000 chariots, shows the early repute of Thebes for wealth and power. Its fame as a great capital had crossed the seawhen Greece was yet in its infancy as a nation. It has been questioned whether Herodotus visited Upper Egypt, but he says, "I went.to Heliopolis and to Thebes, expressly to try whether the priests of those places would agree in their accounts with the priests at Memphis" (2, 3). Afterwards he describes the features of the Nile valley, and the chief points and distances upon the river, as only an eye-witness would be'likely to record them. He informs us that "from Heliopolis to Thebes is nine days'sail up the river, the distance 4800 stadia ... and the distance from the sea inland to Thebes 6120 stadia" (2, 8, 9). In ch. 29 of the same book he states that he ascended the Nile as high as Elephantine. Herodotus, however, gives no particular account of the city, which in his time had lost much of its ancient grandeur. He alludes to the Temple of Jupiter there, with its ram-headed image, and to the fact that goats, never sheep, were offered in sacrifice. In the 1st century before Christ, Diodorus ivisited Thebes, and he devotes several sections of his geniral work to its history and appearance. Though he saw the city when it had sunk to quite secondary importance, he preserves the tradition of its early grandeur-its circuit of 140 stadia, the size of its public edifices, the magnificence of its temples, the number -of its monuments, the dimensions of its private houses, some of them'four or five stories high-all giving it an air of grandeur and beauty surpassing not only all other cities of Egypt, but of the world. Diodorus deplores the spoiling of its buildings and monuments by Cambyses (1, 45, 46). Strabo, who visited Egypt a little later-at about the beginning of the Christian sera-thus describes (17, 816) the city under the name Diospolis: "Vestiges of its magnitude still exist which extend eighty stadia in length. There are a great number of temples, many of which Cambvses mutilated. The spot is at present occupied by villages. One part of it, in which is'the city, lies in Arabia; another is in the country on the other side of the river, where is the Memnonium." Strabo here makes the Nile the dividing line between Libya and Arabia. The temples of El-Karnak and El-Uksur (Luxor) are on the eastern side of the river, where was probably the main part of the city. Strabo gives the following description of the twin colossi still standing upon the western plain: "Here are two colossal figures near each other, each consisting of a single stone. One is entire; the upper parts of the other, from the chair, are fallen down the effect, it is said, of an earthquake. It is believed that once a day a noise, as of a slight blow, issues from the part of the statue which remains in the seat, and on its base. When I was at those places, with Elius Gallus, and numerous friends and soldiers about him, I heard a noise at the first hour of the day, but whether proceeding from the base or from the colossus, or produced on purpose by some of those standing around the base, I cannot confidently assert. For, from the uncertainty of the cause, I am inclined to believe anything rather than that stones disposed in that manner could send forth sound" (17, 46). Simple, honest, sceptical Strabo! Eighteen centuries later some travellers have interrogated these same stones as to the ancient mystery of sound; and not at sunrise, but in the glaring noon, the statue has emitted a sharp, clear sound like the ringing of a disk of brass under a sudden concussion. This was produced by a ragged urchin, who, for a few piastres, clambered up the knees of the "vocal Memnon," and, there effectually concealing himself from observation, struck with a hammer a sonorous stone in the lap of the statue. Wilkinson conjectures that the priests had a secret chamber in the body of the statue, from which they could strike it unobserved at the instant of sunrise, thus producing in the credulous multitude the notion of a supernatural phenomenon. . It is difficult to conceive, however, that such a'trick, performed in open day, could have escaped detection, and -we are therefore left to share the mingled wonder and scepticism of Strabo (see Thompson, Photographic Views of Egypt, Past and Present, p. 156).
Pliny speaks of Thebes in Egypt as known to fame as "a hanging city," i.e. built upon arches, so that an army could be led forth from beneath the city while the inhabitants above were wholly unconscious of it. He'mentions also that the river flows through the middle of the city. But he questions the story of the arches, because, "if this had really been the case, there is no doubt that Homer would have mentioned it, seeing that he has celebrated the hundred gates of Thebes." Do not the two stories possibly explain each other? May there not have been near the river-line arched buildings used as barracks, from whose gateways issued forth 20,000 chariots of war?
2. Monumental. —The oldest royal names found at Thebes are those of kings of the Nantef line, who are known to have been there buried, and who are variously assigned to the 9th and the 11th dynasty, but undoubtedly reigned not long before the 12th. The 11th dynasty, which probably.ruled about half a cbntury, began about 2000 years B.C.; and the 12th was, like it, of Theban kings, according to Manetho, the Egyptian historian. The rise of the city to importance may therefore be dated with the beginning of the first Theban dynasty. With the 12th dynasty it became the capital of Egypt, and continued so for the 200 years of the rule of that line. Of this powerful dynasty the chief monument there is only part of the ancient sanctuary of the great temple of Amen-ra, now called that of El- Karnak. The 12th dynasty was succeeded by the 13th, which appears after a time to have lost the rule of all Egypt by the establishment of a foreign Shepherd dynasty, the 15th to the 17th. Theban kings of the 12th and 13th dynasties continued, however, to govern a limited kingdom, tributary to the Shepherds, until an insurrection arose which led to the conquest of the foreigners and the capture of their capital Zoan by Aahmes, the head of the 18th dynasty and founder of the Egyptian empire, which Was ruled by this and the 19th and 20th dynasties, all of Theban kings, for about 400 years from B.C. cir. 1492. During this period Thebes was the capital of the kingdom, and of an empire of which the northern limit was Mesopotamia, and. the southern a territory upon the Upper Nile; and then, especially by the kings of the 18th and 19th dynasties, those great monuments which make Thebes the most wonderful site in Egypt were founded or excavated. The kings who have left the finest works are Thothmes III and Amenoph III of the 18th dynasty, Sethos I and Rameses II of the 19th, and. Rameses III of the 20th (19th); but throughout the period of the empire the capital was constantly beautified. During the 20th dynasty the high-priests of Amen-ra gained the sovereign power, perhaps corresponding to Mlanetho's 21st dynasty, which he calls of Tanites, and which must in this case be considered as. of Thebans. They continued to add to the monuments of the capital, though, like the later kings of the empire, their constructions were not of remarkable size. The 22nd dynasty, headed by Sheshenk I, the Shishak of the, Bible, seems still to have treated Thebes as the capital, although they embellished their native city, Bubastis, in the Delta. Under them and the kings of the 23rd, who were evidently of the same line, some additions were made to its temples, but no great independent structures seem to have been raised. The most interesting of these additions is Shishak's list of the countries, cities, and tribes conquered or ruled by him, including the names of those captured from Rehoboam, sculptured in the great temple of ElKarnak. Under the 23rd dynasty a period of dissension began, and lasted for some years until the Ethiopian conquest, and establishment of an Ethiopian dynasty, the 25th, about B.C. 714 (see De Rougd's interesting paper, Inscr. Hist. du Roi Pianchi-Meriamoun, in the Rev. Arch. N. S. 8:94 sq.). At this time the importance of Thebes must have greatly fallen, but it is probable that the Ethiopians made it their Egyptian capital, for their sculptures found there show that they were careful to add their records to those of the long series of sovereigns who reigned at Thebes. It is at the time of the 25th dynasty. to which we may reasonably assign a duration of fifty years, that Thebes is first mentioned in Scripture, and from this period to that of the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar it is spoken of as one of the chief cities of Egypt, or as No, "the city." Under the Ethiopians it was no more than a provincial capital; immediately after their rule it was taken twice at least by the Assyrians. Asshur-bani-pal, son and successor of Esar-haddon (Asshur- akh-idanna), who came to the throne about B.C. 667-666, in a first expedition defeated the troops of Tirhakah, and captured the city of Ni'a; a second time he invaded the country, which had revolted, and again captured Ni'a. The exact time of these events has not been fixed, but it is evident that they occurred either at the close of the rule of the Ethiopian dynasty, or early in that of the Saite 26th, when Egypt was governed by the Dodecarchy. Tirhakah and Niku, evidently Necho I, the father of Psammetichus I, are mentioned almost as late as the time of the second expedition. Psammetichus I came to the throne B.C. 664, and therefore it is probable that these events took place not long before, and about the time of, or a little after, his accession. These dates are especially important, as it is probable that the prophet Nahum refers to the first capture when warning Nineveh by the fate of her great rival. But this reference may be to a still earlier capture by the Assyrians, for Esar-haddon conquered Egypt and Ethiopia, though it is not distinctly stated that he captured Thebes (see Rawlinson, Illustrations of Egyptian History, etc. from the Cuneiform. Inscriptions, in the Transactions of the R. S. Lit., 2nd ser. 7:137 sq.). The Saite kings of the 26th dynasty continued to embellish Thebes, which does not seem to have suffered in its monuments from the Assyrians; but when their rule came to an end with the Persian conquest by Cambyses, it evidently endured a far more severe blow. Later Egyptian kings still added to its edifices, and the earlier Greek sovereigns followed their example. The revolt against Ptolemy X Lathyrus, in which Thebes stood a siege of three years, was the final blow to its prosperity.
In subsequent times its population dwelt in small villages, and Thebes no longer existed as a city, and this has been the case ever since; no one of these villages, or those that have succeeded them — for the same sites do not appear in all cases to have been occupied having risen to the importance of a city. At the present time there are two villages on the eastern bank, El-Karnak and El-Uksur (Luxor); the former, which is inconsiderable, near the oldest part of ancient Thebes; the latter, which: is large and the most important place on the site, so as to deserve to be called a small town, lying some distance to the south on the river's bank. Opposite El-Karnak is the ruined village of El-Kurneh, of which the population mainly-inhabit sepulchral grottos; and opposite El-Uksur is the village of El-Ba'irat, which, indeed, is almost beyond the circuit of the monuments of Thebes.
IV. Description. —The plan of the city, as indicated by the principal monuments, was nearly quadrangular, measuring two miles from north to south, and four from east to west. Its four great landmarks still are El- Karnaku and El-Uksur upon the eastern or Arabian side, and El-Kurneh and Medinet-Habf upon the western or Libyan side. There are indications that each of these temples may have been connected with those facing it upon two sides by grand dromoi, lined with sphinxes and other colossal figures. Upon the western bank there was almost a continuous line of temples and public edifices distance of two miles, "rom El-Kurneh to Medinet-Habft, and Wilkinson conjectures that from a point near the latter, perhaps in the line of the colossi, the "Royal Street" ran down to the river, which was crossed by a ferry terminating at El-Uksur on the eastern Side.
As Memphis is remarkable for its vast -necropolis, Thebes surpasses the other cities of Egypt in its temples. The primeval kings of Egypt who ruled at the northern capital were tomb-builders, those who preferred the southern capital were rather temple-builders; and as the works of the former give us the best insight into the characteristics of the national mind, those of the latter tell us the history of the country under its most powerful kings. Thebes is the most thoroughly historical site in Egypt. The temples are not only covered with the sculptured representations and histories of the chief campaigns of the conquering kings and the similar records of their presents to the shrines, and many other details of historical interest, but they have the advantage of showing, in the case of the most important temple or rather collection of temples, what was added under each dynasty, almost each reign, from the 16th century B.C. to the Roman dominion; and thus they indicate the wealth, the power, and the state of art during the chief part of the period for which Thebes was either the capital or an important city of Egypt. The following is the plan of an Egyptian temple (q.v.) of the age of the empire: An avenue of sphinxes, with, at intervals, pairs of colossal statues of a king, usually seated, led up to its entrance. The gate was flanked by lofty and broad wings, extending along the whole front of the temple, the long horizontal-lines of which were relieved by tapering obelisks. The first hall was usually hypanthia unless perhaps it had a wooden roof and was surrounded by colonnades. The second, but some-, times the third, was filled with columns in avenues, the central avenue being loftier than the rest, and supporting a raised portion of the roof. Beyond were the naos and various chambers, all smaller than the court or courts and the hall. This plan was not greatly varied in the Theban temples of which the remains are sufficient for us to form an opinion. The great temple of El Karnak, dedicated to Amen-ra, the chief god of Thebes, was founded at least as early as the time of the12th dynasty, but is mainly of the age of the 18th and 19th. The first winged portal, which is more than 360 feet wide, forms the front of a court 329 feet wide, and 275 long. Outside the eastern portion of the south wall of this. court is sculptured the famous list of the dominions and conquests of Sheshenk I, the Shishak of Scripture, which has already been mentioned. SEE SHISHAK. The great hall of columns is immediately beyond the court, and is of the same width, but 170 feet long it was supported by 134 columns, the loftiest of which, forming the central avenue, are nearly seventy feet high, and about twelve in diameter; the rest more than forty feet high, and about nine in diameter. This forest of columns produces a singularly grand effect. The external sculptures commemorate the wars of Sethos I and his son Rameses II, mainly in Syria. Beyond the great hall are many ruined chambers, and two great obelisks standing in their places amid a heap of ruins. More than a mile to the south-west of the temple-of El Karnak is that of El-Uksur (Luxor), a smaller but still gigantic edifice of the same character and age, on the bank of the Nile, and having within and partly around it the houses of the modern village. On the western bank are three temples of importance, a small one of Sethos I, the beautiful Rameseum ,of Rameses II, commonly called the Memnonium, and the stately temple of Rameses II, the Rameseum of Medinet-Habt, extending in this order towards the south. Between the Rameseum of Rameses II and that of Rameses III was a temple raised by Amenoph III, of which scarcely any remains are now standing, except the two great colossi, the Vocal Memnon and its fellow, monoliths about forty-seven feet high, exclusive of the pedestals, which have a height of about twelve feet. They represented Amenoph, and were part of the dromos which led to his temple. Besides these temples of Western Thebes, the desert tract beneath the mountain bordering the cultivable land and the lower elevations of the mountain, in addition to almost countless mummy-pits, are covered with built tombs, and honey- combed with sepulchral grottos, which, in their beautiful paintings, tell us the lives of the former occupants, or represent the mystical subjects of the soul's existence after death. The latter are almost exclusively the decorations of the Tombs of the Kings, which are excavated in two remote valleys behind the mountain. These tombs are generally very deep galleries, and are remarkable for the extreme delicacy of their paintings, which; like most of the historical records of Thebes, have suffered more at the hands of civilized barbarians in this century than from the effects of time. For fuller descriptions, see the numerous histories and books of travel on Egypt. The ruins have been copiously depicted photographically. SEE EGYPT.
V. Biblical Notices. —The most remarkable of the notices of Thebes in the Bible is that in Nahum, where the prophet warns Nineveh by her rival's overthrow. "Art thou better than No-Amon, that was situate among the rivers, [that had] the waters round about it, whose rampart [was] the sea, [and] her wall [was] from the sea?" Notwithstanding her natural as well as political strength, Thebes had been sacked and the people carried captive (3, 8-10). The description of the city applies remarkably to Thebes, which alone of all the cities of Egypt was built on both sides of the river, here twice called, as now by the modern inhabitants, the sea. The prophecy that it should be rent asunder" (Eze 30:16) probably primarily refers to its breaking-up or capture; but the traveler can scarcely doubt a second and more literal sense when he looks upon its vast torn and heaped-up ruins.
The other notices are in Eze 14:15, and in Jer 46:25. See No.