Bubastis, also known in Arabic as Tell-Basta or in Egyptian as Per-Bast, was an ancient Egyptian city. Bubastis is often identified with the biblical Pi-Beseth (Hebrew: פי-בסת py-bst, Ezekiel 30:17). It was the capital of its nome, located along the Nile River in the Delta region of Lower Egypt. It was notable as a centre of worship for the feline goddess Bastet and, therefore, the principal depository in Egypt of mummies of cats.
Location of Bubastis
The name of Bubastis in Egyptian is Pr-Bȝst.t, conventionally pronounced Per-Bast, but its Earlier Egyptian pronunciation can be reconstructed as /ˈpaɾu-buˈʀistit/. It is a compound of Egyptian pr “house” and the name of the goddess Bastet; thus, the phrase means “House of Bast“. In later forms of Egyptian, sound shifts had altered the pronunciation. In Bohairic Coptic, the name is rendered Ⲡⲟⲩⲃⲁⲥϯ, Ⲡⲟⲩⲁⲥϯ or Ⲃⲟⲩⲁⲥϯ.
Bubastis was situated southwest of Tanis, upon the eastern side of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile. Bubastis served as the capital of the nome of Am-Khent, the Bubastite nome, the 18th nome of Lower Egypt. The nome and city of Bubastis were allotted to the Calasirian division of the Egyptian war-caste.
It became a royal residence after Shoshenq I, the first ruler and founder of the 22nd Dynasty, became pharaoh in 943 BC. Bubastis was at its height during this dynasty and the 23rd. It declined after the conquest by Cambyses II in 525 BC, which heralded the end of the Saite 26th Dynasty and the start of the Achaemenid Empire.
The Twenty-Second Dynasty of Egyptian monarchs consisted of nine, or, according to Eusebius, three Bubastite kings. During their reigns, the city was one of the most considerable places in the Delta. Immediately to the south of Bubastis were the allotments of land with which Psamtik I rewarded the services of his Ionian and Carian mercenaries; and on the northern side of the city commenced the Canal of the Pharaohs, which Pharaoh Necho II began (but never finished) to go between the Nile and the Red Sea.
Persian rule and decline
After Bubastis was taken by the Persians, its walls were dismantled. From this period, it gradually declined, although it appears in ecclesiastical annals among the episcopal sees of the province Augustamnica Secunda. Bubastite coins of the age of Hadrian exist. The following is the description which Herodotus gives of Bubastis, as it appeared shortly after the period of the Persian invasion, 525 BC, and Hamilton remarks that the plan of the ruins remarkably warrants the accuracy of this historical eye-witness:
Temples are more spacious and costlier than Bubastis’s, but none so pleasant to behold. It is after the following fashion. Except at the entrance, it is surrounded by water: for two canals branch off from the river, and run as far as the entrance to the temple: yet neither canal mingles with the other, but one runs on this site, and the other on that. Each canal is a hundred feet wide, and its banks are lined with trees. The propylaea are sixty feet in height and adorned with sculptures (probable intaglios in relief) nine feet high and excellent artistry. The Temple being in the middle of the city, is looked down upon from all sides as you walk around; this comes from the city having been raised, whereas the temple itself has not been moved but remains in its original place. Quite round the temple, there goes the wall adorned with sculptures. Within the inclosure is a grove of fair tall trees planted around a large building in which is the effigy (of Bast). The form of that temple is square, each side being a stadium in length. A road built of stone about three stadia long is in line with the entrance, leading eastwards through the public market. The road is about 400 feet (120 m) broad and is flanked by exceeding tall trees. It leads to the temple of Hermes.
Bubastis was a worship centre for the feline goddess Bastet, sometimes called Bubastis after the city, which the Greeks identified with Artemis. The cat was Bast’s sacred and peculiar animal, represented with a cat’s head or a lioness and frequently accompanies the deity Ptah in monumental inscriptions. The tombs at Bubastis were accordingly the principal depository in Egypt of the mummies of the cat.
The most distinguishing features of the city and nome of Bubastis were its oracle of Bast, the splendid temple of that goddess and the annual procession in honour of her. The oracle gained popularity and importance after the influx of Greek settlers into the Delta since the identification of Bast with Artemis attracted to her shrine both native Egyptians and foreigners.
The festival of Bubastis was considered the most joyous and gorgeous of all in the Egyptian calendar, as described by Herodotus:
Every description’s barges and river craft floated leisurely down the Nile, filled with men and women. The men played on pipes of lotus. The women on cymbals and tambourines, and such as had no instruments accompanied the music with clapping of hands and dances, and other joyous gestures. Thus did they while on the river: but when they came to a town on its banks, the barges were made fast, and the pilgrims disembarked, and the women sang, playfully mocked the women of that town and threw their clothes over their head. When they reached Bubastis, they held a wondrously solemn feast: and more wine of the grape was drank in those days than in the rest of the year. Such was the manner of this festival: and it is said that as many as seven hundred thousand pilgrims have been known to celebrate the Feast of Bast at the same time.
The tomb of the late New Kingdom vizier Iuty was discovered in December 1964 in the “Cemetery of the Nobles” of Bubastis by the Egyptian archaeologist Shafik Farid.