Medinet Madi is a site in the southwestern Faiyum region of Egypt with the remains of a Greco-Roman town where a temple of the cobra-goddess Renenutet (a harvest deity) was founded during the reigns of Amenemhat III and Amenemhat IV (1855–1799 BC). It was later expanded and embellished during the Greco-Roman period. In the Middle Kingdom, the town was called Dja; in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, it was called Narmuthis.
Location of Medinet Madi
History of Medinet Madi
In the Middle Kingdom, the town was called Dja, but not much is known about the town in this period apart from the well-preserved temple. The temple still functioned in the New Kingdom. King Merenptah placed a statue of himself in the temple. After the New Kingdom, the place was abandoned. People settled here again in Ptolemaic times.
The Ptolemaic town was laid out on a grid pattern and is about 1000 × 600 m big. The main temples are in the Western part of the town. There is a long processional way going north to South. The city never had walls. However, under emperor Diocletian, a castrum northeast of the town was built. The fortress (50 × 50 m) is square, with the main entrance in the South. At each corner, there was a tower. Here was stationed the Cohors IV Numidarum. In Byzantine times, the population moved to the southern part of the town. Several churches were erected. The town was still occupied after the Muslim conquest of Egypt but was abandoned after the ninth century.
The Renenutet temple (temple A)
The dark sandstone inner part of the temple consists of a small papyrus-columned hall leading to a sanctuary comprising three chapels, each containing statues of deities. One column bears the name of Amenemhat III, the other with the name of Amenemhat IV. Both naming also Renenutet. The central chapel incorporated a giant statue of Renenutet, with Amenemhat III and Amenemhat IV standing on either side of her. In the inscriptions, the temple is called the temple of Renenutet. Renenutet is called The living Renenutet of Dja.
The reliefs in the first hall are not well preserved, but they include a scene showing a king and the goddess Seshat founding the temple. Behind the entrance room, another one is decorated with reliefs. On the Southside, there is a scene showing Amenemhat III in front of Renenutet. The latter is depicted as a standing woman with a snakehead. Both are shown much smaller scale by the king’s daughter Neferuptah.
At the back of this room, there are the three chapels on the Northside. The first one, on the Westside, is dedicated to Renenutet. She appears as the main deity at the back of the chapel. On the side, walls are shown on the Westside Sobek, and on the East side Renenutet. The second chapel was dedicated to Renenutet and Sobek. Renenutet appears on the West wall and the back (north) wall, standing behind king Amenemhat III. The king is standing in front of Sobek, who also appears on the East wall in front of the same king. On the East wall appears Sobek again. She appears on the West and the back wall in front of Amenemhat III, while on the East wall, Sobek is standing in front of a king. The last chapel was again mainly dedicated to Renenutet.
The Ptolemaic parts of the temple comprise a paved processional way passing through an eight-columned kiosk leading to a portico and transverse vestibule. It has been suggested that the perfect preservation of this temple complex, excavated by a team of archaeologists from the University of Milan in the 1930s, may have been due simply to its relative seclusion.
Temple B was built at the back of temple A with the main entrance facing the North. The plan of this building is similar to that of temple A. There is a broad open courtyard at the front. There follows a hall, and there are three chapels at the back. The central chapel has a niche at the back. The temple was dedicated to Isis-Thermouthis (Thermouthis is the Greek name for Renenutet). The temple’s decoration is unfinished. There are some figures carved as reliefs on the temple walls. Two poorly preserved figures flanking the entrance. On the left side of the facade was carved a sitting figure that was never finished.
The so-called Temple C was dedicated to the cult of two crocodile mummies. The temple complex was excavated from 1995 to 1999. The temple lies east of the Renenutet temple, with the main entrance facing the latter temple complex. It dated to the Ptolemaic Period and was found well preserved. The walls are still up to four meters high.
The temple proper consists of a small courtyard with a chapel behind it. The chapel contains two naoi. In each of them was found the mummy of a crocodile. An immense courtyard is in front of the temple, and buildings are on both sides. They were perhaps for economic use. North of the temple was excavated a vaulted chamber. The interior is divided into two parts by a stone wall. Attached to the wall is a basin where more than thirty crocodile eggs are found. This discovery might indicate that this vaulted room was once a nursery for crocodiles. The temple complex was used until the fourth century AD and then abounded.
Medinet Madi is “the only intact temple still existing from the Middle Kingdom”, according to Zahi Hawass, a former Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). An Egyptian archaeological expedition recently uncovered the temple’s foundations, administrative buildings, granaries, and residences in early 2006.
In a house in the temple district, thousands of inscribed potsherds, so-called ostraca, were found during archaeological excavations in 1938. The majority of notes on these ostraca date from the late second and early third centuries. They are written in Demotic, Greek and Demotic-Greek script. Regarding the history of writing, these ostraca are thus evidence of how Coptic script developed from the Egyptian and Greek written languages.
In terms of content, the texts can be assigned to the milieu of priests and provide insights into various facets of their everyday life in the temple district: preserved are, for instance, notes on the calculation of personal horoscopes, school texts and a guide for archivists. Particularly unique insights into life behind the temple walls are provided by a dossier of more than one hundred ostraca, on which the priest Phatres compiled notes for a petition to the authorities. He reports on corruption, cult-related misconduct, and disputes in the local temple college in these texts.
In the late second century AD, the priests of Narmouthis drafted a petition to the authorities asking to be assisted in the performance of cult services by the priests from Soknopaiou Nesos (in the northern Faiyum). The draft was written on one of the ostraca found in the temple district. The text is thus an essential document for understanding how temples cooperated when there was a staff shortage.
Coptic texts were uncovered near Medinet Maadi in 1928. Among them was the Manichaean Psalm book, which includes the Psalms of Thomas.