The Precinct of Mut is an Ancient Egyptian temple compound located in the present city of Luxor (ancient Thebes) on the east bank of the Nile in South Karnak. The compound is one of the four fundamental ancient temples that creates the Karnak Temple Complex.
Location of the Precinct of Mut
The Mut Precinct lies 100 yards south of Amun’s Temple at Karnak, to which it is oriented, Luxor.
It is approximately 325 meters (1,066 feet) south of the precinct of the god Amun. The precinct encompasses about 90,000 square meters (968,751 square feet) of the entire area. The Mut Precinct contains at least six temples: the Mut Temple, the Contra Temple, and Temples A, B, C, and D. Surrounding the Mut Temple proper, on three sides, is a sacred lake called the Isheru. To the south of the sacred lake is a vast amount of land currently being excavated by Dr Betsy Bryan and her team from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Today, most of the compound is still destroyed, but it is currently being renovated. Surrounding the Mut Temple, the Contra Temple, and Temples A, B, C, and D, is an enclosure wall made of mud-brick dating to the 30th Dynasty. The Mut Temple proper was made of mediocre sandstone, and it is positioned north and south and is directly aligned with the Precinct of Amun. The Contra Temple, also made of mediocre sandstone, borders the Mut Temple at the south end, hence the name. It possibly dates to the 30th Dynasty, with specific alternations made during the Ptolemaic period. The purpose of the Contra Temple is still unclear. However, Fazzini states that it possibly served as a stopping point in a partially columned passage around the Mut Temple. In the northeast corner is the structure known as Temple A, and according to the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition on the Precinct of Mut, it was also called the “Temple of Millions of Years”. It was dedicated to Ramses II and the god Amun-Ra. Within the temple are two stelae, one referring to Ramsses II’s work on Temple A and the other telling of his marriage to the Hittite princess. The Brooklyn Museum states that Temple A did not become a part of the Mut Precinct until the 25th Dynasty under the reign of the Kushite king, Taharqa and during which time it became a birthing house, “mammisi”, where Ancient Egyptians would celebrate the birth of the god Khonsu, the son of Amun-Ra and Mut.
To the east of the Mut Temple is a ruined building called Temple B. Due to the amount of damage to Temple B, excavations are challenging to undergo. To the west of the sacred lake, Isheru, lies Temple C, a small temple built by Ramses III. It still retains some military scenes on the outer walls and two headless giants of the king himself before the temple entrance. The sacred lake, Isheru, was man-made and held religious importance to the cult of the goddess Mut. Temple D, or Structure D, was a chapel made during the Ptolemaic period. The front room was dedicated to the goddess Mut. The backroom shows evidence of being dedicated to a Ptolemaic ancestor cult. The Brooklyn Museum mentions one other important monument found on the site: the Taharqa gateway, about 7 yards wide and oriented south and west. It was built to enlarge the Mut Precinct and opened a new pathway to Temple A.
The goddess Mut
The goddess Mut is the wife and consort of the god Amun-Ra. She was also known as the Mother Goddess, Queen of the Goddesses, and Lady of Heaven. Mut was the Egyptian sky goddess, and her symbols were the vulture, lioness and the crown of Uraeus (rearing cobra). She was the mother of Khonsu, the god of the moon. Amun-Ra, Mut, and Khonsu made up the Theban Triad.
Who built the Mut Precinct?
Amenhotep III was initially thought to have been the first to build the Mut Temple, but now evidence tells us he contributed later to the site. The earliest dated cartouches are of Thutmose II and III of the 18th Dynasty (some evidence suggests that Thutmose’s name is likely a replacement for Hatshepsut’s erased name). According to Elizabeth Waraksa, during the 19th Dynasty, Ramsses II worked broadly on Temple A. He placed two massive statues of himself and two alabaster stelae in the front of the temple’s first pylon. During the 20th Dynasty, Ramsses III built Temple C. It was used until the 25th Dynasty. It then became a quarry for renovations for Temple A. During his reign, Kushite ruler Taharqa in the 25th Dynasty made significant changes to the Mut Precinct. He built a new sandstone gateway northwest of the site that leads to Temple A. He also renovated the Mut Temple proper parts, erecting a columned porch facing the south. Ptolemy VI, during the Ptolemaic period, erected a small chapel inside the Mut Temple proper. Several stelae found on the site mention construction by Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD.
Like Napoleon and Sir John Gardiner Wilkinson, many travellers visited the Precinct of Mut between AD 1799 and 1845. The photographs, journals, and maps dating to the early excavations have added insight into how the Mut Precinct could have looked at the time of each exploration. However, the first major excavation of the site did not occur until 1895, when Britons Margaret Benson and Janet Gourlay excavated the Precinct of Mut for three seasons (1895–7). During her excavations, Benson cleared the First and Second courts and the Contra Temple and uncovered many high-quality pieces of statues. In 1899, she publicised her work, The Temple of Mut in Asher. Excavations were not continued until the 1920s when Maurice Pillet resumed excavating the Mut Precinct. During his excavations, he restored Temples A and C. Later, in 1976, Richard A. Fazzini and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, with assistance from the Detroit Institute of Arts, did an efficient investigation of the entire Mut Precinct up until 2001. Starting in January 2001, Dr Betsy M. Bryan, in association with Johns Hopkins University, began working on the site in 2004. In the winter of 2015, Dr Bryan went to work excavating the site again.
Statues of Sekhmet
The site is notable for the statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet found there. The figures are made of diorite or “black granite”, and initially, approximately 570 granodiorite statues were thought to have been at the Precinct of Mut at one time. According to Lythgoe, Amenhotep III commissioned the many statues to be built as a “forest”. Amenhotep III described Sekhmet as the terrible, mighty goddess of war and strife and her origins came from the earlier Memphite triad as the mother-goddess. She eventually became recognised with the local Theban deity, Mut. According to Porter and Moss (1960), most of the statues came from the actual site, but some possibly came from the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III on the west bank of the Nile. Today, the figures can be found in various museums across the globe; in Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts has one seated statue. The Egyptian Museum of Cairo has six statues. In London, the British Museum has thirty statues, to name a few examples.