Temple of Ahmose I

Temple of Ahmose I

The Temple of Ahmose I is a monumental cult complex erected by Pharaoh Ahmose I (ca. 1550-1525 B.C.) in South Abydos, Egypt. It was initially identified by Mace and Charles T. Currently between 1899 and 1902. It consisted of the last known royal pyramid complex constructed in Egypt and a variety of other contemporary structures.

Table Of Contents

Ahmose Cult

Ahmose also received veneration at North Abydos in a shrine built by his son, Amenhotep I. Textual evidence reveals a history of more than 250 years of worship of the deified Ahmose at Abydos, culminating in a popular oracle cult.

A contextual study of the cult structures of Ahmose at Abydos was undertaken by the author, involving selective re-excavation of previously documented portions of the South Abydos pyramid complex and extensive survey excavation in hitherto unexplored parts of the site.

Results of fieldwork include the recovery of important information regarding the construction history of the pyramid temple; the location of a cult structure built by or for Queen Ahmose-Nefertari (here tentatively identified as the enclosure for a subsidiary pyramid); and over 3,000 fragments of limestone which formed the architectural decoration of the pyramid temple.

Analysis and reconstruction of the relief program revealed two major themes. Fragments of battle scenes depicting an Asian enemy were discovered and interpreted as depictions of Ahmose’s conquest of the Hyksos occupiers. Additional ritual scenes (especially the provisioning of the royal offering table) appear to have been decorated under the reign of Amenhotep I.

A thorough analysis of the architectural traces from the pyramid temple and subsidiary shrine of Ahmose-Nefertari revealed a complex building history, which correlates with the textual evidence for 250 years of cultic activity. Analysis of the decorative program of the pyramid was undertaken to elucidate the ancient symbolism of the pyramid temple. The unique architectural conception of the Ahmose monumental complex at South Abydos is described and analysed concerning Memphite, Theban, and Abydene traditions of religious architecture, thereby demonstrating the pivotal role of the Ahmose complex in the development of later royal funerary monuments.

Ahmose I pyramid at Abydos is generally considered the last royal complex built in Egypt. However, it has several other distinguishing attributes, including the first known representations of horses and complex chariot warfare.

This complex was initially investigated by Arthur Mace and Charles T. Currently for the Egypt Exploration Fund between 1899 and 1902. While this early team did excavate a large part of the mortuary temple’s interior, they only published two stone architectural fragments. Still, their work was very partial. They left us a sketch map of the general location without identifying the location, size or extent of Ahmose’s pyramid and related structures.

Therefore, Stephen Harvey’s team was surprised to find thousands of inscribed fragments when they began work in 1993 on the site. Most of the fragments were corners and edges of blocks. One set of relief fragments on the eastern side of the inner court included a representation of a group of three tightly massed archers firing arrows, with teams of bridled chariot horses, ships with oars descending into the water, and fallen men recognisable by their characteristic fringed garments and long swords as Asian soldiers (probably Hyksos). Some small fragments bore the names of Apophis, who was Ahmose’s principal Hyksos opponent, and Avaris, the Hyksos capital. The excavators believe that these scenes represent the only known contemporary visual record of Ahmose’s struggles against the Hyksos.

Stephen discovered two principle types of reliefs at the site. One style characterised by high raised reliefs carved in chalky white limestone and painted in bright pastel colours can be ascribed to the actual reign of Ahmose. In contrast, a second style, more classic in nature with unpainted low raised reliefs, is probably from the rule of Amenhotep I, the son of Ahmose.

The Complex

The ruins of Ahmose at Abydos are extensive, consisting of a pyramid and mortuary complex and the town of the workers who built and later managed the facilities. The mortuary temple that is recognisable as such lies somewhat north of the pyramid. For the most part, this structure appears to be the outer section of the temple, with a plan consisting of a massive wall on the east and a central doorway that lead to a forecourt. From the forecourt, a doorway leads to a square court. Foundation blocks at the back might have supported the pillars of a colonnade. However, between this section of the temple and the pyramid itself are what probably remains of an inner court where little was found except patches of pavement and four circular granaries along the back wall. Mace also discovered a semi-circular mudbrick deposit that may have been the remains of a ramp or the temple’s inner sanctuary.

A second smaller temple was discovered at the southeast corner of the pyramid, probably dedicated to Ahmose’s sister-wife, Ahmose-Nefertari.

The pyramid had a core built of sand and loose stone rubble, which fell into ruin after losing most of its outer casing. It was probably some 52.5 meters (172 ft) square with a similar or slightly smaller height. From the remains of two intact courses of casing stones that survived at the eastern base of the pyramid, Mace estimated that its slope measured about 60 degrees. Neither Mace nor the later excavations by C. T. Currelly revealed any internal (or actual substructure) chambers.

On a line back nearly south of the pyramid and mortuary complex also lies a shrine dedicated to Tetisheri, who was Ahmose I’s grandmother. This structure is a massive mudbrick building with a shape not unlike that of a mastaba. A corridor leads through the centre of the building to a remarkable stela inscribed by Ahmose at the rear. It includes two depictions of Tetisheri and hieroglyphic text of the king’s intentions to build a pyramid in memory of his grandmother.

Further southward and on a line with the shrine to Tetisheri and Ahmose’s pyramid complex is a tomb, perhaps a cenotaph, or false tomb, built by Ahmose. This structure carved into the bedrock was rather quickly and poorly done, possibly being only a token Osirian underworld. The entrance is a small pit that leads to a low, initial horizontal passage. Rooms on both sides of the corridor are crudely shaped and left unfinished. The corridor eventually leads to a hall with a total of 18 pillars.

Finally, southward from this tomb on the same line as the pyramid and the Tetisheri shrine is a set of terraces built against the high cliffs. The bottom terrace is made of bricks and measures 300 feet in length, with a second terrace of rough fieldstone on a second level. These terraces were likely meant to support a temple, perhaps reminiscent of that built by Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri. A cache of votive ceramic vessels, model stone vases and boats with oars were buried near the south end.

Even though Ahmose I’s mummy was probably found at Thebes, Stephen Harvey seems to believe, because of the extensive ruins of Ahmose at Abydos, that it is possible the king was originally buried in that holy place. No tomb of his has been discovered in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes (modern Luxor).

What is more confident is that the burial place of King Ahmose would be that we will be continuing to update you on this dig and some of the archaeological processes, so look for more information soon.