1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Karnak

KARNAK, a village in Upper Egypt (pop. 1907, 12,585), which has given its name to the northern half of the ruins of Thebes on the east bank of the Nile, the southern being known as Luxor (q.v.). The Karnak ruins comprise three great enclosures built of crude brick. The northernmost and smallest of these contained a temple of the god Mont, built by Amenophis III., and restored by Rameses II. and the Ptolemies. Except a well-preserved gateway dating from the reign of Ptolemy Euergetes I., little more than the plan of the foundations is traceable. Its axis, the line of which is continued beyond the enclosure wall by an avenue of sphinxes, pointed down-stream (N.E.). The southern enclosure contained a temple of the goddess Mūt, also built by Amenophis III., and almost as ruinous as the last, but on a much larger scale. At the back is the sacred lake in the shape of a horse-shoe. The axis of the temple runs approximately northward, and is continued by a great avenue of rams to the southern pylons of the central enclosure. This last is of vast dimensions, forming approximately a square of 1500 ft., and it contains the greatest of all known temples, the Karnak temple of Ammon (see Architecture, sect. “Egyptian,” with plan).

Inside and outside each of these enclosures there were a number of subsidiary temples and shrines, mostly erected by individual kings to special deities. The triad of Thebes was formed by Ammon, his wife Mūt and their son Khons. The large temple of Khons is in the enclosure of the Ammon temple, and the temple of Mūt, as already stated, is connected with the latter by the avenue of rams. The Mont temple, on the other hand, is isolated from the others and turned away from them; it is smaller than that of Khons. Mont, however, may perhaps be considered a special god of Thebes; he certainly was a great god from very ancient times in the immediate neighbourhood, his seats being about 4 m. N.E. at Medamot, the ancient Madu, and about 10 m. S.W. on the west bank at Hermonthis.

It is probable that a temple of Ammon existed at Karnak under the Old Kingdom, if not in the prehistoric age; but it was unimportant, and no trace of it has been discovered. Slight remains of a considerable temple of the Middle Kingdom survive behind the shrine of the great temple, and numbers of fine statues of the twelfth and later dynasties have been found; two of these were placed against the later seventh pylon, while a large number were buried in a great pit, in the area behind that pylon, which has yielded an enormous number of valuable and interesting monuments reaching to the age of the Ptolemies. The axis of the early temple lay from E. to W., and was followed by the main line of the later growth; but at the beginning of the eighteenth dynasty, Amenophis I. built a temple south of the west front of the old one, and at right angles to it, and thus started a new axis which was later developed in the series of pylons VII.–X., and the avenue to the temple of Mūt. The VIIIth pylon in particular was built by Hatshepsut, probably as an approach to this temple of Amenophis, but eventually Tethmosis III. cleared the latter away entirely. Thebes was then the royal residence, and Ammon of Karnak was the great god of the state. Tethmosis I. built a court round the temple of the Middle Kingdom, entered through a pylon (No. V.), and later added the pylon No. IV. with obelisks in front of it. Hatshepsut placed two splendid obelisks between the Pylons IV. and V., and built a shrine in the court of Tethmosis I., in front of the old temple. Tethmosis III., greatest of the Pharaohs, remodelled the buildings about the obelisks of his unloved sister with the deliberate intention of hiding them from view, and largely reconstructed the surroundings of the court. At a later date, after his wars were over, he altered Hatshepsut’s sanctuary, engraving on the walls about it a record of his campaigns; to this time also is to be attributed the erection of a great festival hall at the back of the temple. The small innermost pylon (No. VI.) is likewise the work of Tethmosis III. Amenophis III., though so great a builder at Thebes, seems to have contented himself with erecting a great pylon (No. III.) at the west end. The closely crowded succession of broad pylons here suggests a want of space for westward expansion, and this is perhaps explained by a trace of a quay found by Legrain in 1905 near the southern line of pylons; a branch of the Nile or a large canal may have limited the growth. As has been stated, Tethmosis III. continued on the southern axis; he destroyed the temple of Amenophis I. and erected a larger pylon (No. VII.) to the north of Hatshepsut’s No. VIII. To these Haremheb added two great pylons and the long avenue of ram-figures, changing the axis slightly so as to lead direct to the temple of Mūt built by Amenophis III. All of these southern pylons are well spaced. In the angle between these pylons and the main temple was the great rectangular sacred lake. By this time the temple of Karnak had attained to little more than half of its ultimate length from east to west.

With the XIXth Dynasty there is a notable change perhaps due to the filling of the hypothetical canal. No more was added on the southern line of building, but westward Rameses I. erected pylon No. II. at an ample distance from that of Amenophis III., and Seti I. and Rameses II. utilized the space between for their immense Hall of Columns, one of the most celebrated achievements of Egyptian architecture. The materials of which the pylon is composed bear witness to a temple having stood near by of the heretic and unacknowledged kings of the XVIIIth Dynasty. Haremheb’s pylon No. IX. was likewise constructed out of the ruins of a temple dedicated by Amenophis IV. (Akhenaten) to the sun-god Harmakhis. Rameses III. built a fine temple, still well preserved, to Ammon at right angles to the axis westward of pylon No. II.; Sheshonk I. (Dynasty XXII.) commenced a great colonnaded court in front of the pylon, enclosing part of this temple and a smaller triple shrine built by Seti II. In the centre of the court Tirhaka (Tirhaka, Dynasty XXV.) set up huge columns 64 ft. high, rivalling those of the central aisle in the Hall of Columns, for some building now destroyed. A vast unfinished pylon at the west end (No. I.), 370 ft. wide and 1421/2 ft. high, is of later date than the court, and is usually attributed to the Ptolemaic age. It will be observed that the successive pylons diminish in size from the outside inwards. Portions of the solid crude-brick scaffolding are still seen banked against this pylon. About 100 metres west of it is a stone quay, on the platform of which stood a pair of obelisks of Seti II.; numerous graffiti recording the height of the Nile from the XXIst to the XXVIth Dynasties are engraved on the quay.

Besides the kings named above, numbers of others contributed in greater or less measure to the building or decoration of the colossal temple. Alexander the Great restored a chamber in the festival hall of Tethmosis III., and Ptolemy Soter built the central shrine of granite in the name of Philip Arrhidaeus. The walls throughout, as usually in Egyptian temples, are covered with scenes and inscriptions, many of these, such as those which record the annals of Tethmosis III., the campaign of Seti I. in Syria, the exploit of Rameses II. at the battle of Kadesh and his treaty with the Hittites, and the dedication of Sheshonk’s victories to Ammon, are of great historical importance. Several large stelae with interesting inscriptions have been found in the ruins, and statues of many ages of workmanship. In December 1903 M. Legrain, who has been engaged for several years in clearing the temple area systematically, first tapped an immense deposit of colossal statues, stelae and other votive objects large and small in the space between pylon No. VII. and the great hypostyle hall. After three seasons’ work, much of it in deep water, 750 large monuments have been extracted, while the small figures, &c. in bronze and other materials amount to nearly 20,000. The value of the find, both from the artistic and historical standpoints, is immense. The purpose of the deposit is still in doubt; many of the objects are of the finest materials and finest workmanship, and in perfect preservation: even precious metals are not absent. Multitudes of objects in wood, ivory, &c., have decayed beyond recovery. That all were waste pieces seems incredible. They are found lying in the utmost confusion; in date they range from the XIIth Dynasty to the Ptolemaic period.

The inundation annually reaches the floor of the temple, and the saltpetre produced from the organic matter about the ruins, annually melting and crystallizing, has disintegrated the soft sandstone in the lower courses of the walls and the lower drums and bases of the columns. There is moreover no solid foundation in any part of the temple. Slight falls of masonry have taken place from time to time, and the accumulation of rubbish was the only thing that prevented a great disaster. Repairs, often on a large scale, have therefore gone on side by side with the clearance, especially since the fall of many columns in the great hall in 1899. All the columns which fell in that year were re-erected by 1908.

The temple of Khons, in the S.W. corner of the great enclosure, is approached by an avenue of rams, and entered through a fine pylon erected by Euergetes I. It was built by Rameses III. and his successors of the XXth Dynasty, with Hrihōr of Dynasty XXI. Excavations in the opposite S.E. corner have revealed flint weapons and other sepulchral remains of the earliest periods, proving that the history of Thebes goes back to a remote antiquity.

See Baedeker’s Handbook for Egypt; also Description de l’Égypte. Atlas, Antiquités (tome iii.); A. Mariette, Karnak, Étude topographique et archéologique; L. Borchardt, Zur Baugeschichte des Ammontempels von Karnak; G. Legrain in Recueil des travaux rélatifs à l’arch. Égypt., vol. xxvii. &c.; and reports in Annales du service des antiquités de l’Égypte.  (F. Ll. G.)