Thebes, Egypt

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For the Greek city of Boeotia, see Thebes, Greece. For other cities called Thebes, see Thebes.
Thebes, Egypt is located in Egypt
Thebes, Egypt
Shown within Egypt
Location Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt
Region Upper Egypt
Coordinates 25°43′14″N 32°36′37″E / 25.72056°N 32.61028°E / 25.72056; 32.61028Coordinates: 25°43′14″N 32°36′37″E / 25.72056°N 32.61028°E / 25.72056; 32.61028
Type Settlement
Founded 3200 BC
Official name Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis
Type Cultural
Criteria I, III, VI
Designated 1979 (3rd session)
Reference no. 87
Region Arab States

Thebes (/θbz/;[1] Ancient Greek: Θῆβαι Thēbai) is the Greek name for a city in Ancient Egypt, natively known as Waset, located about 800 km south of the Mediterranean, on the east bank of the river Nile within the modern city of Luxor. The Theban Necropolis is situated nearby on the west bank of the Nile.


The Egyptian name of Thebes was Waset (wꜣs.t) "City of the Sceptre". The name Thebai (Θῆβαι) is the Greek designation of opet, the Egyptian name of the Karnak temple complex situated across the Nile, west of Thebes proper. Classical Egyptian Ta-opet became Demotic ta-pe, which was adopted in Greek as thebai, assimilated to the name of the Greek city. Due to its association with the Egyptian city, Greek Thebes also had a statue and temple of Ammon (Amun) from the 5th century BC.[2] As attested already in Homer's Iliad, the Greeks distinguished between the two cities as "Hundred-Gated Thebes" (Θῆβαι ἑκατόμπυλοι, Thebai hekatompyloi) for the Egyptian city (Iliad, IX.383), and "Seven-Gated Thebes" (Θῆβαι ἑπτάπυλοι, Thebai heptapyloi) for its Greek counterpart (Iliad, IV.406).

As the seat of the Theban Triad of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, Thebes was known in the Egyptian language from the end of the New Kingdom as niwt-imn, "The City of Amun." This found its way into the Hebrew Bible as נא אמון nōʼ ʼāmôn (Nahum 3:8), probably referring to the Egyptian deity Amun-Ra, most likely it is also the same as נא ("No") (Ezekiel 30:14–16, Jeremiah 46:25). In Greek this name was rendered Διόσπολις Diospolis, "City of Zeus", as Amun in the interpretatio graeca became Greek Zeus Ammon.

The Greeks surnamed the city μεγάλη megale, "the Great", to differentiate it from numerous other cities called Diospolis. The Romans rendered the name Diospolis Magna.

City of the Sceptre[3]
in hieroglyphs
R19 t
in hieroglyphs
t Z1
M24 t
niw.t rs.t
Southern City[4]
in hieroglyphs
O28 nw
Heliopolis of the South[5]
in hieroglyphs


Egypt - Temple of Seti, east entrance, Thebes. Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection
Luxor Temple
The Theban Necropolis

Thebes was inhabited from around 3200 BC.[6] It was the eponymous capital of Waset, the fourth Upper Egyptian nome. Waset was the capital of Egypt during part of the 11th Dynasty (Middle Kingdom) and most of the 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom), when Hatshepsut built a Red Sea fleet to facilitate trade between Thebes Red Sea port of Elim, modern Quasir, and Elat at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. According to George Modelski, Thebes had about 40,000 inhabitants in 2000 BC (compared to 60,000 in Memphis, the largest city of the world at the time). By 1800 BC, the population of Memphis was down to about 30,000, making Thebes the largest city in Egypt at the time. By the Amarna period (14th century BC), Thebes may have grown to be the largest city in the world, with a population of about 80,000, a position which it held until about 1000 BC, when it was again surpassed by Memphis (among others).[7]

With the 19th Dynasty the seat of government moved to the Delta. The archaeological remains of Thebes offer a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height. The Greek poet Homer extolled the wealth of Thebes in the Iliad, Book 9 (c. 8th Century BC): "... in Egyptian Thebes the heaps of precious ingots gleam, the hundred-gated Thebes."

In 664 BC, the Assyrian army sacked Thebes during their invasion of Upper Egypt.


Egypt - Luxor. Rear court before the excavations., n.d., Brooklyn Museum Archives

In 1979, the ruins of ancient Thebes were classified by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site. The two great templesLuxor Temple and Karnak—and the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens are among the great achievements of ancient Egypt.


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. Merriam-Webster, 2007. p. 1588
  2. ^ according to Pausanias, Description of Greece ix.16 § 1.
  3. ^ Adolf Erman, Hermann Grapow: Wörterbuch der ägyptischer Sprache. akademie Verlag, Berlin, 1971. p.259
  4. ^ Wörterbuch, p.211
  5. ^ Wörterbuch, pp.54,479
  6. ^ Karnak (Thebes), Egypt. Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
  7. ^ George Modelski, "Cities of the Ancient World: An Inventory (−3500 to −1200)"; see also list of largest cities throughout history.


  • Gauthier, Henri. 1925–1931. Dictionnaire des noms géographiques contenus dans les textes hieroglyphiques. Vol. 3 of 7 vols. Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire. (Reprinted Osnabrück: Otto Zeller Verlag, 1975). 75, 76.
  • Polz, Daniel C. 2001. "Thebes". In The Oxford Encyclopedia of ancient Egypt, edited by Donald Bruce Redford. Vol. 3 of 3 vols. Oxford, New York, and Cairo: Oxford University Press and The American University in Cairo Press. 384–388.
  • Redford, Donald Bruce. 1992. "Thebes". In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman. Vol. 6 of 6 vols. New York: Doubleday. 442–443. ISBN 0-385-42583-X (6-volume set)
  • Strudwick, Nigel C., & Strudwick, Helen, Thebes in Egypt: A Guide to the Tombs and Temples of Ancient Luxor. London: British Museum Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8014-3693-1 (hardcover)/ISBN 0-8014-8616-5 (paperback)

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Capital of Egypt
2060 BC – 1785 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Capital of Egypt
1580 BC – c. 1353 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Capital of Egypt
c. 1332 BC – 1085 BC
Succeeded by