III. H. Jebel Barkal and Luxor Temple
PDF Print E-mail

Jebel Barkal and Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple (Ipet-resyt = "Southern Sanctuary"), built largely between the reigns of Amenhotep III and Ramses II, lies approximately 2.9 km south of Karnak on the east bank at Thebes (fig. 77).  Its precise ritual function has always remained somewhat obscure, but research carried out over the past thirty years has done much to elucidate it.  During the early 1980's, Lanny Bell and the Chicago Epigraphic Survey studied it extensively and concluded that it was a shrine dedicated primarily to the cult of the royal ka - "the unique divine spirit handed down from ruler to ruler from before the dawn of history and shared by all Egyptian kings" (Bell 1997, 157).  As described above (III.D), the royal ka was thought to have been transmitted to each king at his birth by Amun-Kamutef, the primeval self-generating creator god and embodiment of eternal kingship (Bell 1985, 258-259).  It was a form of this god - an alter ego of Amun of Karnak - who dwelt in Luxor Temple.

Bell imagined that the king's ka power (i.e. the strength of his divinity), as well as the divine powers of Amun of Karnak, had to be annually renewed, which required a joint visit by both of them to the god of Luxor.  Their restoration to full divinity, Bell believed, was achieved during the annual festival held at Luxor, which was known as the“Ipet/Opet” (=”Luxor”), which was celebrated about the middle or end of September, about the time of the arrival at Thebes of the peak Nile flood some six to eight weeks after New Year’s Day (anciently about August 7) (Murnane 1981; Bell 1997, 158; Kendall 2008, 122-124).

Fig. 77:View of Luxor Temple from the Opet causeway, looking south.  (Wilkinson 2000, 168)


Wolfgang Waitkus, who has re-analyzed the temple anew, casts doubt on Bell's interpretation (Waitkus 2008, 264-267).  De-emphasizing the importance of the royal ka in the temple, he interprets the Opet festival rather as an important seasonal ritual that allowed the king symbolically to travel back to the place of Creation, where both he and the god Amun of Karnak were born at the beginning of time, in order to unite with their progenitor, the Luxor demiurge, so as to seize control of the Nile at its source, to assume the personification of the river as Hapy, and to bring the fertilizing waters down to Egypt.

The Luxor Opet festival was one of the greatest events of the Egyptian ritual calendar and lasted two to three weeks.  Its central event was a grand procession of the bark of Amun of Karnak (accompanied by those of Mut and Khonsu) together with the king and queen (and their barks) from Karnak to Luxor and ultimately back again.  The barks were either carried on the shoulders of priests via the sacred way connecting the temples (fig. 78a), which was lined with Osiride statues, sphinxes, and periodic rest stations, or they were carried to the Nile, placed aboard real barges, and towed by water in one or both directions (fig. 78b) (Epigraphic Survey 1994).  However one interprets the significance of the event, this journey of the barks simulated a cosmic voyage of Amun of Karnak and his son the king to their mythical birthplace at the Primeval Mound.  After their mystical reunion with the Amun of Luxor, both Amun of Karnak and the king were thought to have been renewed  - a transformation which was immediately followed by a coronation in which the king received a crown affixed with ram horns (fig. 79) (Bell 1997, 170; Montagner 2008-2009).

Fig. 78a:The bark of Amun being carried on the shoulders of priests during an Opet-festival of Queen Hatshepsut, from her Red Chapel at Karnak.  (Photo: T. Kendall)


Fig. 78b: Plan of Karnak and Luxor Temples, showing the land and river routes of the Opet-festival procession that connected them (also indicating the festival interconnections with the temples of the west bank). Drawing by Carol Meyer, from Bell 1997, 159, fig. 65.

Fig. 79: Amenhotep III receives his crown from Amun in coronation at Luxor.  His Atef crown is affixed with curling ram horns.  Photo by Lanny Bell, from Bell 1997, 141, fig. 48.


The god of Luxor was called Amun-ipet or Amun-em-ipet (“Amun of/in the Ipet”), in which the word Ipet (now commonly rendered “Opet” in the literature) suggested the meanings “place of seclusion; conjugal chamber; harem” (Wilkinson 2000, 166; Pamminger 1992, 93-95).  It is now simply translated "Sanctuary."  In one of the innermost rooms of the temple there are scenes discreetly depicting the divine conception of Amenhotep III, in which his mother is impregnated by Amun, and he is born as a dual being:  one aspect mortal and the other (his royal ka) divine. These chambers are those in which each year during the Opet festival the king was symbolically reborn.  The god of Luxor was the procreative aspect of Amun of Karnak and was normally represented inside the temple in ithyphallic form, symbolizing the eternal source of kingship and the royal ka. The temple symbolized the place of universal Creation, and its sanctuary was conceived as the locus of the Primeval Mound.

Luxor and Jebel Barkal as Cultic Duplicates

The existence at Thebes of a Luxor Temple and an Opet-festival at once raises several questions.  Why would the Egyptians have identified the site of Luxor as the place of Creation, the source of the royal ka, and the place of royal birth and renewal when it seems to have had no (confirmed) cultic importance prior to the Eighteenth Dynasty?  Why would they have imagined that the procreative aspect of the god Amun of Karnak required his own temple at Thebes, situated far to the south of Karnak?  What would have prompted the development of the Opet-festival and bark procession in the first place, and why was it celebrated at the time of the high Nile?  Why, of all Amun temples in Egypt, was Luxor built parallel to the Nile, with a north-south axis and with its sanctuary directed upstream, when all others have an east-west axis to acknolwedge Amun’s solar nature?  The implications would seem to be that Luxor Temple was built as a response to some new religious awareness, first recognized in early Dynasty 18, and, given the temple's orientation, one would have to assume that this new awareness came from the south and was in some way connected with the Nile and with the season of the inundation.   Since Luxor Temple, its god, and its apparent religious meaning seem to be in every respect identical to Jebel Barkal, its god and its religious meaning, as I have documented them in the previous sections, one is forced to ask whether the Amun of Luxor was not the same as the Amun of Jebel Barkal and whether the true destination of the Opet bark procession, symbolized by its arrival at Luxor, was not actually the “Pure Mountain” of Kush.

In 1992, Peter Pamminger published an important paper pointing out the many similarities between the gods and cults of Luxor and Jebel Barkal and proposed that Luxor had been built as a kind of “Theban Napata” to honor the newly discovered procreative aspect of Amun of Karnak, who dwelt at Jebel Barkal.   Other scholars working with Nubian data, such as Leclant, Zibelius-Chen, and Török, voiced similar suspicions (Török 1997, 303-305; 2002: 12), but those working primarily in Egypt with Egyptian data, such as Bell and his colleagues, and now Waitkus, have continued to view Luxor only as a self-contained Theban cult without reference to Nubia (Bell 1997, 178; Wilkinson 2000, 166-171; Waitkus 2008; Epigraphic Survey 2009, xxxi-iii).  At this point we must review the arguments for and against a wider meaning of Luxor.  I will then introduce some new data, which I believe will allow us to conclude with a high degree of certainty that Luxor and Jebel Barkal were indeed manifestations of each other, but with slightly different, if closely related, ritual roles.

The arguments favoring the view that Luxor and Jebel Barkal were cultic duplicates are compelling.  Both were sites of Creation; both housed aspects of the procreative Amun-Kamutef; both, consequently, were important sources of kingship and the royal ka; and both were major coronation sites.  If, as Bell proposes, the royal ka was renewed for the king in annual coronation ceremonies at Luxor, we should recognize that royal cult temples ("temples to the royal ka ")– Soleb, Sesebi, Kawa, Faras, Gerf Hussein, Wadi es-Sebua, ed-Derr, and Abu Simbel - are all located in Nubia (Bell 1985, 261-262).  The reason for this would seem to be that from Dynasty 18 an important residence of Kamutef was recognized to exist in remote Upper Nubia – which was probably also recognized as the source of the crown with ram horns presented to the king by the god at Luxor.  In BD Spell 163, which seems to be describing the many forms of the god of Jebel Barkal, we are told that one was not only named "Ka," but that one of its Eyes/Uraei was the "creator of the ka."  Furthermore, as evidenced by the form and placement of Taharqo’s tomb at Nuri (See Part III, F), by the content of the Osiris hymn found in B 700 (Priese 2005), and by BD Spells 162-165 (See Part III, G), the district of Napata, like Luxor during the Opet festival, was recognized as a place of universal creation and of solar/royal birth, rebirth, and renewal.  Furthermore, Napata, as the town in the Egyptian imperium that lay farthest upstream, was also the town nearest the perceived sources of the Nile and the waters of Creation.  For these reasons, it seems irresistable to recognize the gods of Luxor and Jebel Barkal as identical beings, even as they were both identified by the Egyptians as aspects of Amun of Karnak.

The gods of Luxor and Jebel Barkal also share a similar iconography.  Pamminger (1992, 99-105) published four objects picturing a god identified as “Amun of Ipet-resyt," showing the god with a ram-head, crowned with twin plumes and a sun disk, looking in every respect like the Amun of Jebel Barkal (figs. 80a, b, c, d).  These are remarkable because nowhere inside Luxor Temple is Amun represented with a ram head.  (In every case within the temple he appears either anthropomorphic, like Amun of Karnak, or ithyphallic, like Kamutef (fig. 83).)  Three of the ram-headed images had a western Theban provenance, the earliest picturing Amenhotep I and Thutmose III, but probably Ramesside in date (M. Ullmann, pers. communication).  From Jebel Barkal the earliest preserved image showing Amun in this same guise dates to the reign of Thutmose III (fig. 81), and, as previously noted, it is this same ram-headed god who appears twice at Kurgus/Hagar el-Merwa (the farthest point up the Nile known to have been reached by the Egyptians) in adjacent images made by Thutmose I and III (fig. 82) (Davies 2001, figs. 3-5).  That of Thutmose I is the earliest known depiction of Amun with a ram head - an image thought by many to indicate that, soon after the king’s arrival in the Kushite heartland, the Egyptians merged their state god Amun with a dominant local deity associated with the ram (Kormysheva 2004; Rocheleau 2005, 14-36; Montagner 2008-09, 13-33) (although it should be pointed out that rams were associated with Amun in Egypt from at least the time of Mentuhotep II (Ali Radwan 2005, 213).

In both Kurgus images of the ram-headed Amun there are duplicate subscripts, which add the name “Amun(-Re) Kamutef,” although it is not clear if these actually named the pictured god.  The fact, however, that in one of the western chambers at Medinet Habu there is an image of Kamutef transforming into a ram-headed god (fig. 95) suggests that the subscripts did apply to the ram-headed figure and that here, at the “limits of the earth,” the Egyptians recongized the presence of a unique creator god of primeval times, merged with Kamutef, who was at once progenitor of their king and kingship, the source of the royal ka, and the sponsor of life via the Nile’s inundation.

Fig. 80a: Detail from a door lintel from western Thebes, showing Amenhotep I before “Amun of Southern Ipet” (=Luxor Temple), in a form identical to Amun of Jebel Barkal.  British Museum (BM 369 [159]).  (Pamminger 1992, 100)
Fig. 80b:  Statuette from the Ramesseum, representing a ram bust of Amun, with the God’s Wife of Amun Karomama I (ca. 870-840 BCE) making offerings before an enthroned ram-headed “Amun of Southern Ipet,” identical to the Amun of Jebel Barkal.  Berlin Museum 2278. (Pamminger 1992, 102)

Fig. 80c: Bronze statuette of the ram-headed Amun of Luxor, Late period. Louvre (E 3748). (Pamminger 1992, 104)

Fig. 80d: Relief fragment depicting the ram-headed “Amun of Southern Ipet” from Deir el-Medineh. The drawing clearly illustrates the spelling of the word Ipet/Opet, which is always followed by the strange determinative (Gardiner sign list O45), which here takes the shape of a horizontal knife blade or upside down wing. (Pamminger 1992, 103)


Fig. 81:Amun of Jebel Barkal represented on a crude stela of a Thutmose III, found at Jebel Barkal.  It is the earliest surviving representation of the god from the site, and his appearance is identical to the Amun of Luxor, as represented in figs. 80a-d.  (Dunham 1970, pl. 47 H).
Fig. 82: Identical images of Amun inscribed on the great quartz outcrop at Hagar el-Merwa by Thutmose I and III.  Texts below the figures (at left) seem also to suggest the god's identity as “Kamutef.”  (Davies 2001, 48, fig. 3)

Fig. 83: Amun of Luxor as typically represented inside Luxor Temple:  a mummiform, ithyphallic man supporting a flail with his upraised arm.  The god is named “A[mu]n [Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, who is] in front of his Ipet, Chief of the Ennead.”  (Brunner 1977, pl. 134.).



Gods of Luxor and Jebel Barkal as Uraeus

As we have previously noted, the gods of Luxor and Jebel Barkal seem to overlap again in the statue of a rearing uraeus, dedicated by Taharqo and found at Luxor in the statue cache (fig. 84) (El-Saghir 1991, 52-54).  The text on its right side identifies the deity as “Amun(-Re) Kamutef;” while the text on its left side identifies him as “Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands.”  Here the odd split plural of the word “thrones” suggests the simultaneous reading “Throne/Thrones of the Two Lands” (fig. 85). Since in Taharqo’s time, Jebel Barkal was commonly called “Throne of the Two Lands” to distinguish it from Karnak/East Thebes (“Thrones …”), we can only conclude that the statue simultaneously represented Amun of Luxor/Karnak and Amun of Jebel Barkal.  The uraeus form of the god would at once have reminded viewers of the Uraeus/Phallus/Pinnacle at Jebel Barkal, the winding serpent of identical form in the vignette of BD 87, which symbolized the sun’s nightly regeneration in the Underworld (fig. 86), and the serpents illustrated in BD 163-64, which made specific reference to Jebel Barkal as the place where this regeneration occurred (figs. 87, 88; see Part III, G).  The statue suggests again that Luxor Temple, as place of solar and royal birth and rebirth  – certainly in Dynasty 25 – was thought to manifest Jebel Barkal (which itself manifested Karnak).

Fig. 84: Granite statue of Amun Kamutef as a rearing uraeus, dedicated by Taharqo and found at Luxor.  Courtesy of the Luxor Museum.
Fig. 85:  Detail of the Luxor statue of Amun-Kamutef, showing that it was also dedicated to “Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands.”  Since the plural of the word “thrones” is split, the spelling would seem to be a subtle evocation of both the Amun of Karnak and the Amun of Jebel Barkal (which was then often called “Throne of the Two Lands”). Courtesy of the Luxor Museum.

Fig. 86: Rearing serpent replicating the form of Taharqo’s Kamutef statue from Luxor (fig. 84-85), used as an illustration to BD Spell 87:  “….I am a snake which is at the limits of the earth; I pass the night and am reborn, renewed and rejuvenated every day.”  The snake evidently symbolized the culminating event of the Luxor Opet-festival.  From the papyrus of Ani, British Museum.  (Faulkner 2005, 98)


Fig. 87: The rearing serpent identified as Atum, as a detail from the vignette of BD Spell 164.  Brooklyn Museum papyrus.  (Mysliewiec 1978, fig. 62)
Fig. 88:  The rearing serpent wearing the crown of Re as solar ba, a detail from the vignette of BD Spell 163.   The crown indicates that the snake is actually the same sun god, with human body and ram head, who traverses the Underworld nightly in his bark in order to unite with Osiris and to be reborn as Khepri (or child king) at dawn. The shape of these serpents is the same and suggests a similar meaning of Luxor and Jebel Barkal.  Papyrus BM 10257 (Faulkner 1972, 163)

There has long been some question whether the word “Ipet,” appearing in the name of Karnak (Ipet-Sut), was the same word as “Ipet/Opet” occurring in the name of Luxor Temple (Ipet-resyt), since when used in the latter, it is always followed by a particular determinative (Gardiner sign list O45), which does not occur in the spelling of the former (see fig. 80d) (Pamminger 1992, 93-94). When Jebel Barkal is called Ipet-Sut, its spelling, likewise, is usually rendered the same way, without the O45 determinative.  In BD 163, however, we find Jebel Barkal described as “the Ipet/Opet, mountain <of Napata> in Nubia” -  but the spelling lacks the O45 determinative (Verhoeven 1993, 137, l. 148, 11).  In the lunette of the Victory Stela of Piankhy, Amun of Jebel Barkal is called “foremost in Ipet-[Sut],” in which the word Ipet is now spelled only with the O45 determinative (see fig. 96b) (Grimal 1981a, 3).  In the Aspelta Coronation Stela, the god is again called in this way, but the word Ipet (+O45) is fully spelled out (FHN 1994 [I], 232; Grimal 1981b, 21, l. 5).  We again find the O45 determinative in spellings of the name “Amun of Napata” as it appears on both statues of Tanwetamani from the Barkal statue cache (Dunham 1970, 20-21, pls. IX-XI).  These texts make “Amun of Napata” (Imn-Npt) and “Amun of Luxor” (Imn-Ipt) identical through the application of the determinative, which makes a clever phonetic and hieroglyphic pun (fig. 89)!  These epithets would seem to suggest that Amun of Jebel Barkal held a parallel status with both Amun of Karnak and Amun of Luxor, and that the mountain, at least since Dynasty 25, was considered both a “Karnak” (Ipet-Sut) and a “Luxor” (Ipet/Opet=Southern Ipet?), with the same spelling and meaning.

Fig. 89: Text inscribed on the base of both statues of Tanwetamani from Jebel Barkal.  In the left column the king is called “beloved of Amun of Napata, who is in Jebel Barkal,” in which the name “Napata” (Np[t]) is determined by the O45 hieroglyph “Ipet/Opet," indicating that they are to be understood as the same thing (cf. fig. 80d).  (Dunham 1970, 20, fig. 7; pls. 10-11)



Parallelism Between Thebes and Napata

It is now important to observe a remarkable parallelism that existed between Thebes in the New Kingdom and Napata in the 25th Dynasty.  Each city had its pair of Amun temples that housed the same dual aspects of the god – “Amun of Karnak” (=northern Ipet-Sut) and “Amun of Napata/Ipet” (=southern Ipet Sut) - in the same directional relationship.  In New Kingdom Thebes, Karnak and Luxor were the two major Amun temples on the right/east bank.  At Napata, during the early decades of the eighth century BCE, the emerging Kushite rulers added a second Amun temple, B 800, at Jebel Barkal, which was built parallel to, and on the downstream side (=river “north”) of B 500, the old New Kingdom “Ipet-Sut”.  Both of these temples, too, were on the right bank - although here it was the west.  (Unlike Luxor, the temples at Jebel Barkal were both perpendicular to the river.)  Since the anthropomorphic “Amun of Karnak” and the ram-headed “Amun of Napata” are always mirrored in monuments at Jebel Barkal in the same left (=north) –right (=south) relationship respectively, it is fairly clear that the now badly ruined B 800 (”north” temple) at Jebel Barkal must have been built to house the Theban god at Napata in Dynasty 25, which would seem to imply that Luxor Temple had been built to house the Napatan god at Thebes during the New Kingdom.  B 800 was almost certainly the temple named by Nastasen as the r‐per Waset (“House of Thebes”) at Jebel Barkal (FHN 1996 [II]: 488); its main entrance was flanked by ram statues, and its early sanctuary was tripartite, suggesting that it originally housed the Theban triad.

Following the expulsion of the Kushites from Egypt, a third, smaller Amun temple B 700 was added to the Jebel Barkal sanctuary.  Founded by Atlanersa (ca. 650-640 BCE) and completed by Senkamanisken (ca. 640-620 BCE), B 700 was built immediately behind and between B 800 and B 500 (and directly beside B 600, the presumed coronation pavilion built originally by Thutmose IV).  By analysis of the temple’s poorly preserved (and poorly published) reliefs, Török (2002, 157-172) drew our attention here to the cultic amalgamation of the gods Amun of Napata (who was named on the temple’s bark stand), Amun of Pnubs (who was pictured inside the northeast pylon wall), and Osiris and Dedwen, who were both named in a fragmentary funerary monument found inside the temple (Priese 2005).  Török ultimately concluded that B 700 was a temple of Amun of Pnubs at Napata (Tőrők 2006, 237).  But unknown to him were the unpublished texts inscribed on the fallen columns in the inner and outer chambers (703 and 702) (fig. 90).

Fig. 90: View from inside B 700, looking from room 703 (the bark chamber) to 702.  (Photo:  T. Kendall)


Each of the columns in 703 (i.e. the bark chamber) was inscribed with four columns of text, naming - in all the variant ways - the major Amuns resident at Napata and Thebes:  “Amun, Lord of the Throne of the Two Lands, who is in Jebel Barkal,” “Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, who is in Jebel Barkal,” “Amun of Napata, who is in Jebel Barkal,” “Amun, Lord of the Throne of the Two Lands, who is in the Ipet,” “Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, who is foremost in Ipet Sut.”  In the outer chamber 702, fragments of the only surviving column (of four) reveal that “Amun of Gem-(pa)-Aten” (Kawa) was added to the other Amuns.  Amun of Pnubs, pictured on one wall, was probably named on other columns from the same room, but these are not preserved.  Additionally, in both chambers there are fragments of a large funerary construction, inscribed for “my father Osiris,” or “Osiris-Dedwen” - Dedwen being the Nubian god associated with deceased kings (Priese 2005; Caminos 1998: 15; FHN 1994 (I): 234; Wilkinson 2003: 105).

Since B 700 was placed between and behind B 500 and B 800, it appears to have been built as a Napatan home for the prominent gods dwelling between Napata (represented by B 500) and Thebes (represented by B 800):  that is, Amun of Kawa, Amun of Pnubs, and Dedwen of Semna (and possibly others).  Since the bark stand in B 700 was a support for the bark of Amun of Napata (for whom it is inscribed), it is clear that the local Amun, by visiting all the temples in his carried bark, was able symbolically to visit - and merge with - all the major gods downstream as far as Karnak, with intermediate stops at Kawa, Pnubs, and Semna (which would explain why the opening lines of Aspelta's Coronation Stela could read: "Now His Majesty's entire army was in the town named Pure Mountain, whose god was Dedwen, foremost of Nubia - he is the god of Kush - after the Falcon (i.e. King Anlamani) had settled on his throne (i.e. died)" [FHN 1994 {I}]).  Since after the mid-seventh century BCE the Kushite kings could no longer visit Karnak (or Luxor) in person, their actual cultic journeys downstream probably extended  no farther north than Semna (the southern end of the second cataract), but they could keep up their cultic obligations to the Theban god(s) by visiting Napata’s Karnak substitute,  B 800.

If the above reveals that a bark procession at Jebel Barkal simulated a real voyage on the Nile connecting Napata with Thebes, then I believe we must presume that the Opet bark procession between Karnak and Luxor also simulated a real Nile voyage that connected Thebes with Napata.  The addition of B 700 to the Barkal sanctuary shows that visitations by the king and Amun of Napata to the other important temples in Lower Kush could be performed ritually at Napata simply by visiting B 700.  It is especially interesting that B 700 would seem to emphasize Kawa and Pnubs, because during the New Kingdom, these two sites possessed the only other Amun sanctuaries orientated, like Luxor, parallel to the river (with sanctuaries directed upstream), suggesting that they, too, had a unique connection with the latter and were important ritual stops when the Egyptian kings undertook real journeys to and from Napata (cf. Török 1997, 278-79; 2002, 142-156, 270-273).

The greatest obstacle to proving any real connection between Jebel Barkal and Luxor Temple is the complete absence of direct references to Jebel Barkal not just within Luxor Temple itself but everywhere else at Thebes.  Because Jebel Barkal was given names identical to Karnak (Ipet-Sut) - and perhaps also to Luxor (Ipet/Ipet-resyt) - we have no way of tracking it in records from Egypt because, if mentioned at all in temple inscriptions, it would never have been cited by a name we can recognize.  Adding to the confusion is the name Nesut-Tawy.  In Nubian texts, Jebel Barkal is familiarly known as Dju-Wa’ab (“Pure Mountain”), but Thutmose III tells us that the mountain’s official name was Nesut-Tawy (’Thrones of the Two Lands’), which was only another name for Karnak or East Thebes.  As we have seen, it was by this name that the Viceroy Huy called Jebel Barkal, when he noted that his authority extended from “Nekhen to Nesut-Tawy” (Davies and Gardiner 1926, 11).  Such a comment could only be correctly understood by context, which in Huy's case is clear.

Ever since the Middle Kingdom, in hundreds of his images at Thebes, Amun had been called Neb Nesut-Tawy (“Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands”), which meant that the title, prior to the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty, could have had no specific reference other than to the Theban area.  But by telling us that Jebel Barkal was called “Nesut-Tawy before it was known by the people,” Thutmose linked the epithet to Jebel Barkal and made the meaning retroactive.  Through this device, all older images of Amun bearing this epithet, and all like-named images created henceforth, could be identified with the god dwelling at Jebel Barkal. The real effects of these epithets, though, would have been to conceal the identity of Jebel Barkal in Theban monuments and to make it indistinguishable from Karnak  – which was evidently the purpose.  The two “Karnaks” of Thebes and Napata were apparently to be understood as aspects of the same place, and their gods, aspects of the same deity.  The same confusion of Amuns and titles can be seen wherever there were Amun temples (Guermeur 2005).  We should not be puzzled, therefore, to find no obvious references to Jebel Barkal in Luxor’s considerable textual record.   To the casual modern observer this would seem to confirm that the “Pure Mountain” of Kush had no connection with Luxor and had little or no importance for the Egyptians.  I would argue, however, that quite the opposite was true.  In the majority of the images of Amun preserved in Luxor Temple, he is called “Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands” (Nesut-Tawy), “he who is before Karnak” (Ipet-Sut), “Lord of the Ipet,” “who is in his Ipet,” “Lord of the Upper Egyptian Ipet,” “Kamutef,” “Primeval One of the Two Lands” (Brunner 1977, 75)  – which are all epithets as closely tied to the god of Jebel Barkal as to the gods of Karnak and Luxor.  The dedicatory inscriptions in Luxor Temple seem to suggest that the temple was dedicated only to "Amun of Karnak" - but which one?  Amun of Karnak at Thebes, or Amun of Karnak at Napata, or both?

What were the motives behind this confusion of cult places and of merged titles and divine iconography?  Was the object to avoid direct acknowledgement in Egypt of an important cult place that existed in a potentially hostile foreign land?  Was it simply to render the Amuns and their cult places in Thebes and Napata (and those all over Egypt) indistinguishable so as to emphasize that they and all aspects of the god were conceptually “the same”?  Or was this part of a vast national program of public religious secrecy, of which one so often finds mention in Egyptian texts (Assmann 1995, 16-17, 136-137)?  Even if some scholars would insist that Jebel Barkal had no importance for the Egyptians in Egypt, they surely would not claim the same for the Kushites in Egypt - and yet, as far as I am aware, there is not a single specific reference to Jebel Barkal on any Kushite monument at Thebes!


Proving Luxor as Theban Napata

In order to prove that Luxor was founded and built as a “Theban Napata,” we would need to show that it post-dated the Egyptian discovery of Jebel Barkal.  Since Thutmose I’s expedition to Kush led him far beyond Jebel Barkal to Kurgus, we can be reasonably sure that Jebel Barkal was visited by Egyptians at least as early as Thutmose’s second regnal year (ca. 1504 BCE).  It has sometimes been reported that the earliest written evidence for  an Amun temple called Ipet-resyt derives from a stela of Ahmose (ca. 1550-1525 BCE), which records that the king extracted Turah limestone for the construction of temples of Ptah, Atum, and "for the good god Amun in Ipet-r[esyt]" (Urk IV, 25, 9-11). In this case, however, the text is quite damaged, and it appears much more likely that the correct reading is "Ipet-S[ut]"  (Ullmann 2002, 17-25).  If the Ahmose text is eliminated as "evidence" for a Luxor Temple, the next earliest proof of an Ipet-resyt at Thebes occurs in TT 81, the tomb of Ineni, an offical who lived between the reigns of Amenhotep I and Thutmose I and who died while Hatshepsut was queen (Ullmann, pers. communication).  Since the Ipet-resyt named in Ineni's tomb inscription would be earlier than the one known (from fragments at Luxor itself) to have been built by Hatshepsut, the earliest known Luxor Temple, thererfore, would seem to be precisely contemporary with Thutmose I.  One could theorize, thus, that it was built after his return from Kush in Year 2 or 3.

Ullmann, however, points out that an incipient north-south axis existed already in the Twelfth Dynasty temple at Karnak, which could suggest the presence of a Luxor cult (and an Opet procession) as early as the Middle Kingdom.  She also notes that two blocks bearing the name of Sobekhotep II of Dynasty 13 were recovered in the Luxor precinct (Daressy 1893).  The fact still remains, though, that all identifiable traces of a Luxor Temple and cult are contemporary with or immediately post-date the reign of Thutmose I and suggest that the Luxor site did not become important until after the Egyptians had consolidated their control of Kush.  Thutmose's daughter Hatshepsut is the first “king” known to have celebrated an Opet festival (Bell 1997, 147-8, 161, 177-8).

More than any other detail, it is the southward orientation of Luxor Temple that seems to acknowledge that its god had an important link with the south beyond Thebes.  Since the Opet festival coincided with the high Nile, one would assume that the orientation of Luxor acknowledged Amun’s role as god of the Nile and bringer of the inundation from the far south – that is, from Kush, where the Egyptians must have recognized that the Nile – and life – began (Leclant 1965, 240-246; Pamminger 1992, 113-115).  The god’s personification of the river and the inundation is well-known, especially from a relief at Karnak, in which Amun, accompanied by Mut and Khonsu, appears seated on the Nile waters, facing north, wearing curling ram-horns (suggestive of his link both to Ipet-resyt and to Jebel Barkal),  horizontal ram-horns (identifying him as a ba or resurrected solar god [see below, Part III, G]), and a tall crown with long streamer at rear, associating him with Kamutef (cf. Török 2002: 10; Golvin and Goyon 1987: 33; Gabolde 1995) (fig.  91). The text over his head describes him as “King of the Gods, Great God of the Ennead, who grants ... a great inundation and doubles [... the harvest?].”

Fig. 91: Relief from Karnak, showing Amun, seated on the Nile waters facing north, as  bringer of the inundation.  (Photo:  T. Kendall)


Among the ram-headed images of the Luxor Amun published by Pamminger, one is particularly intriguing.  It is a limestone door lintel (British Museum BM 369) (fig. 92), in which the left half depicts Thutmose III standing before the members of the Theban triad (Amun, Mut, and Khonsu) together with Hathor “Lady of the North,” all of whom face left (=north).  The right half depicts Amenhotep I, standing before “Amun of Ipet-resyt” together with Khnum, Anukis and Satis of Elephantine, all of whom face right (=south).  Since the ram-headed Amun sits in front of the gods of Elephantine facing in the opposite direction from the Amun of Karnak, and since he seems to be looking upriver beyond Elephantine, one suspects that his real “Ipet-resyt” was not Luxor at all but Jebel Barkal (= southern “Ipet-Sut”).  This is further supported by textual evidence from the time of Thutmose III mentioning a festival dedicated to Amun in Elephantine, who is called "Amun of Ipet-resyt" (Waitkus 2008, 265). Since the latter four gods are confronted by Amehotep I, patron god of the Theban necropolis, we realize, too, that these gods must not only be associated with the South and Nubia but also with the West - that is, with sunset, night and primeval time - to which the Sun God must travel for the regeneration that supposedly took place within Luxor Temple.

Fig. 92: Limestone door lintel from western Thebes, picturing Amun of Karnak, the Theban triad and Hathor, on the left (=north), with “Amun of Southern Ipet” and the gods of Elephantine on the right (=south).  British Museum BM 369 (159).   (Pamminger 1992, 100)


If we seek other Theban representations of the ram-headed Amun, we find that they all occur on the west bank, only in the western chambers of the temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu, where they all have to do with the West and primeval time.  Here, for example, we find twin ram-headed Amuns (crowned only with a sun disk): one called “Primeval One of the Two Lands,” a name which he also bears at Jebel Barkal (Reisner and Reisner 1931, 37, l. 43); the other called “Great One of the Ennead,” referring to his role as the Creator god of Heliopolis (fig. 93, cf. also 91).  The same god, similarly crowned, appears at Jebel Barkal (fig. 94a), and again as the god who awards Piankhy his crowns (fig. 94b).  In a nearby room we also find Amun Kamutef in transformation to a ram deity (fig. 95); we find him as a lion-headed man (fig. 69), reminiscent of Amun’s leonine manifestations at Pnubs, Kawa, and Jebel Barkal (BD 162, 164); and we find him as a god variously called “Primeval One of the Two Lands” and “Min-Kamutef” (fig. 96a), who is identical to the unique representation of Amun, pictured at the top of Piankhy’s Victory Stela, and who is called “Lord of the Throne of the Two Lands, who is before Ipet-[Sut] of Jebel Barkal”  (fig. 96b).

Fig. 93: Ram-headed primeval Amuns on the western wall of the chamber of the Ennead in the temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu.  (Photo:  T. Kendall)


Fig. 94a: Ram-headed primeval Amun, identical to that in fig. 93, pictured at Jebel Barkal and called “Amun-Re-Horakhty-Atum, Lord of Ipet-Sut, Great God, Lord of Heaven.”  (Morkot 2000, 147; Dunham 1970, pl. 37)
Fig. 94b:  Amun of Jebel Barkal pictured like the gods in figs. 93 and 94a.  From the Sandstone Stela of Piankhy from Jebel Barkal .  Courtesy of the Sudan National Museum, Khartoum. (Reisner 1931)

Fig. 95:Kamutef in transformation to a ram-headed being, from one of the western rooms in the temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu.  (Photo:  T. Kendall)


Fig. 96a: An anthropomorphic Amun, represented in one of the western chambers at Medinet Habu, identified as “Primeval One of the Two Lands” and “Min-Kamutef.”  In this guise he is identical to the Amun of Jebel Barkal, pictured in fig. 96b.  (Epigraphic Survey 1964, pl 530)

Fig. 96b:  Amun of Jebel Barkal, with Mut, depicted in the lunette of the Victory Stela of Piankhy.  He is identical to the god represented in fig. 96a.  (Grimal 1981a, pl. 5)

From these parallels it appears that the absence of ram-headed images of Amun inside Luxor can be explained simply as a factor of the temple’s situation on the east bank and in the north. The very small number of human-headed images of Amun at Jebel Barkal is probably to be explained by the site’s location on the “west” (=river east) bank in the south (Nubia).  Amun’s iconic transformations between Thebes and Napata probably have only to do with his perceived outward journey back in time, by passing to the west like the setting sun or passing south to his Primeval Mound in Kush, where he assumed ram-headed, lion-headed, or uraeus form.  When he journeyed back again to Egypt as a reborn god, he was associated with the east and north, which likely gave him human form.  Such north-south transformations of Amun - traveling to and from Nubia and primeval time - seem to parallel those of the goddesses in the legends of the “Eye of Re” and “Eye of Horus” (See Part III, B).

Amun’s role as bringer of the Nile inundation is mentioned in numerous New Kingdom texts (Assmann 1995, 131, 140-41, 143, 180-85).  When we examine these, we read that the Nile emanated from the primordial Nun, that the god Re was born from these waters at the beginning of time, that he was a “venerable ba” who took form as “a ram, great of forms,” that he was “secret of transformations,” that every night he “united with his corpse (i.e. Osiris)” at the Primeval Mound of “southern Heliopolis,” and that the locus of these events was the Underworld.  If the purpose of the Opet bark procession was to carry the king and his father Amun of Karnak to their progenitor at the Nile sources so that they could bring the river's fertility back to Egypt, it seems to me that the Luxor journey was merely a symbolic simulation of one that would actually have taken them to Upper Nubia, where their regeneration was thought to have occurred.  Looking at the texts more closely, we find clear indications that, in the Egyptian mind, Upper Nubia was where the king and god had to travel in order to find their Maker:

“The heaven carries your ba and raises your radiance,
The underworld contains your corpse and conceals your body…
Water is inundated with gold from your influence…” (Assmann 1995, 181)

“He is a Khnum (i.e god of the cataracts), the excellent potter
The breath of life; the breath of the north wind;
a high Nile, whose ka provides life, which takes care of gods and men…” (Ibid. 182)

“the primeval waters bear his secret…
The sail wind bears him on his voyage to the west
When he travels to the secrets of the underworld.” (Ibid 183)

“He travels forth to the western passage,
Where the “Pillar” (=Osiris?  Jebel Barkal pinnacle?  See Part III, D) in its function
arises for him;”

Only very rarely do the texts become more explicit, as in an ostracon of the later New Kingdom, which suggests that the Nile emanated from “a goddess” (uraeus?) on a “cliff” at a place whose name is obscure – although Jebel Barkal would seem to be implied:

“Now Dgr(?) is the name of the town of a distant land.  Who is the god of its cliff?
As for Nekhesmekes, it is the name of the goddess (of?) the water from which Amun comes forth in the land of Kush” (Zibelius-Chen 1996: 197-199).

In Papyrus Boulaq 17, which preserves a text known from the late 17th Dynasty, Amun is described as:

“Lord of the Throne (Nst) of the Two Lands, prince of (khenty) Ipet-Sut, Kamutef, who stands before his fields, who steps widely, first one of Upper Egypt, Lord of the Medjai (i.e as Min?) and Ruler of Punt, Eldest of the sky; eldest of the earth…One whose perfume the gods love when he returns from Punt, and eldest of the dew when he comes down from Medjai land; beautiful of face when he returns from God’s Land.” (Rocheleau 2005, 19-20; Assmann 1995, 120-121).

This text is noteworthy in that in lines immediately preceding the mention the god’s return from Nubia, he is called “One to whom praise is given in the Per-wer, and who is crowned in the Per-neser.”  This reveals that the god is in the form of a king – a royal ka - in coronation.  The Per-wer and Per-neser were the chapels of the royal uraeus goddesses, and it was in them that the king received his crowns during his coronation (See Part III, B, C).  The implication here is that Amun’s coronation took place before his return from Nubia - when he was in the ka-form of a king.  Naturally, therefore, we could suspect that it took place at Jebel Barkal rather than at Luxor – although ambiguity in these matters seems always to have been an Egyptian preference; the two sites would seem to have meant the same place.

Coronations and Visits

The most detailed account of an Egyptian coronation occurs in the coronation inscription of Horemheb, which took place at Luxor (Gardiner 1953).  According to this text, the god Horus first led the aspiring king to Karnak (Ipet-Sut), “in order to induct him into the presence of Amun for the handing over to him of his office of king.”  At this point there followed “the beautiful festival of southern Opet (Ipet-resyt=Luxor)” in which the king-to-be and the god of Karnak traveled to Luxor.   There Horemheb prepared himself in the attached palace of the temple and was soon led by Amun into the Per-wer.  There they found the goddess Weret-Hekau, “[her arms] in welcoming attitude, and she embraced his beauty and established herself on his forehead.”  God and king next proceeded to the Per-neser where they found all the gods of the Divine Ennead, including Nekhbet, Wadjet, Neith, Isis, Nepthys, Horus, and Seth, who raised “thankful clamor to the height of heaven, rejoicing at the good pleasure of Amun, (saying);  ‘Behold, Amun is come, his son in front of him, to the Palace in order to establish his crown upon his head and in order to prolong his period like to himself’ ” (Gardiner 1953, 15).

Archaeological evidence from Jebel Barkal indicates that Horemheb also visited Napata and held a coronation there identical to the one he held at Luxor.  An architrave inscribed with his throne name (fig. 97) was found directly beside the ruins of temples B 1100 and B 1150, which can almost certainly be identified as the Per-Wer and Per-Neser at Jebel Barkal (See III, B).  Their identification is based on an inscription, naming both structures, which was carved on a stone doorway in B 1200, which led to them.  This doorway was part of the Napatan Palace – from a level dating to the period of Anlamani (late seventh century BCE) (See III, B) (Dunham 1970, pl. LXII; Kendall 2008, 125, n. 21).  The Anlamani palace, however, almost certainly lies over the foundations of a New Kingdom palace at Jebel Barkal, which would have been the equivalent of the palace at Luxor mentioned in the Horemheb text (Kendall 1991b; 1997a; Kendall and Wolf 2007).  The presumed Per-Wer at Barkal (B 1100) still exhibits three levels: the earliest, dating from the late Eighteenth Dynasty (exhibiting talatat foundations), the second, dating from Dynasty 25, and the third and final, dating to the Meroitic Period.  The evidence from Jebel Barkal suggests that the Per-Wer and Per-Neser, which were used for coronations by the New Kingdom pharaohs, were restored in Dynasty 25 and continued to be used and renewed, as necessary, for Kushite coronations well into Meroitic times.  Horemheb’s coronation text even records his visit to Nubia:

Fig. 97: Block inscribed with the throne name of Horemheb, found beside the ruins of B 1100, the presumed Per-Wer, or coronation temple of Weret-Hekau, goddess of the crowns, at Jebel Barkal.  (Photo:  T. Kendall)


“Now when this festival in Ipet-resyt was ended, Amun, King of the Gods, having returned in peace to Thebes, faring downstream by his Majesty with the statue of Harakhti.  And lo, he set in order this land, organizing it after (the manner of) Re.  He renewed the temples of the gods (from) the marshes of the Delta to Ta-Seti (=“Nubia”)…” (Gardiner 1953, 15).

Jebel Barkal is famous in Napatan texts as a primary coronation site; these texts reveal that the coronations of the Kushite kings and their annual re-enactments were the most important rituals performed at the site during the Napatan Period.  A growing body of data, however, indicates that these ceremonies were not original to the Kushites.  They seem to have replicated those that had been performed at Jebel Barkal centuries before by Egyptian kings at least since the reign of Thutmose III, if not Thutmose I.

It was Thutmose III who left a statue of himself in Heb-Sed costume at the site (Dunham 1970, pl. III).  It was Thutmose IV who left the oldest surviving structure on the site, B 600, which appears to have been a coronation and/or Heb-Sed pavilion (tjentjat) (See B 600).  Like B 1100, this building, too, underwent repeated restorations well into the Meroitic era, showing that the Kushites continued using it, evidently for the very same enthronement rituals for which it was originally built.  Akhenaten, too, within his first five years of rule, seems to have developed the site for his own Heb-Sed rituals – paralleling those held at Karnak (Kendall 2009).

In his fifth regnal year, Amenhotep III traveled to the limits of Kush to wage a military campaign. A description of this episode, set up at Bubastis, records that he celebrated a coronation at a mountain called “Hua,” which, like Jebel Barkal, seems to have been a point of safety on the river, where enemy captives were assembled (Breasted 1906, 334-342).  While there is no evidence that “Hua” was Jebel Barkal, its characteristics, as described, are similar, and it is interesting to see that in a relief from the south wall of the main hall of his Great Temple at Abu Simbel, Ramses II had himself depicted being crowned at Jebel Barkal by Re-Horakhty - immediately left of the image of Amun seated inside the mountain, and of himself driving before his chariot a group of fettered Nubian war prisoners (fig. 98).

Fig. 98: Relief from the south wall of the great hall inside the Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, showing events on his southern frontier:  While making offerings to Amun inside Jebel Barkal and the royal uraeus in the form of the pinnacle, he is also being crowned by Re-Horakhty in the presence of Thoth.  Below, the king with his lion drive a herd of Nubian prisoners of war.  (Martini 1964, 15)


It is a pity that we have so little information about New Kingdom royal visits to Nubia.  Looking at the distance between Thebes and Napata, it seems unlikely that most rulers would ever have made the long and arduous trek more than once or twice during their reigns, if they made it at all.  The remoteness of Jebel Barkal and the periodic instability of the Nubian frontier would surely have discouraged regular royal visits.  Still, between Thutmose III and Ramses II, the evidence suggests that all the kings took a major interest in the site, and perhaps regarded a visit to the god there as an obligation (just as did the later Napatan kings).  Probably most of them visited Jebel Barkal at least once, early in their reigns, to receive the ka directly from the demiurge and to celebrate a coronation in "his presence."  Since Amenhotep III undertook no construction at Jebel Barkal, one wonders if his grand enlargement of Luxor Temple was undertaken as a votive gift to the “southern” Amun "of Karnak" just as his Soleb Temple was a votive gift to his own ka which that god had created and in whom that god was equally manifested.

Seti I and Ramses II both worked to enlarge B 500 at the "Karnak" of Napata with hypostyle halls, just as they did at the "Karnak" of Thebes, and I would imagine that Ramses’ great temples to his own ka at Abu Simbel, each fronted by rows of colossal statues (fig. 99a, b), were inspired by the cliff front at Jebel Barkal, which presented its own natural “colossi.” (fig. 100).  Following Ramses’ long reign, however, it appears that no further construction was undertaken at Jebel Barkal until the Kushite era, and it is unclear whether any more Egyptian kings actually visited the site before it fell away from Egyptian control near the end of Dynasty 20.  As a parallel phenomenon, no additional construction seems to have been undertaken at Luxor Temple until the Kushite period, and, after Herihor, there is very little evidence that Luxor was even used during the Third Intermediate Period, despite Bell’s belief that that the latter was used continuously from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period (Bell 1997, 154).

Figs. 99a, b:  The rock-cut facades of Ramses II’s two temples at Abu Simbel.  It seems likely that these gigantic images were inspired by Ramses’ response to the Jebel Barkal cliff, which also possessed four evenly spaced statue-like projections - four times higher.  (Photos:  T. Kendall)

Fig. 100: The façade of Jebel Barkal showing its row of natural “colossi.”  (Photo:  T. Kendall)

That Luxor and Jebel Barkal were not identical, and that they had differing, if complementary, functions, is indicated by Napatan royal texts, in which we recognize that Jebel Barkal was primarily a royal venue for the celebration of the New Year ceremonies in early August, which heralded the start of the inundation (Török 2002: 18; Kendall 2008, 122).  Luxor was primarily used as the site of the Opet festival, which occurred one or two months later, coincident with the arrival of the high Nile at Thebes (Bell 1997, 158). Given the excellent knowledge possessed by the Kushites of New Kingdom Egyptian royal practices, we can probably safely assume that the rituals they themselves performed at Jebel Barkal and Luxor followed New Kingdom custom.  Under Egyptian control, Jebel Barkal would have been the ideal place to celebrate the New Year ceremonies because Napata, as the official upper limit of the Egyptian empire, would have been the first place where the rising Nile could be first officially observed and monitored.  That there were coordinated royal rites linking Jebel Barkal with Luxor - when the king controlled both sites - is revealed by Piankhy in his Victory stela, who asserted his unwillingness to start for Egypt until he had first performed the New Year ceremonies at Napata:

“After the ceremonies of the New Year have been performed [at Jebel Barkal], I shall offer to my father Amun on his beautiful festival, when he makes his beautiful appearance of the New Year that he may send me in peace to see Amun in the beautiful festival of the Feast of Opet.” [FHN 1994 (I), 77]).

From this text it is clear that once Piankhy had completed the New Year rites at Napata, he set off downstream for Thebes, where, as he stated, he arrived three months later and celebrated the Opet (Török 1997, 159, 163, 318-20).  Like the Luxor Opet, the New Year Festival at Jebel Barkal would have included a coronation which recognized the king’s receipt of his ka.  Piankhy, who calls himself “Strong Bull (=ka) crowned in Napata,” and who pictures himself in reliefs in B 500 accompanied by his ka (fig. 101), then acted on behalf of Amun to bring fertility to the rest of the land by sailing downstream to Egypt as Lord  of the Flood –  as Hapy (god of the Nile) himself, in whose persona the Egyptian pharaohs accomplished the same feat (Török 2002, 11-12).  The Opet celebrated by Piankhy at the conclusion of his long journey would have allowed the exhausted king (and god embodied by him) a welcome “rebirth;" it would also have offered an excuse for a great public festival at Thebes in which he could be greeted and feted by a joyous populace.  Following his Opet at Thebes, Piankhy could also call himself “Strong Bull (=ka) crowned in Thebes” (Török in FHN 1994 [I], 47-52).  It seems highly likely that Luxor was similarly used in the New Kingdom:  as a kind of grand reception center for kings returning from Nubia and as a place where offerings could be made to the remote god at “southern Ipet-(Sut)” who had sent them on their way downstream many weeks or months previously.

Fig. 101: Relief fragment on the NE wall (=upstream/”south”) of court 501 of the Great Amun Temple B 500 at Napata.  The scene pictures Piankhy, followed by his ka, celebrating his Heb-Sed or “30-year Jubilee.”  (Photo:  T. Kendall)


That the Kushites did indeed distinguish an Amun of Luxor from the Amun of Jebel Barkal is clear, for the ithyphallic “Amun in the Ipet,” pictured so many times in reliefs inside Luxor, is also represented on the southwest (=downstream, “north”) wall of room 305 of Taharqo’s Mut temple (B 300), where he follows the Theban triad:  the anthropomorphic Amun of Karnak (“Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, of Ipet-Sut”), Mut “Mistress of Heaven”, and Khonsu “of Thebes”  (Robisek 1989, 117).  These were the major gods of Thebes - but they were probably also the gods who resided locally within B 800.