The Last Hieroglyph

The late Roman state was far more loosely organised than any modern state.  The abolition of official paganism at the end of the fourth century did not mean that all the temples were shut down.  Many continued to exist, so long as the local population wanted them to.  Near Alexandria at the start of the 6th century, a temple of Isis was in full operation at Menouthis, as we learn from the Life of Severus of Antioch by Zacharias Rhetor, and was destroyed by Peter Mongus after a scandal involving a temple prostitute.

The temple complex at Philae, on the southern border of Egypt, or beyond it, remained open later still, until it was closed in 535-7 by Justinian.  The sources are included and translated in volume 3 of the rather remarkable Fontes Historiae Nubiorum (=FHN).  Procopius tells us in his De bello Persico 1.19.37:

Both these peoples, the Blemmyes and the Nobatai, revere all the other gods in which pagans [Hellenes] believe, as well as Isis and Osiris, and not least Priapus. But the Blemmyes even have the custom of sacrificing human beings to the Sun.  These barbarians retained the sanctuaries on Philae right down to my day, but the Emperor Justinian decided to pull them down. Accordingly Narses, a Persarmenian by birth, whom I mentioned before as having deserted to the Romans, and who was in command of the troops there, pulled down the sanctuaries on the on the Emperor’s orders, held the priests under guard, and sent the images to Byzantium.[1]

The temples at Philae still stand, however, even today, so this is not entirely accurate.

19th century view of Philae from here.

When David Roberts visited in the 1830s, the preservation of the interior of the temple was really quite extraordinary.  Sadly these brilliant colours were destroyed by the waters of the first Aswan dam in 1911.

Philae, by David Roberts RA

Justinian’s expedition does mark an ending point.  Around the same time, or possibly even before then, a church is built within the precincts of the temple.

There had been strong political reasons for the temple to remain open.  Isis was worshipped well beyond the Roman frontier.  No doubt it suited the prefect of Egypt in far away Alexandria to keep this connection with the tribesmen to the south.  In 452 or 453 we find the historian Priscus, an eyewitness, writing (fragment 21) about the Roman treaty with the Blemmyes and Noubades, after defeating them:

In this it was agreed …that, in accordance with the ancient custom, their crossing to the temple of Isis be unhindered, Egyptians having charge of the river boat in which the statue of the goddess (Isis) is placed and ferried across the river. For at a stated time the barbarians bring the wooden statue to their own country and, after having consulted it, return it safely to the island.  Therefore Maximinus decided that it was appropriate that the text of the compact be ratified in the temple of Philae.[2]

Philae is also the location of the latest-dated hieroglyphic inscription known to us; and likewise the latest-dated demotic inscription.  These also are listed in the FHN 3, section 306 (p.1121).

The last known hieroglyphic inscription is apparently known as the “Graffito of Esmet-Akhom”, and was inscribed in both hieroglyphic and demotic on 24 August 394. The wikipedia article includes a redrawing.  The figure is of the Nubian god, Mandulis.  To the right are the hieroglyphs, and the demotic (=GPH 436, or IDemPhilae 436) is in a panel under the hand of the god:

IDemPhilae 436 – the last hieroglyphic inscription, with demotic panel under the hand, the “graffito of Esmet-Akhom”. 24 August, 394.

There does not seem to be a database of demotic inscriptions, so we are reliant on older book-form publications.  I find that F.L.Griffith published a collection of demotic graffiti in 1937, under the title of Catalogue of the Demotic Graffiti of the Dodecaschoenus, so the graffiti at Philae are GPh 436, or IDemPhilae 436, etc.

The hieroglyphs in this last inscription read (translation via Wikipedia):

Before Mandulis, son of Horus, by the hand of Nesmeterakhem, son of Nesmeter, the Second Priest of Isis, for all time and eternity. Words spoken by Mandulis, lord of the Abaton, great god.

The demotic adds a date:

I, Nesmeterakhem, the Scribe of the House of Writings(?) of Isis, son of Nesmeterpanakhet the Second Priest of Isis, and his mother Eseweret, I performed work on this figure of Mandulis for all time, because he is fair of face towards me. Today, the Birthday of Osiris, his dedication feast, year 110.

The impressive Nile Scribes blog here details the exact location.  The FHN comments that the author may have dedicated this inscription to a Nubian god, rather than to Isis, on 24 August 394, just after the abolition of the temples, in order to safeguard his position in the cold new world.  That’s the end of hieroglyphics.  Soon after, no doubt, the script became unintelligible.

Philae also contains the last known demotic inscription.  Outside of Philae, the script had ceased to be used before 300 AD.  Carved on the 12 December 452, on the second pylon, is GPH 365,[3] of which Griffith gave the following drawing:

GPh365 – the last demotic inscription

Our graffito is the one on the left, which reads:

Esmeyt senior, son of Pakhom, the first prophet of Isis, his mother’s name Tshenesmet, the daughter of a chief priest of Isis Esmet junior the second prophet of Isis, son of Haretyotf; today, day 12, Choiak, year 169.

The day was given by Griffith as “day 6”, i.e. 2 December, but Eugene Cruz-Uribe states that it should be read as “sw 16″, i.e. the 12 December.[4].

And that’s it.  That’s the end of demotic too.  The future belonged to Coptic.

  1. [1]FHN 3, section 328, p.1190-1
  2. [2]Translated in Fontes Historiae Nubiorum, 4 vols, Bergen (1994-2000); vol. 3, section 318, p.1153.  Via Dijkstra.
  3. [3]F.L. Griffith, Catalogue of the Demotic Graffiti of the Dodecaschenenus, vol. 1: text (1937), p.102-3; vol. 2 plates here.  See also this preview at Brill here for a correction on the date.
  4. [4]Eugene Cruz-Uribe, “The Last Demotic Inscription”, in Hieratic, Demotic and Greek studies and text editions: Festschrift in honour of Sven P. Vleeming, Brill (2018)

The log book of Inspector Merer from Wadi al Jarf and the pyramid of Cheops / Khufu

So now we know how the stones were transported to build the pyramids of Egypt!!  They were moved by boat.  We know now this, thanks to a discovery in 2013 of a papyrus, in some boat storage caves on the Red Sea.  The find has caused a bunch of picture stories online this summer, such as this one at the Smithsonian, the Sun,  and I believe a TV documentary by Channel 4, Egypt’s Great Pyramid: The New Evidence.  The first volume of papyri from the find has just been published in book form.

Like most people, I tend to be sceptical of newspaper reports about wonderful finds in Egypt.  But this is entirely genuine!  There is some hard info here, and a very nice article from “The harbour of Khufu on the Red Sea coast at adi al-Jarf, Egypt” in Near Eastern Archaeology 77:1 (2014), 4-14 (PDF here), which shows a piece of the papyrus:

The papyrus is from the early 4th Dynasty, around 2,500 BC. It is the journal, daybook, or logbook, of Inspector Merer, who perhaps wrote it with a reed pen himself, and was in charge of a team of about 200 men.  It is, in fact, the most ancient inscribed papyrus ever found in Egypt.  It dates from the reign of Cheops, or Khufu as we must call him, the builder of the Great Pyramid.  In fact it dates from year 27 of his reign, when the pyramid was actually being finished, and its outer casing of fine Tura limestone was being fitted.

Most of the new book will be specialist stuff.  But, bless them, the team have put online a great deal of useful material!

The website of Prof. Tallet and his team is AMeRS, the “Association Mer Rouge-Sinai”.  An interview with Dr. T. is available in video here.  But even better, at this post, there is a PDF containing those portions of the book of general interest, with an analysis in English.  This includes … translations into English and Arabic (why not French?), and the post also has an English abstract:

At the end of this month, the first volume dedicated to the Wadi el-Jarf papyri will be published at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. These documents, found at the entrance of the storage galleries, are exceptional, since they are the most ancient inscribed papyri ever found in Egypt. Like most of the remains of the harbor of Wadi el-Jarf, they are from the reign of Khufu. Pierre Tallet choose for this first volume, to deal with two of the best preserved papyri (papyrus A and B), belonging to the logbook written by the inspector Merer, whose team was engaged in the transportation by boat of limestone blocs from the quarry of Tura to the construction site of the great pyramid of Khufu at Giza.

English and Arabic translation of the Egyptian text and synthesis of the data [1705_Tallet]

This is wonderful, and it is remarkable how few people have linked to it.

I’ve reformatted the English translation for ease of reading, and here it is.  “Akhet-Khufu” is the Great Pyramid, the “Horizon of Khufu”.  “She Khufu” means “the pool of Khufu”, short for “Ro-She Khufu”, the “entrance to the pool of Khufu”, which is perhaps the headquarters for the administration of the pyramid project, situated on the artificial lake near the mortuary temple.  Ankhhaf was Cheops’ half-brother, and in charge of works including the pyramid construction.

First day : […] spend the day […] in […].
[Day] 2: […] spend the day […] in? […].
[Day 3: Cast off from?] the royal palace? [… sail]ing [upriver] towards Tura, spend the night there.
Day [4]: Cast off from Tura, morning sail downriver towards Akhet-Khufu, spend the night.
[Day] 5: Cast off from Tura in the afternoon, sail towards Akhet-Khufu.
Day 6: Cast off from Akhet-Khufu and sail upriver towards Tura […].
[Day 7]: Cast off in the morning from […]
Day 8: Cast off in the morning from Tura, sail downriver towards Akhet-Khufu, spend the night there.
Day 9: Cast off in the morning from Akhet-Khufu, sail upriver; spend the night.
Day 10: Cast off from Tura, moor in Akhet-Khufu. Come from […]? the aper-teams?[…]
Day 11: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle in] carrying out works related to the dyke of [Ro-She] Khuf[u …]
Day 12: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle carrying out] works related to the dyke of Ro-She Khufu […].
Day 13: Inspector Merer spends the day with [his phyle? …] the dyke which is in Ro-She Khufu by means of 15? phyles of aper-teams.
Day [14]: [Inspector] Merer spends the day [with his phyle] on the dyke [in/of Ro-She] Khu[fu…].
[Day] 15 […] in Ro-She Khufu […].
Day 16: Inspector Merer spends the day […] in Ro-She Khufu with the noble? […].
Day 17: Inspector Merer spends the day […] lifting the piles of the dy[ke …].
Day 18: Inspector Merer spends the day […]
Day 19 […]
Day 20 […] for the rudder? […] the aper-teams.

[Day 25]: [Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle [h]au[ling]? st[ones in Tura South]; spends the night at Tura South
[Day 26]: Inspector Merer casts off with his phyle from Tura [South], loaded with stone, for Akhet-Khufu; spends the night at She-Khufu.
Day 27: sets sail from She-Khufu, sails towards Akhet-Khufu, loaded with stone, spends the night at Akhet-Khufu.
Day 28: casts off from Akhet-Khufu in the morning; sails upriver Tura South.
Day 29: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura South; spends the night at Tura South.
Day 30: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura South; spends the night at Tura South.

[First day ] the director of 6 Idjer[u] casts of for Heliopolis in a transport boat-iuat to bring  us food from Heliopolis while the Elite (stp-sȝ) is in Tura.
Day 2: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling stones in Tura North; spends the night at Tura North.
Day 3: Inspector Merer casts off from Tura North, sails towards Akhet-Khufu loaded with stone.
[Day 4 …] the director of 6 [Idjer]u [comes back] from Heliopolis with 40 sacks-khar and a large measure-heqat of bread-beset while the Elite hauls stones in Tura North.
Day 5: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle loading stones onto the boats-hau of the Elite in Tura North, spends the night at Tura.
Day 6: Inspector Merer sets sail with a boat of the naval section (gs-dpt) of Ta-ur, going downriver towards Akhet-Khufu. Spends the night at Ro-She Khufu.
Day 7: sets sail in the morning towards Akhet-Khufu, sails towing towards Tura North, spends the night at […]
Day 8: sets sail from Ro-She Khufu, sails towards Tura North. Inspector Merer spends the day [with a boat?] of Ta-ur? […].
Day 9: sets sail from […] of Khufu […].
Day 10: […]

[Day 13 …] She-[Khufu] […] spends the night at Tur]a South.
[Day 14: … hauling] stones [… spends the night in] Tura South.
[Day 15:] Inspector Merer [spends the day] with his [phyle] hauling stones [in Tura] South, spends the night in Tura South.
[Day 16: Inspector Merer spends the day with] his phyle loading the boat-imu (?) with stone [sails …] downriver, spends the night at She-Khufu.
[Day 17: casts off from She-Khufu] in the morning, sails towards Akhet-Khufu; [sails … from] Akhet-Khufu, spends the night at She-Khufu.
[Day 18] […] sails […] spends the night at Tura .
[Day 19]: Inspector Merer] spends the day [with his phyle] hauling stones in Tura [South ?].
Day 20: [Inspector] Mer[er] spends the day with [his phyle] hauling stones in Tura South (?), loads 5 craft, spends the night at Tura.
Day 21: [Inspector] Merer spends the day with his [phyle] loading a transport ship-imu at Tura North, sets sail from Tura in the afternoon.
Day 22: spends the night at Ro-She Khufu. In the morning, sets sail from Ro-She Khufu; sails towards Akhet-Khufu; spends the night at the Chapels of [Akhet] Khufu.
Day 23: The director of 10 Hesi spends the day with his naval section in Ro-She Khufu, because a decision to cast off was taken; spends the night at Ro-She Khufu.
Day 24: Inspector Merer spends the day with his phyle hauling (stones? craft?) with those who are on the register of the Elite, the aper-teams and the noble Ankhhaf, director of Ro-She Khufu.
Day 25: Inspector Merer spends the day with his team hauling stones in Tura, spends the night at Tura North.
[Day 26 …] sails towards […]

Day x+1: [sails] downriver […] the bank of the point of She-Khufu.
Day x+2: […] sails? from Akhet-Khufu […] Ro-She Khufu.
Day x+3: [… loads?] […Tura] North.
Day x+4: […] loaded with stone […] Ro-She [Khufu].
Day x+5: […] Ro-She Khufu […] sails from Akhet-Khufu; spends the night.
Day x+6: [… sails …] Tura.
Day x+7: [… hauling?] stones [in Tura North, spends the night at Tura North.
Day x+8: [Inspector Merer] spends the day with his phyle [hauling] stones in Tura North; spends the night in Tura North.
Day x+9: […] stones [… Tura] North.
Day x+10: […] stones [Tu]ra North;
Day x+11: [casts off?] in the afternoon […] sails? […]

x+1 […Tura] North […] spends the night there.
x+2: […] sails [… Tura] North, spends the night at Tura North.
x+3 [… loads, hauls] stones […]
x+4 […] spends the night there.
x+5 […] with his phyle loading […] loading a craft.
x+6 […] sails [… Ro-She?] Khufu […]
x+7 […] with his phyle sails […] sleeps at [Ro]-She Khufu
x+8 […]

It is really fascinating to read this account of the days of a man much like ourselves, writing some 4,500 years ago!  Well done, Dr Tallet and friends, for making this accessible to us all!

Pierre Tallet, Les papyrus de la Mer Rouge I: Le “Journal de Merer”.

Petronius Secundus, Prefect of Egypt, at the Colossi of Memnon

The “Colossi of Memnon” at Luxor in Egypt were a recognised tourist sight in antiquity, because one of them made a “singing” noise at dawn.  Few will be aware that the lower portions of the statues are covered with ancient graffiti and inscriptions.

Among these, I learn from David Blocker, is an inscription by “Petronius”.  This is not the literary author, Petronius Arbiter, but rather the prefect of Egypt under Domitian, Petronius Secundus.  The inscription is as follows:

Imp(eratore) Domitiano
Caesare Aug(usto) German(ico) XVI c(onsule)
T(itus) Petronius Secundus pr(aefectus) Aeg(ypti)
audit Memnonem hora I pr(idie) Idus Mart(ias)
et honoravit eum versibus Graecis
infra scriptis:
φθέγξαο Λατοΐδα, σὸν γὰρ μέρος ὧδε κάθηται,
Μέμνων ἀκτεῖσιν βαλλόμενος πυρίναις.
curante T(ito) Attio Musa prae[f](ecto) coh(ortis) II


When the emperor Domitian Caesar Augustus Germanicus was consul for the 16th time, T. Petronius Secundus, prefect of Egypt, heard Memnon at the first hour on the day before the Ides of March, and honoured him with the Greek verses written below:

“You sent forth your song, O Memnon, because a part of you is seated here, when the son of Latona struck you with his brilliant rays.”

This work carried out by T. Attius Musa, Prefect of the 2nd cohort of Thebans.[1]

The date is 92 AD.  The graffito makes clear that it was the action of the sun that caused the sound.

Early travellers drew and published pictures of the statues and the graffiti, the latter often recorded very inaccurately.  Some tweets of these can be found here, although not ours.  French translations of the inscriptions can be found online here.

The statues themselves are actually of Amenophis III, and originally stood in front of his now-vanished mortuary temple.  But an earthquake damaged one of them.  After this, at dawn, the statue vibrated and gave out this peculiar noise.  The noise ceased after Septimius Severus had the statue repaired in the 3rd century AD.


  1. [1]The inscription is CIL III 37 = ILS 8759d = Bernand Memnon 13.  André et Étienne Bernand, Les Inscriptions grecques et latines du colosse de Memnon, Bibliothèque d’étude de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale, vol. 31, Paris (1960).  The inscriptions are online here.  The item is 217995, IGR I,5 1198.

The temple that Cleopatra built for Caesarion at Armant

While I was looking at the Description de l’Egypte for information about the Serapeum as it was in Napoleon’s time, a whim came over me to look for the now-vanished temple at Armant (ancient Hermonthis), some 12 miles south of Luxor.

The temple was destroyed in 1861-3 in order to get stone to build a sugar factory, which still stands; but I vaguely recalled that there was a picture by the French scholars in the Description.

And so there is, in the first volume of plates of ancient monuments, here at Heidelberg.  In fact there are three drawings, plus a reconstruction and plan and some drawings of the reliefs.  Here is one of them (click on the image for a larger version).

The temple of Cleopatra and Caesarion at Armant
The temple of Cleopatra and Caesarion at Armant

The Napoleonic French soldiers standing on the roof are distinctive!

I then began to search for information about the temples of Armant.  This quickly showed the limits of the internet – there is practically no information to be had.  There was a great temple of Montu-Re at Armant, of which little remains.  In the grounds of this, just as at Dendera, a smaller temple was built, the one above, which was rebuilt by Cleopatra.  It was a mamissi, celebrating a birth, much like the one at Dendera.

Finally there is a temple with bull-burials.  But you try to find any maps of all this!  I believe that there is a monograph, written in 1940 or thereabouts – offline, of course.  Clearly someone needs to upload information about Armant (or Erment as it is sometimes known).

There are still remains of all these temples; although apparently none are open to the public.  I get the impression that parts of a pylon, and two Roman gateways, still exist.

But then I found this:

Cleopatra's temple at Erment. 1857. Francis Frith.
Cleopatra’s temple at Erment. 1857. Francis Frith.

That’s right – there is a photograph of the place!  It was taken, unbelievably, in 1857, only 4 years before demolition started.  In fact there are a number of photographs.  A certain Maxime du Camp published another in “Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie, 1852,” and Felix Teynard one in “Egypte et Nubie, 1858”.  I was sadly unable to find digitised copies of this.

Well, I had no idea when precisely photography started.  Apparently it was invented by Daguerre who experimented in secret between 1835-1839.  What happened next was startling: his process was purchased, in return for a pension, by the French government, which made it available to the world as an act of benevolence.  Needless to say not everyone felt benevolent – some adventurer in England managed to get a patent in, which meant that English people had to pay for what everyone else could use for free.  There are parallels here to Google Books!

But as soon as photography existed, it seems that people started to carry these new “cameras” down the Nile with them!  A register of very early photographs of Egypt might reveal many interesting things.

Those of us who have visited Egypt and experienced the way that possession of a camera marks the holder for extortion by officials and self-appointed “guardians” of monuments may be permitted to wonder whether the invention of the first camera was swiftly followed by the invention of the first Egyptian camera fees!


More Egypt vandalism: the museum in Minya attacked and looted by Muslim Brotherhood

Minya_Malawi_Museum_2013_5From the Daily Mail (h/t Nebraska Energy Observer):

Looters ransack Egyptian antiques museum and snatch priceless artefacts as  armed police move inside stormed Cairo mosque

  • Museum in the Upper Egyptian city of  Minya was broken into on Thursday.
  • Ministry accused Muslim Brotherhood  supporters of breaking in.

Egypt’s famous Malawi National Museum has  been ransacked, looted and smashed up by vandals in another example of the  recent unrest in the country.

Photos of the damaged artefacts and empty  display cases were released this afternoon as supporters of deposed President  Mohamed Morsi fought a gunbattle with security forces in a Cairo  mosque.

According to a statement made by the Ministry  of Antiquities, the museum, in the Upper  Egyptian city of Minya, was allegedly broken into and some artifacts were  damaged and stolen on Thursday evening.

Scroll down for videos

It not yet clear what is missing – a list is  being compiled to ensure the artefacts are not smuggled out the country.

All of which is very bad.  But there is worse yet, improbable as it may seem.  At the bottom of the article we read:

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

We need hardly ask, in these days of political correctness, when expressing negative opinions about certain favoured groups is a matter for the police, why the proprietor of the newspaper has instructed his staff to ensure that ordinary mortals are not permitted to express their disgust.  What hope for the civilised world, when the defenders of it are not permitted even to object to the actions of the barbarians?

It is as if Luke Skywalker were not permitted to mention that Darth Vader had something to do with the Death Star.  Such a path must bring ruin on the world.

While we are still permitted to say anything — the BBC has omitted to report on all this — here are some more of the photos that the Mail posted.


Update: I see no sign of BBC reporting this story.  Protect the Pope has a list of further attacks on churches, equally unreported.

Update2: With some difficulty, I eventually found a BBC story by John McManus, reporting on some of the attacks on churches, from yesterday (16 August 2013).  It’s not very good, nor very visible:

Egypt crisis: Churches ‘under attack’

At least 25 churches across Egypt have been attacked by arsonists in a wave of anti-Christian violence, a non-governmental group has said.

Homes and businesses have also been targeted, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) says.

Witnesses described the attackers as shouting slogans in support of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

But his Muslim Brotherhood supporters say it is the military regime that is instigating the violence.

It is impossible to say whether the decision to break up the pro-Morsi camps in Cairo was the trigger for the church attacks.

But Egypt’s minority religion has often borne the brunt of discrimination and violence from some Islamists.

The article does not state at any point who is actually doing the violence, preferring to suggest that these are claims by one group.

We should note the scare quotes in the heading, and the claim that violence is from “some Islamists”.   Perhaps the BBC could do a little more, and use its correspondents on the ground to investigate the facts?