Thebes, the city of the god Amon, was the capital of Egypt during the period of the Middle and New Kingdoms. With the temples and palaces at Karnak and Luxor, and the necropolises of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, Thebes is a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height.
-World Cultural Heritage

The Egyptians once built a fantastic city, the city of Waset, which was the crowning jewel in their empire. Over time, it has been renamed by the Greeks to Thebai, and later to the more modern Thebes. Waset was the capital city in Egypt's fourth pharaoh dynasty. It is situated in the northern part of Egypt, near the Nile. It was close to Nubia, which provided the Wasetians with strong and steady trading, as well as the traffic that came in from the eastern desert. Waset stretches across the eastern bank of the Nile river, where the temples of Karnak and Luxor stand, and the western bank, featuring royal cemetaries.

Within Luxor, there are only three main streets where most of the tourists visit. They are Sharia al-Mahatta, Sharia al-Karnak and the Corniched, all near the Nile. The stretch between the train station and the Luxor Gardens is dominated by the Sharia al-Mahatta, as well as heavy commerce with the numerous shops and stands that line the street. Sharia al-Karnak runs between Luxor Temple and the Karnak Temple. This is a beautiful drive, only topped by the gardens at either end. Along Sharia al-Karnak, the shops and restaurants are numerous. One main export of the Luxor area is the stone alabaster, which is mined along the west bank. Alabaster is wonderful for jewelry, as well as considered a healing stone by spiritualists.

The oldest part of Waset is the Karnak Temple complex. As far as modern dating technology can tell, the Karnak Temples were built near the end of the Middle Kingdom. The only object of comparable age is the lower part of a statue of King Niuserre in Karnak. On the Karnak list of kings, seven of them were noted as ruling between the 4th and 6th dynasties (2613-2214 BC). This means that there is a chance that there were complexes that predate the Karnak Temples.

The Inyotef were the first Thebian rulers, who started that trendy style of writing their names in cartouches. The second ruler named himself the King of all of Egypt, but he led only the Thebian region. The other warlords of the time in Egypt rarely regarded him as a ruler, and they often made large strikes agains the walls of Thebes to overthrow him. A later ruler named Mentuhotep took the name Nebhepetre. He really did unite and rule Egypt as a whole. He ruled the first 51 years of the 11th Dynasty.

Thebes saw its golden age in the 18th dynasty under the rules of Pepy II (2278-2184 BC) and Senusret I (1965-1920 BC). The quality-of-life for Egyptians in all walks rose, and the arts flourished. The modern city center is the road that connects the two major temples of Karnak and Luxor; the Avenue of Sphinxes. The area is now almost entirely covered by the modern city of Luxor. The rest of the city seems to radiate outward from the Avenue, and makes a smooth gradient from urban to rural farming on the outskirts of town.

"The main part of the town and principal temples were on the east bank. Across the river on the west bank was the necropolis with tombs and mortuary temples, but also the west part of the town. Deir el-Bahri is there, the mortuary temples of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep and Hatshepsut, and the temple of Amun by Tutmosis III, the Ramesseum of Ramesses II, and other mortuary temples of Seti I at Qurna and Amenhotep III with the Memnon Colossi. Amenhotep III had his palace at el-Malqata there, and in the Ramessid period, Thebes centered north of there, at Medinet Habu.

Most of the temples on the west side of the Nile were royal mortuary temples to maintain the cult of the deceased kings buried in their tombs cut in the cliffs further west. The most important of these temples were at Deir el-Bahri, the Ramesseum and Medinet Habu. The mortuary temple of Seti I stands at Qurna, while only the Memnon Colossi and other fragmentary statuary now mark the site of the enormous temple of Amenhotep III. The temples dedicated to the deities Hathor, Thoth and Isis, all dating from the Greco-Roman period, were also built in the area." -Marie Parsons

Sources: (most paraphrased from here)

Title: Thebes - The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece
Author: Paul Cartledge
Year: 2020
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1-5098-7418-0

This is a scholarly work about the ancient Thebes that was in Greece. Being scholarly, it is boring, which isn't really a problem because even though I've read similar works that were more engaging, it is the nature of such books to be boring because the things specialists are interested in, and excited by, might not necessarily make for good story telling. For example, the author goes on at length about a vase - The Pronomos Vase - saying it is such an important archaeological find, that a university press published an entire volume about it. I looked up a picture of the vase and, well, I'm reminded of Bilbo Baggins saying he felt stretched, like too little butter on a slice of bread. I imagine the articles in that volume would be long winded pieces using too many words (where a 5 word sentence might have sufficed) and causing mental exhaustion, like this author's annoying habit of using a difficult, little known English word and its simpler synonym in brackets beside it. Alternatively, I might need to be more educated or more specialized to appreciate such a work.

The book begins with a discussion of the sources of information about the place and their veracity; its historiography (quoting the usual suspects - Homer, Herodotus, Pindar, Sophocles, Thucydides) and the origin of the name Thebes. There's no certainty about how the name came about. However, it was an important city in those days. It's founder Cadmus supposedly introduced writing to Greece, thus the other name of the Greek letters is Cadmean script. The book doesn't say why it was eclipsed by Athens, Sparta and Corinth. It was the principal city of its region of Boetia and should have had a better legacy given its unique form of government. According to the book, it was a federation of towns. It was also supposedly the originator of pederasty, and identified with Herakles, Apollo, Dionysus and surprisingly, Athena. I thought Athens had an exclusive deal with her. For most of its history, it had a rivalry with Athens and so was allied with Sparta, however, it was the city that broke Sparta's power. They defeated Sparta in 371BC at the Battle of Leuctra. However it was destroyed at least twice, with the final time by Alexander the Great.

While I didn't enjoy this book, it was a worthy read. I learnt some stuff, most importantly, Epaminondas. I never knew he had such a high reputation that a later writer called him the worthiest man to ever come from Greece. I'd known about him, but thought people like Pericles, Lycurgus, Alcibiades and Leonidas were cooler.

When I finished the book, I felt rather ignorant, because it was full of stuff that I didn't know. I read one book that gave me the same feeling last year - German Genius by Peter Watson, which I enjoyed. I didn't enjoy this, even though it is a much smaller book. However, it is recommended, for the simple reason that there's much in it I didn't know. Also, it strengthened a thought I'd had for a while - Golden Ages sucked. One of my sisters is quite religious, talking rapturously about wanting to go back in time to live in Medina during the time of the prophet because she imagines it is some sort of golden age. I think living in the past, at almost any point would have sucked - bad food, no modern amenities, genocidal wars, vastly different culture, superstition etc. Even the high point of Greek civilization, the period covered in this book up to around 350BC, was really bloody and casually cruel. I doubt the victims would appreciate the civilizational advancements that we admire now.

There is a story that one time in the 1960s, during a meeting of recently decolonized countries, Lee Kuan Yew was talking with an African head of state about academic curricula. Mr. Yew was rather shocked that the other man was talking about introducing things like Greek and Latin, rather than practical stuff like shoemaking, textiles, metallurgy and so on. A friend, seeing me reading this book, scoffed at it; asking what was the point. My concluding reason is that I was enjoying it, which was not true. Regardless, the book is recommended.

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