Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
- Author(s): Hallof, Jochen
- et al.
Esna is located on the west bank of the Nile, 64 kilometers south of Luxor. The site was an important cultural center in the Ptolemaic Period, although archaeological evidence dates from as early as the Middle Kingdom. The Temple of Esna was the last Egyptian temple to be decorated with hieroglyphic texts. It was erected in the Ptolemaic Period and enlarged with a hypostyle hall, decorated mainly in Roman times. The temple was dedicated to an androgynous, nameless, omnipotent creator god, which manifested itself as both the male god Khnum/Khnum-Ra and the female deity Neith. Nothing more than the hypostyle hall has survived from the temple. Its walls are decorated with some unique ritual scenes, such as the dance of the pharaoh before the gods, and the catching of fishes and birds with a clap net. The temple’s columns, decorated mainly with inscriptions, display the only temple ritual known from ancient Egypt that is preserved in its entirety. The inscriptions are written in Middle Egyptian with some Demotic influence. To broaden the range of meanings of the hieroglyphs, the priestly scholars made liberal use of the acrophonic writing principle. The site of Esna was surrounded by minor temples and sanctuaries, of which only Esna North and Contra Latopolis have survived.