A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
New Kingdom pilgrims and patrons at Abydos
From the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 B.C.) onward, an annual festival was held at Abydos in which an image of the god Osiris was carried in procession from his main temple to a tomb in the desert that was thought to be his resting place (the tomb was in reality that of King Djer of Dynasty I [ca. 2950-2775 B.C.]). The festival incorporated a ritual re-enactment of the mythical struggle for kingship between Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, and Seth, the brother and murderer of Osiris, that ended in the ultimate triumph of Horus before a divine tribunal, which established him as the legitimate king of Egypt and Osiris as the ruler of the netherworld.
In 1996, a breakthrough came when we discovered a small, remarkably well-preserved chapel at Abydos whose very existence had remained unknown since its abandonment in the Roman period, nearly 2,000 years ago. Inscriptions associated with the chapel date it to the reign of the powerful New Kingdom ruler Thutmose III (ca. 1490-1436 B.C.). The following season, we traced the mud-brick foundation of a nearby structure that proved to be another chapel of similar size and orientation to the first. Within it we found bricks stamped with the identical text--"Thutmose III, beloved of Osiris"--that we had found in the first sanctuary. This pair of small chapels apparently marked the entrance to the great processional route leading from the temple of Osiris to the god's tomb.
Our work in the area adjacent to the temple of Osiris at Abydos is giving us unprecedented insight into the complex relationship between the religious activity of the Egyptian state and the ritual practice of the Egyptian populace. The discovery of New Kingdom royal chapels at the site has changed our perceptions about the nature of royal patronage and the Egyptian state's role in the development and maintenance of sacred space associated with the celebration of the Osiris festival.
Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner, an assistant professor of Egyptian archaeology in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto, is field director of the North Abydos Cultic Zone Project.