David Klotz: The Temple of Osiris in Abydos during the Late Period

2009-2010 Visiting Research Scholar Lecture Series
The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU

The Temple of Osiris in Abydos during the Late Period
Presented by: David Klotz, Visiting Research Scholar

Although the city of Abydos was one of the most important religious centers of Egypt from the Predynastic  Period through the New Kingdom, little remains of its monuments from the Late Period (c. 1000-300 BC).  In the early twentieth century, W.F. Petrie discovered meager traces of an Osiris temple dating to the reign of Amasis (Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, c. 570-526 BC), and recent New York University excavations have uncovered another temple built by Nectanebo I and II (Thirtieth Dynasty, c. 378-341 BC). Nonetheless, the intervening period - the era of Persian domination - remains a mystery, and the earlier temple of Amasis seems to have completely vanished.

Two new sources provide valuable information on this obscure chapter in the history of Abydos.  The first  is a statue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA 1996.91) belonging to a prominent Egyptian general from the Thirtieth Dynasty.  This object includes a difficult autobiographical inscription text in which the owner narrates how he defended Egypt from invading Persian armies and restored massive damage inflicted upon Abydos. At Sohag, meanwhile, the church of St. Shenoute at the White Monastery (c.450 AD) incorporates Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman spolia reused from earlier monuments.  The Yale White Monastery Church Documentation Project (2007-2009) recorded over twenty granite blocks from the reign of Amasis, and the decoration indicates they derive from the Osiris temple at Abydos.

The archaeological and epigraphic record suggests the Osiris temple was badly damaged - if not completely destroyed - during the period of Achaemenid rule in Egypt.  Similar accounts of Persian looting are attested at multiple Egyptian sites, but they are often dismissed as mere propaganda intended to legitimize the subsequent Ptolemaic dynasty.  The case of Abydos leads us to reevaluate our assumptions concerning the religious policies of the Great Kings of Persia.

Date: Tuesday, October 20th
Time: 6:00pm
Location: Lecture Hall
The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
15 East 84th St.
New York, NY  10028

*This event is free and open to the public