Heracleopolis Magna

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Location of Heracleopolis

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Heracleopolis Magna (Greek: Μεγάλη Ἡρακλέους πόλις, Megálē Herakléous pólis) or Heracleopolis (Ἡρακλεόπολις, Herakleópolis) is the Roman name of the capital of the 20th nome (region) of ancient Egypt, located approximately 15 km (9.3 mi) west of the modern city of Beni Suef.[1]


In Ancient Egypt, it was known in Egyptian as the "House of the Royal Child" (variously rendered as Henen-nesut, Nen-nesu, or Hwt-nen-nesu). The Greek name meant "City of Hercules", with the epithet "great" being added to distinguish it from other towns with that name. The Greek form became more common under the Macedonian Ptolemid dynasty, who came to power after the death of Alexander the Great. The Romans used a latinized form of the Greek name but the town was by then known locally as Ehnasya.[2] This later developed into Hnas (Ϩⲛⲏⲥ) and Ahnas (Arabic). The site is now known in Egyptian Arabic as Ihnasiya Umm al-Kimam ("Mother of the Shards") and as Ihnasiyyah al-Madinah.[1]

Chronology of Important Occupations at Herakleopolis

Early Dynastic Period

The date of the earliest settlements on the site of Herakleopolis is not known, but an entry on the Palermo Stone reporting king Den's visit to the sacred lake of Heryshef at Nenj-neswt, the ancient name of the city, suggests that it was already in existence by the mid First Dynasty, c. 2970 BC.[3][4]

First Intermediate Period (2181–2055 BC)

File:Relieve tumba Satbahetep (M.A.N. Inv.1976-114-A-2080) 02.jpg
Partial view of the bas-relief from the north wall of a funerary chapel containing the tombs of district governor Neferkhau-(Nfr-khaU) and a woman named Sat-Bahetep (probably his wife)-(Sa-t, Ba-htp), dated between 9th and 11th dynasties. It shows a funerary food-offering ritual for Sat-Baheteps's ka (between 2160 and 1990 BC).

Herakleopolis first came to prominence and reached its apogee of power during the First Intermediate Period, between 2181-2055 BC.[5] Eventually after the collapse of the Old Kingdom, Egypt was divided into Upper and Lower Egypt. Herakleopolis became the principal city of Lower Egypt and was able to exercise its control over much of the region.[1] Herakleopolis exerted such great control over Lower Egypt during this time that Egyptologists and Egyptian Archaeologists sometimes refer to the period between the 9th and 10th Dynasties (2160-2025 BC) as the Herakleopolitan Period.[1] During this period, Herakleopolis often found itself in conflict with the de facto capital of Upper Egypt, ancient Thebes.[5]

Middle Kingdom (2055–1650 BC)

Between the latter part of the First Intermediate Period and the early Middle Kingdom, the city became religious center of the cult of Heryshef, and the Temple of Heryshef was constructed.[5] Heracleopolis Magna and its dynasty was defeated by Mentuhotep II in ca. 2055-2004 B.C., which ushered in the Middle Kingdom period.[6]

Third Intermediate Period (1069–747 BC)

By the time of the Third Intermediate Period (1069-747 BC), Herakleopolis again rose in importance. There were many renovations and new constructions of the temple and mortuary centers that existed in the city, and it again became an important religious and political center.[5]

Ptolemaic Egypt (322–30 BC)

By the Ptolemaic period of Egypt (332–30 BC), Herakleopolis was still an important religious and cultural center in Egypt. The Greek rulers of this period, in an attempt to find connections and comparisons between their own gods and the gods of the land that they were now ruling, decided to associate the local god Heryshef with their god Heracles, thus the name often used by modern scholars for Herakleopolis.[5]

Roman Egypt (30 BC–390 AD)

The site of Herakleopolis was occupied even into Roman times. Near the Necropolis of Sedmet el-Gebel, houses dating to this period were found,[5] which in and of itself implies a continued occupation of the area.

Archaeological Excavations

Sir Flinders Petrie and Edouard Naville

The first person to undertake an extensive excavation at Herakleopolis was the Swiss Egyptologist Edouard Naville. After excavating what he believed to be the entirety of the Temple of Heryshef, Naville came to the conclusion that he had found all that Herakleopolis had to offer.[2]

His friend Sir Flinders Petrie, on the other hand, “...in 1879 suspected that the region already cleared was only a part of the temple,” [2] and thus Herakleopolis (or Ehnasya as he called it, a name harking back to the site's period of Roman occupation) had much left to be unearthed.

Petrie discovered a great deal that Naville had not believed existed. He completed the excavation of the temple of Heryshef, and attempted to find other remains in an area around the temple. In so doing, he succeeded in discovering such previously unknown features as house remains from the Roman period of occupation.[2] He also identified another temple that he attributed to the 19th Dynasty, as well as the aforementioned additions to the Temple of Heryshef associated with Ramses the Great.[2] Other than archaeological features, the artefacts found by Petrie during his excavation are numerous, and span the entire chronological range of settlement. Relating specifically to artefacts found at the end of the First Intermediate Period and the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, Petrie uncovered numerous pot sherds he associated with the 11th Dynasty.[2] From the later Roman periods, Petrie found numerous objects associated with many of the mortuary sites that he unearthed, including iron tools, pottery, and icons.[2]

Recent Excavations

While other excavations are few and naturally overshadowed by that of Flinders Petrie and his famous expedition, there have been several more recent excavations that also increased knowledge of the site. During the 1980s, a Spanish team conducted excavations and uncovered such artefacts as a libation altar and a pair of decorated eyes presumably from a statue, all attributed with a temple dated to the Third Intermediate Period.[5]

A Spanish team also conducted excavations as late as 2008, under the direction of Carmen Perez Die of the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, Spain. Their efforts revealed a previously unknown tomb with several false doors dating to the First Intermediate Period, as well as funeral offerings, all of which had not been vandalized.[7]

Preceded by Capital of Egypt
2185 BC - 2060 BC
Succeeded by


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  3. Toby Wilkinson: Early Dynastic Egypt. Routledge, London/New York 1999, ISBN 0-415-18633-1 p. 325.
  4. Heinrich Schäfer: Ein Bruchstück altägyptischer Annalen, (= Abhandlungen der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Anhang: Abhandlungen nicht zur Akademie gehöriger Gelehrter. Philosophische und historische Abhandlungen. 1902, 1. Quartal). Verlag der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin 1902, p. 18-21.
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