Obelisks of Nectanebo II

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Obelisks of Nectanebo II
Nectanebo II Obelisk (1).JPG
The Nectanebo II Obelisks on display in the British Museum
Nectanebo II Obelisk (2).JPG
Material Black siltstone
Size 2.74 metres High
Created 350 BC
Present location British Museum, London
Registration EA 523 EA 524

The Obelisks of Nectanebo II are a pair of monumental obelisks that were found in Cairo but were originally located in the ancient city of Hermopolis (modern Al-Ashmunayn), central Egypt. The fragmentary monoliths were recovered by French scholars as part of Napoleon's 1798 expedition to Egypt but, after the capitulation of French forces, they were confiscated by the British, along with a number of antiquities including the Rosetta Stone, and transported to England. They can now be seen in the Great Court of the British Museum.[1]


Both obelisks were re-discovered by European travellers in the eighteenth century. One was seen in Cairo by the English explorer Richard Pococke in 1737. The other was recorded by the Danish scientist Carsten Niebuhr in 1762. They were later transported to Alexandria by French forces, with the purpose of shipping them to France and exhibiting the finds at the Louvre. However, the French were defeated by the British in the Battle of the Nile and in the subsequent Treaty of Alexandria, all Egyptian antiquities collected by the French became the property of the British Crown. The obelisks, along with other objects, were then taken to England and presented to King George III, who in turn donated them to the British Museum in 1802.[2]


The pair of Obelisks were originally set up at a temple complex in Hermopolis, Middle Egypt, under the reign of the Pharaoh Nectanebo II. The Thirtieth Dynasty witnessed a renaissance in art and culture that had begun under the first King Nectanebo I. The two obelisks were probably erected either side of a ramp leading to the entrance of a temple. They are fragmentary, with only half of them extant. A segment of one of the obelisks can be found in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The hieroglyphic inscriptions that envelope each monument record their dedication to the Egyptian god Thoth, who was the chief deity at Hermopolis.


Further reading

  • N. Strudwick, Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt (London, British Museum Press, 2006)
  • T.G.H. James, Ancient Egypt: the land and its legacy (London, 1988)
  • L. Habachi, The obelisks of Egypt: The skyscrapers of the past (New York, Scribner, 1977)
  • E. Iversen, Obelisks in exile, (2 vols). (Copenhagen, G.E.C. Gad, 1968-1972)