last update: 06.02.2008

Historical Overview


On the island Elephantine Hatshepsut has erected a small temple dedicated especially to Satit (Satis). However, also the two other members of the triad of the cataract region, Khnum, and Anuket (Anukis), were worshipped there. Furthermore, a few remains (a reused block which had been altered to cover up traces of Hatshepsut; several pieces from statues of Thutmosis II) testify building activities of Hatshepsut in the temple of Khnum (Jarritz, H., Untersuchungen im Bereich des Khnum-Tempels. MDAIK 40, 1984; Niederberger, N., Untersuchungen im Bereich des späten Khnum-Tempels. MDAIK 53, 1997).
Later, the temple of Satit and that of Khnum had been destroyed or were taken down. During the 30th Dynasty both temples (or their remains) were replaced by new buildings erected by Nektanebos II. Archaeological investigations showed that the temples erected during the 30th Dynasty by Nektanebos II did not contain older core structures anymore.
However, particularly in the foundations of the Ptolemaic temple of Satit numerous blocks from preceding buildings of the Middle Kingdom and the 18. Dynasty were discovered (Kaiser, MDAIK 26, 1970).
The present page gives an overview about the development of the cult place dedicated to the Goddess Satit on the island Elephantine.

Cult place of Satit
The excavations of the German Archaeological Institute, Section Cairo (DAIK), and the Swiss Institute for Architectural and Archaeological Research in Egypt since 1969 on the Nile island Elephantine resulted in the evidence that at the place of the restored 18th Dynasty temple of the Satet a cult place already existed approximately 3000 BC. Around this old cult place settlement activities could be dated back into the Predynastic Period  (Naqada II-period, 3500 - 3200 BC; Andraschko, F., MDAIK 53, 1997), Therefore, it is possible that the first use of this cult place must also be dated into this period.
In prehistoric times the today's island Elephantine was separated into two islands which were connected by a flat, probably swampy hollow. Possibly, this hollow has been inundated only during a high Nile flood, however, in the course of history it disappeared completely (according to OEAE, keyword Elephantine, S. 465, during the 1st Interim Period). Reconstructions of the town development until the end of the 4th or 5th dynasty still show a separated east and west island (occasionally, a different allocation is used: south-(= east -) and north (= west) island).
Obviously, the east island was the main settlement area. The cult place of the Satet was located on the western side of this island, restricted by the hollow in the west and fortification walls on the eastern side of the island. It lay outside the settlement and outside the fortress.
The cult place was located in a niche which was formed by three granite rocks. The rocks exceeded the bottom of the niche by up to 3.50 ms. The niche itself was approx. 4 m deep and about 3.50 ms wide, and opened to the east. From the main niche a smaller side niche branched off  in the southwest corner which was about 2 ms deep and about 1 m wide (see the following sketch).
During the early phases of its use the niche was probably separated by a wall from the area in front of it, the entrance was located at the southern rock. Whether in the niche installations (i.e. one room or more) existed could not be determined with certainty, since the rocky ground rises there a little bit older buildings were possibly taken down completely before new buildings were erected.
Already the reconstructions of the oldest cult place indicated the existence of a forecourt in front of the niche, and an entrance to the forecourt on the right (northern) side of the enclosure.

The sketch above shows the plan of the restored cult place of the 6th Dynasty (modified according to MDAIK 33, 1977). The niche between the granite rocks which opened to the east was separated from the area by a brick-wall. The entrance to the niche was located at the southern granite rock. In front of the niche was a forecourt enclosed by brick-walls. In the center of the forecourt an altar-like pedestal had been erected. The entrance to the forecourt was located on the right (northern) side of the east wall (see red arrow). In the south-east corner the excavation revealed a hole for rubbish. The length of the east wall was approx. 9.8 ms - just the same length of the east side of the later 18th Dynasty temple.

Below the modern concrete foundation of the reconstructed temple of the 18th Dynasty the cult place of the 6. Dynasty was also reconstructed at its original place between granite rocks (see the following photo). For the respective walls and the brick pedestal (altar) original bricks of the Old Kingdom were reused.
The granite naos with inscriptions of Pepi I and Merenre which is on show in the museum Louvre was replaced by a copy (made of synthetic resin). Several pottery vessels found in the niche, like the tub (see the following photo), were put up at the place of their discovery.

The photo above shows a part of the restore cult place of the 6th Dynasty (approx. 2250 BC) which had been restored below the temple of the 18. Dynasty, one recognizes the bedrock (right) as well as some remains of a wall, just opposite a shrine (naos) and on the left edge a corner of the pedestal.

Up to the Middle Kingdom (MK) no more substantial changes took place at the cult place - an expansion of the area which lay restricted between the settlement and fortress was not possible.
During the 11th Dynasty the cult place was rebuilt several times within the borders of the old place, until under the reign of Mentuhotep Nebhepet-Ra the whole temple area was completely reshaped.
Intef II had rebuilt the temple several times, first he erected in the niche between the granite rocks a building made of stone and bricks which was separated into a main and a side-chapel (see the following sketch; modified after MDAIK 49, 1993). The main chapel (A) was dedicated to Satit, the side-chapel (B) to Khnum. Both buildings are testified  in each case by partly recovered right jambs of a door which also attest that they had been erected by Intef II. The special stone structure of the door-jambs and the simultaneousness of the their erection indicate (see MDAIK 49, 1993) that both doors belonged to the same building.
Later, Intef II. replaced this building by a completely new one. At that occasion probably the chapel dedicated to Khnum (D) got separated at the southeast corner of the forecourt. In addition, Intef II. replaced the building in the niche by a chapel with an antechamber and two columns (C), this chapel was dedicated to Satit.

The buildings C and D were probably replaced by Intef III by buildings E and F. The function of chapel G which included a portico with two columns is uncertain. However, a recovered octagonal column which bears his name testifies that Intef III has erected this building. The altar-like pedestal in the forecourt disappeared under Intef III.

In the past centuries the settlement which surrounded the cult place had grown at height on its own debris. At the beginning of the MK the ground level of the settlement lay obviously so high above the cult place. Most likely, already the new buildings of the Intef III towered above the three surrounding granite rocks and strengthened the narrowness in the cult area. In addition, due to the fact that the surrounding settlement lay much higher the the cult place the accessibility to the place was difficult. Thus, Mentuhotep Neb-hepet-Ra decided to fill up the cult place and to build above it on the new ground level a completely new temple.

The drawing above shows the layout of the new temple erected by Mentuhotep to Neb-hepet-Ra again (modified after MDAIK 49, 1993; the black parts of the walls were made of stone, die dotted parts were built with bricks). The three granite rocks which surrounded the old cult place were located under the left side of the temple, their positions are marked by thin lines.

The new building of Mentuhotep Neb-hepet-Ra lay up to 2 m above the ground level of the temple of Intef III and thus gave up after approximately thousand years the optical connection with the rock niche (the level of the temple lay approx. 100.6 ms above NN).
However, by filling up the old cult place Mentuhotep got the advantage to build a greater temple. On its northern side the chapel was extended by a peristyle with a water bath made of limestone. Perhaps, the extension was especially used to celebrate the rites of Nile-Flood. The temple was, as the buildings of the Intef kings, partly erected as a stone-brick-construction i.e. the core walls were made of bricks which then were encased with sandstone plates.
Only few blocks of this temple were found in situ, a few bases of columns, parts of the northwestern enclosure wall, as well as remainders of connecting stairs to the area of Khnum in the southeast. However, enough blocks have been recovered to make a reconstruction of the temple which has been erected few meters north of the 18th Dynasty temple (see following photo which shows the view from the east; Photo E. Noppes, 2007)

View of the eastern side of the reconstructed temple of Mentuhotep with the entrance on the northern side of the main temple, on the right of it the peristyle with the water bath (photo E. Noppes, 2007). The black-and-white picture below (taken in 2007) shows the peristyle with the water bath.

Apart from the extension by the northern peristyle it is noticeable that no more references for the worshipping of Khnum were detected in the building. There are hints that Khnum had been worshipped at the cult place of Satit since the 6th Dynasty. Furthermore, it is proved that Khnum had an own chapel there since Antef II renewed the temple (see above rooms B and D). The fact that a cult area is missing now let assume that already under Mentuhotep a completely independent cult place was erected for Khnum. However, an own temple dedicated to Khnum is testified since Sesostris I at the latest.
Most likely, the first own temple of Khnum had been erected at the same place were the later temple of Khnum was located - west of the temple of Satit.
Mist likely, at the time when a separate cult place of Khnum had been built west of the temple of Satit also flight of stairs was built to connect both temples.

The excavations on Elephantine indicated that again a completely renewed temple had been erected during the reign of Sesostris I. However, from this building approximately 150 limestone blocks or fragments have been preserved in the foundations of the Ptolemaic temple. Within the entire area of the temple even the foundation had been torn out. Therefore, the most important information about its extents originates from the interference of the foundation with surrounding layers. So far still recognizably, the temple had the same extents as preceding buildings. Based on remains of the enclosure wall and a foundation deposit the whole temple area has been determined as 42-48 ms x 34 ms. With approx. 100.6 m above NN the temple level was built at same level as the temple of Mentuhotep or perhaps slightly higher.
Some blocks which had been most likely first reused in the foundation of the 18th Dynasty temple and later in the foundation of the Ptolemaic temple gave some clues about the structures of the temple (see the following plan).
The preserved blocks and their decoration indicated that the open forecourt was replaced by a covered hall (vestibule) with two pillars. Due to the adjustment of the scenes especially in the vestibule it must also be assumed that the entrance lay in the northern side of the east wall like with the other preceding buildings.
A cult chamber was built directly above the old cult place in the rock niche. The chamber projected with its front slightly into the covered hall.

Fragments indicate the existence of a separated water bath which, most likely, was used to celebrate the rites of the Nile-Flood. Remains of a reservoir in front of the water bath which were found in situ indicate that the the bath was located north-west of the temple (see plan above).

East side (front) of the reconstructed temple of Satit built by Sesostris I with torus rolls and carvetto cornice (photo: E. Noppes, 2007). The entrance was located on the northern side of the front as in all preceding buildings.

At the beginning of the New Kingdom (NK) the temple of the MK was completely torn down and replaced at the same place by a new temple erected under Hatschepsut. However, Hatshepsut could not complete the decoration, this was done by Thutmosis III. As with most new buildings the area was razed to the ground so that usually no structures were found in situ.
However, particularly in the foundations of the Ptolemaic temple of Satit numerous blocks from the 18. Dynasty temple were recovered (Kaiser, MDAIK 26, 1970). Until 1971 already more than 350 blocks had been recovered and gave a sufficient basis for the reconstruction of the 18th Dynasty temple of Satit (Kaiser, MDAIK 27, 1971). Later, additional blocks were assigned to the building, among them copies from 21 plates with relief which are in the possession of the Louvre.
Also the new building of the 18th dynasty was erected in strong connection with the old cult place. However, the surrounding settlement has grown upwards again so that the temple was built on a higher floor-level. This offered the chance to enlarge the temple and to add a chapel for the guest cult of Amun.
For the new temple the preceding building was torn down including its foundation and the entire range was then filled up with rough granite blocks. Over these a new foundation was built made of sandstone blocks. Based on the results of the excavation on the west side of the temple the floor level of the new foundation was about 101.35 ms above sea level (NN). In later new buildings the floor level was lowered to approximately 100.6 m above NN whereby all layers above the level of the MK became destroyed  (Dreyer, G., MDAIK 43, 1986).
A shaft was fitted exactly into the northwest corner of the rock niche. Between rocks the foundation was about 2 ms thick and reached the lowest layer of the stone blocks of the shaft. The foundation blocks were directly placed at the sides of the shaft - i.e. foundation and shaft were built at the same time.
The shaft was approximately 2.25 ms deep, its outer dimensions were approximately 1.75 x 1.75 ms, the interior was about 1 x 0.9 ms wide. The shaft was mainly built with reused sandstone blocks which e.g. still showed torus rolls and carvetto cornices. Since it was not planned to build a free-standing shaft only the inner walls were worked on and smoothed. Small recesses in the south wall into which one could set the tiptoes had allowed to enter the shaft.
At the bottom of the shaft there was a pit approximately 1.75 x 1.75 ms wide and 1.2 ms deep which was filled with bright fine sand. The lowest row of the stone blocks of the shaft-walls was embedded or sunken half into the sand.

The blocks discovered in the foundation of the Ptolemaic temple allowed not only a reconstruction, but also a restoration of the temple.
The restored 18. Dynasty temple for Satit was directly erected over the restore old cult place of the 6th Dynasty. However, according to the representation in MDAIK 36 (1980) the temple was somewhat lowered thereby, i.e. the floor level was lowered to the level of the MK temple (to about 100.6 m above NN). The following photo shows the northern side of the temple with a modern stairway down to the restored cult place of the 6th Dynasty. The description of the restored 18th Dynasty temple of Satit is presented on an own page.

The photo above shows the the west side of the temple of the 18th Dynasty and the modern entrance of the restored cult place of the 6th Dynasty.

Also during the Late Period the temple of Satet was extended. In the foundation of the Ptolemaic vestibule several decorated and undecorated blocks were preserved which could be definitely assigned a large gate.
The reconstruction resulted in a gate which was approximately 7.35 ms high (including the carvetto cornice), two side columns approx. 1.75 ms broad, and a passage that was also 1.75 ms wide. Based on a royal cartouche the gate could be assigned to Amasis and was most likely part of the entrance of the temple. Probably, the gate was built in a brick-wall because not other stone-block were discovered.
Beside the parts belonging to the gate several limestone columns and two limestone bases with remains of intercolumnar walls were recovered. Probably, these parts which were likewise attributed to Amasis belonged to a colonnade or to a kiosk.

The assumption that the temples on Elephantine were destroyed during to the Persian conquest of Egypt, was not supported by the excavation results of the DAIK. Furthermore, the fact that Akoris and Nektanebos I erected gates with intercolumnar walls inside the temple of Khnum between standing columns (MDAIK 53, 1997) does not point to a larger destruction of the temple - and probably also not for a destruction of the temple of Satet with was only 50 ms far away. Therefore, the new buildings erected under Nektanebos II probably do not reflect a Persian destruction - most likely, they but were a planned adjustments of the temples. The recovered blocks from the the temples of Khnum and Satet, built by Nektanebos II, do not show traces of destruction, obviously the temples were systematically dismantled - as it was frequently observed from the MK to the Roman time.

According to the excavation done by the German Archaeological Institute (GAI) all temples had been built on the same place since the early period up to the temple of the 18. Dynasty. Likewise, the entrance on the northern side of the temple front (east side of the temple) was maintained.
However, when a new temple was built in the Ptolemaic period the approximately 23 x 17.6 ms large building (without the vestibule) was still erected over the old cult place, but the central chapel had been moved to the west of the niche (see the following plan; the location of the niche are marked by thin lines). Beyond that the entrance of the temple was shifted to the center of the eastern side. In front of the temple a columned hall (pronaos) was erected with a central line of 4 columns. The eastern front of the columned hall was formed with another 4 columns which were connected with intercolumnar walls.

Plan of the temple of Satit built during the Ptolemaic period.

From the Ptolemaic temple only the foundation and a few decorated fragments have survived. Therefore, already the identification of the king(s) who had built the temple raised substantial problems. Decorated fragments with royal king cartouches and texts from a graffito seem to point to Ptolemy VI. Philometor (191-145 BC) as the king who had built the temple house. Possibly, he decorated only a part of the temple or he was not able not to complete the decoration (Laskowska-Kusztal, E., Elephantine15 : Die Dekorfragmente der ptolemäisch-römischen Tempel von Elephantine. Mainz 1996).
The work on the temple of Satit was continued under Ptolemaios VIII Euergetes II (182 - 116 BC) who decorated the main entrance of the temple house and the adjacent walls. Furthermore, under his reign the columned hall in front of the temple house was erected, as confirmed by cartouches of that ruler as well as inscriptions which were found under the foundation of the columned hall. Possibly, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II has completed the decoration inside the temple house.
Up to now, the findings from the excavation suggest that the last decorations were accomplished in the Satet temple in the reign of Augustus.

In a distance of about 6 ms from the temple front a so-called kiosk had been erected. However, the architectural form is not completely verified by excavations. The investigation of the base gave some hints about the form of the building, i.e. the surface still showed scratches which indicated were columns, doors, and walls should be erected. Based on the findings known so far the building was an open kiosk (similar the kiosk of Trajan on Philae island), which served as special entrance for the temple of Satit. The question who led built and decorated the kiosk is still a matter of debate. The current dating into the reign of Ptolemaios VIII Euergetes II is still hypothetical (Laskowska Kusztal, 1996).

Copyright: Dr. Karl H. Leser (Iufaa)