The Persian Presence at Qasr el-Ghuieta

by Eugene Cruz-Uribe

Northern Arizona University

In studying the spatial relationships amongst the different temples in Kharga Oasis, it becomes clear that there was a clear pattern in the placement of those structures that does not seem to have anything to do with religious motives. Hibis temple is by far the largest of the temple structures in the oasis and the area around the temple clearly was a prominent part of the oasis culture.

Morkot’s discussion (R. Morkot, "The Darb el-Arbain, the Kharga Oasis and its forts, and other desert routes," in D. Bailey, ed., Archaeological Research in Roman Egypt, Ann Arbor, 1996 [JRA Supplemental Series 19], pp. 82-94, esp. p. 84) reiterates the belief that the temple within the fortress at Qasr el-Ghuieta dates to the reign of Darius I and not to an earlier period. He compares it to the same dating often given for the temple at Hibis.

The purpose of this short page is to discuss possible dating issues and view the remains of Ghueita from a new view point. This discussion follows with a series of jpeg images. It is hoped that these images depict the environment of the site and perhaps explains a bit more on the dating of portions of the temple structure. The one thing we must keep in mind is that for the most part the fortress of Ghuieta is unexcavated. Fakhry cleared the temple proper interior and a few buildings in front of the temple around 1972. These buildings show extensive damage from fire and the destruction probably dates to the time of the Blemmyes in the 5th century AD (so noted by E. Cruz-Uribe, "Kharga Oasis, Late period and Graeco-Roman sites," in K. Bard, ed., Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, 1999, p. 407). In more recent years the Kharga Inspectorate has conducted a series of excavations inside the walls of the temple and outside. The work outside has focused in two areas. The first has been around the south east corner of the fort (mostly Roman period remains). A variety of houses and related structures were unearthed with a few Greek ostraca, a Demotic ostrakon (receipt), and pottery. The second area outside the walls was the "quay" structure directly east of the gate. None of these excavations have been published.

Inside the walls of the fortress the entire temple proper has been cleared. In addition over the last 15 years areas directly to the north and south of the temple have been cleared by the Kharga Inspectorate teams. The decorations of the temple have not been published but are noted cryptically in Porter & Moss (Vol. VII, Nubia, the Deserts, and Outside Egypt, pp. 291-293, plan on p. 286).

The temple and fort of Qasr el-Ghuieda are located 18 km. south of Kharga City and dominates the desert road from the south by sitting on a volcanic outcropping.

                View of Qasr el-Ghuieta                           Closer view of fortress at Ghuieta                             

As can be seen from these slides, the exterior fortification walls were extended upwards on at least one occasion as the town site itself continued to grow within the walls. As the town itself is mostly unexcavated we can only speculate on the time frame of these additions. For those who have visited the site, one can see that the original gate to the town was in the center of the exterior east wall of the fortress. It was only later that the gate was moved southward along the east wall to align it with the east- west axis of the temple. I would conjecture that this took place sometime around the building of the forecourt and pillared hall during the reign of Ptolemy III. These expansions of the temple would have necessitated a clearing out of the area in front of the temple. Perhaps this expansion corresponded with the rising heights of the town occupation levels, making a new gate necessary for easy access to the temple. Thus the old gate was blocked up and the new gate, centered on the temple, became the regular gate from then on. This dating would be consistent with possible dates for the Demotic graffiti found on the gateways and jambs (see E. Cruz-Uribe, "Demotic Graffiti from Qasr Ghueita (Kharga Oasis)," in M. Nur el Din & O. El-Aguizy, Acts of the 6th International Congress of Demotists, in press).

                                                   View of main gate to temple  

The large gateway is mostly undecorated and the entrance hall is unadorned. Much of the hypostyle is carved with decorations dating to the time of Ptolemy III and IV. There is one scene on the north wall unfinished of Ptolemy X.

                                                   View of gate to hypostyle hall                

This slide shows details of the south jamb of the door into the hypostyle. The top register has the king offering to Amun-Re. The middle register has the king offering wine to Mut. The bottom register has the king offering Maat (?) to Amun-Re. This jamb’s scenes are not listed in porter and Moss.

                                                    View of N jamb of door to sanctuary         

This slide shows the lowest register of the north jamb of the door to the sanctuary. Here the king offers wine jars to Amun of Perwesekh (the ancient name of Ghuieta). As one can see the painting on some of these scenes still has survived.

                View of Khonsu (N wall of sanctuary)              View of Amun-Re (N wall of sanctuary)

These two closeup views of the figures on the north interior wall of the sanctuary show the figures of the god Khonsu (falcon headed with moon crown) and Amun-Re-Min. As one can readily see the figures have been painted on plaster and are part of the scene on the north wall of offerings made by the king to the gods of the Hibis/Theban triads. By this I mean that the gods of Hibis temple have been adopted here in Ghuieta temple and we thus have Amun-Re of Hibis and Amun-Re of Perwesekh becoming one, just as Amun-Re of Karnak became Amun-Re of Hibis at Hibis temple.

                                                    Cartouche of Darius                     

Below the figures of the gods on the north wall I was able to discover the cartouche of the Persian king Darius. This slide shows part of the king’s titulary "Son of Re, Lord of Appearances, the Great, Darius, given life." The phraseology is a bit peculiar as the writing of "great" and "appearances" are intertwined. This might be compared to the reveal inscription found at Hibis temple (see Cruz-Uribe, Hibis Temple Project, Vol. 1, p. 114).

What is important to understand is that the north and south wall of the sanctuary are the only areas in the temple that have plaster and paint decorations. The remainder of the temple has "simple" raised or sunk bas relief with the stone painted.

                    View of sanctuary W wall (1)                                View of sanctuary W wall (2)

The sanctuary’s west wall is heavily damaged and the remains show the king (no name remains) making an offering to a seated Amun-Re, standing Mut and Khonsu. The wall and ceiling are heavily covered in occupation soot. The style of the carving is the only indicator of the date of this scene and is to be compared with the style of carving found in Hypostyle B at Hibis temple. Given that that section of Hibis temple was constructed and decorated during the Saite period, it strongly suggests that we need to date the earliest portion of the temple to the Saite period and NOT the Persian period.

Unfortunately the damage to the west wall of the sanctuary has been partially covered in reconstruction work and this author has not studied in situ that stone to see if significant weathering has occurred on it or whether it was part of a modern reconstruction. It is clear that the side walls were decorated with painted plaster at a later date. I should note that the colors used on the north and south walls of the sanctuary are quite similar to the remains of painted decorations found on the scenes decorated by Darius I at Hibis temple, especially the scenes on the north wall of Hypostyle B.

In conclusion, we must understand that the Persian presence at Ghuieta temple must be seen in the same light as that at Hibis temple: the Persians under Darius made a number of administrative moves in Kharga Oasis following on the initial conquests of Cambyses (for a discussion of Cambyses see now my article "The Invasion of Egypt by Cambyses," Transeuphraténe, in press). The Persians adopted and adapted the earlier Saite rulers’ administrative centers, such as Hibis, Ghuieta and Manawir, where fortresses with accompanying temple areas sat on the major north-south trade route. The Persians’ interest in controlling trade had them utilize existing administrative mechanisms and centers, rather than building all new ones.

It is hoped that readers of this web page have found this discussion of interest and this author welcomes feedback directly at: eugene.cruz-uribe@nau.edu.

The photographs posted on this page are copyright of the author and  may not be duplicated or copied in any form without written permission of the author.

Posted: 10/01