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Memphis, Egypt

MEMPHIS, EGYPT, the capital of Egypt through most of its early history, now represented by the rubbish mounds at Bedreshen on the W. bank of the Nile 14 m. S. of Cairo. As the chief seat of the worship of Ptah, the artisan god (Hephaestus), Memphis must have existed from a very remote time. But its greatness probably began with Menes (?..), who united the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt, and is said to have secured the site for his capital near the border of the two lands by diverting the course of the river eastward. Memphis was the chief city of the 1st nome of Lower Egypt; in its early days it was known as " the white walls " or the " white wall," a name which clung to its citadel down to Herodotus's day. The residence here of Pepi I. of the Vlth Dynasty, as well as his pyramid in the necropolis, was named Mn-nfr, and this gradually became the usual designation of the whole city, becoming Menfi, Membi in late Egyptian, i.e. Memphis. It was also called Hakeptah, " Residence of the ka of Ptah," and this name furnishes a possible origin for that of Egypt (Ai-ywrros). Various dynasties had their ancestral seats elsewhere and individual kings built their palaces and pyramids at some distance up or down the valley, but Memphis must have been generally the centre of the government and the largest city in Egypt until the New Empire (Dyns. XVIII.-XX.), when Thebes took the lead. In the succeeding period it regained its ancient position. The government of the Persian satrap was seated in Memphis. After the conquest of Alexander the city quickly lost its supremacy to his new foundation, and although it remained the greatest native centre, its population was less than that of Alexandria. In the time of Strabo (xvii. 807) it was the second city of Egypt, inferior only to Alexandria, and with a mixed population like the latter. Memphis was still important though declining at the time of the Moslem conquest. Its final fall was due to the rise of the Arabic city of Fostat on the right bank of the Nile almost opposite the northern end of the old capital; and its ruins, so far as they still lay above ground, gradually disappeared, being used as a quarry for the new city, and afterwards for Cairo. The remains of " Menf " were still imposing late in the 12th century, when they were described by "Abdallatif. Now the ruins of the city, the great temple of Ptah, the dwelling of Apis, and the palaces of the kings, are traceable only by a few stones among the palm trees and fields and heaps of rubbish. But the necropolis has been to a great extent protected by the accumulations of blown sand. Pyramids of the Old and Middle kingdoms form a chain 20 m. long upon the edge of the valley from Giza to Dahshur. At Saqqara, opposite Memphis itself, the steppyramid of Zoser of the Illrd Dynasty, several pyramids of the Vth and Vlth Dynasties, and innumerable mastaba-tombs of the Old Kingdom, are crowded together in the cemetery. Later tombs are piled upon and cut through the old ones. One of the chief monuments is the Serapeum or sepulchre of the Apis bulls, discovered by Mariette in 1851. From 1905 J. E. Quibell was charged by the Service des Antiquites solely with the excavations in this vast necropolis. His principal discovery has been the extensive remains of the Coptic monastery of St Jeremias, with remarkable sculptures and frescoes. Flinders Petrie began the systematic exploration of the ruins of Bedreshen, and in three seasons cleared up much of the topography of the ancient city, identifying the mound of the citadel and palace, a foreign quarter, etc. Among his finds not the least interesting is a large, series of terra-cotta heads representing the characteristic features of the foreigners who thronged the bazaars of Memphis. They date from the Persian rule down to the Ptolemaic period and are evidently modelled by Greek workmen. In the Old Testament Memphis is mentioned under the names of Moph (Hos. ix. 6) and Noph (Isa. xix. 13; Jer. ii. 16; Ezek. xxx. 13, 16).

See J. de Morgan, Carte de la necropole memphite (Cairo, 1897) ; Baedeker's Egypt; J. E. Quibell, Excavations at Saqqara (2 vols., Cairo, 1908-1909); W. M. Flinders Petrie, Memphis I. and The Palace of A pries (Memphis II.) (London, 1909). (F. LL. G.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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