The Temple of Esna


Temple of Esna is located on the west bank of the Nile, 64 km south of Luxor. It was known in ancient Egyptian texts as ‘tA sni’, which later on gave the city its modern Arabic name. In Greek texts, the city was known as ‘Latopolis’ (city of the ‘Nile Perch’-Λατων-Lates Niloticus). It was given this name in honour of the Nile Perch (قشر البياض ,(which was abundant in this area of the river Nile. The Nile perch was also one of the symbols of goddess Neith, to whom the temple of Esna was dedicated. In addition to goddess Neith, the triad of Esna comprised god Khnum and god Heka.

The Temple of Esna
The Temple of Esna

Discovery of Temple of Esna


In 1589, an unknown Venetian trader visited Esna and wrote the first modern description of the temple. He found nothing more than the hypostyle hall. It is only by pure chance that the hypostyle hall still exists. During the reign of Mohamed Ali (1805 – 1849), when many magnificent ancient buildings were destroyed for use of their stone as building materials, the hypostyle hall of the Temple of Esna was used as a magazine for cotton storage. This function prevented the building’s destruction. The first scientific investigation was done by the members of the Napoleonic expedition (1799 to 1801), who were especially interested in the ceiling of the hypostyle hall.

It was Jean François Champollion (1790 – 1832) who (correctly) assigned the surviving building to the Roman Period. In the course of the following century, most of the cartouches of the Roman emperors, but only some of the inscriptions, were published by scholars such as Lepsius, Brugsch, and Mariette. The publication of both the inscriptions and decoration of the entire temple was accomplished by the French scholar Serge Sauneron. 


Description of Temple of Esna


The Temple of Esna was the last Egyptian temple to be decorated with hieroglyphic texts, The temple now stands in the middle of the modern town, some 9m below the level of the surrounding buildings,The present structure of the temple was erected in the Ptolemaic Period, reign of Ptolemy V (205-180BC) and was decorated by his successor Ptolemy VI (180-145 BC). The temple was enlarged in Roman times by a hypostyle hall, The temple was dedicated to Khnum/Khnum-Re and the female deity Neith, and their son Heka,It was built on the ruins of a much older temple dating from the reign of Thutmose III. 

    The Temple of Esna was named:

1- Hwt-BAw , “Temple of the Souls”.

2- Hwt-jt, “Temple of the Father” (i.e., the god Khnum).

3-Hwt-Mwt , “Temple of the Mother” (i.e., the goddess Neith).

4-Hwt-xnmw, “Temple of Khnum”.

5- Hwt-Nt, “Temple of Neith”.

the hypostyle hall
the hypostyle hall

Of the temple itself, only the hypostyle hall is preserved. However, temple inscriptions mention other structures that must have stood near the temple, such as:


A Mammisi (birth house).


The wabt (a place where all things necessary for carrying out cultic practices, including embalming, were prepared). 


  • The Hypostyle Hall of Esna Temple 


It is the only surviving part from the temple of Esna. This impressive hall was erected in the reign of Emperor Claudius (41 – 54 CE), or perhaps as early as the reign of Tiberius (14 – 37CE).

 Its decoration was executed from the reign of Claudius until the reign of Decius who ruled from 249 to – 251CE. 


The hypostyle hall measures 37 meters long, 20 meters wide, and 15 meters high.

It is not as monumental as most other ancient Egyptian hypostyle halls—for example, those in the temples of Edfu, Dendera, Kom Ombo, and Karnak.

 The richness of representations and especially the unique texts on the 18 columns, however, make this hall one of the most interesting of the Ptolemaic and Roman examples in Egypt.


The walls of the hypostyle hall are decorated with some unique ritual scenes, such as:


1-Emperor Commodus together with the gods Horus and Thoth catching fishes and birds with a clap net. This action, similar to the clap net scenes found in tombs but rarely depicted on temple walls serves the purpose of symbolically exterminating enemies, since the (wild) fishes and birds were regarded as dangerous and hostile. Their capture symbolizes the destruction of the enemies of the gods.

 2-Emperor Trajan dancing before goddess Menhyt and Nebetu. Dancing pharaohs are very rarely depicted, Only five representations of a dancing pharaoh are known from temples of the Ptolemaic and Roman Period (the temple of Isis at Philae, and the temple of Horus at Edfu), In all these scenes, the pharaoh dances to pacify angry goddesses. 


The temple’s columns, unlike those of other temples, are decorated mainly with texts rather than representations. 

A basic element of the capitals is their floral motif. 


The ceiling itself is decorated with representations of the star vault and the zodiac, The entrance to the hypostyle hall was not designed as a pylon; indeed a pylon was never planned for the temple of Esna, Rather, the northern and southern exterior walls of the hypostyle hall are engraved with two enormous ritual scenes fulfilling the function of the traditional pylon engravings. 


At the front of the hypostyle hall is a small room that was used for the storage of the cultic objects of the temple. 


Temple Deities

The Temple of Khnum
The Temple of Khnum

The deity most represented at the Temple of Esna is the ram headed-god Khnum, also called Khnum-Re. He bears the epithet nb tA-snt, “Lord of Esna,” and is regarded as the temple’s principal god. His consort was the goddess Neith. She too bears the parallel epithet, nbt tA-snt, “Lady of Esna ”,While Khnum, with his own hands, forms all beings and objects materially on the potter’s wheel, Neith creates all beings by thinking, and spelling, their names, Khnum is depicted mainly in the southern half of the temple, in accordance with the location of his main cult centre at Elephantine, and Neith is depicted mainly in the temple’s northern half, in accordance with her main cult centre at Sais. 


Rituals performed at Esna


No Egyptian temple reports as extensively on the performance of rituals as the Temple of Esna. Fourteen of the eighteen columns of the hypostyle hall are decorated with the text of one ritual, which was celebrated on the first day of the third month of the winter season (i.e., February 25th), It consisted of the ceremonies of two festivals, the “festival of the installation of the potter’s wheel” (Hb smn nHp), and “the festival of raising the heaven” (Hb twA pt), The ritual took place late in the evening, when the women of Esna would carry into the sanctuary a potter’s wheel as a gift for Khnum/Khnum-Ra. Placing the wheel before the god’s statue, the women sang their litany.

The creator god, pleased by their litany, would commence work on the wheel, molding countless human beings, animals, plants and objects. It was the god’s creative energy that the women hoped would be transferred to their own wombs. We know many fertility rituals from ancient Egypt. This ritual from Esna is certainly one of the most interesting expressions of the wish for children. 

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