The History of Hibeh
Built atop limestone shelves of the Middle Eocene époque at the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1069-664 BCE), the ancient town of el-Hibeh is bounded on the west by a narrow flood plain and the Nile River and on the east by desert. The archaeological site boasts a once impressive town wall enclosing a substantial ancient settlement with associated desert cemeteries.
During the Third Intermediate Period, when control of Egypt was divided between the priesthood of Amen centred at the ancient southern city of Thebes, and the nominal kings of Dynasty 21 in the north, el-Hibeh marked the northern political boundary of the High Priest of Amen (Wenke 1984, 7). By the 8th century BCE, control of southern Egypt fragmented into three spheres of influence, dominated by Thebes, Hermopolis and Heracleopolis, and Hibeh may have been retained its importance as on the border between Hermopolis and Heracleopolis (Wenke 1984, 7). After the unification of Egypt under the Saite Dynasty 26 (664-525 BCE), Hibeh became an administrative centre and may have produced a number of important papyri documents, including The Rylands Papyri (Redmount 2014, 13). In the Greek and Roman Periods, el-Hibeh was known as the Greek town of Ancyropolis, whose necropolis seemed to have been used by several nearby communities (Wenke 1984, 8). Finds of papyrus texts, dating from the middle of the reign of Ptolemy II into the second century CE, and along with the remnants Roman period housing, testifies to the continued habitation of Hibeh.
In addition to its political importance and long history of occupation, until recently, the town of el-Hibeh was arguably among the best preserved provincial town mounds in Egypt (Redmount 2015, 13). The urban and provincial nature of the site offers unparalleled opportunities for archaeological investigation of ancient Egypt, a culture that at one time was characterized as a “civilization without cities” (Wilson 1958).
The archaeological site boasts a once impressive town wall enclosing a substantial ancient settlement with associated desert cemeteries.
The archaeological importance of el-Hibeh has long been recognized. During the 1880s and 1890s, a number of archaeological and papyrological materials attributed to el-Hibeh and sold on the open market prompted scholarly investigations of the site. Following Kamal Ahmed’s investigation of Hibeh in 1901, explorations of Hibeh in 1902 and 1903 by the papyrologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt recovered sufficient amounts of papyrological material to produce two monographs (Grenfell and Hunt 1906 and Turner 1955). In 1911, Hermann Junker investigated el-Hibeh for a period of 3 days (Junker 1912, 89-101).
Of the early archaeological exploration, Hermann Ranke (1926) conducted the most substantial excavation of el-Hibeh in 1913 and 1914. Ranke’s team excavated the small provincial temple built by the Dynasty 22 king Sheshonq I (ca. 945-924 BCE). Dedicated to a local manifestation of the important Egyptian god Amen, called Amen, Great of Roarings, the temple is one of the few remaining in situ provincial temples in Egypt. Although of modest proportions, the temple boasted beautiful fine low relief decorations. During the course of the excavation and documentation of the temple, the Germans Expedition under Hermann Ranke, took a number of beautifully decorated relief blocks back to Germany, where they are currently housed at Heidelberg University. Heidelberg has also published the glass plate negative excavation photos online in a searchable database (http://heidicon.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/pool/aegypt_archiv).
El-Hibeh reached its greatest extent during the Third Intermediate Period, a time that is recognized as a major period of societal and cultural transformation in Egyptian history. As our knowledge of this period continues to expand, el-Hibeh, as one of the few sites in Egypt with preserved Third Intermediate Period archaeological stratigraphy, is uniquely positioned to provide critical insights into the period specifically and urbanism more generally.
Grenfell, B. & A. Hunt. The Hibeh Papyri, Part I. London: EEF Graeco-Roman Branch, 1906.
Junker, J. “Die Versuchsgrabungen in El-Hibeh und bei el-Fashn,” Anzeiger der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 49 (1912), p. 98-100.
Ranke, R. Koptische Friedhöfe bei Karâra under der Amontempel Scheschonks I bei El Hibe. Berlin-Leipzig, 1926.
Redmount, C. “el-Hibeh: a plundered site”, Egyptian Archaeology 45 (2015): 13-17.
Turner, E. The Hibeh Papyri, Part II. Graeco-Roman Memoirs 32 . London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1955.
Wenke, R. Archaeological Investigations at El-Hibeh 1980: Preliminary Report (American Research Center in Egypt Reports 9), Malibu: Undena, 1984.
Wilson, J.A. “Egypt through the New Kingdom: civilization without cities.” In City Invincible: a symposium on urbanization and cultural development in the ancient Near East held at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, December 4-7, 1958, ed. Kraeling, Carl H. and Robert M. Adams, 124-164. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1961.
TEXT AND OBJECTS FROM EL HIBEH
By Brian Muhs
(The following is a collection of bibliographic references to past exploration and discovered artifacts for the site of El Hibeh.)
PART 1. CHRONOLOGICAL OVERVIEW OF WORK AT THE SITE
*1891-92: V.S. Golenischeff (1856-1947) purchased a number of papyri in the winter of 1890-91 or 1891-92. The literary papyri are said to have been found together in a jar near el-Hibeh (Caminos, A Tale of Woe, p. 1). G. Daressy recorded the inscriptions on the temple in 1892.
G. Daressy, ‘Le temple de Hibeh’, ASAE 2 (1901), p. 153-56.
*1895-96: Grenfell & Hunt give a brief description of previous ‘work’ at the site of el-Hibeh (The Hibeh Papyri, Part I, 1906, p. 1-7). According to them, an ‘Arab dealer’ named Sheikh Hassan excavated the cemetery of el-Hibeh in 1895-96, and in 1896 some Greek literary papyri from cartonnage were sold to Grenfell & Hunt (published as P. Grenf. II, nos. 1-8, and P. Rylands I, no. 16a) and to Reinhardt (published as P. Baden gr. (VBP) VI, nos. 178-180, and P. Heidelberg II, nos. 181-2, 184, 186-8, 190, 193, 196, 199-200, 205).
Grenfell & Hunt, New Classical Fragments and other Greek and Latin Papyri (Greek Papyri, Series II; Oxford, 1897), p. 1-19 (P. Grenf. II, nos. 1-8).
G.A. Gerhard, Veröffentlichungen aus den badischen Papyrus-Sammlungen 6. Griechische Papyri (Urkunden und Literarische Texte aus der Papyrus-Sammlung der Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg) (Heidelberg, 1938), p. 26-62 (P. Baden gr. [VBP] VI, nos. 178-180).
E. Siegmann, Literarische Griechische Texte der Heidelberger Papyrussammlung (Heidelberg 1956), p. 1-20, 22-24, 27-41, 58-62, 66-67 (P. Heidelberg II, nos. 181-2, 184, 186-8, 190, 193, 196, 199-200, 205).
Spiegelberg purchased some Hieratic papyri on 15 December 1895 from the dealer el-Megid in Cairo for the Bibliotheque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg.
W. Spiegelberg, ‘Brief der 21. Dynastie aus El-Hibe’, ZÄS 53 (1917), p. 1-30.
Reinhardt purchased 69 fragments of related Hieratic papyri in 1896 from an antiquary in Cairo for the Berlin Museum.
Burkhard&Fischer-Elfert, VOHD XIX.4, nos. 1-69.
Fischer-Elfert, JEA 82, p. 132-6.
E.G. Chassinat (1868-1948) acquired several related Hieratic papyri, perhaps also around this time, which he later donated to the Louvre.
de Cenival, Naissance de l’ecriture, 1982, p. 285-6, no. 241. 1898: Lord Crawford purchased a group of Demotic papyri in the winter of 1898-99. These papyri are said to have been found together in a pot inside the town close to the east wall in the southern portion of the site (Grenfell & Hunt, The Hibeh Papyri, Part I, 1906, p. 2).
Griffith, Catalogue of the Demotic Papyri in the Rylands Library. 1901-02: Ahmed Bey Kamal was sent by the authorities of the Cairo Museum to investigate the site.
M. Ahmed Kamal, ‘Description générale des ruines de Hibé, de son temple et de sa nécropole’, ASAE 2 (1901), p. 84-91. 1902-03: More Greek papyri from cartonnage from el-Hiba were offered to Grenfell & Hunt in February-March 1902, leading them to excavate the cemetery 24 March-11 April 1902, and again in January-February 1903 (The Hibeh Papyri, Part I, 1906, p. 11). There they found more papyri in cartonnage (published as P. Hibeh gr. I and II), including more fragments of the same Greek literary papyri sold to them in 1896. A significant proportion of these papyri were in Demotic (one published as P. Hibeh I, 164 descripta = P. Cairo dem. III 50148).
Grenfell & Hunt, The Hibeh Papyri, Part I (EEF Graeco-Roman Branch; London, 1906).
W. Spiegelberg, Die Demotischen Denkmäler III. Demotische Inschriften und Papyri, 50023-50165 (Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire; Berlin, 1932), p. 109-10 & pl. 61.
Turner, The Hibeh Papyri, Part II (EEF Graeco-Roman Memoir 32; London, 1955). Two Ptolemaic? wooden anthropoid coffins were found in an intact tomb outside the northern end of the east wall, and were removed.
G. Daressy, ‘Un cercueil de Hibeh’, ASAE 4 (1903), p. 116-119 = Ptolemaic? wooden anthropoid coffin of Petehor in Cairo.
*Speleers, Rec. des Inscr. Ég., p. 89-91  = Saite wooden anthropoid coffin of Khonstefnakht in Brussels, Musées Royaux du Cinquantenaire, Inv. E. 586. Two Roman mummy portraits were found outside the northern wall of the town and removed.
*M.C.C. Edgar, Graeco-Egyptian Coffins: Masks and Portraits (Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire; Cairo, IFAO, 1905) = Cairo Museum CG 33217, portrait mummy of a woman.
*E. Vassilika, Fitzwilliam Museum Handbooks: Egyptian Art (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995) = Fitzwilliam Museum Inv. E. 63.1903. 1911: A German expedition led by H. Junker (and W. Pelizaeus) excavated one tomb, consisting of a shaft, which opened at the bottom on one large chamber to the north, and three smaller chambers to the east, south and west. These were filled with 3 stone anthropoid sarcophagi, and 21 wooden anthropoid sarcophagi, some of the latter in rectangular wooden outer coffins. 17 of the wooden sarcophagi were taken back to Germany, of which at least 5 are now in the Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim.
H. Junker, Anzeiger der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 49 (1912), p. 98-100.
G. Roeder–A. Ippel, Die Denkmäler des Pelizaeus-Museums zu Hildesheim (Hildesheim, 1921), p. 98-99 & pl. 35 (Wooden coffins of Mutirdais daughter of Inaros [no. 1953], of Tsammetichis daughter of Inaros [no. 1955], of the god’s father Djedbastefankh [no. 1954], of Tefiu son of Djedbastefankh [no. 1956], and of Petamenoeris son of Djedbastefankh [no. 2670]). 1913-14: A German expedition led by Hermann Ranke. The temple was planned and recorded, and a number of Graeco-Roman houses were excavated. A small number of Greek papyri from the late Ptolemaic and Roman periods were found. The objects are now in Heidelberg, Mainz (Kunstgeschichtl. Institut), Freiburg and Cairo.
F. Ranke, Koptische Friedhöfe bei Karâra under der Amontempel Scheschonks I bei El Hibe (Berlin-Leipzig, 1926).
*E. Otto, Aus der Sammlung des ägyptologischen Instituts der Universität Heidelberg (Heidelberg, 1964).
*W. Kosack, Alltag im Alten Ägypten (Städt. Museum Freiburg, Veröff. Des Museums f. Völkerkunde I, 1974).
*C. Nauerth, Karara und El-Hibe: Die Spätantiken Koptischen Funde aus den Badischen Grabungen 1913-14 (Heidelberg, Heidelberger Orientverlag, 1996). A number of inscribed blocks from the temple were taken to the Heidelberg Institute.
E. Feucht, ‘Zwei Reliefs Scheschonqs I. Aus El Hibeh’, Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 6 (1978), p. 69-77.
*E. Feucht, ‘Relief Scheschonqs I. Beim erschlagen der Feinde aus El Hibeh’, Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 9 (1981), p. 106-117. A small number of Greek papyri from the late Ptolemaic and Roman periods were found.
F. Bilabel, ‘Der griechische Name der Stadt El-Hibe’, Philologus 77 (1921), p. 422-25.
F. Bilabel, Veröffentlichungen aus den badischen Papyrus-Sammlungen 4. Griechische Papyri (Urkunden, Briefe, Schreibtafeln, Ostraka etc.) (Heidelberg, 1924), p. 62-91 (P. Baden gr. [VBP] IV, nos. 70-88).
P. Sattler, Griechische Papyrusurkunden und Ostraka der Heidelberger Papyrus-Sammlung (Heidelberg 1963), p. 25-27 (P. Heidelberg III, nos. 242, 244).
B. Kramer & D. Hagedorn, Griechische Texte der Heidelberger Papyrus-Sammlung (Heidelberg 1986), p. 46-52, 162-174, 197-208 (P. Heidelberg IV, nos. 297, 320-322, 326-7). A number (277) of Roman coins were found.
W. Graf von Uxkull-Gylleband, “Münzen aus el Hibe”, in F. Ranke, Koptische Friedhöfe bei Karâra under der Amontempel Scheschonks I bei El Hibe (Berlin-Leipzig, 1926), p. 53-57. 1934-35: An Italian expedition led by Enrico Paribeni (under Evaristo Breccia). A number of Graeco-Roman houses were excavated, and a number of tombs.
E. Paribeni, ‘Rapporto preliminare su gli scavi di Hibeh’, Aegyptus 15 (1935), p. 385-404. A number of coffins and sarcophagi were found.
*G. Botti, ‘Alcuni tipi di sarcofaghi e casse di mummie provenienti dagli scavi Florentini di El-Hibeh’, Scritti dedicati alla memoria di Ippolito Rosellini, nel primo centenario della morte (4 Giugno 1943), a cural dell’universita di Firenze (Firenze, F. Le Monnier, 1945).
G. Botti, Le casse di mummie e i sarcophagi da el Hibeh nel Museo Archeologico di Firenze (Florence, 1958). A small number of Abnormal Hieratic, Demotic and Aramaic papyri from the Saite and Persian periods were found.
E. Bresciani, ‘Un papiro aramaico da El Hibeh del Museo Archeologico di Firenze’, Aegyptus 39 (1959), p. 1-8. A number (279) of predominantly Roman coins were found.
G. Botti, ‘Le monete Alessandrine da El Hibeh del Museo Archeologico di Firenze’, Aegyptus 35 (1955), p. 245-74. 1980: An American expedition led by R. Wenke.
R.J. Wenke, Archaeological Investigations at El-Hibeh 1980: Preliminary Report (American Research Center in Egypt Reports 9, Malibu, Undena, 1984).