Features: Mut Precinct, History

The Mut Precinct and How It Grew

The precinct of Mut lies about 100 yards south of the precinct of Amun, to which it is oriented, and covers an area of about 20 acres. The focal point is the temple of Mut itself, surrounded on three sides by a lake called the isheru, a term used to describe sacred lakes specific to the precincts of leonine goddesses such as Mut. The Mut precinct’s isheru, fed probably by an underground spring, is the largest in Egypt that is preserved.

While Amunhotep I may have built a temple at this site, the earliest datable temple structures are from the reigns of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut and her consort and successor, Tuthmosis III. In the oldest section of the Mut Temple, among limestone chips in the remains of a small chapel, the Brooklyn expedition uncovered a fragment of a cartouche containing part of Hatshepsut's name, which had been erased and replaced with the name Tuthmosis III. The expedition also discovered a gate in an early western enclosure wall that bears cartouches of Tuthmosis III (perhaps replacing Hatshepsut's cartouche); traces of a possible graffito of Senenmut, an important official under Hatshepsut; an effacement of the name of Amun that occurred during the Amarna period; and an inscription by Sety I recording the restoration of the gate. In 2002, the Johns Hopkins University expedition completed the clearance of this gate.

Despite this evidence of early Dynasty 18 activity at the site, many publications continue to identify the Mut Temple as a work dating to the reign of Amunhotep III, primarily because many of the statues of the goddess Sakhmet found at the site bear his name. Although the Mut Temple was indeed expanded during later Dynasty 18-enclosing the Tuthmoside temple inside a newer construction-the Mut Expedition has found no definite evidence specifically linking this expansion to Amunhotep III. Given Amunhotep III's many building projects, it is possible that extensive work on the Mut precinct took place during his reign, but many scholars now believe that the Sakhmet statues bearing the king's name were originally erected in his funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile. They were probably brought to the Mut precinct during Dynasty 19, when Mut and Sakhmet became more closely associated and rituals involving both with the isheru first appear to have gained prominence.

During the New Kingdom, the precinct seems to have included only the Mut Temple and the sacred lake. The large temple to the northeast of the Mut Temple, now called Temple A because we don't know its ancient name, was outside the Mut precinct. Perhaps first built during Dynasty 18, it was renovated and expanded by Ramesses II, who made the building a "temple of millions of years" dedicated to himself and Amun-Re. He added a forecourt, a pylon, two colossal granite statues of himself, and two colossal alabaster stelae. Rather than ordering new statues carved, Ramesses II took over statues of an earlier king, replacing that king's name with his own. The stelae were made from large blocks that were originally part of a shrine of Amunhotep II. Such recycling of monuments was not uncommon in ancient Egypt. One of the stelae records Ramesses' marriage to a Hittite princess and was uncovered by Maurice Pillet in the 1920s. The second was discovered by the Mut Expedition in 1979 and records Ramesses' work on a temple, most likely the temple before which the stela stood. In 2003, both stelae were removed to the Outdoor Museum of the Karnak Temple, where the Amunhotep II shrine was being rebuilt.

In the Mut Temple itself, Ramesses II added a stone facing to the south side of the temple's second pylon and new inscriptions and reliefs to the walls of the second court.

Later Ramesside kings also worked in the Mut Precinct and its environs. Ramesses III erected a temple to the west of the isheru and outside the precinct's walls, a temple later incorporated into the precinct. This temple is on the same plan as Ramesses III's temple in the Amun precinct and bears on its outer walls the remains of the king's depiction of his Syrian and Libyan wars.

Under King Taharqa of the Kushite Dynasty 25, the Mut Precinct grew dramatically, the work apparently directed by one of Taharqa's most important officials, Montuemhat, Mayor of Thebes and Fourth Prophet of Amun. Taharqa and Montuemhat rebuilt much of the Mut Temple itself, using blocks from the earlier temple as building material for their expansion. Blocks of relief and inscriptions from the Dynasty 18, 19, and 20 temples are visible today in the foundations of Taharqa's temple. They also added two long columned porches to the north of the Mut Temple's first pylon that have parallels in the Kushite colonnades in the Amun precinct.

Taharqa also expanded Mut's precinct to include Temple A, which by Dynasty 21 had already become a mammisi, a temple celebrating the divine birth of a god (in this case Khonsu, son of Amun and Mut), and of the king himself. By this time, it appears that the temple of Ramesses III was no longer in use. Indeed, as the Mut Expedition has discovered, the second pylon of Temple A seems to have been constructed, in part, of stone quarried from Ramesses III's temple, including the feet, torsos, and heads of colossal statues that once stood in the court of that temple. As part of the precinct's expansion and the new use of Temple A, Taharqa created a processional way leading from a gate in the newly built western wall of the precinct to Temple A. The remains of this gateway were discovered by the Mut Expedition in one of its first seasons of work.

While Taharqa was celebrated in relief and inscription, Montuemhat and his work did not go unrecorded. When the east wall of the Mut Temple was being rebuilt, Montuemhat had a small chapel dedicated to himself included in the construction. In recent seasons, the Mut Expedition has uncovered remains of at least three other private chapels related to Montuemhat and to his son Nesptah, including one built into the face of the Mut Temple's First Pylon itself—a very unusual location for a private chapel. Indeed, there seems to have been a proliferation of small chapels in the precinct beginning in Dynasty 25, including one dedicated to Nitocris, God's Wife of Amun, that was built in the Temple A's first court, opposite the scenes depicting Taharqa's divine birth.

It was probably during Dynasty 30 that the precinct achieved its present size and its distinctive trapezoidal shape. The site as it now exists includes not only the buildings described but a large area to the south of the isheru, the area including and to the north of Ramesses III's now-ruined temple, and the area west of the Taharqa gateway.

The Mut Precinct continued to prosper under the Ptolemies. Ptolemy II and Ptolemy VI built the Propylon (the precinct's main entrance) that is visible today. Extensive work was carried out in the Mut Temple, including rebuilding of the Kushite porches (apparently on the same plan as the original and re-using blocks from Taharqa's porch), expanding the gateway in the first mud-brick pylon, and replacing the east wing of the second mud-brick pylon with a stone pylon (never completed). Ptolemy VI added a small chapel within the colonnade of the temple's second court.

Elsewhere, Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII built a chapel (known as Chapel D) just inside the Taharqa gateway and dedicated both to Mut/Sakhmet and possibly to the Ptolemaic ancestor cult as well. While noted by the pioneering American Egyptologist Charles Edwin Wilbour in the 1880s, the chapel was first excavated by the Mut Expedition. In Temple A, which remained a mammisi during the Ptolemaic Period, Ptolemaic rulers seem to have recarved the scenes of the divine birth on the main sanctuary and added reliefs.

Even after the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C., the Mut Precinct remained an important site. Two stelae record work at the site carried out under the auspices of the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius. In its explorations of the Mut Temple's walls, the Mut Expedition has uncovered evidence of this restoration. It seems, however, that beginning in the late first century A.D., the Mut Precinct began to decline. The Taharqa gateway was blocked off and a village grew up outside the gate but within the protection of the massive enclosure walls. By late Roman times, the Mut Temple had ceased to function. The Mut Expedition has uncovered the remains of housing and work sites in the forecourt of Temple A and built up against the pylon of the Mut Temple itself near the ruins of the temple's porches.

Next: Exploration of the Mut Precinct

Previous: Introduction

Aerial view of the Mut Precinct (1995)

Aerial view of the Mut Precinct (1995)

Photo of Tuthmosis III gate

Photo of Tuthmosis III gate

The area in front of Temple A (1987)

The area in front of Temple A (1987)

Brooklyn Museum curator Richard Fazzini under the stela

Brooklyn Museum curator Richard Fazzini under the stela

Blocks re-used in the foundations of the Dynasty 25 temple

Blocks re-used in the foundations of the Dynasty 25 temple

Wing of gate built by Dynasty 25's King Taharqa

The west face of one wing of the gate built by Dynasty 25's King Taharqa

Part of the Ptolemaic Propylon

Part of the Ptolemaic Propylon

A piece of a column drum with the cartouche of King Taharqa

A piece of a column drum with the cartouche of King Taharqa

The remains of Chapel D

The remains of Chapel D

A relief of Mut and Sakhmet from Chapel D

A relief of Mut and Sakhmet from Chapel D