Thebes (Egypt) (Egyptian Weset or Newt), ancient city and, for many centuries, capital of ancient Egypt, on both sides of the Nile River, about 725 km (about 450 mi) south of present-day Cairo. It is partly occupied today by the modern towns of Al Karnak and Luxor. It was named Thebes by the Greeks, who knew it also as Diospolis (“heavenly city”); it is the city identified in the Old Testament as No (“city”) or No-Amon (“city of Amon”). Scattered over the site are the remnants of numerous temples, tombs, and other ancient monuments. Of prehistoric origin, Thebes began to figure in the recorded history of Egypt during the Old Kingdom (circa 2755-2255 BC). Tombs dating from the 6th Dynasty (circa 2407-2255 BC) of Egyptian pharaohs have been discovered in the original necropolis, which is on the west side of the Nile. As the biblical name of Thebes indicates, the local deity of the city was Amon, originally the Egyptian god of the reproductive forces and, later as Amen-Ra, the “father of the gods.” The ruined temple of Amon, which ranks among the best-preserved and most magnificent structures of Egyptian antiquity, is at Al Karnak.
Under the pharaohs of the 9th and 10th dynasties (circa 2230-2035 BC), Thebes emerged as the administrative center of a powerful line of nomarchs (governors). The Theban nomarchs successfully challenged the Heracleopolitan pharaohs, winning complete control of Egypt about 2035 BC. With this event and the establishment of the Theban dynasty of pharaohs, Thebes became the capital of Egypt. The city retained this status until the reign (1350-1334 BC) of Akhenaton. Many of the great temples, the avenue of sphinxes, several beautiful tombs, and numerous other lasting monuments were erected in and around Thebes during the period. Thebes was reestablished as the seat of the Egyptian government shortly after the death of Akhenaton. Subsequently, in particular during the 19th and 20th dynasties (1293-1070 BC), the pharaohs made additional contributions to the architectural splendor of the city. The Assyrians sacked Thebes in the 7th century BC. Although it was later partly restored, the city declined steadily after the collapse (332 BC) of the 31st Dynasty. Thebes was destroyed by the Romans late in the 1st century BC.
Several of the chief ruins of Thebes are described in the articles dealing with Al Karnak and Luxor. Among the ruined Theban edifices of great archaeological importance are the tombs of the pharaohs (see Valley of the Kings). Other celebrated Theban ruins are the Ramesseum, a temple built during the reign (1279-1212 BC) of Ramses II, the temple of Ramses III (1182-1151 BC), and the temple of Queen Hatshepsut.
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