Thebes (Authorized Version No, the multitude of No, populous No), a chief city of ancient Egypt, long the capital of the upper country, and the seat of the Diospolitan dynasties, that ruled over all Egypt at the era of its highest splendor. It was situated on both sides of the Nile, 400 or 500 miles from its mouth. The sacred name of Thebes was P-amen, “the abode of Amon,” which the Greeks reproduced in their diospolis, especially with the addition the Great. No-amon is the name of Thebes in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jer. 46:25; Nah. 3:8. Ezekiel uses No simply to designate the Egyptian seat of Amon. Ezek. 30:14, 16. [No-amon.] Its origin and early allusions to it.—The origin of the city is lost in antiquity. Niebuhr is of opinion that Thebes was much older than Memphis, and that, “after the centre of Egyptian life was transferred to lower Egypt, Memphis acquired its greatness through the ruin of Thebes.” But both cities date from our earliest authentic knowledge of Egyptian history. The first allusion to Thebes in classical literature is the familiar passage of the Iliad (ix. 381–385): “Egyptian Thebes, where are vast treasures laid up in the houses; where are a hundred gates, and from each two hundred men go forth with horses and chariots.” In the first century before Christ, Diodorus visited Thebes, and he devotes several sections of his general work to its history and appearance. Though he saw the city when it had sunk to quite secondary importance, he confirms the tradition of its early grandeur—its circuit of 140 stadia, the size of its public edifices, the magnificence of its temples, the number of its monuments, the dimensions of its private houses, some of them four or five stories high—all giving it an air of grandeur and beauty surpassing not only all other cities of Egypt, but of the world. Monuments.—The monuments of Thebes are the most reliable witnesses for the ancient splendor of the city. These are found in almost equal proportions upon both sides of the river. The plan of the city, as indicated by the principal monuments, was nearly quadrangular, measuring two miles from north to south and four from east to west. Its four great landmarks were, Karnak and Luxor upon the eastern or Arabian side, and Qoornah and Medeenet Haboo upon the western or Libyan side. There are indications that each of these temples may have been connected with those facing it upon two sides by grand dromoi, lined with sphinxes and other colossal figures. Upon the western bank there was almost a continuous line of temples and public edifices for a distance of two miles, from Qoornah to Medeenet Haboo; and Wilkinson conjectures that from a point near the latter, perhaps in the line of the colossi, the “Royal street” ran down to the river, which was crossed by a ferry terminating at Luxor, on the eastern side. Behind this long range of temples and palaces are the Libyan hills, which for a distance of five miles are excavated to the depth of several hundred feet for sepulchral chambers. Some of these, in the number and variety of their chambers, the finish of their sculptures, and the beauty and freshness of their frescoes, are among the most remarkable monuments of Egyptian grandeur and skill. The eastern side of the river is distinguished by the remains of Luxor and Karnak, the latter being of itself a city of temples. The approach to Karnak from the south is marked by a series of majestic gateways and towers, which were the appendages of later times to the original structure. The temple properly faces the river, i.e., toward the northwest. The courts and propylæa connected with this structure occupy a space nearly 1800 feet square, and the buildings represent almost every dynasty of Egypt. Ezekiel proclaims the destruction of Thebes by the arm of Babylon, Ezek. 30:14–16; and Jeremiah predicted the same overthrow. Jer. 46:25–26. The city lies today a nest of Arab hovels amid crumbling columns and drifting sands. The Persian invader (Cambyses, b.c. 525) completed the destruction that the Babylonian had begun.
Ruins at Thebes (No).
Temple at Karnak (Thebes). Columns in the great Hall. (From a Photograph.)
Avenue of Sphinxes and Propylæa at Karnak.