The obelisks of Ancient Egypt

Obelisks were prominently placed in pairs at the entrance of temples by the Ancient Egyptians. The word obelisk as used today is of Greek origin, while the Egyptians called them Tekhenu. Some ancient Egyptian obelisks are known to have survived, but are dispersed throughout the world, only a few remain in Egypt. The obelisks described here are only those inscribed with hieroglyphs. The few ancient Egyptian uninscribed obelisks are not included; this includes the Vatican obelisk brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula.



1 · Karnak obelisk D
Pharaoh:   Thutmose I, Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI
Location: Karnak, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Karnak
Height: 21.20 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Both obelisks were still standing in 1743, but today only the southern of the pair remain. It is leaning slightly.

Originally created for Thutmose I, Ramesses IV had columns added on both sides of the center column, which in turn were usurped by Ramesses VI.
Karnak obelisk D image 1Karnak obelisk D image 2Karnak obelisk D image 3Karnak obelisk D image 4Karnak obelisk D image 5Karnak obelisk D image 6

Bibliography

Rosellini. 1832. I Monumenti dell’ Egitto e della Nubia, IV, plate XXX
Lepsius, Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, III, plate 6
Champollion. 1844. Monuments de l'Égypte et Nubie, IV, plates CCCXII-CCCXIII
Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, II, p. 75
2 · Karnak obelisk E
Pharaoh:   Hatshepsut
Location: Karnak, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Karnak
Height: 29.56 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
The tallest obelisk in Egypt is ironically Queen Hatshepsut's, despite the fact that her successors systematically had her name removed from the most visible monuments she had created. Somehow the obelisk survived.
Karnak obelisk E image 1Karnak obelisk E image 2Karnak obelisk E image 3Karnak obelisk E image 4Karnak obelisk E image 5Karnak obelisk E image 6Karnak obelisk E image 7

Bibliography

Champollion. 1844. Monuments de l'Égypte et Nubie, IV, plates CCCXIV-CCCXV
Lepsius, Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, III, plates 22-23
Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, II, p. 81-82
Rosellini. 1832. I Monumenti dell’ Egitto e della Nubia, IV, plates XXXI to XXXIV
3 · Luxor obelisk A
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Luxor, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Luxor
Height: 25.03 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Still standing in its original location to the left (east) of the entrance to the Luxor temple, its twin to the right (west) of the entrance was given to France and moved to Paris in 1833.
Luxor obelisk A image 1Luxor obelisk A image 2Luxor obelisk A image 3Luxor obelisk A image 4

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, II, p. 302-303
Champollion. 1844. Monuments de l'Égypte et Nubie, IV, plates CCCXX-CCCXXI
Rosellini. 1832. I Monumenti dell'Egitto e della Nubia, IV.1, plate CXVII B
Description de l'Égypte. 1809. Antiquités - Planches, Vol. III, plates 1-15
4 · Luxor obelisk B
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Paris, France 🧭
Provenance: Luxor ⇒ Paris
Height: 22.83 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally standing to the right (west) of the entrance to the Luxor Temple, it was gifted to France and moved to Paris in 1833, and is situated at the Place de la Concorde. The base and pyramidion are modern additions.
Luxor obelisk B image 1Luxor obelisk B image 2Luxor obelisk B image 3Luxor obelisk B image 4Luxor obelisk B image 5

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, II, p. 303
Champollion. 1844. Monuments de l'Égypte et Nubie, IV, plates CCCXVIII-CCCXIX
Rosellini. 1832. I Monumenti dell’ Egitto e della Nubia, IV.1, plate CXVII A
Description de l'Égypte. 1809. Antiquités - Planches, Vol. III, plate 12
Lebas. 1839. L'obelisque de Luxor: histoire de sa translation à Paris, plate III
5 · Heliopolis obelisk
Pharaoh:   Senusret I
Location: Cairo, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Heliopolis, Cairo
Height: 20.40 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Erected by Senusret I over 4000 years ago, it is the world's oldest still standing obelisk, and supposedly in its original position. The temple was a ruin already in Roman times, and the obelisk is the only clue that a temple once occupied the spot.
Heliopolis obelisk image 1Heliopolis obelisk image 2

Bibliography

Description de l'Égypte. 1809. Vol. V, plate 26
Lepsius, Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, II, plate 118h
Porter & Moss. Topographical Bibliography, IV, p. 60
6 · Crocodilopolis obelisk
Pharaoh:   Senusret I
Location: Medinet el-Fayoum, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Faiyum, Egypt
Height: 12.70 m.
Inscriptions: Hieroglyphs on 3 sides

Description:
Found toppled and broken in two in a field near the ruins of Crocodilopolis (Faiyum) by Napoleon's expedition 1798-1801. Can be seen today in the middle of a roundabout in the city of Faiyum, the inscriptions are almost entirely gone. It is sometimes referred to as a stela as it not the usual shape of an obelisk.
Crocodilopolis obelisk image 1Crocodilopolis obelisk image 2

Bibliography

1809: Description de l'Égypte, IV, plate 71, Text II, ch. XVII, 43-45.
1825: Burton, Excerpta hieroglyphica, plate XXIX
1832: Rosellini, I Monumenti dell’ Egitto e della Nubia, IV.1, plate XXV (2)
1849: Lepsius, Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, II, plate 119, Text II, p. 31
1934: Porter & Moss. Topographical Bibliography, IV, p. 99
7 · Tanis obelisk A
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Cairo, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Tanis ⇒ Cairo
Height: 16.97 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally discovered broken at Tanis, it was repaired and erected on top of a pedestal building at Cairo airport in 1984.
Tanis obelisk A image 1

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, IV, p. 15-16 (Third pair)
Petrie, Tanis, I, plate VIII (48, North Obelisk)
8 · Tanis obelisk B
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Cairo, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Tanis→Cairo
Height: 13.50 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Discovered in bad shape at Tanis, it is now repaired and erected in a small garden on Gezira Island near the Cairo Tower.
Tanis obelisk B image 1

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, IV, p. 16 (fourth pair)
Petrie, Tanis, I, plate IX (51, North Obelisk)
9 · Cleopatra's Needle
Pharaoh:   Thutmose III, Ramesses II
Location: London 🧭
Provenance: Heliopolis ⇒ Alexandria ⇒ London
Height: 21.00 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Erected in Heliopolis by Thutmose III around 1450 BC. Ramesses II had his inscriptions added on either side of the original inscription some 200 years later. It was moved to Alexandria by the Romans in 12 BC, where it toppled sometime during the next centuries and was buried, preserving the hieroglyphs from the effects of weathering. The English weather hasn't been kind to the hieroglyphs. It was erected in its current position in 1878.
Cleopatra's Needle image 1Cleopatra's Needle image 2

Bibliography

Champollion, Monuments de l'Egypte, IV, plates 445-446
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 478-479, §183 A
10 · Cleopatra's Needle
Pharaoh:   Thutmose III, Ramesses II
Location: New York 🧭
Provenance: Heliopolis ⇒ Alexandria ⇒ New York
Height: 21.00 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Erected in Heliopolis by Thutmose III around 1450 BC. Ramesses II had his inscriptions added on either side of the original inscription some 200 years later. It was moved to Alexandria by the Romans in 12 BC where it still stood until given as a gift to the US. It was placed in Central Park in New York, and the weather has not been kind to the hieroglyphs. It was erected in its current position in 1881. Despite its name, the obelisk has nothing to do with Cleopatra.
Cleopatra's Needle image 1Cleopatra's Needle image 2Cleopatra's Needle image 3Cleopatra's Needle image 4Cleopatra's Needle image 5

Bibliography

Description de l’Égypte, V, plate 32-33
Champollion, Monuments de l'Egypte, IV, plate 444
Lucas, Voyage du sieur Paul Lucas fait en MDCCXIV, Vol. 2, 24-25
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 480-481, §183 B
11 · Theodosius obelisk
Pharaoh:   Thutmose III
Location: Istanbul 🧭
Provenance: Karnak
Height: 19.60 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on 4 sides

Description:
Originally erected south of the 7th pylon at Karnak. Moved to Constantinople in 390 AD where it remain today.
Theodosius obelisk image 1Theodosius obelisk image 2Theodosius obelisk image 3

Bibliography

Lepsius, “Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien”, III, plate 60
Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum". Amsterdam 1678.
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 400
12 · Durham obelisk
Pharaoh:   Amenhotep II
Location: Durham UK 🧭
Provenance: Elephantine/Syene
Height: 2.15 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on one side

Description:
It was discovered in 1838, in the ruins of a village near Thebes, and was presented to Algernon, fourth Duke of Northumberland, in 1838. Only slightly over 2 meters tall, it is on show at the Durham Oriental Museum.
Durham obelisk image 1

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, V, p. 244
Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, 1843, I, p. 170.
13 · Philae obelisk
Pharaoh:   Ptolemy IX
Location: Kingston Lacy, Dorset, UK 🧭
Provenance: Philae
Height: 6.70 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Found at the temple of Isis at Philae in 1815 by J.W. Bankes. It was transported to his estate in Dorset where it remain today.
Philae obelisk image 1Philae obelisk image 2

Bibliography

E. A. Wallis Budge, "The decrees of Memphis and Canopus", Vol. I, pp. 135-159
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VI, p. 214 (73-74)
14 · Lateranense obelisk
Pharaoh:   Thutmose III, Thutmose IV
Location: Piazza di San Giovanni, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Lateran obelisk
Provenance: Karnak
Height: 32.18 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Karnak, it was brought to Rome in 357. It is the largest Egyptian obelisk in the world.
Lateranense obelisk image 1Lateranense obelisk image 2

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 409 (1)
Ammianus Marcellinus, "The Roman History", XVII, 4.12-23
Braested, "Ancient Records of Egypt", II, §626-628, §830-838 (translations)
Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum". Amsterdam 1678.
15 · Flaminio obelisk
Pharaoh:   Seti I, Ramesses II, Merenptah
Location: Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Flaminian or Popolo obelisk
Provenance: Heliopolis
Height: 24.00 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Heliopolis, it was commissioned by Seti I but only completed and erected by his son, Ramesses II. The hieroglyphs of Merenptah, son of Ramesses II, are also present at the bottom. Emperor Augustus had it brought to Rome together with the Solare obelisk in 10 BC, which is not its mate.
Flaminio obelisk image 1

Bibliography

Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum". Amsterdam 1678.
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 409 (2)
Kitchen, “Ramesside Inscriptions“, I, 118-120, §58; II, 476-478, §182
16 · Solare obelisk
Pharaoh:   Psamtik II
Location: Piazza di Montecitorio, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Campense or Montecitorio
Provenance: Heliopolis
Height: 21.79 m.
Inscriptions: 2 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Heliopolis, Emperor Augustus had it brought to Rome together with the Flaminian obelisk in 10 BC, where it was erected at Circus Maximus.
Solare obelisk image 2

Bibliography

Bandini, "De obelisco Caesaris Augusti e Campi Martii", plates 1-3. Rome 1750.
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 411 (6)
17 · Macuteo obelisk
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Macutean or Pantheon obelisk
Provenance: Heliopolis
Height: 6.34 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally a pair with Matteiano in Heliopolis. Most of this obelisk remains while its twin has fared much worse.
Macuteo obelisk image 1

Bibliography

Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum". Amsterdam 1678.
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 409 (3)
Kitchen, “Ramesside Inscriptions“, II, 481-482, §184 A
18 · Minerveo obelisk
Pharaoh:   Apries
Location: Piazza della Minerva, Rome, Italy 🧭
Provenance: Sais
Height: 5.47 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Sais, it is the mate of the Urbino obelisk. Brought to Rome by Emperor Diocletian, but was buried at an unknown time. Rediscovered in 1665, the pedestal with an elephant was probably added in the late 1660s.
Minerveo obelisk image 1

Bibliography

Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum". Amsterdam 1678.
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 411 (7)
19 · Agonalis obelisk
Pharaoh:   Domitianus
Location: Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Pamphilian obelisk
Provenance:
Height: 16.53 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Commissioned from Egypt by Domitian and erected in Rome c. 80 AD, the inscriptions are of inferior Roman manufacture. It was moved to Circus Maxentius around 310, where it later toppled into five pieces. It was rediscovered and re-erected in 1651 in its current location — on top of the fountain of the Four rivers.
Agonalis obelisk image 1

Bibliography

Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum". Amsterdam 1678.
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 411 (8)
20 · Sallustiano obelisk
Pharaoh:   Seti I, Ramesses II
Location: Piazza Trinità dei Monti, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Trinità dei Monti obelisk
Provenance:
Height: 13.91 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
A smaller copy of the Flaminian obelisk commissioned by Lucius Domitius Aurelianus around 270 AD. It stands at the top of the Spanish steps in Rome.
Sallustiano obelisk image 1

Bibliography

Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum". Amsterdam 1678.
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 412 (10)
21 · Pinciano obelisk
Pharaoh:   Hadrianus
Location: Piazza Bucaresti, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Berberini or Monte Pincio
Provenance: Tivoli, Italy
Height: 9.24 m.
Inscriptions: 2 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Erected by Roman Emperor Hadrian in Tivoli just east of Rome, supposedly for the tomb of his favorite Antinous around 131 AD. Moved to Rome around 220 AD.
Pinciano obelisk image 1

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 412 (9)
Zoega, De origine et usu obeliscorum, pp.77-79. Rome 1797. Foldout plate in back.
22 · Dogali obelisk
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Via della Terme di Diocleziano, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Casanatese obelisk
Provenance: Heliopolis ⇒ Rome
Height: 6.34 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Heliopolis, it i the mate of the Boboli obelisk. Since 1924 it commemorates the Battle of Dogali.

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 409 (4)
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 483, §183 C
23 · Matteiano obelisk
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Villa Celimontana, Rome, Italy 🧭
Also known as: Celimontana obelisk
Provenance: Heliopolis ⇒ Rome
Height: 2.68 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally a pair with Macuteo in Heliopolis. This is much shorter, having lost much of its height after a collapse in ancient times.

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, VII, p. 411 (5)
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 482, §183 B
24 · Boboli obelisk
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy 🧭
Provenance: Heliopolis ⇒ Florence
Height: 4.87 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Found around 1600 by the Isis temple ruins. A copy was made in the 19th century and was erected at the Villa Medici in Rome.

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 407
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 483-484, §183 D
25 · Benevento obelisk
Pharaoh:   Domitianus
Location: Benevento, Italy 🧭
Provenance: Benevento
Height: 4.87 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Erected by the Roman emperor Domitianus at the Temple of Isis in Benevento. The pair are both in the same city.
Benevento obelisk image 1

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, VII, p. 418
Erman, A. "Die Obelisken der Kaiserzeit" Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 34 (1896), pp. 149-158, pl. 8
26 · Luxor Museum obelisk
Pharaoh:   Ramesses III
Location: Luxor Museum, Luxor, Egypt 🧭
Provenance:
Height: 0.95 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Discovered at the Great Temple of Karnak in 1923, the bottom half has been lost. This small obelisk is on display at the Luxor Museum in Egypt.

Bibliography

M. Pillet, “Rapport sur les travaux de Karnak. X, Un petit obélisque de Ramsès III.” ASAE 24 (1924): 82-3.
Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, II, 184.
27 · Seti II obelisk
Pharaoh:   Seti II
Location: Karnak Great Temple, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Karnak
Height: 0.95 m.
Inscriptions: 4 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
The remains of the southern obselisk stand by the row of sphinxes at the quay of the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak. Only the pedestal of its (north) mate remains.
Seti II obelisk image 1Seti II obelisk image 2

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, II, p. 22, (2) and (3)
Schwaller de Lubicz, The Temples of Karnak, II, plate 7
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, IV, 250:12-16
28 · Hermopolis obelisk
Pharaoh:   Nectanebo II
Location: London 🧭
Provenance: Hermopolis ⇒ London
Height: 0.95 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Fragments that were part of a pair of obelisks, probably originally about 5.5 m high. Now in the British Museum.
Hermopolis obelisk image 1Hermopolis obelisk image 2

Bibliography

British Museum EA 523 and EA 524
Description de l'Égypte, V, plates 22-23
29 · Athribis obelisk
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II, Merenptah, Seti II
Location: Posnan, Poland 🧭
Provenance: Athribis ⇒ Berlin ⇒ Posnan
Height: 3.00 m.
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Athribis in the Nile delta, it was bought and transfered to Berlin in 1895. On loan to Poznan Archeological Museum from 2002.
Athribis obelisk image 1Athribis obelisk image 2Athribis obelisk image 3Athribis obelisk image 4

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, IV, p. 70
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 465-466; IV, 244-245
Ägyptisches Museum Berlin, Inv. # 12800
30 · Urbino obelisk
Pharaoh:   Apries
Location: Urbino, Italy 🧭
Provenance: Sais ⇒ Rome
Height: 3.00 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally erected at Sais, it is the mate of Minerveo in Rome. It stands in Urbino, the birth place of Pope Clement XI, who bequeated it to the town.

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 408
31 · Abu Simbel obelisks
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Assuan, Egypt 🧭
Provenance: Abu Simbel ⇒ Assuan
Height: 3.13 m.
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally found in the North Chapel of Ra-Horakhty (Sun chapel) on the right side of the of the Great Temple of Abu Simbel. It is now in the Nubia Museum in Assuan.
Abu Simbel obelisks image 1Abu Simbel obelisks image 2Abu Simbel obelisks image 3

Bibliography

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, VII, p. 99, (20-21)
Kuentz, "Obélisques", 45-50, plate XIII
Cairo Museum JE 42955 C (CG 17023 & 17024)
End of page
Kinglists
Ancient historians
Terms & information

OK – Old Kingdom
Dynasties 3-6

MK – Middle Kingdom
Dynasties 11-12

NK – New Kingdom
Dynasties 18-20

SIP – Second Intermediate Period
Dynasties 13-17

Thebes – The Southern capital

Memphis – The Northern capital

Epitome – Manetho’s original Aegyptiaca was lost in antiquity, and in the following centuries, it was replaced by Epitomes (summaries) by rivalling advocates of Jewish, Egyptian, and Greek history that saw each side trying to establish the truth according to their point of view.

Vorlage – From the German for prototype or template, a vorlage is a prior version of a manuscript, in this case an earlier version of the canon.

Recto and verso – Recto is the front side and verso is the back side of a written or printed text.

Cartouche – oval band enclosing a pharaohs name

Hieratic – cursive form of hieroglyphic script

Hyksos – Greek form of ḥḳꜢ-ḫꜢswt or “rulers of foreign lands,” referring to peoples who migrated and controlled parts Egypt during the SIP.

Mortuary Temple – where the gods and the king who built the temple were worshipped.

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