The obelisks of Ancient Egypt

Description and translation of the obelisks.

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. There are a few ancient Egyptian obelisks with no hieroglyphs.



1 · Karnak D
Pharaoh:   Thutmose I, Ramesses IV, Ramesses VI
Location: Karnak, Egypt
Provenance: Karnak
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 only the center column of hieroglyphs existed. Ramesses IV had columns added on both sides of the center column, which in turn were usurped by Ramesses VI.
Karnak D image 1 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak D image 2 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak D image 3 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak D image 4 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak D image 5 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Rosellini, “I Monumenti dell’ Egitto e della Nubia”, IV, plate XXX
Lepsius, “Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien”, III, plate 6
Champollion, “Monuments de l’Égypte et Nubie”, IV, plates CCCXII-CCCXIII
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, II, p. 75
2 · Karnak E
Pharaoh:   Hatshepsut
Location: Karnak, Egypt
Provenance: Karnak
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 E image 1 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak E image 2 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak E image 3 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak E image 4 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak E image 5 - Press enter to view full imageKarnak E image 6 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Champollion, “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, “I Monumenti dell’ Egitto e della Nubia”, IV, plates XXXI to XXXIV
Urk. IV, 356-9 (center lines)
3 · Luxor A
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Luxor, Egypt
Provenance: Luxor
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Still standing in its original location at the entrance to the Luxor temple.
Luxor A image 1 - Press enter to view full imageLuxor A image 2 - Press enter to view full imageLuxor A image 3 - Press enter to view full imageLuxor A image 4 - Press enter to view full imageLuxor A image 5 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Champollion, “Monuments de l’Égypte et Nubie”, IV, plates CCCXX-CCCXXI
Rosellini, “I Monumenti dell’ Egitto e della Nubia”, IV.1, plate CXVII B
Lebas, “L’ obelisque de Luxor”, plate III
"Description de l'Égypte", Antiquités - Planches, Vol. III, plate 11
4 · Luxor B
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Paris, France
Provenance: Luxor→Paris
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally a pair, one was gifted to France in 1829. It was placed at the Place de la Concorde, where it remain to this day.
Luxor B image 1 - Press enter to view full imageLuxor B image 2 - Press enter to view full imageLuxor B image 3 - Press enter to view full imageLuxor B image 4 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Champollion, “Monuments de l’Égypte et Nubie”, IV, plates CCCXVIII-CCCXIX
Rosellini, “I Monumenti dell’ Egitto e della Nubia”, IV.1, plate CXVII A
"Description de l'Égypte", Antiquités - Planches, Vol. III, plate 12
5 · Heliopolis
Pharaoh:   Senusret I
Location: Cairo, Egypt
Provenance: Heliopolis (Cairo)
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Erected by Senusret I over 4000 years ago, it is the world's oldest obelisk.
Heliopolis image 1 - Press enter to view full imageHeliopolis image 2 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

“Description de l’Égypte”, V, plate 26
Lepsius, “Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien”, II, plate 118h
6 · Crocodilopolis
Pharaoh:   Senusret I
Location: Medinet el-Fayyum, Egypt
Provenance: Fayoum, Egypt
Inscriptions: Hieroglyphs on 3 sides

Description:
Found lying broken in a field by Napoleon's expedition.
Crocodilopolis image 1 - Press enter to view full imageCrocodilopolis image 2 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

1817: “Description de l'Égypte”, IV, plate 71
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
7 · Tanis A
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Cairo, Egypt
Provenance: Tanis→Cairo
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Tanis it was erected at the airport in 1984.
Tanis A image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

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

Description:
Located in the Andalusian Gardens on Gezira Island in Cairo.
Tanis B image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

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
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 1 - Press enter to view full imageCleopatra's Needle image 2 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

“Description de l’Égypte”, V, plate 33
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
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 when acquired. New York's weather hasn't been kind to the hieroglyphs. It was erected in its current position in 1881.
Cleopatra's Needle image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

“Description de l’Égypte”, V, plate 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
Pharaoh:   Thutmose III
Location: Istanbul
Provenance: Karnak→Istanbul
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 image 1 - Press enter to view full imageTheodosius image 2 - Press enter to view full imageTheodosius image 3 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Lepsius, “Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien”, III, plate 60
Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum"
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 400
12 · Durham
Pharaoh:   Amenhotep II
Location: Durham UK
Provenance: Elephantine/Syene→Durham
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 image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, V, p. 244
Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, 1843, I, p. 170.
13 · Philae
Pharaoh:   Ptolemy IX
Location: Kingston Lacy, Dorset, UK
Provenance: Philae→Dorset
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 image 1 - Press enter to view full imagePhilae image 2 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

E. A. Wallis Budge, "The decrees of Memphis and Canopus", Vol. I, pp. 135-159
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VI, p. 214 (73-74)
W. J. Bankes, 1820 Unpublished lithograph, National Trust NT 1257832
14 · Lateranense
Pharaoh:   Thutmose III, Thutmose IV
Location: Piazza di San Giovanni, Rome, Italy
Also known as: Lateran obelisk
Provenance: Karnak
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Karnak, it was brought to Rome in 357, and placed in Circus Maximus. Sometime during the next millennia, it collapsed. It was rediscovered in three pieces in 1587, and set up in its current location. It is the largest Egyptian obelisk in the world.
Lateranense image 1 - Press enter to view full imageLateranense image 2 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 409 (1)
Braested, "Ancient Records of Egypt", II, §626-628, §830-838 (translations)
Ungarelli, "Interpretatio obeliscorum urbis" (1842), plate 1
Urk. IV, 584-585 (Thutmose III)
Urk. IV, 1548-1552 (Thutmose IV)
15 · Flaminio
Pharaoh:   Seti I, Ramesses II
Location: Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Italy
Also known as: Flaminian or Popolo obelisk
Provenance: Heliopolis→Rome
Inscriptions: 3 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Heliopolis, it was brought to Rome with Solare in 10 BC.
Flaminio image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum"
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 409 (2)
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, I, 118-120, §58; II, 476-478, §182
Ungarelli, "Interpretatio obeliscorum urbis" (1842), plate 2
16 · Solare
Pharaoh:   Psamtik II
Location: Piazza di Montecitorio, Rome, Italy
Also known as: Campense or Montecitorio
Provenance: Heliopolis→Rome
Inscriptions: 2 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Heliopolis, it was brought to Rome with the Flaminian obelisk in 10 BC.
Solare image 2 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Bandini, "De obelisco Caesaris Augusti e Campi Martii", plates 1-3
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 411 (6)
Ungarelli, "Interpretatio obeliscorum urbis" (1842), plate 3
17 · Macuteo
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, Italy
Also known as: Macutean or Pantheon obelisk
Provenance: Heliopolis→Rome
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 image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

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

Description:
Originally from Sais, it is the twin of Urbino. Brought to Rome by Diocletian.
Minerveo image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

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

Description:
Originally created in Egypt, it was shipped and erected in Rome c. 81 AD.
Agonalis image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

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

Description:
A (smaller) copy of Flaminio commissioned by Lucius Domitius Aurelianus around 270 AD.
Sallustiano image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Sepibus, "Romani Collegii Societas Jesu Musæum Celeberrimum"
Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 412 (10)
21 · Pinciano
Pharaoh:   Hadrianus
Location: Piazza Bucaresti, Rome, Italy
Also known as: Berberini or Monte Pincio
Provenance: Tivoli, Italy
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 image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 412 (9)
Zoega, De origine et usu obeliscorum, pp.77-79, 6th foldout plate in back.
22 · Dogali
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Via della Terme di Diocleziano, Rome, Italy
Also known as: Casanatese obelisk
Provenance: Heliopolis→Rome
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
Originally from Heliopolis, its twin is Boboli. Since 1924 it commemorates the Battle of Dogali.

Sources

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 409 (4)
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 483, §183 C
23 · Matteiano
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Villa Celimontana, Rome, Italy
Also known as: Celimontana obelisk
Provenance: Heliopolis→Rome
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.

Sources

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, VII, p. 411 (5)
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 482 (B)
24 · Boboli
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II
Location: Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy
Provenance: Heliopolis
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.

Sources

Porter & Moss, “Topographical Bibliography”, VII, p. 407
Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II, 483-484 (D)
25 · Benevento
Pharaoh:   Domitianus
Location: Benevento, Italy
Provenance: Benevento
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 image 1 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, VII, p. 418
Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 34, 149-158
26 · Luxor Museum
Pharaoh:   Ramesses III
Location: Luxor Museum, Luxor, Egypt
Provenance:
Inscriptions: 1 column on each 4 sides

Description:
This small obelisk is on display at the Luxor Museum in Egypt.

Sources

27 · Seti II
Pharaoh:   Seti II
Location: Karnak Great Temple, Egypt
Provenance: Karnak
Inscriptions: 4 columns on each 4 sides

Description:
Standing by the row of sphinxes at the quay of the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak.
Seti II image 1 - Press enter to view full imageSeti II image 2 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

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

Description:
Fragments that were part of a pair of obelisks, probably originally about 5.5 m high.
Hermopolis image 1 - Press enter to view full imageHermopolis image 2 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

British Museum EA 523 and EA 524
29 · Athribis
Pharaoh:   Ramesses II, Osochor, Siamun
Location: Posnan, Poland
Provenance: Athribis→Berlin→Posnan
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 image 1 - Press enter to view full imageAthribis image 2 - Press enter to view full imageAthribis image 3 - Press enter to view full imageAthribis image 4 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

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

Description:
Originally from Sais, it is the twin of Minerveo in Rome.

Sources

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

Description:
Originally from the Sun shrine at Abu Simbel, now in the Nubia Museum in Assuan
Abu Simbel obelisks image 1 - Press enter to view full imageAbu Simbel obelisks image 2 - Press enter to view full imageAbu Simbel obelisks image 3 - Press enter to view full image

Sources

Porter & Moss, Topographical Bibliography, VII, 99, (20-21)
Kuentz, "Obélisques", 45-50, plate XIII (CG 17023-24)

 

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