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age of the Ramessides, or to a still earlier period. As regards
fortresses, there are two in the town of Abydos alone, one of which is at
least contemporary with the Sixth Dynasty; while the ramparts of El Kab, of
Kom el Ahmar, of El Hibeh, and of Dakkeh, as well as part of the
fortifications of Thebes, are still standing, and await the architect who
shall deign to make them an object of serious study.

* * * * *


The soil of Egypt, periodically washed by the inundation, is a black,
compact, homogeneous clay, which becomes of stony hardness when dry. From
immemorial time, the fellahin have used it for the construction of their
houses. The hut of the poorest peasant is a mere rudely-shaped mass of this
clay. A rectangular space, some eight or ten feet in width, by perhaps
sixteen or eighteen feet in length, is enclosed in a wickerwork of palm-
branches, coated on both sides with a layer of mud. As this coating cracks
in the drying the fissures are filled in, and more coats of mud are daubed
on until the walls attain a thickness of from four inches to a foot.
Finally, the whole is roofed over with palm-branches and straw, the top
being covered in with a thin layer of beaten earth. The height varies. In
most huts, the ceiling is so low that to rise suddenly is dangerous both to
one's head and to the structure, while in others the roof is six or seven
feet from the floor. Windows, of course, there are none. Sometimes a hole
is left in the middle of the roof to let the smoke out; but this is a
refinement undreamed of by many.

[Illustration: Fig. 1. - Brickmaking, from Eighteenth Dynasty tomb-painting,
Tomb of Rekhmara.]

At the first glance, it is not always easy to distinguish between these
huts of wattle and daub and those built with crude bricks. The ordinary
Egyptian brick is a mere oblong block of mud mixed with chopped straw and a
little sand, and dried in the sun. At a spot where they are about to build,
one man is told off to break up the ground; others carry the clods, and
pile them in a heap, while others again mix them with water, knead the clay
with their feet, and reduce it to a homogeneous paste. This paste, when
sufficiently worked (Note 2), is pressed by the head workman in moulds made
of hard wood, while an assistant carries away the bricks as fast as they
are shaped, and lays them out in rows at a little distance apart, to dry in
the sun (fig. I). A careful brickmaker will leave them thus for half a day,
or even for a whole day, after which the bricks are piled in stacks in such
wise that the air can circulate freely among them; and so they remain for a
week or two before they are used. More frequently, however, they are
exposed for only a few hours to the heat of the sun, and the building is
begun while they are yet damp. The mud, however, is so tenacious that,
notwithstanding this carelessness, they are not readily put out of shape.
The outer faces of the bricks become disintegrated by the action of the
weather, but those in the inner part of the wall remain intact, and are
still separable. A good modern workman will easily mould a thousand bricks
a day, and after a week's practice he may turn out 1,200, 1,500, or even
1,800. The ancient workmen, whose appliances in no wise differed from those
of the present day, produced equally satisfactory results. The dimensions
they generally adopted were 8.7 x 4.3 x 5.5 inches for ordinary bricks, or
15.0 x 7.1 x 5.5 for a larger size (Note 3), though both larger and smaller
are often met with in the ruins. Bricks issued from the royal workshops
were sometimes stamped with the cartouches of the reigning monarch; while
those made in private factories bore on the side a trade mark in red ochre,
a squeeze of the moulder's fingers, or the stamp of the maker. By far the
greater number have, however, no distinctive mark. Burnt bricks were not
often used before the Roman period (Note 4), nor tiles, either flat or
curved. Glazed bricks appear to have been the fashion in the Delta. The
finest specimen that I have seen, namely, one in the Gizeh Museum, is
inscribed in black ink with the cartouches of Rameses III. The glaze of
this brick is green, but other fragments are coloured blue, red, yellow, or

The nature of the soil does not allow of deep foundations. It consists of a
thin bed of made earth, which, except in large towns, never reaches any
degree of thickness; below this comes a very dense humus, permeated by
slender veins of sand; and below this again - at the level of infiltration -
comes a bed of mud, more or less soft, according to the season. The native
builders of the present day are content to remove only the made earth, and
lay their foundations on the primeval soil; or, if that lies too deep, they
stop at a yard or so below the surface. The old Egyptians did likewise; and
I have never seen any ancient house of which the foundations were more than
four feet deep. Even this is exceptional, the depth in most cases being not
more than two feet. They very often did not trouble themselves to cut
trenches at all; they merely levelled the space intended to be covered,
and, having probably watered it to settle the soil, they at once laid the
bricks upon the surface. When the house was finished, the scraps of mortar,
the broken bricks, and all the accumulated refuse of the work, made a bed
of eight inches or a foot in depth, and the base of the wall thus buried
served instead of a foundation. When the new house rose on the ruins of an
older one decayed by time or ruined by accident, the builders did not even
take the trouble to raze the old walls to the ground. Levelling the surface
of the ruins, they-built upon them at a level a few feet higher than
before: thus each town stands upon one or several artificial mounds, the
tops of which may occasionally rise to a height of from sixty to eighty
feet above the surrounding country. The Greek historians attributed these
artificial mounds to the wisdom of the kings, and especially to Sesostris,
who, as they supposed, wished to raise the towns above the inundation. Some
modern writers have even described the process, which they explain thus: - A
cellular framework of brick walls, like a huge chess-board, formed the
substructure, the cells being next filled in with earth, and the houses
built upon this immense platform (Note 5).

[Illustration: Fig. 2. - Ancient house with vaulted floors, against the
northern wall of the great temple of Medinet Habù]

[Illustration: Fig. 3. - Plan of three-quarters of the town of Hat-Hotep-
Ûsertesen (Kahûn), built for the accommodation of the officials and workmen
employed in connection with the pyramid of Ûsertesen II. at Illahûn. The
workmen's quarters are principally on the west, and separated from the
eastern part of the town by a thick wall. At the south-west corner, outside
the town, stood the pyramid temple, and in front of it the porter's lodge.
Reproduced from Plate XIV. of _Illahûn, Kahun, and Gurob_, W.M.F. Petrie.]

But where I have excavated, especially at Thebes, I have never found
anything answering to this conception. The intersecting walls which one
finds beneath the later houses are nothing but the ruins of older
dwellings, which in turn rest on others still older. The slightness of the
foundations did not prevent the builders from boldly running up quite lofty
structures. In the ruins of Memphis, I have observed walls still standing
from thirty to forty feet in height. The builders took no precaution beyond
enlarging the base of the wall, and vaulting the floors (fig. 2).[1] The
thickness of an ordinary wall was about sixteen inches for a low house; but
for one of several storeys, it was increased to three or four feet. Large
beams, embedded here and there in the brickwork or masonry, bound the whole
together, and strengthened the structure. The ground floor was also
frequently built with dressed stones, while the upper parts were of brick.
The limestone of the neighbouring hills was the stone commonly used for
such purposes. The fragments of sandstone, granite, and alabaster, which
are often found mixed in with it, are generally from some ruined temple;
the ancient Egyptians having pulled their neglected monuments to pieces
quite as unscrupulously as do their modern successors. The houses of an
ancient Egyptian town were clustered round its temple, and the temple stood
in a rectangular enclosure to which access was obtained through monumental
gateways in the surrounding brick wall. The gods dwelt in fortified
mansions, or at any rate in redoubts to which the people of the place might
fly for safety in the event of any sudden attack upon their town. Such
towns as were built all at once by prince or king were fairly regular in
plan, having wide paved streets at right angles to each other, and the
buildings in line. The older cities, whose growth had been determined by
the chances and changes of centuries, were characterised by no such
regularity. Their houses stood in a maze of blind alleys, and narrow, dark,
and straggling streets, with here and there the branch of a canal, almost
dried up during the greater part of the year, and a muddy pond where the
cattle drank and women came for water. Somewhere in each town was an open
space shaded by sycamores or acacias, and hither on market days came the
peas-ants of the district two or three times in the month. There were also
waste places where rubbish and refuse was thrown, to be quarrelled over by
vultures, hawks, and dogs.

[Illustration: Fig. 4. - Plan of house, Medinet Habû]

[Illustration: Fig. 5. - Plan of house, Medinet Habû.]

[Illustration: Fig. 6. - Façade of a house toward the street, second Theban

[Illustration: Fig. 7. - Plan of central court of house, second Theban

[Illustration: Fig. 8. - Restoration of the hall in a Twelfth Dynasty house.
In the middle of the floor is a tank surrounded by a covered colonnade.
Reproduced from Plate XVI. of _Illahûn, Kahun, and Gurob_, W.M.F.

[Illustration: Fig. 9. - Box representing a house (British Museum).]

The lower classes lived in mere huts which, though built of bricks, were no
better than those of the present fellahin. At Karnak, in the Pharaonic
town; at Kom Ombo, in the Roman town; and at Medinet Habû, in the Coptic
town, the houses in the poorer quarters have seldom more than twelve or
sixteen feet of frontage. They consist of a ground floor, with sometimes
one or two living-rooms above. The middle-class folk, as shopkeepers, sub-
officials, and foremen, were better housed. Their houses were brick-built
and rather small, yet contained some half-dozen rooms communicating by
means of doorways, which were usually arched over, and having vaulted
roofs in some cases, and in others flat ones. Some few of the houses were
two or three storeys high, and many were separated from the street by a
narrow court, beyond which the rooms were ranged on either side of a long
passage (fig. 4). More frequently, the court was surrounded on three sides
by chambers (fig. 5); and yet oftener the house fronted close upon the
street. In the latter case the façade consisted of a high wall, whitewashed
or painted, and surmounted by a cornice. Even in better houses the only
ornamentation of their outer walls consisted in angular grooving, the
grooves being surmounted by representations of two lotus flowers, each pair
with the upper parts of the stalks in contact (see figs. 24, 25). The door
was the only opening, save perhaps a few small windows pierced at irregular
intervals (fig. 6). Even in unpretentious houses, the door was often made
of stone. The doorposts projected slightly beyond the surface of the wall,
and the lintel supported a painted or sculptured cornice. Having crossed
the threshold, one passed successively through two dimly-lighted entrance
chambers, the second of which opened into the central court (fig. 7). The
best rooms in the houses of wealthier citizens were sometimes lighted
through a square opening in the centre of a ceiling supported on wooden
columns. In the Twelfth Dynasty town of Kahûn the shafts of these columns
rested upon round stone bases; they were octagonal, and about ten inches in
diameter (fig. 8). Notwithstanding the prevalence of enteric disease and
ophthalmia, the family crowded together into one or two rooms during the
winter, and slept out on the roof under the shelter of mosquito nets in
summer. On the roof also the women gossiped and cooked. The ground floor
included both store-rooms, barns, and stables. Private granaries were
generally in pairs (see fig. 11), brick-built in the same long conical
shape as the state granaries, and carefully plastered with mud inside and
out. Neither did the people of a house forget to find or to make hiding
places in the walls or floors of their home, where they could secrete their
household treasures - such as nuggets of gold and silver, precious stones,
and jewellery for men and women - from thieves and tax-collectors alike.
Wherever the upper floors still remain standing, they reproduce the ground-
floor plan with scarcely any differences. These upper rooms were reached by
an outside staircase, steep and narrow, and divided at short intervals by
small square landings. The rooms were oblong, and were lighted only from
the doorway; when it was decided to open windows on the street, they were
mere air-holes near the ceiling, pierced without regularity or symmetry,
fitted with a lattice of wooden cross bars, and secured by wooden shutters.
The floors were bricked or paved, or consisted still more frequently of
merely a layer of rammed earth. The rooms were not left undecorated; the
mud-plaster of the walls, generally in its native grey, although
whitewashed in some cases, was painted with red or yellow, and ornamented
with drawings of interior and exterior views of a house, and of household
vessels and eatables (fig. 10). The roof was flat, and made probably, as at
the present day, of closely laid rows of palm-branches covered with a
coating of mud thick enough to withstand the effects of rain. Sometimes it
was surmounted by only one or two of the usual Egyptian ventilators; but
generally there was a small washhouse on the roof (fig. 9), and a little
chamber for the slaves or guards to sleep in. The household fire was made
in a hollow of the earthen floor, usually to one side of the room, and the
smoke escaped through a hole in the ceiling; branches of trees, charcoal,
and dried cakes of ass or cow dung were used for fuel.

[Illustration: Fig. 10. - Wall-painting in a Twelfth Dynasty house. Below is
a view of the outside, and above a view of the inside of a dwelling.
Reproduced from Plate XVI. of _Illahûn, Kahun, and Gurob_, W.M.F. Petrie.]

[Illustration: Fig. 11. - View of mansion from the tomb of Anna, Eighteenth

The mansions of the rich and great covered a large space of ground. They
most frequently stood in the midst of a garden, or of an enclosed court
planted with trees; and, like the commoner houses, they turned a blank
front to the street, consisting of bare walls, battlemented like those of a
fortress (fig. 11). Thus, home-life was strictly secluded, and the pleasure
of seeing was sacrificed for the advantages of not being seen. The door was
approached by a flight of two or three steps, or by a porch supported on
columns (fig. 12) and adorned with statues (fig. 13), which gave it a
monumental appearance, and indicated the social importance of the family.

Fig. 12. - Porch of mansion, second Theban period,
Fig. 13. - Porch of mansion, second Theban period.]

Sometimes this was preceded by a pylon-gateway, such as usually heralded
the approach to a temple. Inside the enclosure it was like a small town,
divided into quarters by irregular walls. The dwelling-house stood at the
farther end; the granaries, stabling, and open spaces being distributed in
different parts of the grounds, according to some system to which we as yet
possess no clue. These arrangements, however, were infinitely varied. If I
would convey some idea of the residence of an Egyptian noble, - a residence
half palace, half villa, - I cannot do better than reproduce two out of the
many pictorial plans which have come down to us among the tomb-paintings
of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The first (figs. 14, 15) represent a Theban
house. The enclosure is square, and surrounded by an embattled wall. The
main gate opens upon a road bordered with trees, which runs beside a canal,
or perhaps an arm of the Nile. Low stone walls divide the garden into
symmetrical compartments, like those which are seen to this day in the
great gardens of Ekhmîm or Girgeh.

[Illustration: Fig. 14. - Plan of a Theban house with garden, from
Eighteenth Dynasty tomb-painting.]

In the centre is a large trellis supported on four rows of slender pillars.
Four small ponds, two to the right and two to the left, are stocked with
ducks and geese. Two nurseries, two summer-houses, and various avenues of
sycamores, date-palms, and dôm-palms fill up the intermediate space; while
at the end, facing the entrance, stands a small three-storied house
surmounted by a painted cornice.

[Illustration: Fig. 15. - Perspective view of the Theban house, from
Eighteenth Dynasty tomb-painting.]

[Illustration: Fig. 16. - Part of the palace of Aï, from tomb-painting,
Eighteenth Dynasty, El Amarna.]

The second plan is copied from one of the rock-cut tombs of Tell el Amarna
(figs. 16, 17). Here we see a house situate at the end of the gardens of
the great lord Aï, son-in-law of the Pharaoh Khûenaten, and himself
afterwards king of Egypt. An oblong stone tank with sloping sides, and two
descending flights of steps, faces the entrance. The building is
rectangular, the width being somewhat greater than the depth. A large
doorway opens in the middle of the front, and gives access to a court
planted with trees and flanked by store-houses fully stocked with
provisions. Two small courts, placed symmetrically in the two farthest
corners, contain the staircases which lead up to the roof terrace. This
first building, however, is but the frame which surrounds the owner's
dwelling. The two frontages are each adorned with a pillared portico and a
pylon. Passing the outer door, we enter a sort of long central passage,
divided by two walls pierced with doorways, so as to form three successive
courts. The inside court is bordered by chambers; the two others open to
right and left upon two smaller courts, whence flights of steps lead up to
the terraced roof. This central building is called the _Akhonûti_, or
private dwelling of kings or nobles, to which only the family and intimate
friends had access. The number of storeys and the arrangement of the façade
varied according to the taste of the owner. The frontage was generally a
straight wall. Sometimes it was divided into three parts, with the middle
division projecting, in which case the two wings were ornamented with a
colonnade to each storey (fig. 18), or surmounted by an open gallery (fig.
19). The central pavilion sometimes presents the appearance of a tower,
which dominates the rest of the building (fig. 20). The façade is often
decorated with slender colonnettes of painted wood, which bear no weight,
and merely serve to lighten the somewhat severe aspect of the exterior. Of
the internal arrangements, we know but little. As in the middle-class
houses, the sleeping rooms were probably small and dark; but, on the other
hand, the reception rooms must have been nearly as large as those still in
use in the Arab houses of modern Egypt.

[Illustration: Fig. 17. - Perspective view of the Palace of AT, Eighteenth
Dynasty, El Amarna.]

[Illustration: Fig. 18. - Frontage of house, second Theban period.]

[Illustration: Fig. 19. - Frontage of house, second Theban period.]

[Illustration: Fig. 20. - Central pavilion of house, in form of tower,
second Theban period.]

The decoration of walls and ceilings in no wise resembled such scenes or
designs as we find in the tombs. The panels were whitewashed or colour-
washed, and bordered with a polychrome band. The ceilings were usually left
white; sometimes, however they were decorated with geometrical patterns,
which repeated the leading motives employed in the sepulchral wall-
paintings. Thus we find examples of meanders interspersed with rosettes
(fig. 21), parti-coloured squares (fig. 22), ox-heads seen frontwise,
scrolls, and flights of geese (fig. 23).

[Illustration: Fig. 21. - Ceiling pattern from behind, Medinet Habû,
Twentieth Dynasty.]

[Illustration: Fig. 22. - Ceiling pattern similar to one at El Bersheh,
Twelfth Dynasty.]

I have touched chiefly upon houses of the second Theban period,[2] this
being in fact the time of which we have most examples. The house-shaped
lamps which are found in such large numbers in the Fayûm date only from
Roman times; but the Egyptians of that period continued to build according
to the rules which were in force under the Pharaohs of the Twelfth,
Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties. As regards the domestic
architecture of the ancient kingdom, the evidences are few and obscure.
Nevertheless, the stelae, tombs, and coffins of that period often furnish
designs which show us the style of the doorways (fig. 24), and one Fourth
Dynasty sarcophagus, that of Khûfû Poskhû, is carved in the likeness of a
house (fig. 25).

[1] Many of the rooms at Kahun had vaulted ceilings.

[2] Seventeenth to Twentieth Dynasties.


Most of the towns, and even most of the larger villages, of ancient Egypt
were walled. This was an almost necessary consequence of the geographical
characteristics and the political constitution of the country. The mouths
of the defiles which led into the desert needed to be closed against the
Bedawîn; while the great feudal nobles fortified their houses, their towns,
and the villages upon their domains which commanded either the mountain
passes or the narrow parts of the river, against their king or their

[Illustration: Fig. 23. - Ceiling pattern from tomb of Aimadûa, Twentieth

[Illustration: Fig. 24. - Door of a house of the Ancient Empire, from the
wall of a tomb of the Sixth Dynasty.]

[Illustration: Fig. 25. - Façade of a Fourth Dynasty house, from the
sarcophagus of Khûfû Poskhû.]

The oldest fortresses are those of Abydos, El Kab, and Semneh. Abydos
contained a sanctuary dedicated to Osiris, and was situate at the entrance
to one of the roads leading to the Oasis. As the renown of the temple
attracted pilgrims, so the position of the city caused it to be frequented
by merchants; hence the prosperity which it derived from the influx of both
classes of strangers exposed the city to incursions of the Libyan tribes.
At Abydos there yet remain two almost perfect strongholds. The older forms,
as it were, the core of that tumulus called by the Arabs "Kom es Sultan,"
or "the Mound of the King." The interior of this building has been
excavated to a point some ten or twelve feet above the ground level, but
the walls outside have not yet been cleared from the surrounding sand and
rubbish. In its present condition, it forms a parallelogram of crude
brickwork measuring 410 feet from north to south, and 223 feet from east to
west. The main axis of the structure extends, therefore, from north to
south. The principal gateway opens in the western wall, not far from the
northwest corner: but there would appear to have been two smaller gates,
one in the south front, and one in the east. The walls, which now stand
from twenty-four to thirty-six feet high, have lost somewhat of their
original height. They are about six feet thick at the top. They were not
built all together in uniform layers, but in huge vertical panels, easily
distinguished by the arrangement of the brickwork. In one division the
bedding of the bricks is strictly horizontal; in the next it is slightly
concave, and forms a very flat reversed arch, of which the extrados rests
upon the ground. The alternation of these two methods is regularly
repeated. The object of this arrangement is obscure; but it is said that
buildings thus constructed are especially fitted to resist earthquake
shocks. However this may be, the fortress is extremely ancient, for in the
Fifth Dynasty, the nobles of Abydos took possession of the interior, and,
ultimately, so piled it up with their graves as to deprive it of all
strategic value. A second stronghold, erected a few hundred yards further

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Online LibraryGaston Camille Charles MasperoManual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt → online text (page 2 of 21)