Archaeologists in Egypt have uncovered broken statues of ancient Egyptian royalty at a sun temple in the ancient urban archaeological site of Heliopolis. The stone-carved fragments depict some of the most powerful pharaohs in ancient Egypt, including Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC), Ramesses IX (1126-1108 BC), Horemheb (1323-1295 BC), and Psamtik II (595-589 BC). Fragments of a limestone floor and parts of another royal statue, probably 4,000 years old but yet to be identified, were also found.
According to a press statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the fragments were found at the sun temple in Heliopolis, which was a site of particular importance in ancient Egypt. The discovery of these broken statues has shed further light on the long-lasting importance of Heliopolis in pharaonic times. The joint Egyptian-German archaeological mission, between the Supreme Council of Archaeology and the University of Leipzig Museum, has announced these finds.
Fragment of a pharaoh found at the Heliopolis temple site. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
“World Created by the First Sunrise”: The Sun and Ra at Heliopolis
According to ancient Egyptian belief, Heliopolis is where “the world was created, with the first sunrise,” excavation dig leader Dietrich Raue, the director of the Cairo department of the German Archaeological Institute, told Live Science over email. “Here the connection of kingship to the creator and sun god was celebrated. Serving the gods was one of the major duties of ancient Egyptian kings, and dedicating statues is a part of this. Ideally, no ruler of Egypt should be in office without the blessing of the sun-god,” he added.
The sun temple at Heliopolis was dedicated to Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun god, and was considered the place where the world was created with the first sunrise. The connection between kingship and the creator and sun god Ra, was a sacred and spiritual relationship for the Egyptians. Securing the sun god’s blessing was vital for a prosperous reign. Though sun temples have been found at several sites, the one at Heliopolis carried the greatest significance.
The temple site at Heliopolis where the fragments were found. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Pharaohs would construct statues, obelisks, and other structures at the site to legitimize their rule and honor the sun god , not dissimilar to how monarchical rule was legitimized in different parts of the world at different points in history. The newly discovered statue fragments, which show the heads of the pharaohs on sphinxes, would have been placed in front of gates or beside obelisks at the sun temple.
“This contributes to a better understanding of the history of this area,” explained Dr. Mostafa Waziri, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Significance of the Finds and Contextualising Heliopolis
The broken statues discovered at the sun temple in Heliopolis may have been destroyed and reused as building materials at some point in antiquity. However, the fact that the fragments were found at the sun temple suggests that they were once of great importance and significance to the ancient Egyptians, reports The Daily Mail .
Pharaohs were seen as the physical manifestation of Ra, and thus had the perennial responsibility of maintaining the sun temples. Typical each temple was built as a wide opn courtyard surrounded by rooms, with a stone obelisk representing the sun’s rays.
A cartouche found at the Heliopolis site. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The city of Heliopolis was associated with the god Atum , who was believed to have created the world from a mound that emerged from the waters of chaos. Atum was also closely linked with the sun, and the city of Heliopolis became the center of his worship.
During the Old Kingdom period (c. 2686-2181 BCE), the rulers of Egypt built a number of impressive structures in Heliopolis, including temples and obelisks, to honor Atum and other deities. The city remained an important center of worship throughout the Middle and New Kingdom periods, with pharaohs building even more impressive structures and dedicating statues to the gods.
The city of Heliopolis was a major center of learning in ancient Egypt, and its priests were renowned for their knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. Heliopolis was also home to the Great Temple of Heliopolis, which was considered one of the most important religious sites in ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, much of the city was destroyed over the centuries, and little remains of the once-great metropolis.
Top image: Bust of a pharaoh found at Heliopolis Source: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
By Sahir Pandey
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