Tell el-Rub’a (Mendes)
Near to the modern village of el-Simbellawin, to the south-east of el-Mansura, are the ruins of a double city known to the Greeks as Mendes and Thmuis and today called Tell el-Rub’a and Tell el-Timai. Mendes was the capital of the 16th Lower Egyptian nome, known in ancient Egyptian as Per-Banebdjedet. The city was the cult centre of the ram-god Banebdjedet, (literally, ‘Ram [or manifestation], Lord of Djedet’) and was said to be the home of Dynasty XXIX kings, who may have had their royal residence there. Today the sites are represented by two mounds, several hundred metres apart, the southern and more ruined mound covering the city of Thmuis which replaced Mendes as nome capital in Graeco-Roman times.
The nome capital of Per-Banebdjedet is mentioned as early as Dynasty IV in ancient texts – the original deity being the goddess Hat-mehit (mother of Horus in the Triad of Mendes), who was increasingly replaced during the Old Kingdom by her consort Banebdjedet. The oldest surviving monuments date to the late Old Kingdom and consist of a settlement, including remains of a temple and a necropolis of mastaba tombs. Herodotus, the Greek historian who visited Egypt around 450 BC, mentioned the sacrifice of goats at Mendes, in contrast to the use of sheep elsewhere in Egypt, though it is possible that he mistook the sacred ram for a goat.
The temple precinct of the ram-god at Tell el-Rub’a was recorded by an Arab geographer, Subh el-A’sha in the 15th century AD, as being intact up to the roof, but there are now few remains. The only part of the temple to be seen today is dated to Ahmose II (Amasis) of Dynasty XXVI, and attested from foundation deposits found at the site. It is now suggested that this may have been built over earlier temples, as foundation pits of Dynasty XVIII and a few isolated granite blocks bearing the names of Rameses II, Merenptah and Rameses III have been found around the precinct as well as remains possibly dating to the Middle Kingdom or First Intermediate Period. A fortress known as ‘Rawaty’ is known to have been constructed at Mendes during the reign of Amenemhet I of Dynasty XII. The main temple building was oriented north to south and covered an area of 70m by 120m, where a monolithic red granite naos, almost 8m high, survives alone standing above its surrounding pavement to mark the once sacred site. This was one of four shrines in the temple dedicated by Ahmose II to Re, Geb, Shu and Osiris, gods with which the Ram of Mendes became associated. The temple was later restored by Ptolemy II Philadelphus and papyrus capitals of red granite and a granite Hathor capital (now in Cairo Museum), belonged to a birth-house at the side of the temple. A sacred lake was situated to the south-east outside the main temple enclosure and there is also evidence of a harbour complex.
Little else is left of the temple, its enclosure walls are not well-preserved and only a few fragments have been found. Excavations during the 1970s and 1980s revealed settlement remains from Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods and several North American expeditions including the University of Toronto (led by Professor Donald Redford) and the University of Pennsylvania have continued work at Mendes, uncovering much of the Old Kingdom necropolis. There have also been a number of New Kingdom fragments found in the surrounding area – but it is possible that these may have been removed from Per-Rameses (Qantir) after the abandonment of that city.
At the south-east corner of the temple precinct are remains of royal tombs of Dynasty XXIX, including Nephrites I (Baenre Merynetjeru), which were subsequently destroyed by the Persians.
Around 12km to the north of Tell el-Rub’a another archaeological site at the village of Tell Tebilla is currently undergoing excavation. The mound dates from at least as early as the Old Kingdom, when the town may have provided a harbour for Mendes with access to the coast, and appears to have been occupied as a settlement during many periods of Egyptian history. Excavations by a team from the University of Toronto under the direction of Dr Gregory Mumford have uncovered settlement areas with a temple and several cemeteries. The temple appears to have been dedicated to the Osirian Triad as well as other deities.
For full excavation details of Tell Tebilla see the SEPE (Survey and Excavation Projects in Egypt) website.
How to get there
The easiest route to Tell el-Rub’a is by the road leading south-east of el-Mansura, about 25km to the village of el-Simbellawin. From here, follow a track for around 15km to Tell el-Rub’a.