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Anatomy of an Egyptian Temple

Monograph Fellowships


The project will address the question of how an ancient Egyptian temple from around 1500 BC actually operated in practice: how were the priests and temple staff organized? Where did its resources come from? What offerings were presented? Which festivals were celebrated, and how? These and many other questions surrounding the economic and logistical aspects of temple life can now be addressed through some extraordinary papyrus documents recently discovered at the mortuary temple of Thutmose III in Luxor. These texts constitute the only surviving temple archive from the period known as the New Kingdom (c. 1500-1000 BC), and are of immense importance as historical sources.


This is basic research that provides new and welcome data for scholars interested in ancient history. As the only New Kingdom group of documents of its kind, it provides a "missing link" between temple archives of earlier and later periods, and it opens a fascinating window on everyday life in ancient Egypt. It allows us, for the first time, to compare the idealised world, portrayed on the walls of contemporary temples, with actual documents of practice. These seemingly mundane texts are important precisely because they were administrative tools, and - unlike monumental inscriptions - they served a practical purpose: the scribes writing them were not concerned with projecting an ideal world.


The work on this book basically falls into two parts. The first is the processing of the many papyrus fragments: sorting them, piecing them together, photographing, etc., and this has been carried out during fieldwork seasons in Egypt since 2016. The second part is the translation and analysis of the contents, and the presentation of the material in an accessible form so that it can be utilised by historians, because the original documents can be challenging to read for non-specialists. This kind of work requires a significant investment of both time and effort, which this Carlsberg Foundation Monograph Fellowship will now provide.


The study of the earliest recorded history of humanity, in this case ancient Egypt, is part of our shared project of understanding who we are and where we come from. The way in which temples in antiquity operated provides an interesting parallel to developments that later completely transformed the fabric of European society, like the vast land-holdings and economic power of churches and monasteries, or - in the modern world - maintaining the precarious balance between the interests of the state and those of multinational corporations. Ancient Egyptian temples might be said to have occupied an analogous space, and understanding how these early institutions functioned provides a long-term perspective on challenges that echo also in our time.