The Myth of Memphis: The Construction of an Ancient Egyptian Capital

Date: 
Monday, March 18, 2013

The status of Memphis as the earliest capital of a unified Egyptian state has gone unquestioned in Egyptology. The basic modern reconstruction of the foundation of the city follows closely the reports of the Classical visitor, Herodotus, who transmits the native tradition of Memphis as being founded by the first king of Egypt, Min. The presence of the Early Dynastic cemeteries at Saqqara and Hehvan seemingly support the veracity of the basic story, and scholars have long sought to identify Min as one of the early archaeologically attested kings (such as Narmer or Hor-Aha). The rise of the pyramid fields and the development of the greater Saqqara necropolis Is generally seen as support that the administrative center of the Old Kingdom state remained at Min's great city. This historical model provides the framework in which Egyptology generally reconstructs the evolution of the Egyptian state and its administrative apparatus.
The problem with this traditional view, however, is that no clear capital city matching this historical reconstruction has emerged from the archaeological record nor Is it evident in the textual record. This lecture seeks to establish a history of the city of Memphis rooted in contemporary texts and archaeology independent of the Classical sources. It will trace the development of the city through the Saite period. The author takes a historical revisionist approach to Memphis and provides a historiographical framework for the development and transmission of the myth of Memphis as presented in the Classical sources.

Matthew J. Adams

Matthew received his PhD in History from the Pennsylvania State University in 2007, specializing in Egyptology and Near Eastern Archaeology. He has more than 20 seasons of excavation experience at sites in Egypt and Israel. While he has broad interests in space and time throughout the ancient world, his primary research focus is on the development of urban communities in 3rd Millennium Egypt and Levant.
In addition to directing a research and excavation project in Israel, the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, he is also a member of the Penn State excavations at Mendes, Egypt, and the Tel Aviv University Megiddo Expedition. He is also President of the non-profit organization, American Archaeology Abroad.