a site on the eastern bank of the Nile River, in the Kom Ombo basin, a large fertile area to the south of Gebel el-Silsila (24°27′N, 32°56′E). Kom Ombo was sited at the terminus of two caravan routes—one running westward through Kurkur Oasis to Tomas in Nubia; the other, from Daraw through the Eastern Desert, regaining the Nile at Berber. Those routes were regularly used in early modern times, although how old they are is uncertain. The Kom Ombo basin has significance in the Nile Valley archaeology of the Late (Upper) Paleolithic (c. 15,000–12,000 BCE). In the 1920s, Edmund Vignard identified and excavated prehistoric sites having a stoneworking industry he named Sebilian. Vignard's work has been revised by that of P. E. L. Smith and Fekri Hassan, who have also identified two other industries in the region, Silsillian and Sebekian, which coexisted with the Sebilian.

Little is yet known of the town during the dynastic period, and there has been little excavation of the ancient site beyond the clearance of the temple. New Kingdom blocks have been noted, and an eighteenth dynasty gateway (now destroyed) was reported by Champollion in the early 1800s. In the Ptolemaic period, Kom Ombo was a training center for the elephants used in the Ptolemaic armies, which were brought along the Red Sea from Ethiopia. The construction of the surviving temple was begun in the reign of Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204–180 BCE), the decoration continuing to be added by the later Ptolemies and the Roman emperors. An inscription in Greek records that members of the local military claimed a significant part in the construction of the temple of Harwer (equated with Apollo), in the reign of Ptolemy VI Philometor (180–145 BCE). The foremost part of the precinct collapsed from the eastward movement of the river, which was stopped in 1893 by the building of a stone embankment.

The temple, built of sandstone from Gebel Silsila, is an elegant and interesting architectural construction, actually comprising two independent but conjoined temples. The western is dedicated to Harwer (Horus the Elder) with his consort Tasenetnofret (the good sister, a manifestation of Hathor) and their child Panebtawy (the Lord of the Two Lands), and the eastern to the crocodile-headed god Sobek, Hathor, and their child Khons. Two completely independent temples may have originally occupied the site, with some indications that Sobek may have been the preeminent deity in the eighteenth dynasty. The temple has two axes, with two suites of rooms and sanctuaries. The relief sculpture is typical of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, with very deeply carved sunken relief on the exterior walls and columns, and fine quality bas-relief on the interior walls. Much of the relief is covered with a very thin layer of plaster, and the original color survives in many places. Inlay was used for the eyes of some of the most important figures. The columns of the hypostyle hall have a variety of richly carved floral capitals. The decoration of the inner rooms depicts Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II, and Ptolemy VII with Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III. The columns of the outer court bear images of the Roman emperor Tiberius. Some of the most interesting late decoration is to be found in the northern part of the outer passage, running around the temple proper. One relief depicts the Roman emperor Trajan offering a set of implements (which are traditionally said to be surgical instruments, although this identification is disputable). The reliefs along the remainder of this wall depict some of the Antonine emperors, the last being a roughly incised scene of the short-lived emperor Macrinus and his son Diadumenianus (217 CE). At the center of the back wall of the temple proper, between colossal images of the presiding triads, is a shrine for the ordinary people (as the colossal aegis of Hathor occupies the same position at Dendera): a naos-shaped niche, containing a seated figure, is flanked by a pair of eyes, a pair of ears, and images of the four winds. These take the form of an eight-headed and eight-winged cat, an eight-winged falcon, a cow and (now damaged) a many-headed snake.

Kom Ombo

Kom Ombo. Contemporary view of the temple at Kom Ombo. (Courtesy Dieter Arnold)

A mammisi stands to the west in the usual relation to the main temple; it was decorated in the reign of Ptolemy VII (r. 145–116 BCE). A small chapel dedicated to the goddess Hathor stands on the southern side of the main temple; it is now used for storing mummified crocodiles, sacred to the god Sobek, which were found in the necropolis. Surrounding the temple are large mounds of the city, unexcavated.

Bibliography

  • de Morgan, Jacques, et al. Kom Ombos. 2 vols. Vienna, 1909.
  • Gotbub, Adolphe. Textes fondamentaux de la théologie de Kom Ombo. Institut français d'archéologie orientale du Caire, BdE 47/1. Cairo.

Robert Morkot