(Eg., pʒ-di-wsir, “he whom Osiris has given”; also called Khapakhonsu) was high priest of Thoth and lesonis-priest (oikonomos, head of finance) of the temple of Thoth at Hermopolis during the second half of the fourth century BCE. He is famous today for the well-preserved family chapel that he erected at Tuna el-Gebel.

The family of Petosiris had been protégés and appointees of the thirtieth dynasty. His father Es-shu had administered the temple at royal behest, probably under Nektanebo II, and it was one of Es-shu's younger sons, Petosiris, who eventually took over his father's estate as “Master of All His Property,” and “Greatest of the Five, Controller of the Cult-seats,” priestly titles of the fifteenth (Hermopolitan) nome of Upper Egypt. With priesthoods at Horwer and Nefrusi, as well as the sacerdotal functions for Thoth and Amun-Re, Petosiris received his inheritance just when Egypt was about to endure the second Persian occupation, by the army of Artaxerxes III in 342 BCE. His vivid account of the devastation caused by this invasion—it cannot be dated later—is now graphically supported by the excavations at Mendes, which show the fury and methodical demolition of the site by the Persians:

"I have been faithful to the lord of Hermopolis since I was born, and his every counsel was in my heart. [He] selected me to administer his temple … and I passed seven years as lesonis-priest of this god, administering his income … when all the while a foreign ruler was dominus over Egypt, and nothing was in its former place. For war had broken out in Egypt: the South raged and the North was in uproar, and people went about bewildered. No temple had its staff, and the priests were dispersed(?); there was no telling what might happen therein in the future."

Petosiris shepherded his nome through this period of crisis and was later revered as a leading man of his city, “with many dwellings and fields and cattle without number.”

For the art historian, the tomb and family chapel loom large because they reflect the first impact of Greek art and culture on Egypt. Petosiris survived the arrival of Alexander in Egypt and witnessed the early influx of Greek settlers and their influence. Together with his son and successor, Tachos, he erected the bipartite tomb chapel, with an inner chamber over the sarcophagus dedicated to his ancestors, and an outer transverse hall provided an intercolumnar screen celebrating himself. While the inner chamber is decorated in the traditional Egyptian canon, the outer chamber features scenes from the traditional Egyptian repertoire of agriculture, animal husbandry, and viticulture, rendered under the strong influence of the classical Greek canon. Some aspects, such as the use of profile, echelon, and stance, hark back to a Nilotic past, but the musculature, individual likeness, irregular spacing, and costume point to the advent of a classical Greek style. The reliefs are important in demonstrating how, at the beginning of Ptolemaic period, in contrast to what was to come later, even a provincial city such as Hermopolis, far from the Nile Delta, was open to external influence.

Petosiris

Petosiris. Relief from the tomb of Petosiris at Tuna el-Gebel. (Courtesy Donald B. Redford)

Bibliography

  • Briant, P. Histoire de l'Empire perse de Cyrus à Alexandre. Paris, 1996.
  • Lefebvre, G. Le tombeau de Petosiris. Paris, 1924.

Donald B. Redford