Greek name for the ancient Egyptian Sʒw and present-day Sa el-Hagar, located on the eastern bank of the Rosetta branch of the Nile River (30° 58′N, 30° 46′E). In pharaonic times, Sais was the capital of the fifth Lower Egyptian nome and the main cult center of the warrior goddess Neith, as well as a center for science and the arts. Sais was first mentioned in inscriptions of the Archaic period. Its political importance grew, particularly during the Late period, and by the eighth Tefnakht and Bocchoris fought against the Kushites, and formed the twenty-fourth dynasty. One of their successors, Necho I, appointed by the Assyrian king, Esarhaddon, after his conquest of Egypt in 671 BCE, extended his jurisdiction over the Delta and Memphis. His son Psamtik I succeeded in reuniting the whole of Egypt, thus founding the twenty-sixth dynasty; subsequently kings of this dynasty enlarged and embellished Sais. The goddess Neith, considered to be mother of Re, supplanted Amun as patroness of the dynasty. Further building activities took place in Sais, in the thirtieth dynasty and in the Ptolemaic period. In Greco-Roman times, many objects were removed from the temples of Sais; some were later found by archaeologists in Alexandria and in various sites along the Rosetta branch of the Nile, as well as in Italy.
Sais was better known from historical sources and descriptions of travelers, both ancient (Herodotus, Strabo, Athenagoras) and modern (Carsten Niebuhr's Description de l'Egypte, 1776) than from archaeological excavations. Although much sculpture originating from Sais is in museums worldwide, the site was never subject to systematic archaeological research. Small-scale excavations were completed by August Mariette in the mid-nineteenth century and by Georges Daressy in 1901. Excavations by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization in 1988 and 1989 and the Tanta University uncovered remains that from the Late period and from Greco-Roman times. Remains known from the nineteenth-century plans and drawings comprise huge brick walls that form an extensive enclosure, which probably surrounded the temples and the royal necropolis. The discovery of many sarcophagi at Kawadi, to the northeast of this enclosure, seems to indicate the necropolis of the nobles. A large depression and a fragment of a monumental stone wall beside it constitute the central part of the still-visible structures.
Much information concerning the Late period temples of Sais has been derived from inscriptions on statues and stelae. The most important Late period sanctuaries were dedicated to Neith and Osiris and the enclosure of the great temple comprised four sanctuaries as was mentioned repeatedly in those texts. Two sanctuaries, namely Res-Net and Meh-Net, were connected with the weaving of linen, for which Sais and the goddess Neith were famous. At Sais, linen was associated with the mummy of Osiris, whose local incarnation was called Hemag, “the wrapped.” The wrapping of the god was performed at Hut Hemag (the “Palace of Hemag”), part of a larger sanctuary called the Hut-Bit (“The Palace of the King of Lower Egypt”), which emphasized the royal aspect of his nature and the divine aspect of the kingship. The Hut-Bit was probably located in the northern part of the great enclosure, behind the temple of Neith. Believed by the ancient Egyptians to be the place of the tomb of Osiris, Sais played an important part in Lower Egypt's sepulchral beliefs and rituals. An essential episode of the traditional burial rites in pharaonic Egypt was the funeral procession from a place called Sais to a place called Buto.
Besides Neith and Osiris, many other deities were worshipped in Sais—among them Re, Atum, Sobek, Horus, Amun, Min, Nekhbet, Isis, Hathor, Wadjet, and Selket. In the Late period, Neith was identified with the Greek goddess Athena (and in 1989 some bronze figurines of Athena were found at the site). At the beginning of the Christian era, Sais became the seat of a bishopric.
- El-Sayed, Ramadan. Documents relatifs à Saïs et ses divinités. Bibliothèque d'études, 69. Cairo, 1975. Detailed study of the most important hieroglyphic texts concerning Sais.
- El-Sayed, Ramadan. La déesse Neith de Saïs. Bibliothèque d'études, 86. 1–2. Cairo, 1982. Monograph on the main divinity of Sais, based on hieroglyphic texts.