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Memphis ( ) was the ancient capital of the first nome of Lower Egypt, and of the Old Kingdom of Egyptmarker from its foundation until around 2200 BC and later for shorter periods during the New Kingdom, and an administrative centre throughout ancient history.


Its Ancient Egyptian name was Ineb Hedj ("The White Walls"). The name "Memphis" ( ) is the Greek corruption of the Egyptian name of Pepi I's (6th dynasty) pyramid, Men-nefer, which became Menfe in Coptic. Memphis was also known in Ancient Egypt as Ankh Tawy ("That which binds the Two Lands"), thus stressing the strategic position of the city between Upper and Lower Egypt. The Egyptian historian Manetho referred to Memphis as Hi-Ku-P'tah ("Place of the Ka of Ptah"), which he approximated in Greek as Aί γυ πτoς (Ai-gy-ptos), giving us the Latin AEGYPTVS and the modern English Egypt. The term Copt is also believed to be etymologically derived from this name. In the Bible, Memphis is called Moph or Noph. Memphis was founded to combine lower and upper Egypt.


The ruins of Memphis are 20 km (12 miles) south of Cairomarker, on the west bank of the Nile. The modern cities and towns of Mit Rahina, Dahshurmarker, Saqqaramarker, Abusirmarker, Abu Gorabmarker, and Zawyet el'Aryanmarker, south of Cairomarker, all lie within the administrative borders of historical Memphis ( ).



According to Herodotus, the city was founded around 3100 BC by Menes, who united the two kingdoms of Egypt. It has been theorized that King Menes was possibly a mythical king, similar to Romulus and Remus, the mythical first rulers of Rome. Most likely Egypt became unified through mutual need, developing cultural ties over time and trading partnerships though it is still understood that the first capital of Ancient Egypt was the lower Egyptian city of Memphis. The story most likely just got passed on to Herodotus. However. Egyptologists have also identified the legendary 'Menes' with the historical King Narmer, who is represented in the Palette of Narmer conquering the Nile Delta in Lower Egypt and establishing himself as pharaoh. This Palette has been dated to ca. 3000 BC, and would thus correlate with the story of Egypt's unification by Menes.


Estimates of population size differ widely. According to T. Chandler, Memphis had some 30,000 inhabitants and was by far the largest settlement worldwide from the time of its foundation until around 2250 BC and from 1557 to 1400 BC. K. A. Bard is more cautious and estimates the city's population to have amounted to about 6,000 inhabitants during the Old Kingdom.


Memphis reached a peak of prestige under the 6th Dynasty as a centre of the cult of Ptah. It declined briefly after the 18th Dynasty with the rise of Thebes and was revived under the Persian satraps before falling firmly into second place following the foundation of Alexandriamarker. Under the Roman Empire, Alexandria remained the most important city. Memphis remained the second city of Egypt until the establishment of Fustatmarker (or Fostat) in 641. It was then largely abandoned and became a source of stone for the surrounding settlements. It was still an imposing set of ruins in the 12th century but soon became little more than an expanse of low ruins and scattered stone.


The remains of the temple of Ptah and of Apis have been uncovered at the site as well as a few statues, including two four-metre ones in alabaster of Ramesses II. The Saqqaramarker necropolis is close to Memphis.

There is now an open-air museum in Memphis. This museum has many Ancient Egyptian statues on display, the most notable one being the 10m (33ft) Colossus of Ramesses II, which is held in a small indoor building on the site.


  1. Katheryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge 1999, p.694
  2. Lynn Meskell, Private Life in New Kingdom Egypt, Princeton University Press 2002, p.34
  3. Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press 2003, p.279
  4. Bridget McDermott, Decoding Egyptian Hieroglyphs: How to Read the Secret Language of the Pharaohs, Chronicle Books 2001, p.130
  5. Herodotus, Euterpe, 2.99.4
  6. The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt by bill manley (1997)
  7. Tertius Chandler, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth, 1987
  8. Katheryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge 1999, p.250


  • Baines & Malek Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt, 2000. ISBN 0-8160-4036-2

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