The Shabaka Stone
The Shabaka Stone, is a basalt stela that purports to have been copied from a sacred ancient egyptian papyrus. The Pharaoh Shabaka was inspecting the houses of Neturs (What we now consider temples) in Memphis, egypt. In particular The temple of Ptah where he discovered the only written information of the ancient Memphite beliefs damaged decaying and worm ridden. He had this stone commissioned and ordered that the papyrus be carved onto a stone so that its knowledge and information may last for all time. So to ensure that the Ptah text would last for eternity he had the rest of the text transcribed and written onto this stone.
Most of what is now known of Memphite religious beliefs comes from this Stone. Mennefer (Memphis), was called the city of the “White Walls” for the enormous walls around the Temple of Ptah compound (forth picture)., it was the first capital of Egypt following its unification by the pharaoh Menes. In the area around Memphis, at sites such as Saqqara and Dahshur, pharaohs and important officials were entombed over many centuries.
The stone text was Written in a style reminiscent of the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, sculpted into the walls of the burial chambers of the pyramids of the pharaohs of Dynasty V and VI to ensure their successful passage into the Hereafter, the text of the Shabaka Stone deals with the role of Ptah, the creator god of the Memphite pantheon, and that of the city of Memphis relative to the Two Lands of Egypt.
The importance of Ptah
Mennefer (Memphis) and the great temple of Ptah
The people of Memphis believed that their god Ptah was the most ancient and pre-eminent of all the gods. Ptah was seen as the creator of all the other gods, the sun, and was responsible for the ripening of vegetation. The gods of Heliopolis were considered to be just forms or manifestations of Ptah. He was called the “heart and tongue” of the Ennead. To the Egyptians, the heart and tongue were the seat of the human soul and intellect, Ptah was superior to Atum.
Mephis being the first capital city of ancient egypt was founded by Menes himself following the unification of upper and lower Egypt. It’s stated that Menes established his capital on the banks of the Nile by diverting the river with dikes.
The great temple of Ptah, was the largest and most important temple in ancient Memphis. Also founded by Menes with the core building of the complex being restricted to priests and kings. It was one of the most prominent structures in the city, occupying a large precinct within the city’s centre. Enriched by centuries of veneration, the temple was one of the three foremost places of worship in Ancient Egypt. Infact the great temple of Ptah may have been larger than the temple of Karnak, making it possibly the largest place of worship ever built on earth. Alexander the great was crowned and buried at this temple in Memphis.
In the 13th century, the Arab chronicler Abd-ul-Latif, upon visiting the site, describes and gives testimony to the grandeur of the ruins of Memphis:
“Enormous as are the extent and antiquity of this city, in spite of the frequent change of governments whose yoke it has borne, and the great pains more than one nation has been at to destroy it, to sweep its last trace from the face of the earth, to carry away the stones and materials of which it was constructed, to mutilate the statues which adorned it; in spite, finally, of all that more than four thousand years have done in addition to man, these ruins still offer to the eye of the beholder a mass of marvels which bewilder the senses and which the most skillful pens must fail to describe. The more deeply we contemplate this city the more our admiration rises, and every fresh glance at the ruins is a fresh source of delight … The ruins of Memphis hold a half-day’s journey in every direction.”
The Greco-Romans and the Advent of Christianity
During the Greco-Roman period, Memphis lost much of its importance to Alexandria. With the Edict of Theodosius I (AD 379-95), Christianity was established as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The sites in and around Memphis became quarries for building projects in Cairo and the Temple of Ptah was destroyed. Thus, most of the information about the Memphite religious beliefs have been lost. In particularly the Arrival of the Romans and the advent of Christianity spelled the complete ruin of the ancient traditional practices of Memphis. ‘This radically altered the philosophical landscape, pushing aside the Egyptian framework, claiming that eternal damnation is what is in stall for us, unless we embrace Christianity. Such simplistic thinking was seen by the ancient Egyptians as “the darkness”, as its philosophy was not only considered to be basic, but plain wrong. And it happened with Emperor Constantius, one of Constantine the Great’s sons and successors, who issued a decree in 353 AD which ordered temples to be closed and pagan sacrifices to be banned; those who disobeyed the law were to be put to death, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.
Unfortunately, since its original creation the Shabaka Stone was damaged as a result of ignorant disregard in post-Pharaonic Egypt, when it was used as a millstone to grind grain and so some of the passages are no longer clear.
This Artifact can be found in the british Museum in London.
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