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Ramesseum as described by Diodorus Siculus

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Queen of Egypt
Queen of Egypt

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2006 6:14 pm    Post subject: Ramesseum as described by Diodorus Siculus Reply with quote

Description of the Ramessseum by Diodorus Siculus [ca 50 BCE].
Apparently based on a description given by Hecateaus of Abdera in his Aigyptiaka [ca. 250 BCE]

[chapter 47] Now Hacataeus tells us that 10 stades from the oldest tombs (in which according to tradition, the concubines of Zeus lie buried) [refers to the Valley of the Queens?] there stands a monument to the King named Osymandias. And at its entrance is a pylon of variegated stone, 2 plethra in length and 45 cubits tall; within this gate is a square peristyle court of stone, each side being 4 plethra; and instead of pillars, it is supported by monolithic statues 16 cubits high of figures executed in the ancient manner. The entire ceiling is made from one slab of stone almost 2 fathoms in width decorated with stars on a dark blue background.

Next beyond this peristyle is another entranceway and a pylon resembling the first in all else, but more profusely wrought with every kind of carving. Beside the entrance are 3 portrait statues, each carved out of a single block of black stone from Syene. Of these one seated figure is the largets statue in Egypt, the foot of which measures more than 7 cubits. The other two, standing near its knees to the left and the right represent his daughter and mother. But this work of art deserves praise not only for its size, but also for its admirable workmanship and for the excellence of the stone, since despite such great bulk, neither crack nor flaw can be seen therein. And written upon it:

I am Osymandias, King of Kings. Should any man seek to know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.

There is another statue also of his mother alone, a monolith of 20 cubits; on its head it has 3 diadems, which symbolize that she was the daughter, the wife , and mother of a king.
Beyond this pylon is another peristyle even more remarkable than the first. Within it are reliefs of all kinds to illustrate the war that Osymandias waged against the Bactrians, who had rebelled, and against whom he took to the field with 400,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry. The whole army was divided into 4 parts, all of which were commanded by sons of the king.

[chapter 48] On the first wall the king is depicted besieging a fortified city encircled by a river. With the aid of a lion, he bears the brunt of the fight against the enemy, and the ferocious animal spreads terror with his assault. Concerning this scene, some commentators say that there really was a pet lion raised by the king to share the dangers of battle with him and break the ranks of the by its onslaught; but other historians claim that the king, though extremely brave, basely desired to extol himself by representing the spirit of his own disposition in the image of a lion.
On the second wall the carvings show captives being led away by the king. These prisoners have neither genitals nor hands, which seems to imply that they were devoid of manly courage and had no skill in the terrible art of war.
The third wall has carvings of all descriptions and magnificent paintings which show the king sacrificing oxen and leading the triumph of war.
In the center of the peristyle, an open-air altar has been built in the most beautiful stone, excellent in workmanship and remarkable in size.
At the final wall of the peristyle are two monolithic seated statues of 7 and 20 cubits in height; nearby 3 doorways have been built leading from the peristyle into a hypostyle hall made in the form of an Odeum, or music hall, each side of which is 2 plethra in length. This hall contains many wooden statues depicting men engaged in legal disputes, their gaze directed towards those who decide the cases; and the judges themselves have been carved upon one of the walls, to the number of 30, but without any hands. The chief judge in their midst with his eyes shut. Round his neck hangs the icon of Truth, and many books lie scattered about him. These images convey symbolically that the judges ought to accept no bribes, and that the chief judge ought to see nothing but the truth.

[chapter 49] Next to the hypostyle hall stretches a gallery crowded with all manner of rooms, in which are depicted many kinds of food most pleasant to the taste. Here one finds reliefs decorated with bright colors, in which the king presents the god with the gold and silver he was wont to receive annually from all the mines in Egypt; and also, inscribed below, is the stupendous amount of his tribute, which, reckoned up in terms of silver, is 32 million minas.
The next building is the sacred library, upon which are inscribed the words “Balm of the Soul;” adjoining this are statues of all the gods of Egypt and likewise of the King bringing presents which are appropriate to one, as if demonstrating to Osiris and to the lesser divinities that he has fulfilled a life of piety and justice towards men and gods.
Separated from the library by a party wall is a well built dining room with capacity for 20 couches, which contains statues of Zeus and Hera as well as the King, and in which it seems that the body of the king lies interred.
Surrounding this, many chambers have been constructed which show admirable paintings of all the animals held sacred in Egypt. There is an ascent through these apartments to the roof of the tomb, mounting which one formerly reached a golden cornice running around the entire monument, 365 cubits long and a cubit thick. On this were engraved, one for each cubit, the days of the year, beside each of which were noted both the rising and settings of the stars as they naturally occur, as well as the seasonal changes that these portend according to Egyptian astrologers. They say, however, that this encircling border was carried away by Cambyses and his Persians at the time they conquered Egypt.
Such then is the description they give of the funerary temple of Osymandias the king, which seems to exceed all others not only in the vast scale of its expense, but also in the genius of its builders.


Some of the terminology continues to throw me off, so I added these "definitions". If I'm wrong let me know Smile

Cubit: ancient unit of length: distance from elbow to the tip of the middle finger. (ca 50 cm or 20 inches)
Hypostyle: Building or space with a roof or ceiling resting on columns.
Odeum: Ancient Greek or Roman building in which musical performances were held.
Peristyle: A line of columns (colonade) that encircles a building or a courtyard.
Pylon: A decorative gateway.
Stade: Ancient measure of length (10 stades is ca 1 mile or 1600 meters)
Math and Art: http://mathematicsaroundus.blogspot.com/

Last edited by anneke on Sun Dec 24, 2006 6:47 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Queen of Egypt
Queen of Egypt

Joined: 23 Jan 2004
Posts: 9305

PostPosted: Sun Dec 24, 2006 6:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I should mention that this comes from:
The Antiquities of Egypt. A translation with notes of Book I of the Library of History of Diodorus Siculus.
By Edwin Murphy.
Transaction Publishers
ISBN 0-88738-303-3

The footnotes are quite interesting Smile

There is mention of the fact that the name Osymandias appears nowhere else in ancient literature. It may be a corruption of Usermaatre or Usermare, the throne name of Ramesses II.
Apparently these lines inspired Shelley's poem Ozymandias.

There are some clear mistakes in the description:
The first pylon is of sandstone, not variegated stone.
The dimensions of the first peristyle court are exaggerated.
The astronomical ceiling is misplaced. It covered the 2nd hypostyle hall and was not made of one piece.
Ramesses was clearly not buried in this temple.

But the general layout of the temple is apparently generally correct.
Math and Art: http://mathematicsaroundus.blogspot.com/
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