Coptos Decrees

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Fragment of the Decree d, issued by Pepi II, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art PepiII-DecreeOfOfficialExactionForTempleOfMin MetropolitanMuseum.png
Fragment of the Decree d, issued by Pepi II, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Coptos Decrees are 18 complete or fragmentary ancient Egyptian royal decrees ranging from the 6th Dynasty (2345–2180 BC) to the late 8th Dynasty (c. 2170 BC). The decrees are numbered with letters of the Latin alphabet, starting with "Coptos Decree a" and ending with "Coptos Decree r". The earliest of the series were issued by Pepi I and Pepi II Neferkare to favor the clergy of the temple of Min, [1] while the others are datable to the reign of various kings of the Eighth Dynasty, and concern various favors granted to an important official from Coptos named Shemay and to his family members. [2] The decrees reflect the waning of the power of the pharaoh in the early First Intermediate Period. [3]

Ancient Egypt ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa

Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancient North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is now the country Egypt. Ancient Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes. The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

The Sixth Dynasty of ancient Egypt along with Dynasties III, IV and V constitute the Old Kingdom of Dynastic Egypt.

Pepi II Neferkare Egyptian pharaoh of the Sixth dynasty for the Old Kingdom

Pepi II was a pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty in Egypt's Old Kingdom who reigned from c. 2278 BC. His throne name, Neferkare (Nefer-ka-Re), means "Beautiful is the Ka of Re". He succeeded to the throne at age six, after the death of Merenre I.


The Coptos decrees should not be confused with the Coptos Decree of Nubkheperre Intef , a unique document datable to the much later 17th Dynasty.

The Coptos Decree of Nubkheperre Intef is a legal ruling written in hieroglyphic on the wall of the Min-temple in Coptos.

The Seventeenth Dynasty of Egypt is classified as the third dynasty of the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt. The 17th Dynasty dates approximately from 1580 to 1550 BC. Its mainly Theban rulers are contemporary with the Hyksos of the Fifteenth Dynasty and succeed the Sixteenth Dynasty, which was also based in Thebes.

Discovery and original location

Ten of the decrees were discovered during the 1910–1911 excavations of the temple of Min at Coptos by Adolphe Reinach and Raymond Weill, working for the Société française des fouilles archéologiques. [4] The decrees had been carefully stowed under the ruins of a Roman mudbrick structure. [3] The remaining decrees originate either from the same excavations or from illegal operations by local people that were sold in Luxor in 1914 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Min (god) Egyptian deity

Min is an ancient Egyptian god whose cult originated in the predynastic period. He was represented in many different forms, but was most often represented in male human form, shown with an erect penis which he holds in his left hand and an upheld right arm holding a flail. As Khem or Min, he was the god of reproduction; as Khnum, he was the creator of all things, "the maker of gods and men".

Qift Place in Qena Governorate, Egypt

Qift is a small town in the Qena Governorate of Egypt about 43 km (27 mi) north of Luxor, situated under 26° north lat., on the east bank of the Nile. In ancient times its proximity to the Red Sea made it an important trading emporium between India, Punt, Felix Arabia and the North.It was important for nearby gold and quartzite mines in the Eastern Desert, and as a starting point for expeditions to Punt.

Adolphe Joseph Reinach was a French archaeologist and Egyptologist who participated in excavations in Greece and Egypt and published works on the Gauls.

The decrees are inscribed on limestone slabs 7–20 cm (2.8–7.9 in) thick, 100–200 cm (39–79 in) long and 50–180 cm (20–71 in) high which were intended to be set in the mudbrick wall of a gateway or vestibule inside the temple of Min. [3] As time passed, the space available on the temple walls diminished and the Coptos decrees were dismounted and put away to make space for newer decrees which explains their find spot. [3]

Limestone Sedimentary rocks made of calcium carbonate

Limestone is a carbonate sedimentary rock that is often composed of the skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, foraminifera, and molluscs. Its major materials are the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). A closely related rock is dolomite, which contains a high percentage of the mineral dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. In fact, in old USGS publications, dolomite was referred to as magnesian limestone, a term now reserved for magnesium-deficient dolomites or magnesium-rich limestones.

Political implications

Fragments of Coptos decrees p and q dating to the reign of Neferkauhor, end of the Eighth Dynasty. Coptos decrees p-q Met.jpg
Fragments of Coptos decrees p and q dating to the reign of Neferkauhor, end of the Eighth Dynasty.

Decline of the Old Kingdom

The decrees are symptomatic of the powers held by the nomarchs at the very end of the Old Kingdom and beginning of the First Intermediate Period. Decrees g to r are addressed to Shemay, his son Idy and one of Idy's brothers. Shemay, already the nomarch of Coptos, is promoted first to governor of Upper Egypt and then to vizier of Upper Egypt, while his son Idy takes his place after him. [3]

A nomarch was a provincial governor in Ancient Egypt; the country was divided into 42 provinces, called nomes. A nomarch was the government official responsible for a nome.

Old Kingdom of Egypt period of Ancient Egypt in the 3rd millennium BC

In ancient Egyptian history, the Old Kingdom is the period spanning c. 2686–2181 BC. It is also known as the "Age of the Pyramids" or the "Age of the Pyramid Builders", as it encompasses the reigns of the great pyramid builders of the Fourth Dynasty— among them King Sneferu, who perfected the art of pyramid-building, and the kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, who constructed the pyramids at Giza. Egypt attained its first sustained peak of civilization during the Old Kingdom—the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley.

Idy (vizier) ancient Egyptian vizier

Idy was an important Ancient Egyptian official in the Eighth Dynasty, at the beginning of the First Intermediate Period. He was the son of Shemay who is also known from several monuments and decrees from Koptos. His mother was the king's daughter Nebet. Idy appears on many royal decrees found at Koptos. There he bears the important title of a vizier, but was also overseer of Upper Egypt and overseer of priest and count. The decrees are dated under king Neferkauhor and Neferirkare. One decree is addressed to Shemay and dates under Neferkauhor. It reports the appointment of Idy to the overseer of Upper Egypt. A second one mentions affairs in the temple of Min at Koptos. In a third decree Idy bears the titles of a vizier. In the decree, the king protects the statues and the funerary cult of Idy. The decree is dated under king Neferirkare, who was the successor of Neferkauhor. It seems that Idy took over many positions that his father hold before.

Alan H. Gardiner and William C. Hayes find decree r particularly remarkable because, while it is emitted by the pharaoh, the decree is solely concerned with the welfare and properties of the vizier Idy. [3] For Hayes this reflects the fact that at the end of the 8th Dynasty, royal power had diminished so much that it owed its survival to puissant nomarchs, upon whom it could only bestow titles and honours. [3] The nomarch of Coptos would have been particularly cherished by the Memphite rulers who were threatened by the nomarchs of Middle Egypt, especially those of Herakleopolis, who would soon overthrow them and found the 9th Dynasty. [3]

William Christopher Hayes was an American Egyptologist. His main fields of study were history of Egyptian art and translation/interpretation of texts.

Memphis, Egypt Ancient capital of Inebu-hedj, Egypt

Memphis was the ancient capital of Inebu-hedj, the first nome of Lower Egypt. Its ruins are located near the town of Mit Rahina, 20 km (12 mi) south of Giza.

The Ninth Dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with the 7th, 8th, 10th and early 11th Dynasties under the group title First Intermediate Period. The dynasty that seems to have supplanted the 8th Dynasty is extremely obscure. The takeover by the rulers of Herakleopolis was violent and is reflected in Manetho's description of Achthoes, the founder of the dynasty, as 'more terrible than his predecessors', who 'wrought evil things for those in all Egypt".

Coptos Dynasty

The discovery of the decrees was initially considered by Kurt Sethe to support the hypothesis of the existence of a "Dynasty of Coptos", a local lineage of more or less independent rulers during the First Intermediate Period, to be identified with the issuers of the decrees subsequent to the 6th Dynasty. [5] This hypothesis is nowadays considered implausible as was shown by Hayes and others, in particular it is highly unlikely that a king reigning from Coptos would appoint a vizier over the same area. [6] [7]

Complete list

The following complete list is based on William C. Hayes's 1946 publication "Royal decrees from the temple of Min at Coptus": [3]

Coptos Decrees
NameAuthorSubjectAddressed to
a [8] Pepi I Granting tax immunity to the Ka-chapel of his mother Iput [9]
b [10] Pepi II Granting tax immunity to the temple of Min
c [11] Pepi IIGranting tax immunity to the temple of Min
d [12] Pepi IIGranting tax immunity to the institution 'Min-causes-the-foundation-of-Neferkare-to-flourish'
e [13] Pepi IIDealing with the personnel and possessions of a temple in the 22nd nome of Upper Egypt
fUnknown 6th Dynasty kingUncertain, mentions Upper Egypt
g [14] Unknown 7th/8th Dynasty king, commonly identified with Neferkaure Upkeeping a statue of Pepi II and the institution 'Min-causes-the-foundation-of-Neferkare-to-flourish'Governor of Upper Egypt Shemay and possibly his son Idy
h [15] Neferkaure Specifying the offerings and services to be made in the temple of MinShemay
i [16] Unknown 7th/8th Dynasty king commonly identified with NeferkaurePutting Shemay in charge of 22 nomes in Upper-EgyptShemay (vizier from now)
j [17] Neferkauhor Granting titles to Shemay's wife Nebyet as well as a personal bodyguardShemay
kNeferkauhorAssigning mortuary-priests for the Ka-chapels of Shemay and NebyetShemay
l [18] NeferkauhorOrdering an inventory of the properties of the institution 'Min-causes-the-foundation-of-Neferkare-to-flourish' under the supervision of ShemayShemay
mNeferkauhorPutting Shemay's son Idy in charge of the seven southernmost nomes of Upper-EgyptShemay
nNeferkauhorGiving a brother of Idy and son of Shemay a post in the temple of MinShemay
o [19] NeferkauhorMaking Shemay's son Idy the Governor of the seven southernmost nomes of Upper-EgyptGovernor of Upper Egypt Idy
p [20] NeferkauhorInforming Idy of the appointment of his brother in the temple of MinIdy
q [20] NeferkauhorInforming Shemay's son, brother of Idy, of his appointment to the temple of MinShemay's son, brother of Idy
r [21] Horus Demedjibtawy, likely Neferirkare II Protecting Idy's funerary monuments and properties [22] Idy (now vizier)

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  1. Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs: an introduction, Oxford University Press, 1964, p. 108; quote: "But perhaps the most persuasive evidence of their short-lived domination is offered by some inscriptions discovered by Raymond Weill at Coptos in 1910-11. Under the ruins of a structure of Roman date were found carefully stowed away a number of decrees carved in hieroglyphic on slabs of limestone, some dating from the reign of Pepy II, and most of them designed to protect the temple of Min and its priesthood from interference and the corvee. But among them as many as eight were apparently dispatched on the same day in the first year of a King Neferkare, the last king but one in the series of the Abydos list. The addressee was in each case the vizier Shemai and each royal command was concerned either with him or some member of his family. One of the decrees confirmed him in his vizierate in all the twenty-two nomes of Upper Egypt, while another recorded the appointment of his son Idi to the post of Governor of Upper Egypt in the seven southernmost nomes. A third decree grants precedence over all other women to Shemai's wife Nebye, who is described as a 'King's eldest daughter', and perhaps even more remarkable is a fourth making elaborate arrangements for the funerary cult of both husband and wife in all the temples of the land. There is no hint of unrest or political disturbance in any of these texts, though we may possibly read into them a desperate anxiety on the king's part to conciliate one specially powerful Upper Egyptian magnate."
  2. Toby Wilkinson, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: The History of a Civilisation from 3000BC to Cleopatra, London, Bloomsbury, 2010, ISBN   978-0-7475-9949-4, pp. 12122.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 William C. Hayes, "Royal decrees from the temple of Min at Coptus", JEA 32, 1946, pp. 323.
  4. Raymond Weill: Les décrets royaux de l’ancien empire égyptien trouvés à Koptos en 1910 ; communication lue à la séance du 27 janvier 1911, in: Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 55e année, N. 3, 1911. pp. 268275, available online.
  5. Kurt Sethe, Georg Steindorff (eds.), Urkunden des Alten Reichs (= Urkunden des ägyptischen Altertums, Band I). J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1933, pp. 214; 280307.
  6. William C. Hayes, in The Cambridge Ancient History , vol 1, part 2, 1971 (2008), Cambridge University Press, ISBN   0-521-077915, p. 198.
  7. Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford, Blackwell Books, 1992.
  8. Cairo Museum 41890
  9. Margaret Bunson: Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Infobase Publishing, 2009, ISBN   1438109970, see "Koptos Decree" p. 207, available online
  10. Cairo Museum 41893
  11. Cairo Museum 41491
  12. Cairo Museum 43052, MET 14.7.10
  13. Old Musée Guimet, now in Musée des Confluences
  14. Cairo Museum 41892
  15. Cairo Museum, MET 14.7.14
  16. Cairo Museum 43053
  17. MET 14.7.13
  18. Cairo Museum 41895
  19. MET 14.7.11
  20. 1 2 MET 14.7.12
  21. Cairo Museum JE 41894
  22. M. A. Moret: "Chartes d'immunité dans l'Ancien Empire égyptien", in Journal Asiatique, 1917 (Sér. 11/T.10), Paris, translation of the decree available online Archived 2018-07-26 at the Wayback Machine