The Lost Labyrinth of Ancient Egypt – Part 2
(Read Part 1) The lost labyrinth of ancient Egypt is a colossal temple said to contain 3,000 beautifully adorned rooms connected by a confusing array of passages, chambers, porticoes, and stairs. It was repeatedly and consistently described by numerous classic historians between 5th century BC and 1st century AD, suggesting that the labyrinth did indeed exist. But for what purpose was such a massive complex constructed?
There is no easy answer to this question since the ancient historians who gave accounts of the mighty labyrinth all provided different reasons for why it was built. As Roman army commander and philosopher, Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) wrote in his Natural History book 36, 84-89,
Herodotus ascribes the whole work to Twelve Kings and Psammetichus, the latest of them. Various reasons are given for building it. Demoteles claims that it was the palace of Moteris, Lyceas the tomb of Moeris, but the majority of writers take the view that it was built as a temple to the Sun.
On the other hand, ancient Greek orator, Aelius Aristides, argued that the labyrinth is merely a rhetorical topic illustrating the greatness of Egypt (Aigyptios 48, 1; ca AD 150).
Was the labyrinth a tomb?
Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC) in his History Book I (61.1-2 and 66.3-6), maintains that the great labyrinth was commissioned to be built as a tomb by king Mendes.
When the king died the government was recovered by Egyptians and they appointed a native king Mendes, whom some call Mares. Although he was responsible for no military achievements whatsoever, he did build himself what is called the Labyrinth as a tomb.
Diodorus does not say when Mendes/Mares reigned, only that it was many years before Minos. However, the name does bear similarity to the name of a lake that Herodotus refers to when discussing the location of the labyrinth: “it is situated a little above the lake of Moiris”. Some scholars have suggested that Mares and Moiris are one and the same. On the other hand, Joseph MacGilliyray from the British School of Archaeology in Athens, suggests that Mendes is another name for Amenemhat III, the last king of the 12 th dynasty.
A place of assemblage and ceremony
If seems unlikely that such a massive complex of 3,000 rooms was built merely as a tomb. Indeed as ancient Greek historians, Strabo and Herodotus, claim, a lot more went on inside the labyrinth.
The reason for making the courts so many is said to be the fact that it was customary for all nomes [administrative divisions] to gather there according to rank with their own priests and priestesses, for the purpose of sacrifice, divine-offering, and judgement on the most important matters. And each of the nomes was lodged in the court appointed to it.
(Strabo: Geography Book 17, I, 3, 37 and 42, 1 st century AD).
The chambers underground we heard about only; for the Egyptians who had charge of them were not willing on any account to show them, saying that here were the sepulchres of the kings who had first built this labyrinth and of the sacred crocodiles. [Herodotus: (‘Histories’, Book, II, 148, 5 th century BC)
The Twelve Kings and the Crocodile God
In the second book of his History, the Greek writer Herodotus gave the following account of the Labyrinth:
They (the 12 kings) resolved to join all together and leave a memorial of themselves; and having so resolved they caused to be made a labyrinth, situated a little above the lake of Moiris and nearly opposite to that which is called the City of Crocodiles [Crocodilopolis].
The reference to the twelve kings also corresponds to Herodotus’ description of the labyrinth, which he says consists of twelve courts, one for each king.
Herodotus mentions both the City of Crocodiles as a nearby location, and the crocodile vaults on the underground level of the labyrinth. In ancient Egyptian mythology, the crocodile God was Sobek, otherwise known as the Lord of Faiyum. He is associated with the Nile crocodile and was revered as the god of pharaonic power, fertility, and military prowess, but served additionally as a protective deity. In the Pharaonic era, Crocodilopolis was the most significant centre for the cult of Sobek and the 12 th dynasty kings had him as their principle deity.
Exactly what lies inside the great labyrinth of Egypt, and exactly how it was used is unknown. However, its location is not. Fortunately, the historians of the past gave many clues as to where it was situated, and thanks to new research led by Louis de Cordier, this mystery may finally be reaching a conclusion.
Louis de Cordier launched the Mataha expedition to finally uncover the lost labyrinth of Egypt, using the highest level of technology to unlock the secrets of the past. For more information, visit the Labyrinth of Egypt website or join their Facebook page for latest updates.
Featured image: Sobek, the Crocodile God. Image source.
Coming next in Part 3: Uncovering the lost labyrinth
Mataha Expedition Hawara 2008 – Labyrinth of Egypt
Geophysical Studies at Hawara - Download the pdf
A Virtual Exploration of the Lost Labyrinth - The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (University College London)
Return to the Labyrinth - Joseph Alexander MacGillivray. The British School of Archaeology at Athens