Kom Ombo: An Egyptian Temple Dedicated to Two Rival Gods
Kom Ombo (meaning the ‘Mound of Ombo’) is an ancient Egyptian town located in what is today the Aswan Governorate of Upper Egypt, about 50 km (31 miles) to the north of Aswan. Kom Ombo is notable primarily for its temple, which is known simply as the Temple of Kom Ombo. This temple is unique due to the fact that it is dedicated to two gods – Sobek and Horus.
The Pharaohs’ City of Gold
The history of Kom Ombo stretches back to the time of the Pharaohs, when it served as a garrison town close to the southern border of Egypt. The town was known originally as Nubt, meaning ‘City of Gold’. During the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, the town retained its function, though its name was changed. The Greeks renamed the town as Omboi, while the Romans referred to it as Ambo. Kom Ombo is most famous for its magnificent temple which still survives to this day.
A painting from the ceiling of the temple at Kom Ombo. (Jordan Timothy James Busson / Public Domain)
Was the Temple of Kom Ombo Constructed from Middle Kingdom Ruins?
The Temple of Kom Ombo was constructed over a course of about 100 years. The main temple was constructed during the time of Ptolemy VI Philometor, who reigned during the 2 nd century BC. Most of the structure’s decorations were completed during the time of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos, who reigned during the 1 st century BC. During the Roman period, some additions to the temple were made as well. It has been speculated that an older temple from the Middle Kingdom once existed at the site, due to the presence of re-used blocks in the current structure. There is, however, little else to indicate the existence of this older temple.
Kom Ombo Temple before restoration. (Markh / Public Domain)
Who Are the Enemy Gods that Share the Dedication of the Temple?
The most striking aspect of the Temple of Kom Ombo is the fact that it was dedicated to two Egyptian gods, Sobek the crocodile-headed god and Horus the falcon-headed god. To further complicate matters, the ancient Egyptians believed that Sobek and Set were allies during the latter conflict with Horus. After the defeat of Set, his allies changed into crocodiles in order to escape from Horus. In other words, Sobek and Horus were enemies. Nevertheless, both gods are honored at the Temple of Kom Ombo.
This relief from the Temple of Kom Ombo shows Sobek with typical attributes of kingship, including a was-sceptre and royal kilt. The ankh in his hand represents his role as an Osirian healer and his crown is a solar crown associated with one of the many forms of Ra. (Hedwig Storch / CC BY-SA 3.0)
The dedication of the temple to the two gods is reflected in the structure’s architecture. The Temple of Kom Ombo may be divided symmetrically into two parts along a main axis. The western side of the temple was dedicated to Haroeris (the ‘Great Horus’, or ‘Horus the Elder’), while its eastern side to Sobek. Each half of the temple consisted of a monumental gateway, a hypostyle forecourt (which are linked), and an inner sanctuary for the deity. It may be assumed there were two groups of priests, one for the cult of Horus and another for that of Sobek.
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Horus and Sobek are here even presented together. (CC0)
What Other Roles does the Temple of Kom Ombo Serve?
The Temple of Kom Ombo was not only built for the worship of Horus and Sobek, but also for the glorification of the Ptolemaic dynasty. This is clearly seen in some of the temple’s reliefs. On the right-hand stone screen in the forecourt there is a depiction of Horus and Thoth pouring consecration water over Ptolemy XII, while Sobek watches on. The scene is repeated in the forecourt’s left-hand stone screen, though with a small difference – the roles played by Horus and Sobek are switched.
Relief of Thoth and Horus blessing the pharaoh at Temple of Kom Ombo (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Another example of the Ptolemaic Dynasty being glorified at the temple is a relief in the inner hypostyle hall showing Ptolemy VIII being presented a curved weapon (a representation of the sword of victory) by Horus. The dynastic propaganda is further reinforced by the presence of Cleopatra II, Ptolemy’s sister-wife and co-ruler, behind him. When the Romans took control of Egypt, they stamped their mark on the temple as well. This is seen in reliefs in the forecourt showing the Roman emperor Tiberius making offerings.
Preserved papyrus shaped column and ceiling at Kom Ombo temple. (Olaf Tausch / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Restoration Leads to New Discoveries
Eventually, the Temple of Kom Ombo was abandoned and fell into ruins. Over the centuries, natural and man-made disasters caused much damage to the structure. It was only during the late 19 th century that the temple received attention from Western archaeologists. In 1893, Jacques de Morgan, a French archaeologist, cleared the area of the temple dedicated to Sobek and had it restored. In more recent times archaeological work has been conducted in the temple, resulting in some interesting discoveries, including the statue of a sphinx and two ancient paintings unearthed this year.
Top image: Kom Ombo Temple. Photo source: (Dennis Jarvis / CC BY-SA 2.0)
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