Green glazed faience weight, inscribed for the high Steward Aabeni
. Late Middle Kingdom. From Abydos, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Abydos was occupied by the rulers of the Predynastic period, whose town, temple and tombs have been found there. The temple and town continued to be rebuilt at intervals down to the times of the thirtieth dynasty, and the cemetery was used continuously.
The pharaohs of the first dynasty were buried in Abydos, including Narmer, who is regarded as founder of the first dynasty, and his successor, Aha. It was in this time period that the Abydos boats were constructed. Some pharaohs of the second dynasty were also buried in Abydos. The temple was renewed and enlarged by these pharaohs as well. Funerary enclosures, misinterpreted in modern times as great 'forts', were built on the desert behind the town by three kings of the second dynasty; the most complete is that of Khasekhemwy.
Part of the Abydos King List
Panel from the Osiris
presents royal regalia to a worshipping pharaoh.
From the fifth dynasty, the deity Khentiamentiu, foremost of the Westerners, came to be seen as a manifestation of the dead pharaoh in the underworld. Pepi I (sixth dynasty) constructed a funerary chapel which evolved over the years into the Great Temple of Osiris, the ruins of which still exist within the town enclosure. Abydos became the centre of the worship of the Isis and Osiris cult.
During the First Intermediate Period, the principal deity of the area, Khentiamentiu, began to be seen as an aspect of Osiris, and the deities gradually merged and came to be regarded as one. Khentiamentiu's name became an epithet of Osiris. King Mentuhotep II was the first one building a royal chapel. In the twelfth dynasty a gigantic tomb was cut into the rock by Senusret III. Associated with this tomb was a cenotaph, a cult temple and a small town known as "Wah-Sut", that was used by the workers for these structures. Next to that cenotaph were buried at least two kings of the thirteenth dynasty (in tombs S9 and S10) and some rulers of the Second Intermediate Period, such as Senebkay. An indigenous line of kings, the Abydos Dynasty, may have ruled the region from Abydos at the time.
The building during the eighteenth dynasty began with a large chapel of Ahmose I. The Pyramid of Ahmose I was also constructed at Abydos—the only pyramid in the area; very little of it remains today.
Thutmose III built a far larger temple, about 130 ft × 200 ft (40 m × 61 m). He also made a processional way leading past the side of the temple to the cemetery beyond, featuring a great gateway of granite.
Seti I, in the nineteenth dynasty, founded a temple to the south of the town in honor of the ancestral pharaohs of the early dynasties; this was finished by Ramesses II, who also built a lesser temple of his own. Merneptah added the Osireion just to the north of the temple of Seti.
Ahmose II in the twenty-sixth dynasty rebuilt the temple again, and placed in it a large monolith shrine of red granite, finely wrought. The foundations of the successive temples were comprised within approximately 18 ft (5.5 m). depth of the ruins discovered in modern times; these needed the closest examination to discriminate the various buildings, and were recorded by more than 4,000 measurements and 1,000 levellings.
The latest building was a new temple of Nectanebo I, built in the thirtieth dynasty. From the Ptolemaic times of the Greek occupancy of Egypt, that began three hundred years before the Roman occupancy that followed, the structure began to decay and no later works are known.