Thebes (thēbz) [key], city of ancient Egypt. Luxor and Karnak now occupy parts of its site. The city developed at a very early date from a number of small villages, particularly one around modern Luxor (then called Epet), but remained relatively obscure until the rise of the Theban family that established the XI dynasty (c.2134 B.C.). The city rapidly became prominent as the royal residence and as a seat of the worship of the god Amon. At Thebes, also, was the necropolis in the Valley of the Kings where the kings and nobles were entombed in great splendor in crypts cut into the cliffs on the Nile's west bank. The city's greatest period was that of the empire, when it served as a reservoir for the immense wealth that poured in from the conquered countries. As the empire began to decay and the locus of power to shift to the Nile delta, Thebes went into decline. For a time in the 11th cent. B.C., it was a separate political entity under sacerdotal rule. Thebes was sacked by the Assyrians in 661 B.C., an event referred to in the Bible (Nah. 3.8–10), where the city is called No Amon [Amon city]. The Romans sacked it in 29 B.C., and by 20 B.C. a Greek visitor to the site reported only a few scattered villages. The temples and tombs that have survived, including the tombs of Tutankhamen and of Ramses II's sons, are among the most splendid in the world, and the site has been the scene of much important archaeological work.
See H. E. Winlock, The Rise and Fall of the Middle Kingdom in Thebes (1947); C. F. Nims, Thebes of the Pharaohs (1965); L. Manniche, City of the Dead: Thebes in Egypt (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.