A. Sutherland – Icestech.info – History of Sais goes back to Egypt’s predynastic times (prior to 3100 BC). It was once a beautiful Egyptian city located in the western Egyptian delta along the right bank of the Rosetta Branch of the Nile River.
Today, the only visible ruins of the city near the village of Sa al-Hadjar are dated to the Late New Kingdom (c.1100 BC).
Left: Goddess Neith. Image credit: Right: Aegis of Neith, Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt – Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. Rama – – CC BY-SA 4.0; Right: Goddess Neith. Image credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 fr
There are no surviving traces of this town prior to this period of time, but it is scientifically attested that the history of Sais goes back to pre-dynastic times. From the 3rd millennium BC, Sais was an important economic, political and religious center of the goddess of war and hunting, Neith, whose temple was to be erected by the founder of the first dynasty.
Known as a center for science and the arts, the city was first mentioned in inscriptions of the archaic period, however, it played an important role in all historical periods, and was most important in the late ages. It was then the state capital during the reign of the XXIV and XXVI dynasties.
Herodotus and some other ancient sources confirm that Sais was a prestigious city of northern Egypt about 3100 BC, full of magnificent buildings and royal sepulchers, and the wives of the rulers of the first dynasty (Merneit, Meritneit) had come from Sais.
Amasis who ruled 44 years and made many contributions to the country was probably the 5th ruler of Egypt during the 26th Dynasty and has been called the last great Egyptian Pharaoh. He established himself at Sais in Northern Egypt and there – like in many other places in Egypt – he ordered to build huge buildings including his tomb at Sais, which was unfortunately never discovered, but according to Herodotus’ description in the tomb was beautiful:
‘It is a great cloistered building of stone, decorated with pillars carved in the imitation of palm-trees, and other costly ornaments. Within the cloister is a chamber with double doors, and behind the doors stands the sepulchre…”
In the age of the Ptolemies (323 to 30 BC), Sais was an important center.
Ancient Sais was the center of the cult of the goddess of war and hunting, Neith, who was the patron goddess of Sais, a great protector of the people of the land and the most accomplished mediator between humanity and the gods. From the Late Period (1000 BC onwards), the Neith temple was a center of pilgrimage.
Head of Amasis II. Saite period, 26th Dynasty, c. 550 BCE. From Egypt. Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany. Greywacke, ÄM 11864. source
However, Sais had several other temples dedicated to the creator god Atum and one dedicated to the Egyptian Lord of the Underworld and Judge of the Dead, Osiris.
According to Herodotus, the grave of Osiris was located at Sais. The Temple of Sais had a medical school associated with it and the medical school at Sais had many female students and apparently women faculty as well, mainly in gynecology and obstetrics.
An inscription from the period survives at Sais, and reads:
“I have come from the school of medicine at Heliopolis, and have studied at the woman’s school at Sais, where the divine mothers have taught me how to cure diseases…”.
Relief of Psamtik I making an offering to Ra-Horakhty (Tomb of Pabasa). source
Many kings of Sais were clever men and among them was King Nekau of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty who ruled 15 years and sent an expedition that circumnavigated Africa. King Nekau was the ruler who started the construction of a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, later completed by the Achaemenid king Darius I.
Necho I, appointed by the Assyrian king, Esarhaddon, after his conquest of Egypt in 671 BC, extended his jurisdiction over the Delta and Memphis. His son Psamtik I successfully reunited the whole of Egypt and founded the twenty-sixth dynasty. Later, the next kings of this dynasty enlarged and embellished Sais.
The Persians invaded Egypt in 525 BC just after Psamtek III became king. The fate of the city of Sais is not exactly known but it is known that after ascending the throne, the Persian king Cambyses marched against Egypt, where he ruined the tomb of Amasis (also known as Ahmose II, which means “The Moon is Born, Son of Neith”). He also largely destroyed the city including several temples.
The city was never subject to systematic archaeological research, and in ancient times, it was better known from historical sources of Herodotus and Strabo, and descriptions of travelers.
Written by – A. Sutherland – Icestech.info Senior Staff Writer
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Expand for references
Herodotus, The Histories, Book III
The Cambridge Ancient History, Volym 10