Thebes, a leading city of ancient Egypt from the 21st to the 11th century B.C. The Egyptians called this city Waset; the name “Thebes” was given it by the Greeks. Thebes was situated on both banks of the Nile River, about 310 miles (500 km) south of Cairo. Parts of the site are now occupied by the city of Luxor and the town of Karnak.
The impressive ruins of many temples and monuments erected by the pharaohs are to be found in the Theban region. Among the ruins have been discovered a great number of works of art and objects of historic interest. The Temple of Ammon at Karnak is made up of a number of separate buildings. The largest, the Hypostyle Hall, covers almost 1 1/2 acres (0.6 hectare). Its roof is supported by 134 pillars, each one 33 feet (10 m) around the base. Other temples at Karnak and Luxor are almost equally awesome. Beyond the west bank of the Nile is the Valley of the Kings, containing many royal tombs that have yielded priceless treasures.
Thebes gained prominence about 2040 B.C. as the capital of a ruling family, Dynasty XI, who reunited Lower (northern) and Upper (southern) Egypt. The city was an important center, although not the seat of the kings, during the expansive, brilliant period known as the Middle Kingdom. When the monarchy grew weak and most of Egypt was conquered by the Hyksos, Asiatic invaders, in the 17th century B.C., Thebes retained its independence.
After more than 100 years a Theban family drove the Hyksos out of Egypt and reunited the country, ushering in the era of the New Kingdom. During the 14th century B.C. the pharaoh Akhnaton built a new capital city, Akhetaton. However, soon after his death Akhetaton was abandoned and Thebes again became the capital of Egypt.
Although later dynasties often had capitals elsewhere, Thebes remained an important religious and cultural center. The city was sacked by the Assyrians in the seventh century B.C. It recovered its prosperity, but was reduced to ruins by the Romans in the first century B.C.