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Horus Temple at Edfu - Table of Contents

Birthing House - Horus Temple at Edfu, Egypt

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

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Left: Birthing house



Background: Temple pylon

Columns with shaft hieroglyphics

Papyrus and lotus

Bottom relief

Solar disk



Aerial view

Birth House (Mammisi)

Mammisi, Mamisi
Pronounced: ma MEE see

These were small temples, attached to the main temples of the Ptolemaic and Roman Period. There the god of the main temple was born, or if the main temple was dedicated to a goddess it was where she bore her children. The interior walls usually record scenes from the divine marriage and the king's birth.

The idea of the birth-house had begun during the reign of Hatshepsut, in The Deir-el-Bahari Temple , to justify her coronation as a pharaoh in spite of her being a woman. This concept was also used by the Greek Ptolemaic Kings to gain legitimacy

The only persons allowed to be present at these rituals were the king and certain members of the priesthood.

For and after the birth of her child, the mother withdrew to a special location outside the house for a ritual purification period of (at least) two weeks. This was often placed on the roof of the house and ... was often shaped like a tabernacle: a construction of poles with convolvulus [morning glory] and vines growing up them.

Egyptologists disagree about whether these birth huts were the predecessors of the so-called birth houses (also called by the modern designation mammisi), known from a number of temples from the Ptolemaic period. The best known are those from Dendera, Edfu and Philae. They are always chapels situated in front of the main temple, to one side of the main axis and perpendicular to it.

Gods commonly connected with the protection of mother and child, such as Bes and Taweret, are also often depicted in the birth houses.

- The Global Egyptian Museum

The mammisi, which is often referred to as a birth house and considered by some to be a temple in its own rite, was certainly a structure with considerable religious significance, especially for the king.

This term, which is actually a coptic word for "birth-place," was originally invented for the structure by Jean Francois Champollion [of Rosetta Stone fame].

Located within the temple precinct and often oriented at right angles to the main temple axis, this type of structure was associated with the mysterious birth of the gods and the celebration of their births. Particularly in New Kingdom mammisis, the divine birth of the king might also be celebrated. While the birth of a god, such as Horus the Younger was primary in the mammisi, the king's divine relationship with the gods is also frequently stressed. 

Mammisis were very common in the Greek and Roman period, when they were present in all known, major temples, but their origin was probably Egypt's Late Period. However, there appears, evidenced by 18th Dynasty reliefs describing the divine birth of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri and that of Amenhotep III at Luxor, to have been earlier counterparts. 

- Mark Andrews, Ancient Egyptian Temple Elements, Part V: Associated Element


The birth house was the centre of focus once a year, during the annual Coronation Festival. The concept of this was that with the coming of a new year, the god Horus, as well as the Egyptian king, was reborn.

The capitals of the building have figures of the dwarf god Bes , who used to help in the childbirth . The scenes on the walls, some of which still preserve their original color, represent the Feast of the Beautiful Meeting and some agricultural motifs.

See also:

Photos and their arrangement © 2009 Chuck LaChiusa
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