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Temple of Khonsu: Architecture, Plan & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the Temple of Khonsu. The Temple is located in the Karnak Temple Complex at Thebes and devoted to Khonsu, the Egyptian god of the Moon, healing, and fertility.

Recognition

When was the last time someone recognized you for being great? Perhaps you were given an award for doing something heroic or getting a good grade, or perhaps your boyfriend or girlfriend bought you a present simply because they loved you.

No matter what the last thing someone did for you, it's probably a safe bet they didn't build you a temple. But if you were a deity worshipped by ancient Egyptians, it's likely some pharaoh or another would have gotten around to it. In this lesson we will learn all about just such a temple: the Temple of Khonsu.

Khonsu

Khonsu was an important god in the ancient Egyptian world, a member of the so-called Theban Triad, which also included Amun (the sun god) and Mut (the sky goddess). Khonsu was the son of Amun and Mut.

khonsu
Khonsu

Khonsu was the god of the Moon and was often associated with fertility and healing in both animals and humans. Various legends credit Khonsu with descending from the heavens to heal one earlier Egyptian king or another. Khonsu's association with the moon, which went through regular, measurable cycles, often caused Khonsu to be associated with mathematics.

Khonsu is depicted, like many Egyptian gods, as a human-animal hybrid. Nearly all depictions show Khonsu with a human body and the head of a falcon. Often, Khonsu is depicted with the Moon near his head due to his lunar associations.

Building the Temple

Khonsu's existence within the Theban Triad made him one of the most important gods in the ancient Egyptian pantheon. Though he was revered across Egypt, worship of Khonsu and the Triad centered in the Egyptian city of Thebes (modern-day Luxor). It was here that an enormous temple complex devoted Amun and other deities began construction during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom (1570-1293 B.C.E.), when the capital of Egypt was moved to Thebes. The enormous temple complex itself, which would eventually incorporate most of Thebes, was named Karnak.

Despite his association as part of the Theban Triad, Khonsu did not get his own temple devoted to him until several centuries later. Construction on the Temple of Khonsu began in 1184 B.C.E. by Pharaoh Rameses III. It likely took nearly three decades to complete the temple, and historians are split as to whether Rameses III reigned during its completion or if his successor, Rameses IV oversaw its last bricks being put in place.

Front pylon of Temple
Front pylon of Temple

The front façade, or pylon is 113 feet wide and nearly six stories tall (59 feet). Two sphinxes flanked the entranceway to the pylon. A series of 28 columns flanked the inner courtyard of the temple. The columns contain various inscriptions to Khonsu, as well as some extolling the virtues of the Temple's builders and priests that worshipped inside it. Past the courtyard lay the inner temple, where there was likely a statue of Khonsu.

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