The modern town of Luxor is the site of the famous city of Thebes, (Waste in ancient Egyptian) the city of a hundred gates. It was the capital of Egypt from the 12th dynasty (1991 BC) and reached its zenith during the New Kingdom. It was from here that Thutmose III planned his campaigns, Akenaten first contemplated the nature of god and Rameses II set out his ambitious building program. Only Memphis could compare in size and wealth, but Memphis was pillaged of its masonry to build new cities and little remains. Although the mud brick palaces of Thebes have disappeared the stone.
At the early date, the Fourth Egyptian Nome—the Theban Nome—boasted three principal villages. Armant, called Hermonthis by the Greeks, stood on the West Bank of the Nile, near the nome’s southern border. It was the nome capital until about the Fourth Dynasty. On the East Bank two other villages were of importance: Tod, which lay in the south, and Medamud, in the north. Until the Middle Kingdom, the city of Thebes was little more than an inconsequential cluster of rude huts. The Theban Necropolis was in use, however: nomarchs were buried here from the Old Kingdom onward, probably because of the quality and accessibility of its limestone bedrock. We know of five nomarchs’ tombs in the West Bank area of al-Khokha, and several others father north in al-Tarif. (None is open to the public.)
In Dynasty 9, leaders of Heracleopolis, a nome about 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Memphis, declared themselves rulers of all Egypt and seized control of Memphis and the royal court. The major threat to the Heracleopolitans was the leadership of the Theban nome, who backed up their competing claim to authority with military forays against Heracleopolitan holdings. For fifty years, Theban rulers including Intef I, Intef II, Intef III, and the succeeding series of rulers named Mentuhetep devoted themselves to building Thebes and expanding its control over Egypt. Nebhepetra Mentuhetep I, for example, worked in Dynasty 11 to create a strong, Egypt-wide bureaucracy with its capital at Thebes. At first he called himself the Divine One of the White Crown, implying that he controlled Upper Egypt, and then Uniter of the Two Lands, meaning that he ruled all of Egypt. At Dayr al-Bahari, he built a mortuary temple and tomb of new design that served as the inspiration for Queen Hatshepsut’s memorial temple five hundred years later. Scenes in his temple provide early evidence that the Thebans were elevating to prominence a little-known local god, Amen, who would soon surpass the nome’s principal deity, Montu, in wealth and power.