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Egyptian hieroglyphs on coins


Tejas

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Ancient Egyptian independent history stretches for some 3000 years. Most of that time coins did not yet exist (if we discregard a couple of very rare silver (deben) weights, which may have funtioned as coins). Hence, there are only very few instances in which Hieroglyphs appear on coins. The most famous example is a stater of Nectanebo II, which shows the hieroglyphs Nefer nub, meaning beautiful (in the sense of pure) gold.

The style of the coin (i.e. the horse) and the way in which the two hierogyphs have been arranged on top of each other is quite "un-Egyptian". 

3.PNG

 

I can think of only one other possible occurance of a hieroglyph on a coin, which appears on coins of Constantius II (and probably other rulers of that time). If correct, the hieroglyph is Ankh, meaning life. On the coin below, which is from my collection, the Ankh sign can be seen betwee the two military standards.

Is this the Ankh-sign? Are there other instances where hieroglyphs appear on ancient coins?

Salzinger.PNG

Edited by Tejas
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1 hour ago, Tejas said:

Is this the Ankh-sign?

I doubt it - it's not exactly an Ankh in form, and no reason I can see to expect that it might be intended as one. On the other hand, it's not a simple cross either, despite often being described as that. This "ball/pellet on top of T" is definitely the normal form of it. My best guess is that it's a stylized Tau-Rho or Staurogram.

An interesting aspect of this "issue mark" is that it (very surprisingly!) differs on the three reverse types in the issue! On the GLORIA EXERCITVS we have this "Tau-Rho", on the VRBS ROMA a pellet, and on the CONSTANTINOPOLIS a star.

 

 

Edited by Heliodromus
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I'm quite certain this is an Egyptian symbol and not a hieroglyph, but I can't resist the opportunity to post it. 🙂 

331A3639-Edit.jpg.1e0a9edfc851d24fe0ed8b56428ca64a.jpg

Egypt, Ptolemy I as satrap
with name and types of Alexander III
Memphis, c. 323/2 BCE
AR Tetradrachm, 16.09g
bv: Head of young Herakles r. wearing lionskin headdress.
Rx: AΛEΞANΔPoY Zeus seated l. holding eagle and scepter, in l. field, head of Amun-Ra (as ram) r., wearing double-plume crown, monogram under throne
CPE-4, Price-3964
Ex NFA

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I'd say Tau-Rho rather than Chi-Rho, or probably neither! We don't see sloppy Chi-Rhos during Constantine's time, and for that matter there's only one Tau-Rho on his lifetime issues - on an Antioch solidus type (RIC VII 98 & 100), then another on his posthumous Aeterna Pietas type from Lyons. Both of these Tau-Rhos are well formed.

This Aquileia symbol is an odd one (as is the context of these differently marked types from the same issue). Whatever it is appears deliberate!

 

 

Edited by Heliodromus
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6 minutes ago, Heliodromus said:

I'd say Tau-Rho rather than Chi-Rho, or probably neither! We don't see sloppy Chi-Rhos during Constantine's time, and for that matter there's only one Tau-Rho on his lifetime issues - on an Antioch solidus type (RIC VII 98 & 100), then another on his posthumous Aeterna Pietas type from Lyons. Both of these Tau-Rhos are well formed.

This Aquileia symbol is an odd one (as is the context of these differently marked types from the same issue). Whatever it is appears deliberate!

Yes. I was thinking of Magnentius and thought it was a little early for Tau-Rhos but if there's one, there could be another. But on these they don't seem to have made much of an effort to create the P anyway.

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@John Conduitt, you nailed it ...but that's not the end of the story.  

If you go back far enough, in my first collection, running heavily to later antoniniani and LRBs, I had a small AE of Arcadius from Alexandria, which had the same kind of variant on the Chi-Rho.  Itself a variant of the commoner type, with the 'Chi' looking like an 'X'; in this instance, you could characterize it along the lines of the theology replacing the orthography.  (To Everybody who got here in the last few minutes, Thank you for the term, 'Tau-Rho.'  From here, even the term was news.)

...I would dearly love another example of those (Shout-Out to Anyone).  

Because, whether or not by sheer coincidence, you can readily imagine the contemporary Coptic Christians in Alexandria reading this variant of the Chi-Rho in terms of their own variant of the Ankh, the crux ansata.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ankh.  (Just do a page search, even just with 'Copt.')  From here, anyway, this is the sort of phenomenon that defies easy, lineal progression, in terms of which cultural component preceded the other (well, okay, Busted, apart from the 'Ankh' itself).  But as of either side of AD 400 (we Are talking about Christians here), the Roman and Coptic memes were in resonantly simultaneous, synergetic coexistence.

...This has to remind me of the still recently attributed seal of King Hezekiah, of Old Testament /Tanakh fame:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34988649

This was happening during the events covered in this book --recently (a decades and change later) given new validation by a number of academics.  https://www.amazon.com/Rescue-Jerusalem-Alliance-Between-Africans-ebook/dp/B003ZUYB9S/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2P29UE3PJRN6O&keywords=the+rescue+of+jerusalem&qid=1695683048&sprefix=the+rescue+of+jerusalem%2Caps%2C236&sr=8-1

(Edit:)  Something else worthy of notice, especially regarding the Coptic crux ansata, is that a primary meaning of the original, Pharaonic Ankh was reducible to 'Life.'  That level of abstraction had to facilitate the Coptic adaptation, even on a theological level.  (Oops, further edit:) --Not to mention the appearance of the Ankh in its original form on Hezekiah's seal.  Right, minor detail, there.  Please, don't throw anything too ripe.

 

Edited by JeandAcre
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19 minutes ago, JeandAcre said:

which had the same kind of variant on the Chi-Rho

If we're being precise here, then it's only a Chi-Rho if it has the form of a Chi + Rho (X + P). If it's just got a vertical with rounded top and a horizontal, then it's better called a Tau-Rho or staurogram (which was meant to visually evoke the crucified Jesus on a Cross - a head on a cross). However a normal staurogram is not laterally symmetric since the "head" is to one side.

The symbol on this Aquileia issue does look a bit like the crux ansata, but why would an Italian mint choose to use a coptic symbol, and render it in this odd way rather than with a properly sized real loop on top ?

I'd be curious if anyone has seen this *precise* Aquileia symbol elsewhere, but otherwise it may have been an invention of the mint - it presumably would have been interpreted as a Christogram of sorts by Christians - essentially a head on a Tau-cross - regardless of what exactly the mint had intended to depict.

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If you're looking for hieroglyphs on coins, keep in mind that except for symbols like the Ankh that survived in a different form in Coptic Christianity, the reign of Constantius II approaches the outer limit of feasibility for an actual hieroglyphic inscription. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graffito_of_Esmet-Akhom# :

The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, also known by its designation Philae 436 or GPH 436, is the last known inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, carved on 24 August AD 394. The inscription, carved in the temple of Philae in southern Egypt, was created by a priest named Nesmeterakhem (or Esmet-Akhom)[a] and consists of a carved figure of the god Mandulis as well an accompanying text wherein Nesmeterakhem hopes his inscription will last "for all time and eternity". The inscription also contains a text in the demotic script, with similar content. . . .

An edict issued by Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–395) in 391[10] or 392[11] closed the pagan temples of Egypt.[11] Theodosius's edict also brought an end to the use of hieroglyphs in monumental inscriptions.[10] In the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (r. 285–305), the Egyptian borders of the Roman Empire were moved back to Aswan. This border change left Philae outside of the empire, which allowed the temple to survive despite Theodosius's edict.[12] . . .

Relatively soon after Nesmeterakhem made his inscription, there was likely no one alive who could read its hieroglyphs.[2][9] Knowledge of both hieroglyphs and demotic script had gradually disappeared from Egypt during the decades of Christianization, as Greek became more prominent.[19] The demotic inscriptions at Philae are also considerably later than other known demotic writings. The latest known example of demotic from outside Philae is a text probably from Sohag, dated to 290.[8]  . . . . Among the later inscriptions at Philae is the last known inscription in demotic,[10] carved on the roof of the porch of the great temple dedicated to Isis and dated to 11 December 452. This very faint inscription reads "the feet of Panakhetet the lesser", presumably originally having been accompanied by a drawing of feet, commemorating a pilgrimage to the temple.

 

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36 minutes ago, Heliodromus said:

If we're being precise here, then it's only a Chi-Rho if it has the form of a Chi + Rho (X + P). If it's just got a vertical with rounded top and a horizontal, then it's better called a Tau-Rho or staurogram (which was meant to visually evoke the crucified Jesus on a Cross - a head on a cross). However a normal staurogram is not laterally symmetric since the "head" is to one side.

The symbol on this Aquileia issue does look a bit like the crux ansata, but why would an Italian mint choose to use a coptic symbol, and render it in this odd way rather than with a properly sized real loop on top ?

I'd be curious if anyone has seen this *precise* Aquileia symbol elsewhere, but otherwise it may have been an invention of the mint - it presumably would have been interpreted as a Christogram of sorts by Christians - essentially a head on a Tau-cross - regardless of what exactly the mint had intended to depict.

Thank you for your extensive explication of the graphic and semantic details, relative to the attendant variants of the 'Chi-Ro.' 

But in my last post, may the record show that I was referring to an issue of Alexandria, with candid speculation regarding how the operant variant may have been interpreted by people on the ground, independently of the the numismatic equivalent of authorial intent.  (Quoting myself, above:) "...whether or not by sheer coincidence, you can readily imagine the contemporary Coptic Christians in Alexandria reading this variant of the Chi-Rho in terms of their own variant of the Ankh, the crux ansata."

On a broader methodological level, I merely subscribe to the notion that, in the relative absence of cogent evidence, whether documentary or archaeological, informed speculation is a valid, and potentially productive pursuit. 

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27 minutes ago, DonnaML said:

If you're looking for hieroglyphs on coins, keep in mind that except for symbols like the Ankh that survived in a different form in Coptic Christianity, the reign of Constantius II approaches the outer limit of feasibility for an actual hieroglyphic inscription. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graffito_of_Esmet-Akhom# :

The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, also known by its designation Philae 436 or GPH 436, is the last known inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, carved on 24 August AD 394. The inscription, carved in the temple of Philae in southern Egypt, was created by a priest named Nesmeterakhem (or Esmet-Akhom)[a] and consists of a carved figure of the god Mandulis as well an accompanying text wherein Nesmeterakhem hopes his inscription will last "for all time and eternity". The inscription also contains a text in the demotic script, with similar content. . . .

An edict issued by Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–395) in 391[10] or 392[11] closed the pagan temples of Egypt.[11] Theodosius's edict also brought an end to the use of hieroglyphs in monumental inscriptions.[10] In the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (r. 285–305), the Egyptian borders of the Roman Empire were moved back to Aswan. This border change left Philae outside of the empire, which allowed the temple to survive despite Theodosius's edict.[12] . . .

Relatively soon after Nesmeterakhem made his inscription, there was likely no one alive who could read its hieroglyphs.[2][9] Knowledge of both hieroglyphs and demotic script had gradually disappeared from Egypt during the decades of Christianization, as Greek became more prominent.[19] The demotic inscriptions at Philae are also considerably later than other known demotic writings. The latest known example of demotic from outside Philae is a text probably from Sohag, dated to 290.[8]  . . . . Among the later inscriptions at Philae is the last known inscription in demotic,[10] carved on the roof of the porch of the great temple dedicated to Isis and dated to 11 December 452. This very faint inscription reads "the feet of Panakhetet the lesser", presumably originally having been accompanied by a drawing of feet, commemorating a pilgrimage to the temple.

 

@DonnaML, you're just That Good, All the Time.

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10 hours ago, JeandAcre said:

whether or not by sheer coincidence, you can readily imagine the contemporary Coptic Christians in Alexandria reading this variant of the Chi-Rho in terms of their own variant of the Ankh, the crux ansata

I'm not sure how this varied over time, but for a while at least the Copts use the crux ansata alongside both the Chi-Rho and Tau-Rho, so they do appear to have been aware of the difference, and presumably would have seen a Tau-Rho on Arcadius' coins for what it is. It's certainly possible they might have regarded the Aquileia symbol differently if they had seen it, although I'm not sure if these would have circulated in Egypt.

Here are some typical coptic tombstones (steles) with a Tau-Rho flanked by crux ansata, or a Chi-Rho in some cases.

image.png.02c165860fb31e1f962bfaf26bca0bba.png

image.png.12f0ea2a53e92b36347ccbae2bdb281b.png

image.png.5b59e2e310a91b7ea05e72b83c3ba0c9.png

We also see Christian symbols used alongside the crux ansata on coptic textiles, such as this fragment in the V&A museum:

image.png.fd72c99c53ab0c62fc86b879b98d40c2.png

It seems that initially the crux ansata was more of a Christianized Ankh (with meaning of an Ankh) rather than a cross per-se.

 

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19 hours ago, kirispupis said:

I'm quite certain this is an Egyptian symbol and not a hieroglyph, but I can't resist the opportunity to post it. 🙂 

331A3639-Edit.jpg.1e0a9edfc851d24fe0ed8b56428ca64a.jpg

Egypt, Ptolemy I as satrap
with name and types of Alexander III
Memphis, c. 323/2 BCE
AR Tetradrachm, 16.09g
bv: Head of young Herakles r. wearing lionskin headdress.
Rx: AΛEΞANΔPoY Zeus seated l. holding eagle and scepter, in l. field, head of Amun-Ra (as ram) r., wearing double-plume crown, monogram under throne
CPE-4, Price-3964
Ex NFA

That is interesting, However, I think the description is wrong. I think this is not Amun-Re, but the god Khnum:

god khum - Suchen (bing.com)

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16 hours ago, DonnaML said:

If you're looking for hieroglyphs on coins, keep in mind that except for symbols like the Ankh that survived in a different form in Coptic Christianity, the reign of Constantius II approaches the outer limit of feasibility for an actual hieroglyphic inscription. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graffito_of_Esmet-Akhom# :

The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, also known by its designation Philae 436 or GPH 436, is the last known inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, carved on 24 August AD 394. The inscription, carved in the temple of Philae in southern Egypt, was created by a priest named Nesmeterakhem (or Esmet-Akhom)[a] and consists of a carved figure of the god Mandulis as well an accompanying text wherein Nesmeterakhem hopes his inscription will last "for all time and eternity". The inscription also contains a text in the demotic script, with similar content. . . .

An edict issued by Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–395) in 391[10] or 392[11] closed the pagan temples of Egypt.[11] Theodosius's edict also brought an end to the use of hieroglyphs in monumental inscriptions.[10] In the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (r. 285–305), the Egyptian borders of the Roman Empire were moved back to Aswan. This border change left Philae outside of the empire, which allowed the temple to survive despite Theodosius's edict.[12] . . .

Relatively soon after Nesmeterakhem made his inscription, there was likely no one alive who could read its hieroglyphs.[2][9] Knowledge of both hieroglyphs and demotic script had gradually disappeared from Egypt during the decades of Christianization, as Greek became more prominent.[19] The demotic inscriptions at Philae are also considerably later than other known demotic writings. The latest known example of demotic from outside Philae is a text probably from Sohag, dated to 290.[8]  . . . . Among the later inscriptions at Philae is the last known inscription in demotic,[10] carved on the roof of the porch of the great temple dedicated to Isis and dated to 11 December 452. This very faint inscription reads "the feet of Panakhetet the lesser", presumably originally having been accompanied by a drawing of feet, commemorating a pilgrimage to the temple.

 

That is of course true. Indeed, hieroglyphs were in a sense an antiquated writing system already centuries before the Ptolemy dynasty established itself in Egypt. Hieroglyphs were almost exclusively used for monumental inscriptions in middle Egyptian, i.e. a form of Egyptian that was outdated by the time of the New Kingdom in around 1500 BC. As your rightly pointed out, hieroglyphs were intimately linked with the ancient polyistic religion, which is exactly why they fell out of use with the arrival of Christianity in Egypt. 

BTW, I visited Aswan, Philae and Abu Simbel last year and saw the last inscription, which you mentioned above. 

 

 

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5 hours ago, Heliodromus said:

I'm not sure how this varied over time, but for a while at least the Copts use the crux ansata alongside both the Chi-Rho and Tau-Rho, so they do appear to have been aware of the difference, and presumably would have seen a Tau-Rho on Arcadius' coins for what it is. It's certainly possible they might have regarded the Aquileia symbol differently if they had seen it, although I'm not sure if these would have circulated in Egypt.

Here are some typical coptic tombstones (steles) with a Tau-Rho flanked by crux ansata, or a Chi-Rho in some cases.

image.png.02c165860fb31e1f962bfaf26bca0bba.png

image.png.12f0ea2a53e92b36347ccbae2bdb281b.png

image.png.5b59e2e310a91b7ea05e72b83c3ba0c9.png

We also see Christian symbols used alongside the crux ansata on coptic textiles, such as this fragment in the V&A museum:

image.png.fd72c99c53ab0c62fc86b879b98d40c2.png

It seems that initially the crux ansata was more of a Christianized Ankh (with meaning of an Ankh) rather than a cross per-se.

 

Thanks for posting these interesting pictures. I think this makes it actually quite likely, that the sign on the coin above is not just an accident, but a crux ansata (based on the ankh sign).

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17 hours ago, Heliodromus said:

...

The symbol on this Aquileia issue does look a bit like the crux ansata, but why would an Italian mint choose to use a coptic symbol, and render it in this odd way rather than with a properly sized real loop on top ?

I'd be curious if anyone has seen this *precise* Aquileia symbol elsewhere, but otherwise it may have been an invention of the mint - it presumably would have been interpreted as a Christogram of sorts by Christians - essentially a head on a Tau-cross - regardless of what exactly the mint had intended to depict.

True, but I think it is possible that an important city like Aquileia was home to a comunity of Christians from Alexandria, which may have made people familiar with this particular symbol. But of course, it would be useful to find supporting evidence for that.

I wonder if this particular symbol appears on coins of other mints as well.

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I tried to find more examples of the coin above, but didn't have much luck. Here is another nice example, which is NOT from my collection. The execution is quite deliberate. Otherwise this prominent space is sometimes reserved for a Latin cross and I find it hard to believe that it is some random sign, which somebody at the mint invented.

 

10.PNG

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20 hours ago, Heliodromus said:

..

The symbol on this Aquileia issue does look a bit like the crux ansata, but why would an Italian mint choose to use a coptic symbol, and render it in this odd way rather than with a properly sized real loop on top ?

...

If the object on which the ankh was inscribed was very small, the Egyptians sometimes also didn't execute the ankh with a proper loop.

Screenshot 2023-06-08 at 20.53.51.png

 

As an aside: the Metropolitan Museum, which owns this scarab describes the scene as " figure upholding sacred boat"

Scarab with Figure Upholding a Sacred Boat | New Kingdom | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org)

This is rather amusing. The figure is actually the hieroglyph "heh"  for one Million, in the sense of infinite or eternal, which was the same for the Egyptians.

So the central panel reads:

Nedjer nefer neb tawy heh ankh = (to) the good god, lord of the two lands eternal life

 

 

 

Edited by Tejas
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As an Egyptologist by training at least in my undergrad degree (as Berkeley offered a major in Egyptian Language and Archaeology) the instance of hieroglyphs on coins is almost nonexistent, the "good gold" nebu-nefer coins of Nectanebo notwithstanding. These were reputedly used to pay Greek mercenaries. The coin above with Khnum or Amen Ra comes fairly close, likewise in the Imperial Roman period the sphinx coins depicting Amenemhet III (known still in the Fayyum region at the time and still quite popular even though he ruled in the 12th dynasty) appear on the so-called nome issues. Others of interest include the coins depicting Canopic jars and mummies - symbolic yes, hieroglyphs, no.

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7 hours ago, Heliodromus said:

I'm not sure how this varied over time, but for a while at least the Copts use the crux ansata alongside both the Chi-Rho and Tau-Rho, so they do appear to have been aware of the difference, and presumably would have seen a Tau-Rho on Arcadius' coins for what it is. It's certainly possible they might have regarded the Aquileia symbol differently if they had seen it, although I'm not sure if these would have circulated in Egypt.

Here are some typical coptic tombstones (steles) with a Tau-Rho flanked by crux ansata, or a Chi-Rho in some cases.

image.png.02c165860fb31e1f962bfaf26bca0bba.png

image.png.12f0ea2a53e92b36347ccbae2bdb281b.png

image.png.5b59e2e310a91b7ea05e72b83c3ba0c9.png

We also see Christian symbols used alongside the crux ansata on coptic textiles, such as this fragment in the V&A museum:

image.png.fd72c99c53ab0c62fc86b879b98d40c2.png

It seems that initially the crux ansata was more of a Christianized Ankh (with meaning of an Ankh) rather than a cross per-se.

 

On an appropriately provisional, speculative level, I think we're allowed the latitude to think in terms of the Tau-Rho and crux ansata having been effectively coidentified, as variants of eachother, as much as they would have been (easily) distinguished from eachother.  The crux ansata was already a variant of the Ankh, so there was significant precedent for this, readily in place.

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41 minutes ago, Ancient Coin Hunter said:

 the sphinx coins depicting Amenemhet III (known still in the Fayyum region at the time and still quite popular even though he ruled in the 12th dynasty) appear on the so-called nome issues. 

I think perhaps you mean the Hadrian obols from the Arsinoite Nome, depicting a pharaoh -- Amenemhet III -- on the reverse; I've posted my example, with an extensive writeup, several times on this forum. I'm not aware of any Nome obols depicting a sphinx.

image.png.8cb5766fe1a409a512f59ed17518b12f.png

 

Edited by DonnaML
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5 minutes ago, DonnaML said:

I think perhaps you mean the Hadrian obols from the Arsinoite Nome, depicting a pharaoh -- Amenemhat III -- on the reverse; I've posted my example, with an extensive writeup, several times on this forum. I'm not aware of any Nome obols depicting a sphinx.

image.png.8cb5766fe1a409a512f59ed17518b12f.png

 

Yes. Domitian obols of Alexandria featured the Sphinx, not the nome coins of Hadrian. (My mistake) Seven sphinxes of Amenemhat III were discovered in Tanis, though not depicted on coins.

The Arsinoite nome and the area around Lake Moeris were known for continuing the memory of Amenemhat III even until Roman times (Diodorus Siculus) and his pyramid was at Hawara. 

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