Once, there was a city called Memphis, but it wasn’t in the US. Maybe you already knew that. I knew it, and that it was in Egypt, but that was about all I knew, so I decided to find out more. If I could. Sometimes, there isn’t a lot of information about an ancient city.
It wasn’t always known as Memphis. It is thought to have started as Inbu-Hedj (the white walls), but it was also known as Djed-Sut (everlasting places), as Ankh-Tawy (Life of the Two Lands) and then as Men-nefer (enduring and beautiful). Men-nefer became Menfe as the Egyptian language evolved, which the Greek changed to Memphis. And in the Bible, this city is called Moph or Noph.
When it existed—all that’s left now is ruins—it was on the west bank of the Nile, right where that big river starts dividing into smaller channels and creating the huge Nile Delta. This put it on the border between the two ancient kingdoms of Egypt; Lower Egypt (basically, the delta) and Upper Egypt (miles and miles of not much of anything). That location proves to be significant, since legend has it that the city was established by the first pharaoh who united Upper and Lower Egypt, some time around 3100 BC. It has been estimated that it held as many as 30,000 people and was the largest city in the world from 3100 BC to 2250 BC, and again from 1557 BC to 1400 BC.
This was Egypt’s capital city through more than 8 dynasties of pharaohs. It declined in importance after the 18th dynasty with the rise of Thebes and the New Kingdom, but revived under the Persians. It again fell to second place after the city of Alexandria was founded, and when Fustat was established in 641 AD, Memphis was abandoned. Sad, but really, this city existed for 3700, almost 3800 years!
Memphis was not just a political and religious center. It was a port city, conducting trade via boats, both from upstream and downstream, where they plied their way through the delta channels to and from the Mediterranean Sea. The port area was surrounded by workshops where craftsmen created supplies and goods to be traded. Because the pharaohs all wanted a huge beautiful tomb, there were also a large number of those artisans living not far from the royal cemetery, whichever one of many that was currently being used.
The city did have residential areas, but it is hypothesized that these were occupied by visitors from other countries.
I read several sites, and they all agreed on the above facts. But I found this to be a bummer of a research topic, full of names and dates, and who pillaged the city when. The Nile Delta is extremely fertile, and one site did mention that was where the farming was done, but nobody told me what crops they grew, what foods they ate, how did they make fabric, how many societal classes existed… I found nothing about ordinary life at any point of this city’s history. Real bummer.