A mammisi (also spelled mamisi) is an ancient Egyptian small chapel attached to a larger temple (usually in front of the pylons). These chapels, known as the birth-house, were built from the Late Period, and associated with the nativity of a god. The word is derived from Coptic, the last phase of the ancient Egyptian language, meaning "birth place". Its usage is attributed to the French egyptologist Jean-François Champollion (1790–1832 CE).
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Mammisis were added as subsidiary buildings to a number of Late Period temples for a period of more than 500 years; they were dedicated to various child-gods. Major temples inhabited by a divine triad could be completed by a peristyle-surrounded mammisi, in which the goddess of the triad would give birth to the son of the triad itself. The son, whose divine birth was celebrated annually, was associated with the Pharaoh (even in the hierogamy scenes on the walls).
Taweret, Raet-Tawy and the Seven Hathors who presided over childbirth were particularly revered here, but it is equally common to find references to Bes, Khnum and Osiris himself as fertility deities. Mammisis thus formed an architectural translation of the myth of divine birth and its eternal repetition. From the end of the Late Period these buildings confirm the restoration of royal power that each dynasty will strive to assert in the very heart of the great sanctuaries of the country, including the Roman emperors.
circa 350 BCE
Dendera Mammisi of Nectanebo
Known as the old mammisi it was originally built by Pharaoh Nectanebo I, one of the last native rulers of Egypt. Equipped with a hypostyle built by Pharaoh Ptolemy VI Philometor (181–145 BCE) and with a peristyle by Ptolemy X Alexander I (110–88 BCE), it was dedicated to Harsiese ("Horus son of Isis"). This 30th dynasty project was then repeated, by the Græco-Roman rulers, for some of the major shrines in the country.
circa 300 BCE
The Mammisi at Philae is surrounded on three sides by a colonnade of floral topped columns each crowned with a sistrum and Hathor-headed capital. The Mammisi (birth house) was a common feature of Ptolemaic temples and the example on Philae is similar in layout and decoration to examples at Dendera and Edfu. The mammisi from Philae served as a model for developing a typical birth house plan with pronaos and surrounding ambulatory.
circa 250 BCE
The mammisi of Edfu Temple is situated in front of the main temple at Edfu. Dedicated to Harsomptus, the son of Horus and Hathor. The courtyard in front of smaller structure was the site of an annual festival of singing and dancing. The walls of the Mammisi are decorated with scenes showing the story of the divine birth of Horus the child in the presence of Goddess Hathor, God Khenoum and other deities and Goddesses who were concerned with pregnancy and birth.
circa 30 BCE
Roman Mammisi Dendera
The famous Roman mammisi, the less ancient one associated with the Dendera Temple complex, was built by Augustus immediately after his conquest of Egypt (31 BCE). The murals show Augustus' far successor Trajan at the sacrificial ceremony for Hathor and are among the most beautiful in Egypt. The mammisi was dedicated to Hathor and her child Ihy. On the abacus above the pillar capitals are representations of Bes as the patron god of birth.
circa 100 BCE
Kom Ombo Mammisi
Built or restored by Euergetes II, the Kom Ombo birth-house (mammisi) is located on a terrace in front of the main temple. This identification is based on a relief of Euergetes and two gods sailing in a boat through a papyrus swamp swarming with birds, with an ithyphallic Min-Amun-Re standing on the left. The reliefs on the ruined wall remains depict the ritual of 'shaking the papyrus', among other things.
circa 75 BCE
A Roman birth-house is also located in Athribis. It was begun by Ptolemy XII Auletes and completed during the Roman Period by the Emperor Hadrian. The birth-house was dedicated to the god Triphis or Kolanthes, and is fronted by a pronaos with two rows of six pillars that are still well-conserved. Behind the pronaos is an open court which may have been surrounded by a colonnade.
circa 250 CE
Inscriptions at Esna Temple mention the presence of a birth-house (Mammisi), but the structure has not been found yet. It was most likely dedicated to Heqa, offspring of Neith and Khnum.
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