Reconstruction of the temple of Ptah in Memphis during the 19th Dynasty
High Priest of Ptah
in hieroglyphs
Era: New Kingdom
(1550–1069 BC)

The High Priest of Ptah was sometimes referred to as "the Greatest of the Directors of Craftsmanship" (wr-ḫrp-ḥmwt). This title refers to Ptah as the patron god of the craftsmen.[1]

Ramesses II flanked by Ptah and Sekhmet

The office of the high priest of Ptah was located in Memphis in Lower Egypt. The temple of Ptah in Memphis was dedicated to Ptah, his consort Sekhmet and their son Nefertem.[2]


High priests of Ptah are mentioned in inscriptions dating back to at least the Fourth Dynasty. In the tomb of the nobleman Debhen, for instance, there is a description of a visit by Pharaoh Menkaure to the construction site for his pyramid "Divine is Menkaure". The pharaoh is accompanied by a naval commander and two high priests of Ptah.[3]

There used to be two high priests of Ptah until the Sixth Dynasty. It was probably during the reign of Pepi I Meryre that the two offices were combined into one. In the tomb of Sabu called Thety in Saqqara, the owner mentions that "His Majesty appointed me as High Priest of Memphis alone. [...] The temple of "Ptah-South-of-His-Wall" in its every place was under my charge, although there never was a single High Priest of Ptah before."[4]

A large temple complex dating to the time of Ramesses II is located at the modern site of Mit Rahina. The Temple of Ptah from this time period was one of the largest temple complexes in Egypt. Not much of this complex has been excavated because a large part of the site lies very close to the modern town.[5]

It continued to be an important office in the Ptolemaic period, and the priestly family held many important priestly positions. The high priests crowned some of the Ptolemaic monarchs, and they also served as scribes in the dynastic cult of Arsinoe. The family was speculated to have a blood tie to the Ptolemaic family via a woman named "Berenice", wife of Psenptais II, who was claimed by some modern historians to possibly be a daughter of Ptolemy VIII.[6] However, this speculation has recently been refuted by Egyptologist Wendy Cheshire.[7][8]

The office appears to have disappeared during Roman rule of Egypt; it is last attested in 23 BC.[6]

Sem Priest (of Ptah)
in hieroglyphs
Era: New Kingdom
(1550–1069 BC)

Sem Priest of Ptah

Prince Khaemwaset with the short wig and side lock typical for the sem priest of Ptah

It was common for the high priest to also hold the title of sem priest of Ptah. The sem priest could be recognized by the fact that he wore a short wig with a side-lock and was dressed in a panther skin.

List of high priests

Old Kingdom

Middle Kingdom

Second Intermediate Period

New Kingdom

Eighteenth Dynasty

Nineteenth Dynasty

Twentieth Dynasty

Third Intermediate Period

Twenty-first Dynasty

Twenty-second Dynasty

Twenty-fifth Dynasty

Late Period

Ptolemaic Period

The High Priests of Ptah in Memphis became very important during the Ptolemaic Period.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Dodson and Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 2004
  2. ^ Wilkinson, The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, 2000, Thames and Hudson, p. 83
  3. ^ J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol I, 2001 (originally 1906), pp. 94-95
  4. ^ J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol I, 2001 (originally 1906), p. 133
  5. ^ Wilkinson, The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, 2000, Thames and Hudson, p. 114-115
  6. ^ a b "High Priests of Ptah in the Ptolemaic Period". Digital Egypt for Universities. University College London. 2002. Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  7. ^ Wendy Cheshire, The Phantom Sister of Ptolemy Alexander, Enchoria, 2011, p. 20-30.
  8. ^ Lippert, Sandra (2013), "What's New in Demotic Studies? An Overview of the Publications 2010-2013" (PDF), The Journal of Juristic Papyrology: 33–48
  9. ^ a b Donald B. Redford, The Coregency of Tuthmosis III and Amenophis II, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 51 (Dec., 1965), pp. 107-122
  10. ^ W. F. Albright, Cuneiform Material for Egyptian Prosopography 1500-1200 B. C., Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Albert Ten Eyck Olmstead Memorial Issue (Jan., 1946), pp. 7-25
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n K.A. Kitchen,The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt, 1100-650 B.C., 1996 ed.
  12. ^ High Priests of Memphis, a website by Chris Bennett