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A nome (Greek: district) is a subnational administrative division of Ancient Egypt. The use of the Greek name rather than the Egyptians' own results partly from Egypt's long Greek occupation. In addition, the Greeks were fascinated with Egypt, and left many historical records of the country.
The division of Ancient Egypt into nomes can be traced back to the Predynastic Period (before 3100 BC). These nomes originally existed as autonomous city-states, but later began to unify. The final conquest was completed by a certain Menes.
The nomes not only remained in place for more than three millennia, the area of the individual nomes and their order of numbering remained remarkably stable. Some, like Xois in the Delta or Khent in Upper Egypt, first appear in the Palermo stone which was inscribed in the Fifth dynasty; a few, like the nome of Bubastis, appear no earlier than the inscriptions of the New Kingdom. Under the system that prevailed for most of pharaonic Egypt's history, the country was divided into 42 nomes.
Lower Egypt, from the Old Kingdom capital Memphis to the Mediterranean Sea, comprised 20 nomes. The first was based around Memphis, Saqqara, and Giza, in the area occupied by modern-day Cairo. The numbering system then spread out in a more or less ordered fashion through the Nile delta, first covering the territory on the west before continuing with the higher numbers to the east. Thus, Alexandria was in the Third Nome, Bubastis in the Eighteenth.
Upper Egypt was divided into 22 nomes. The first of these was centered around Elephantine and Egypt's border with Nubia at the First Cataract – the area of modern-day Aswan. From there the numbering progressed downriver in an orderly fashion along the narrow fertile strip of land that was the Nile valley. Waset (ancient Thebes or contemporary Luxor) was in the Fourth Nome, Amarna in the Fourteenth, and Meidum in the Twenty-First.
At the head of each nome stood its nomarch. The position of the nomarch was at times hereditary, while at others they were appointed by the pharaoh. Generally, when the national government was stronger, nomarchs were the king's appointed governors. When the central government was weaker, however – such as during foreign invasions or civil wars – individual nomes would assert themselves and establish hereditary lines of succession. Conflicts between these different hereditary nomarchies were common during, for example, the First Intermediate Period – a time that saw a breakdown in central authority lasting from the sixth and eleventh dynasties, until one of the local rulers was able once again to assert control over the entire country as pharaoh.
Survival of the nomes
The nomes survived through the Ptolemaic period, into Roman times. Under Roman rule, individual nomes minted their own coinage, the so-called "nome coins," which still reflect individual local associations and traditions. The nomes of Egypt retained their primary importance as administrative units until the fundamental rearrangement of the bureaucracy in the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine.
From 307/8 CE, their place was taken by smaller units called pagi which eventually brought into prominence a powerful local official called a pagarch through whom all patronage flowed. His essential role was as an organizer of tax-collection, but later the pagarch assumed some military functions as well. The pagarchs were often wealthy landowners who reigned over the pagi from which they originated.
List of nomes
- White fortress (White Wall)
- Cow's thigh (Foreleg)
- Southern shield
- Northern shield
- Mountain bull
- West harpoon
- East harpoon
- Anezti (anD.t, Andjti, Andjety)
- Black bull, (km-wr. Black Ox)
- Heseb bull (Ox count)
- Cow with calf (Calf and Cow)
- Undamaged scepter? (Prospering Sceptre)
- East or anterior nome, (jm.tj-xntj, Foremost of the East)
- Dolphin (Fish)
- The throne (zmA-bHd.t, Behdet)
- Royal child upper nome (Prince of the South)
- Royal child lower nome (Prince of the North)
- East (Plumed Falcon)
- Land of the arch or To Khentit: the frontier (Ta-Seti)
- Throne of Horus
- The rural (Shrine)
- The sceptre
- The two falcons
- The crocodile
- Great land
- Minu (Min)
- The Set animal (Seth)
- Viper mountain
- Upper pomegranate tree (Upper Sycamore and Viper)
- Lower pomegranate tree (Lower Sycamore and Viper)
- The black dog (Jackal)
- Falcon with spread wings (Nemty)
- The pure sceptre (Two Sceptres)
- Upper laurel (Southern Sycamore)
- Lower laurel (Northern Sycamore)
- Knife (wAD.t)
Alan K. Bowman (1990). Egypt After the Pharaohs. Oxford University Press.
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