The Ptolemaic High Priests of Letopolis


The priestly title of wnr, or wnrA, lit: Mouth-opener, is conventionally translated as High Priest of Letopolis (HPL), due to the fact that this priest is described by the Dendara list of priests as the priest of the second nome. The translation is perhaps misleading, since the title seems to represent a rank rather than an office. Nevertheless, it is retained here since it is now standard in the literature.

Holders of the title are known as far back as the Old Kingdom, though few are known until the late period. The Dendara list implies that there was only one holder of the title at a time. The holder of the title typically held a number of very senior positions in the temple hierarchy. The large number of wnr named in Serapeum stelae from the reign of Darius suggests that, at least in the Persian period, there were many simultaneous holders of the title, or that it was transferred rather often. In Ptolemaic times, however, there does appear to have been only one HPL for considerable periods of time, and the bearers are largely traceable within a single family, or at most two families who held it consecutively.

The Ptolemaic period, starting in the mid third century BC, is the best documented period for HPLs. In this time, the family of the HPL appears to have been second in influence only to that of the High Priests of Ptah in Memphis (HPMs), with whom they intermarried. In the second century BC, they may even have eclipsed them, probably due to the fact that Ahmes HPL became head of the very wealthy cult of Arsinoe II.

The genealogy of this family has received rather less attention than the genealogy of the HPMs, and would certainly repay additional expert study. They seem to have first been noticed, as a family group, by Otto. Quaegebeur has covered the period in which they were associated with the cult of Arsinoe II, and, with Rammant-Peeters, has also published the earliest known attestation of the family. The relationship of the second century HPLs with those of the third century is unknown, although there are reasonable grounds for supposing that they were of the same family. The descent suggested here is purely conjectural, and differs from the proposal of Quaegebeur and Rammant-Peeters. At least two Ptolemaic HPLs of uncertain date are known who have no clear relationship to the main line, though one very probably existed.

The last known HPL died in 73 BC. Influential Letopolite priests are known from the very end of the Ptolemaic era, when they were ancestral to the last known HPMs. However, even though Reymond has plausibly suggested that a descent existed, there is no traceable connection between these priests and the earlier HPLs.  

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