The Location of Irem
Ancient Egypt is a wonderful source for toponyms, the study of place names. Indeed, through Egypt’s imperial history, there are hundreds of different places mentioned, Punt being perhaps the most famous of them all. However, the location and study of Irem has become popular with Egyptologists and historians alike.
Irem is an important toponym due to two key reasons – firstly, it had important relations with New Kingdom Egypt; and second, Irem may be “the New Kingdom form of the Old Kingdom country name Yam, and establishing the location of Irem might therefore help to fix the location of Yam also”.
There have been many different theories as to the location of Irem. In one article, Priese claimed that Irem was in the Upper Nubian valley, the New Dongola, Kawa, and Tabo region, during the New Kingdom and in Napatan and Meroitic periods. However, Kitchen in more recent years has claimed that Irem has stated that “‘at least part of the land of Irem in Ramesside times’ lay west of Upper Nubia, approximately in the Wadi el Qa’ab”. Another scholar has claimed that Irem was south of the Fifth Cataract, whilst another concludes that it was in ‘not only a section of the Nile valley, but also semi-arid or even savannah lands east of the Nile’.
Scholars are hesitant to use any of these theories to identify Irem. In Priese’s arguments, he uses five examples Meroitic graffiti inscribed upon the walls of Temple at Kawa as a source. “Each graffito appears to refer to a different individual, but all seem to come from a region called Arme or Armi, which Priese believes are forms of the name Irem. Each one of the five graffiti is of a type which refers to the adoration of the temple’s god by the individuals named a type which is typical of at least 50 per cent of the approximately Meroitic graffiti found in the temple of Kawa … the implication being that Irem itself, like Kawa, must have been in Upper Nubia”.
However, using this as a determination should not be used since Meroitic is not fully deciphered at this point, nor can we be certain that it refers to Irem itself. In addition to this, the temple would not have been on the way to Irem if it was in the Upper Nubian valley.
Scholars are still divided as to the actual location of Irem, although placing it in the Upper Nubian valley receives the most support.
O’Connor, David (1987) The Location of Irem, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Egypt Exploration Society.