Geographical sites:

  • Karnak (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #786050)
    Pleiades_icon Karnak temple Geocontext: Karnak
    Description: A large temple complex in Egypt, associated with the ancient site of Thebes and Luxor and inscribed together with them on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
  • Thera (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #599973)
    Pleiades_icon Thera (island) island Geocontext: Santorini GRE
    Description: An island of the southern Aegean Sea, Thera is the southernmost of the Cyclades. The island's present form is the result of a Middle Bronze Age volcanic eruption that destroyed a Minoan settlement on the island.


Text #8990

"Tempest Stele", in Wikipedia.

The Tempest Stele (alt. Storm Stele) was erected by Ahmose I early in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, circa 1550 BCE. The stele describes a great storm striking Egypt during this time, destroying tombs, temples and pyramids in the Theban region and the work of restoration ordered by the king.1

Broken pieces of this stele were found in the 3rd Pylon of the temple of Karnak at Thebes between 1947 and 1951 by French archaeologists. It was restored and published by Claude Vandersleyen in 1967 and 1968.2

Unfortunately, the part of the stele that describes the storm, itself, is the most damaged part of the stele, with many lacunae in the meteorological description. The other parts of the stele are much better preserved.3

Here are some descriptions of the storm.

(7) … the gods expressed

(8) their discontent … The gods (made?) the sky come with a tempest of (rain?); it caused darkness in the Western region; the sky was

(9) unleashed, without … … more than the roar of the crowd; … was powerful… on the mountains more than the turbulence of the

(10) cataract which is at Elephantine. Each house, … each shelter (or each covered place) that they reached…

(11) … were floating in the water like the barks of papyrus (on the outside?) of the royal residence for … day(s),

(12) with no one able to light the torch anywhere. Then His Majesty said ‘How these (events) surpass the power of the great god and the wills of the divinities!’ And His Majesty descended

(13) in his boat, his council following him. The (people were?) at the east and the west, silent, for they had no more clothes (?) on them

(14) after the power of the god was manifested. Then His Majesty arrived in Thebes … this statue; it received what it had desired.

(15) His Majesty set about to strengthen the two lands, to cause the water to evacuate without (the aid of) his (men?), to provide them with silver,

(16) with gold, with copper, with oil, with clothing, with all the products they desired; after which His Majesty rested in the palace - life, health, strength.

(17) It was then that His Majesty was informed that the funerary concessions had been invaded (by the water), that the sepulchral chambers had been damaged, that the structures of funerary enclosures had been undermined, that the pyramids had collapsed?

(18) all that existed had been annihilated. His Majesty then ordered the repair of the chapels which had fallen in ruins in all the country, restoration of the

(19) monuments of the gods, the re-erection of their precincts, the replacement of the sacred objects in the room of appearances, the re-closing of the secret place, the re-introduction

(20) into their naoi of the statues which were lying on the ground, the re-erection of the fire altars, the replacement of the offering tables back on their feet, to assure them the provision of offerings,

(21) the augmentation of the revenues of the personnel, the restoration of the country to its former state. They carried out everything, as the king had ordered it.

There are Egyptologists who believe the stele to be propaganda put out by the pharaoh, the “tempest” being the depredations of officials of the embattled seventeenth dynasty of Egypt drawing upon the financial resources of the temples during the escalating conflict with the Hyksos. 1

The argument has been made that there was “a meteorological event of far-reaching proportions, one of the major aftereffects, we strongly suspect, of the Thera eruption” and that the stele reflects an eye-witness account of the eruption.4 Others argue that given the description in the stele, this is unlikely.5 Radiocarbondating suggests a date between about 1628 and 1600 for the eruption with 1628 being a possible date.[8]

In 2014, Nadine Moeller and Robert Ritner offered a new translation of the Tempest Stela. They believe the unusual weather patterns described on the slab were the result of a massive volcano explosion at Thera. They also suggest that the Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose I ruled at a time closer to the Thera eruption than previously thought.6

Ritner, Robert K.; Nadine Moeller (April 2014). “The Ahmose ‘Tempest Stela’, Thera and Comparative Chronology”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73 (1).

  1. Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. p. 209−210 Oxford University Press. 2000. 2

  2. Claude Vandersleyen, « Deux nouveaux fragments de la stèle d’Amosis relatant une tempête », RdE 20, 1968, p. 127-134. Claude Vandersleyen, « Une tempête sous le règne d’Amosis », RdE 19, 1967, p. 123−159.

  3. “As Vandersleyen has pointed out, this elaborate account of a storm and its damages is unique among Egyptian records (1967, 156-157). It is possible that such an unusually violent storm resulted from the Santorini eruption. Such storms can result from volcanic eruptions when temperatures are lowered due to emissions of dust into the atmosphere. The major evidence for this is the Tambora eruption on Sumbawa in Indonesia in 1815, which results in almost continual rains from England to the Baltic in the summer of 1816 (Bullard, 1984 ,512; Lamb 1972). Widespread violent storms and dark skies for periods of days are also documented for volcanic eruptions observed in modern times.”

  4. Foster, Karen Plinger; Ritner, Robert K.; Foster, Benjamin R. (1996). “Text, Storms and the Thera Eruption”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 55 (1): 1–14.

  5. Wiener, Malcolm H.; James P. Allen (1998). “Separate Lives: The Ahmose Tempest Stela and the Theran Eruption”. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 57 (1): 1–28

  6. Ancient stormy weather: World’s oldest weather report could revise bronze age chronology., April 2014

Text #2142

Allen & Harms. "World’s oldest weather report could revise Bronze Age chronology"


An inscription on a 3,500-year-old stone block from Egypt may be one of the world’s oldest weather reports—and could provide new evidence about the chronology of events in the ancient Middle East.

A new translation of a 40-line inscription on the 6-foot-tall calcite block called the Tempest Stela describes rain, darkness and “the sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses.” […]1

Two scholars at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute believe the unusual weather patterns described on the slab were the result of a massive volcano explosion at Thera—the present-day island of Santorini in the Mediterranean Sea. Because volcano eruptions can have a widespread impact on weather, the Thera explosion likely would have caused significant disruptions in Egypt.

The new translation suggests the Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose ruled at a time closer to the Thera eruption than previously thought—a finding that could change scholars’ understanding of a critical juncture in human history as Bronze Age empires realigned.

The Tempest Stela dates back to the reign of the pharaoh Ahmose, the first pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. His rule marked the beginning of the New Kingdom, a time when Egypt’s power reached its height. The block was found in pieces in Thebes, modern Luxor, where Ahmose ruled.

If the stela does describe the aftermath of the Thera catastrophe, the correct dating of the stela itself and Ahmose’s reign, currently thought to be about 1550 B.C., could actually be 30 to 50 years earlier. […]

“This is important to scholars of the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean, generally because the chronology that archaeologists use is based on the lists of Egyptian pharaohs, and this new information could adjust those dates,” said Moeller, assistant professor of Egyptian archaeology at the Oriental Institute, who specializes in research on ancient urbanism and chronology.[…]

In 2006, radiocarbon testing of an olive tree buried under volcanic residue placed the date of the Thera eruption at 1621-1605 B.C. Until now, the archeological evidence for the date of the Thera eruption seemed at odds with the radiocarbon dating, explained Oriental Institute postdoctoral scholar Felix Hoeflmayer, who has studied the chronological implications related to the eruption. However, if the date of Ahmose’s reign is earlier than previously believed, the resulting shift in chronology “might solve the whole problem,” Hoeflmayer said.

The revised dating of Ahmose’s reign could mean the dates of other events in the ancient Near East fit together more logically, scholars said. For example, it realigns the dates of important events such as the fall of the power of the Canaanites and the collapse of the Babylonian Empire, said David Schloen, associate professor in the Oriental Institute and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations on ancient cultures in the Middle East.

“This new information would provide a better understanding of the role of the environment in the development and destruction of empires in the ancient Middle East,” he said.

For example, the new chronology helps to explain how Ahmose rose to power and supplanted the Canaanite rulers of Egypt—the Hyksos—according to Schloen. The Thera eruption and resulting tsunami would have destroyed the Hyksos’ ports and significantly weakened their sea power.

In addition, the disruption to trade and agriculture caused by the eruption would have undermined the power of the Babylonian Empire and could explain why the Babylonians were unable to fend off an invasion of the Hittites, another ancient culture that flourished in what is now Turkey.

Ritner said the text reports that Ahmose witnessed the disaster—the description of events in the stela text is frightening.

The stela’s text describes the “sky being in storm” with “a tempest of rain” for a period of days. The passages also describe bodies floating down the Nile like “skiffs of papyrus.”

Importantly, the text refers to events affecting both the delta region and the area of Egypt further south along the Nile. “This was clearly a major storm, and different from the kinds of heavy rains that Egypt periodically receives,” Ritner said.[…]

  1. The research is from the Oriental Institute’s Nadine Moeller and Robert Ritner, appearing in the spring issue of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies (2014). [nE]

Text #8991

Ritner & Moeller. "The Ahmose ‘Tempest Stela’, Thera and Comparative Chronology". Journal of Near Eastern Studies


In 1994, the Aegeanist Karen Polinger Foster brought to my attention a presentation delivered by Ellen Davis five years previously. Within her lecture, Davis had introduced the evidence of a unique Egyptian stela into the complex discussions regarding the absolute date of the volcanic eruption at Thera (Santorini).1 Karen’s question to me was fairly simple: was there anything in the wording of the stela that could justify a link with the Thera event? After reviewing the Davis article and the edited text of the stela, I became convinced that the possibility existed, particularly since the text as translated intentionally suppressed its most striking phraseology.

Previously published for an Egyptological audience by Claude Vandersleyen, the fragmentary stela recounts the devastations and reconstructions resulting from an extraordinary cataclysm in early Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt.2 While storms can be noted in Egyptian literature,3 Ahmose’s Tempest Stela is without parallel in extending the destructive effects to the entirety of the country. The remarkable nature of the event, described in unprecedented detail, is stressed by the text itself, which attributes the disaster to divine displeasure (recto ll. 6–7), while yet declaring that it was greater than divine wrath and exceeded the gods’ plans (recto l. 10).

The collaboration between Karen and myself, entitled “Texts, Storms, and the Thera Eruption,” was published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1996).4 My contribution, of course, was as an Egyptologist, not an Aegeanist or volcanologist. Two years later, a response was published in the same journal by Malcom H. Wiener and James P. Allen, who denied the link, insisting that the text is “consistent with the nature of monsoon-generated Nile floods, and characteristic of a genre of texts describing the restoration of order by rulers.”5 In addition, the text was dated by these authors (on the basis of a restoration) to the coronation of Ahmose, and their interpretation assumed interference from the (unmentioned) Hyksos (pp. 3, 17 and 19–20). The section by Wiener concluded with a formal list of challenges for our response (pp. 27–28), provoked by the need to defend Wiener’s own forthcoming chronological studies (p. 1, n. 2). […]

After a respectful interval of seventeen years, and with a conference dedicated to the issue of Thera and Egypt, it now seems appropriate to provide a detailed reply.8 […]

The initial section of this joint paper will examine what the Tempest Stela truly describes. Chronological implications, and the evolving dating of the Thera explosion, are related but distinct matters; these will be addressed in Part II by my colleague Nadine Moeller. […]

It is the unique quality of the Tempest Stela that has led to attempts to reinterpret its basic nature, recasting it as hyperbole, unintentionally broad in phraseology (revising “Two Lands,” or “the entire land”), or as political metaphor for the Hyksos occupation and the topos of restoration of divine order by new kings. […]

To this list should be added a further text, almost certainly from the reign of Ahmose as well. A docket on the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus from year 11 includes the notation that during the epagomenal days, on the birthday of Seth, “There was a giving of his voice (= thunder) by the Majesty of this god.” The following birthday of Isis witnessed “heaven making rain (ḥwı͗.t).”121 Like the Tempest Stela, this is a literal, not figurative, record of atypical thunder and rain, and it is further proof that the scholars under Ahmose paid close and particular attention to matters of weather. Clearly, they had reason to do so. What Ahmose experienced and recorded was not a typical storm, nor a masked reference to Hyksos destruction and royal defeat of primordial chaos. Any royal action may evoke religious reference, but one cannot reduce royal acts to mere symbolic statements—particularly when the terminology does not fit. Whether the Tempest Stela records the actual events of Thera or later after-effects cannot be proved conclusively since the text cannot be expected to state that the storm “originated in Santorini” or “among the ḤȜ.w-nb.wt (Aegean islanders).” The authors could not have known that. What it does state is that this storm was unparalleled in intensity and extent.

Resistance to the linkage of Thera to the Tempest Stela has been motivated less by the text itself than by the chronological implications of such a link. With newer and better dates for the eruption, there yet remains another possibility for reconciliation, to be explained in the following section by Nadine Moeller. If Thera cannot be moved to Ahmose, it is becoming clearer that Ahmose might be moved toward Thera. […]

The Minoan eruption of Santorini has been for the past decades one of the main issues regarding the absolute chronology of the eastern Mediterranean region. The exact date for the eruption is a very important marker and reference point for linking and synchronizing various floating chronologies in the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant. In 1996, when the first article by Foster and Ritner was published, the absolute date for the Thera eruption was still a matter of debate, and two date ranges had been proposed that were about 100 years apart from each other.122 On the basis of archaeological evidence, the Minoan eruption had been placed at some time during the last quarter of the 16th century b.c. (ca. 1524–1500 b.c.), which corresponds to the early 18th Dynasty in Egypt. Meantime, radiocarbon dates and tree-ring data combined with evidence from ice cores pointed to a date about a hundred years earlier, in the 17th century b.c., where it would take us to the end of the Egyptian Second Intermediate Period.123 [[.]

The previously proposed younger date around 1520 b.c. can now be fully excluded in view of these new scientific results. After the initial publication of the results in 2006, several concerns were raised as to the reliability of the dates obtained.128 In a recent publication from 2009, the same group of scientists who had carried out the initial dating and research wrote a follow-up article in order to respond to these questions.129 None of the arguments against the accuracy of the Thera eruption dates brought forward give any reasons for concern as they could all be satisfactorily answered. The recently-established date range for the Thera eruption can be regarded as secure and reliable; any younger date in the 16th century b.c. can now be safely dismissed according to this new evidence. […]

As outlined in Part I of this article, the Ahmose tempest stela contains very unusual descriptions of a natural catastrophe, which focused on the widespread destruction caused by a very strong storm. It has also been proposed that there is a link between the eruption of Thera and the kind of effects being witnessed in Egypt as described on this stela. […]

In view of the unusually detailed description of a major climatic event on the Tempest Stela, combined with the shifting chronology, we must now consider the possibility that the Thera eruption had been witnessed by Ahmose himself. Furthermore, the eruption certainly affected a large part of the eastern Mediterranean and would have remained part of an oral tradition that was fresh in the memory of the people for a long time afterwards. But the stela emphasizes the fact that Ahmose himself witnessed the event, which seems to exclude him using a second-hand account. […]

In a recent article about the precise stages of the eruption at Thera and its aftermath, F. W. McCoy summarizes various phenomena that Late Bronze Age peoples in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean are likely to have experienced.152 These phenomena sound remarkably similar to the various observations mentioned in the Ahmose stela:

  1. A deafening explosion (the Krakatoa explosion was heard at a distance of more than 4,000km; the Thera eruption is supposed to have been stronger than the former!);
  2. earthquake-like shaking of the ground that could be felt by the people living on the surrounding islands;
  3. darkness over the region covered by the tephra cloud, particularly strong closest to Thera and lasting for more than one day, maybe even a few days (such darkness has been witnessed at a distance of 600km for two days after the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, where the explosion was also heard at least as far as 2,000km away);153
  4. thunderstorm-like weather conditions that developed within the eruption plumes and extremely strong rainfall in the southern Aegean region; and
  5. severe destruction of the coastal regions in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean Sea from several tsunamis. […]

As a final point, it is necessary to emphasize that such a major natural catastrophe as the volcanic explosion under consideration would have seriously affected a wide range of civilizations around the eastern Mediterranean; it would have remained in people’s memories for a long time. That said, it is remarkable that we have no concrete records of accounts from anywhere in this region by people who had witnessed the Thera eruption more closely. An influx of new data is obliging us to revise the chronology of the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, and the New Kingdom. It is now time to consider the possibility that the Tempest Stela is indeed a contemporary record of the cataclysmic Thera event.

Text #8992

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Most recent and convincing dating evidence is presented in T#8955

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