"Since the first Dynasty, probably since the predynastic times in the south, and until the Arabian conquest, which means throughout the period covering more than four millennia, the nome, probably a survival of the former archaic states from before the unification of the country under the sceptre of only one king, constituted the administrative division par excellence of Egypt". Henri Gauthier
The nomes were managed by civil servants delegated by the central power, the nomarchs, of which the status, identified by different titles according to the periods: HqA spAt, "governor of nome", sSm-tA, "leader of the country", imy-r wpwt, "overseer of the mission", is attested since the end of the second Dynasty, on fragments of pottery coming from the underground chambers of the funerary complex of king Djoser. It is however very likely that his existence goes back, in an embryonic form, to the beginning of the Thinite period.
From the 5th Dynasty, the status of nomarch, and the inherent powers to this responsibility, are reinforced: the title Hry-tp aA, "chief of the nome", appeared, and will be maintained until the end of the reign of Sesostris III.
Beyond which the responsibility, after having known success and vicissitude, will die out progressively, the persons concerned being little by little replaced by more numerous civil servants, with much more limited power, subject to the vizier's authority and managing more restricted geographical units (the niwt, "city"), even though the nomes continue to represent the sub-division of the territory.
The analysis of the titles and epithets composing the autobiographies of the nomarchs is bound to the administrative organisation of the nomes and underline the evolution of the political and economic structure of the country, and the nature of the relationship between central power and local authorities.
A diachronic survey of these elements, which reveals the provincial organisation and control of the state, reign after reign, makes it possible to understand the evolution of the importance attached to the status of "chief of the nome" and to the prerogatives which this covers. Some regions are often managed more prematurely by nomarchs according to economic or strategic interests.
The multiplicity of the functions of the nomarchs, as well as the remoteness of the capital, brought to the nomarchs great autonomy, as much on the civil level, as on religious, economic or political level, during the periods of fragility of the State The situation varied, therefore, according to the stability of central power and its relations with the different governors of Upper Egyptian localities.
During this period, the status of Hry-tp aA, "chief of the nome", is progressively set up. Decentralisation is considered by the central power as necessary: the management of the country passes therefore to the organisation of the provinces, from where a growing importance of the responsibilities is assigned to the local chiefs. The first nomarchs are appointed at the Residence, from among those close to the king, according to their expertise, as distinctly shown by the autobiographies of some among them.
Looking at the titulatures of this period, it appears that the reigns of Merenre and Pepy II reveal a very clean desire to assign to the nomarchs numerous administrative and ministerial functions within the temple. Indeed, they have the role of representing the king in province, before the divinity in the temple, which becomes an indispensable part of the regional (and therefore state-controlled) economy. The multiplicity of these roles reveals a degree of confidence between that for central and local powers, because while directing the administration and the economy of the temples, as well as while acting in the name of the king at the different sacred rituals, the nomarchs within their grasp a considerable power which, marked by unceasing internal struggles, will accentuate the weakness of central power during the First Intermediate Period. The complementarity responsibility economic and worship added to the civil functions, confers on the nomarchs an importance, such that it quickly creates for itself an ambiguous situation: the inexorable rise of individualistic ambitions, constantly supplied by close rivalry, is at the origin of confused relations between the State and the provinces. The deification, in the Middle Kingdom, of some of these personages - Isi of Edfu and Pepinakht of Elephantine - clearly reveals the authority, the prestige and the privileges of these "feudal" powers of the Old Kingdom.
At the end the Old Kingdom, central power, and in particular Pepy II, developed the regional particularisms whose rivalries had progressively excited a thirst for dynamic power, by the heredity of the nomarch responsibility: the rights and the advantages acquired in one period were passed on to the successor who supplemented them with new privileges. The state, weakened by the political situation, was unfit to manage the overflow of regional confrontation, which again weakened it more.
The major role of the nomarchs during this period - some among them accumulate this responsibility and the one of vizier - supposes the wish of the royal authority of revitalise the whole of country by reorganising the provinces. After the clashes met during the First Intermediate Period, the State seeks to better control the ambition of these feudal chiefs. The kings of the 12th Dynasty reconcile the interests of the state with those of the provinces, by offering the local chiefs assignments which are honourable and useful, and without being a danger to the national equilibrium.
Throughout these periods, the nomarchs exercised in the provinces a very broad range of religious functions, every ritual act being performed in the name of the king. The primordial role of these characters, in the recreation of the rituals, made of this class of civil servants an essential link in the chain which requires the different protagonists working together in the sacred enclosure.
Besides his civil functions: levy of taxes, undertaking of great works, organisation of expeditions., a nomarch exercises a great number of responsibilities within the temple:
Within the sacred enclosure, the nomarchs intervene at two levels: administration and the exercise of the cult, two aspects whose complementarity rests on the provision for the altars intended for the regular worship of the local divinity and requiring precise management of the fundamental goods of the temple. Originally, the nomarchs direct the clerical staff of the local temple, which means the group of people exercising one or several functions in the temple. The recurrent title of this category is the one of imy-r Hmw-nTr, "director of the prophets", literally "director of the god's servants", with or without the accuracy of the identity of the honoured divinity. This title will be maintained throughout the existence of the status nomarch. During the 5th Dynasty, it is this title which seems to summarise the group of priviledges carried out by these characters in the temple. It is difficult, in the absence of written comments, to establish with precision the exact nature of the privileges falling to the nomarch, director of the prophets. It is probable that beyond a basic rigid structure, the roles attached to the title varied from one temple to another, according to the importance of the sanctuary and its own internal organisation, as well as of the very personality of the administrator of the province. Thus, a sanctuary directed by a governor of an oasis probably knew an organisation different to the one of a temple province.
In the autobiographies of the nomarchs, the temple is designated by Hwt, a referential expression which, from a semantic view point, possess different axiologic values. It is the addition of the name of the divinity which confers on Hwt the specific sacredness to the temple. The term pr, which appears in a certain number of titles, is also used to designate the divine home: imy-r pr-Mnw, "director of the house of Min", for min-anx for Akhmim under the reign of Djedkare. This title reveals the character's involvement in the administration of the temple of the divinity. From the following Dynasty these examples will increase.
The nomarchs also manage goods belonging to the religious domain, which means the food offerings and the liturgical objects destined for the cult. This aspect, which will become a regular feature in the autobiographies of the nomarchs of the 6th Dynasty, is absent from the titulatures of the first Hryw-tps aAw, whose responsibilities are especially bound to the administrative and economic organisation of the extending locality under their jurisdiction.
The nomarchs are designated as "masters of the secrets" (Hry-sStA) of such and such object, of such and such part of the temple, of such and such divinity, a group of titles too often qualified as "honorary". Their position and their frequency within the inscriptions indicate concrete assignments, and not just recollections of former privileges which would have gone out of use.
Most titles of the nomarchs designate ritualistic status. Some elements are generic and appear on all of the autobiographies of those holding office in the sanctuaries of Upper Egypt. Other titles are characteristic of some regions and correspond to particularities of local worship. The title iwn knmwt, "pillar of Kenmut", carried by Izi of Edfu also reveals his Menphite origins: originally relating to the king's clothing, the designated function, experienced in province, presumably concerns the rite of clothing the divinity. Min-anx of Akhmim is Hm-nTr, "prophet", while being "director of the prophets", a list of the tasks which isn't illogical because it actually covers two very distinct domains: the management of the staff and the worship of the divinity. The assignments entrusted to a "prophet" can be of a very variable nature, but it is very likely that in the case of a nomarch, it is about the highest and the noblest degree of intervention, that is the worship of the divinity in the presence of a substitute for the latter, in the Holy of Holies. In the 5th and 9th nomes, whose cult is dedicated to the god Min, the title smA Mnw, "stolist of Min" is well attested. DwA-mnw in Akhmin and Inti in Deshasheh are sHD wiA, "inspectors of the Wia-barque" a revealing element of the involvement of the two characters in the transportation of the divinity.
Other titles associate the nomarchs with the uttering and reading of sacred texts: the generic title Xry-Hbt, "lector-priest" appears regularly in these titulatures, with sometimes its developed form - in certain cases it relates to the higher hierarchical degree of the responsibility - Xry-Hbt Hry-tp, "lector-priest in chief", charged with directing the progress of religious appearances, which are the daily and intimate strict framework of the temple, or which concern in a greater way the panegyries punctuating the divine calendar.
The titulatures of the first nomarchs (5th Dynasty) are far from presenting the wealth of all the privileges which the central power will assign them from the following dynasty onwards; nevertheless, they indicate the future responsibilities which will carry the nomarchs to the apogee of their authority under Pepy II.
The diachronic study of these elements reveals all the importance which the religious attributes of the "chiefs of nome" have. Far from establishing a secondary activity and outside the initial incentives of the nomarchs, the management of the sacred buildings, on an administrative level as well as that of worship, reveals at the same time the organisation and the evolution of the local cults - of which these titulatures are the only concrete accounts we have for these remote periods - and the nature of the relationships between central and local powers.
Thanks to its geographical situation, at the extreme south of the country, Elephantine is the point of passage for expeditions organised to strategic, economic and commercial ends. This situation quickly required an adapted logistical organisation, controlled by a staff qualified in this domain and submitted to the authority of a nomarch.
The first "chiefs of nome" of the region were xtmw-nTr, "chancellors of the god", underlining their implication in the organisation of this type of expeditions: the autobiography of Hr-xw-f of the 6th Dynasty tells the length its involvement at this level.
The religious titles of these first nomarchs are very few, the religious functions at first being relegated to the background and assigned to the priests. In most cases, the group of the religious assignments of these characters amount to the function of "lector-priest / in chief". The function of "director of the prophets", which will be recurrent in most localities in the titulatures of the nomarchs of the period, will appear in Elephantine only from the 12th Dynasty. The centres of interest for the governors of ta-sti fundamentally defer from those of the northern nomes.
The hill of Qubbet el-Hawa, situated on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the north extremity of the Island of Elephantine, acted as cemetery for the notables of the nome of Elephantine from the end of the Old Kingdom. Dominating the river for about sixty metres, it was a reminder of the total power of nomarchs and encouraged their contemporaries to remember their names.
About one hundred tombs have been listed there (2016) ; some of them are on Osirisnet, see .