According to legend related by Manetho, Memphis City was founded by the pharaoh Menes around 3000 BC. It was Capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, Memphis remained an important city throughout ancient Mediterranean history. It occupied a strategic position at the mouth of the Nile delta, and was home to feverish activity. Its principal port, Peru-nefer, harboured a high density of workshops, factories, and warehouses that distributed food and merchandise throughout the ancient kingdom. During its golden age, Memphis thrived as a regional centre for commerce, trade, and religion.
The Name we use today derives from the Pyramid of Pepy I at Saqqara, which is Mennufer (the good place), or Coptic Menfe. Memphis is the Greek translation. But the City was originally Ineb-Hedj, meaning "The White Wall".
Memphis was more likely a fortress from which Menes controlled the land and water routes between Upper Egypt and the Delta. Having probably originated in Upper Egypt, from Memphis he could control the conquered people of Lower Egypt. However, by the Third Dynasty, the building at Saqqara suggests that Memphis had become a sizable city.
Tradition tells us that Menes founded Memphis city by creating dikes to protect the area from Nile floods. Afterwards, this great city of the Old Kingdom became the administrative and religious center of Egypt. In fact, so dominating is the city during this era that we refer to it as the Memphite period.
When Herodotus visited the city in the 5th century BC, a period when Persians ruled Egypt, he found many Greeks, Jews, Phoenicians and Libyans among the population.
Frankly, our concept of Memphis today is very artificial. The city must have been huge, judging from the size of its necropolises which extend for some 19 miles along the west bank of the Nile. These include Dahshure, Saqqara, Abusir, Zawyet el-Aryan, Giza and Abu Rawash, whose names derive not from their origins, but from modern nearby communities.
But there is little left of the City today. Originally, the city had many fine temples, palaces and gardens. But today, other than the scattered ruins, most of the city is gone, or lies beneath cultivated fields, Nile silt and local villages. What we do know of Memphis comes to us from its necropolises, mentioned above, text and papyrus from other parts of Egypt and Herodotus, who visited the city.