An important town in Middle Egypt (Eg. (hwt)-nn-nswt). The name Herakleopolis is derived from its most important god, the ram-headed Harsaphes (Eg. Heri-shef, 'he who is on his lake'), who was identified with Hercules by the Greeks. Harsaphes was originally a fertility god, and became a royal god when the rulers of Herakleopolis became prominent during the 9th and 19th Dynasties. After the end of the Old Kingdom, Harsaphes was identified with Osiris.
Herakleopolis was an important religious centre throughout Egyptian history. It was considered to be the place where the sun's eye destroyed mankind, and where Osiris, and later Horus, were crowned king.
The temple of Harsaphes, the oldest parts of which date to the 12th Dynasty, was significantly expanded under Ramesses II. The temple remained in use until the Late Period. The holiest place in Herakleopolis was the sacred lake, which according to the Palermo Stone was dedicated in the 1st Dynasty. Chapter 175 of the Book of the Dead associates the lake of Herakleopolis with the blood of Osiris which he lost as the result of an injury incurred by wearing the heavy royal crown. It also explains why blood plays an important role in the rituals of Harsaphes, who had an offering and purification cult near the lake; it is the blood of Seth that poured from his nose when he bowed before Osiris, and which was buried by Re in the ground. This is perhaps the origin of the 'festival of hacking open the ground', which was particularly important in Herakleopolis.
Besides its religious role, Herakleopolis also had political influence. It was the residence of the Herakleopolitan rulers during the First Intermediate Period, and later, towards the end of the 20th Dynasty when many Libyans had entered Egypt and settled there, its political standing grew again. One of the descendants of the leader of these Libyans succeeded in ascending the throne and founding the 22nd Dynasty - Sheshonq I. After the Libyans, at the start of the 26th Dynasty, an influential family of ship-owners ruled in Herakleopolis and increased the taxes in the land in the name of the king.