The Egyptian name of Thebes was Waset (was.t) "City of the Sceptre". The name Thebai is the Greek designation of opet, the Egyptian name of the Karnak temple complex situated across the Nile, west of Thebes proper. Classical Egyptian Ta-opet became Demotic ta-pe, which was adopted in Greek as thebai, assimilated to the name of the Greek city. Due to its association with the Egyptian city, Greek Thebes also had a statue and temple of Ammon (Amun) from the 5th century BC.As the seat of the Theban Triad of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, Thebes was known in the Egyptian language from the end of the New Kingdom as niwt-imn, "The City of Amun." This found its way into the Hebrew Bible as נא אמון nōʼ ʼāmôn (Nahum 3:8), probably referring to the Egyptian deity Amun-Ra, most likely it is also the same as נא ("No") (Ezekiel 30:14-16, Jeremiah 46:25). In Greek this name was rendered Διόσπολις Diospolis, "City of Zeus", as Amun in the interpretatio graeca became Greek Zeus Ammon. The Greeks surnamed the city μεγάλη megale, "the Great", to differentiate it from numerous other cities called Diospolis. The Romans rendered the name Diospolis Magna.
Thebes was inhabited from around 3200 BC. It was the eponymous capital of Waset, the fourth Upper Egyptian nome. Waset was the capital of Egypt during part of the 11th Dynasty (Middle Kingdom) and most of the 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom), when Hatshepsut built a Red Sea fleet to facilitate trade between Thebes Red Sea port of Elim, modern Quasir, and Elat at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. According to George Modelski, Thebes had about 40,000 inhabitants in 2000 BC (compared to 60,000 in Memphis, the largest city of the world at the time). By 1800 BC, the population of Memphis was down to about 30,000, making Thebes the largest city in Egypt at the time. By the Amarna period (14th century BC), Thebes may have grown to be the largest city in the world, with a population of about 80,000, a position which it held until about 1000 BC, when it was again surpassed by Memphis (among others).With the 19th Dynasty the seat of government moved to the Delta. The archaeological remains of Thebes offer a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height. The Greek poet Homer extolled the wealth of Thebes in the Iliad, Book 9 (c. 8th Century BC): "... in Egyptian Thebes the heaps of precious ingots gleam, the hundred-gated Thebes."
In 1979, the ruins of ancient Thebes were classified by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site. The two great temples—Luxor Temple and Karnak—and the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens are among the great achievements of Ancient Egypt.