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Relief Athribis 02.jpg
Block relief usurped by Ramesses II, 19th Dynasty
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Coordinates: 30°28′00″N31°11′00″E / 30.46667°N 31.18333°E / 30.46667; 31.18333 Coordinates: 30°28′00″N31°11′00″E / 30.46667°N 31.18333°E / 30.46667; 31.18333
CountryLower Egypt
ḥt tꜣ ḥrj jb [1] [2]
Egyptian hieroglyphs

Athribis (Arabic : أتريب; Greek: Ἄθρριβις, [3] from the original Egyptian Hut-heryib, Coptic : Ⲁⲑⲣⲏⲃⲓ [4] ) was an ancient city in Lower Egypt. It is located in present-day Tell Atrib, just northeast of Benha on the hill of Kom Sidi Yusuf. The town lies around 40 km north of Cairo, on the eastern bank of the Damietta branch of the Nile. It was mainly occupied during the Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine eras. [5]



Athribis was once the capital of the tenth Lower Egyptian nome. [5] The Palermo stone indicates Egyptian occupation of the site dating back to the Old Kingdom, with the earliest mention of Athribis dating to the reign of Sahure. This could perhaps have been confirmed in 2010, with the discovery of a mastaba dating to the late Third Dynasty to early Fourth Dynasty in nearby Quesna. [6] After this, archeological evidence exists for an occupation during the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom period. [7] Today, much of the preexisting artifacts are being lost every year because local farmers like to use the sebakh , fertilizer from the ancient mudbrick blocks that were used for most of the buildings. [8]

It is also known as the birthplace of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, [8] who gained considerable recognition and prestige in his time as a public official, architect, and scribe for pharaoh Amenhotep III. The former Amenhotep leveraged his influence to convince the pharaoh to patron the town and its local god. [9] A local temple was rebuilt by Amenhotep III during the 18th Dynasty, although it no longer stands today. [7] One of the two lying lion statues at the Cairo Museum is thought to be from the temple, but since it was usurped by Ramesses II, its true origin is unknown. Ramesses II also enlarged the local temple, and placed two obelisks in black granite, also at the Cairo Museum. Later, during the 26th Dynasty, Ahmose II also had a temple built at Athribis. He was an important figure of Mediterranean trade and diplomacy. Local texts also suggest that the site used to have a temple dedicated to the god Horus Khenty-khety. In 1946, the tomb of Takhuit, queen of Psamtik II, was found along with other Late Period tombs.

Ptolemaic era

Although Athribis is known to be occupied during later dynastic years, the city didn’t gain real power until the early Ptolemaic years. [10] That was when it became the tenth lower Egyptian nome. Most of the Ptolemaic layers, mainly the ones dating to the 3rd century and the first half of the 2nd century BC, were not destroyed by later building activity or robbers. [11] Evidence shows that Graeco-Roman occupation could have been as early as the "Ptolemaic II" archaeological phase. During the middle Ptolemaic era and up to the 3rd century AD, Athribis was a busy town that had a large bathhouse, villas, and industrial buildings as well. This is considered the eastern part of Athribis. Early Byzantine excavations are at the northeastern part of the town.

During the early Ptolemaic years, it was being used as a pottery workshop. Most of the kilns were shaped in circular patterns. [5] Early Byzantine lamps were being made in the area until the late fourth century AD. There was also a large discovery of stored unfired pottery which only led more evidence for a large pottery workshop.

Medieval era

According to Marian miracle stories dating to the 1200s, Athribis was then a wealthy city with a huge church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which was the oldest and most beautiful church in all of Egypt. [12]

In the church there were four doors, and in these four doors were four shrines, and above the four shrines were four canopies, which were supported by one hundred and sixty pillars, all of which were hewn out of white stone, and between each pillar was a distance of forty cubits. Each pillar was carved all over with vine branches, and the hollow (or, capitals) of them were sculptured and ornamented with cunning work in stone, and they were encircled with bands of gold and silver. And there were in the church four and twenty saints' chapels, and in them were placed four and twenty Tabernacles of the Law (i.e. the arks that contained the Eucharistic Elements). And in one of these chapels was an image of our holy Lady, the Virgin Mary, the God-bearer, which was sculptured and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and this image was apparelled in a garment that was made of the purple of Constantinople. And near the image of the Virgin Mary were sculptured the figures of two angels (i.e., Michael and Gabriel) which stood one on each side of it. And the lamps that were hanging before the image were made of gold and silver, and they ceased not to burn by day and by night, and [the servants of the church] kept them supplied and filled with oil. [13]

Excavation history

The first excavation of Athribis dates back to 1789 by a French archaeologist Bonaparte and again in 1852 by Auguste Mariette. Even though Athribis has been periodically excavated since the 1800s, it has yet to be fully excavated. Flinders Petrie wrote a book on Athribis in Upper Egypt, so not to be confused with this Lower (northern) Egypt. It was published in 1908. Major excavations were started only after World War II by Prof. Kazimierz Michałowski. [8] For 11 years, he directed an archaeological expedition organized by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology University of Warsaw and co-operating institutions: the Research Center for Mediterranean Archaeology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (now Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures, PAS), the National Museum in Warsaw, the Archaeological Museum of Kraków, the Coptic Committee, and the Egyptian Antiquities Organization. The exploration of the so-called Kom A uncovered the foundations of temples from the reigns of Taharqa and Amasis. The team also discovered a large Roman bath complex. [14] In the 1960s and 1970s, research was conducted on Kom Sidi Youssuf to identify the early Christian basilica. Barbara Ruszczyc directed the works. The subsequent directors, Karol Myśliwiec and Hanna Szymańska, studied the older layers of the site, dating to the Roman and Ptolemaic periods. [14] Annual reports were published in the “Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean” (since 1990) [15] and “Études et Travaux” (since 1966) [16] journals.

Excavation findings

Athribis, Roman era settlement Athribis Roman settlement 05.JPG
Athribis, Roman era settlement

Over 300 figurines were found throughout all of Athribis, mostly in the Ptolemaic layers. [5] Some of the artifacts were of terracotta form. Many of the figurines depicted were heads of small dwarf-like creatures and some of them were also used as oil lamps in the bathhouses. "Ptolemaic VI" is the phase that has been found to have the most artifacts or figurines. They were also more carefully crafted in design compared to findings in other layers and better preserved. Depictions of Egyptian and Greek gods and goddesses were also abundant. Dionysus and Aphrodite seemed to be popular throughout the findings at Athribis. [17] It is considered that these figurines could have been made in the pottery workshops, most were of terracotta make, and others believe the figurines could have had more of a cult meaning. It is suggested that the Dionysus and Aphrodite figures, mostly erotic in nature, could have played as a type of fertility cult in the bathhouse areas since a lot of the figurines were found in excavated remains of the bath area. Egyptian gods were also being depicted as Greek gods in the making of the figurines. [5] Isis was being depicted as Aphrodite in some cases, or a Hercules statue shown with Dionysus. The god Silen was also depicted in one of the excavated oil lamps, dated from the late second century. It shows that even though Athribis at the time was mainly of Graeco-Roman influence, Egyptian culture was still being used in some of their everyday life.

Pottery itself from the workshops were also abundant, but compared to the figurines, simple in design. Made from either clay or terracotta, jugs that were Greek in design but clumsily crafted are found throughout the middle Ptolemaic era. [18] Most of the jugs were large in design but smaller, more sophisticated in design were found as well. No matter how the pottery was made, however, floral decorations were found on almost all of the finished and unfinished artifacts. Clay molds were also found in the middle Ptolemaic era. They were circular in design with a sunken relief on one side. There was one artifact found from the early Ptolemaic era that was made from limestone, however the rest of the molds were made from clay. [18]

See also

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  1. Gauthier, Henri (1927). Dictionnaire des Noms Géographiques Contenus dans les Textes Hiéroglyphiques Vol. 4. pp. 140–141.
  2. Wallis Budge, E. A. (1920). An Egyptian hieroglyphic dictionary: with an index of English words, king list and geological list with indexes, list of hieroglyphic characters, coptic and semitic alphabets, etc. Vol II. John Murray. p. 1019.
  3. Athribis is noted in Herodotus ii. 166, Ptolemy iv. 5. § § 41, 51, Pliny's Natural History 9.11; Stephanus of Byzantium sv.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Mysliwiec 2013.
  6. Rowland, Joanne (2011). "An Old Kingdom mastaba and the results of the continued excavations at Quesna in 2010". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 97: 11–29. JSTOR   23269885.
  7. 1 2 Petrie 1908.
  8. 1 2 3 Mysliwiec & Poludnikiewicz 2003.
  9. Doffinger, André. "Inscriptions of Amenhotep, son of Hapu". Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  10. Szymanska 2000.
  11. Laskowska-Kusztal, Ewa, ed. (2007). Seventy Years of Polish Archaeology in Egypt. Warsaw: PCMA. ISBN   978-83-903796-1-6.
  12. Budge, Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis (1923). One Hundred and Ten Miracles of Our Lady Mary Translated from Ethiopic Manuscripts ... with Extracts from Some Ancient European Versions and Illustrations from the Paintings in Manuscripts by Ethiopian Artists. Oxford University Press, H. Milford. p. 116.
  13. Budge, Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis (1923). One Hundred and Ten Miracles of Our Lady Mary Translated from Ethiopic Manuscripts ... with Extracts from Some Ancient European Versions and Illustrations from the Paintings in Manuscripts by Ethiopian Artists. Oxford University Press, H. Milford. p. 114.
  14. 1 2 "Tell Atrib". Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  15. "PAM 1". Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  16. "About Us". Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  17. Szymanska 1999.
  18. 1 2 Mysliwiec 1992.