On the borderline between Upper and Middle Egypt, 6
km W of the left bank of the Nile, opposite Antinoöpolis. Pliny referred to it as the Town of Mercury (5.9.61).
The site and ruins have been surrounded with three villages, of which one, El-Ashmûnein, has preserved the
Egyptian name Shmunu meaning the four couples personifying the pre-Creation elements of the Universe.
These, according to the Hermopolitan school of religion,
were conquered, in a very remote period, by Thoth,
identified with Hermes. Thus the city dedicated to Thoth
was called Hermopolis. While it must have guarded its
importance as a religious center during the Ptolemaic
period and still more in the 3d c. A.D. with the rise of
Neoplatonism in Alexandria when Thoth or Hermes was
termed Trismagistus (thrice great), it was certainly a
very active center of Christianity. According to tradition,
the Holy Family reached the end of its journey here.
There continued for some time to be a bishop here, but
by the end of the 13th c., as the city declined, the seat
of the bishop was moved elsewhere.
Most of its architectural remains were reused in the
building of mosques. The 29 monolithic columns of red
granite with their fine Corinthian capitals are almost all
that is left of the basilica (A.D. 410-440) which covered
an area of 1195 sq. m. The stylobate and the foundations of the basilica were built of reused blocks of stone
from different periods. Most important among them are
the remains of the Ptolemaic sanctuary. The inscription
on the five blocks of its Doric architrave informs us that
the statues, the temple, and other objects within the
sacred enclosure and the portico, had been dedicated to
Ptolemy III Euergetes and his wife, Berenike, by cavalry
troops who were settled in Hermopolis. Some of the
Corinthian capitals, now beneath the N side of the
basilica, still retain their original color. Farther to the
W are the bases of the marble columns of the portico
of the temple dedicated to Alexander the Great and
Philip Arrhidaeus. Underneath the foundation of the
temple were found two colossal sandstone statues of the
baboon with the cartouches bearing the name of Amenophis III. They are now erected in front of excavation
headquarters. Another temple, in the Egyptian style and
dedicated to Nero, lies a short distance to the E.
G. Meautis, Hermopolis-La-Grande
(1918); J. Schwartz, “Herméracles” ASAE
37-50; 47 (1949) 233-47; G. Roeder, Ein Jahrzehnt
deutscher Ausgrabungen in einer ägyptischen Stadtruine
(1951); 5. Gabra & E. Drioton, Peinture à Hermopolis
(1954); A. El-Khachab, “Numismatica,” ASAE
53,2 (1955) 251-78I
; A. Badawy, “The Cemetery at Hermopolis West,” Archaeology
11 (1958) 117-22; A.J.B.
Wace, Hermopolis Magna
; J. Leclant, “Fouilles
et Travaux en Égypte, 1957-1960,” Orientalia
176-99; E. Brunner-Traut & V. Hell, Aegypten
; K. Michalowski, Aegypten (1968) 540ff.