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HERMOPOLIS MAGNA (Ashmûnein) Egypt.

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 45 (1947) 37-50; 47 (1949) 233-47; G. Roeder, Ein Jahrzehnt deutscher Ausgrabungen in einer ägyptischen Stadtruine (1951); 5. Gabra & E. Drioton, Peinture à Hermopolis Ouest (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 (1959)PI; J. Leclant, “Fouilles et Travaux en Égypte, 1957-1960,” Orientalia 30.1 (1961) 176-99; E. Brunner-Traut & V. Hell, Aegypten (1966) 509-16P; K. Michalowski, Aegypten (1968) 540ff.


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