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SYÊNÊ (Aswan) and ELEPHANTINE Egypt.

A double city 964 km S of Cairo, below the First Cataract. Syênê lies on the E bank of the Nile. Opposite, at a distance of only 150 m, is the Island of Abu, whose name the Greeks translated into Elephantine. The function of the double city had already been established in the 1st Dynasty (3200 B.C.): Syênê as a market place for all kind of goods coming from the S and as a quarry of the famous Syenite stone (Pliny 5.9,59), the red granite; and Elephantine the actual city, fortress against invaders from Nubia and the religious center and residence of the god Khnum, lord of the Cataract.

In 1918 the discovery of Aramaic papyri from the Persian period indicated that in the 6th c. B.C. a Jewish colony was established in Elephantine and had its own synagogue. Under the Ptolemies the prosperity of Elephantine depended on the increasing interest in the cult of Isis on the Island of Philae. About this time, Eratosthenes (250 B.C.) made his visit to Syênê where, by measuring the difference between the sun's shadows here and in Alexandria, he was able to estimate the circumference of the earth.

During the Roman Conquest Syênê became the battle ground for wars between the Romans and the Blemmyes until the Roman general Maximius was forced to make peace with them (A.D. 451). With the fall of Roman power, Syênê became Christian and a Coptic church was erected here. Monuments of interest are: the Temple of Isis, which lies behind Aswan in the midst of the ancient city and dates from the time of Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV; the Temple of Trajan to the W of the island; and, still farther W, the granite gateway of the Temple of Alexander II. The local museum on the island contains some of the finds from excavations.


E. Jomard, Description de l'Égypte Antiquités (1809-22) Ch. 3I; AEP. Weigall, A Guide to the Antiquities of Upper Egypt (1913) 391-419; Porter & Moss, Top. Bibl., V. Upper Egypt: Sites (1937) 221-58; J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1955) 492; E. Brunner-Traut & V. Hell, Aegypten (1966) 640ff; K. Michalowski, Aegypten (1968) 540-42; B. Porter, Archives from Elephantine: The Life on an Ancient Jewish Colony (1968).


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