, Strab. xvii. p.803
; Sozomen, H. E.
6.31; Socrat. H. E.
4.23; Steph. B. sub voce Νιτριῶται
, Ptol. 4.5.25
; Nitrariae, Plin. Nat. 31.10. s. 16
: Eth. Νιτρίτης
), the Natron Lakes (Birket-el-Duarah
), were six in number, lying in a valley SW. of the Aegyptian Delta.
The valley, which is bounded by the limestone terrace which skirts the edge of the Delta, runs in a NW. direction for about 12 miles.
The sands which stretch around these lakes were formerly the bed of the sea, and were strongly impregnated with saline matter, e. g. muriate, sulphate, and carbonate of soda. Rain, though rare in Aegypt, falls in this region during the months of December, January, and February; and, consequently, when the Nile is lowest, the lakes are at high water.
The salt with which the sands are encrusted as with a thin coat of ice (Vitr. 8.3
), is carried by the rains into the lakes, and held there in solution during the wet season.
But in the summer months a strong evaporation takes place, and a glaze or crust is deposited upon the surface and edges of the water, which, when collected, is employed by [p. 2.442]
the bleachers and glassmakers of Aegypt. Parallel with the Natron Lakes, and separated from them by a narrow ridge, is the Bahr-be-la-Ma,
or Waterless River, a name given by the Arabs to this and other hollows which have the appearance of having once been channels for water.
It has been surmised that the lake Moeris (Birket-el-Keroum
) may have been connected with the Mediterranean at some remote period by this outlet. The Bahr-be-la-Ma
contains agatised wood. (Wilkinson, Mod. Egypt and Thebes,
vol. i. p. 300.)
The valley in which the Natron Lakes are contained, was denominated the Nitriote nome (νόμος Νιτριῶτις
or Νιτριώτης, Strab. xvii. p.803
; Steph. B. sub voce Νιτρίαι
It was, according to Strabo, a principal seat of the worship of Serapis, and the only nome of Aegypt in which sheep were sacrificed. (Comp. Macrob. Saturn.
1.7.) The Serapeian worship, indeed, seems to have prevailed on the western side of the Nile long before the Sinopic deity of that name (Zeus Sinopites) was introduced from Pontus by Ptolemy Soter, since there was a very ancient temple dedicated to him at Rhacotis, the site of Alexandreia (Tac. Hist. 4.83
), and another still more celebrated outside the walls of Memphis.
The monasteries of the Nitriote nome were notorious for their rigorous asceticism. They were many of them strong-built and well-guarded fortresses, and offered a successful resistance to the recruiting sergeants of Valens, when they attempted to enforce the imperial rescript (Cod. Theodos.
xii. tit. 1. lex. 63), which decreed that monastic vows should not exempt men from serving as soldiers. (Photius, p. 81, ed. Bekker; Dionys. Perieg. 5.255
; Eustath. ad loc; Paus. 1.18
; Strab. xvii. p.807
; Clem. Al. Strom. i. p. 43