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BUBASTIS or BUBASTUS (Βούβαστις, Hdt. 2.59, 137; Βούβαστος, Strab. xvii. p.805; Diod. 16.51; Plin. Nat. 5.9. s. 9; Ptol. 4.5.52), the PHIBESETH of the O. T. (Ezek. xxx, 17), and the modern Tel-Bustak, was the capital of the nome Bubastites in the Delta, and was situated SW. of Tanis, upon the eastern side of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile. The nome and city of Bubastis were allotted to the Calasirian division of the Egyptian war-caste, and sacred to the goddess Pasht, whom the Greeks called Bubastis, and identified with Artemis. The cat was the sacred and peculiar animal of Pasht, who is represented with the head of that animal or of its nobler congener the lion, and frequently accompanies the deity Phtah in monumental inscriptions. The tombs at Bubastis were accordingly the principal depository in Egypt of the mummies of the cat. The 22nd dynasty of Egyptian monarchs consisted of nine, or, according to Eusebius (Chronic.) of three Bubastite kings, and during their reigns the city was one of the most considerable places in the Delta. Immediately to the S. of Bubastis were the allotments of land with which Psammitichus rewarded the services of his Ionian and Carian mercenaries (Hdt. 2.154); and on the northern side of the city commenced the Great Canal which Pharaoh Neco constructed between the Nile and the Red Sea. (Hdt. 2.158.) In B.C. 352, Bubastis was taken by the, Persians, and its walls were then dismantled. (Diod. 16.51). From this period it gradually declined, although it appears in ecclesiastical annals among the episcopal sees of the province Augustamnica Secunda. Bubastite coins of the age of Hadrian exist. The most distinguished features of the city and nome of Bubastis were its oracle of Pasht, the splendid temple of that goddess and the annual procession in honour of her. The oracle gained in popularity and importance after the influx of Greek settlers into the Delta, since the identification of Pasht with Artemis attracted to her shrine both native Egyptians and foreigners. The ruins of Tel-Bastak, or the “Hills of Bustak,” attest the original magnificence of the city. The entire circuit of the walls is, according to Hamilton (p. 367) not less than three miles in extent. Within the principal inclosure, where there has been the greatest accumulation of the ruins of successive edifices, is a large pile of granite-blocks which appear, from their forms and sculptures, to have belonged to numerous obelisks and gigantic propyla. The mounds which encompassed the ancient city were originally begun by Sesostris and completed by the Aethiopian invader Sabakos, who employed criminals upon these and similar works. (Hdt. 2.137.) The mounds were intended to redeem and rescue the site of the city, and possibly its gardens and groves, from the inundations of the Nile. From the general aspect of the ruins, and from the description given of it by Herodotus (2.138), they appear to have been raised concentrically around the temples of Pasht and Hermes, so that the whole place resembled the interior of an inverted cone. The only permanent buildings in Bubastis seem to have been the temples and the granite walls and corridors. The private houses were probably little better or more solid than the huts of the Fellahs, or labourers of the present day.

The following is the description which Herodotus gives of Bubastis, as it appeared shortly after the period of the Persian invasion, B.C. 525, and Mr. Hamilton remarks that the plan of the ruins remarkably warrants the accuracy of this historical eye-witness. (Hdt. 2.59, 60.)

Temples there are more spacious and costlier than that of Bubastis, but none so pleasant to behold. It is after the following fashion. Except at the entrance, it is surrounded by water: for two canals branch off from the river, and run as far as the entrance to the temple: yet neither canal mingles with the other, but one runs on this side, and the other on that. Each canal is a hundred feet wide, and its banks are lined with trees. The propylaea are sixty feet in height, and are adorned with sculptures (probably intaglios in relief) nine feet high, and of excellent workmanship. The Temple being in the middle of the city is looked down upon from all sides as you walk around; and this comes from the city having been raised, whereas the temple itself has not been moved, but remains in its original place. Quite round the temple there goes a wall, adorned with sculptures. Within the inclosure is a grove of fair tall trees, planted around a large building in which is the effigy (of Pasht). The form of that temple is square, each side being a stadium in length. In a line with the entrance is a road built of stone about three stadia long, leading eastwards through the public market. The road is about 400 feet broad, and is flanked by exceeding tall trees. It leads to the temple of Hermes.

The festival of Bubastis was the most joyous and gorgeous of all in the Egyptian calendar. Barges and river craft of every description, filled with men and women, floated leisurely down the Nile. The men played on pipes of lotus. the women on cymbals and tambourines, and such as had no instruments accompanied the music with clapping of hands and dances, and other joyous gestures. Thus did they while on the river: but when they came to a town on its banks, the barges were made fast, and the pilgrims disembarked, and the women sang and playfully mocked the women of that town. And [p. 1.454]when they reached Bubastis, then held they a wondrously solemn feast: and more wine of the grape was drank in those days than in all the rest of the year. Such was the manner of this festival: and, it is said, that as many as seven hundred thousand pilgrims have been known to celebrate the Feast of Pasht at the same time.


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.51
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.154
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.137
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.138
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.158
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.59
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.60
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.9
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 4.5
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