,) Ptol. 4.5.70
; πόλις Αἰγύπτον, Steph. B. sub voce Ἐλεφάντων πόλις, J. BJ 5.11
id. ib.: Eth. Ἐλεφαντινίτης
and Ἐλεφαντίτης; Strab. xvii. p.817
; Elephantis, Plin. Nat. 5.10. s. 59
The original appellation of this island was EBO; EB being in the language of hieroglyphics the symbol of the elephant and of ivory. (Rosellini, Mon. Stor.
It was seated in lat. 24° N., just below the lesser cataract, directly opposite Syene, and near the western bank of the Nile.
At this point the river becomes navigable downward to its mouths, and the traveller from Meroë and Aethiopia enters Egypt Proper. Its frontier position and its command of the river, no longer impeded by rapids, caused Elephantine to be regarded in all ages as the key of the Thebaid, and it was accordingly occupied by strong garrisons of native Egyptian troops, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans successively. (Hdt. 2.17
; Agatharch. de Rub. Mar.
p. 22; Mela, 1.9; Tac. Ann. 2.61
; Notit. Imp. Orient. 100.28.) Under the later Caesars, Diocletian, &c., it formed the southern limit of the Roman empire, and its garrison was engaged in continual wars with the Blemmyes and other barbarous tribes of Nubia. (Procop. Bell. Pers. i.
The surrounding region is generally barren, consisting of lofty shelves of granite separated by bars of sand. But Elephantine itself, like the oases of the neighbouring Libyan desert was remarkable for its fertility and verdure. Its vines and fig-trees retained their leaves throughout the year (Theophrast. Hist. Plant.
1.6; Varro, R. Rust.
1.7): and the Arabs of the present day designate the island as Djesiret el Sag,
The city of Elephantis was long the capital of a little kingdom separate from Egypt, which probably, as well as the kingdom of This or Abydos, declined as Thebes rose into importance.
The names of nine of its kings are all that is known of the political history of Elephantine. Its successive possessors have left tokens of their occupation in the ruins which cover its area. Yet these are far less striking than the monuments of Philae at the opposite southern extremity of the cataracts.
The most remarkable structures on the island were a temple of Kneph, built or at least completed by Amenouph II., a king of the eighteenth dynasty; another temple dedicated to Ammon; and the Nilometer, mentioned by Strabo (xvii. p.817
; comp. Plutarch, Isis et Osir.
100.43; Heliod. Aethiop.
9.22; Euseb. Praepar. Evang.
3.11); and thus described by Sir Gardner Wilkinson (Manners and Customs,
2nd series, i. p. 47): “The Nilometer in the island of Elephantine is a staircase between two walls descending to the Nile, on one of which is a succession of graduated scales containing one or two cubits, accompanied by inscriptions recording the rise of the river at various periods during the rule of the Caesars.” The numerals in these inscriptions are Roman.