, Hdt. 2.28
; Strab. xvii. p.802
; Steph. B. sub voce
Mela, 1.9.9; Plin. Nat. 5.10. s. 11
, Eth. Σα̈ῖτις
), the capital of the Saitic Nome in the Delta, and occasionally of Lower Aegypt also, stood, in lat. 31° 4′ N., on the right bank of the Canopic arm of the Nile.
The site of the ancient city is determined not only by the appellation of the modern town of Sa-el-Hadjar,
which occupies a portion of its area, but also by mounds of ruin corresponding in extent to the importance of Sais at least under the later Pharaohs.
The city was artificially raised high above the level of the Delta to be out of the reach of the inundations of the Nile, and served as a landmark to all who ascended the arms of the river from the Mediterranean to Memphis. Its ruins have been very imperfectly explored, yet traces have been found of the lake on wh ch the mysteries of Isis were performed. as well as of the temple of Neith (Athenè) and the necropolis of the Saite kings.
The wall of [p. 2.875]
unburnt brick which surrounded the principal buildings of the city was 70 feet thick, and probably therefore at least 100 feet high.
It enclosed an area 2325 feet in length by 1960 in breadth. Beyond this enclosure were also two large cemeteries, one for the citizens generally, and the other reserved for the nobles and priests of the higher orders.
In one respect the Saites differed from the other Aegyptians in their practice of interment. They buried their kings within the precincts of their temples.
The tomb of Amasis attracted the attention of Herodotus (2.169
), and Psammitichus, the conqueror and successor of that monarch, was also buried within the walls of the temple of Neith.
Sais was one of the sacred cities of Aegypt: its principal deities were Neith, who gave oracles there, and lsis.
The mysteries of the latter were celebrated annually with unusual pomp on the evening of the Feast of Lamps. Herodotus terms this festival (2.59) the third of the great feasts in the Aegyptian calendar.
It was held by night; and every one intending to be present at the sacriflces was required to light a number of lamps in the open air around his house.
The lamps were small saucers filled with salt and oil, on which a wick floated, and which continued to burn all night.
At what season of the year the feast of burning lamps was celebrated Herodotus knew, but deemed it wrong to tell (2.62); it was, however, probably at either the vernal or autumnal equinox, since it apparently had reference to one of the capital revolutions in the solar course.
An inscription in the temple of Neith declared her to be the Mother of the Sun. (Plutarch, Is. et Osir.
p. 354, ed. Wyttenbach; Proclus, in Timaeum,
It ran thus: “I am the things that have been, and that are, and that will be; no one has uncovered my skirts; the fruit which I brought forth became the Sun.” It is probable, accordingly, that the kindling of the lamps referred to Neith as the author of light. On the same night apparently were performed what the Aegyptians designated the “Mysteries of Isis.” Sais was one of the supposed places of the interment of Osiris, for that is evidently the deity whom Herodotus will not name (2.171) when he says that there is a burial-place of him
at Sais in the temple of Athene.
The mysteries were symbolical representations of the sufferings of Osiris, especially his dismemberment by Typhon. They were exhibited on the lake behind the temple of Neith. Portions of the lake may be still discerned near the hamlet of Sa-el-Hadjar.
Sais was alternately a provincial city of the first order and the capital of Lower Aegypt.
These changes in its rank were probably the result of political revolutions in the Delat.
The nome and city are said by Manetho to have derived their appellation from Saites, a king of the xviith dynasty.
The xxivth dynasty was that of Bocchoris of Sais.
The xxvith dynasty contained nine Saite kings; and of the xxviiith Amyrtaeus the Saite is the only monarch: with him expired the Saite dynasty, B.C. 408.
Bocchoris the Wise, the son of Tnephactus (Diod. 1.45.2
), the Technatis of Plutarch (Is. et Osir.
p. 354; comp. Athen. 10.418
; Aelian, Ael. NA 11.11
), and the Aegyptian Pehor,
was remarkable as a judge and legislator, and introduced, according to Diodorus, some important amendments into the commercial laws of Sais.
He was put to death by burning after revolting from Sabaco the Aethiopian. During the Aethiopian dynasty Sais seems to have retained its independence.
The period of its greatest prosperity was between B.C. 697--524, under its nine native kings.
The strength of Aegypt generally had been transferred from its southern to its northern provinces. Of the Saite monarchs of Aegypt Psammitichus and Amasis were the most powerful. Psammitichus maintained himself on the throne by his Greek mercenaries.
He established at Sais the class of interpreters, caused his own sons to be educated in Greek learning, and encouraged the resort of Greeks to his capital.
The intercourse between Sais and Athens especially was promoted by their worshipping the same deity--Neith-Athene; and hence there sprung up, although in a much later age, the opinion that Cecrops the Saite led a colony to Athens.
The establishment of the Greeks at Cyrene was indirectly fatal to the Saitic dynasty. Uaphris, Apries, or Hophra, was defeated by the Cyrenians, B.C. 569; and his discontented troops raised their commander Amasis of Siouph to the throne.
He adorned Sais with many stately buildings, and enlarged or decorated the temple of Neith; for he erected in front of it propylaea, which for their height and magnitude, and the quality of the stones employed, surpassed all similar structures in Aegypt.
The stones were transported from the quarries of El-Mokattam
near Memphis, and thence were brought also the colossal figures and androsphinxes that adorned the Dromos. To Sais Amasis transported from Elephantine a monolithal shrine of granite, which Herodotus especially admired (2.175). Though the ordinary passage from Elephantine to Sais was performed in twenty days, three years were employed in conveying this colossal mass.
It was, however, never erected, and when Herodotus visited Aegypt was still lying on the ground in front of the temple.
It measured, according to the historian, 30 feet in height, 12 feet in depth from front to back, and in breadth 21 feet.
After the death of Amasis, Sais sank into comparative obscurity, and does not seem to have enjoyed the favour of the Persian, Macedonian, or Roman masters of Aegypt.
Sais indeed was more conspicuous as a seat of commerce and learning, and of Greek culture generally, than as the seat of government. Nechepsus, one of its kings, has left a name for his learning (Auson. Epigram,
409), and his writings on astronomy are cited by Pliny (2.23. s. 21
). Pythagoras of Samos visited Sais in the reign of Amasis (comp. Plin. Nat. 36.9. s. 14
); and Solon the Athenian conversed with Sonchis, a Saite priest, about the same time (Plut. Sol. 26
; Hdt. 2.177
; Clinton, Fast. Hellen.
vol. ii. p. 9). At Sais, if we may credit Plato (Timaeus,
iii. p. 25), Solon heard the legend of Atlantis, and of the ancient glories of Athens some thousand years prior to Phoroneus and Niobe and Deucalion's flood.
The priests of Sais appear indeed to have been anxious to ingratiate themselves with the Athenians by discovering resemblances between Attic and Aegyptian institutions. Thus Diodorus (1.28
), copying from earlier narratives, says that the citizens of Sais, like those of Athens were divided into eupatrids, or priest-nobles; geomori, land-owners liable to military service; and craftsmen or retail traders.
He adds that in each city the upper town was called Astu.
The Greek population of Sais was governed, according to Manetho, by their own laws and magistrates, and had a separate qurter of the city assigned to them. So strong indeed was the Hellenic element in Sais that [p. 2.876]
it was doubted whether the Saites colonised Attica, or the Athenians Sais; and Diodorus says inconsistently, in one passage, that Sais sent a colony to Athens (1.28.3), and in another (5.57.45) that it was itself founded by Athenians.
The principal value of these statements consists in their establishing the Graeco-Aegyptian character of the Saite people.
The ruins of Sais consist of vast heaps of brick, mingled with fragments of granite and Syenite marble. Of its numerous structures the position of one only can be surmised.
The lake of Sa-el-Hadjar,
which is still traceable, was at the back of the temple of Neith: but it remains for future travellers to determine the sites of the other sacred or civil structures of Sais. (Champollion, I´Egypte,
vol. ii. p. 219; Id. Lettres,
50--53; Wilkinson, Mod. Egypt and Thebes.