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SYE´NE (Συήνη, Hdt. 2.30; Strab. ii. p.133, xvii. p. 797, seq.; Steph. B. sub voce Ptol. 7.5.15, 8.15.15; Plin. Nat. 2.73. s. 75, 5.10. s. 11, 6.29. s. 34; It. Ant. p. 164), the modern Assouan, was the frontier town of Aegypt to the S. Syene stood upon a peninsula on the right bank of the Nile, immediately below the Great Falls, which extend to it from Philae. It is supposed to have derived its name from Suan, an Aegyptian goddess, the Ilithya of the Greeks, and of which the import is “the opener;” and at Syene Upper Aegypt was in all ages, conceived to open or begin. The quarries of Syene were celebrated for their stone, and especially for the marble called Syenite. They furnished the colossal statues, obelisks, and monolithal shrines which are found throughout Aegypt; and the traces of the quarrymen who wrought in these 3000 years ago are still visible in the native rock. They lie on either bank of the Nile, and a road, 4 miles in length, was cut beside them from Syene to Philae. Syene was equally important as a military station and as a place of traffic. Under every dynasty it was a garrison town; and here were levied toll and custom on all boats passing southward and northward. The latitude of Syene--24° 5′ 23″--was an object of great interest to the ancient geographers. They believed that it was seated immediately under the tropic, and that on the day of the summer solstice a vertical staff cast no shadow, and the sun's disc was reflected in a well at noonday. This statement is indeed incorrect; the ancients were not acquainted with the true tropic: yet at the summer-solstice the length of the shadow, or 1/400th of the staff, could scarcely be discerned, and the northern limb of the sun's disc would be nearly vertical. The Nile is nearly 3000 yards wide above Syene. From this frontier town to the northern extremity of Aegypt it flows for more than 750 miles without bar or cataract. The voyage from Syene to Alexandreia usually occupied between 21 and 28 days in favourable weather.


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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.30
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 2.5
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 2.73
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