previous next

Of the five provinces of Egypt and their famous cities.

In early times Egypt is said to have had three provinces: Egypt proper, Thebais, and Libya. To these later times have added two: Augustamnica being taken from Egypt, and Pentapolis from the dryer part of Libya.

[2] Now Thebais has these among cities that are especially famous: Hermopolis, Coptos and Antinoü, 1 which Hadrian founded 2 in honour of his favourite Antinoiis; for hundred-gated Thebes 3 everyone knows.

[3] In Augustamnica is the famous city of Pelusium, which Peleus, the father of Achilles, is said to have founded, being bidden by order of the gods to purify himself in the lake which washes the walls of that city, when after the murder of his brother, Phocus by name, he was hounded by the dread forms of the furies; 4 also Cassium, 5 where is the tomb of Pompey the Great, and Ostracine, and Rhinocorura.

[4] In Pentapolis-Libya is Cyrene, an ancient city, but deserted, founded by the Spartan Battus, 6 and Ptolemais, and Arsinoe, also called Teuchira, and [p. 299] Darnis and Berenice, which two they call Hesperidae [5] But in dry Libya are Paraetonion, Chaerecla, Neapolis, and a few small towns.

[6] Egypt itself, which from the time when it was joined with the Roman empire has been governed by prefects in place of kings, 7 is adorned by the great cities of Athribis, Oxyrynchus, Thumis, and Memphis, to say nothing of many lesser towns.

[7] But the crown of all cities is Alexandria, which is made famous by many splendid things, through the wisdom of its mighty founder and by the cleverness of the architect Dinocrates. The latter, when laying out its extensive and beautiful walls, for lack of lime, of which too little could at the time be found, sprinkled the whole line of its circuit with flour, 8 which chanced to be a sign that later the city would abound with a plentiful store of food. [8] There healthful breezes blow, the air is calm and mild, and as the accumulated experience of many ages has shown, there is almost no day on which the dwellers in that city do not see a cloudless sun. [9] Since this coast in former times, because of its treacherous and perilous approaches, involved seafarers in many dangers, Cleopatra 9 devised a lofty tower in the harbour, which from its situation is called the [p. 301] Pharos 10 and furnishes the means of showing lights to ships by night; whereas before that, as they came from the Parthenian or the Libyan sea past flat and low shores, seeing no landmarks of mountains or signs of hills, they were dashed upon the soft, tenacious sandbanks and wrecked. [10] This same queen built the Heptastadium, 11 remarkable alike for its great size and for the incredible speed with which it was constructed, for a well-known and sufficient reason. The island of Pharos, where Proteus, as Homer relates in lofty language, 12 lived with his herd of seals, lay a mile from the shore of the city, and was subject to tribute by the Rhodians. [11] When they had come one day to collect this tax, which was excessive, the queen, who was ever skilled in deception, under pretence of a solemn festival, took the same tax-collectors with her to the suburbs, and gave orders that the work should be completed by unremitting toil. In seven days, by building dams in the sea near the shore, the same number of stadia were won for the land; then the queen rode to the spot in a carriage drawn by horses, and laughed at the Rhodians, since it was on islands and not on the mainland that they imposed a duty. 13

[12] There are besides in the city temples pompous with lofty roofs, conspicuous among them the [p. 303] Serapeum, which, though feeble words merely belittle it, yet is so adorned with extensive columned halls, with almost breathing statues, and a great number of other works of art, that next to the Capitolium, with which revered Rome elevates herself to eternity, the whole world beholds nothing more magnificent. [13] In this were invaluable libraries, and the unanimous testimony of ancient records declares that 700,000 books, brought together by the unremitting energy of the Ptolemaic kings, were burned in the Alexandrine war, when the city was sacked under the dictator Caesar. 14

[14] At a distance of twelve miles from Alexandria is Canopus, which, according to the statements of ancient writers, got its name from the burial there of Menelaiis' steersman. The place is most delightful because of its beautiful pleasure-resorts, its soft air and healthful climate, so that anyone staying in that region believes that he is living outside of this world, as oftentimes he rears the winds that murmur a welcome with sunny breath.

[15] But Alexandria herself, not gradually (like other cities), but at her very origin, attained her wide extent; and for a long time she was greviously troubled by internal dissensions, until at last, many years later under the rule of Aurelian, 15 the quarrels of the citizens turned into deadly strife; then her by Caesar has been greatly exaggerated. Strabo, who visited Alexandria twenty-three years later, found the Museum intact. The Bruchion library was destroyed A.D. 272; the Serapeum in A.D. 391. 400,000 volumes were destroyed in the Alexandrine war. See especially J. W. White, The Scholia on the Aves of Aristophanes, Introd. [p. 305] walls were destroyed and she lost the greater part of the district called Bruchion, 16 which had long been the abode of distinguished men. [16] From there came Aristarchus, 17 eminent in thorny problems of grammatical lore, and Herodian, 18 a most accurate investigator in science and Saccas Ammonius, the teacher of Plotinus, and numerous other writers in many famous branches of literature. Among these Didymus Chalcenterus 19 was conspicuous for the abundance of his diversified knowledge, although in those six books in which he sometimes unsuccessfully criticises Cicero, imitating the scurrilous writers of Silli, 20 he makes the same impression on learned ears as a puppy-dog barking from a distance with quavering voice around a lion roaring awfully. [17] And although very many writers flourished in early times as well as these whom I have mentioned, nevertheless not even to-day is learning of various kinds silent in that same city; for the teachers of the arts show signs of life, and the geometrical measuring-rod brings to light whatever is concealed, the stream of music is not yet wholly dried up among them, harmony is not reduced to silence, the consideration of the motion of the universe and of the stars is still kept warm with some, few though they be, and there are others who are skilled in numbers; and a few besides are versed in the knowledge which reveals the course [p. 307] of the fates. [18] Moreover, studies in the art of healing, whose help is often required in this life of ours, which is neither frugal nor sober, are so enriched from day to day, that although a physician's work itself indicates it, yet in place of every testimony it is enough to commend his knowledge of the art, if he has said that he was trained at Alexandria. [19] But enough on this point. If one wishes to investigate with attentive mind the many publications on the knowledge of the divine, and the origin of divination, he will find that learning of this kind has been spread abroad from Egypt through the whole world, [20] There, for the first time, long before other men, they discovered the cradles, so to speak, of the various religions, and now carefully guard the first beginnings of worship, stored up in secret writings. [21] Trained in this wisdom, Pythagoras, secretly honouring the gods, made whatever he said or believed recognised authority, and often showed his golden thigh at Olympia, 21 and let himself be seen from time to time talking with an eagle. [22] From here Anaxagoras foretold a rain of stones, and by handling mud from a well predicted an earthquake. Solon, too, aided by the opinions of the Egyptian priests, passed laws in accordance with the measure of justice, and thus gave also to Roman law its greatest support. 22 On this source, Plato [p. 309] drew and after visiting Egypt, traversed higher regions, 23 and rivalled Jupiter in lofty language, gloriously serving in the field of wisdom.

[23] Now the men of Egypt are, as a rule, somewhat swarthy and dark of complexion, and rather gloomy-looking, 24 slender and hardy, excitable in all their movements, quarrelsome, and most persistent duns. Any one of them would blush if he did not, in consequence of refusing tribute, show many stripes on his body; and as yet it has been possible to find no torture cruel enough to compel a hardened robber of that region against his will to reveal his own name.

[24] Moreover, it is a well-known fact, as the ancient annals show, that all Egypt was formerly ruled by their ancestral kings; but after Antony and Cleopatra were vanquished in the sea-fight at Actium, the country fell into the power of Octavianus Augustus and received the name of a province. 25 We acquired the dryer part of Libya by the last will of King Apion; we received Cyrene, with the remaining cities of Libya-Pentapolis, through the generosity of Ptolemy. 26 After this long digression, I shall return to the order of my narrative.

1 I.e. Antinoü(polis), also called Antinupolis (see xviii, 9, 1). Antinupolis was not actually founded by Hadrian, but he enbellished and renamed it.

2 I.e. Antinoü(polis), also called Antinupolis (see xviii, 9, 1). Antinupolis was not actually founded by Hadrian, but he enbellished and renamed it.

3 Cf. xvii. 4, 2.

4 All other writers say that Peleus was banished by his father Aeacus, and fled to Eurytus, son of Actor, who purified him; cf. Diod. Sic. iv. 72, 6.

5 Also called Casium and containing a temple of Jupiter Casius. He was also worshipped in Syria; cf. 14, 4, above.

6 Cf. Hdt. iv. 150 ff.; Strabo, xvii. 3, 21. The founder is sometimes called Aristaeus (Just. xiii. 7, 1).

7 Because of its importance as a grain supply; cf. Suet., Jul. 35, 1; Tac., Hist. i. 11. The praefectus Aegypti ranked next to the praefectus praetorio in the equestrian cursus honorum.

8 Cf. Strabo, xvii. 1, 6 (at end); Plutarch, Alex. 26, 5 f.

9 The pharos was the work of Sostrates of Cnidus, master-builder of Ptolemy Philadelphus. It was destroyed during the Alexandrine war, and rebuilt by Cleopatra.

10 It was built on an island called Pharos; its height is estimated to have been about 360 feet, and its base 82 feet square. It stood until 1477 or 1478, when a fort was built from its material.

11 A causeway seven stadia in length; “it is now, generally speaking, a mile wide, and forms a large part of the site of the modern city” (Strabo, L.C.L., vol. viii. p. 27, n. 2. Cf. Strabo, xvii. 1, 6 (p. 792). This also is earlier than Cleopatra.

12 Odyss. iv. 400 ff.

13 The language is somewhat obscure, but the meaning is clear. The Heptastadion connected the island of Pharos with the mainland, and so took away the right of the Rhodians to tax it as an island.

14 remittentem, Madvig; renitente, BG; remittente, V.

15 In A.D. 272.

16 This included at least a fourth part of the city, and con- tained the royal palace.

17 The celebrated critic, born in Samothrace; he lived under Ptolemy Philometor (181-146 B.C.).

18 Also a grammarian.

19 This scholar (65 B.C.—circ. A.D. 10) was surnamed χαλκέντερος, “of the brazen guts,” because of his tireless industry; see also Index.

20 Satirical poems; cf. Gell. iii. 17, 4 f.

21 Wishing to represent himself as the equal of Apollo. Iamblichus, De Vita Pyth. xxviii. 135, Nauck, τὸν μηρὸν χρύσεον ἐπέδειξεν ᾿αβάριδι τῷ ῾γπερβορέῳ, εἰκάσαντι αὑτὸν ᾿απόλλωνα εἰναι τὸν ἐν ῾γπερβορέοις, οὗπερ ἦν ἱερεὺς ῎αβαρις. This was one of the many absurd fictions of the Neo- Platonic writers.

22 Cf. Hdt. 1, 30, who says that Solon did not come to Egypt until after he had made his laws; see also Aristotle, Const. of Athens. The Romans are said to have made use of his code in compiling the XII Tables.

23 Of thought.

24 Or “gloomier than magi are.”

25 It differed, however, from other provinces, in being ruled by a prefect of equestrian rank. See 16, 6, note.

26 This Ptolemy is identical with (Ptolemaeus) Apion just mentioned, following, as the similarity in language indicates, Rufius Festus, Brev. 13. Cyrenas . . . antiquioris Ptolomaei liberalitate suscepimus; Libyam supremo Apionis regis arbitrio sumus adsecuti. Ptolemaeus Apion, king of Cyrene, died in 96 B.C., but Cyrene first became a Roman province in 74 B.C.; cf. Eutropius, vi. 11, 2, qui rex eius (= Cyrenae) fuerat.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1940)
load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1939)
load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (5):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: