AL-AŠMŪNAYN (HERMOUPOLIS MEGALĒ)
|Greek||Ἑρμοῦ πόλις Μεγάλη | Ἑρμοπολιτῶν πόλις|
|Coptic||¥moun | ¥moun(in) | smoun|
|English||Hermopolis Magna | el-Ashmunein|
|French||Hermoupolis Magna | Hermopolis Magna | el-Achmounein | Achmounein | Achmouneyn|
|Pleiades ID||756574||PAThs ID||28|
|Ancient name||Hermoupolis Megalē|
Hermopolis Magna, modern day al-Ašmūnayn, is situated on the western bank of the Nile, 40km south of al-Minyā and 7km north of Mallawī (Maehler, 2012: 1). Known as ‘Khumu’ in the Pharaonic period, which became ‘Shmun’ in Coptic, it was the principal seat of worship of the Egyptian god Thoth, who the Greeks identified with Hermes, thus calling the city Hermopolis (Wace et al. 1959: 1). In order to differentiate it from a ‘Hermopolis’ in the Delta, it became known as Hermopolis Magna (Wace et al. 1959: 1). The necropolis of Tūna al-Ǧabal is associated with the site, and contains extensive cemeteries dedicated to baboons and ibises, both of which are representative of the god Thoth (Atiya, 1991: 285). The necropolis is so extensive, however, that it is considered an archaeological site in its own right. During the Pharaonic period, the site was the capital of the 15th Upper Egyptian nome.
Most of the area that has so far been cleared and surveyed was dedicated to temples and other public buildings. The account of the building repairs of 263/7 mention temples of Sarapis, Hadrian, Antinoos, Tyche, and Aphrodite (Maehler, 2012: 1). During the Roman period, the city was divided into four quarters, ‘citadel’ east and west, and ‘town’ east and west. Each of these areas were divided by a colonnaded street running from the sun-gate in the east to the moon-gate in the west, also known as ‘Antinoe Street’, which was crossed by the Dromos of Hermes, a road commissioned by Nectanebo I (378-360 BCE) (Maehler, 2012: 1).
In more or less the center of the ruins of the town is an area denoted Kūm al-Kanīsa. This space was considered by earlier explorers to have been an agora, a classification which went unchallenged for quite some time. This was until the excavations conducted by the Service des Antiquités in the mid-1940s revealed that the structure was in fact a Christian basilica built on top of at least four Ptolemaic buildings, including a temple dedicated to Ptolemy III and his wife Berenike (Wace et al. 1959: 5). Based on an inscription uncovered in the 1940s, the temple was likely constructed at the beginning of Ptolemy’s reign, perhaps 246 BCE and likely no later than 240 (Wace et al. 1959: 4).
Hermopolis Magna is known to have been an episcopal see from the second half of the third century. According to tradition, this is where the Holy Family reached the end of its journey. The Christian occupation of the side is well-documented, with a bishop present until the end of the 13th century (Stillwell et al. 1976: 1). Much of the architectural elements related to the ancient structures were reused in the construction of mosques.
Alongside these two churches, there are an additional seven others, as well as a monastery dedicated to Saint Severus, which are known by name and partly by location (Atiya, 1991: 285). An account relating to the taxation of certain churches in Hermoupolis and its surroundigs (P.Lond.Copt. London. 1100) records five of these churches which were dedicated to the Virgin. One (or perhaps two) of these is described by Abū al-Makārim in the a 13th century (Evetts, 1895: 76b and 77a).
The site is known to have been visited by Napoleon’s savants, who found a portico of twelve columns still standing, understood to have belonged to the Temple of Thoth, which was completed in the reign of Philip III Arrhidaeus (323-317 BC). A German expedition was carried out in 1929 under the direction of Günther Roeder, which focused predominantly on studying the topography, while conducting limited work in the so-called ‘agora’. This was followed by the work of the Service des Antiquités, who in 1939, under the direction of Émile Baraize, cleared and re-erected a number of columns of the ‘tetrastyle’ on the northern side of the ‘agora’ (against Antinoe road). In 1942, the work of the Service des Antiquités was led by Muḥarram Kamāl, who initiated extensive clearance of the whole ‘agora’. Baraize began reconstruction on the ‘agora’, which both he and Kamāl recognised as a Christian basilica (Wace et al. 1959: 1). At the same time, in 1945, Rizq-Allāh Makram-Allāh, a lecturer from Alexandria University, carried out further clearance on the north and west sides, where he supposedly found Pharaonic walls of unbaked brick, which on the west side ran beneath the narthex, and on the west side were far below the Ptolemaic level. While a number of photographs were taken, he left no documentation or plans regarding these structures, and they were destroyed by the elements soon after they were uncovered (Wace et al. 1959: 2). Baraize uncovered many pieces of painted architecture of the Ptolemaic period, as well as the inscription which showed that the Ptolemaic building the basilica was built on top of was dedicated to Ptolemy III and his wife Berenike (Wace et al. 1959: 2).
The University of Alexandria conducted work in August and September of 1949, and the following year, in 1950, the team was joined in March and April by A. H. S. Megaw, Director of Antiquities of Cyprus. Supplementary work was carried out in December 1950 and September 1951 (Wace et al. 1959: 3). This work, which resulted in the clearing of the whole structure, was very much in line with other work conducted in the mid-twentieth century, with limited records, and no analysis of archaeological context. The British Museum ran excavations between 1983 and 1989, resulting in a number of monographs. Between 1987 and 1990, a joint Polish-Egyptian team conducted work on the site’s basilica. This work, comprising both archaeological and conservational fieldwork, was led by Marek Barański in association with the Center of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw, Przedsiębiorstwo Państwowe Pracownie Conservacji Monuments (PP PKZ) (State Ateliers for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage) and the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation.
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