Today I found myself looking at the splendid map of Antinoupolis in the Description de l’Egypte, made by Napoleon’s engineers. When it was made, in the 1790’s, the Roman city still stood on the high ground – above the level of the Nile flood – to the east of a wretched village named Sheikh Abade.
On a whim I went to Google Maps. The site is between Minya and Mellawi in middle Egypt. I rotated the aerial photo as best I could (with ctrl-click+drag), to line it up with Jomard’s plan. Then I screen grabbed them both.
Looking at Jomard requires the high-resolution scan available at Heidelberg, and you can zoom and zoom. So this is just a low-res overview:
And here is a screen grab of the site today – for the inhabitants are busily bulldozing the monuments, so it may not be so tomorrow. Link is here, so you can zoom for yourself!
The surveyors did make some mistakes. The massive brick wall that surrounded the late antique city is not a rectangle, but tapers toward the top.
But it is amazing to see that the main two streets can clearly be seen, even at this resolution.
In fact I started to mark up a few sites:
In the southern section of the city, to the right, the grid of the streets seems almost visible to me, running north of the street “with Doric columns” marked by Jomard. The “amphitheatre” must be a theatre, I suppose.
I was looking for the site of the magnificent west gate, labelled a triumphal arch. On the plan it is thus:
The gate is marked clearly, with two avenues of granite columns before it. Notice the point B marked on it – this is the place from which the drawing below was made.
Zooming in on the modern image, nothing is to be seen. The road from the north is plainly the Roman road, however.
It is amusing to note that Jomard marks palm trees in the area; and palm trees are still visible, their hard black shadows plain on the aerial photo.
Hadrian’s monumental stone arch is gone; but the palm trees that once stood nearby remain.
Jomard gives us this impression of what it looked like, looking from Antinoupolis west towards the village and the Nile.
I would surmise that the side facing the village had suffered more losses of stone.
Jomard also gives detailed measurements and drawings of elements of the arch.
In his “explication des planches” in the same volume, he gives the following description of the scene.
This monument is the best preserved in the whole city. Nothing is missing from the edifice that would make its restoration at all doubtful. In front of the little Corinthian pilasters, there were granite columns, which are all missing; only the pedestals remain, and these are very ruinous, as may be seen in the engraving. In front of the triumphal arch, the village of Sheikh Abade may be seen; between the houses and the monument are the columns of granite that still exist (see the explanations of plate 58 and 53). The date palms, which are very numerous around the building, contribute to render this view one of the most picturesques of the ruins of Antinoe. here and there some villagers can be seen, attentively watching the French engineers and artists engaged in recording the triumphal arch.
Plate 58 consists of plans and elevations of the arch, and the “explication” of measurements.
The note for plate 53 mentions that the engraver has drawn too small the streets in the village of Sheikh Abade.
I do wish that it was possible to safely visit the site today. Doubtless an archaeologist with local contacts could do so; a lone tourist might risk abduction.
In C. S. Sonini de Manoncourt, “Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt”, vol. 3, (1807), p.292, I find this anecdote. The Reis is the captain of the boat on which de Manoncourt is travelling up the Nile, and he is in the region of Antinoupolis.
Among those persons whom the Reis had put on board, there were four soldier’s servants who had run away from the army. Well pleased at escaping from the toils of war, their insolence had no bounds. Having been informed that we were Europeans, their insults and impertinence were particularly pointed at us. I had determined to chastise them at the first town where we should stop; but having arrived at Mellawi in the night, I was obliged still to restrain myself. The four unruly gentlemen continued their invectives the following day. They carried their audacity so far as to strike two of my companions; the latter were not long in returning the blow; the engagement, began, and guessing from the noise what had happened, I hastened to the spot with my sabre in my hand, and applied a few strokes to the shoulders of the aggressors with the flat side. They immediately quitted their hold; but an exclamation was heard over all the boat. An infidel to strike a Mussulman! It was an offence unpardonable, and which threatened me with instant death. They were talking of throwing me overboard. The Reis, instead of appeasing the tumult, as great a fanatic as the rest, cried louder than any of them. I retired with my companions into the chamber which we occupied, and we entrenched ourselves as well as we could, fully expecting to be attacked. The fire-arms, however, with which we were supplied, appeared to the desperadoes who surrounded us, formidable enough to prevent their approach, and they contented themselves with murmuring and concerting plans of revenge.
Through the lattice of my chamber, I perceived at Scheick Abade, the ruins of Antinoe, and on the same eastern coast, Benihassan, a village at the foot of a mountain of rock, rising perpendicularly, in which the ancients have hollowed out sepulchral caverns. A little tower and a forest of palm-trees form a beautiful contrast with the rugged aspect of the rocks which border this bank of the Nile. The village of Savouadi succeeds to this. There the ruins of several ancient buildings are perceptible. The rock has been carved and hollowed in various places ; the entrances of a vast quantity of catacombs are arranged over the front of the mountain, and near them I observed hieroglyphics and symbolical figures.
The vessel dropt anchor at Miniet. The Reis immediately disembarked with about twenty of the passengers, and made the best of his way to the Kiaschef, in order to prefer a complaint against me, for having had the audacity to strike a Mussulman. These wicked people took care to relate every fact, and to represent it in the worst light possible. The populace of Miniet thronged in crowds ; a flock of fanatical barbarians demanded the head of the dog who had abused a favourite of Mahomet. I had dispatched my two Egyptian servants after the Reis, in order to observe what might come to pass. They returned to acquaint me with the ferment which the accusation of the Reis had raised in the minds of the people; they had advanced into the court of the house of the Kiaschef, where an assembled mob were calling for vengeance, and they had heard it reported, that I was to undergo the punishment of the bastinado on the soles of the feet. I had not a moment to lose after this information. It was necessary, they said, either to conceal myself or to make my escape. I could not, with propriety, have chosen either of these alternatives : I took a resolution directly opposite. I determined to face the danger, and to present myself openly, in order to avert it. I quitted.the boat immediately with one of my attendants; my habit prevented me from being recognised. We passed through several streets. Every where the topic of conversation was the Franc who had beaten a Mussulman. I arrived at the house of the Kiaschef; I penetrated through the crowd, who little supposed that the person on whom their thoughts were employed was in the midst of them; at length I stood before the Kiaschef. An immense number of persons surrounded him. The Reis and my other accusers stood forward and pointed me out to the commandant. “Is it you, then,” said the Kiaschef to me in the most angry tone imaginable, “who was audacious enough to offer violence to a believing Mussulman?” “Give no heed,” I replied, in a determined tone, “to the vain clamour of these paltry fellahs, to whom, for the honour of a valiant Mameluc, you have already paid but too much attention. You are the slave of Mourat Bey; you know very well that I am his friend; I have some important intelligence to communicate to you from him; attend.” I immediately approached, and pretending to whisper in his ear, I slipped a few chequins into his hand, which I held ready in my own.
The Kiaschef, who had raised himself a little from his cushion to hear what I had to say, now took his seat again, and darted menacing glances at the Reis. “You know not,” said he to him, with anger feigned, or at least purchased, “what a Franc is.” He then pronounced a long and absurd encomium on the qualities and the power of the Francs, which he knew nothing at all about. The Reis wished to reply ; but the Kiaschef rose, and bestowed on him a hearty box on the ear, and then ordered him to receive several blows with a cane. In an instant this mob, ignorant and foolishly habituated to despotism, after having regarded me as the greatest criminal, dispersed, crying up the justice of the Kiaschef, and extolling, the excellent qualities of the Francs.
Corruption in men of exalted stations, which is an undeniable testimony of the depravity of manners, and a certain presage of the fall of empires, and the dissolution of the bonds of society, appeared among the despots of Egypt to be customary, and a system universally adopted. They were unanimous in opinion, that with the assistance of money every thing might be obtained. Too great sacrifices, even in this respect, were not requisite to obtain the object desired. It is only in those countries, where they are continually speaking of virtue and of honour, and where, in fact, they do not exist, that the price of corruption is an effect of a considerable commerce to which few people can attain: but it is moderate in those places where honour not being in common use, it is unnecessary to distribute gold to purchase silence. I had just experienced a signal act of justice, which, considering the manners of the people of Egypt, and the circumstances under which I had obtained it, might have passed for injustice. A single minute had proved sufficient to appease the most furious anger, and to make its effects recoil on those who had provoked it; and, nevertheless, it had only cost me from seven to eight chequins.
Among the actions of Hadrian after the suspicious death of his “favourite” Antinous was the construction of an Egyptian-style obelisk in Rome, which still stands. Each of the four faces has a text upon it in hieroglyphics. It was constructed in Rome, where someone who knew how to write the ancient language wrote the text.
The first two faces read as follows. I’ve made this from the rather splendid French translation of Jean-Claude Grenier, “L’Osiris Antinoos”, CENIM 1, Montpellier, 2008, which I found online here, and which comes with some very learned notes. There are some dreadfully unreliable English versions online, I find.
Face 1 (South-facing)
Words said by the Osiris Antinous, [justified], “Come to the master of life.” The blessed one who is in the afterlife and who lies in this sacred place which is found inside the gardens of the domain of the Prince in Rome. He is known for becoming a god in the “abatons” of Egypt, and shrines have been built for him (where) he is worshipped as a god by the prophets and priests of Upper and Lower Egypt and (by) the inhabitants of Egypt also. A city is named after him; to it belongs a population of Greeks and sons of Horus and children of Seth, resident in the cities of Egypt; they have come from their cities, and valuable lands have been given to them, to enrich their lives greatly. There is a temple there of this god – his name is “Osiris Antinous, justified” – built from fair white stone. Sphinxes stand on its perimeter, and statues, numerous columns like those once made by the ancients, and also like those made by the Greeks. All the gods and all the godesses give him there the breath of life, and he breathes in of it, having rediscovered his youth.
Face 2 (west-facing)
Next to an image of Antinous is a damaged inscription, which now reads only, “Words spoken by the Osiris Anti[nous]…”
Facing him is Thoth, with the legend, “Words spoken by Thoth, twice great, Lord of Khemenou (Hermopolis): ‘I make your heart alive for you every day.'”
The blessed, the Osiris Antinous, justified! He has become an ephebe with a beautiful face that makes the eyes rejoice, a strength […] and an intrepid heart like (man) with strong arms. He received god’s decree of the time of his death. All the rites of the “Hours of Osiris” were renewed for him, and all the operations of his mummification in secret, then his bandages were put on, and the whole earth was (then) in a just distress, fed by disagreements. Nothing of the kind was done for those of ancient times until today like (what was done for) his altars, temples, and titles, and, because he breathes in the breath of life, his glory grows in the hearts of men. The one who is the Lord of Hermopolis, the master of the divine words, Thoth, regenerates his ba like […] in their time. By night and day, at any and every instant, the love that he inspires is in the hearts of his faithful, the respect that he inspires [is in…] of all […] and the praise which he excites is widespread among the men who venerate him. His rightful place is in the Court of the Justified and of the Perfect Lights which are in the following of Osiris within the sacred world of the Master of Eternity; and a triumph has been accorded to him; they (the justified &c) have established his renown on the earth and their heart delights in him. (When) he goes to any place that he wishes, the doorkeepers of the Afterlife say to him “Praise be to you!” They pull back the bolts and open the doors before him, and (this) every day for millions and millions of years (for) [this will be] the duration of his existence […] ? […]
That’s quite a series of statements about someone who had no known quality to deserve such praise, other than being the “favourite” of an emperor.
It is a pity that the meaning of the text is as uncertain as it is. It is not certain, I learn, that the tomb of Antinous was in Rome, rather than in Antinoupolis. It all depends on how you read the text.
Another early traveller who voyaged up the Nile in 1737-8 was the Danish naval officer, Capt. Frederic L. Norden. His Voyage d’Egypte et de Nubie, vol. 2, Copenhagen (1755) describes his trip, and mentions Antinoupolis during the account for Tuesday 26 November 1737. Sadly it does not give us much.
Here is an excerpt of plate 79, showing Antinoe. Sadly this section of a river map is all that Nordern gives us by way of illustration.
His written note, on p.131, gives us no more than Fr. Siccard did almost a century earlier.
On the other side of the river, with its mosque, stands the town of Sheikh Abadé, once Antinoé, capital of the Lesser Thebaid. Various antiquities can be seen, which are not built of the enormous stones of which the buildings of the ancient Egyptians are composed; but rather with stones of moderate size, like those used to build the triumphal arches in Rome. Among the ruins are three large gates, the first of which is adorned with fluted columns of the Corinthian order, the other two, which correspond to the first, have much less ornamentation. These ruins of ancient Antinoé are at the foot of the mountains, and close to the Nile. The walls of the houses were built of brick, which are still as red today as if they had been recently manufactured. It looks as if the village of Rodda, mentioned a little earlier, was the Mokkias of Antinoé.
Other than the remark about the bricks, we learn little that is new. But I suspect that Mr Norden did not step off his boat; or not much.
The illustrations in general look as if they reproduce the sketches made on the spot. Many are just landscapes from the Nile, but the most interesting are from Luxor, and after. Here is one of Luxor temple, as he saw it.
The statues were buried up to their breasts in debris at this time, of course.
An interesting book, but not of great value for our knowledge of Antinoupolis.
 A 1757 English version is online here, but omits much. Antinoe is vol.2, p.28. ↩
 “De l’autre côté du fleuve, s’élève avec sa mosquée la ville de SCHECH ABADE, autrefois Antinoé, capitale de la Basse-Thebaîde. On y apperçoit diverses antiquités, où l’on n’a pas employé de ces pierres énormes, dont les edifices des anciens Egyptiens font composes; mais des pierres d’une grandeur médiocre, & à peu près telles que celles dont on a fait usage pour bâtir les Arcs de triomphe â Rome. On remarque principalement, parmi lés ruines, trois grandes portes, dont la première est ornée de colonnes de l’ordre Corinthien, cannelées: les deux autres, qui répondent à la première, ont beaucoup moins d’ornemens. Ces ruines de l’ancienne Antinoé sont au pied des Montagnes, & voisines du Nil. Les murailles des maisons avoient été construites de briques, qui se trouvent encore aujourdhui aussi rouges, que si on ne faisait que de les fabriquer. Il y a grande apparence, que le village de Rodda, dont fai parlé un peu plus haut, était le Mokkias d’Antinoé. ↩
At the end of the 2nd century, Clement of Alexandria mentions the deification of Antinous in his Against the Heathens c.4 (online here):
Another new deity was added to the number with great religious pomp in Egypt, and was near being so in Greece by the king of the Romans, who deified Antinous, whom he loved as Zeus loved Ganymede, and whose beauty was of a very rare order: for lust is not easily restrained, destitute as it is of fear; and men now observe the sacred nights of Antinous, the shameful character of which the lover who spent them with him knew well.
Why reckon him among the gods, who is honoured on account of uncleanness? And why do you command him to be lamented as a son? And why should you enlarge on his beauty? Beauty blighted by vice is loathsome. Do not play the tyrant, O man, over beauty, nor offer foul insult to youth in its bloom. Keep beauty pure, that it may be truly fair. Be king over beauty, not its tyrant. Remain free, and then I shall acknowledge thy beauty, because thou hast kept its image pure: then will I worship that true beauty which is the archetype of all who are beautiful.
Now the grave of the debauched boy is the temple and town of Antinous. For just as temples are held in reverence, so also are sepulchres, and pyramids, and mausoleums, and labyrinths, which are temples of the dead, as the others are sepulchres of the gods.
He then goes on to quote the Sybilline oracles. The statement that Antinous was buried at Antinoupolis, if not rhetorical, is interesting.
We’ve reviewed the earlier visitors to Antinoupolis. It’s time to go back to the Description de l’Egypte, made by Napoleon’s engineers, and the detailed description of the city made by them.
In fact it’s a relief to do so. The shoddy engravings of Paul Lucas are not to be compared to the excellence of the material prepared by the French military engineers. Compare the picture above of the “triumphal arch” with Perry’s reprint of Lucas’ miserable image, inaccurate because of damage even in Perry’s day:
There is rather a lot of material about Antinoupolis in the Description, and all of it is by Jomard. The material is in three places:
There is a details 41 page description of the city in Book 02 (1818), Volume II – Antiquités, Descriptions. Google. Google. Heidelberg.
There is a bunch of maps, plans and drawings, plates 53-61, in Book 14 (1809), Volume IV – Planches : Antiquités. Heidelberg. Toulouse.
There are several pages in the same volume describing the plates, with detailed measurements and orientation, starting here (the pages are helpfully unnumbered).
Finally Jomard also discusses the inscription on the column of Alexander Severus elsewhere. At the foot of p.22 of the description of the city, he adds unhelpfully, “Voyez mon Mémoire sur les anciennes inscriptions recueillies en Égypte, A. tom. II, et la pl. 56, A. vol. V”. Indeed we would, monsieur, if we could locate so vaguely described a work. (Update: in fact the “memoire” is a paper in the same vol. 2 as the 41 page description; but says nothing useful. The “plate 56” is in vol. 5 of the Descriptionhere, and contains nothing less than a drawing of the inscription! I add it at the end.)
At the cross-roads in the centre of the city, there stood four columns, on bases. An inscription on each of the bases recorded that the pillars were erected by Alexander Severus, although only two bases remained by modern times. Here is Jomard’s plate of the cross-roads:
I wrote here about Richard Pococke’s publication of the inscription. But Jomard makes a much better job of it. In his description in vol. 2, p.22, he gives this image of what he could actually see on-site:
And then this reconstruction with Latin (!) translation.
I.e. “For good luck. To the emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander, Pious, Lucky, Augustus; and to Julia Mammaea the Augusta, his mother and also mother of the army camp, for safety and their perpetual stability, and of all their house, by Mevius Honorius … prefect of Egypt … [i.e. at his order] … of the new Greeks of Antinoe, Aurelius Origenes being Prytaneus and Apollonius the senator being gymnasiarch, on account of the [triumphal] crowns that also by the action of the senate of Athens, in the 11th year …”
Jomard tells us that the inscription appeared on all four column bases, facing the crossroads, and was of 14 lines. It was carefully engraved on the flat spaces left for it.
It’s all gone now. Blown up, smashed to pieces, and used for building materials by the local inhabitants.
There are people who take things so much for granted that they scoff at scholarly literature as simply making copies on paper of what can be seen more easily in the round on the ground. That is, of course, exactly what the literature does. For what is on the ground can vanish. That’s why it has to be recorded, in multiple copies.
Thanks to the effort of Edme François Jomard the column and the inscription of Alexander Severus is preserved for us all today.
UPDATE: I finally located Jomard’s drawing of the inscription, in vol. 5, plate 56, of the Description de l’Egypte (online here). The plate contains a bunch of inscriptions. Two, numbers 18 and 19, are labelled as from Antinoupolis. Here they are:
Presumably these are transcribed from the two pedestals.
The English traveller Charles Perry visited Antinoupolis in the early 18th century, although I have not been able to see in his book the exact year without reading the whole thing through. His account was published in 1743 as A view of the Levant: particularly of Constantinople, Syria, Egypt and Greece (London: Woodward & co, 1743; online here; better copy with plates at UCL here). His account of Insine, or Antinoupolis, is on p.328. There is a plate also, at the end of the volume (although missing, I notice, in many Google copies), which has two items from Insine, but mostly the pyramid of Giza (which is what the diagram in the middle relates to). I’ve chopped off the bottom. Click to enlarge.
The choice of images is pretty clearly derived from Lucas; Perry tells us that the “triumphal arch” had been damaged since Lucas, but his image does not show this.
His dependence on the words of Father Sicard appears at one or two points. But let’s hear him. Note that I have slightly modernised the spelling, and capitalisation.
* * * *
…we prevail’d on him[the boat captain, who was afraid of bandits], though not without much difficulty, to fall down to Insine, which is about four miles lower, on the east of the river, to visit the ruins and remaining antiquities of that once famous city. Indeed we had made very strict inquiry after it, with design to visit it in our way from Minio to Meloue, being inform’d it was not above three leagues below the latter; but notwithstanding we carry’d a pilot with us extraordinary, who had once been as far as the third cataract, and had many times been as far as Asoan with his own bark, and pretended to know every creek and corner of the Nile so far, yet he could give us no manner of intelligence where Insine was. But here lay the mistake, or the cause of our difficulty – though Insine was the ancient name of the city, and is the name given it by all writers, as well modern as ancient, yet the people of the Country call it Sheik Abadie from a Turkish saint that lies buried there. Whenever we talk’d to the Pilot of Insine, he imagin’d, and consequently would persuade us we meant Esne, which is another village about 150 leagues higher, lying on the west of the Nile, 35 leagues below the cataract of Asoan.
The extent of the present ruins of Insine (which we judge to be near four miles in circuit) serve to shew that of the ancient city, as the great Number of porphyry, and other pillars, do to shew its ancient splendor and magnificence.
A certain French Author (a reverend father) says, there are no less than fourteen pillars of red granite yet standing and whole, besides many others broken. But though the travellers of that nation seldom undervalue or under-rate the marvels they see and recite, yet this gentleman has been very short in this particular, though he has made amends for it in others; for we told so many pillars, that the account grew too perplex’d and heavy for our memory; and, at least, we can aver they far exceed the number by him given. Many of these fine pillars are disposed in lines, in a regular good order, before the Triumphal Arch of Marcus Aurelius, as ’tis called, and have doubtless been parts of some very superb edifice: But there are several others of them, further to the left-hand, which now serve as parts of, or props to miserable Arab houses, or rather huts.
The edifices, or parts of edifices yet extant, are the Triumphal Arch of Marcus Aurelius afore-mentioned, the Porta Ferrea, and the palace called Abulkerun. We compar’d the two former with Lucas’s draughts of them, and found them to agree very exactly, which we shall therefore exhibit for the curious reader to see. Of these the Triumphal Arch is the most considerable, being yet perfect and entire, as represented by Lucas; except only that since the time when he took a draught of it, the front is broken, just under the angle, which discovers, that the stone work, which terminates in a triangle, was sustained by an arch of brick-work.
Of the Triumphal Arch of Marcus Aurelius.
This edifice is seventeen yards in front, and half that sum in flank: its height is about fifty-six feet: the grand arch is five yards and an half wide, and eight yards high: Each of the small arches is two yards broad, and six yards and an half high. Besides those three arches, which pass from side to side, there is another which runs from end to end, and intersects all the other arches at right angles. But this Lucas does not mention in his reading, nor does he give it any appearance in his draught, which might have been done by drawing the face a little obliquely, or sideways. This edifice has in its front four pillars, made of square stones, with beautiful capitals, all which are very well express’d by Lucas. A few paces distant from this portico, on the left side of it, are three noble pillars of porphyry, placed regularly in a line. When we see and consider so many fine pillars, some in front, and others in flank of this portico, which seem to have been appendages to it, we are at a loss to guess what this fabric may formerly have been, and to what use and purpose designed.
For though ’tis commonly called the Triumphal Arch of Marcus Aurelius, yet it may have preceded his era many centuries, and have had another name, use, and design originally. However, we neither do, nor can suppose this city, or any of its remains were coeval with the ancient Egyptians; because throughout all its ruins we discover neither hieroglyphics, nor any of their divinities in relief; which are look’d upon as the only undoubted arguments and testimonies, that things were of their time, because none of their works (whether temples, statues, or grots) are without them.
Of what they call the Porta Ferreat there remains no more, at present, than two large pillars, with beautiful capitals, which are very well taken off by Lucas.
The palace called Abul Kerun, or the Horn’d Building, is now so far gone to ruin, as to admit of no good description. We find lying on the ground, before this palace, two capitals of pillars, whose angles are extravagantly large and prominent; and from thence, as ’tis said, the palace was called the Horn’d Building.
We found the remains of another public edifice, which we could learn no name for: it appears in front much like the Triumphal Arch above-describ’d, having one large arch in the middle, with a small one on each side, but ’tis not above seven feet thick. It had four noble large pillars, with beautiful capitals standing before it, at four yards distance, and as many behind it. These latter are partly standing and entire, but the former are all broken, and lying on the ground. At the distance of about 500 paces from thence, to the north-east, we find one pillar yet standing and entire: Its shaft consists of five stones, each seven feet high. The capital, and lower stone of the shaft, are each adorn’d with a very noble beautiful foliage. The pedestal is composed of several stones, is about four yards high, and has a Greek inscription on it, which is so much effaced by the injuries of time, that we could not make it out. ’Tis evident that there were formerly four of these pillars, disposed in form of a square; for there is the pedestal of another yet standing, with an inscription on it, which agrees, far as we could read it, with the other: there are likewise three capitals, besides many other fragments of the pillars, lying upon the ground. What assures us, that they were disposed in form of a square, is the position of the pedestal, now standing, with regard to the entire column ; for we found them bearing thus, to one another.
The Square c represents the situation of the entire Pillar, and d that of the pedestal, yet standing; so that, without doubt, a and b were the situation of the other two. But what may serve as a further proof of the ancient splendor and magnificence of this city, there are now extant two rows of marble pillars, or at least their bases in the earth; which run in right and parallel lines, at about twelve paces distance from each other, for about a mile; and those were of no other use or design, than to support a range of large balconies, which ran along on each side of the principal street; so that People might walk secure from the inclemencies and injuries of weather, whether of heat or rain. This principal street was cut in its middle, at right angles, by another street of equal form, bigness, and beauty, adorn’d in like manner with large balconies, supported with marble pillars. These two streets (according to ancient history, and what we may conclude from its present ruins) constituted the major part of the city; and the four pillars stood in that part where the streets crossed each other. Besides what we have made particular mention of, we found, as we rang’d over the ruins, a great many other stately pillars, yet on foot and entire. Without the limits of the present ruins, and consequently without those of the ancient city, doubtless, is a place about half a mile long, but not above sixty paces broad, which they now call the Meidan. This doubtless was the Circus, where they celebrated the Sports instituted by the Emperor Adrian, in Honour of his Favourite Antinous, after his Death, (being drowned, as ’tis commonly thought, in the River Nile near that City) for which he was inconsolable. History informs us, that the Emperor Adrian had (to his eternal ignominy) a most extravagant and unnatural passion for that youth; and therefore he omitted nothing that might serve to perpetuate his Memory. He called this City Antinopolis, in honour to him: He dedicated temples to him, in which he established oracles; and caused his deification to be celebrated with great pomp and solemnity. But before we finish our observation on this city, we must observe, that besides the two capital streets above-mentioned, there were several other streets, though of less extent and bigness, which were laid out with the utmost order and exactness, and ran in right and parallel lines: And these likewise had their ranges of balconies before the houses, sustain’d by fine marble pillars, as the others; so that the whole city seemed to be one continued peristylion. The ruins of this city are indeed very great, and far exceed any others that we found in all Upper Egypt, But, O tempora! O Mores! its ancient grandeur, glory, and splendor, are now reduced to a poor miserable village, consisting only of a few huts made of dirt; but their materials, however, are very well proportioned to their height, as they are both emblems of great humility, or rather poverty.
All places of the Turkish Dominions, which we have as yet visited, are very well stock’d with mosques, for their public worship; but no other Part is in any Proportion so full of them as Egypt, and especially Cairo; in which, according to the report of the people, there are no less than 8000, with minarets, besides a great many others: And when one sees what an infinite number of fine pillars, and other precious remains of antiquity are employ’d in them, (which they place without any beauty, order, or symmetry, mixing pillars of different orders, materials, and magnitudes promiscuously) ’tis astonishing to think where they found them. But whoever has seen what Egypt, especially the upper part of it, is, and well considers what it has been, will necessarily conclude, that there must have been an inexhaustible fund of them.
We return’d on board our Vessel that evening, and the next morning set forward under a fair, but gentle gale. In about an hour and half we went ashore again, near a Coptic Convent, call’d Abuhennis, which is situate on the same side of the Nile, about two or three Miles above Insine. ….
Travelling in Egypt could be dangerous, as one French visitor discovered. The natives did not always like to see people drawing the ruins!
Our next early visitor to Antinoupolis was C.S. Sonnini de Manoncourt, a French Engineer sent out by the ancien regime in France in 1777, but published in “year 7” of the French Revolution, i.e. 1799. Thankfully an English translation exists.
Only one illustration is given, of a column next to a gatehouse; the artist had to run for it before he had finished. This, rather than the strange image given by Lucas, is the correct appearance of these square pillars.
In chapter 40, we read this account of his visit to Antinoupolis, beginning on p.40. The footnotes are Sonnini’s. The sneery tone towards Christians, and especially to monks, is perhaps a reflection of the bigotry of the revolutionary government, and the malice and energy of its informers, rather than a personal opinion.
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The same gusts of north wind continued to pursue us still on the 4th [of April, 1778], and carried us with a dangerous velocity to Scheick Abade, a resort of pirates, to the east of the Nile. Immense ruins, and a long succession of rubbish, announce that a great city existed there in ancient times. This was the fruit of a disgraceful passion, which poorly disguised the appearance of gratitude affected by Adrian in founding it. It is well known to what a degree this prince, renowned for his political and warlike talents, was, at the same time; despicable, on account of his passion for Antinous, the perfection of whose form is evinced by one of the most beautiful statues of antiquity, still in preservation. Adrian, during the time that he was in Egypt with his court and army, consulted the soothsayers, whose response struck his imagination. The oracle declared that the greatest danger threatened him, unless a person dear to him, and by whom likewise he was beloved, should sacrifice himself for his preservation; and the dastardly Emperor had the cruelty to accept of the sacrifice. The beautiful and generous Antinous precipitated himself from the summit of a rock into the Nile; and the vile despot thought to efface his disgrace and his ingratitude, by building, in honour of his favourite, whom he looked upon also as his deliverer, a city which, under the name of Antinoë, perpetuated his barbarous credulity and his criminal affection. He embellished it with all that art can imagine the most precious. The statues of Antinous were there considered as sacred representations; he built temples for him; he instituted games and sacrifices, and he himself regulated the worship by which he was to be venerated.
Antinoë had filled the place of the ancient Egyptian city of Abidus, in which a divinity who bore the name of Busa was worshipped. This god delivered oracles, and his. celebrity long supported itself. The ancient city of Abidus and that of Antinoë, are now equally ruinous. What remains of this last excites regret for its destruction. You behold not in these ruins the unwieldy and gigantic monuments, those enormous masses of stone, which the Egyptians raised rather to astonish than to charm the eye. Everything there was in just proportion, all possessed those delicate contours, and those elegant forms of the beautiful architecture of the Greeks and of the Romans.
My reis made many difficulties about approaching the shore which covers the ruins of Antinoë. It is peopled by the worst tribe of Egyptians, and the most determined robbers. They attacked Mr. Bruce, when, on crossing the Said, he intended to stop at this place.* I observed all the precautions which prudence suggested, and I landed with my draughtsman. The extensive site, strewed with the most beautiful fragments, overwhelmed me with astonishment and admiration. It must have occupied a considerable time to travel over them all. The night approached, and it was impossible either to pass it on that dangerous coast, or, to stray very far from the boat.
The ferocious men, who dwell around the ruins of the city of Adrian, employ themselves in pulling down those parts of the edifices which still remained, and in glutting their savage disposition by the habitual commission of destruction. In the time of Vansleb*, and of Paul Lucas, there were many more pieces of architecture existing entire, than I myself beheld. The greater part of the buildings were constructed of large bricks, and their red colour was still in perfect preservation. That which appeared to me the most remarkable, was a triumphal arch, or magnificent gateway, supported by fluted pillars. The front is fifty feet in length. A very bad representation of this is to be seen in the Travels of Paul Lucas +. The capitals of the pillars in particular are very badly represented. A more clear idea of it may be formed from plate XXVIII. It is evident that the intention was to have taken a complete delineation of this triumphal arch, which, to all appearance, served as the gate of the city; but while the designer was employed in this work, and I, on my part, was examining some other portions of the ruins, the noise of a gun fired off by one of our companions, who was placed as a sentinel, gave us notice of the approach of a gang of robbers. We had only time to escape to the boat, which was immediately pushed off shore, and we got clear, with only the menaces and bullying of those barbarians.
You observe also, on each side of the gate, holes cut for the hinges which sustained the folding-doors. The country people say that these doors are at Cairo, and that they were transported thither by a devil. Paul Lucas saw them there covered with plates of iron, and serving to close up an arch which is near the palace of the grand provost*, without doubt the Ouali, the officer who at Cairo is intrusted with the affairs of the police. A considerable number of pillars were still standing at the other extremity of the city of Antinoë, towards the mountains. All the remainder presents nothing but a confused mass of pieces of architecture, broken and overthrown.
On the opposite side of the mountain, which terminates, towards the west, the ancient enclosure of Antinoë, you distinguish a considerable number of openings dug in the rock. These caverns were undoubtedly places of sepulture, the catacombs. There are places such as these all over Thebais, principally in the environs of great cities, along those two chains of mountains with which the Nile is bordered, and sometimes straitened. The inhabitants, too grossly ignorant to comprehend those means with which the arts supplied their ancestors, ascribe these excavations to demons. Superstition produces similar effects upon the most opposite characters; for the missionary Vansleb appeared to agree in opinion with the then natives of Egypt; it seemed equally impossible to him that human beings could dig such cavities: but he subjoins to his opinion this pious mollification, that the devils were forced to become such good workmen by means of exorcisms*. On the other band, the Christian legend beholds in that immense number of grottoes in the mountains of Thebais only the solitary retreats of holy hermits, whose indolence was but poorly disguised under the mask of contemplation; a fine-sounding word, but totally devoid of meaning, when it is applied to the life led by beings of this sort.
The mosque of the village in the neighbourhood of Antinoë, and whose aspect and population form so striking a contrast with the superb buildings and the urbanity of the ancient city built by Adrian, contains the tomb and the relics of a saint who has given to this place his name of Sheick Abade. But, what is truly diverting, while the Mahometans regard this saint as a zealous partizan of the Alcoran, the Christians claim and venerate him as one of their bishops who received the mournful honours of martyrdom at Insine*. But enough has been said respecting those absurd chimeras, of which the men of all ages and of all nations have been the may-game.
We quitted the shores, formerly flourishing, but now desolate, of the city of Antinous. We came to anchor opposite to Mellavoui, three leagues from Scheick Abade. Mellavoui is a little city, of a very beautiful appearance, situated at about half a league from the western banks of the Nile. ….
 SONNINI DE MANONCOURT, Charles Nicolas Sigisbert. Voyage dans la Haute et Basse Égypte… Collection de Planches, Paris, F. Buisson, An VII [=1799]. Plate XXVIII, to be inserted in Tome III, p.48. See a copy of this image here. ↩
 C. S. Sonnini, Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, undertaken by order of the old government of France, translated by Henry Hunter, London (1807), vol.2. Online at Heidelberg here. The picture is the frontespiece. ↩
Another early visitor to the ruins of Antinoupolis in Egypt, made by order of Louis XIV, no less, was the French knight Paul Lucas (1664-1737). His rather derivative account appears in his Voyage Du Sieur Paul Lucas, Fait En M.DCCXIV, &c. Par Ordre De Louis XIV. Dans La Turquie, L’Asie, Sourie, Palestine, Haute Et Basse Egypte, &c Ou l’on trouvera des Remarques très-curieuses, comparées à ce qu’ont dit les Anciens dur le Labyrinthe d’Egypte, volume 2 (1720). Large sections are copied or condensed from Sicard, which makes one wonder how much Lucas really saw.
I was able to locate copies of this volume online without difficulty. But as with the letter of Father Sicard, these copies, one and all, were scanned with the illustration folded over! Fortunately I was able to find a copy of the illustration online here, which is as follows (click on the picture for full size):
On p.333, in the catalogue, we find this plate described as follows, however “The plan and elevation of the triumphal arch at Insine or Antinoupolis, with the design of two large pillars, of an unusual order of architecture, which are in the same town.” This no doubt is the real caption of the plate.
The drawing of the pillars is very bad, as Sonnini de Manoncourt notes in his account (with better illustration) from 1778.
Lucas gives the following account of his visit, starting on p.59. As before I have turned this into English with the aid of Google Translate.
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In the evening we reached the town of Insîné, which is 50 or 55 leagues from Cairo on the east bank of the Nile, where valuable remains of royal magnificence can still be seen today. This town is in fact the same as Antinopolis, which the Emperor Hadrian built in honor of the youth Antinous. It is known that this emperor had a mad passion for this favorite, and that this led him, after he had lost him, into outrageous extravagances. The historians do not agree on the circumstances of his death. Some say he died of illness; others that he immolated himself as a sacrifice, where impiety and magic were also employed, for the recovery of the health of the Emperor; still others, and this is the most general opinion received, say that he drowned in the Nile, on which he was sailing with his master. This event happened in the year 132 of Jesus Christ. The grief that Hadrian had at the loss of this young man, whom some scholars believe to have been of noble birth, was extreme and went to unexampled excess. He forgot nothing to make his memory immortal: he built on the Nile a city, magnificent through the various ornaments with which he embellished it, and gave it the name of this favorite. He dedicated Temples to him, and he instituted games in his honour; he then celebrated with lavish pomp, the ceremonies of his apotheosis; and so that nothing might be wanting to the glory of this new deity, he established in these temples an Oracle, whose answers he composed himself. These are the ruins of this city, now called Insiné, which I will describe.
This city was divided by two great streets, about 45 feet wide and 850 yards long, and they ended in four large gates. From the two streets, which formed a kind of cross, several other transverse streets were drawn, which were less wide; but of an equal length, all perfectly straight; as may still be seen from some remains, along the whole length of these streets there were two galleries, five or six feet wide, which were supported on one side by houses and on the other on finely-worked stone columns, so that this city was a continuous peristyle, where people on foot were always covered from the heat of the sun and from other injuries of the air. Many of these columns can still be seen, overthrown, in all districts of the city, and also some remains of the arcades. There is debris everywhere, so that one is obliged today to walk in the middle of the streets. I noticed outside of the city a place now called the Meidan; it’s a place about eight hundred yards long, and only 70 wide. It was probably the circus, where they celebrated the games established by the Emperor in honor of Antinous. Its length and shape marked the course of the horses and chariots which were part of the celebration of these festivals. This place is surrounded by very large stones, and I have seen up to eight rows of them on top of each other, which formed perhaps a kind of amphitheater where were the boxes for the spectators. Now let’s go back to the city, where everything is now ruined, except for three or four buildings, and some pillars which are still standing; what is today called the Iron Gate, and of which the folding doors, covered with plates of that metal, were taken to Cairo to be used to close an arch which is near to the palace of the Grand Provost, where I saw them. There is nothing complete except for two pillars with their capitals, such as may be seen in the illustration that I give here. They are forty feet high, without counting the part which is buried in the earth, and eighteen feet wide. They are square, and there is fifty feet distance from one to the other. Two former palaces can still be seen, one of which was called Abu Elquerou, the “father of the horns”, because of its sharp edges, cornices & capitals; and the other Melab-Elbenat; that is to say, the pleasure house of the princesses. I saw them examined them both. I measured the columns of the Corinthian order, which are grooved from their base to the middle, and joined beyond that to the capital. These columns are of a beautiful white stone that seems to have been drawn from the neighboring mountains, where we still find similar stone today; they are fourteen to fifteen feet in circumference, and about 40 feet high; the capitals are made of two parts, and are each seven feet and a half in diameter.
I cannot agree that these two buildings were the gates of the city; because what purpose would this many porphyry and granite columns have served, which are around the area, and of which there are still about twenty which are on their bases? I believe, without hesitation, that they were magnificent palaces, of which today only the porticos, or main entrances, remain; the names that they are given today confirm this conjecture.
I discovered a third of them at some distance beyond, which I call the triumphal arch of Insiné, and of which I give here an illustration. This is a large portico, where there are three arched openings, each of which has an upper window proportionate to its size, and there is a staircase to ascend within the wall. There is in this portico four beautiful square columns, all the stones united with their capitals, and above the window which is over the middle door, there is a beautiful stone entablature which makes the top of the building a triangle. The scale which I give for this purpose, shows all the dimensions exactly. Leaving by the iron gate, I was led by an Arab to a tomb believed to be that of a companion of Mohammed named Abon, and which is under a very beautiful vault. There are around twelve others, which the Arabs say are the twelve main friends of this false prophet, or rather his main advisers, as appears by the name of Sanbey which is given to them.
The town of Insiné is now only a wretched Village, whose houses, built mostly of earth and mud, are backed and supported by these beautiful columns of porphyry and granite, which I mentioned. This hamlet can only be recommended today by a very attractive mosque, which I am assured was once a Christian Church; it is built of very large stones and decorated inside with several columns that were transported from the city, and which are placed in an extremely odd order. It is the custom of the Turks throughout the Levant to take the most valuable pieces of antiquity for their mosques, which they employ without genius and without design, confusedly mixing different kinds of architecture, and large columns with small. The chief of the mosque came to receive us with great politeness, and showed us the apartments that once apparently served to accommodate the monks, and which are used today by the Turkish pilgrims that devotion attracts to this place, which is of great veneration among them, because of a Sheik who is buried there, and whom they treat like a saint, without knowing, however, if he was of their religion. I was assured that he had once been the Bishop of Insiné; his name was Ammona or Abona Abede: the word “Abona” means a monk: adding that he had shed his blood to uphold the faith of Jesus Christ; his tomb, which is in a chapel of the mosque, is shown. This Sheikh gave his name to the village which is among the ruins of Insiné, and that is now named Sheikh Abade.
After visiting this mosque, I went to a place where several beautiful columns can be seen, of which there is one that is still standing with its capital, which is a beautiful white marble stone that once supported a statue; it was undoubtedly of Alexander Severus who is mentioned in the inscription. The pedestal of this column is of eight courses of stone, and about thirteen feet high; the column is four feet in diameter, and its foot is of five parts. The first, which is the the nearest to the pedestal, is three and a half feet in height, and is surrounded by foliage that gives it much grace. The other four parts were each seven feet tall. On the pedestal was the inscription which will be found at the end of this book. As it is much mutilated, I had great difficulty to copy it; the curious may compare it with that of Father Siccard, and I beg the reader to read the scholarly reflections that he has made on the subject. Near this column of Alexander Severus may be seen three others which are overturned, and whose inscriptions are now so effaced that it is impossible to read them; one pedestal may still be seen which is not at all destroyed.
The place where these four columns were was a square, or rather a crossroads, where met the two large streets crossing the city from one end to the other, and which was large enough to receive the ornaments which I have just mentioned. That is all that now remains of a city once so beautiful, that the Emperor Hadrian built it to perpetuate the memory of a mad passion, which will forever tarnish his glory. Having spent much of the day in this place, and suffered much from the excessive heat that day, I went up on to a little eminence, formed by a heap of ruins, from where all these ruins can be viewed, and it seemed to me that this city must indeed have been four or five miles round. When I left Insiné, the Arabs who were with me, told me that it was Muhammad himself who had once made himself master of this city; but that it revolted as soon as he left, which angered the conquering legislator so much, that he sent his lieutenants, with orders to destroy it, and to put the inhabitants to the sword, and that since that time it has been deserted. Because the few Arabs who live there at present count for nothing, who live under the obedience of Sheikh of the mosque, which is called Sheik Abade, and gives its name to the area, and which is exempt from paying any tribute to the Sultan; but all this is simply a fable which marks the profound ignorance in which the Arabs live; Muhammad never carried his arms into Egypt and did not leave Arabia. That the same people told me that the city was once called Insiné is more likely, and we cannot doubt that the name is a corruption of that of Antinous, whose name the city which I just visited bore. All the ancients agree with Ptolemy and the Antonine Itinerary, that it was in the district of Upper Egypt, on the eastern bank of the Nile, and that it gives rise to the adjective Antinopolite: but I cannot share the feeling of those who say that the Emperor did but restore an ancient city that was in that place, and named it after his favorite: because as I have just described it, it appears that it was built anew, as we learn from Xiphilinus, despite what Casaubon says, who claims that the city was in that place was previously called Besa, and was dedicated to the deity of that name.
After I had carefully examined the antiques of Insiné and its surroundings, I went to re-embark, and after four hours I reached Meloüé, a very pretty town, where there are a large number of Coptic Christians…
* * * *
The reader may wonder where is the fresh transcription of the inscription on the column of Alexander Severus, to which Lucas alludes. Well may we wonder: for it is not to be found in the text as printed. There are a couple of short inscriptions on p.131 and 136, from Dendera; but I was unable to locate any transcription of that at Antinoupolis, either at the end of “book 5” or of the volume itself. Oh well.
My last post gave an account of a visit to Antinoupolis in Egypt in 1715. But without the illustrations! Well, I have spent several days now, attempting to locate online a copy of Father Sicard’s Letter to the Count of Toulouse which had undamaged illustrations in it. Not all copies were bound with illustrations, I note.
The text of the letter is printed in the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses series, which is an utter mess of original volumes of letters, jumbled all anyhow, plus reprints in different orders, etc etc. Somebody ought to draw up a table of this series in its various versions. It is NOT fun, attempting to locate something.
Today, using the Europeana portal, I had a lucky break, and discovered the existence of a separate volume of plates for the series! A copy is held at Gallica here. It indicates the volume and the page numbers.
So, finally, here are Father Sicard’s three illustrations!
and finally the column of Alexander Severus:
It’s wonderful to have all this stuff online, but there is still plenty for researchers to do, in simply locating it all!