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.
Reading Jomard’s description of Antinoe, among the authors he lists a “Chronique d’Alexandrie” as an ancient work. His reference is only “Chronic. Alexandrin. p.598″, which is less than helpful. But what on earth is this work?
A google search reveals little for “Chronicle of Alexandria”. But the French version took me to this link which read:
Chronique d’Alexandrie, compilation d’auteurs grecs faite sous l’empereur Héraclius, au règne duquel elle s’arrête. Le manuscrit, découvert en Sicile vers le milieu du XVIe siècle, portait en tête le nom de Pierre d’Alexandrie. Il a été imprimé en 1615 par les soins du jésuite Raderus.
I.e. “Chronicle of Alexandria”, compilation of Greek authors made under the emperor Heraclius, in whose reign it stops. The manuscript, discovered in Sicily around the middle of the 16th century, bears at the head the name of Peter of Alexandria. It was printed in 1615 by the efforts of the Jesuit Raderus.
That doesn’t ring any bells at all either.
Searching for “Peter of Alexandria” led me down a false trail. It seems that there was an otherwise unknown 10th century Middle Byzantine author of this name. I am indebted to Warren Treadgold, The Middle Byzantine Historians, (2013), p.123, for information about him (I have omitted all but the first footnote). Although he is not our man, let us by all means learn more:
Among authentic histories, around 900 an otherwise unknown Peter of Alexandria wrote a short chronicle entitled Brief Survey of the Times from Adam to the Present.6 It concludes with the reign of Leo VI, but, after recording the corulers and lengths of reigns of previous emperors, it fails to mention either Leo’s son Constantine VII or the length of Leo’s reign. Peter seems therefore to have composed his Brief Survey between Leo’s accession, in 886, and Constantine’s coronation, in 908. In his title Peter describes himself as “Christian and orthodox, of Alexandria,” without mentioning his profession or any rank in the Church or bureaucracy. He was a Chalcedonian iconophile, because he calls Michael III and Theodora orthodox. Yet if Peter had been writing for the few Greek readers in Alexandria’s small and isolated Melkite community, he would scarcely have needed to describe himself as “of Alexandria” and would probably have written in Arabic and concentrated on Egypt. Especially because he seems to have been well informed about Byzantine history up to 886, Peter was probably a young man who left his home for Constantinople to seek his fortune by writing history, just as George Syncellus had come from Palestine and Theognostus the Grammarian had probably come from Sicily. Whether Peter was rewarded for his work in some way we cannot say.
Peter’s text fills thirty-one and a half pages in our sole remaining manuscript. More than half, about sixteen pages, deals with the time of the Book of Genesis, of which about six and a half pages list the peoples descended from the three sons of Noah. Peter covers the rest of the time up to Augustus in about seven pages, the Roman empire up to Diocletian in about three and a half pages, and the Byzantine empire from Constantine I to Leo VI in about five pages. Consisting largely of tables, the Brief Survey differs somewhat from other Greek histories that survive today. Besides the Bible, Peter cites Aristobulus of Cassandria, Josephus, Julius Africanus, Eusebius of Caesarea, Socrates of Constantinople, and Evagrius; but, as often happens in Byzantine chronicles, these citations may be borrowed, and in the case of the long-lost works of Aristobulus and Africanus they doubtless are. Here Peter, like George Syncellus and George the Monk, seems to have made direct or indirect use of the lost chronicle of Panodorus of Alexandria, because Peter adopts Panodorus’ date of 5493 B.C. for the Creation instead of the more common date of Annianus. Although Peter appears not to have used the chronicles of George Syncellus and Theophanes, he does seem to have used Nicephorus’ Concise Chronography, probably in one of its later versions.
Peter consulted at least one more source, however, apart from contemporaries he met at Constantinople. Unlike other known Greek chroniclers, he records not just how many years each emperor reigned but how many times each one assumed the consulship. Like Peter’s lengths of imperial reigns, his numbers of imperial consulships are often wrong but not so inaccurate that he could simply have made them up. Since the “Paschal Chronicle” records consuls’ names, it could have been used to compute the numbers of the emperors’ consulships until its original ending date of 630; but it seems not to have been Peter’s source, because its errors differ from his. Peter appears to be our only source for the numbers of imperial consulships from 630 to 886, which he presumably took from official records, since he would hardly have risked the scorn of informed contemporaries by making needless fabrications. Perhaps he became interested in the consulship when Leo VI abolished it, sometime before 899. Though a minor work, Peter’s Brief Survey preserves unique evidence for imperial consulships, and probably some unique material from the lost chronicle of Panodorus, apparently still to be found at Constantinople in Peter’s time.
6. See Hunger, Hochsprachliche profane Literatur I, p. 360, Kazhdan et al., ODB III, p. 1638, Samodurova, “Хроника” (with the Greek text), and PmbZ I, Prolegomena, pp. 26–27.
Sadly “Samodurova” does not seem to be accessible, so I don’t know how any of us can read this work. Anyway, it did not seem to be our source.
In the end, I searched instead for the editor, “Raderus”. This proved to be Matthaus Rader. When I looked at works by him in the OCLC, I found this:
Chronicon Alexandrinum idemque astronomicum et ecclesiasticum : (vulgò Siculum seu Fasti Siculi)
In his article on the city of Antinoupolis, Jomard quotes a few authors relevant to the story of the wretched Antinous, and the city that bore his name. I thought that I would give a few here.
Justin Martyr, First Apology, c. 29, writes:
And again [we fear to expose children], lest some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers. But whether we marry, it is only that we may bring up children; or whether we decline marriage, we live continently.
And that you may understand that promiscuous intercourse is not one of our mysteries, one of our number a short time ago presented to Felix the governor in Alexandria a petition, craving that permission might be given to a surgeon to make him an eunuch. For the surgeons there said that they were forbidden to do this without the permission of the governor. And when Felix absolutely refused to sign such a permission, the youth remained single, and was satisfied with his own approving conscience, and the approval of those who thought as he did.
And it is not out of place, we think, to mention here Antinous, who was alive but lately, and whom all were prompt, through fear, to worship as a god, though they knew both who he was and what was his origin.
The statement that everyone worshipped Antinous through fear, even though they knew who he was and what he was, is telling.
Jerome, Against Jovinian II, c.7, writes:
Almost every city in Egypt venerates its own beasts and monsters, and whatever be the object of worship, that they think inviolable and sacred. Hence it is that their towns also are named after animals Leonto, Cyno, Lyco, Busyris, Thmuis, which is, being interpreted, a he-goat.
And to make us understand what sort of gods Egypt always welcomed, one of their cities was recently called Antinous after Hadrian’s favourite. You see clearly then that not only in eating, but also in burial, in wedlock, and in every department of life, each race follows its own practice and peculiar usages, and takes that for the law of nature which is most familiar to it. 
Athanasius, Contra Gentes, part 1, c.9, writes:
But others, straining impiety to the utmost, have deified the motive of the invention of these things and of their own wickedness, namely, pleasure and lust, and worship them, such as their Eros, and the Aphrodite at Paphos. While some of them, as if vying with them in depravation, have ventured to erect into gods their rulers or even their sons, either out of honour for their princes, or from fear of their tyranny, such as the Cretan Zeus, of such renown among them, and the Arcadian Hermes; and among the Indians Dionysus, among the Egyptians Isis and Osiris and Horus, and in our own time Antinous, favourite of Hadrian, Emperor of the Romans, whom, although men know he was a mere man, and not a respectable man, but on the contrary, full of licentiousness, yet they worship for fear of him that enjoined it.
For Hadrian having come to sojourn in the land of Egypt, when Antinous the minister of his pleasure died, ordered him to be worshipped; being indeed himself in love with the youth even after his death, but for all that offering a convincing exposure of himself, and a proof against all idolatry, that it was discovered among men for no other reason than by reason of the lust of them that imagined it. According as the wisdom of God testifies beforehand when it says, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication.”
Origen, Contra Celsum, book 3, , writes:
But as he next introduces the case of the favourite of Adrian (I refer to the accounts regarding the youth Antinous, and the honours paid him by the inhabitants of the city of Antinous in Egypt), and imagines that the honour paid to him falls little short of that which we render to Jesus, let us show in what a spirit of hostility this statement is made.
For what is there in common between a life lived among the favourites of Adrian, by one who did not abstain even from unnatural lusts, and that of the venerable Jesus, against whom even they who brought countless other charges, and who told so many falsehoods, were not able to allege that He manifested, even in the slightest degree, any tendency to what was licentious?
Nay, further, if one were to investigate, in a spirit of truth and impartiality, the stories relating to Antinous, he would find that it was due to the magical arts and rites of the Egyptians that there was even the appearance of his performing anything (marvellous) in the city which bears his name, and that too only after his decease,-an effect which is said to have been produced in other temples by the Egyptians, and those who are skilled in the arts which they practise.
For they set up in certain places demons claiming prophetic or healing power, and which frequently torture those who seem to have committed any mistake about ordinary kinds of food, or about touching the dead body of a man, that they may have the appearance of alarming the uneducated multitude.
Of this nature is the being that is considered to be a god in Antinoopolis in Egypt, whose (reputed) virtues are the lying inventions of some who live by the gain derived therefrom; while others, deceived by the demon placed there, and others again convicted by a weak conscience, actually think that they are paying a divine penalty inflicted by Antinous.
Of such a nature also are the mysteries which they perform, and the seeming predictions which they utter.
Far different from such are those of Jesus. For it was no company of sorcerers, paying court to a king or ruler at his bidding, who seemed to have made him a god; but the Architect of the universe Himself, in keeping with the marvellously persuasive power of His words, commended Him as worthy of honour, not only to those men who were well disposed, but to demons also, and other unseen powers, which even at the present time show that they either fear the name of Jesus as that of a being of superior power, or reverentially accept Him as their legal ruler. For if the commendation had not been given Him by God, the demons would not have withdrawn from those whom they had assailed, in obedience to the mere mention of His name.
XXXVII. The Egyptians, then, having been taught to worship Antinous, will, if you compare him with Apollo or Zeus, endure such a comparison, Antinous being magnified in their estimation through being classed with these deities; for Celsus is clearly convicted of falsehood when he says, “that they will not endure his being compared with Apollo or Zeus.” Whereas Christians (who have learned that their eternal life consists in knowing the only true God, who is over all, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent; and who have learned also that all the gods of the heathen are greedy demons, which flit around sacrifices and blood, and other sacrificial accompaniments, in order to deceive those who have not taken refuge with the God who is over all, but that the divine and holy angels of God are of a different nature and will from all the demons on earth, and that they are known to those exceedingly few persons who have carefully and intelligently investigated these matters) will not endure a comparison to be made between them and Apollo or Zeus, or any being worshipped with odour and blood and sacrifices; some of them, so acting from their extreme simplicity, not being able to give a reason for their conduct, but sincerely observing the precepts which they have received; others, again, for reasons not to be lightly regarded, nay, even of a profound description, and (as a Greek would say) drawn from the inner nature of things; … 
Epiphanius, Panarion, writes, discussing the various customs of the Greeks:
But if I were to describe the woman ecstatics in Memphis < and > Heliopolis who bewitch themselves with drums and flutes, and the dancing girls, and the performers at the triennial festival— and the women at Bathys and in the temple of Menuthis who have abandoned shame and womanliness—to what burdens for the tongue, or what a long composition I could commit myself, by adding their countless number [itself] to the number I have already given! (2) For even though I were to take on the enormous task I would leave our comprehension of these things incomplete, since scripture says that there are “young women without number.”48(3) The rites at Sais and Pelusium, at Bubastis and Abydus, the temples of Antinous and the mysteries there. The rites at Pharbetis, those of Mendesius’ goat, all the mysteries in Busiris, all the ones in Sebennytus, all the ones in Diospolis, where they sometimes perform rites for the ass in the name of Seth, or Typho, if you please, while others < worship* > Tithambro, or Hecate, and others are initiates of Senephthy, others of Thermuthi, others of Isis. (4) And how many things of this sort can be said! < If one tries > to name them specifically it will consume a great deal of time. The entire subject will be summed up by the phrase, “young women without number.”
This reminds me of the 6th century life of Severus of Antioch, written by Zacharias Rhetor, where visits to the temple at Menouthis for problems of “fertility” did indeed involve sleazy “priestesses”.
It’s not really very much, is it? But there are still a few to go.
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.
* * * *
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. ….
Update (18 August 2023): Comparing this to the Pococke drawing and the drawing of the theatre portico in pl. 56 and 57 of the Description de l’Egypte, especially zooming in on the upper storey – the lower may have been buried by sand earlier – I wonder if this “gatehouse” is in fact the theatre portico? The triangular part of the facade is distinctive, I think.
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.↩