Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

. (page 38 of 54)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Scholars also hold the most different opinions about the
situation of Heroonpolis, it will therefore be necessary to
examine this question next.

Strabo^ says that the town was situated " in the an^Ie of
tlie Aralian Gu'lf^'' and thence people concluded that it must
have been situated in the neighbourhood of the present Suez*,
and on that account assert that the gulf itself was called after
it koXttos 'upcooTToXiTj]:,^, CLud cltos the statement of Ptolemy^,
according to which Heroonpolis is placed at 30° north lati-
tude, which corresponds nearly with the present Suez, These
reasons appear to be of great importance. Nevertheless we
cling, without hesitation, to the opinion of those scholars
who place Heroonpolis far more north, namely, on the
ancient Nile canal, west from Birket e' temsah, in the
neighbourhood of the valley Seba-Biar. D'Anville was
also of this opinion, though he was not then aware of the
ruins of ancient towns which are found there. The French

1 Joseph, c. Ap. i. c. 32. - Gen. xlvi. 28. ^ ^^^ p, go4.

* Roziere, in the Descr. de VEg. vol. vi. p. 257, &c.

" Ptolem. V. 17. 1. Plin. H. N. V. 11, § 65.

® iv. 5. According to other manuscripts, 29° 50'.


expedition pointed out two of them. Adjoining Seba-Biar,
at the west end of this low district, lie the ruins which are
now called Jfidfdr, and farther west those of Ahu-Kesheb^.
Tlie latter are considered by Et. Quatremere'-, Champollion^,
Du Eois Aymc*, and others, as the remains of Heroonpolis.
r am more in favour of those at JTidfdr.

With regard to the general situation of Heroonpolis in
iliis countr)', we must next remark, that it would be singular
if three towns, Arsinoc, Klysma, and Heroonpolis, had been
crowded together at tlie head of the gulf, wliik* the ruins of
two only are to be seen. But it is a still more important
consideration, that we find the meeting between Joseph and
Jacob placed at Heroonpolis not only by Josephus^, but
also by the Seventy, who must undoubtedly have known the
situation. Heroonpolis existed in tlieir time, indeed it ap-
jjcars to have been first mentioned by tliem. But it was
impossible that they could have made Josepli go to Suez, if
he wished to meet his father, who came out of S}Tia. It
must have been situated on the road from Syria, and they
undoubtedly mentioned it, because in their time it was the
capital of tliat province, which tliey considered to be the
district of Goijhen and Eamses. But the situation wliich
tlie Itinerarium Antonini*^ gives to the town Hero, which is
Heroonpolis, is decisive, since it places it XXIV. mille
passus from Thoum, XVIII. from Serapiu, and the latter
L. from Klysma. But Et. Quatremere^ has most completely
pointed out that Klysma was situated at the head of the
gulf opposite Arsinoe, as it is marked in the tablet of Peu-
tinger. But Thoum, i. e. Fithom, was situated on the Nile,

1 Wilkinson, Modern Eijypi and Thebes, vol. '}. p. 311, there only
heard the name of E' Satfieh, '-the Water-wheel;" but my friend and
foUow-traveller, II. Aboken, who was also on the spot, confirmed mo
in the name whicli Kobinson gives in his map {Aba Keischeib). The
French scholars, on the contrary, -write Abua Keycheyd.

• Man. siir CEg. i. p. ICG. ^ J-'Eg. sous les Phar, 11. p, 89,

* Descr. de VEg. xi. p. 378, ^ Antiq. Jud. n. 7, 8.
« p. 75, ed. Tarthev and Tinder (p. 170, Wess>

7 Mem. sur VEg. t.'i. p. 151, &c.



in the neighbonrhood of Bubastis^. Thereby the situation
of Heroonpolis is placed somewhere near the aboTe-men-
tioned ruins.

This was a convenient situation for the capital of that part
of the country to which it gave its name^. But the province,
which extended as far as the gulf, might have been suitably
named after it. The account given by the Seventy also
agrees very well with this, since the road from the north to
Cairo still passes in this neighbourhood^. But the question
is, how can Strabo, who places Heroonpolis iu the angle oftlie
gulf, be made to accord with this ? In consequence of these
different statements, Du Bois Ayme believed lie was justified
hi the supposition*, which he has fully stated, that in earlier
times the gulf extended much farther north, and filled up aU
the low districts of the now dry so-caUed Bitter lakes, but
afterwards being covered by sand, withdrew itself within its
present shore. I do not think that it is necessary to believe
in such a physical change ; and the idea of it seems to me
most completely set aside by the remains of an artificial
canal, more than four leagues iu length, which runs from
Suez towards the north, and which was pointed out by the
French expedition, for no canal could be cut where there was
sea ; the utmost that was necessary was to render the passage
navigable when it was filled up with sand. But the opening
of this canal must have had nearly the same results as those
which may be derived from the belief iu the extended sea.
The wide basins of the Bitter lakes were filled by the canal,
as well as the adjoiuiug lakes to the north, and the low dis-
trict of Seba-Biar, which extends even to the ruins of Muk-
far. Here first commenced the real Xile canal, which re-
ceived its water from the west. Here was the harbonr, as

1 Herod, ii. 158. = PI in, H. N. V. ix, 9.

3 S. Wilkinson, Eg. and Thebes, vol.i. p. 311.

■* In his Memoire sur les anciennes liniites de la mer rouge, in the Descr.
de VEg. t. xi. (Pauck.) p. 371, &c.; and in the Notice sur k scjour des
Hebreux en Egypte, t. •siii. p. 112, &c.

siiUAiioN ur ii£iioo>"i'uLii. 137

Strabo expressly aaya^, in which they embarked for a voyage on
the Ked Sea. On account of the natural and extensive shore
of tlie lake, the notion of a sea voyage was here imparted to
the traveller; and, therefore, this part artificially drawn into
the gulf mighi naturally be called the /^^x^^ """"^ tcuXnoVf
the innermost angle of the gulf. Strabo, or Eratosthenes,
whom he cites, even says expressly in one place, that ileroon-
polis was situated on the 2sile, that is to say, on a canal of
the Nile, and yet calls the town itself at the same time the
fivx^s rov Apa^iov koXitov (The innermost part of the .Vrabian

Ptolemy also says, that the Trajanic river (as the canal
was called, which was afterwards cut from Babylon) tlowed
through Ileroonpolis. On account of the sharp angle so far
removed to the east, which is formed here by the Nile canal
and the extended gidf, this provinci;d capital was particularly
:ulapted for tlie more general geographical determinations ot
those countries, for which purpose it had been especially used
by Strabo, and earlier, also, by Eratosthenes'^.

With regard to the statement of numbers given by
Ptolemy, the longitude agrees very well with our acceptation,
and also prevents us placing the town still farther west. But
the latitudes, according to which 'Hpwojj/ ttoXis would fall
under 30' (others give 29" oO), tlie /i^x"^" "^^^ K6\nov (inner-
most part of the gulf) under 29^ 50', and Apaivuq under
29-^ 30 (or 29' 10', also 29° 20), certainly contain an error,
wheresoever we place the /luxo^j because Axsinot*, which
\vas undoubtedly situated in the neighbourhood of Suez, is
placed 30, or even 50', too far south. It is, therefore, more
probable, that we ought only to consider the distances of the
three places from one another as correctly fixed, somewhat
in the order, 29^ 50', 29' 50', 29° 10', exactly as they are
given in the codex Mediceus, but that there is an error easy
of explanation throughout the numbers, by which they have
all been placed 50' too far south. Eor the true position, ac-

' p. 768. ■ p. 767. ' Strabo, ii.p. 85, 86, &C.


cording to other proofs, demanded for Heroonpolis (Mukfar),
and for the fxvxos (Seba-Biar), bordering on it, 30° 40', for
Arsinoe (not far north of Suez), 30°.

Thus the statements of Ptolemy also appear to me to be
no longer opposed to our acceptation. We decide, there-
fore, for Mukfar, rather than for Abu-Kesheb, because the
first was in reality situated close to the /iv^os of Seba-Biar,
while Abu-Kesheb lay about an hour and a half farther west
on the canal, and not on the lake.

There is, besides, the additional reason, that we believe
we have found in the ruins of Abu-Kesheb the still more
ancient town of Bamses, which must have been situated
in this neighbourliood, and yet can hardly be tlie same as
Heroonpolis. The Seventy say that Heroonpolis was situ-
ated in the province of Eamses. Thence follows that in
their time at least the town no longer bore tiie name of
E-amses. This last name, moreover, is nowhere found except
in the Old Testament. The tovra had therefore undoubtedly
been already forsaken and forgotten, and appears to have
been exactly supplanted and replaced by Heroonpolis, which
was afterwards built in its neighbourhood ; whilst no reason
could be discovered wherefore the old Egyptian name of
Bamses should have been changed into the later Egyptian
name of Heroonpolis.

But that we may really seek for Eamses in the ruins of
Abu-Kesheb is most decidedly confirmed by a monument
which was found upon those very ruins as early as the time
of the French expedition. It is a group of three figures cut
out of a block of granite, which represents the gods Ea and
Tum, and between them the King Eamses II. The shields
of this the greatest ofnhe Pharaohs are repeated six times in
the inscriptions on the back^.

It was therefore King EAMSES-MiAiirx who built this

^ The first imperfect copy is in the Descr. de VEg. Antiq. vol. v. pi.
29, Ko. 6 — 8. The best is given by Wilkinson in his Materia Hiero-
gli/phica. Append. No. 4.


town, and was worshipped there, as is shown by this monu-
ment, and he it was who gave his name to the to\Mi^ ; for it
is not easy to believe that it was founded by his grandfather,
Ramses I., who only reigned about one year.

This leads us to the histor}- of the remarkable canal on
which the to\N'n was built. It is known that this canal after-
wards served to connect the Nile and the Kcd Sea. Con-
cerning this connection, we read in Herodotus'- that it was
first undertaken by Nekos, who also caused .-Virica to be cir-
cumnavigated, but that it was interrupted before its com-
pletion. Darius then took up the work. The connection
actually existed in the time of Herodotus, as we learn from
his words. The assertions of Aristotle, Dii)dorus, Strabo,
and Pliny apj)ear to contradict this, who some of them fix
the period of the first plan of the connection much earlier
than Herodotus, since they ascribe it to Sesostris, and some
make the completion of the work later than him, namely,
that it was only finished in the time of Ptolemy Phila-

Aristotle"* says that both Sesostris and afterwards Darius
commenced the work, but gave it up because tlie sea was
discovered to be higher than the land, and it was tlu'refore
feared that the Nile water might be spoilt by the rushing in
of the sea. Aristotle does not mention Nekos; it therefore
appears that in his day the connection which existed in the
time of Herodotus had again ceased.

AVe can thus understand why Diodorus* ascribes the final
completion of the canal to Ptolemy Piiiladelphus. He
makes no more mention of Sesostris, than Herodotus did.
But accordmg to him, Nekos as well as Darius are prevented
from completing it, lest by that means they should overflow

' Kinp Ilamses was therefore just as much the local god of the town
Pianiscs, as the pod Hero of the town Hero.
- ii. 158. Compare iv. 42.
3 Meteorolcpg. i. 14, p. 352, h (Bekk).
* i. 33.


the country. This does not weaken the testimony of Hero-
dotus concerning t]ie existing connection. Ptolemy Phi-
ladelphus did not only re-open the connections, but he built
an artificial sluice at its extreme point, at Arsinoe, from
which this canal received the name of the Ptolemaic.

Strabo^ says, that Sesostbis began it, but desisted, being
afraid of the higher level of the Eed Sea. It was not
finished by the son of Psammeticus {HeJcos), on account of
his premature death. Darius also discontinued the abnost
completed work, because he feared that he should overflow
Egypt ; the Ptolemies at lengtli finished the opening, and
made a sluice at Arsinoe. By tliat means, the salt-water of
the Bitter lakes became sweet, and abounded with fish.

Of the more ancient kings, Pliny^ only mentions Sesostbis
and DAEirs, but he says of Ptolemy PniLADELPnus, that he
cut a canal 100 feet wide and 40 feet deep, as far as the Bitter
lakes, called it amnis PtolcmcBus, and built Arsinoi' upcm it.
He discontinued cutting the canal, being afraid of an inun-

Lastly, we must again cite here what has been already
casually mentioned in a former place, tliat a Tpaiavos norufM)^
is named by Ptolemy", which ran through Babylon and

The contradictions which these diflerent statements of tlie.
ancient authors appear to contain, have been frequently
brought forward, but even the full deliberation which Le-
tronne has bestowed on this interesting subjecf*, does not
appear to me to have given a perfectly true picture of the .
history of this connecting canal. It has everywhere been
forgotten, that the question is not about 07ie, but two

The first and the oldest canal was only conducted from

» p. 38, p. 804. Compare p. 780.
- Hist. Nat. vi. 29, § 165—167.
^ iv. 5.

* L'Isthme de Suez, in the Hevite des Deux Jfondes, livr. du 15 Juill.


the Nile to S^ ' ' ■:i an exact ea:*terly direction. Tlud

(.-anal was un - iit l>y H;\!v.!Hd (Scaoatrui), lxH:au*e,

m lias becTi r ^K)uring ruins of Abu-

K'< alfo paid to ship-buildiuj:, since he limt

' _ Arabiiin Gulf with war bhipa^ it could not

have ap|>eared to him a very strange idea to cut tlirough the

narrow istlimus between the Arabian Gulf and the iiitter

Likti?. The Egyptians had for ages jHJssfMsed the art of

1 u the grt»atest jn^rfection, and practised it mi»r«

I in the time of St-sostria, therefore there waa
nothing eitraonlinar}' at that time in the reasons given by
Aristotle and Slrabo why the opening waa not \i'iitured
upon, because it was discovered that the lied Sea was too


Xekos, howevpf. inidertjikes it, but leaves it off again,

ncronliiii: !■' I' 'iirnced by an oracle, who t*.»ld

hiiu he workeii . urians (a danger whicli likewise

has always made the calculating Mehemet Aii disinclined
to the undertaking), and according to Strabo, because he
died. Diodorus attributes this scruple to him in place of
to St'>M>tns, but incorrectly, because the levelling mujst Imve

' IKtihI. ii. 102.

' The hcijfht of the ' is diaeovered to be 30 fi>fct 6 inches

Mvo the K'vcl of th
'- 1 by the level of the sea, v with tho

< llow of the tide, as must b i a simple


But it is in tlie monuments that wo again find tho
opinion most ct^rtainly confirmed, that a passage existed hero
OS early as the times of the Persians. During the French
expedition, the chief engineer, De Itozien*. discovered, on a
military excursion from Suez, a heap of ruins in a district
which is not accurately defined, but which cannot have been
far frt)m the southern extremity of the Jiitter lakes, upon
which were scattered the remains of the statue of a Frrsian
king, and several fragments of cunriform inscriptions, all in
red granite^ It appears that no traveller has since visited
this spot*. But how can the existence of Persian ruins in
this part of tlie i.'*thinus be explained, if they were not con-
ncvted with the oj)eniug of the canal, situated there ? Jk'-
eides this, tho largest portion of the cuneiform WTitings men-
tioned above contains precisely the name of King JJarius, fol-
lowed by the addition vaiya vas-(arqa), princrps viof/nus,

' Deter, de TEg. (Panck.) Ant. vol. viii. p. 27, &c. Compare rol, v.
p. 4il, and Jomartl. carte de la Intsse Eyijpte. A copy of the frag-
ment in pivcn in a copj^r-i'late. Ant. vol. v. pi. 29.

• [Tlie sjKJt lias now Uxn re-(li!»coverc-n. Th.- < .i!;al

rcLVrttJcr «c ctiHul i/u* uuuU i/u iN