A Roman city in Egypt

Excavations at Naukratis under David Hogarth, 1899

In AD 130, the Roman emperor Hadrian founded Antinoupolis on the east bank of the Nile in Middle Egypt where his favourite, Antinoös, is said to have drowned.

Initially settled by citizens from Ptolemais and Arsinoe, the city had all the components of a Roman monumental urban ‘kit’ with blocks laid out on a grid, colonnaded main streets, tetrastyla, temples, a triumphal arch, theatre, and hippodrome. When the Roman emperor Diocletian reorganized the administrative districts of the empire at the end of the third century, Antinoupolis became the capital of the Lower Thebaid.

With the legalization of Christianity, the city became the seat of a bishop and, later, its monumental temples were replaced by churches. After the Islamic caliphate took control of Egypt in AD 642, daily life in Antinoupolis was slow to change the city begain to lose its political status and was abandoned.

Centuries later, its monumental ruins were admired by medieval Arab and early modern European travellers.


Egypt Exploration Society excavations


Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Antinoupolis. © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

In 1799-1800, the Napoleonic expedition recorded the city’s theatre, tetrasyla, triumphal arch, temples and hippodrome, but within decades the ancient city’s monumental architecture had been quarried for use in Egypt’s industrial and agricultural revolutions.

In 1913-14, John de Monins Johnson excavated within the city walls on behalf of the Graeco-Roman branch of the Egypt Exploration Society. The primary goal of the expedition was the discovery of papyri and, today, the excavations are best known for producing otherwise unattested Classical texts, early copies of Christian literature, and everyday documents recording the city’s public and private life. But the excavations also yielded a wide range of objects that contribute to a broader portrait of the ancient city’s population: textile garments and accessories, leather foot-wear, hairpins, metal tools, weaving implements and coins. Hundreds of these artefacts are now distributed in museums worldwide.