Mummy portrait in encaustic from Antinoopolis. The woman's hairstyle recalls portraits of Sabina, wife of the emperor Hadrian. 2nd Century. Louvre collection.
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Antinopolis (Antinoöpolis, Antinoopolis, Antinoë) (Greek: Ἀντινόου πόλις, Coptic ⲁⲛⲧⲓⲛⲱⲟⲩ Antinow, modern Sheikh 'Ibada) was a city founded at an older Egyptian village by the Roman emperor Hadrian to commemorate his deified young beloved, Antinous, on the east bank of the Nile, not far from the site in Upper Egypt where Antinous drowned in 130 AD. Antinopolis was a little to the south of the Egyptian village of Besa (Βῆσσα), named after the goddess and oracle of Besa, which was consulted occasionally even as late as the age of Constantine I. Antinopolis was built at the foot of the hill upon which Besa was seated. The city is located nearly opposite of Hermopolis Magna, and was connected to Berenice Troglodytica by the Via Hadriana.
During the New Kingdom, the city was the location of Ramesses II's great temple, dedicated to the gods of Khmun and Heliopolis. The city of Antinopolis exhibited the Graeco-Roman architecture of Hadrian's age in immediate contrast with the Egyptian style. The city was the center of the official cult of Antinous. It first belonged to the Heptanomis, but under Diocletian (286 AD) Antinopolis became the capital of the nome of the Thebaid. According to the Greek Menaea, it was at Antinoe that Saint Julian underwent martyrdom during the Persecutions of Diocletian. As a cultural center, it was the native city of the 4th-century mathematician Serenus of Antinopolis. Antinopolis was still a "most illustrious' city in a surviving divorce decree of 569 AD.
Antinoë was the seat of a Christian bishop by the 4th century, originally a suffragan of the metropolitan see of Ptolemais in Thebaide, but it became a metropolitan see itself in the 5th century, having as suffragans Herrmopolis Parva, Cusae, Lycopolis, Hypselis, Apollonopolis Parva, Antaeopolis, Panopolis and Theodosiopolis.
Structure and organization
The city of Antinopolis was governed by its own senate and prytaneus or president. The senate was chosen from the members of the wards (φυλαί), of which we learn the name of one – Ἀθηναΐς – from inscriptions (Orelli, No. 4705); and its decrees, as well as those of the prytaneus, were not, as usual, subject to the revision of the nomarch, but to that of the prefect (ἐπιστράτηγος) of the Thebaid. Divine honours were paid in the Antinoeion to Antinous as a local deity, and games and chariot-races were annually exhibited in commemoration of his death and of Hadrian's sorrow. (Dictionary of Antiquities, s. v. Ἀντινόεια.)
The earliest finds at the site date to the New Kingdom, when Bes and Hathor were important deities (ref. Princeton). A grotto, once inhabited by Christian anchorites, probably marks the seat of the shrine and oracle, and Grecian tombs with inscriptions point to the necropolis of Antinopolis. The ruins of Antinopolis attest, by the area which they fill, the ancient grandeur of the city. The direction of the principal streets may still be traced. The streets were built on a grid plan with roads intersecting at right angles, like the majority of Roman cities at this time, and Jomard, a member of Napoleon’s Commission d’Egypte found that the streets were divided into quarters and blocks, with each building being conveniently numbered (Bell, 1940). One at least of them, which ran from north to south, had on either side of it a corridor supported by columns for the convenience of foot-passengers. The walls of the theatre near the southern gate, and those of the hippodrome without the walls to the east, are still extant. At the north-western extremity of the city was a portico, of which four columns remain, inscribed to Good Fortune, and bearing the date of the 14th and last year of the reign of Alexander Severus, 235.
As far as can be ascertained from the space covered with mounds of masonry, Antinopolis was about a mile and a half in length, and nearly half a mile broad. The remains of the city, having a three and a half mile circumference, suggests Roman and Hellenistic foundations and was surrounded by a brick wall on three sides, leaving the fourth side open to the Nile (Bell, 1940). Near the Hippodrome are a well and tanks appertaining to an ancient road, which leads from the eastern gate to a valley behind the town, ascends the mountains, and, passing through the desert by the Wádee Tarfa, joins the roads to the quarries of the Mons Porphyrites. (Wilkinson, Topography of Thebes, p. 382.)
Albert Gayet (1856-1916) was known as the “archaeologist of Antinopolis” and, without his extensive research and documentation of the site, very little would be known about this Greco-Roman city. Though there is much data of Antinopolis recorded from the Napoleon Commission, Albert Gayet’s report sheds a greater light on the ancient city. As Christianity began to spread through the Roman Empire, Antinopolis became a place of worship. Centuries after the city of Antinous was established by the Roman emperor, Christianity became the way of life. The city was home to many nuns and monks and sanctuaries were popping up everywhere. Many came to worship saints, such as Claudius and Colluthus, and monasteries were abundant (Donadoni, 1991). Albert Gayet’s findings confirm the wide spread of Christianity. Gayet’s excavations have revealed mummies, grave goods, and thousands of fabrics at the site of Antinopolis and he uncovered a large cemetery, the burial place of numerous Coptic Christians. Mummiﬁcation was prohibited by law in the fourth century A.D., and so the remains of deceased Christians were dressed in tunics and swaddled with other textiles before being buried (Hoskins,2007). Gayet’s findings give researchers a better understanding of early Christian burial practices and his preservation of artistic textiles found at the site show the Coptic style that was evolving. The transformation of style, creating the Coptic style, was the canonical art of ancient Egypt infused with Classical and then Christian art ("Textiles," 2003). The findings of Albert Gayet have provided researchers with great evidence of change throughout Antinopolis in the ancient world.
At the beginning of the 19th century, when Napoleonic surveys were made, a theater, many temples, a triumphal arch, two streets with double colonnades, (illustrated in Description de l'Egypte,) a circus, and a hippodrome nearby, were still to be seen.
Today not much remains of the ancient city of Antinopolis. In its place is El Sheikh Ibada, a small mud village surrounded by the crumbled ruins of what was once a city of worship. There is not much left of the ancient city, as many buildings had their materials taken to build newer structures, such as sugar factories for El-Rodah, but visitors can still see the remains of the Roman Circus and ruins of a few temples. (Stillwell, 1976). Some excavations were undertaken by the University of Rome, 1965-68. Papyri from the site were edited and translated by J. W. B. Barns and H. Zilliacus.
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- Ptol. iv. 5. § 61; Paus. viii. 9; Dion Cass. lxix. 11; Amm. Marc. xix. 12, xxii. 16; Aur. Vict. Caesar, 14; Spartian. Hadrian. 14; Chron. Pasch. p. 254, Paris edit; It. Anton. p. 167; Hierocl. p. 730; Ἀντινόεια, Steph. B. s. v., also Adrianopolis, Steph. B. Ἁδριανούπολις)
- Antinoe - Catholic Encyclopedia article on the titular see
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The City Antinopolis:
The God Antinous: