- This article is about the ancient city called Athribis in Lower Egypt; for the ancient city called Athribis in Upper Egypt, see Athribis (Upper Egypt)
Athribis (Greek: Ἄθλιβις, from the original Egyptian Hut-heryib) was an ancient city in Lower Egypt. It is located in present-day Tell Atrib, just northeast of Benha on the hill of Kom Sidi Yusuf. The town lies around 40 km north of Cairo, on the eastern bank of the Damietta branch of the Nile. It was mainly occupied during the Ptolemaic, Roman, and Byzantine eras.
Athribis was once the capital of the tenth Lower Egyptian nome. Although some texts suggest Egyptian occupation dating back to the Old Kingdom, no physical evidence has been able to prove it; however it is known to date back as early as the 12th Dynasty. Today, much of the preexisting artifacts are being lost every year because local farmers like to use the sebakh, fertilizer from the ancient mudbrick blocks that were used for most of the buildings.
A local temple was rebuilt by Amenhotep III during the 18th Dynasty, although it no longer stands today. One of the two lying lion statues at the Cairo Museum is thought to be from the temple, but since it was usurped by Ramesses II, its true origin is unknown. Ramesses II also enlarged the local temple, and placed two obelisks in black granite, also at the Cairo Museum. It is also known as the birthplace of Amenhotep, son of Hapu. Later, during the 26th Dynasty, Ahmose II also had a temple built at Athribis. He was an important figure of Mediterranean trade and diplomacy. Local texts also suggest that the site used to have a temple dedicated to the god Horus Khenty-khety. In 1946, the tomb of Takhuit, queen of Psamtik II, was found along with other Late Period tombs.
The first excavation of Athribis dates back to 1789 by a French archaeologist Bonaparte and again in 1852 by Auguste Mariette. Even though Athribis has been periodically excavated since the 1800s, it has yet to be fully excavated. Flinders Petrie wrote a book on Athribis in Upper Egypt, so not to be confused with this Lower (northern) Egypt. It was published in 1908. Major excavations didn't actually start until after World War II by Prof. Kazimierz Michalowski. The Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean journal through the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw (PCMA), has been publishing yearly excavation reports. Their main reports are from the years 1985-1995 and Dr. Karol Mysliwiek has been the main archaeologist of Athribis.
Although Athribis is known to be occupied during later dynastic years, the city didn’t gain real power until the early Ptolemaic years. That was when it became the tenth lower Egyptian nome. Evidence shows that Graeco-Roman occupation could have been as early as the "Ptolemaic II" archaeological phase. During the middle Ptolemaic era and up to the 3rd century AD, Athribis was a busy town that had a large bathhouse, villas, and industrial buildings as well. This is considered the eastern part of Athribis. Early Byzantine excavations are at the northeastern part of the town.
During the early Ptolemaic years, it was being used as a pottery workshop. Most of the kilns were shaped in circular patterns. Early Byzantine lamps were being made in the area until the late fourth century AD. There was also a large discovery of stored unfired pottery which only led more evidence for a large pottery workshop.
Over 300 figurines were found throughout all of Athribis, mostly in the Ptolemaic layers. Some of the artifacts were of terracotta form. Many of the figurines depicted were heads of small dwarf-like creatures and some of them were also used as oil lamps in the bathhouses. "Ptolemaic VI" is the phase that has been found to have the most artifacts or figurines. They were also more carefully crafted in design compared to findings in other layers and better preserved. Depictions of Egyptian and Greek gods and goddesses were also abundant. Dionysus and Aphrodite seemed to be popular throughout the findings at Athribis. It is considered that these figurines could have been made in the pottery workshops, most were of terracotta make, and others believe the figurines could have had more of a cult meaning. It is suggested that the Dionysus and Aphrodite figures, mostly erotic in nature, could have played as a type of fertility cult in the bathhouse areas since a lot of the figurines were found in excavated remains of the bath area. Egyptian gods were also being depicted as Greek gods in the making of the figurines. Isis was being depicted as Aphrodite in some cases, or a Hercules statue shown with Dionysus. The god Silen was also depicted in one of the excavated oil lamps, dated from the late second century. It shows that even though Athribis at the time was mainly of Graeco-Roman influence, Egyptian culture was still being used in some of their everyday life.
Pottery itself from the workshops were also abundant, but compared to the figurines, simple in design. Made from either clay or terracotta, jugs that were Greek in design but clumsily crafted are found throughout the middle Ptolemaic era. Most of the jugs were large in design but smaller, more sophisticated in design were found as well. No matter how the pottery was made, however, floral decorations were found on almost all of the finished and unfinished artifacts. Clay molds were also found in the middle Ptolemaic era. They were circular in design with a sunken relief on one side. There was one artifact found from the early Ptolemaic era that was made from limestone, however the rest of the molds were made from clay.
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- Mysliwiec, Karol (1992). "Polish-Egyptian Excavations at Tell Atrib in 1991". Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean. 3: 24–28.
- Mysliwiec, Karol (2013). "Archaeology Meeting Geophysics on Polish Excavations in Egypt". Studia Quarternaria. 30 (2): 45–59.
- Mysliwiec, Karol; Poludnikiewicz, Anna (2003). "A Center of Ceramic Production in Ptolemaic Athribis". Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility. The George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library. pp. 133–152.
- Szymanska, Hanna (1999). "Tell Atrib: Excavations, 1998". Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean. 10: 71–76.
- Szymanska, Hanna (2000). "Tell Atrib: Excavations, 1999". Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean. 11: 77–82.