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ASWÂN* AND THE FIRST CATARACT.
Aswân (or Uswân), with over 13,000 inhabitants, the southern limit of Egypt proper, 587 miles from Cairo, on the east bank of the river, called in Egyptian Sun, or Sunt, no, Coptic cor&n, was called by the Greeks Syene, which stood on the slope of a hill to the south-west of the present town. Properly speaking, Syene was the island of Elephantine, which the early Dynastic Egyptians called Abu
i.e., “the district of the elephant," probably on account of its shape, and it formed the metropolis of the first nome of Upper Egypt,
Ta-kens. As we approach the time of the Ptolemies, HE the name Sunnu, i.e., the town on the east bank of the
* The form of the name which is approved by Yâkût (tom. I, p. 139), the eminent Arabic geographer, is UswÂN, and he says distinctly that the first vowel is u, and that a sukun, or mark of rest, is to follow; he gives the name in full thus, w gmil, UswÂNU. He then goes on to quote the form SuwÂnu, ulgow, but clearly prefers the first form. If to this we add the Arabic article al, we get the form AL-ASWÂN, which is actually given by Juynboll (vol. I, p. 64),
, or AL-USWÂN. The best authorities among the Arabic writers give the form “Uswân," and the best modern Arabic scholars, e.g.,
de Sacy, Barbier de Meynard, Wright, and others, pronounced the name either Uswân or Oswan. I have heard educated natives every: where in Egypt pronounce it “Swân,” and Åswân, or Éswân (with the very short a or e sound which is always placed before a word beginning with two consonants, e.g., “ěspîrto,” for “spirit”), but never “ Assûân," or “ Assouan”; these are forms which are due to a mis. understanding as to the original form of the name.
Nile, from whence comes the Arabic name Aswân, takes the place of Åbu. The town obtained great notoriety among the Greeks from the fact that Eratosthenes and Ptolemy considered it to lie on the tropic of Cancer, and to be the most northerly point where, at the time of the summer solstice, the sun's rays fell vertically; as a matter of fact, however, the town lies o' 37' 23" north of the tropic of Cancer. There was a famous well there, into which the sun was said to shine at the summer solstice, and to illuminate it in every part.
In the time of the Romans three cohorts were stationed here,* and the town was of considerable importance. In the twelfth century of our era it was the seat of a bishop. Of its size in ancient days nothing definite can be said, but Arabic writers describe it as a flourishing town, and they relate that a plague once swept off 20,000 of its inhabitants. Aswan was famous for its wine in Ptolemaic times. The town has suffered greatly at the hands of the Persians, Arabs, and Turks on the north, and Nubians, by whom it was nearly destroyed in the twelfth century, on the south. The oldest ruins in the town are those of a Ptolemaic temple, which are still visible. Under Dynasties I-VI it was the frontier town of Egypt on the south, and was the starting point of all expeditions into the Sûdân. Under the XIIth Dynasty the frontier town on the south was Semna, in the Second Cataract, and Abu, or Sunt, lost some of its importance. At the close of the XXth Dynasty this town became once more the chief southern frontier city, and continued to be so until the rule of the Ptolemies.
It is interesting to observe that the Romans, like the British, held Egypt by garrisoning three places, viz., Aswân, Babylon (Cairo), and Alexandria. The garrison at Aswân defended Egypt from foes on the south, and commanded the entrance of the Nile; the garrison at Babylon guarded the end of the Nile valley and the entrance to the Delta ; and the garrison at Alexandria protected the country from invasion by sea.
The island of Elephantine* lies a little to the north of the cataract just opposite Aswán, and has been famous in all ages as the key of Egypt from the south; the Romans garrisoned it with numerous troops, and it represented the southern limit of their empire. The island itself was very fertile, and it is said that its vines and fig-trees retained their leaves throughout the year. The kings of the Vth dynasty sprang from Elephantine. The gods worshipped here by the Egyptians were called Khnemu, Sati and Anuqet, and on this island Amenophis III. built a temple, remains of which were visible in the early part of the XIXth century. Of the famous Nilometer which stood here, Strabo says : “The Nilometer is a well upon the banks of the Nile, constructed of close-fitting stones, on which are marked the greatest, least, and mean risings of the Nile ; for the water in the well and in the river rises and subsides simultaneously. Upon the wall of the well are lines, which indicate the complete rise of the river, and other degrees of its rising. Those who examine these marks communicate the result to the public for their information. For it is known long before, by these marks, and by the time elapsed from the commencement, what the future rise of the river will be, and notice is given of it. This information is of service to the husbandmen with reference to the distribution of the water ; for the purpose also of attending to the embankments, canals, and
*“A little above Elephantine is the lesser cataract, where the boatmen exhibit a sort of spectacle to the governors. The cataract is in the middle of the river, and is formed by a ridge of rocks, the upper part of which is level, and thus capable of receiving the river, but terminating in a precipice, where the water dashes down. On each side towards the land there is a stream, up which is the chief ascent for vessels. The boatmen sail up by this stream, and, dropping down 10 the cataract, are impelled with the boat to the precipice, the crew and the boats escaping unhurt.” (Strabo, Bk. xvii., chap. i., 49, Falconer's translation.) Thus it appears that shooting the cataract " is a very old amusement.
other things of this kind. It is of use also to the governors, who fix the revenue; for the greater the rise of the river, the greater it is expected will be the revenue." According to Plutarch the Nile rose at Elephantine to the height of 28 cubits; a very interesting text at Edfû states that if the river rises 24 cubits 31 hands at Elephantine, it will water the country satisfactorily.
The Nilometer at Elephantine is on the east side of the Island, opposite to the town of Aswân, at the foot of the Cataract. To-day it consists of a single stairway of 52 steps parallel to the quay-wall, after which it turns to the east, and opens on the river through a doorway in the wall. In 1799, besides this stairway, there was an upper stairway, about 20 metres long, leading westwards into a small room through which the Nilometer was reached. All this upper stairway has disappeared, except the bottom seven steps. There are two scales, one the scale of 1869 divided into piks and kirâts, and the marble scale now in use, which is divided metrically, and numbered to show the height above mean sea-level. On the west wall are the remains of two other scales, one Arabic, and one numbered with Greek numerals; the latter was used in late Egyptian times. On the wall of the stairway are the remains of Greek inscriptions dating from the reigns of several of the Roman Emperors and giving the year of his reign and the height of the Nile flood. From these it is clear that about 100 A.D. the Nile often rose to 24 and sometimes 25 cubits on the Nilometer scale; so that the high floods of that time reached the level of 91 metres above sea level. To-day they reach 94 metres as in 1874, or three metres above the level of 1900 years ago, corresponding to a rise of the bed of oʻ16 metre per century at this point. Lyons, Physiography, p. 315.
A mile or so to the north of the monastery stands the bold hill in the sides of which are hewn the tombs which General Sir F. W. Grenfell, G.C.B., excavated; this hill is situated in Western Aswân, the coren i neUENT of the Copts, and is the Contra Syene of the classical authors. The tombs are hewn out of the rock, tier above tier, and the most important of these were reached by a stone staircase, with a sarcophagus slide, which to this day remains nearly complete, and is one of the most interesting antiquities in Egypt. At the top of the staircase are four chambers, two on each side, from which we took out coffins and mummies in 1886. The tombs in this hill may be roughly divided into three groups. The first group was hewn in the best and thickest layer of stone in the top of the hill, and was made for the rulers of Elephantine who lived during the VIth and XIIth dynasties. The second group is composed of tombs of different periods; they are hewn out of a lower layer of stone, and are not of so much im. portance. The third group, made during the Roman occupation of Egypt, lies at a comparatively little height above the river. All these tombs were broken into at a very early period, and the largest of them formed a common sepulchre for people of all classes from the XXVIth dynasty downwards. They were found filled with broken coffins and mummies and sepulchral stelæ, etc., etc., and everything showed how degraded Egyptian funereal art had become when these bodies were buried there. The double tomb at the head of the staircase was made for Sabna and Mekhu ; the former was a dignitary of high rank who lived during the reign of Pepi II., a king of the VIth dynasty, whose prenomen