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Plan of the Island of Philæ (after Lyons and Garstin).
H Temple of Heru-netch-teset.
K.L Coptic church,
temples should have remained unoccupied.
The early travellers in Egypt declare that slabs of granite and sandstone inscribed with the names of Amenophis II., Amenophis III., and Thothmes III., were visible on this island, as well as on that of Biggah; but it is certain that nothing of the kind remains there now. We shall be probably correct in assuming that the first temple of any great importance was built there in the XVIIIth dynasty, and that the sides of the granite rock which forms the island were scarped that walls might be built upon them. This would have the effect of destroying the rough graffiti which the troops of the Usertsens and Amenemḥāts must have chiselled upon it, as they did on the rocks on the cataract on their way south. The island is 1,418 feet long, 1.4., from north to south, and 464 feet wide, i.e., from east to west, and is formed by a mass of crystalline rock, mainly hornblendic granite, on which Nile mud has been deposited. The main portion of the Temple of Isis is founded on the solid rock of the island, while the other buildings have foundations usually from four to six metres in depth, which rest on Nile mud; a portion of one of the buildings rests upon an artificial quay made of stone. The oldest portion of a building on the island are the remains of a small edifice which was set up at the southern end of it by Nectanebus II., the last native king of Egypt (B.C. 358-340). Of the other buildings, all the temples date from the Ptolemaic period, and were the works of the Ptolemies and of one or two Nubian kings. Under the Roman emperors a few of the existing buildings were enlarged, and a few architectural works of an ornamental character were added. An ancient tradition made Philæ to be one of the burial places of Osiris, and an oath sworn by Osiris of Philæ was inviolable; the very earth of the island was considered to be holy, and only those who were priests, or were employed in the temples, were allowed to live there,
In early times the gods of the Cataract were the gods of Philæ, i.e., Khnemu and Satet, Khnemu-Rā, and Hathor, Anuqet, Ptah and Sekhet, etc. ; but in Greek and Roman times the deities chiefly worshipped in the island were Isis and Osiris, and the gods who were in their train, i.e., Horus, Nephthys, etc. In connection with the worship of Isis and Osiris a number of ceremonies were performed, in which the death and mutilation of the body of Osiris, the gathering together of his scattered limbs, the reconstruction of the body by Isis, and its revivification by means of the words of power which Thoth had taught her, formed very prominent scenes. Together with such ceremonies, a number of others connected with the worship of Osiris as the god of life and fecundity were also celebrated at Philæ, something after the manner of a miracle play, and there is no doubt that great crowds would be drawn to the spot by such performances. Primarily, such ceremonies would most appeal to the Egyptians, who, seeing that the great, and probably original, shrine of Osiris at Abydos had fallen into decay, endeavoured to make Philæ its successor; but in Ptolemaic times and later the Greeks and Romans flocked to the spot, the former to worship Osiris, and the latter to worship Isis.
The form of Osiris which the Greeks revered was Sarapis, i.e., Ásår-Hāpi, “Osiris-Apis,” to whom they ascribed all the attributes of the Greek god Hades. The Egyptian priests, of course, approved of the introduction of the god into the national collection of gods as long as it could be effected by identifying him with an ancient god of the country, and thus the Egyptian and Greek priests found a deity which could satisfy the religious aspirations of both peoples. The introduction of the god was made in the reign of Ptolemy Soter; but in a few generations the attributes of Hades were forgotten, and the worship of Sarapis became identical with that of Osiris. This having been brought about, and Philæ being recognized as one of the most holy shrines of the god, the palmy days of the island began, and so long as the Ptolemies could keep the tribes quiet on the south and west of Egypt, all went well, and the shrine became very rich. In B.C. 22 Candace seized Philæ, Aswân, and Elephantine, but her army was defeated by the Romans, her country laid waste, and her capital Napata destroyed. In the reign of Diocletian the Blemmyes invaded the neighbourhood so frequently that this Emperor was obliged to come to terms with them, and he paid them an annual subsidy on the understanding that they allowed no inroads upon Egypt from the south.
Meanwhile Christianity had spread into Egypt, and was making its way into Nubia, but the worship of Osiris and Isis was continued at Philæ, apparently without much interruption. In A.D. 380 Theodosius the Great issued the edict for establishing the worship of the Trinity, and a year later he prohibited the human sacrifices, and ordered some of the temples to be turned into Christian churches, and the rest to be closed; but in spite of everything, sacrifices were offered at Philæ, and the worship of Osiris was carried on there, just as was the worship of the gods of Greece and Rome in Italy and elsewhere, until the reign of Justinian, who ascended the throne
Partly as the result of his hatred of pagans, and partly with the view of inflicting a blow upon the Nubian tribes who worshipped at Philæ, Justinian sent a general called Narses to break up the cult of Isis and Osiris of Philæ, and to destroy the temple. Narses obeyed his master's orders to the letter, for he cast the priests into prison, destroyed certain portions of the temples and many of their statues, and carried back to Europe the figures of Isis and Osiris which he found in the shrines, and which were made presumably of gold and silver. In Christian times the Copts built at Philae one church in honour of Saint Michael and another in honour of Saint Athanasius, and recent excavations have shown that many small churches were built there. Abû Şalih says that there are “many idols and temples” on the island, and that on the west bank of the river there were several churches overlooking the cataract, but adds that they were in ruins in his day.
When Strabo visited Philæ he says that he came from Syene (Aswân) in a waggon, through a very flat country. “ Along the whole road on each side we could see, in many places, very high rocks, round, very smooth, and nearly spherical, of hard black stone, of which mortars are made ; each rested upon a greater stone, and upon this another ; they were like unhewn stones, with heads of Mercury upon them. Sometimes these stones consisted of one mass. The largest was not less than 12 feet in diameter, and all of them exceeded this size by one-half. We crossed over to the island in a pakton, which is a small boat made of rods, whence it resembles woven-work. Standing there in the water (at the bottom of the boat), or sitting upon some little planks, we easily crossed over, with some alarm, indeed, but without good cause for it, as there is no danger if the boat is not overturned.” Of Philæ itself he says: “A little above the cataract is Philæ, a common settlement, like Elephantina, of Ethiopians and Egyptians, and equal in size, containing Egyptian temples, where a bird, which they call hierax (the hawk), is worshipped ; but it did not appear to me to resemble in the least the hawks of our country nor of Egypt, for it was larger, and very different in the marks of its plumage. They said that the bird was Ethiopian, and is brought from Ethiopia when its predecessor dies, or before its death. The one shown to us when we were there was sick and nearly dead.”—(Strabo, xvii., 1-49, Falconer's translation.)
In 1893 in order to obtain an accurate idea of the stability of the temples, etc., Sir W. Garstin, K.C.M.G., caused an