Manetho To Mariette, Frang ois Auguste Ferdinand (Archaeology of Ancient Egypt)


An Egyptian high priest born in the Delta city of Sebennytos, Manetho was commissioned by Ptolemy II to write a history of Egypt in Greek from the earliest times down to the end of the 30th Dynasty. He produced a work in three books called the Aigyptiaka (History of Egypt), based on an Egyptian tradition which compartmentalized Egypt’s past into dynasteiai, "ruling families or dynasties." Like the Turin Canon of Kings, Manetho’s history began with the gods and demigods. These were followed by thirty dynasties of mortal kings ending with Nectanebo II, the last native Egyptian pharaoh. Subsequently a 31st Dynasty was added by another hand to take account of the Persian rulers of Egypt from Artaxerxes III to Darius III Codomannus, who was deposed as king of Egypt by Alexander the Great in November, 332 BC.

In his account, Manetho appears to have begun by giving each dynasty a number and an origin (e.g. "Sixth Dynasty of six Memphite kings"). He then formulated his chronological information in a manner loosely reminiscent of the Turin Canon, listing the kings in order, giving their reign lengths and concluding with the total length of the dynasty. Where apposite, he added information on the major events within a reign after the manner of the famous account of the Hyksos invasion preserved in Josephus’s Contra Apionem. The voluminous original work was supplanted at an unknown date by an Epitome, which became widely current and led to the demise of the parent version. This Epitome is also lost in its original form and is now only accessible through excerpts made by later chronographers such as Africanus (circa AD 160-240) and Eusebius (circa AD 260-340). It is almost entirely through these writers that we gain our knowledge of the skeleton of Manetho’s work.

Even in its earliest form, the Aigyptiaka clearly suffered from major deficiencies: the king list, like earlier Egyptian examples, is in no sense an objective record. The principle on which Manetho divided his kings into dynasties is far from clear and certainly led to error: sometimes a "dynasty" is indubitably a distinct family of kings, sometimes indisputably not. Manetho also assumed a neat linear succession of dynasties running from the beginning to the end of Egyptian history, whereas they are known sometimes to have overlapped (for example, the 10th-11th Dynasties). Furthermore, dynasties can be duplicated (Manetho’s 9th and 10th Dynasties are, in fact, identical). In the extant fragments and testimonia the problems are aggravated by textual corruption generated by frequent scribal errors which particularly affect the transmission of names and numerals. It is also frequently difficult to determine from these later excerpts what exactly is Manetho and what is later accretion. Our Manethonian material must, therefore, be used with circumspection and always in conjunction with other evidence. For all its deficiencies, however, this tradition has exercised an enormous influence on the development of Egyptology, above all in defining the dynastic framework within which Egyptologists think of Egyptian history and civilization. We must never forget that, though it was written in Greek for Greek and Macedonian consumption, Manetho’s work was based on native Egyptian tradition and forms an important index of the nature of that tradition as it was formulated at the beginning of the Ptolemaic period.


The ruins of Marea are located approximately 45km west of Alexandria on the southern shore of Lake Maryut (31°07′ N, 29°55′ E), just west of the Nile Delta. The name of the town, which was used in antiquity to refer to the lake and to the district as well, is a Latin derivative of the Greek "Mareotis," a toponym probably derived from the Egyptian root mrt (canal, artificial lake) or mryt (bank, shore, quay; plural mrw, harbors). The Arabic name of the lake is almost certainly based on that root as well.

The site was identified as the ancient town as early as 1872 by M.Pasha el-Falaki, and was briefly described (with a sketch map) by Anthony de Cosson and others, such as Hermann Kees. Excavations, directed by Fawzi el-Fakharani of the University of Alexandria, were initiated in 1977. A Boston University group participated in three seasons of investigation (1979-81), mapping the lakeside portion of the site and conducting additional excavations.

All of the structures at Marea—some preserved to a height of 1m or more—identified by survey or exposed by excavation appear to be of Byzantine age (fourth-seventh centuries AD). A town of the same name may have been established there at least as early as the sixth century BC, when, according to Herodotus, Marea was the primary defensive post on Egypt’s northwestern frontier, and it continued to be occupied during the Graeco-Roman period. Prior to the establishment of Alexandria, it was the capital of a small kingdom. The Marea/ Mareotis area was noted for its agricultural production, especially its wines, which were alluded to by Horace, Virgil, Strabo and other classical writers. To date, no clear archaeological trace of the pre-Byzantine town has been recorded on the main site, in spite of some rather deep soundings, although it should be noted that some sources refer to an "earlier" and a "later" Marea (presumably not necessarily in exactly the same location). Defining the location of the late Dynastic and Graeco-Roman town should be a goal of future investigations.

In 1801, British forces advancing on Napoleon’s army deliberately flooded the lake basin, which is separated from the Mediterranean only by a narrow limestone ridge, with sea water. As a result of the substantially lowered water level, the town’s harbor facilities have been left exposed along the former shore. Thus the opportunity to examine and reconstruct a 1500-year-old Egyptian lake port lends Marea its greatest significance archaeologically.

Excavated or otherwise visible, limestone-block constructions include three jetties extending out into the lake: a short one (circa 40m) and two longer ones (110-120m). There are also portions of seawalls, sections of which have ramps down to the water, and a lengthy causeway or breakwater parallel to a promontory on the eastern edge of the site that leads via an ashlar platform to a small offshore island, which contains still-unexcavated structures and a pair of small piers. On top of the middle jetty, at its further end, is an approximately 4m circle of curvilinear, fitted limestone blocks that has been provisionally interpreted as a basin for a lighted beacon. Between this quay and the short one to the west is a pair of massive runners, supported by large limestone blocks resting on bedrock. The runners are about 20m long and extend down into the former lakebed at a gradient of about 1:16, which should have permitted small vessels to be launched or hauled out, perhaps with the use of rollers. The upper blocks on each side are beveled (or worn down) at an angle of about 15° toward a V-shaped, silted trench in the center. The distal end of the walls probably originally lay about 1m below the water surface. As on the jetties, the stone courses were bonded with a reddish waterproofing mortar. On the landward end of the runners are several small auxiliary buildings (storerooms?) and water drains. Possibly this structural complex served as a drydock (or, more properly, slipway) for building and/or maintaining the kind of small boats that plied the lake centuries ago.

Map of Lake Maryut/Mareotis, showing the location of Marea.

Figure 60 Map of Lake Maryut/Mareotis, showing the location of Marea.

Along the waterfront, where most of the excavation has been concentrated, is a group of contiguous shops fronting an arcade. These seem to have been divided into commercial and living quarters. Amphorae which once contained oil are found in some shops, and one shop has a feed bin (surrounded by compacted manure) where small stock(?) were kept before being sold. Immediately west of the shops along the same arcade is a pair of apsidal public baths. The base of a staircase at one end of these, as well as in some of the shops, shows that at least some buildings had either second stories or usable flat roofs. Just to the north of the shops, at the base of the promontory, is a curious labyrinthine building foundation of unknown function that was constructed on a slope down into the water, and just beyond that a multi roomed mill house, which seems to have undergone several phases of modification, with two large rotary querns in separate rooms. Out on the end of the promontory is the other larger quay, and near it is the foundation of a basilica church that may have been about 40m in length (only part of the apse has been excavated, shown on the plan as a short arc).

Plan of Marea waterfront (by Thomas Boyd)

Figure 61 Plan of Marea waterfront (by Thomas Boyd)

Only major excavated or otherwise clearly visible structures are included. From left to right (east to west): the shortest pier; the slipway; partially excavated buildings and the middle pier; the public baths and shop arcade; the "labyrinth" and the mill house; the eastern pier. The flanking causeway is on the far right.

Other Byzantine as well as Graeco-Roman ruins are common not only around the lake but elsewhere in the immediate area. Several kilometers south of the port are excavated portions of what may be a Byzantine rural estate. Structures here include a villa with an atrium; a well preserved wine press with a lion-head spout leading into a large fermentation vat; and a subterranean rock-cut tomb with descending spiral staircase and cruciform floor plan. On the escarpment overlooking the lake a few kilometers to the west are other tombs, including a rock-cut one of apparent Late Dynastic date, rock-cut anthropoid (mummiform) pit graves, and a Graeco-Roman shaft grave. One small rock-cut tomb, filled with disarticulated bones and Byzantine sherds, was also found near the Marea basilica at the waterfront. On the shore, more or less below the western tombs and close to Marea, another stone jetty and a three-sided wharf (circa 30x57m), enclosing an interior area of water with an opening on the lakeward side, were discovered in 1980. The latter structure may be of Ptolemaic date, but the types of repairs found along the upper courses of blocks, incorporating waterproofing cement or mortar, are known from Roman/ Byzantine construction. Some of the upper blocks on the wharf retain evidence of bollard holes and mooring rings, the latter cut through the blocks from side to top until joining. Just west of these structures is a monolithic, rectangular platform (circa 21x24m) with an ascending ramp 20m long. This seems much more Dynastic in style, and from the existing topography the platform—whatever purpose it served—appears to have been surrounded by water. The exact relationship of these three structures, either to the tombs above or to Marea harbor, is unknown and requires further investigation. All are still some distance east of the Ptolemaic coastal sites of Taposiris Magna at Abusir (with its often-described "watchtower" or "lighthouse," known as Bourg el-Arab) and Plinthine.

In addition to its role in agricultural production and lake commerce (with access to the Nile via canals, and to the Mediterranean through the Alexandria cross-city canal), Marea may have been a disembarkation point for pilgrims traveling to the shrine and tomb of St Menas (Abu Mina), an early Christian martyr, some 15-18km south in the desert.

The inventory of artifacts from Marea suggests a fairly simple life for most of the town’s inhabitants. The ceramics are dominated by relatively coarse storage, cooking or serving wares, with only occasional sherds of thinner, local Roman pottery. Fragments of blown glass, mostly from small cups, glasses, unguent bottles and the like, and small copper or copper-alloy coins are abundant. Numbers of loose tesserae (small mosaic tiles), apparently fallen from adjacent walls, have been recovered, and there are some remnants of poor quality frescoes, especially in the baths. The rather soft limestone was locally quarried, and imported marble was little used except for some internal flooring and linings for basins within the baths (unless much more of it was robbed out of these or other buildings over the years). No inscriptions have been found beyond occasional graffiti on pots, sherds or building blocks. There is no conclusive evidence of smelting or forging metals, or of ceramic manufacture (although the massive waster dump at Abu Seif Hasan, on the lake east of Marea, may indicate such an activity in the locality). The "glass factory" reported by de Cosson in his 1935 book proved, when excavated, to be a small structure next to the purported drydock that probably had been used as a refuse dump in its final phases.

Analysis of faunal remains from selected loci suggested that pigs, sheep/goats and fish were the primary source of animal protein, although remains of cattle, horses, donkeys, chickens, wild fowl, gazelles and so on were also found. Small rodent and fish bones— even fish scales—were well preserved, as were pollens. Preliminary analysis of the last, however, was not very informative economically, and extremely few macrobotanical specimens have been recovered.

It appears likely that Byzantine Marea was primarily a market and redistribution center for wine, oil, papyrus, vegetables, fruit, grain, livestock and fish. All of these products are attested either archaeologically or historically, or both. In spite of less evidence for the possible role played by manufacturing, so much of the site remains unexcavated that industrial areas within or immediately adjacent to the town may yet be identified. As noted, there was at least one substantial pottery-making site (Abu Seif Hasan) situated nearby, and probable glassmaking slag is present on parts of the site. With respect to wine production, the landscape in the vicinity includes many rock-cut and stone-built fermentation vats.

There are no radiocarbon dates for the site, nor any recognizably dated coins (all of which are badly corroded with salts) or dated inscriptions thus far. The cultural and chronological placement of the surface remains and excavated units is based on types of glassware and ceramics, which include decorated oil lamps and small holy-water(?) flasks with the emblem of St Menas impressed on them. Architectural styles, construction techniques and occasional Christian graffiti have also been used to date the remains.

Mariette, Frang ois Auguste Ferdinand

French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (1821-81) had begun the study of Egyptian hieroglyphs at an early age, inspired by the copious drawings and notes his relative Nestor l’Hote had made on three expeditions to Egypt. His career took a decisive turn when he arrived in Egypt in 1850, commissioned by the Louvre to collect Coptic and Ethiopic manuscripts. Instead. Mariette explored Saqqara, where he soon recognized an ancient avenue of sphinxes. He followed it to the Serapeum, the huge subterranean gallery where the sacred Apis bulls were buried, which he excavated. At Saqqara he also located the well decorated, 5 th Dynasty tomb of Ti.

From 1852 to 53 Mariette sent nearly 6,000 artifacts to France, and in 1855 he was appointed Assistant Conservator in the Louvre’s Egyptian Department. Preferring to work in Egypt, he returned, hoping to take measures to keep Egypt’s antiquities in the country and protect its monuments from pillagers. In 1858 with the help of Egypt’s rulers, Sa’id Pasha and Isma’il Pasha, Mariette founded (at Bulak in Cairo) the first museum for antiquities in the Near East, and was later appointed Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service (the first anywhere) and supervisor of all excavations.

Mariette excavated some thirty-five sites throughout Egypt in thirty years, finding 300 tombs at Saqqara alone and clearing the temples of Luxor, Medinet Habu, Dendera and Edfu. His efforts enriched the national museum and he managed to raise the international conscience concerning the need to conserve antiquities.

Mariette’s publication record is extensive, ranging from five volumes on Dendera (1875), and a catalog of antiquities discovered at Abydos (1880), to collaboration on the libretto for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida. He died in January, 1881, leaving his last work to be finished by his successor, Gaston Maspero. He lies buried in a huge sarcophagus outside of the current Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

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