Antinoopolis (Arabic, Ansina)

ANTINOOPOLIS (Arabic, Ansina)

Literary and Archaeological Sources

In the fourth and fifth centuries the town of Antinoopolis flourished, for it was the capital of the province of the Thebaid as far as Aswan. The were numerous, and the hermits and monks lived in the vicinity. This we learn from documents: the texts relating to Saint PACHOMIUS repeatedly speak of it; the LETTER OF AMMON quotes one of the monks living at Antinoopolis (ed. Halkin and Festugière, 1982, pp. 115, 164); Palladius Historia Lausiaca speaks of the twelve convents of women in the town of Antinoopolis and of the 1,200 hermits living around the town. It speaks of the monasteries and of the caves where they lived (1898, Vol. 1, pp. 151-54). In the sixth century, Moschus still knows this monastic community (Chaps. 143 and 161, PG 87). The Coptic texts also mention two places where veneration was paid in particular to the relics of the saints Claudius and Colluthus (Drescher, 1942, p. 77; Muyser, 1937, p. 21; Till, 1935- 1936, Vol. 1, pp. 168, 181; Godron, 1970, p. 566).

In the Middle Ages the only author who gives a general view is ABU SALIH THE ARMENIAN (beginning of the thirteenth century). He wrote after the destruction of Ansina by Salah al-Din (Saladin, 1169-1193), according to A. Grohmann (1959, p. 44b). Abu Salih (The Churches, 1895, pp. 228-29, 244-45) places the monastery at Antinoopolis, no doubt through confusion between the place-names Ansina and Isna, then the monastery of the great saint Shinudah, which he puts at the mountain Andariba. We may wonder if the author has not confused Andariba and Atrib, and must also remember that the province at this period was called Taha wa- Shinudah (cf. Grohmann, 1959, p. 43a).

We may raise the question of the existence of another celebrated monastery dedicated to Saint Shinudah, whose name was added to that of the province. Abu Salih also names the monastery of Saint with his relics, that of Abu Tabyah with his relics, and finally the DAYR AL-KHADIM, which and the State of the Provinces place in the province of al-Bahnasa. Abu Salih thus seems rather confused about the region of Antinoopolis. Al-Maqrizi (1853, Vol. 2, p. 502) names only the monastery of Yuhannis al-Qasir near Antinoopolis. We must also note the testimony of the travelers, for they saw the town before its remains were used for the building of a sugar works at Rudah. We may note in particular:

  1. The anonymous Venetian of 1589 who describes ancient Antinoopolis in detail (Voyages en Egypte, 1971, pp. 57-63).
  2. VANSLEB, who in 1673 spent several days at Abu Hinnis (1677, pp. 141-52; Eng. ed., 1678, pp. 232-40). He also saw the tomb of Ammonius, martyr bishop of Isna, transformed into a mosque, and thought that Shaykh ‘Abadah (the present name of the village close to the ruins of Antinoopolis) comes from a confusion between the appellation ‘abid (devout), given to Ammonius and misunderstood by the Arabs, and Abadah, the name of the village.
  3. SICARD, who in 1714 described at some length what he saw at Antinoopolis, and in particular the inscription mentioning Saint Colluthus (1982, Vol. 2, pp. 82-110; Vol. 3, pp. 60-63).
  4. Father Jullien, who toward 1890 still saw the church of Saint Ammonius “on the river’s edge” (Munier, 1940, pp. ).

Two series of excavations have been carried out in the town and the necropolises that surround it.

  1. Between 1898 and 1910 Gayet excavated especially the necropolises. A critical account of these excavations is given by H. Leclercq in Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Vol. 1, pt. 2 cols. 2326-60) and by A. Mallon in the same dictionary (Vol. 3, cols. 2819-86). Their information was completed by G. Lefebvre (1910, 1915). A general view with a bibliography on the subject can be found in H. Munier (1949).
  2. Since 1936 the Italian missions from the universities of Rome and Florence have excavated chiefly the town (Breccia and Donadoni, 1938; Donadoni, 1974, 1975).


  • Breccia, E., and S. Donadoni. “Le prime ricerche italiane ad Antinoe.” Aegyptus 18 (1938):285-310.
  • Donadoni, S. “Antinoë 1965-1968.” Missione archeologicha in Egitto dell’Università di Roma, pp. 14ff. Instituto di Studi dell’vicino oriente, serie archeologicha 21. Rome, 1974.
  •  . “Antinoopolis.” Lexicon der Ägyptologie, Vol. 1. Wiesbaden, 1975.
  • Drescher, J. “Apa Claudius and the Thieves.” Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie copte (1942):63-87.
  • Godron, G. Textes coptes relatifs à Saint Claude d’Antioche. Patrologia Syriaca 35 (1970).
  • Grohmann, A. Studien zur historischen Geographie und Verwaltung des frühmittelalterlichen Ägypten. Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-Hist. Klasse, 77, Vol. 2, Vienna, 1959.
  • Halkin, F., and A.-J. Festugière. Le Corpus athénien de Saint Pachôme. Cahiers d’orientalisme 2. Geneva, 1982.
  • Lefebvre, G. Egypte chrétienne, pts. 2 and 5. du Service des Antiquités de l’Egypte 10, 1910, pp. 50-65; 15, 1915, pp. 113-39. Mallon, A. “Copte (Epigraphie).” In Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie, Vol. 3, pt. 2, ed. F. Cabrol and H. Leclercq. Paris, 1914.
  • Moschus, J. Pratum Spirituale. PG 87, pt. 3. Paris, 1860.
  • Munier, H. “Les monuments coptes d’après les explorations du père Jullien. Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie copte 6 (1940):141-68.
  •  . “Stèles chrétiennes d’Antinoë.” Aegyptus 29 (1949):126-36. Muyser, J. “Des vases eucharistiques en verre.” Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie copte 3 (1937):9-28.
  • Sicard, C. Oeuvres, Vols. 2 and 3. Bibliothèque d’étude 84-85. Cairo, 1982.
  • Till, W. Heiligen- und Martyrerlegenden. Orientalia Christiana Analecta 102, 108. Rome, 1935-1936.
  • Vansleb, J. Nouvelle relation en forme de journal d’un voyage fait en Egypte en 1672 et 1673. Paris, 1677. Trans. as The Present State of Egypt. London, 1678.
  • Voyages en Egypte des années 1589, 1590 et 1591. Le Vénitien anonyme; le Seigneur de Villamont; le Hollandais Jan Sommer. Cairo, 1971.



In the second and third centuries A.D. the town, which enjoyed great favor from several Roman emperors, must have been one of the most beautiful and most splendidly equipped towns in Upper Egypt. Parts of this splendor, such as the theater, a triumphal arch and several columned streets, and a large bath building, were still standing at the time of the Napoleonic expedition (Jomard, 1822, pls. 53-61). In the interval, however, almost all have been carried away, reused as a building material, burned into lime, or sifted by diggers for sabakh (fertilizer).

Church Buildings in the Old Town

The many church buildings mentioned in several sources are no longer in existence. The Italian archaeological missions, which have been present on the site since 1965, came across a few small church buildings but only in marginal areas of the former town. There is the severely plundered ruin of an early Christian basilica in the southeast quarter of the town. We can see the course of part of the outer wall and the stylobate, which also give the position of the return aisle, as well as a crypt accessible by stairs on both sides (Uggeri, 1974, pp. 37-67).

A second small church was discovered in the area of the north necropolis of Antinoopolis. It consists of a small basilica with a three-part sanctuary but without a return aisle. In the south there is an adjoining court, bounded on the east side by several rectangular chambers. One of these has several small soldier’s sketches on one wall. The building was dated to the fourth century by the excavators (Manfredi, 1966, p. 191; sketch-plan in Pericoli, 1978, pp. 307-309, fig. 9).

A third church probably of the same date was discovered in the so-called south necropolis. It is a particularly large building of basilican shape with an unusually modeled tripartite sanctuary. The apse is adorned with an inner ring of applied columns and in addition to the central main opening has two smaller and half- rounded entrances to form the sides.

The other church buildings traceable in the center of the town (Mitchell, 1982, pp. 177-79, d,1-d,4), and until now not excavated, are of a later date, belonging probably to the sixth century.

Beside these, many hermit dwellings have been identified in the former quarries in the surrounding desert plateau. Among the most important are the foundations of DAYR AL-DIK and DAYR AL-NASARA, which both lie to the north of Antinoopolis.

Buildings in the Southern Suburb

A somewhat larger number of church buildings has been preserved in the later southern suburb of Antinoopolis called Upper Ansina, the ruins of which are called al-Madinah by the population living in the area (Clarke, 1912, pp. 187f.). They were evidently inhabited down to the Fatimid period. Among the ruins, there are some very large building complexes. A number of churches and chapels were also identified in this area (some ground plans in Grossmann, 1969, pp. 150-68), some of them belonging to monastic foundations. Chronologically they derive from the end of the late antique period. One of these churches has a sanctuary developed as a triconch. It lies on the south edge of a large walled precinct that also contains many two- or three-storied single buildings. At another place, there is an accommodation block of several rooms, each room containing several bedsteads. Unfortunately, all these buildings are still largely buried, so that important elements are so far not available for examination.

Only a small complex of ruins lying near the river was actually excavated by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, and this was evidently a small medieval cenobite monastery. Within an area surrounded by a meager wall lie a church, several accommodation buildings, and a tower. The church has a single aisle and in the west a narthex separated from the nave by a row of columns. The sanctuary as usual consists of three chambers, in front of which is placed a khurus (room between the sanctuary and naos) occupying the entire width of the church. Of the accommodation blocks, the larger one in the northeast calls for particular attention. The layout included two or three evidently communal dormitories on each side of a wide corridor.

From the number of wall it appears that these were intended for seven or eight occupants each. On the left beside the entrance were presumably the stairs to the upper story. The whole west side of the building was occupied by a two-aisle refectory. The tower is square, but only the inner partition walls have survived. The outer walls were presumably built of stone and have been lost, but three rooms are apparent, in addition to the stairwell. Entrance may have been from the east by a drawbridge at the level of the first upper story. From a chronological point of view, the whole complex, because of the developed form of the church as well as of the accommodation block, is dated to the late eighth century, perhaps even into the ninth.


  • Clarke, S. Christian Antiquities in the Nile Valley. Oxford, 1912.
  • Donadoni, S. “Scavi dell’ Università di Roma in Egitto e in Sudan (1964-1975).” La ricerca scientifica 100 (1978):278-83.
  • Grossmann, P. “Die von Somers Clarke in Ober-Ansina entdeckten Kirchenbauten.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 24 (1969):144-68.
  • Jomard, E. F., ed. Description de l’Egypte, Vol. 4, Antiquités. Paris, 1821.
  • Leclercq, H. “Antinoë.” In Dictionnaire d’Archéologie chrétienne et de Liturgie, Vol. 1, pt. 2., ed. F. Cabrol and H. Leclercq. Paris, 1907.
  • Manfredi, M. “Scavi in Egitto II.” Atène e Roma n.s. 11 (1966):188- 92; 14 (1969):39-41.
  • Mitchell, E. “Osservazioni topografiche preliminari sull impianto urbanistico di Antinoe.” Vic. Oriente 5 (1982):171-79.
  • Pericoli, A. “Antinoe—Projetto di carta alla scale 1:2000.” La ricerca scientifica 100 (1978): Vol. 1, 307-10.
  • Uggeri, G. “La chiesa paleo-cristiana presso la porta orientale.”
  • Antinoe (1965-1968), pp. 37-67. Rome, 1974.