ASWAN (Syene)

A town on the east bank of the Nile, at the position of the First Cataract, which in pharaonic times marked the borders of Egypt on the south. In the imperial period it was an administrative center and garrison town (Strabo Geographica 17.1.12), and from an early date (since A.D. 325; cf. Timm, 1984, p. 222) the seat of a bishop, to whose dioceses ELEPHANTINE and Contra-Syene also belonged (Wilcken, 1901, p. 399).

The fortification wall of the town, evidently going back to late Roman origins, could be followed almost throughout its course down to the Napoleonic expedition, but today, apart from a few sections, it has disappeared. Similarly, no early or even medieval church remains have been preserved in Aswan. The Ptolemaic temple of Isis does show clear traces of Christianization, allowing us to deduce its conversion into a three-aisled church with remains of paintings on both pronaos pillars and a few Coptic graffiti, but this church was certainly not the chief church of the town. Another Ptolemaic temple transformed into a church in the Christian period is mentioned by an unknown author in Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology (1908, pp. 73-74; see also Bresciani and Pernigotti, 1978). A group of granite columns, some still standing in the southwest of the temple of Domitian (Jomard, 1820, Vol. 1, pl. 38, 9; on the layout, pl. 31) presumably belongs to a loggia-type building of the late third century at the Roman forum of Aswan.

However, in 1896, during for sabakh (fertilizer) in the southwest of the town, remains of a basilica with several granite columns were discovered, as well as a baptistery belonging to it (Jouguet, 1896, pp. 37ff.; on the columns and capitals, cf. Monneret de Villard, 1927, p. 152). A scientific examination of these remains was not, however, carried out at the time. Today the exact location of this site can no longer be determined.

In addition, part of the medieval church of Saint PSOTE (presumably the basement floor), mentioned by ABU AL- MAKARIM (The Churches . . ., 1895 fols. 101b-102a, pp. 276-77), survived down to 1965. It was built on a spit of land in front of the northwest corner tower of the late Roman castrum lying directly on the riverbank, and in later times was submerged during high Nile floods. Typologically this church was related to the Nubian four- column buildings, but in contrast to these it was built in stone instead of mud bricks. It was demolished in 1966 in the course of straightening the Nile bank. With the aid of some old photographs, it was reconstructed (Jaritz, 1985) as a building with four internal columns and a three-partite sanctuary.


  • Bresciani, E., and Pernigotti, S. Assuan, Il tempio tolemaico di Isi, pp. 38-41, 146, pls. 37 and 38. Pisa, 1978. Reconstruction of the church was not attempted.
  • Jaritz, H. “Die Kirche des Hl. Psoti vor der Stadtmauer von Assuan.” In Mélanges Gamal Eddin Mokhtar. Bibliothèque d’Etude 97, Vol. 2. Cairo, 1985.
  • Jomard, E. F., ed. Description de l’Egypte. Vol. 1, Antiquitès. Paris, 1820.
  • Jouguet, P. Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Paris, 1896.
  • Monneret de Villard, U. “Il monastero di S. Simeone presso Aswan.” In Descrizione Archeologica. Milan, 1927.
  • Timm, S. Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit, Vol. 1, pp. 222-35. Wiesbaden, 1984.
  • Wilcken, U. “Heidnisches und Christliches aus Ägypten.” Archeological Papyrus 1 (1901):396ff.