The Greek name of an ancient city, a district, and a lake in Egypt. The ruins of the ancient city lie in Kom al-Idris about 2.5 miles (4 km) north of al-Hawwariyyah and some 20 miles (32 km) southwest of The name of the modern town and its lake, just below Alexandria, is Maryut.
The district of Mareotis was remote and generally inhospitable. When the patriarch DIONYSIUS (247-264) was exiled to the area by Aemilianus, the prefect of Egypt, he complained because he had heard that Mareotis was not only devoid of Christians and men of character, but was hazardous because of the incursions of robbers (Eusebius Historia ecclesiastica 7.11.14-17).
The martyrdom of SHENUFE, which speaks of a number of Christians from Empaiat (Mareotis) including Shenufe himself (Reymond and Barns, 1973, p. 86 [Coptic text]; p. 189 [English translation]), is one of several indications that Christianity was firmly established in the area by the early fourth century. Mareotis also figures prominently in the accounts of Abu Mina. Although the different stories about Abu Mina do not agree on his homeland, the Coptic version of his martyrdom states that Mina’s parents were from the area of Mareotis, and the account of his miracles says that Mina himself was resident in Empaiat (Drescher, 1946, pp. 2, 10).
Mina’s burial place was in the desert in the district of Mareotis, but the SYNAXARION, under 15 Ba’unah, commemorates the dedication of the church of Mina in the city of Mareotis and claims that the church, along with the city itself, was built at the place where Mina was buried. Apparently the city of Mareotis became associated with Mina’s burial place, even though this equation was not precise. Abu Salih, for example, identified Dayr Abu Mina in the western desert with the city Mareotis and al-MAQRIZI, who wrote in the early to mid-fifteenth century, said the city of Mareotis was still in existence in his day, though he evidently meant the burial place of Mina with its accompanying church (Maspero and Wiet, 1919, p. 167).
The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS records that Patriarch SHENUTE I (858-880) went into the church of Mina and prayed for divine intervention at a time when the area had not seen rain for three years. A short time later in the patriarchate of Shenute, the church was seized and plundered by members of the Muslim tribe known as the Madaljah.
While PHILO wrote that the Therapeutae, an ascetic sect that he described, lived just south of Lake Mareotis (De vita contemplativa 3.22), Christian monasticism in the district of Mareotis appears to have had its beginnings in the fourth century. SOZOMEN reports that some 2,000 monks were preaching philosophy in the neighborhood of Alexandria, some in the district called the Hermitage, and others in the outlying areas of Mareotis and in Libya (Historia ecclesiastica 6.29.3). He speaks at some length of Ammon, a man who pursued his dream of living the monastic life by retiring to a desert place south of Lake Mareotis (1.14.3), and of the monk Stephen who lived at Mareotis near Marmarica (6.29.13). Both of these men were contemporary with ANTONY, who died in 356.
ATHANASIUS wrote in the fourth century that the churches in the district of Mareotis had no bishop. Instead they were overseen by presbyters who were directly subject to the patriarchate in Alexandria (Apologia Secunda 85.3ff.). However, since Athanasius made this statement when he was involved in a dispute with Ischyras, a church leader in the district of Mareotis who was eventually made bishop of the area by Athanasius’ opponents, it is apparent that the assertion is polemical in nature. In 343 Ischyras, who may have been ordained by the schismatic MELITIUS, attended the synod in Sardica as the bishop of Mareotis (Munier, 1943, pp. 6-7). Whether or not Ischyras had a successor as bishop is not known.
The History of the Patriarchs relates that Patriarch AGATHON (661-677) was from Mareotis, but there is no indication whether he hailed from the city itself or simply from the district of Mareotis.
- Drescher, J. Apa Mena: A Selection of Coptic Texts Relating to St. Menas. Cairo, 1946.
- Maspero, J., and G. Wiet. Matériaux pour servir à la géographie de l’Egypte. Cairo, 1919.
- Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Reymond, E. A. E., and J. W. B. Barns, eds. Four Martyrdoms from the Pierpont Morgan Coptic Codices. Oxford, 1973.
- Timm, S. Das christlich-koptische Ägypten in arabischer Zeit. Wiesbaden, 1988.