Marea on Lake Maryut

Marea on Lake Maryut

By Hanna Szymańska and Krzysztof Babraj

Polish Archaeology in Egypt (2007)

Marea or Philoxenite? This question comes to mind first. There are doubts as to the identification of the site with Herodotus’ Marea owing to the fact that nothing in the assemblage appears to predate the 6th century at the earliest. Judging by the accumulation of coin finds, the town had its heyday in the 7th century and was abandoned not later than the first quarter of the 8th century, as demonstrated pointedly by the total absence of typically Islamic glazed pottery. But if not Marea, then what could it have been? One idea is that the settlement was founded at the end of the 5th century by Philoxenos, prefect of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius, to accommodate pilgrims traveling across the lake to the monastery of a major Coptic saint, St Menas. A city by the name of Philoxenite is indeed mentioned in the historical sources of the period.

The fertile land of Mareotis spreading on the southern shore of Lake Maryut (ancient Mareotis), to the southwest of the city of Alexandria, was extolled in Antiquity for its quality wines, olives and fruit. The lake and the channels connecting it with the Nile and feeding sweet water into it, constituted a convenient route for transporting Egyptian goods from deep inland, via Alexandria, to the Mediterranean in general. The now submerged Mareoticus harbor in the southern part of Ptolemaic and Roman Alexandria once served as a transit point for ships sailing down a manmade canal to the great port of Eunostos already on the Mediterranean. With time, however, the canals silted up for lack of maintenance and the lake all but dried up. The shores of the lake became largely depopulated. Even so, the Mareotis region was still supplying Alexandria with fruit and almonds in the early 19th century, as described by E. Quatremère, while four hundred years earlier the Arabian traveler Maqrizi reported seeing flourishing villages there. In 1801, when the British opened the floodgates from the sea in order to cut off the French regiments from fresh water, the lake was re-flooded.

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