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Ancient Bubastis ( Zagazig) in the Egyptian Nile Delta

Updated December 6th 2019

Bubastis (Bohairic Coptic: Ⲡⲟⲩⲃⲁⲥϯ Poubasti; Greek: Βούβαστις Boubastis[1] or Βούβαστος Boubastos[2]) -- also known in Arabic as Tell-Basta or in Egyptian as Per-Bast, was an Ancient Egyptian city. Bubastis is often identified with the biblical Pi-Beseth (Hebrew: פי-בסת py-bst, Ezekiel 30:17).[3] It was the capital of its own nome located along the River Nile in the Delta region of Lower Egypt and notable as a center of worship for the feline goddess Bastet. Its ruins are located in the suburbs of the modern city of Zagazig [WikiPedia]

Bubastis (1887-1889) by Edouard Naville (1891)


TELL BASTA --- The most ancient mention of Bubastis which we meet with, apart from the Egyptian texts, exists in the prophet Ezekiel in the prophesy against Egypt. "The young men of Aven and of Pi-Beseth shall fall by the sword; and these cities shall go into captivity". The Septuagint, translating the passage, give the Greek names of the two cities; Aven is Heliopolis and Pi-Beseth is Bubastis; and they are followed by the Vulgate and the Coptic version.

It is to Herodotus that we are indebted for the most complete description of Bubastis. The Greek writer speaks twice of the city; first in reference to the great festival which was celebrated there annually and afterwards when he gives a detailed description of the temple, to which we shall have to revert further. He also states that near Bubastis was the place where the canal to the Red Sea branched off from the Nile. From his account we learn that Bubastis was a large city of Lower Egypt and his statement is borne out by the narrative of the capture of the town by the generals of Artaxerxes, Mentor and Bagoas, which is found in Diodorus ... At Bubastis occurred for the first time what was to be the cause of the fall of several cities and especially of the capital; internal warfare between the foreign mercenaries and the Egyptian troops, each party betraying the other to the Persian general.

Strabo speaks of the nome or province of Bubastis as being near the head of the Delta in the immediate vicinity of the nome of Heliopolis. Bubastis is one of the eight famous cities mentioned by Pomponius Mela among the twenty thousand said to have existed under Amasis, and of which many were still inhabited in his time. Roman coins of the time of Hadrianus bear the name of the nome of Bubastis. It occurs in Ptolemaeus and Stephanus Byzantinus. Hierocles quotes Bubastis among the cities of the second Augustamnica and it was one of the bishoprics of Egypt. A Byzantine chronographer John, Bishop of Nikiou, quotes the city of Basta in connection with a rebellion which took place under the Emperor Phocas, and the Arab geographer Macrizy speaks of it repeatedly. Among the provinces of Egypt was the district of Bastah, which contained thirty-nine hamlets. Bastah was given as allotment to the Arab tribes who had taken part in the conquest. Afterwards it belonged to the province of Kalioub.

We do not know when it was abandoned. Travellers did not direct their attention to the place and the first to have noticed the ruins seems to be the Frenchman Malus, who took part in the Egyptian campaign at the end of last century. He gives the following description of the place :

"The ruins of Tell Bastah are seen from a great distance. They are seven leagues distant from the Nile and half a league from the canal (the Muizz) on its right side. We saw there several remains of monuments which may be useful for the history of Egyptian architecture. We noticed in particular part of a cornice of a very vigorous style ; the sculpture of it is fairly preserved. This block, which may be eight feet long and six high, is of a very hard red granite; the work is most elaborate, it is covered with hieroglyphs of which we made a drawing ......

A Handbook for Travellers in Egypt: including descriptions of the course of the Nile through Egypt and Nubia, Alexandria, Cairo, the pyramids and Thebes, the Suez Canal, the Peninsula of Mount Sinai, the Oases, the Fayum &c --- Fourth Edition -- John Murray Publisher (1873)


The Festival Hall of Osorkon II in the Great Temple of Bubastis by Edward Naville (176 Pages)


Some time ago we invited attention to an important memoir of the Egypt Exploration Fund on the ruins of Tell Bastah near Zagazig in the Delta on the site of the ancient Bubastis. Bubastis is celebrated by Herodotus and the modern discoveries described in the memoir correspond accurately with his account. But it has also a special place in history. It gives the title to the Twenty-second Dynasty of Egyptian Kings, who are called Bubastites. The founder of this dynasty -- who was probably the hereditary commander of a foreign guard -- was Shishak, whom we know in the Bible as the successful plunderer of Jerusalem in the reign of Rehoboam. Bubastis was his native city and we might expect to find in its sculptures and hieroglyphics some memorial of his victories. This however is not the case. It was in the ancient capital of Thebes in Upper Egypt that he raised his monuments. Probably he had to live chiefly there to consolidate his power and subdue the resistance offered by the elder family to the usurper. It was left to his successors Osorkon I and Osorkon II to adorn the birthplace of their race as a consequence perhaps of the transference of political precedence from Upper Egypt to the Delta. But it was not merely a transference of political life; it was a transference also of religious worship. If Thebes gave way to Bubastis it followed also that the great god Amon was deserted for the goddess Bast. She is accordingly the principal figure in the later Bubastite sculptures. Known by her lion-head, she is continually receiving offerings from the king or bestowing gifts upon him. It would seem that Osorkon I found the temple in ruins, that he began to reconstruct it, that Osorkon II completed the work and inaugurated it by a special festival in honour of the local divinity. The whole ceremonial of this special festival is depicted at great length on the doorway of a festival hall which the king probably built or rebuilt for the occasion. This -- which was too extensive a matter to be included in the general account of Bubastis -- forms the subject of the present memoir. We have said that Osorkon II rebuilt the hall, for in truth it was originally built long before. The whole temple is in fact as Mr. Naville says, a palimpsest. Begun under the old Empire, subsequent monarchs erased their predecessors' names to substitute their own. This was done to such an extent by the great Rameses II that "but for a few omissions and negligences of his workmen we should feel inclined to attribute to him the honour of the foundation of Bubastis". After his time however it fell into ruins till the two Osorkons undertook its rehabilitation under different auspices, assigning to Bast the prominence which had formerly been given to Anion. When, after long ages of interment, it was again unearthed by Mr. Naville, it seemed -- as may be seen in a photograph in this memoir -- a hopeless heap of huge granite blocks. But the blocks were covered with writing and figures which by degrees furnished a clue to their arrangement. Patient measurement of the angles did the rest; and at last it became evident that the inscriptions covered the walls of a large gateway which led from the first hall into the second. The restored gateway is figured in a series of beautiful plates which show us exactly how the festival procession was arranged upon it. The several compartments of this procession are set forth on a larger scale in a number of other engravings, each one of which is carefully described in the letterpress --- Amelia Blaudford Edwarcta.

Bubastis --- WikiPedia

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