Kom Gi’eif (Naukratis)

About 80km south-east of Alexandria, just off the Cairo-Alexandria highway, are the villages of Kom Gi’eif, el-Nibeira and el-Niqrash, which cover the sprawling archaeological site of Naukratis. The settlement, founded at least as early as Dynasty XXVI when foreign settlers were granted a monopoly on Aegean trade, later became one of the most important Greek commercial centres, serving the needs of its various communities. Naukratis was the principal centre of cultural relations between Greece and Egypt during the late pharaonic era until the founding of the great city of Alexandria.

Petrie discovered Naukratis early in his career and excavated parts of this unique site in 1884-5, then followed by A Gardner in 1899 and D G Hogarth during the early years of the 20th century, each publishing their work. More recent surveys and excavations to the south of the site have been undertaken by American archaeologists W Coulson and A Leonard during the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Petrie first visited Naukratis, the area to the south of the site at Kom Gi’eif, consisted of a large mound measuring 400m by 800m, then in poor condition but now completely flattened and waterlogged. To the east of this a large temenos wall enclosed the town’s main temple, thought to be dedicated to Amun and Thoth. The enclosure also contained a large platform, at least 15m high, which may have been used for military or administrative purposes.

Herodotus, who visited Naukratis during the 5th century BC, tells us that the site was ‘given to the Greeks by Ahmose II’ who ruled from the Dynasty XXVI capital Sais, 16km to the north-east, though a small settlement of foreigners probably existed at Naukratis before this time. Grants of land were given to Greek traders who did not wish to live permanently in Egypt, and they were allowed to set up altars and shrines to their own gods. Pottery dating to the Corinthian era is the earliest Greek pottery found at the site and this would confirm Herodotus’ account, although Milesians and other Greek communities were the most influential during the Saite and Persian Periods. Trade was regulated by Egyptian law and subject to taxes paid to the Saite kings and seems to have consisted of Mediterranean luxury commodities such as silver and olive oil in exchange for Egyptian corn, linen and papyrus.

To the northern end of the site were three temples dedicated to Dioscuri, Apollo, Hera, constructed in Hellenistic style and each within their own sacred enclosure, thought to be built during the early 6th century BC. Here Petrie found remains of Ionic columns from the Apollo Temple and there are still a few extant remains of the Greek monuments, although now in poor condition. To the east of these shrines was a ‘Hellenium’ and a tiny shrine of Aphrodite was found further to the south.

Several vessels have been recovered from around the sanctuaries, inscribed with dedications to the town’s Greek deities. Some of these were donated by well-known characters from history, including a fragment of a cup incised with the name of Herodotus himself. The centre of the site contained the main town, with many houses built during the Ptolemaic Period. It was in this area that Petrie found a faience workshop which had produced both Egyptian and Greek objects, including numerous glazed scarabs dating as far back as the reign of Psamtek I. Many silver and bronze Greek coins have been found during excavation of the site, the only coins known from pharaonic Egypt, although probably not generally circulated at that time as most of them appeared to be in mint condition.

The most significant find from Naukratis is the Dynasty XXX stela of Nectanebo I, one of the last truly Egyptian pharaohs. The perfectly preserved carvings on the Naukratis stela (now in the Cairo Egyptian Museum) announce a decree by the king that a tax of one tenth of all goods from Naukratis be paid into his treasury for the benefit of the Temple of Neith at Sais. The town of Naukratis has proved to be the best-documented source we have of the relationship between Greece and Egypt during the late pharaonic period.

~ by Su on March 3, 2009.

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