World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000340282
Reproduction Date:

Title: Elephantine  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Anuket, Elephantine papyri, Khnum, Elnabatat's Island, Aswan
Collection: Archaeological Sites in Egypt, Aswan, Historic Jewish Communities, History of Nubia, Islands of the Nile, River Islands of Egypt
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Elephantine is located in Egypt
Elephantine Island in the Nile River,
at Aswan, Upper Egypt.
West bank of Elephantine Island on the Nile River.
View south (upstream) of Elephantine Island and Nile, from a hotel tower.

Elephantine ( or ;[1] Arabic: جزيرة الفنتين‎; Greek: Ελεφαντίνη; Kenzi Nubian: ) is an island in the Nile River in northern Nubia. It is a part of the modern city of Aswan, in southern Egypt. There are archaeological sites on the island.


  • Geography 1
  • Ancient Egypt 2
    • Archaeological sites 2.1
      • Temples 2.1.1
      • Nilometers 2.1.2
  • Jewish presence 3
  • Other features 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Verdant Euphantine Island, opposite Assuan, Egypt.", 1908. Lantern slide. Brooklyn Museum
Island of Elephantine (Egypt) - Edwin Howland Blashfield. Brooklyn Museum

Elephantine Island is 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) from north to south, and is 400 metres (1,300 ft) across at its widest point. The layout of this and other nearby islands in Aswan can be seen from west bank hillsides along the Nile. The island is located just downstream of the First Cataract at the southern border of Upper Egypt with Lower Nubia. This region above is referred to as Upper Egypt due to land and river elevations being higher than downstream, and than the Nile Delta region to the Mediterranean Sea.

The island may have received its name after its shape, which in aerial views is similar to that of an elephant tusk, or from the rounded rocks along the banks resembling elephants. This is the meaning of the Greek word elephas (ελέφας). Other theories consider that the island is named because it was a trading center in the ivory trade.

Ancient Egypt

Known to the Ancient Egyptians as Abu or Yebu, the island of Elephantine stood at the border between Egypt and Nubia. It was an excellent defensive site for a city and its location made it a natural cargo transfer point for river trade. This border is near the Tropic of Cancer, the most northerly latitude at which the sun can appear directly overhead at noon and from which it appears to reverse direction or "turn back" at the solstices.

Elephantine was a fort that stood just before the first cataract of the Nile. During the Second Intermediate Period (1650 - 1550 BC), the fort marked the southern border of Egypt.[2]

According to Egyptian mythology, here was the dwelling place of Khnum, the ram-headed god of the cataracts, who guarded and controlled the waters of the Nile from caves beneath the island. He was worshipped here as part of a late triad among the Egyptian pantheon of deities. The Elephantine Triad included Satis and Anuket. Satis was worshipped from very early times as a war goddess and protector of this strategic region of Egypt. When seen as a fertility goddess, she personified the bountiful annual flooding of the Nile, which was identified as her daughter, Anuket. The cult of Satis originated in the ancient city of Swenet. Later, when the triad was formed, Khnum became identified as her consort and, thereby, was thought of as the father of Anuket. His role in myths changed later and another deity was assigned his duties with the river. At that time his role as a potter enabled him to be assigned a duty in the creation of human bodies.

Temple of Khnum.

Archaeological sites

Ongoing excavations by the German Archaeological Institute at the town have uncovered many findings, on display in the Aswan Museum located on the island, including a mummified ram of Khnum. Artifacts dating back to predynastic times have been found on Elephantine. A rare calendar, known as the Elephantine Calendar of Things, dating to the reign of Thutmose III, was found in fragments on the island.

In ancient times, the island was also an important stone quarry providing granite materials that would be transported widely within Egypt for monuments and buildings.


Prior to 1822, there were temples to Thutmose III and Amenhotep III on the island. At that time they were destroyed by the Ottoman government. Both temples were relatively intact prior to the deliberate demolition.

There are records of an Egyptian temple to Khnum on the island as early as the third Dynasty of Egypt. This temple was completely rebuilt in the Late Period, during the thirtieth dynasty of Egypt, just before the foreign rule that followed in the Graeco-Roman Period. The Greeks formed the Ptolemaic dynasty during their three-hundred-year rule over Egypt (305 to 30 BC) and maintained the ancient religious customs and traditions, while often associating the Egyptian deities with their own.

Most of the present day southern tip of the island is taken up by the ruins of the Temple of Khnum. These oldest ruins still standing on the island are a granite step pyramid from the third dynasty, and a small temple built for the local sixth-dynasty nomarch, Heqaib. In the Middle Kingdom many officials, such as the local governors Sarenput I or Heqaib III dedicated statues and shrines into the temple. There were forty-two such nomarch provinces created as regional governments that dated from the Old Kingdom through the Roman Period.

The Aswan Museum, and a nilometer (lower left).


A Nilometer was a structure for measuring the Nile River's clarity and the water level during the annual flood season. There are two Nilometers at Elephantine Island. The more famous is a corridor Nilometer associated with the Temple of Satis, with a stone staircase that descends the corridor. It is one of the oldest Nilometers in Egypt, last reconstructed in Roman times and still in use as late as the nineteenth century CE. Ninety steps that lead down to the river are marked with Hindu-Arabic, Roman, and hieroglyphic numerals. Visible at the water's edge are inscriptions carved deeply into the rock during the Seventeenth Dynasty.

The other Nilometer is a rectangular basin located at the island's southern tip, near the Temple of Khnum and opposite the Old Cataract Hotel. It is probably the older of the two. One of the Nilometers, though it is not certain which, is mentioned by the Greek historian Strabo.

Many sources claim that the fabled "Well of Eratosthenes", famous in connection with Eratosthenes' calculation of the Earth's circumference, was located on the island. Strabo mentions a well that was used to observe that Syene lies on the Tropic of Cancer, but the reference is to a well at Syene (Aswan), not at Elephantine. Neither Nilometer at Elephantine is suitable for the purpose, while the well at Syene is apparently lost. [3]

Nubian houses on central Elephantine Island

Jewish presence

The Elephantine papyri are caches of legal documents and letters written in Aramaic, which document a Jewish community, perhaps made up of mercenaries, dating to sometime in the 6th century BC.[4][5] They maintained their own temple (also see House of Yahweh), in which sacrifices were offered, evincing polytheistic beliefs, which functioned alongside that of Khnum.[6]

The temple may have been built in reaction to Manasseh's reinstitution of pagan worship or simply to serve the needs of the Jewish community.[4]

Other features

The island has the Aswan Museum at the southern end of the island. Ongoing excavations by the German Archaeological Institute at the island's ancient town site have uncovered many findings that are now on display in the museum, including a mummified ram of Khnum. A sizable population of Nubian people live in three villages in the island's middle section. A large luxury hotel is at the island's northern end.

The Aswan Botanical Garden is adjacent to the west on Kitchener's Island.

See also


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary, Third Edition (Merriam-Webster, 1997; ISBN 0877795460), p. 351.
  2. ^ Ian Shaw, Ed, Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, New York, 2000, page 206
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^ A. van Hoonacker, Une Communité Judéo-Araméenne à Éléphantine, en Egypte, aux vi et v siècles avant J.-C, London 1915 cited, Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, vol.5, (1939) 1964 p125 n.1

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.