The Ancient City of Thmuis (Tell el-Timai)

Excavating the Ptolemaic Temple © 2009 Veronica Morriss

At the dawn of civilization in the Nile Valley, people settled upon four levees of the Mendesian branch of the Nile.  These sandy embankments protruded from the landscape in a southwest to northeast direction and provided the earliest settlers a safe abode from the annual floodwaters.  Here the first settlement of Mendes, initially known as ‘Anepat, “Place of Greenness,” forged its beginnings amidst the watery landscape.

Location of Timai and Mendes © 2011 Veronica Morriss

A short distance north, the river emptied into the Mediterranean Sea, later called by the Egyptians the “Great Green” or the “Great Syrian Sea.”  Upon this river, boats carrying cargoes from the eastern Mediterranean sailed to the various entrepots within the eastern Nile Delta.  To the west, marshes abounding with reeds and papyri were accessible only by the local papyus-skiff.  This area, known by the earliest inhabitants as Laḫaḫta or the “Watery Place,” was a feature of the landscape until modern times.  It is depicted in the Description de l’Egypte maps as a large marsh known as “the Daqahliyyah Lake”.

Daqahliyyah Lake, Egypt © 2011 Veronica Morriss

For nearly three millennia ‘Anepat slowly grew, settlement upon settlement, destruction layer upon destruction layer, into a mound that now stands 9.6 m (31 ft) above the surrounding landscape.  The city flourished as a hub of trade; situated along one of the eastern arteries of the Nile and within sight of the coast, the cities of Mendes, and later Thmuis, provided to the merchants of the Levant and the northern Aegean access to the markets and commodities of Egypt.

The Greco-Roman city of Ta-mawy comprised a satellite community of the larger Mendes as early as the 5th century B.C.E.  Herodotus and later scholars speak of this Hellenistic city, known to the Greek settlers as Thmuis.  Fed by the abundant waters of the Mendesian Nile and the fertile alluvial plains of the Delta, Thmuis developed into a thriving metropolis of farmers, artisans, and merchants, as well as a strategic naval center.  According to the Jewish historian Josephus (c.37- 100 C.E.), Titus moored his fleet of long ships along the shores of Thmuis before he embarked across the Sinai Peninsula to besiege Jerusalem during the First Jewish-Roman War.

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, 1867 © The Yorck Project

With the tides of time, however, the courses of the Nile shifted and the descendants of ‘Anepat were eventually cut off from their lifeline.  By the ninth century C.E. the cities of Mendes and Thmuis were largely deserted.  Today, all but remains of these ancient cities are ruins, nestled between the modern villages of Timai el-Amdid, Kafr Amir Abdulla Salam, and Tell el-Roba’.

The Ruins of Tell el-Timai © 2010 Tell Timai Excavation

*These are excerpts from “Islands in the Nile Sea: The Maritime Cultural Landscape of Thmuis, an Ancient Delta City” © 2012 Veronica Morriss.  Do not use without author’s permission.

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Categories: Archaeology, Egypt

Author:Veronica Morriss

Maritime archaeologist, Islamic archaeologist

One Comment on “The Ancient City of Thmuis (Tell el-Timai)”

  1. April 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Very cool.

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