1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Assiut

ASSIUT, or Siut, capital of a province of Upper Egypt of the same name, and the largest and best-built town in the Nile Valley south of Cairo, from which it is distant 248 m. by rail. The population rose from 32,000 in 1882 to 42,000 in 1900. Assiut stands near the west bank of the Nile across which, just below the town, is a barrage, completed in 1902, consisting of an open weir, 2733 ft. long, and over 100 bays or sluices, each 16½ ft. wide, which can be opened or closed at will. At the western end of the barrage begins the Ibrahimia canal, the feeder of the Bahr Yusuf, the largest irrigation canal of Egypt. The Ibrahimia canal is skirted by a magnificent embankment planted with shady trees leading from the river to the town. There are several bazaars, baths and handsome mosques, one noted for its lofty minaret, and here the American Presbyterian mission has established a college for both sexes. Assiut is famous for its red and black pottery and for ornamental wood and ivory work, which find a ready market all over Egypt. It is one of the chief centres of the Copts. Here also is the northern terminus of the caravan route across the desert, which, passing through the Kharga oasis, goes south-west to Darfur. It is known as the Arbain, or forty days road, from the time occupied on the journey. Assiut (properly Asyūt) is the successor of the ancient Lycopolis (Eg. Siöout), capital of the 13th nome of Upper Egypt. Here were worshipped two canine gods (see Anubis), Ophoïs (Wepwoi) being the principal god of the city, while Anubis apparently presided over the necropolis. No ruins are visible, the mounds of the old city being for the most part hidden under modern buildings; but the slopes of the limestone hills behind it are pierced with an infinity of rock-cut tombs, some of which were large and decorated with sculptures, paintings and long inscriptions. The archaeological commission of the Description de l’Égypte visited them in 1799, when the walls of many of the large tombs were still almost intact; in the first half of the 19th century (and to some extent later) an immense amount of destruction was caused by blasting for stone. Three of the tombs illustrate one of the darkest periods in Egypt’s history, when the princes of Siut played a leading part in the struggle between Heracleopolis and Thebes (Dyns. IX.-XI.); another, of the XIIth Dynasty, contains a remarkable inscription detailing the contracts made by the nomarch with the priests of the temples of Ophoïs and Anubis for perpetual services at his tomb (see Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Historical Documents, vol. i. pp. 179, 258). Remains of the mummies of dogs and similar animals sacred to these deities are scattered among the debris on the hillside in abundance. Lycopolis was the birthplace of Plotinus, the founder of Neo-Platonism (A.D. 205-270). From the 4th century onwards its grottoes were the dwellings of Christian hermits, amongst whom John of Lycopolis was the most celebrated.  (F. Ll. G.)