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date: 20 June 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This chapter traces the history of Naucratis and highlights the city’s main characteristics, arranged thematically. Naucratis represents the first instance of organized Greek presence recorded in Egypt, dating to the seventh century BC. While another three poleis were founded later in Egypt, the uniqueness of Naucratis lies in its status as the first Greek settlement and onlyemporionin Egypt, and thus the main focus is on its position as the cultural crossroads between Egypt and the Greek world. Archaeological, literary, epigraphic, and papyrological evidence is critically appraised, as are the main current debates on the foundation and function of the city and formation of its citizens’ cultural identity in the pharaonic and Greco-Roman periods.

Keywords: Naucratis, emporion, port of trade, Hellenism, Hellenion, Nile delta

Contact between Egypt and the Greek world, broadly understood, goes back to the Minoans. After a hiatus due to disturbances in the eastern Mediterranean around 1200 BC,1 commercial contact resumed, and then continued without interruption from the seventh century BC onward. About the same time, the Twenty-sixth Dynasty pharaoh Psammetichus I (664–610 BC) employed eastern Greek and Carian mercenaries for the Egyptian army. The cultural effects of this contact can be seen on both sides of the Mediterranean: in Memphis there is evidence of intermarriage, as well as adoption of Greek names and Greek burial customs, while Egyptian goods made their way into the Mediterranean world, brought back by seamen or as gifts sent from the pharaohs to eastern Greek sanctuaries.2

Naucratis represents the first instance of organized Greek presence recorded in Egypt. The exact date of its foundation is unknown, since the literary sources provide conflicting accounts. Herodotus suggests it was founded by Amasis II (570–526 BC), but both the account of Strabo and Athenaeus, as well as material evidence, suggest an earlier date, probably, but not before, the reign of Psammetichus I.3 This is also supported by the reference in a poem by Sappho to a famous courtesan of Naucratis, who was admired by Sappho’s brother, which also suggests that Naucratis existed before Amasis.4 It could well be that under Psammetichus the arrangement was rather informal, and Naucratis did not develop into a flourishing commercial center and polis until later. It is likely that it was at first only a military settlement that he granted to his Greek mercenaries, a mutation of the stratopeda in which Herodotus tells us the pharaoh retained his mercenaries.5 Allowing mercenaries some sort of settlement may not have been a singular occurrence under Amasis, but rather a common practice in the rule of early Saite pharaohs, but too little is known about their reigns, as well as the beginnings of Greek mercenary activity, to say with any degree of certainty.6

The city was excavated by Petrie in 1884–1885, Gardner in 1886, Hogarth in 1899 and 1903, and Coulson and Leonard in 1977–1978 and 1980–1982.7 Coulson and Leonard found the main parts of the city under the water of a lake formed by the rising water table, so there have been no more recent excavations, but with the help of new technology significant headway has been made in consolidating the layout and development of the area.8 About one-third of the area had already been dug up for sebakh before the archaeologists got to it, but still Petrie managed to excavate five Greek sanctuaries and some of the adjoining settlement. His finds have to do mostly with the Greco-Roman period and, because of the nature of the site, in which sanctuaries are most prominent, the focus is on religion. So the earliest history of Naucratis in the archaic period, and its main role as a trade port, are not well documented, although some of the sanctuaries excavated, and also mentioned by Herodotus, date back to the time of Psammetichus. One must keep in mind that when Petrie started out, not even the exact position of Naucratis was known, since the descriptions of Herodotus and Strabo were easy to misinterpret—and had indeed been misinterpreted. Once he managed to discover the real position of the city, with the help of Ptolemy9 and the Peutinger map,10 even the misinterpretations in Herodotus and Strabo could be set straight: Herodotus names the wrong position but assumes the correct one in his description of the route for sailing to and from there,11 and Strabo seems to have confused the river with a navigable branch.12 So Naucratis’s position was firmly established to have been on the Canopic branch of the Nile delta (the westernmost branch, now defunct13), a fact that was soon confirmed by the finds.14

Petrie’s work was continued by Gardner in 1886, who correctly identified what Petrie had thought to be the palaestra as the Heraion and further discovered the sanctuary of Aphrodite. So once the excavations of Petrie and Gardner, both with the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF), had been completed, the sanctuaries of Apollo, Hera, Aphrodite, and the Dioscouroi had come to light, as well as the Great Temenos and a scarab factory. Hogarth, from the British School at Athens, excavated the site in 1899 and 1903, concentrating on the Hellenion and Great Temenos. Coulson and Leonard’s excavations in the 1970s and 1980s encountered significant difficulties in trying to provide a more nuanced view of the finds from Naucratis, since by that time the larger part of the site had been submerged under a lake. Difficulties were also caused by the fact that the smaller finds of the EEF excavations had been widely dispersed among various institutions and individuals and could not be studied as a complete body of evidence.15

Trade Port and Economy

The initial configuration of Naucratis is difficult to ascertain, but it is clear that it would be anachronistic to see Nauratis as a flourishing trade port under Psammetichus. Whether or not he allowed some trading activity, it seems that the primary nature of the settlement was military, most likely to have easy access to his mercenaries or to reward them for their service. It was under the rule of Amasis that Naucratis turned into the designated trading port for commercial ventures with the Greek world, and it remained an important commercial center until long after it had lost first place to Alexandria.16 It became the only emporion in Egypt, and every sort of trade had to pass through Naucratis, owing to its strategic position on the mouth of the Canopic branch, while it also managed to evolve from a simple settlement into a polis.

It is important to keep in mind that the term emporion is strictly defined only as the port of a polis where external trading takes place (as opposed to the agora, which caters for local trade) in the fourth century. It then forms a clearly delineated part of the polis, marked by horoi, supervised by the epimeletai tou emporiou, and ruled by a special set of regulations, such as those applied to the port of Piraeus as described by the Attic orators. Before the fourth century it signifies a settlement whose prime purpose is trade, and in the sources it can have either meaning.17 Herodotus’s description of Naucratis as emporion can be read as ambivalent on this matter, which Hansen took to indicate that Naucratis may have been the only example of an archaic trade station with emporion separate from the city. Möller rejects this interpretation, pointing out that no such division is visible in the archaeological finds, and that in the archaic period there is no question of Naucratis’s having been a polis anyway, since the civic institutions attested later were not mentioned by Herodotus and probably did not yet exist. The ambivalence, such as it is, is more likely to reflect Herodotus’s experience from his own times, not a realistic description of the early history of Naucratis.18

Amasis enjoyed a more peaceful reign than Psammertichus, and this is probably one of the reasons he was able to involve himself with trade.19 He sought to restrict the commercial activity of the Greeks elsewhere in his land, while regularizing their position in Naucratis, by making it the only port in Egypt where Greeks were allowed to trade and reside.20 He also imposed a fine on trading ships unless they passed from Naucratis upon entering Egypt, as we are told by Herodotus.21 Herodotus calls Amasis a philhellene, and that is why, he says, the pharaoh concentrated Greek trade just on Naucratis (there may have been several trading ports in the delta before Amasis22) and allowed the other Greek cities involved to build the Hellenion and administer the site through prostatai tou emporiou.23 It has been suggested that this may also have been a way of marginalizing the role of Miletus in the Greek settlement, which was more important in the beginning because Miletus had supported Amasis’s adversary Apries.24

Naucratis was not unique in its status as a Greek emporion situated in a foreign environment in the archaic period, but was one among many trading posts in the Mediterranean, forming a wide network of settlements with similar features, such as Cyrene and the Milesian colonies on the shores of the Black Sea.25 It has recently been suggested that Naucratis may also not have been unique as a point of contact for ships entering the Canopic branch after all: the Stele of Nectanebos I seems to imply that the harbor town of Hone, Thonis-Heracleion, acted as a first toll post at the mouth of the Canopic branch. But this may only have been so for a short time, and it is not known what the relationship between the two sites was.26 Despite the reference to Hone, it is clear that in the Stele Naucratis is seen as a source of revenue and depot for all kinds of goods coming from the Greek world. So Naucratis in the fourth century, whether exclusively or not, remained an active center of international commerce and a major depot.27

The uniqueness of Naucratis lies in its status as the only Greek settlement and emporion in Egypt. The Egyptians did not allow any other settlements by foreigners, so whether there were other trading posts or not, Naucratis was the only one where the foreigner traders were allowed to settle. It also seems most likely that Naucratis was an exclusively Greek trading post; the suggestion that Phoenicians and Cypriots traded in Naucratis alongside the Greeks cannot be corroborated by the available evidence. Of course Egyptian officials overseeing the trading operations and a few Egyptian workers in the workshops and port would also be expected, but the actual evidence for an Egyptian settlement in the area, at least before the Ptolemies, is very meagre.28

Archaeology does not help much with how trade was organized in Naucratis, since the finds have more to do with sanctuaries and the accoutrements of religious practice than they do with trade. The Greeks would have been most interested in the grain that Egypt had to offer, while presumably they would have also bought papyrus and linen from there. In return, they predictably sold a lot of wine and olive oil, but also brought over much silver in the form of coinage.29

Möller has convincingly explained the role of Naucratis in Egypt within the scheme of Polanyi’s theory on “ports of trade”: the redistributive economy of Egypt still required some imports, and thus a passive trade developed, controlled by Egyptian officials, which used foreigners as merchants on behalf of the Egyptians to oversee the influx of goods into Egypt. The “port of trade” is an instrument of administrative trade, aiding the collection of toll charges, controlling the exchange of goods, and acting as a buffer between two differently organized economies. In the case of Egypt it also provided a good solution to the Egyptian reluctance to sail the Mediterranean.30 This role is not incompatible with Naucratis’s also being an emporion, but the two roles stem from different cultural milieus and express the varying economic reality of the strictly centrally controlled Egyptian economic system, as opposed to the freely functioning trading system of the Mediterranean peoples.31

It is not clear whether any exclusivity enjoyed by Naucratis continued under the Persians, who would have caused upheaval by bringing their forces into the delta, but most international goods must have still been channeled through its port.32 Alexander visited Naucratis and subsequently appointed a Naucratite, Cleomenes, as a tax collector and overseer in his new foundation of Alexandria. The latter, deliberately or not, became the de facto emporion of Egypt, while Naucratis, having lost its primacy, retained some of the trade passing through Egypt and managed to stay independent and prosperous. Before Alexandria, Naucratis was the only city to issue civic coinage in Egypt, and it continued to do so for a while after the foundation of the new capital, thus asserting its independence.33 However, the city’s role as port of trade lapsed in the Ptolemaic period, when Naucratis, along with the rest of Egypt, became part of the Hellenistic world,34 though we do find references to local trade in the papyri.35 Later, the annexation of Egypt into the Roman Empire provided new trade opportunities to Naucratis, mainly because of the need to supply grain to Italy.36

Settlements, Inhabitants, and Crafts

Naucratis became a Greek polis in Egypt, but it did not start out as a colony. Herodotus is clear in his account that the Egyptians, who by the time of Amasis were in full control of the delta, would never have allowed the foundation of a Greek colony.37 It was a settlement of foreigners that had been allowed by the pharaohs to dwell permanently on Egyptian soil, trade, and build temples, probably in an effort to secure allies against the Persians,38 and in that it was unique among the cities of classical antiquity.39 Miletus has been credited with being the main source of the population of Naucratis, but the evidence points to a mixed population, coming from several city-states of the Greek world. The mercenaries employed by Psammetichus were Carians as well as Ionians, and both literary and archaeological evidence points to the involvement of at least twelve cities in the early history of Naucratis. The cities mentioned by Herodotus as being involved in the new settlement, or at least its Hellenion—Mytilene, Phocaea, Clazomenae, Teos, Chios, Rhodes, Halicarnassus, Cnidus, and Phaselis—are all prominently seafaring cities, to which the name of the new settlement might be owed.40

Although Herodotus clearly states that Naucratis came to be on the initiative of pharaoh and with the input of many cities, the rest of the literary tradition on the point of the foundation of Naucratis takes a maverick line. Later authors, bolstered by Strabo’s account, created a conflicting tradition, in which Naucratis came about as a Milesian apoikia. Strabo himself followed Artemidorus of Ephesus, though the reason for his not following Herodotus’s account, which he knew, is unclear, though it may be connected to the fact that Herodotus fails to offer a convincing account of ktisis, which is an important feature of Hellenistic literature.41 In any case, Herodotus’s account is confirmed by the material evidence, which indicates that the first inhabitants were a medley of eastern Greeks, while no distinctive ware from Miletus has been recovered from the site.42 Indeed, Herodotus does not even credit Miletus with participation in the foundation of the Hellenion or with furnishing the prostatai tou emporiou. He specifically attributes these to the founding cities mentioned above and adds that the people of Aegina, Samos, and Miletus also built temples in the area.43 The significance of this is lost in his narrative, as is the sequence of events, since he insists on placing the foundation of Naucratis in the reign of Amasis and not before, thus obscuring the later asserted lead—chronological at least—of Miletus.

In short, Naucratis was nothing like the colonies in Italy and Sicily. It became an established Greek community, but not one that displayed a developed sense of citizenship, while it manifestly owed its existence to the continued favor and interest of the Egyptian pharaoh and the Greek states trading there.44 In the fifth century it developed into a city-state and obtained the civic institutions expected in a polis, such as a prytaneum and magistrates, who held the Ionic title of timouchoi, which still existed under Augustus,45 while its calendar and laws were imports from Miletus,46 later passed on to Antinoopolis.47

It is still a matter of debate whether the area occupied by Naucratis had previously contained an Egyptian settlement. While it seems likely that there was an Egyptian village on the site when the Greeks arrived, the material evidence concerning Egyptian presence in the Greek settlement is controversial. Boardman asserts that there probably was a native quarter for the laborers, who would have been Egyptian.48 Hogarth was the first to claim that no Greek pottery was found in the southern part of the town, and the Great Temenos, which he misinterpreted as an Egyptian fort and that later turned out to contain an Egyptian-style temple to Amun, suggests there were Egyptian inhabitants in the city.49 There is no obvious reason to dispute Egyptian presence in Naucratis, and the temple to Amun serves as evidence at least for the fourth century BC, when it was built. But the debate usually rests on potsherds, which are not reliable evidence in this case. Möller suggests there could be a distortion of the overall picture because the Arabs collected all the more valuable sherds or because Hogarth characterized all local sherds from the postclassical periods as Egyptian.50 Besides, even if we are dealing with genuine Egyptian finds, such as the bronzes and cult paraphernalia found in the south of Naucratis, their presence does not necessarily indicate an Egyptian quarter, since Greeks not only enjoyed using Egyptian bric-a-brac and amulets, but also were in the business of making them themselves.51 It has also been claimed that the craftsmen of Naucratis probably included Phoenicians and Cypriots,52 and that they or the Greek craftsmen were responsible for the Egyptianizing amulets produced by the scarab factory in Naucratis, since the amulets carried blundered hieroglyphs.53 This is an interesting thought, but not a conclusive argument, because the blundered hieroglyphs might equally be attributed to illiteracy among Egyptian workers.

Greeks enjoyed Egyptiana even before settling in Egypt, and Egyptianizing faience was produced in the Greek world before the seventh century BC. That production was challenged by the end of the seventh century by the factories of Naucratis, which mass-produced such faience products. In the scarab factory that was discovered by archaeologists at Naucratis, hundreds of small clay molds for scarabs and other small amulets were found. In the sixth century Naucratis also produced Rhodian-style vases and statuettes, of poorer quality than the originals, mass-produced for mass exportation.54 Other workshops in Naucratis produced alabastra, floral garlands, and some sculpture.55 While the archaeological record of Naucratis is very rich in pottery and terracotta, there is also evidence of metalworking, of uncertain date, which may be Hellenistic or Roman, and it has been suggested that metalworking was introduced to Egypt through Naucratis.56

The archaeological research into Naucratis will certainly benefit greatly by an electronic database recently added to the British Museum research catalogs series, offering images of each find, metadata, description, and bibliography, which will eventually contain all objects found in Naucratis. This important work will significantly increase the visibility and accessibility of the archaeological finds and become an invaluable tool for anyone studying the history of the area.57

Not much can be gleaned from the archaeological finds concerning the habitation area of Naucratis. Petrie and Gardner’s excavation report maps indicate remains of housing, but this offers an inaccurate picture in terms of chronology, since it would have been mudbrick housing, built and rebuilt on the same spot. Besides, from their descriptions it does not follow that they found much housing at all, only insubstantial finds probably of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.58 Moreover, only sparse traces of a Hellenistic cemetery have been discovered with which to support the presence of a body of inhabitants, although this argumentum e silentio may not be indicative of absence of inhabitants, since as in the case of the Phoenicians, the Greeks of Naucratis may have chosen to take their dead back home rather than bury them.59 Inscriptions on the pots used as devotional objects in the temples tell us a little about the worshippers, but since the Naucratites did not for a very long time develop a common ethnicon, it is not easy to tell what proportion of these were inhabitants or traders passing through.

Neither is Herodotus’s aforementioned division between dwellers and traders visible in the archaeology, as there are no discernible separate areas for temples, housing, public buildings, or a harbor district, though he may have meant his description to imply a double aspect rather than a division.60 What implicitly but conclusively supports the presence of dwellers is the need to maintain the infrastructure available in Naucratis: the upkeep of the sanctuaries and production of devotional objects in local workshops. This would assume a substantial number of people who would have had to be based locally permanently enough to be considered inhabitants. Indeed, although the majority of devotional objects found in Naucratite sanctuaries originated from the poleis of the travelers and traders that visited them, Hellenistic and Roman Naucratis was renowned for its local pottery production.61

Naucratis has also throughout its history been renowned for its courtesans, the most famous being Doricha, also known as Rhodopis: Herodotus62 and Strabo63 recount the tale of the courtesan’s pyramid, the former picking at the many inconsistencies of that story and giving a short account of her life. Posidippus64 refers to Sappho’s poem,65 which he says will secure Doricha’s immortality. Athenaeus66 offers this overview of references to the courtesan, though he claims that Doricha and Rhodopis are not the same person and enumerates several more famous Naucratite courtesans.

After the foundation of Alexandria and Ptolemais, Naucratis in the Ptolemaic period was one of the three major Greek habitation centers in Egypt, attracting settlers from every part of the Greek world. Later, in the second century AD, a fourth city was added, designed specifically as a Greek polis, that of Antinoopolis.

From a reference in the Revenue Laws, we know that Naucratis at least from the Ptolemaic period onward possessed its own chora, areas of which were devoted to the cultivation of oil-producing plants. Posidippus mentions an offer to Arsinoe II of Naucratite linen, at once native material and Greek commercial product.67 Its autonomy seems to have been largely maintained, while some degree of royal control was applied, especially regarding cultivation of its territory, for which a royal finance official was appointed. So in terms of administration it seems that Naucratis was aligned with the rest of Egypt, while its magistrates retained their powers within the city walls (the walls meant figuratively, since Naucratis was never surrounded by a wall68). In the early Ptolemaic period it was part of the Saite nome, while in the Roman period it became the capital of its own Naucratite nome.69 The importance of Naucratis in the Roman period can be seen if only by the fact that Hadrian chose it to be the model for the legal system of Antinoopolis—although I suspect that in his attempt to revive classical traditions for his new foundation, for him Naucratis represented merely the conduit through which he could draw on the ancient laws of Miletus. Annual musical competitions are attested in the later third century AD, which suggests that Naucratis maintained a distinct political and cultural identity.70

Religion, Culture, and the Idea of Pan-Hellenism

The development of local manufacture, as well as the abundant offering of prostitutes, must be typical byproducts of any flourishing commercial port. The particular circumstances of Naucratis as a Greek emporion in Egypt also gave rise to interesting cultural expressions, mostly to do with the identity of the settlers, forged by relative cultural and religious homogeneity as experienced in an exotic environment.

As previously mentioned, Herodotus claims that Amasis’s incentive for promoting Naucratis was his “philhellenism.” Although Herodotus, who makes this statement, is Greek, it is clearly meant from an Egyptian point of view, which lumps together all Greeks as the object of Amasis’s friendship, disregarding the differences between citizens of various city-states, which to them, at the time, would have been more significant than their Greekness. But for the Egyptians the term “Greek” sufficiently expressed their otherness compared to the Egyptians themselves. The very important distinction between Phocaeans, Halicarnassians, and so forth was unnecessary. The Hellenion was the expression of this generalized Greek identity and imposed the idea of a Hellenic identity on the Greeks themselves.71

On the other hand, Herodotus’s viewpoint may also have been shaped by the subject matter of his Histories, in which Ionians, Dorians, and Aeolians were joined in the battle against the Persians. Acquiring a collective identity in the face of a common enemy and acquiring one in the context of an unfamiliar land may have been similar processes, according to Herodotus.72

Indeed, the feature of the Hellenion that is most often remarked upon is its “pan-Hellenic” character.73 Dorians, Ionians, and Aeolians were together responsible for its foundation; all traders and seamen who passed through Naucratis, and of course those who lived locally, could worship there.74 The Hellenion dates from the reign of Amasis and eloquently expresses the intended configuration of the polis under that pharaoh.75 The origins of the name “Hellenion” are unknown. It might have referred to the district inhabited by Greeks, merchants, or mercenaries, similar to the Hellenion quarter of Memphis,76 but might also simply convey the collective nature of the temple, based on the dedicatory inscriptions “to the gods of the Greeks.” This clear expression of willingness on the part of inhabitants of various parts of the Greek world to accept their general description as “Greeks” in Naucratis, whereas elsewhere their desire to emphasize their various local identities was manifest, is interesting. It assumes not just a passive acceptance, but active religious convergence, since their native city-states would have had different nomima, which would have required streamlining into a common practice.77 The case of Naucratis has been put forth as the only explicit concept of Hellenism in the archaic period and a sense of pan-Hellenism among its inhabitants.78 But “pan-Hellenism” is a term actively used in specific historical circumstances to put across loaded political messages.79 I am inclined to think that the collective identity that the inhabitants of Naucratis accepted for themselves had more to do with the unusually foreign surroundings in which they found themselves and the internalization of the Egyptian point of view.80 Their new environment must have underlined their similarities, relative to the pronounced dissimilarities they bore to the Egyptians. And since the Egyptians summarily perceived them as “Greeks” and as such allowed them to stay, it would have been in their interest to accept that identity—which at the time would have had no ethnic connotations and probably meant no more than inhabitant of a city of the Greek world81—rather than to confuse matters.

There are temples found in Naucratis, also mentioned by Herodotus or attested in documentary evidence, that antedate the Hellenion and probably go back to the time of Psammetichus. The Apollo cult in Naucratis dates back to at least 620/610 BC, according to some pottery fragments found in Alexandria, while the earliest inscription that bears the name of the Milesian Apollo is datable to 580 BC. The exact time the temple was established is unknown, but it must have been one of the earliest, and it received by far the most dedications.82 The first record we have of one is in circa 560 BC,83 about the same time as the Hellenion. There is also evidence of worship of the Samian Hera and Aphrodite before 560 BC.84 The latter is not mentioned by Herodotus, but features prominently in Athenaeus, as would be expected given his subject matter. Herodotus tells us also of the temple of Aeginetan Zeus, which has not been located. The object of worship in Naucratis would therefore not have been unlike any east Greek city, but the claims that cultic life would not have been dissimilar85 might be seen as too general, since they seem to disregard the departure from the practices of polis religion where the methods of worship are concerned.

Naucratis has been called the cultural crossroads between Egypt and the Greek world. Greek presence in Egypt opened the travelers’ and settlers’ minds to an incredibly rich and interesting culture, many aspects of which they sought to emulate. During the seventh and sixth centuries BC, as the only Greek city in Egypt, Naucratis provided the main conduit for Egyptian ideas, some of which proved profoundly influential to Greek culture, such as sculpture and architectural styles,86 as well as cosmogony, philosophy, and ideas concerning preservation of the body and burial.87 From inscriptions and literary references we conclude that Naucratis indeed had many connections with the Greek world in the late fifth century BC. There are proxeny decrees between Naucratis and Rhodes and Rhodian goods found in Naucratis.88 We also find Ionians residing in Naucratis, as well as Naucratite metics in Athens. There are growing numbers of inscriptions as we approach the Ptolemaic period, and in literature Demosthenes notably mentions a Naucratite cargo ship, which was captured by the Athenians in Against Timocrates. In the fourth and third centuries we find Naucratites at Delphi, Didyma, all over Ionia, and elsewhere; according to the material remains Naucratis is active in most Greek trading communities.89

Apart from real commercial and political contact however, Naucratis seems to have held a near-mythical appeal for the Greeks. Egypt was a land of many wonders, admired since before Herodotus, and Naucratis was actually located in it. So adherents of several Greek traditions strove to increase its claim to fame in any way they could, while trying to somehow make it their own: we hear of Sappho’s brother combining business and pleasure in Naucratis, and later writers claim that Solon, Pythagoras, Democritus, and Plato visited the city and that Aristophanes was born there.90

Effects of this contact between civilizations can also be seen on a smaller, local scale. The foreigners who lived in Naucratis started adopting Egyptian burial customs and art, while intermarriage, which in some periods was illegal, is nonetheless attested, as is the use of Egyptian names. However, the opposite—adoption of Greek cultural elements in pharaonic Egypt—according to material evidence, remains very limited.91

According to tradition Naucratis was home to important writers and orators, at least until the later third century AD.92 Several originated from Naucratis but ended up in Athens to study or practice, while one of the best known of them, Athenaeus, in the late second or early third century chose instead to go to Rome.93 Although he wrote during the imperial period, Athenaeus’s focus was on the Ptolemaic era, and he was especially interested in Ptolemy II. In sharp contrast to the wide-eyed wonder with which Herodotus, or to an extent Strabo, described Egypt, Athenaeus was interested in the Greek centers, mostly Alexandria and Naucratis. His topics and point of view are more prosaic and revolve around the exploitation of resources for gain. His regard for the Egyptians shows no respect for a great civilization, but rather scorn for their outlandish religion.94 From a different point of view one can see that Herodotus’s interest largely focused on the Egyptian past and its monuments, also the source of admiration for generations of Greeks who came before and after him,95 while Athenaeus recounts more recent events.

Naucratis may not have always been as flourishing as it was in its heyday—probably the years before the Persian occupation of 525 BC96—but it certainly exhibited impressive longevity. References in the papyri suggest that during the Roman period the city was home to Alexandrians and Romans, and that games were held there.97 Pottery finds indicate that there was continued occupation of Nauratis from its foundation into the seventh century AD, while bishops from Naucratis are mentioned up to the fourteenth century.98


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(1) R. S. Merrillees, “Egyptian Foreign Relations (Late Bronze Age and Iron Age),” in Sea Routes: Interconnections in the Mediterranean, 16th–6th C. BC, ed. N. C. Stampolidis and V. Karageorghis (Athens: The University of Crete and A. G. Leventis Foundation, 2003), 38.

(2) Alexandra Villing and Udo Schlotzhauer, “Naukratis and the Eastern Mediterranean: Past, Present and Future,” in Naukratis: Greek Diversity in Egypt; Studies on East Greek Pottery and Exchange in the Eastern Mediterranean, ed. Alexandra Villing and Udo Schlotzhauer (London: British Museum, 2006), 2; Denise Demetriou, Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 105–109.

(3) For an overview of opinions regarding the date, see Demetriou, Negotiating identity, 111–112.

(4) Sappho 202LP; Astrid Möller, Naukratis: Trade in Archaic Greece (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 199. The earliest source of the information regarding the brother was provided initially by Herodotus, later repeated by Strabo, Athenaeus, and others. The restorations to fr. 202LP, which seemed to confirm the story, have been criticized as somewhat forced (see Joel B. Lidov, “Sappho, Herodotus, and the ‘Hetaira’,” Classical Philology 97, no. 3 [2002]: 203–237), and aspersions have been cast on the supposition that the story goes back to Sappho’s own work. However, the most recently published fragments (Dirk Obbink, “Two New Poems by Sappho,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 189 [2014]: 32–49) offer firm confirmation of the brother’s name and occupation. The beautiful prostitutes of Naucratis are a topos for several writers.

(5) Hdt. II 154, 179.

(6) Richard D. Sullivan, “Historical Introduction,” in Cities of the Delta, part I, Naukratis, ed. William D. E. Coulson (Malibu, CA: Undena, 1981), 10.

(7) See Albert Leonard Jr., Ancient Naukratis: Excavations at a Greek Emporium in Egypt, vol. I, The Excavations at Kom Ge’if (Atlanta, GA: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1997), 1–35, for a thorough overview of past excavations at Naucratis.

(8) Ross Thomas and Aurélia Masson-Berghoff, “Naukratis, ‘Mistress of Ships’, in Context,” in Thonis-Heracleion in Context, ed. Damian Robinson and Franck Goddio (Oxford: Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, 2015).

(9) Ptol., Geog. XI.

(10) The Itinerarium provinciarum Antonini Augusti does not mention Naucratis, but mentions Nithine at the place where Naucratis would have been expected. Nithine is a village in the Gynaecopolite nome, a little north of Naucratis; according to the order in which the Itinerarium proceeds, either would have been correctly placed, so there is no need to see the mention of Nithine as a “corruption for Naucratis.” W. M. F. Petrie, Naukratis, part I, 1884–1885 (London: Trübner & Co., 1886), 2.

(11) Hdt. II 97.

(12) Str. XVII 1.18, 22.

(13) Jean-Daniel Stanley, Andrew G. Warne, and Gerard Schnepp, “Geoarchaeological Interpretation of the Canopic, Largest of the Relict Nile Delta Distributaries, Egypt,” Journal of Coastal Research 20, no. 3 (Summer 2004): 920–930.

(16) On commercial decline and ensuing identity issues see Bérangère Redon, “L’identité grecque de Naucratis: Enquête sur la fabrication de la mémoire d’une cite grecque d’Égypte aux époques hellénistiques et romaine,” Revue des Études grecques 125 (2012): 55–93.

(17) Astrid Möller, “Naukratis: Griechisches Emporion und ägyptischer ‘Port of Trade’,” in Naukratis: Die Beziehungen zu Ostgriechenland, Ägypten und Zypern in archaischer Zeit, ed. U. Höckmann and D. Kreikenbom (Möhnesee, Paderborn: Bibliopolis, 2001), 3.

(20) A. H. M. Jones, Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1937), 302.

(21) Hdt. II 179.

(22) I. Malkin, “Pan-Hellenism and the Greeks of Naukratis,” in La naissance de la ville dans l’antiquité, ed. M. Reddé et al. (Paris: De Boccard 2003), 94. Malkin, quoting Hecataeus (FGrHist 1 F 310), even asserts that they were the norm before Amasis, and posits that Samos, Miletus, and Aegina all kept separate temples in Naucratis, since they each already had an established presence in Egypt.

(23) Hdt. II 178.

(24) Villing and Schlotzhauer, “Naukratis and the Eastern Mediterranean,” 5. This view is compatible with Herodotus’s emphasis on the fact that cities other than those that founded the Hellenion had no part in the appointment of prostatai tou emporiou (II 178). According to Malkin (“Pan-Hellenism,” 94), this “should not signify … that Samos, Aegina and Miletus were excluded, merely that we do not have sufficient information ….” One may choose to provide arguments against Herodotus’s assertion, but I don’t think there is room for interpreting it any differently.

(29) John Boardman, The Greeks Overseas (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 129–130.

(35) See, e.g., P.Cair.Zen. II 59192, P.Rev.Laws 60. Papyrologically Naucratis is not well attested, as can be expected in the case of a city situated in the Nile Delta, where climatic conditions are detrimental to the survival of papyri.

(40) Sullivan, “Historical Introduction,” 10. The city is also attested by the Egyptian name Pi-emro, which it has been suggested inspired a translation as Naucratis. It could well be that the two names were related, but it is not clear which was the translation of which (see Boardman, Greeks Overseas, 131).

(42) Richard D. Sullivan, “Psammetichus I and the Foundation of Naukratis,” in Ancient Naukratis, vol. II, The Survey at Naukratis and Environs, ed. William D. E. Coulson (Oxford: Oxbow, 1996), 189.

(43) Hdt. II 178.

(45) E. M. Smith, “Naukratis. A Chapter in the History of the Hellenization of Egypt” (PhD diss., Bryn-Mawr, 1926), 32.

(46) Jones, Cities, 302; Roger S. Bagnall and Dominic W. Rathbone, Egypt from Alexander to the Copts (London: British Museum Press, 2004), 79.

(47) W.Chr. 27.

(49) Bagnall and Rathbone, Egypt, 79; for a reconstruction sketch see R. H. Wilkinson, The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000), 107.

(52) D. G. Hogarth, “Excavations at Naukratis,” Annual of the British School at Athens 5 (1899): 48–49; Möller, “Naukratis: Griechisches Emporion,” 6.

(53) Sullivan, “Psammetichus,” 187. This was Hogarth’s suggestion, and Leonard (Ancient Naukratis, 17) attributes this to his wish to support Herodotus’s account: if the foreign workers in the scarab factory (which closed down circa 570 BC) were not Greeks, then indeed there would not have been a significant number of Greeks before the reign of Amasis.

(60) Möller, Naukratis, 197 and 202.

(62) Hdt. II 134–135.

(63) Str. 17.1.33.

(64) Posidipp. AB 122.

(65) Cf. Sappho 202LP. Δ]ω̣ρίχα can also be read in the very fragmentary 15LP, but the context is unclear.

(66) Ath. 13.596c.

(67) Posidipp. AB 36; S. Stephens, “Battle of the Books,” in The New Posidippus. A Hellenistic Poetry Book, ed. K. Gutzwiller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 237. Dorothy J. Thompson, “Posidippus, Poet of the Ptolemies,” in The New Posidippus. A Hellenistic Poetry Book, ed. K. Gutzwiller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 281–282, notes that in Posidippus’s poetry Egypt was just a backdrop providing local color. Both Posidippus and the rulers whom he aims to please with his poems are Macedonians, and his poetry is Hellenistic poetry.

(69) Jones, Cities, 303.

(73) In a telltale slip of the pen, Petrie calls it Panhellenion. Malkin differentiates between the pan-Hellenism of the Naucratite Hellenion, as the expression of a Greek network, and the pan-Hellenic character of Delphi and Olympia, which were centers of Greek convergence (Malkin “Pan-Hellenism,” 95).

(74) Sullivan “Historical Introduction,” 6. Herodotus (II 178) speaks of two separate groups, the traders and the dwellers, but explicitly states that both groups had the right to build altars and worship. Other than that it is not clear in what way if any Amasis differentiated between the traders and settlers (Möller, Naukratis, 202).

(79) U. Höckmann and A. Möller, “The Hellenion at Naukratis: Questions and Observations,” in Naukratis: Greek Diversity in Egypt, ed. Alexandra Villing and Udo Schlotzhauer (London: British Museum, 2006), 18, referring to Athenian imperialism.

(80) Malkin (“Pan-Hellenism,” 92) does not regard the Greek/barbarian antithesis as definitive in determining Greek identity, especially in the archaic period. But surely “Greek identity” as experienced in Naucratis must have been dramatically different to what it was like within the Greek world, or even in colonies based in less exotic surroundings. In talking about Naucratis in “colonial” terms, he also fails to differentiate between a real colony, where the importance of the identity of the mother city is paramount, and the case of Naucratis, not a colony, where several peoples were allowed to dwell and trade under a comprehensive name of origin. In his argument he arrives, I think, at a contradiction, since he emphasizes the importance of the original polis identity, but notes that this was already obscured in the list of founding cities as told by Herodotus, who already, in the case of Rhodes, lumped together separate poleis into a single entity.

(83) N. Ehrhardt, U. Höckmann, and U. Schlotzhauer, “Weihungen an Apollon Didymeus und Apollon Milesios in Naukratis,” in Kult(ur)kontakte: Apollon in Milet/Didyma, Histria, Myus, Naukratis und auf Zypern; Akten der Table Ronde in Mainz vom 11.–12. März 2004, ed. R. Bol, U. Höckmann and P. Schollmeyer (Rahden: Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2008), 170.

(88) For a discussion of the pre-Hellenistic proxeny decrees between Rhodes and Naucratis, see Demetriou, Negotiating Identity, 124–128. I agree with her conclusion that SEG XXXII 1586 must mean the Hellenion in Naucratis and not Memphis, but not for the reasons she gives. Indeed, there is no papyrological evidence of a Hellenion in Memphis before the Hellenistic period, but since we have no Greek papyri before the Hellenistic period in Egypt, the absence of such reference is in no way conclusive. Besides, the fact that we do have references in the third century to Hellenomemphitai could be seen as an indication that the Hellenion had become, by that time, a well-established institution. Third, this designation suggests a minority that is differentiated not only from the local Egyptian population, but also from the Macedonians who came after Alexander’s occupation, and as such it must be a remnant of a previous situation. See also D. J. Thompson, Memphis under the Ptolemies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 84 and 96–97.

(90) Sullivan, “Historical Introduction,” 12. Hdt. II 135; Sappho 202LP; Ath. 13.596c.

(91) Villing and Schlotzhauer, “Naukratis and the Eastern Mediterranean,” 7–8. See also Höckmann and Kreikenbom, “The Hellenion.”

(93) Dorothy Thompson, “Athenaeus in His Egyptian Context,” in Athenaeus and His World. Reading Greek Culture in the Roman Empire, ed. D. Braund and J. Wilkins (Exeter, UK: Exeter University Press, 2000), 77.

(95) It is noteworthy that Egyptianizing products from Nauratis early in its history were strongly archaizing. Boardman, Greeks Overseas, 131.

(97) POxy. III 473; POxy. XXII 2338.