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A titular see in Thebian Secunda, suffragan of Ptolemais. Syene (Egyptian, Souanou, Coptic, Souan) was originally the marketplace of the island of Elephantine (in Egyptian, Abou). Under the Pharaohs, Abou was the capital of a principality, then the chief town of the nome. It is not known at what epoch its suburb across the Nile commenced to grow at its cost; for a long time the two cities were treated at one, Souanou being the port and city of work. Its quarries, with those of Rohannou, were the principal ones of Egypt; they supplied a certain kind of red granite called syenite, out of which were cut the obelisks, monolithic temples, the colossus, etc. From the time of the ancient empire royal Egyptian envoys went there to look for the stone destined for the sarcophagus of the king. These quarries where in full activity during the Roman epoch, and syenite was exported throughout the empire. Another celebrated place in Syene was a pit, which was incorrectly thought to have been placed exactly under the equator. For this reason it was chosen by Eratosthenes as the starting point for his measure of the surface of the earth (230 B.C.). The Syene of the Romans to the southwest of the present city, suffered much from the incursions of the Blemmyes, and from the pest; its inhabitants abandoned it to live in the higher parts built by the Saracens. This new city which was at first very prosperous suffered also form the troubles that followed the extinction of the Fatimite dynasty. Taken and retaken by the Qemous or Barbara of Lower Nubia, and by the Haouarâh of Upper Egypt it was nearly ruined and did not regain its importance until the Sultan Selim established a Turkish garrison there (1517). The Arabian name of the city is Assouan. There the French fought the Mamelukes on 16 May, 1799. This city of about 100,000 inhabitants, and which may be reached by a railroad, as it is situated to the south of the first cataract of the Nile, is very interesting on account of its picturesque aspect and the strange character of its population composed of Arabs, Barbarins, negroes, Bisharis, and Ababdèh, curious bazaars and quays; remains of Roman quays, inscriptions on rocks, little temple of Isis, Arabian ruins, and cemetery. The places of interest in the neighbourhood are the old quarries, the Island of Elephantine (today Geziret Assouan), an old necropolis, the beautiful Coptic convent of St. Simeon, and the famous Island of Philæ. Syene is mentioned by the prophet Ezechiel, who threatened Egypt with devastation "from the tower of Syene even to the borders of Ethiopia" (Ezekiel 30:10). See St. Jerome and the modern commentators on this passage, where the Vulgate differs from the Hebrew and the Greek text. La Quien (Oriens christ., II, 613) mentions two bishops of Syene: St. Ammonius, martyr of Antinoe, where he had a church, and Befam, a Jacobite (1086). The Synaxarion of the Coptic church tells us that the city had a bishop from the time of the Patriarch Timothy, one of the successors of St. Athanasius.


AMÉLINEAU, Le géographie de L'Egypte à l'époch Copts (Paris, 1893), 467; SMITH, Dict. of Greek and Roman geogr., s.v.; MÜLLER, Notes of Ptolemy, ed. DIDOT, I, 725; BUTCHER, The Story of the Church of Egypt (London, 1897), passim.

About this page

APA citation. Pétridès, S. (1912). Syene. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Pétridès, Sophrone. "Syene." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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