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Pompey's Pillar

The Memorial of Diocletian (Pompey's Pillar)

Pompey Pillar

The so-called "Pompey Pillar" is the biggest memorial column in Egypt. It is a huge column of red granite, with a total height of about 28 meters and a base diameter of 2.7m. On the upper part at the western side is an inscription in Greek, which reads: "to the most just Emperor, tutelary of Alexandria Diocletian, the invincible, Postumus, the Prefect of Egypt (who erected this monument)."

 

The Roman ruler of Egypt erected this memorial column between 284-305 A.D. in honor of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. A serious revolt in the city took place and Diocletian came himself, ordering the city to be besieged. After 8 months of resistance, the city finally surrendered and returned to Roman rule. As a result of the siege, there was famine in the city and therefore the Emperor ordered that a portion of the corn which was sent to Rome annually be given to the people of Alexandria instead. He exempted them from paying taxes during these hard times as well. This memorial column was erected in gratitude for what Diocletian did for them during these hard times. In the Middle Ages the Crusaders believed mistakenly that the ashes or remains of the great Roman general Pompey were in a pot at the top of the column. This is how it got the nickname "Pompey's Pillar." 


Various monuments are also located around the column. At the back are the remains of a Serapium or a temple of the God Serapis, now badly damaged. It was built during the reigns of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III, but was damaged due to revolts of the Jewish population in Alexandria during the reign of Emperor Trajan (89-118 A.D). It was rebuilt again during the reign of Hadrian (117-137 A.D). It was likely was destroyed, once more, after the appearance of Christianity. It consisted of a high platform accessed by a staircase of 100 steps.

 

At the side of the platform there was also a basin, which was used for purification. There were two galleries at the back of the temple as well cut completely from the rock. In the 1st gallery a black statue of basalt was discovered that dates back to the reign of Hadrian. It represents the God Serapis, in a shape of a bull, and it is now exhibited in the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria. The 2nd gallery is known mistakenly as the Daughter Library, but it seems that it was an Anubidiun, or a burial for the mummies of the god Anubis. 

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