Ancient Hermopolis Magna

  • Project name:

    Polish–Egyptian Archaeological and Preservation Mission at el-Ashmunein

  • Type of site:





    – Remains from the Hellenistic and Roman periods
    – Church erected probably in the 5th century AD

Most interesting finds:

– Nectanebo II’s inscription (360–342 BC)
– Stone blocks decorated with Akhenaten’s cartouches were reused during the construction of the basilica
– Architectural remains from the Hellenistic and Roman periods
– Numerous small finds, including coins, terracotta figurines, and oil lamps
– Inscription commemorating Thenon, an unknown gymnasiarch from Hermopolis, from the 2nd century BC

History of research:

Dates of PCMA mission’s work:


Type of research:

Excavation and conservation works


Marek Barański (1987–1990)

Co-operating institutions:

– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– State Ateliers for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage
– Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities

Additional information:

The remains of the basilica were discovered in 1942 by M. Kamal. The Egyptian Antiquities Service carried out a partial reconstruction of the monument by raising the northern portico and erecting columns in the nave. Later, a mission from the Alexandria University cleared the whole basilica.

Description of the site and research:

The Coptic basilica preserved on the site was erected probably at the end of the 5th century AD on the spot where earlier buildings from the Hellenistic and Roman periods had stood. The cathedral is 55 m long and almost 26 m wide with an estimated height of 22 m. There were matronea in the aisles and a columnar transept with exedras on both sides. In the north-western corner was a baptistery. Stairways leading to the matronea have been partially preserved. Besides the main entrance located on the axis of the church, there was a northern one preceded by a tetrastyle.
The work of the Polish team concentrated on the conservation and protection of the basilica as well as planning its renovation. Architectural elements were documented, including inscribed blocks from Doric architraves and Corinthian capitals of high artistic value. Several sondages and excavations were conducted to the north of the basilica in order to determine its archaeological context. A well was uncovered and dated based on the pottery fragments and coins found in its fill. Besides stone structures from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, remains of a mud-brick building were discovered in the lower layers.

Project bibliography:

Barański, M. (2019). Hermopolis Magna at the Crossroad of Cultures. In Bąkowska-Czerner, G., & Czerner, R. (Eds.), Greco-Roman Cities at the Crossroads of Cultures: The 20th Anniversary of Polish-Egyptian Conservation Mission Marina el-Alamein. Summertown: Archaeopress

Barański, M. (2002). Czy można określić rolę biskupów Hermopolis Magna (Szmun) w kształtowaniu miasta. In B. Iwaszkiewicz-Wronikowska, D. Próchniak (eds), Sympozja Kazimierskie poświęcone kulturze świata późnego antyku i wczesnego chrześcijaństwa 3, Lublin, 237–243

Barański, M. (2004). Coloured Hellenistic architectural remains from El Ashmunein (Hermopolis Magna) Egypt. In L. Cleland, K. Stears, G. Davies (eds), Colour in the Ancient Mediterranean World, Oxford, 96–99, Oxford

Barański, M. (1996). The Archaeological setting of the Great Basilica Church at el Ashmunein. In D. Bailey (ed.), Archaeological Research in Roman Egypt, Ann Arbor, 98–106

Barański, M. (1992). Excavations at the basilica site at el-Ashmunein/ Hermopolis magna in 1987–1990. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 3, 19–23

Krzyżanowski, L. et alii (Eds) (1992). Reports from Ashmunein. Polish-Egyptian Archaeological and Preservation Mission at El-Ashmunein 1987–1990, Vol. 2, Warszawa, Przedsiębiorstwa Konserwacji Zabytków

Barański, M. (1990). Preserving the Christian Basilica of El-Ashmunein, BIFAO 90, 41–49

Barański, M. (1990). Konserwacja wczesnochrześcijańskiej bazyliki w Aszmunein, Ochrona Zabytków 43/3 (170), 135–139

Szafrański, Z., Makramallach, A. (1989). A new inscription of Nectanebo II from Ashmunein, CM 112, 65–66

Gromnicki, J. et alii (Eds) (1989). Reports from Ashmunein. Polish-Egyptian Archaeological and Preservation Mission at El-Ashmunein 1987–1990, Vol. 1, Warszawa, Przedsiębiorstwa Konserwacji Zabytków

Barański, M. (1989). Problemy konserwacji ruin starożytnych w Asz­munein w Egipcie. Ochrona Zabytków 1

Barański, M., Polak, Z. (1987). Aszmunein. Bazylika, Informator Archeologiczny: badania, 21, 250

Select site bibliography:

Wace, A.J.B., Megaw, A.H.S., and Skeat, T.C. (1991). Hermopolis Magna/Ashmunein. The Ptolemaic Sanctuary and the Basilica, Alexandria 1959. In A.S. Atiya (ed.), Ashmunein. In The Coptic Encyclopedia (pp. 285–287). New York.


Posted in: