History Of Sohag
Sohag was one of Egypt’s earliest inhabited settlements, a centre of ancient economic and religious activity. Today it is home to many historical sites; Abydos, 11km from the west bank of the Nile, is especially significant.
In ancient times Abydos was the capital of Upper Egypt’s eighth nome or territorial division, and archaeologists suggest that the area between modern-day Girga and ancient Abydos was the location of Thinis, Upper Egypt’s most important city in pre-dynastic Egypt at a time when it was still divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. In about 3100BC a powerful young prince named Narmer unified Egypt into the nation we know today. Narmer, also called Menes, founded the First Dynasty. It is believed he was born in the area of modern-day Girga. Thinis was the capital of unified Egypt during the First and Second dynasties, before it moved north to Memphis.
The necropolis of Abydos is one of the oldest burial sites in Egypt and was where the earliest kings of united Egypt, including Menes, were laid to rest. The ancient Egyptians also believed that the god Osiris was buried there, and Abydos was a major centre of his cult.
Several pharaohs built temples at Abydos, the most renowned of which is the temple of Seti I of the 19th Dynasty (1292 – 1189 BC), known as The Great Temple of Abydos. The temple is the only one in Egypt that still retains a ceiling with original astrological drawings. One of its walls carries the Abydos King List, a long list of the cartouche names of all the pharaohs who ruled Egypt from Narmer to Seti I himself, with the exception of a few names (including Akhenaten and Tutankhamun) that had fallen from grace or were considered illegitimate. The list is invaluable for Egyptology.
The Akhmim Martyrs
Abydos, however, was not the only place of great importance in Sohag’s ancient history. The town of Akhmim on the east bank, the capital of the ninth nome of Upper Egypt, was an important centre for the cult of the god Min, the ancient Egyptian god of fertility and harvest. Historians who visited the area before the thirteenth century describe an imposing temple that existed in the town but which unfortunately has not survived.
The nearby necropolis of al-Hawawish dates back to the Fourth Dynasty. Akhmim continued to be a religious centre during the Coptic age and many monasteries were built in the area.
The story of the martyrs of Akhmim is testimony to the faith of Sohag’s residents when the persecution of Christians was at its peak. On the evening of 29 Kiahk 303, Christians gathered in church at Akhmim to celebrate Christmas Eve. The governor, Irianus, stormed the church and asked the congregation to worship the idols as required by the State. The Christians defiantly confessed their faith in Jesus Christ, and so the soldiers slaughtered all those present inside the church until the holy blood of the martyrs flooded the streets of the village. When the Christians in nearby villages heard about the massacre, they courageously rushed to Akhmim in order to receive the crown of martyrdom. The killing continued for three full days and more than 8,140 Christians were martyred. Some of the bodies of these martyrs are preserved at the Martyrs’ Monastery in Akhmim. Other important monasteries in Sohag governorate include the White Monastery (Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite) and the Red Monastery (Saint Pishay).
In ancient times Akhmim was, as now, a renowned centre for weaving and textiles. This importance increased during the Coptic era and many textile fragments displayed in museums worldwide testify to the city’s skill and craftsmanship. Akhmim’s fame in textile making lived on through the Islamic era, but started to decline sharply in the 20th century after the establishment of modern textile factories in the city of Sohag.
Sohag played an important role in the resistance against Napoleon’s French campaign in Egypt. On 10 April 1799, the people of Sohag fought the advancing French occupation troops and forced them to retreat. The local people showed unparalleled courage during the battle and many lost their lives defending their land. This date now marks Sohag’s national day and commemorates this victory.
Over the centuries, and with the conversion of Egyptians to Christianity and then to Islam, the importance of the ancient cities around the Abydos cult centre diminished as the old pagan worshipping practices were abolished in favour of the new religions. New capitals were built further north such as Alexandria (c. 331 BC) and Cairo (969AD) turning Egypt’s political life as well as social and economic development away from the once-flourishing cities of Upper Egypt.
Modern scientific research has proved the existence of the lost city of Thinis buried somewhere under modern construction. Should this ancient Egyptian capital be unearthed, archaeologists promise that the touristic map of the entire region will be redefined and Sohag’s future assured.