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Pelusium was an important city in the eastern extremes of Egypt's Nile Delta, 30 km to the southeast of the modern Port Said. Alternative names include Sena and Per-Amun (Egyptian, Coptic: Ⲡⲉⲣⲉⲙⲟⲩⲛ Paramoun meaning House or Temple of Amun), Pelousion (Greek, Πηλούσιον), Sin (Chaldaic and Hebrew), Seyân (Aramaic), and Tell el-Farama (modern Egyptian Arabic). Pelusium was the easternmost major city of Lower Egypt, situated upon the easternmost bank of the Nile, the Ostium Pelusiacum, to which it gave its name. It was the Sin of the Hebrew Bible (Ezekiel xxx. 15); and this word, as well as its Egyptian appellation, Peremoun or Peromi, and its Greek (πήλος) connote a city of the ooze or mud (cf. omi, Coptic, "mud"). Pelusium lay between the seaboard and the Deltaic marshes of the Delta, about two and a half miles from the sea. The Ostium Pelusiacum was choked by sand as early as the first century BC, and the coastline has now advanced far beyond its ancient limits, so that the city, even in the third century AD, was at least four miles from the Mediterranean.
The principal produce of the neighbouring lands was flax, and the linum Pelusiacum (Pliny's Natural History xix. 1. s. 3) was both abundant and of a very fine quality. It was, however, as a border-fortress on the frontier, as the key of Egypt as regarded Syria and the sea, and as a place of great strength, that Pelusium was most remarkable. From its position it was directly exposed to attack by the invaders of Egypt; several important battles were fought under its walls, and it was often besieged and taken.
The following are the most memorable events in the history of Pelusium:
- Sennacherib, king of Assyria, 720-715 BC, in the reign of Sethos the Aethiopian (25th dynasty) advanced from Kingdom of Judah upon Pelusium, but retired without fighting from before its walls (Isaiah, xxxi. 8; Herodotus ii. 141 ; Strabo xiii. p. 604). His retreat was ascribed to the favor of Hephaestos towards Sethos, his priest. In the night, while the Assyrians slept, a host of field-mice gnawed the bow-strings and shield-straps of the Assyrians, who fled, and many of them were slain in their flight by the Egyptians. Herodotus saw in the temple of Hephaestos at Memphis, a record of this victory of the Egyptians, viz. a statue of Sethos holding a mouse in his hand. The story probably rests on the fact that in the symbolism of Egypt the mouse implied destruction. (Compare Horapolis Hieroglyph. i. 50; Claudius Aelianus, De Natura Animalium vi. 41.)
- The decisive battle which transferred the throne of the Pharaohs to Cambyses II, king of the Persians, was fought near Pelusium in 525 BC. The fields around were strewn with the bones of the combatants when Herodotus visited. He noted that the skulls of the Egyptians were distinguishable from those of the Persians by their superior hardness, a fact confirmed he said by the mummies. He ascribed this to the Egyptians' shaving their heads from infancy, and to the Persians covering them up with folds of cloth or linen. (Herodotus ii. 10, seq.); however, according to legend, Pelusium fell without a fight, by the simple expedient of having the invading army drive cats (sacred to the local goddess Bast) before them. As Cambyses advanced at once to Memphis, Pelusium probably surrendered itself immediately after the battle. (Polyaen. Stratag. vii. 9.)
- In 373 BC, Pharnabazus, satrap of Phrygia, and Iphicrates, the commander of the Athenian armament, appeared before Pelusium, but retired without attacking it, Nectanebo I, king of Egypt, having added to its former defences by laying the neighboring lands under water, and blocking up the navigable channels of the Nile by embankments. (Diodorus Siculus xv. 42; Neposdisambiguation needed, Iphicr. c. 5.)
- Pelusium was attacked and taken by the Persians, 369 BC. The city contained at the time a garrison of 5,000 Greek mercenaries under the command of Philophron. At first, owing to the rashness of the Thebans in the Persian service, the defenders had the advantage. But the Egyptian king Nectanebo II hastily venturing on a pitched battle, his troops were cut to pieces, and Pelusium surrendered to the Theban general Lacrates on honorable conditions. (Diodorus Siculus xvi. 43.)
- In 333 BC, Pelusium opened its gates to Alexander the Great, who placed a garrison in it under the command of one of those officers entitled Companions of the King. (Arrian, Exp. Alex. iii. 1, seq.; Quintus Curtius iv. 33.)
- In 173 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes utterly defeated the troops of Ptolemy Philometor under the walls of Pelusium, which he took and retained after he had retired from the rest of Egypt. (Polybius Legat. § 82; Hieronym. in Daniel. xi.) On the fall of the Syrian kingdom, however, if not earlier, Pelusium had been restored to the Ptolemies.
- In 55 BC, again belonging to Egypt, Mark Antony, as cavalry general to the Roman proconsul Gabinius, defeated the Egyptian army, and made himself master of the city. Ptolemy Auletes, in whose behalf the Romans invaded Egypt at this time, wished to put the Pelusians to the sword; but his intention was thwarted by Mark Anthony. (Plut. Anton. c. 3; Valerius Max. ix. 1.)
- In 48 BC, Pompey was murdered in Pelusium.
- In 30 BC, more than half a year after his victory at Actium, Augustus appeared before Pelusium, and was admitted by its governor Seleucus within its walls.
- In 501 AD, Pelusium suffered greatly from the Persian invasion of Egypt (Eutychius, Annal.).
- In 541 AD, the Plague of Justinian was first reported and began to spread across the Byzantine Empire.
- In 618, Pelusium offered a protracted, though, in the end, an ineffectual resistance to the arms of Amr ibn al-As. As on former occasions, the surrender of the key of the Delta, was nearly equivalent to the subjugation of Egypt itself.
- In ca. 870, Pelusium is mentioned as a major port in the trade network of the Radhanite merchants.
- In 1117, Baldwin I of Jerusalem razed the city to the ground, but died shortly afterwards of food poisoning after eating a plateful of the local fish.
The khalifs who ruled Pelusium following the Crusades, however, generally neglected the harbors, and from that period Pelusium, which had long been on the decline, almost disappeared from history.
Of the six military roads formed or adopted by the Romans in Egypt, the following are mentioned in the Itinerarium of Antoninus as connected with Pelusium:
- From Memphis to Pelusium. This road joined the great road from Pselcis in Nubia at Babylon, nearly opposite Memphis, and coincided with it as far as Scenae Veteranorum. The two roads, viz. that from Pselcis to Scenae Veteranorum, which turned off to the east at Heliopolis, and that from Memphis to Pelusium, connected the latter city with the capital of Lower Egypt, Trajan's canal, and Arsinoe, near Suez, on the Sinus Heroopolites (Gulf of Suez).
- From Acca to Alexandria, ran along the Mediterranean sea from Raphia to Pelusium.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1854–57). "article name needed". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: John Murray.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Pelusium.|
- Pelusium: Gateway to Egypt (archaeology.org)
- "Pelusium". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.