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Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts, Virtual Exhibition: Introduction

Map of Egypt

This fine map of Egypt, in addition to being well out of copyright, has the added attraction of accurately tracing ‘the route pursued by the Israelites, through the wilderness’.

Oxyrhynchus, five days’ journey by road south of Memphis, is marked with a red arrow: at the desert’s edge, and roughly ten miles from the Nile, on the branch of the Nile called Bahr Yussuf. The ancient city’s administrative district lay largely to the north. Its nearest neighbour was Cynopolis, ‘City of Dogs’, named like Oxyrhynchus for its sacred animal.

Writing under the Empire, Plutarch (On Isis and Osiris 380B-C) reports that when the Cynopolitans started catching and eating the sacred Oxyrhynchus fish, the Oxyrhynchites retaliated by eating dog: the two cities went to war, and it took Roman punitive intervention to subdue them. However implausible this may sound, he insists it happened ‘in our own time’ (kath' hemas).