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MAREA: Graeco-Roman

Mediterranean > Egypt > Cities > Marea

The area of Mareotis became enormously more important and developed in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Late Roman periods. By the Roman period it had become an independent nome, or administrative division, with its principal town officially a city rather than a village. The exact limits of its territory are difficult to define. Not all of it was settled in typical Egyptian fashion in villages. Rather, the territory appears to have been partly made up of large rural estates—no doubt owned mainly by Alexandrians—centered on the production of wine and oil in large quantities, with vineyards and gardens thus accompanied by wineries, oil presses, and potteries, and partly of areas called chora, or “country” with a possessive name in the plural after it: the country of the Mastitai, for example. Exactly what type of settlement or nomadic zone is represented by these phrases is unclear.

The visible remains in the region are mainly Roman and even more, Late Roman. It is likely that appearances are at least partly accurate, and that the peak of the area’s prosperity comes in later Roman times. Relatively little in the literary sources, the documents, and the archaeological remains informs us about the state of the Mareotic region in the Hellenistic period. Strabo’s description, however, shows that its development into a flourishing production area did not begin with the Roman period, even if that was the high point.

The lake was part of a major route to Alexandria from the Egyptian countryside; any traffic from the Nile valley above Memphis or from the western Delta passed along the Canopic branch of the river into the canals leading to the lake, where boats could reach the Mareotic harbor of Alexandria. This transit function was enhanced in late antiquity by the development of the pilgrimage routes to the sanctuary of St. Menas.

Bagnall, Roger, "Marea." Electronic Encyclopædia of the Ancient World. EEAW, Inc., 2002. (Accessed ).