Pompey’s Pillar of Alexandria

pil1Standing in the ancient city of Alexandria is one of the largest single piece monoliths in the world. This structure is approximately 100 feet high, on a raised hilltop. This pillar, made of a single piece of Red Aswan Granite, was brought from Aswan, Egypt to the Roman metropolis of Alexandria and was a main pillar in the Serapeum.

The original believe concerning this massive cylinder appears to of been started in the Crusades of the middle ages. Crusader’s had believed that this pillar marked the burial spot of General Gaius Pompey. General Pompey was a well known rival of Julius Caesar who was murdered by Ptolemaic in 48 BC after he fled to Alexandria for safety. This gave the structure the name of Pompey’s Pillar though it has no connection to General Pompey. For many years it was believed that the top of the pillar housed the ashes or remains of General Pompey; this was disproven in 1803 when explorers used a kite to drag a rope over the pillar in a successful attempt to climb the column.

pil2Though some of the history surrounding Pompey’s Pillar appears to be lost to time and war, there is enough to set the basic story straight. The monolith was actually created as a commemorative Column to Diocletian within the temple of Serapium at Alexandria. This massive temple was created, in whole, to honor the pagan God Serapis who was said to protect Alexandria. A plaque was discovered at the base of the pillar that dedicated it to Diocletian. Interestingly, Diocletian was the Roman Emperor that had personally laid siege on Alexandria, starving it’s citizens into submission. Although, after Alexandria was under Diocletian’s control, the Emperor ordered that all people be given funding and food to help them rebuild their city. After the death of Diocletian it appears the Serapeum Temple was built was this one massive pillar dedicated to in honor.

The Serapium was turned to near rubble when a Christian mob, led by Theophilus, revolted against the Romans and began destroying all symbols of paganism. This destructive revolt left only the pillar a few statue as symbols of once stood. It is believed, by some, that the Great Library of Alexandria was also destroyed at this time.

With the reason for the pillar and a brief history of the pillar now being known, it still leaves a large vault of questions. Many galleries and passages have been located under the pillar that appear to have once held, at least, scrolls or records though exactly what was housed underground is not certain. A renovation of the pillar and structures surrounding it is in process and relics from the time of Alexandria are being unearthed. How was this single column of granite, weighing approximately 285 tons, transported from Upper Egypt to Alexandria? What was housed in the underground galleries below this Monolith? What else could be hiding at the site of this former Temple?


Stephanie Kelly
Stephanie Kelly

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