In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Egypt I have divided the long entry into separate documents, expanded abbreviations for easier reading, and added paragraphing and links to material in the Victorian Web. Unless otherwise noted, charts and illustrations come from the original Gazetteer. — George P. Landow

Map from Macmillan & Co.’s Guide to Palestine and Egypt (1901). Click on images to enlarge them.

Decorated initial M

he first inhabitants of Alexandria were a mixture of Egyptians and Greeks, to whom must be added numerous colonies of Jews transplanted thither in 33G, 320, and 312 B.C., to increase the population of the city and country, who, becoming familiar with the Greek language and learning, were called Hellenists. It was they who, by order of Ptolemy Philadelphus, made the well-known Greek translation of the Old Testament under the name of the Septuagint. Under the liberal sway of the Ptolemies, Kings of Egypt, Alexandria attained to great eminence as a seat of learning, becoming not more famous for the extent of her commerce and wealth than for her philosophy and literature.

The first calamity that befell the city was inflicted by the tyrant Ptolemy Physcon, who, without provocation, let his guards loose on the inhabitants, with permission to them to rob and murder at pleasure; the consequence was the almost entire depopulation of the city. Physcon had afterwards in fluence sufficient to induce strangers from the neighbouring countries to take up their abode in Alexandria, and it was thus soon again repeopled; but on the new inhabitants making some complaints of his tyranny, Physcon repeated his former atrocity, ordering that all the young men in the city should be put to death, which order was carried into effect.

The next event of importance was the capture of the city by Julius Cassar, after an obstinate resistance by the Alexandrians. The city seems after this to have fallen into decay. It was restored by Adrian A.D. 141, but was again depopulated A.D. 215, by Caracalla, who, having been made the subject of some satirical effusions, ordered a general massacre of the inhabitants without distinction of age or sex. Caracalla having been murdered shortly after, the city soon recovered its former splendour. Towards the middle of the sixth century, Amron, a general of the Caliph Omar, took Alexandria by storm, after a siege of 14 months, and with a loss of 23,000 men. From this period it fell into decay, till its ruin was completed by the discovery of the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope.

The most remarkable objects in ancient Alexandria were the Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the world, and the libraries. The former, which was used as a lighthouse, was a square building of white marble. It was built by order of Ptolemy Philadelphus. The site of the ancient Pharos, which is no longer in existence, is occupied by an old lighthouse.

The first of the famous libraries of Alexandria was established by Ptolemy Soter, as was also the Museum, a sort of academy, in which men of learning and science pursued their inquiries. It was maintained at the public expense. At the time of the second Ptolemy s death, the library contained 100,000 volumes, afterwards increased to 700,000; of which number, 400,000 were in the library of the museum, in the quarter of the city called the Bruchion; the remaining 300,000 were in a library attached to the temple of Serapis, a structure of surpassing beauty. The former were accidentally destroyed by fire during the war with Julius Caesar, and the latter by command of the Caliph Omar, who, in ordering their destruction, said, that if they agreed with the Koran, they were useless, and need not be preserved; if they did not, they were pernicious, and ought to be destroyed. And thus was annihilated the most magnificent collection of books in the world, a loss which the learned have not yet ceased to deplore.

The population of modern Alexandria, says Wilkinson, had till latterly been on the decline, and is reported to have been reduced at one time to 6000; but, under the government of Mehemet Ali, it had greatly recovered, and is computed at present to amount to 80,000, including the garrison of 6000 or 8000 men, and the sailors of the fleet, reckoned at 12,000; leaving 60,000 for the population of the place.

Related material


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive. Inline version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 1 August 2020.

Last modified 1 August 2020