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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Alexandria (Acts 6:9; Acts 18:24; Acts 27:6), the chief maritime city and long the metropolis of Lower Egypt. It is situated on the Mediterranean, twelve miles west of the Canopic mouth of the Nile, in 31° 13´ N. lat. and 25° 53´ E. long. It owes its origin to the comprehensive policy of Alexander, who perceived that the usual channels of commerce might be advantageously altered; and that a city occupying this site could not fail to become the common emporium for the traffic of the eastern and western worlds, by means of the river Nile, and the two adjacent seas, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean: and the high prosperity which, as such, Alexandria very rapidly attained, proved the soundness of his judgment, and exceeded any expectations which even he could have entertained. For a long period Alexandria was the greatest of known cities; for Nineveh and Babylon had fallen, and Rome had not yet risen to pre-eminence: and even when Rome became the mistress of the world, and Alexandria only the metropolis of a province, the latter was second only to the former in wealth, extent, and importance; and was honored with the magnificent titles of the second metropolis of the world, the city of cities, the queen of the East, a second Rome.

The city was founded in B.C. 332, and was built under the superintendence of the same architect (Dinocrates) who had rebuilt the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. The ancient city appears to have been of seven times the extent of the modern. If we may judge from the length of the two main streets (crossing each other at right angles) by which it was intersected, the city was about four miles long by one and a half wide: and in the time of Diodorus it contained a free population of 300,000 persons, or probably 600,000, if we double the former number as Mannert suggests, in order to include the slaves. The port of Alexandria was secure, but difficult of access; in consequence of which, a magnificent pharos, or lighthouse, was erected upon an islet at the entrance, which was connected with the mainland by a dyke. This pharos was accounted one of the 'seven' wonders of the world. It was begun by Ptolemy Soter, and completed under Ptolemy Philadelphus, by Sostratus of Cnidus, B.C. 283. It was a square structure of white marble, on the top of which fires were kept constantly burning for the direction of mariners. It was erected at a cost of 800 talents, which, if Attic, would amount to 165,000l, if Alexandrian, to twice that sum. It was a wonder in those times, when such erections were almost unknown; but, in itself, the Eddy Stone lighthouse is, in all probability, ten times more wonderful.

The business of working out the great design of Alexander could not have devolved on a more fitting person than Ptolemy Soter. From his first arrival in Egypt, he made Alexandria his residence: and no sooner had he some respite from war, then he bent all the resources of his mind to draw to his kingdom the whole trade of the East, which the Tyrians had, up to his time, carried on by sea to Elath, and from thence, by the way of Rhinocorura, to Tyre. He built a city on the west side of the Red Sea, whence he sent out fleets to all those countries to which the Phoenicians traded from Elath. But, observing that the Red Sea, by reason of rocks and shoals, was very dangerous towards its northern extremity, he transferred the trade to another city, which he founded at the greatest practicable distance southward. This port, which was almost on the borders of Ethiopia, he called, from his mother, Berenice; but the harbor being found inconvenient, the neighboring city of Myos Hormos was preferred. Thither the products of the East and South were conveyed by sea: and were from thence taken on camels to Coptus, on the Nile, where they were again shipped for Alexandria, and from that city were dispersed to all the nations of the west, in exchange for merchandise which was afterwards exported to the East. By these means, the whole trade was fixed at Alexandria, which thus became the chief mart of all the traffic between the East and West, and which continued to be the greatest emporium in the world for above seventeen centuries, until the discovery of the passage by the Cape of Good Hope opened another channel for the commerce of the East.

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Alexandria'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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