Taposiris Magna - Port City of Ptolemaic Egypt

Is Taposiris Magna the Burial Place for Cleopatra?

Taposiris Magna - Pylons of the Temple of Osiris
Taposiris Magna - Pylons of the Temple of Osiris. Roland Unger

Taposiris Magna (near modern-day Abusir) is a Ptolemaic period port city, located on the Taenia, a strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Mareotis about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Alexandria. Taposiris Magna is associated with the famous Cleopatra Philopater VII (51-30 BC).

Taposiris ("City of Osiris") was described by the Greek geographer Strabo [~64 BC-AD 21] as the entrance to the territory of Alexandria; and the emperor Claudius [ruled 37-41 AD] as the western gateway to Egypt.

The ruins were identified as Taposiris during the 1905-06 excavation season, when Italian investigator Evarista Breccia discovered a votive inscription dedicating the main temple to Isis, signed by the priests of Taposiris.

Taposiris and Plinthine

Taposiris is about 800 meters (~2600 feet) west of what is believed to be the ruins of Plinthine, a Hellenistic community and rival to Taposiris.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Plinthine was established by the early third and perhaps the late fourth century BC, while Taposiris was not founded earlier than the second century BC. Historical documents and archaeological evidence suggest that Taposiris was occupied well into the Roman imperial and Byzantine eras, into 7th century AD.

Harbor, Baths and a Hippodrome

Taposiris was a port on Lake Mareotis, and thus connected to the Canopic Branch of the Nile. The harbor covered an area of some 8 hectares (20 acres), and included a narrow artificial channel with an intricate lock-and-dam facility, a two-span bridge and a very long pier: extant pieces of the pier are 230 m (750 ft) long.

Near the harbor, in the lower part of the city, was a commercial district with several warehouses and shops. Investigations led by Broussac in 2000 identified several primary glass workshops, dated at least as early as the first/second century AD. The region was highly urbanized at the end of the Hellenistic period/start of the Roman Imperial period, when it was abruptly abandoned, probably as a result of flooding.

A series of Greek-style public baths is located on a terrace to the south and below the Temple of Osiris and not far from a vast necropolis. These baths were modest in size, and included walls, vaults and domes some of which were dug into the limestone bedrock. As is typical with public baths, an underground heating system was installed for some of the pools. An underground aqueduct system with multiple wells and cisterns carried water throughout the city.

The presence of a possible hippodrome located off the main road and close to the harbor was identified from a processed satellite image (Parcak and Mumford 2012). The potential race track measures at least 55-60 m (180-200 ft) wide by 230 m (750 ft) long, similar to Roman Empire hippodromes; the feature has yet to be ground-truthed.

Cemeteries and Temple

A necropolis of mummified animals was investigated by Breccia, who discovered the mummies of birds, ibis, falcons and crocodiles. The necropolis was likely begun in the early second century BC.

East of the temple about 500 m (~1640 ft) is one of the largest known large Greco-Roman cemeteries, with several tunnels and passageways cut into the bedrock up to 35 m (115 ft) deep. In the center of this cemetery is the Tower of Abusir, a 17-m (56-ft) tall funerary monument in the form of the Pharos Lighthouse.

The cemetery includes 40-45 tombs bearing ~200 skeletons and 10 mummies, two of which were gilded.

Taposiris Magna was associated with the cult of Osiris, and the largest temple there is temple dedicated to that god. An area of approximately 84 sq m is enclosed by a tememos, a set of high limestone walls surrounding the temple walls. The temple was heavily impacted when a Christian church was built within the tememos during the Byzantine period.

Connection with Cleopatra and Anthony

Egyptian investigations at Taposiris in 2010 led by Zahi Hawass and Kathleen Martinez have yet to be fully reported. Hawass reported on his website (linked below) that coins bearing a likeness of Cleopatra, and a sculpted head considered to be hers, were discovered among the excavations. Fragments of a mask with a cleft chin are interpreted to be that of Marc Anthony.

Geophysical investigations reported in 2012 identified subsurface anomalies below the temple itself, at depths of 35-30 meters, that researchers Abbas et al. have interpreted as the possible tombs of Cleopatra VII Philopator (51-30 BC) and Marc Anthony. A recent program in the PBS series Secrets of the Dead called "Cleopatra's Lost Tomb" reports on some of this research.


Research at Taposiris was conducted in 1905-1906 by Evaristo Breccia; in 1937-1938 by A. Adriani, and by E.L. Ochsenschlager and the Department of Egyptian Antiquities in 1975. Most recently, archaeological research at Taposiris and two other cities associated with Alexandria (Plinthine and Mareotis) has been led by Marie-Francoise Boussac since 1998; and by a Hungarian team led by Gyozo Vörös and Zahi Hawass between 1998 and 2001. Zahi Hawass has also collaborated with Kathleen Martinez, who is among those convinced that Taposiris is the burial place of Anthony and Cleopatra.


This article is a part of the About.com guide to the Ptolemaic Egypt, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Abbas AM, Khalil MA, Massoud U, Santos FM, Mesbah HA, Lethy A, Soliman M, and Ragab ESA. 2012. The implementation of multi-task geophysical survey to locate Cleopatra Tomb at Tap-Osiris Magna, Borg El-Arab, Alexandria, Egypt “Phase II”. NRIAG Journal of Astronomy and Geophysics 1(1):1-11.

Bagnall RS. 2001. Archaeological work on Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, 1995-2000. American Journal of Archaeology 105(2):227-243.

Bagnall RS, and Davoli P.

2011. Archaeological Work on Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, 2000-2009. American Journal of Archaeology 115(1):103-157.

Boussac M-F. 2007. Recherches récentes à Taposiris Magna et Plinthine, Égypte (1998-2006). Comptes-rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 151(1):445-479.

el Fakharani F. 1974. The "Lighthouse" of Abusir in Egypt. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 78:257-272.

Parcak S, and Mumford G. 2012. Satellite Imagery Detection of a Possible Hippodrome and Other Features at the Ptolemaic-Roman Port Town of Taposiris Magna. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 4(4):30-34.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Taposiris Magna - Port City of Ptolemaic Egypt." ThoughtCo, May. 16, 2016, thoughtco.com/taposiris-magna-port-city-ptolemaic-egypt-172895. Hirst, K. Kris. (2016, May 16). Taposiris Magna - Port City of Ptolemaic Egypt. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/taposiris-magna-port-city-ptolemaic-egypt-172895 Hirst, K. Kris. "Taposiris Magna - Port City of Ptolemaic Egypt." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/taposiris-magna-port-city-ptolemaic-egypt-172895 (accessed November 23, 2017).