1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Moeris, Lake of

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MOERIS, LAKE OF, the lake which formerly filled the deep depression of the Fayum to the Nile level, now shrunken and sunk more than 200 ft. to the shallow Birket el Kerūn. In remote prehistoric times the Fayum depression was probably dry, but with the gradual rise of the river bed the high Nile reached a level at which it could enter through the natural or artificial channel now known as the Bahr Yusuf. The borders of the lake were occupied by a neolithic people, and the town of Crocodilopolis grew up very early on the eastern slope south of the channel, where the higher ground formed a ridge in the lake. The rise continuing (at the rate of about 4 in. to the century) the waters threatened to flood the town; consequently under the XIIth Dynasty great embankments were made to save the settled land from encroachment. The line of the embankment is still traceable in places and marked by monuments of the XIIth Dynasty kings, an obelisk of Senwosri I. at Ebgig, and colossi of Amenemhê III. at Biahmu. The latter ornamented the quay of the port of Crocodilopolis, and projected into the lake on high bases. As the Nile fell the broad expanse of the lake lowered, and the water pouring back through the channel was of value for summer irrigation; the inflow and outflow were regulated by sluices, and the capture of fish here and in the lake was enormous. The channel which was of such importance was called the “Great Channel,” Mewêr, in Greek Moeris. The native name of the lake was Shei, “the lake,” later Piôm, “the sea ” (whence Fayum); Teshei, “the land of the lake,” was the early name of the region. At its capital Crocodilopolis and elsewhere the crocodile god Sobk (Suchus) was worshipped. Senwosri II. of the XIIth Dynasty built his pyramid at Illahun at the outer end of the channel, Amenemhê III. built his near the inner end at Hawara, and the vast labyrinth attached to it was probably his funerary temple. This king was afterwards worshipped in more than one locality about the lake under the name Marres (his praenomen Nemarē) or Peremarres, i.e. Pharaoh Marres. The mud poured in at high Nile made rich deposits on the eastern slope; in the reign of Philadelphus large reclamations of land were made, veterans from the Syrian War were settled in the “Lake” (Λίμνη), and the latter quickly became a populous and very fertile province. Strabo's account of the Lake of Moeris must be copied from earlier writers, for in his day the outflow had been stopped probably for two centuries, and the old bed of the lake was dotted with flourishing villages to a great depth below the level of the Nile. Large numbers of papyri of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods have been found in and about the Fayum, which continued to flourish through the first two centuries of the Roman rule.

See W. M. F. Petrie, Hawara Biahmu and Arsinoe (London, 1889); R. H. Brown, The Fayûm and Lake Moeris (London, 1892); B. P. Grenfell, A. S. Hunt and D. G. Hogarth, Fayum Towns and their Papyri (London, 1900); H. J. C. Beadnell, The Topography and Geology of the Fayum Province of Egypt (Cairo, 1905). (F. Ll. G.)