city called Cairo (from the Arabic al-Qahira, 'the
Victorious') was not founded until the Fatimid period (969-1171AD).
However, this strategic site at the apex of the Nile Delta
was settled from the earliest stages of Egypt's history. During
the Old Kingdom the capital city of Memphis flourished to
the south of modern Cairo; as late as the fifth century BC
the Greek historian Herodotus described Memphis as a 'prosperous
city and cosmopolitan center, even if it had lost its capital
status to Thebes, and later to the Delta towns of Pre-Ramses
the foundation of Alexandria in 332 BC, Memphis went into
economic decline, and its religious status was lost after
the Emperor Theodosius (379-95 AD) promoted Christianity to
the state religion of the entire Roman world. A town still
existed in the vicinity of modern Cairo at the time of the
Arab conquest in 641 AD, but its size and position are debatable.
site of Memphis is now deeply covered by silt
down during the annual Nile flood and has been exposed only
in a couple of places. A program of boreholes has established
that the center of the town moved northwards over a period
of time. By the Roman period, the name had been corrupted
to 'Manf' or 'Menf', and may have been associated with a town
further to the north, based around the fortress of Babylon
(later called Qasr al-Shama, or 'Castle of the
Beacon' by the Arabs). The date and circumstances of this
shift are not clear but may have been as early as the sixth
century BC; much of the area is now underneath modern housing.
the Roman city around Babylon (called Misr by Arab
writers, a name still applied to both Cairo and, confusingly,
the whole of Egypt to the present day) was large and important,
but its exact position cannot be established with certainty.
Much of the town may have lain to the south of the fortress;
finds of Ptolemaic masonry from this area during recent building
works make this more likely. However, the city limits may
have included areas on the west bank of the Nile.
of the Roman town remains for the modern tourist to see. The
ruins of Memphis are described by medieval writers, who do
not distinguish between the ancient and Roman phases of the