It was erected on the top of the platform of the temple of Serapis in 292 A.D by the people of Alexandria as thanksgiving for the Roman Emperor Diocletian. A revolt broke out in Alexandria and then, the Roman Emperor Diocletian came and surrounded the city until it surrendered because of famine and hunger. When the Roman emperor entered the city, he did not punish its people, but he distributed wheat among them in order to reduce or decrease the effect of the famine. As a result, the people of Alexandria erected this column in order to show their gratitude or to thank him.
It is made out of red granite and the capital of this column is of Corinthian type. It measures 26.85 m. in height and its diameter at the top is 2.30 m. while its diameter at the base is 2.70 m. In other words, this column is tapering towards the top. At the base of this column, there was a text which read as:
‘Postunus, the Prefect of Alexandria built it for the most just Emperor Diocletian’.
It should be mentioned that Diocletian was a just emperor at the beginning of his reign. He started his reign by organizing the administration system of the Roman Empire. Then, after a short time, he began to fear the danger of the spread of the Christianity on the empire. Therefore, he issued a decree in 302 A.D saying that all the people should make offerings to the pagan gods and anyone who did not carry out this decree, he would be severely punished. As a result, he began to persecute the Christians and killed a large number of them.
After that, he felt that guilty because of his action. Therefore, he suffered from a nervous breakdown and he retired until he died in 313 A.D. The Christians considered the beginning of his reign in year 284A.D. is the beginning of the Coptic calendar.
Older stones carved with cartouches of some pharaohs were used in the foundation of this column, such as cartouches of Thutmosis I and Ramses II, etc……..
In the Middle Ages, the Crusaders mistakenly called this column as Pompey’s pillar because they believed that the head of Pompey was buried on the top of the capital of this column. They were a mistaken because Pompey was killed in 48 B.C, while this column was built in 292 A.D which meant that this column was erected after 350 years of the death of Pompey. Moreover, this column was carved with a text saying that it was erected for Diocletian. When the Arabs entered Egypt, they called this column as Amoud El-Sawary.
The Surrounding Monuments
It is made out of red granite and it does not carry any inscription. It is the second biggest scarab discovered so far in Egypt. From the style of carving, this scarab can be dated to the New Kingdom in general and to the 19th Dynasty in particular.
The Three Sphinxes:
The first and third sphinxes are made of red granite and they date back to the reign of King Ptolemy IV.
The second sphinx is made of black granite and its head is now missing. It carries the names and titles of King Horemheb the last king of the 18th Dynasty or the first king of the 19th Dynasty.
The Three Statues:
The First Statue: It is made of pink granite. It represents King Pasmetik I, the founder of the 26th Dynasty, kneeling. The upper part of the statue above the torso is now missing. However, the base and the back pillar of the statue carry the names and titles of Pasmetik, Wah-ib-Ra and Psmtk.
The Second Statue: It is also made of red granite. It represents King Ramses II seated on his throne, holding the Hqa scepter and the nhh- flail. The head of the statue is now missing. The base of the statue carries the names and titles of King Ramses II: Wsr- Maat-Ra stp-n-Ra and Ra-mss mry-Imn.
The Third Statue: It is made of grey granite. It belongs to King Ramses II. It represents him kneeling and holding a naos with both hands. The upper part of the statue above the torso is now missing. The base of the statue carries the names and titles of King Ramses II.
These statues were brought by Queen Cleopatra VII from Matariya (ancient Heliopolis) in order to decorate the temple of Serapis.