Pelusium was an important city in the eastern extremes of Egypt's Nile Delta, 30 km to the southeast of the modern Port Said, becoming a Roman provincial capital and Metropolitan archbishopric, remaining a multiple Catholic titular see.
Pelusium lay between the seaboard and the marshes of the Nile delta, about two and a half miles from the sea. The port was choked by sand as early as the first century BC, and the coastline has now advanced far beyond its ancient limits, so that the city, even in the third century AD, was at least four miles from the Mediterranean.
The principal product of the neighbouring lands was flax, and the linum Pelusiacum (Pliny's Natural History xix. 1. s. 3) was both abundant and of a very fine quality. Pelusium was also known for being an early producer of beer, known as the Pelusian drink. Pelusium stood as a border-fortress, a place of great strength, on the frontier, protecting Egypt as regards to Syria and the sea. Thus, from its position, it was directly exposed to attack by any invaders of Egypt; it was often besieged, and several important battles were fought around its walls.
Pelusium was the easternmost major city of Lower Egypt, situated upon the easternmost bank of the Nile, the Ostium Pelusiacum, to which it gave its name. The Roman name "Pelusium" was derived from the Greek name, and that from a translation of the Egyptian one. It was variously known as Sena and Per-Amun (Egyptian, Coptic: Ⲡⲉⲣⲉⲙⲟⲩⲛ Paramoun meaning House or Temple of the sun god Amun), Pelousion (Greek, Πηλούσιον), Sin (Chaldaic and Hebrew), Seyân (Aramaic), and Tell el-Farama (modern Egyptian Arabic). It was the Sin of the Hebrew Bible (Ezekiel xxx. 15); and this word, as well as its Egyptian appellation, Peremoun or Peromi, and its Greek (πήλος) connote a city of the ooze or mud (cf. omi, Coptic, "mud").
The following are the most notable events in the history of Pelusium :
- Sennacherib, king of Assyria, 720-715 BC, in the reign of Sethos the Aethiopian (25th dynasty) advanced from Kingdom of Judah upon Pelusium, but retired without fighting from before its walls (Isaiah, xxxi. 8; Herodotus ii. 141 ; Strabo xiii. p. 604). His retreat was ascribed to the favor of Hephaestos towards Sethos, his priest. In the night, while the Assyrians slept, a host of field-mice gnawed the bow-strings and shield-straps of the Assyrians, who fled, and many of them were slain in their flight by the Egyptians. Herodotus saw in the temple of Hephaestos at Memphis, a record of this victory of the Egyptians, viz. a statue of Sethos holding a mouse in his hand. The story probably rests on the fact that in the symbolism of Egypt the mouse implied destruction. (Compare Horapolis Hieroglyph. i. 50; Claudius Aelianus, De Natura Animalium vi. 41.)
- The decisive battle which transferred the throne of the Pharaohs to Cambyses II, king of the Persians, was fought near Pelusium in 525 BC. The fields around were strewn with the bones of the combatants when Herodotus visited. He noted that the skulls of the Egyptians were distinguishable from those of the Persians by their superior hardness, a fact confirmed he said by the mummies. He ascribed this to the Egyptians' shaving their heads from infancy, and to the Persians covering them up with folds of cloth or linen. (Herodotus ii. 10, seq.); however, according to legend, Pelusium fell without a fight, by the simple expedient of having the invading army drive cats (sacred to the local goddess Bast) before them. As Cambyses advanced at once to Memphis, Pelusium probably surrendered itself immediately after the battle. (Polyaen. Stratag. vii. 9.)
- In 373 BC, Pharnabazus, satrap of Phrygia, and Iphicrates, the commander of the Athenian armament, appeared before Pelusium, but retired without attacking it, Nectanebo I, king of Egypt, having added to its former defences by laying the neighboring lands under water, and blocking up the navigable channels of the Nile by embankments. (Diodorus Siculus xv. 42; Cornelius Nepos, Iphicrates c. 5.)
- Pelusium was attacked and taken by the Persians, 343 BC (344 BC ?). The city contained at the time a garrison of 5,000 Greek mercenaries under the command of Philophron. At first, owing to the rashness of the Thebans in the Persian service, the defenders had the advantage. But the Egyptian king Nectanebo II hastily venturing on a pitched battle, his troops were cut to pieces, and Pelusium surrendered to the Theban general Lacrates on honorable conditions. (Diodorus Siculus xvi. 43.)
- In 333 BC, Pelusium opened its gates to Alexander the Great, who placed a garrison in it under the command of one of those officers entitled Companions of the King. (Arrian, Exp. Alex. iii. 1, seq.; Quintus Curtius iv. 33.)
- In 173 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes utterly defeated the troops of Ptolemy Philometor under the walls of Pelusium, which he took and retained after he had retired from the rest of Egypt. (Polybius Legat. § 82; Hieronym. in Daniel. xi.) On the fall of the Syrian kingdom, however, if not earlier, Pelusium had been restored to the Ptolemies.
- In 55 BC, again belonging to Egypt, Mark Antony, as cavalry general to the Roman proconsul Gabinius, defeated the Egyptian army, and made himself master of the city. Ptolemy Auletes, in whose behalf the Romans invaded Egypt at this time, wished to put the Pelusians to the sword; but his intention was thwarted by Mark Anthony. (Plut. Anton. c. 3; Valerius Max. ix. 1.)
- In 48 BC, Pompey was murdered in Pelusium.
- In 30 BC, more than half a year after his victory at Actium, Augustus appeared before Pelusium, and was admitted by its governor Seleucus within its walls.
- In 501 AD, Pelusium suffered greatly from the Persian invasion of Egypt (Eutychius, Annal.).
- In 541 AD, the Plague of Justinian was first reported and began to spread across the Byzantine Empire.
- In 639, Pelusium offered a protracted, though, in the end, an ineffectual resistance to the arms of Amr ibn al-As. As on former occasions, the surrender of the key of the Delta, was nearly equivalent to the subjugation of Egypt itself.
- In ca. 870, Pelusium is mentioned as a major port in the trade network of the Radhanite merchants.
- In 1117, Baldwin I of Jerusalem razed the city to the ground, but died shortly afterwards of food poisoning after eating a plateful of the local fish.
The khalifs who ruled Pelusium following the Crusades, however, generally neglected the harbors, and from that period Pelusium, which had long been on the decline, almost disappeared from history.
Roman military roads
Of the six military roads formed or adopted by the Romans in Egypt, the following are mentioned in the Itinerarium of Antoninus as connected with Pelusium:
- From Memphis to Pelusium. This road joined the great road from Pselcis in Nubia at Babylon, nearly opposite Memphis, and coincided with it as far as Scenae Veteranorum. The two roads, viz. that from Pselcis to Scenae Veteranorum, which turned off to the east at Heliopolis, and that from Memphis to Pelusium, connected the latter city with the capital of Lower Egypt, Trajan's canal, and Arsinoe, near Suez, on the Sinus Heroopolites (Gulf of Suez).
- From Acca to Alexandria, ran along the Mediterranean sea from Raphia to Pelusium.
Pelusium is named (as "Sin, the strength of Egypt") in the Biblical book of Ezekiel, chapter 30:15.
Pelusium became the seat of a Christian bishop at an early stage. Its bishop Dorotheus took part in the First Council of Nicaea in 325. In 335, Marcus was exiled because of his support for Athanasius of Alexandria. His replacement Pancratius, an exponent of Arianism, was at the second Council of Sirmium in 351. Several of the succeeding known bishops of Pelusium were also considered heretical by the orthodox. As the capital of the Roman province of Augustamnica Prima, Pelusium was ecclesiastically the metropolitan see of the province.
Pelusium is still the seat of a metropolitan bishopric of the modern-day Eastern Orthodox Church.
Isidore of Pelusium (d. c.450), who was born in Alexandria, became an ascetic and settled on a mountain near Pelusium, in the tradition of the Desert Fathers.
Pelusium is today listed by the Catholic Church as a Metropolitan titular archbishopric both in the Latin Church and the Eastern Catholic Melkite Catholic Church .
Latin titular see
In the 19th century, the diocese was nominally restored as a Metropolitan titular archbishopric Pelusium of the Romans.
It is vacant since decades, having had the following incumbents, of the highest rank with a single episcopal (lowest rank) exception :
- Joseph Sadoc Alemany y Conill, Dominican Order (O.P.) (1885.03.20 – 1888.04.14)
- Guido Corbelli, Order of Observant Friars Minor (O.F.M. Obs.) (1888.03.08 – 1896.06.22)
- Giovanni Nepomuceno Glavina (1896.12.03 – 1899.11)
- Alphonse-Martin Larue (1899.12.14 – 1903.05.01)
- Theodor Kohn (1904.06.10 – 1915.12.03)
- Titular Bishop John Francis Regis Canevin (1921.01.09 – 1927.03.22)
- Plácido Ángel Rey de Lemos, Friars Minor (O.F.M.) (1927.07.30 – 1941.02.12)
- José Ignacio López Umaña (1942.03.15 – 1943.11.13)
- Patrick Mary O'Donnell (1948.11.08 – 1965.04.10)
Melkite titular see
Since its 20th century establishment as Metropolitan titular archbishopric, Pelusium of the (Greek) Melkites has had the following incumbents, all of this highest rank :
- Pierre Kamel Medawar, Society of Missionaries of Saint Paul (M.S.P.) (1943.03.13 – 1985.04.27)
- Isidore Battikha, Basilian Aleppian Order (B.A.) (992.08.25 – 2006.02.09)
- Georges Bakar (2006.02.09 – ...), Protosyncellus of Egypt, Sudan and South Sudan of the Greek-Melkites (Egypt)