For Theophilus, a Christian city required a Christian infrastructure, a new sacred topography of churches; and it was in preparing the foundation of one basilica that - so rumours alleged - workmen discovered a secret grotto with the remains of human sacrifices. Theophilus exploited the discovery by launching a mock-parade of some old shrine-images through the streets of Alexandria, an act of symbolic assault sufficiently powerful to incite the nonChristians in the city to form violent mobs. When imperial soldiers pushed them back, the mobs retreated to the halls of the great Serapeum, and the soldiers were ordered to take the building. At some point during this invasion of the Serapeum some soldier's individual act of defacement sparked an orgy of iconoclasm and demolition that spread throughout the city, culminating in the dismemberment and public exposure of the temple's great chryselephantine image of Serapis.

Christians hailed these events as Christ's victory over Egyptian heathenism, while the Hellenic intelligentsia lamented it as a cosmic catastrophe. This intelligentsia, consisting of figures like Sosipatra, Antoninus and Hypatia, who led schools in Alexandria and Panopolis, belonged more to the urban culture of Julian's 'pagan revival' than to Egyptian religion in its traditional forms. Yet they often claimed the traditional temples as their sacred spaces in a sort of staged nostalgia. Thus the fall of such a monument to Mediterranean religious heritage as the Serapeum, symbolic not of parochial devotions but of the best and most transcendent of ancestral piety, took on eschatological overtones: as the philosopher Eunapius put it, that 'some mythic and formless darkness would reign over the most beautiful things on earth'.23

If only for about a decade, the events of 391 seem to have affected Egypt up and down the Nile, and certainly well beyond the cities. Alexandrian religion and religious politics had, of course, long swirled apart from the various traditional temple complexes of Upper Egypt, even if Hellenistic literature and iconography had become inextricable parts of religious life in Egyptian cities. Moreover, the evidence for Christian iconoclastic acts before the late fourth century had reflected quite localised rural expressions - a holy man's exorcistic demonstration, a village mob's mutilation of'demonic' images. But the shock waves of the Serapeum's fall extended into the countryside with the potential to force a divide between Christian and non-Christian. Abbot Shenoute, for example, seems over the later 390s to have launched crusades against temples

23 Eunapius, Lives of the philosophers 471; cf. Rufinus, H.E. 2.22-30; Socrates, H.E. 5.16; and, in general, Francoise Thelamon, Patens et chr├ętiens, 247-59. On the Hellenic intelligentsia, see Polymnia Athanassiadi, Damascius, and David Frankfurter, 'The consequences of Hellenism'.

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