Oxyrhynchus was the capital of the 19th nome, or province, of Upper Egypt and it first appears in heiroglyphic sources during the 25th Dynasty, or Nubian period, under its Pharaonic name Per-Medjed. However, its existence may date from the end of the New Kingdom, during the 20th Dynasty. At that time, it is possible that it was an encampment of Nubian mercenaries charged with guarding the border and protecting the caravan route that ran from Oxyrhynchus to the Bahariya oasis in the Libyan desert.
Per-Medjed was an important city by the 26th Dynasty, or Saite period (664-525 BC). A vital communications hub, it connected the caravan routes from the western oases to the river port on the Bahr Yussef, enabling navegation north all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in antiquity. The Oxyrhynchus nome had previously been consecrated to the god Seth. However, in the Saite period, the chief divinity of the city was represented by the oxyrhynchus fish.
After the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, the city attracted a large number of Greek colonists, who gave it the name Oxyrhynchus. Soon, the city’s population exploded and it appears to have become the second largest city in Egypt. Oxyrhynchus benefitted from a privileged relationship with the new capital of Alexandria and maintained its size and importance during the Roman and Christian-Byzantine periods. Only after the Arab conquest in 640 AD did Oxyrhynchus begin to decline and by the Middle Ages it had reached an advanced state of decay.
The site of Oxyrhynchus, El Bahnasa, is located in Egypt, on the left bank of the Bahr Yussef canal (which connects the Nile with the Faiyum oasis), about 190 km south of Cairo. It was discovered and identified as the ancient city of Oxirrinco by Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1825), one of the components of Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt. Since 1897, excavations have occasionally been carried out and the area has been systematically sacked for searching mainly for papyri, since the great wealth of these documents has made the site famous.
On the occasion of the discovery of a saíta tomb in 1982, an archaeological mission of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities undertook systematic excavations in El Bahnasa, and in 1992 the Mission became mixed after joining the project of the University of Barcelona.