Island in the Nile near Aswan, to the north of the First Cataract. The town on the island was the capital of the first Upper Egyptian or Nubian nome. There was a village here as early as the Early Dynastic Period, and it remained inhabited throughout Egyptian history. In parts of that history, the area functioned as a border post. On the opposite west bank of the Nile are various tombs belonging to nobles and high officials from the Old Kingdom. In that of Harkhuf we can read a report of a number of expeditions to Nubia to collect valuable commodities. Another tomb is that of Hekaib, governor in the time of Pepi II; he was later deified and worshipped in a temple built especially for him. There was a great deal of construction work on Elephantine in the New Kingdom; very little survives of the temples, however, many of the stone blocks having been used for other constructions. Historical information from this period can be gained from a number of stelae, including those of Amenhotep II, Sethos I, Ramesses II and Sethnakht.
Satet was the most important goddess of Elephantine; she was worshipped here in a triad with Khnum (lord of the cataract region) and Anuqet. Khnum, in particular, was responsible for the inundation of the Nile, which was considered to originate at Elephantine. Thus there are a number of Nilometers here, one of which is linked to the sacred lake of the temple of Khnum. In the 26th Dynasty, with the rise of Babylon in western Asia, many Jewish refugees settled in Elephantine; it is possible that many of them were stationed here as mercenaries in the Egyptian army to guard the border. Eventually a colony was established. Many papyri inscribed by them in Aramaic have been found, providing a good picture of what life was like in this community, as well as of their religion (worship of the god of Israel, Yahu, 'and' the local gods). Close by are the granite quarries, among others, as well as amethyst mines.