Names and etymology
The name of the city is derived from early Egyptian Zawty (Z3JW.TJ) (late Egyptian, Səyáwt) adopted into the Coptic as Syowt ⲥⲓⲟⲟⲩⲧ, which means "Guardian" of the northern approach of Upper Egypt. In Graeco-Roman Egypt, it was called Lycopolis or Lykopolis (Greek: Λυκόπολις, "ἡ Λύκων πόλις"), ('wolf city') Lycon, or Lyco.
Statue of the chief royal scribe Yuny
of Asyut and his wife Renenutet, 1290–1270 BCE early Dynasty 19.
Ancient Asyut was the capital of the Thirteenth Nome of Upper Egypt (Lycopolites Nome) around 3100 BC. It was located on the western bank of the Nile. The two most prominent gods of Ancient Egyptian Asyut were Anubis and Wepwawet, both funerary deities.
During the First Intermediate Period, the rulers of "Zawty" (Khety I, Tefibi, and Khety II) were supporters of the Herakleopolitan kings, of whose domain the Nome formed the southern limits. The conflict between this Nome and the southern Nomes under the rule of the Eleventh dynasty ended with the victory of Thebes and the decline of Asyut's importance.
Skull of Khety from Asyut, 1950 BCE.
Lycopolis has no remarkable ruins, but in the excavated chambers of the adjacent rocks mummies of wolves have been found, confirming the origin of its name, as well as a tradition preserved by Diodorus Siculus, to the effect that an Ethiopian army, invading Egypt, was repelled beyond the city of Elephantine by packs of wolves. Osiris was worshipped under the symbol of a wolf at Lycopolis. According to a myth, he had come "from the shades" as a wolf to aid Isis and Horus in their combat with Typhon. Other Ancient Egyptian monuments discovered in Asyut include; the Asyut necropolis (west of the modern city), tombs which date to dynasties Nine, Ten and Twelve, and the Ramessid tombs of Siese and Amenhotep.
In Graeco-Roman times, there was a distinct dialect of Coptic spoken in Asyut, known as "Lycopolitan", after the Greek name for the city. Lesser-used names for this dialect are "Sub-Akhmimic" and "Assiutic".
A large Byzantine Treasure was discovered near the city in the early twentieth century and is now dispersed amongst a number of museums in the West. The hoard is composed of some of the most elaborate jewellery to survive from late antiquity.
Asyut was the end of 40 Day Road that connected the city to Darfur through the Selima and Kharga Oases. The history of the road, known by local herders as Darb al-Arba'in, goes back over 700 years. It was used as a pathway for great caravans of up to 12,000 camels at its peak in the 14th century.