Known in the Dynastic period as Per-medjed, Oxyrhynchus rose to prominence under Egypts Hellenistic and Roman rulers. It was a prosperous regional capital, reckoned the third city of Egypt, and home town of the sophist Athenaeus. In later antiquity it was famous for its many churches and monasteries. Today the village of el-Bahnasa occupies part of the ancient site. Grenfell and Hunt, who made its "few squalid huts" their base of operations, knew it as Behneseh.
The town lies roughly 300 km south of the coastal metropolis of Alexandria, or 160 km south-west of Cairo (ancient Memphis). It is situated on the Bahr Yusuf, the branch of the Nile that terminates in Lake Moeris and the Fayum oasis.