Results of Fieldwork at Berenike (a Ptolemaic-Roman Port on Egypt’s Red Sea Shore): 2013-2018
Steven E. Sidebotham
Excavations in 2013-2018 concentrated on Ptolemaic areas (hydraulic and urban defenses) on the northern and western sides of Berenike and early to late Roman areas in the southwestern harbor including industrial facilities, trash dumps. installations, Roman era ship timbers and a temple complex. Other excavations continued in the early Roman trash dump/animal cemetery north of the site and in a warehouse or administrative building also at the northern end of the city. In addition, excavations began to uncover what appears to be a tetrapylon at the intersection of a north-south/east west street towards the eastern edge of the city.
A major area of concentrated excavations took place in the Isis temple (early-late Roman) at the highest point in the city center. Here, abundant architectural, epigraphic and sculptural evidence documented protracted activity in the first through third centuries AD that recorded not only devotion to Isis (and, to a lesser extent, Serapis), but also reflected the intense maritime commerce that was the city’s raison d’être. We also recovered evidence of nineteenth century European, British and American explorers who dug into the temple in their hunt for antiquities.
Results of the 2013-2018 excavations provided abundant evidence (faunal, botanical, architectural, epigraphic, numismatic and sculptural) for an urban population with a range of ethnicities and social status, including those wealthy enough to have household pets (mainly cats, but also dogs, monkeys and baboons) and to make elaborate dedications in the Isis Temple.
New Greek Inscriptions from the Temple of Isis at Berenike
Excavations conducted in 2015 and 2018 at the Red Sea harbor of Berenike have unveiled numerous Greek dedicatory inscriptions from the first – third centuries AD that were originally set up in the forecourt of the site’s central temple, which was devoted to the goddess Isis. Many of these inscriptions are directly related to long-distance trade activities that were conducted at Berenike, and they reveal important aspects of Rome’s direct involvement in trade on this eastern limes. This talk will survey the recent evidence with particular attention paid to the people attested in the inscriptions. Concentrating on them, we can learn much about their networks and about the interests of the various stakeholders, from merchants to sailors to provincial and imperial agents.
Controlling the Mons Smaragdus: The Presence (or Absence) of the Roman Army in a Productive Frontier Region
Joan Oller Guzmán
This communication will focus on the issue of the military presence in the Mons Smaragdus region. This territory, located in the Egyptian Eastern Desert, was the only area in Antiquity that provided the Roman Empire with the semiprecious stone called emerald. Thus, the importance of this frontier productive region should imply the presence of regular troops controlling the production and commercialization of the emeralds, especially if we consider the example of the Roman quarries. However, for the moment the archaeological evidence does not seem to fit with this hypothesis and the presence of praesidia or evidence related with military is rather scarce. On this premise, this work will try to summarize the different evidence that we dispose about the presence (or absence) of the Roman army in this area, analyzing which implications these elements have for understanding the structure of the emerald production (property of the mines, status of the workers, commercial and logistical issues, etc.). For this, the results of the last archaeological works in the site of Wadi Sikait will be especially taken into account.
Survey of the Berenike-Nile Roads 1987-2015: The Highways, Military Installations, Mines and Quarries
Steven E. Sidebotham
Surveys conducted by teams from the University of Delaware and University of Michigan for nearly three decades along and adjacent to the Ptolemaic and Roman roads linking the Red Sea emporium of Berenike to ports on the Nile at Edfu and Coptos documented 70 sites. The bulk of these were forts (mostly on low ground) that guarded precious water supplies and supported local garrisons patrolling the region or protecting mining and quarrying operations near the roads. The survey also documented quarries (mainly hard stone) and mines (mainly gold and emerald) near these roads, which allowed transport of these precious minerals from remote desert locations to the Nile valley.
There is evidence of use of at least portions of these roads in prehistoric and Pharaonic times, but these highways reached peak operations in the early Ptolemaic and especially in the early and late Roman periods. They were not paved nor were there any milestones. Route marking cairns, graves, some watch towers and segments cleared of surface detritus and serving as windrows indicate clearly the courses of these desert routes, at least until very recently.
Pleasure and Entertainment on the Roman Frontier
Stationed in the network of small forts and fortified water stations that punctuated the roads of the Eastern Desert of Egypt, Roman soldiers, and whatever support personnel the camps had, apparently found time to spend on education and entertainment. In this paper I focus mostly on non-documentary texts, from hymns to gods to erotic musings, that have been uncovered over the last couple of decades in these forts as well as at ports and quarry sites situated in this frontier region and explore possible circumstances of their production and circulation. I also draw some comparison with another region of the limes from which an abundance of non-monumental textual evidence survives, namely that of Vindolanda.
The Blemmyan record in Berenike of the late period (4th–6th centuries AD)
With its cosmopolitan record of an international emporium, Berenike on the Red Sea has generated much and repeated interest in all and sundry foreign goods and ideas that passed through it at all stages of its 800 year history. The archaeological record for the late period in Berenike is extensive, encompassing virtually all the material culture categories, including architecture, pottery, glass, basketry, beadwork, leather crafts and others, needed to make an assessment of what everyday life was like in this harbor town in the late 4th to 6th century AD. The paper will focus on this evidence, concentrating on the non-Roman artifacts, excavated from household and religious contexts, in an effort to identify the indigenous element(s) in the living culture of the port in the period in question. This will lead to an assessment of the role that the Blemmyean polity flexing its muscles in the Eastern Desert to the south and east of Berenike, whose presence in the material record from the excavations is marked, could have played in the life and governance of the harbor at this time, its rise from a period of decline in the later second half of the 4th century to its denouement before the middle of the 6th century AD.
Trade routes, raiding, and mining: thoughts on the Blemmyean desert state in Late Antiquity
The idea that there existed a tribal-based desert ‘state’ in the region inhabited by the Blemmyes, south and east of Egypt, has been long entertained in the scholarship. But beyond passing mentions, few scholars have attempted to define or anatomize this state, its political organization, its society, and more pressingly, its economy. This is hardly surprising, as the evidence for a unified centralized Blemmyean state is still debated in the literature, and scholars have generally not looked to desert worlds of Northeast Africa for politically unified complexes. Situated between Roman Egypt, Meroitic and Post-Meroitic Nubia, and Aksumite Ethiopia, the Blemmyean polity has been lost in the history of Northeast Africa.
This paper will take a positivistic view of the evidence for a Blemmyean state, arguing for a unified tribal confederacy emerging in the desert space in the third and fourth Centuries CE. This research will delineate the main features of this state, and explain how a politically organized nomadic elite used various wealth making apparatuses, notably mining gold and emeralds, access to trade routes, as well as raiding, to bring wealth into the desert and bring new power to a tribal elite. This tribal elite turned the desert society into an extractive regime. Through analysis of textual sources, and new archaeological sources in the desert heartland of the Blemmyes, it will be shown how these tribes were attracted by the magnetic pull of the Red Sea trade routes and its international trade, slowly integrating these tribes with the Roman economic system. With the changing fortunes of Red Sea trade routes, this paved the way for a unique dynamic between the Blemmyean state and Roman Egypt.
Babylon of Egypt: the Reconstruction of the Diocletianic Fortress
Peter Sheehan, Dmitry Karelin, Maria Karelina, Tatiana Zhitpeleva
This paper is dedicated to the virtual reconstruction of the Late Roman fortress of Babylon, located in the district now known as Old Cairo. The fortress is mentioned in the Déscription de l’Égypte, and has been explored and recorded since the end of the nineteenth century. From the 1990s onwards archaeological investigations have accompanied conservation work and the lowering of the groundwater level in the area, and the results of this work and its importance to the origins of the city of Cairo have been published.
Babylon was a typical Diocletianic fortress for comitates; Legio tertiadecima gemina may have been quartered here. However, it displayed a number of unique features:
• it was constructed over the earlier Trajanic-era stone harbour at Babylon where the Amnis Trajanus joined the Nile. The entrance to the canal was flanked by the massive round towers of the Diocletianic fortress.
• archaeological and historical evidence indicates that a bridge over the Nile led to the western gate of the fortress.
• the massive size and strength of the fortifications were much more solid than those of any other Diocletianic fortresses in Egypt, which might be explained by the strategically important position of Babylon at the apex of the Nile Delta.
The recent archaeological work has shown that much of the southern part of fortress survives today below ground. Above ground the southern gatehouse is preserved largely intact, with the Coptic ‘Hanging Church’ (Al-Mu’allaqa) built over it. The two round towers also survive, one of them within the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George (Mari Girgis)
The aim of the reconstruction is to show the architectural and constructional peculiarities of the southern gatehouse and of the round towers flanking the Amnis Trajanus, and also to present the possible view of the fortress from the Nile.