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The Eastern Desert of Egypt during the Greco-Roman Period: Archaeological Reports

Jean-Pierre Brun
Thomas Faucher
Bérangère Redon
et al.

The Great Temple of Berenike

Martin Hense

Texte intégral


  • 1 The Berenike Temple project is part of the Berenike Project.

1Recent excavations in the Great Temple of Berenike, the first substantial ones since the 19th century, began in early 2011 with several test trenches. These test trenches proved the existence of still undisturbed archaeological layers, notwithstanding excavations conducted here during the 19th century. The Berenike Temple Project1 aims at a thorough investigation of the temple complex to document its architecture and history, its links with the town and inhabitants and the influence the international character of the town had on its functioning.

Early research in the temple

  • 2 Belzoni 1821, p. 330.

2When Giovanni Batista Belzoni (re)discovered Berenike on 8 October 1818, he found in the centre of the town “...a small temple, nearly covered by the sand...The temple is built of a kind of soft, calcareous, and sandy stone, but decayed much by the air of the sea”.2

  • 3 Belzoni 1821, p. 331.

3Belzoni estimated the temple to be over 25 meters long. Although his description of the temple plan is somewhat confusing,3 the sketch he produced gives a fairly accurate view of its general layout. Although he did not see the front wall of the building, he suspected the building to have a large front hall (Fig. 1a).

  • 4 Belzoni 1821, p. 332.

4In spite of the absence of any digging equipment, which the expedition remarkably failed to bring, Belzoni ordered excavation of a part of the temple. To make matters worse, the absence of potable water in the vicinity forced the expedition to leave the next day. As a result, in the middle of the night and with only the light of the full moon, an Egyptian boy named Mussa started excavating a temple room with a big shell. In the meantime, Belzoni continued to survey the area immediately south of Berenike. Upon his return to Berenike at 10 in the morning, Belzoni found that Mussa had dug a hole, 1.20 m deep, close to a corner of a temple room where he exposed a relief on the wall and unearthed a stela fragment.4

  • 5 Wilkinson, MS. XXXVIII, 92; Meredith 1957, pp. 61-62.

5Eight years later, John Gardner Wilkinson visited the site and made the first detailed plan of the town. On this plan, the temple has a length of about 23 meters (Fig. 1b). Wilkinson excavated room 1 and a small section of room 2 (Fig. 1c). He probably also unearthed a small part of the large front hall, which he called a portico. His notes contain drawings of inscriptions with cartouches, which he thought to be of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD) on both sides of the entrance to room 1.5

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Plan of the temple, based on the results of the 2015 season and earlier research. Small plans based on the drawings of Belzoni (1a: based on G.B. Belzoni, Narrative, 3rd edition (London 1822), Pl. 32.) and Wilkinson (1b: based on a detail of the Wilkinson plan of Berenike (Ms. J.G. Wilkinson XLV D.11, Gardner Wilkinson papers from Calke Abbey, Bodleian Library, Oxford).

© M. Hense

  • 6 British Museum, BM no. EA135, possibly of Ptolemaic origin. A drawing appeared in Hense 2012, p. 92 (...)
  • 7 Meredith 1957, p. 69.

6In the hieroglyphic inscriptions, Wilkinson also identified cartouches of the emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37 AD). Among the material he unearthed in room 1 was a fragment of a stela with a Greek text, reconstructed by Wilkinson as containing a dedication to Serapis, and a bust of Serapis with another dedication. Other finds included figurines and a large offering basin.6 Near the northern wall of room 1 Wilkinson found a ceiling block decorated with stars, a vulture and cartouches of a Roman emperor. As he produced a drawing of the papyrus pattern at the base of the wall, he must have cleared a part of the room, approaching floor level to 50 centimeters or less. In his notes Wilkinson does not mention any stone floor, so he must have left a layer of sand and debris, possibly up to 25 centimeters thick. In room 2, near the southern wall, were several fallen ceiling blocks decorated with stars and an inscription containing the name of the emperor Tiberius. The roof of room 5 was still partly in situ in 1826 and Wilkinson found here remains of a wall on top of the roof blocks.7 Rooms 3, 4, the corridor and the stairway were still completely roofed.

7In 1836 James Wellsted visited Berenike and excavated a small part of the temple. The plan he made is evidence in this period that less than half of the building was visible at the surface. Wellsted solved this by mirroring the southern part of the plan, creating a non-existant, symmetric temple with two staircases. It seems that he was unaware of the plans made by Belzoni and Wilkinson.

  • 8 Wellsted 1836, p. 98.

8Although he had limited time, Wellsted managed to excavate a large part of the sanctuary (room 2), which appeared to have been previously partially excavated, probably by Wilkinson. After removing the sand to a depth of about 1.5 meters, he discovered several figures on the walls. As he proceeded it became clear that the figures of deities and the king were arranged in groups along the walls. He found two fragments of a stela with a Greek inscription, containing a dedicatory text of a Ptolemaic king. To access the room Wellsted dislodged several massive roofing stones.8

  • 9 Barth 1859, p. 16.

9Arriving in Berenike in 1846, Heinrich Barth was disappointed to find remains of a town, “barely more than a trash heap” with even the temple not standing out. His observation that the temple, although covered with hieroglyphic texts and reliefs had no inscription dated before the reign of Tiberius,9 is probably based on the reports of Wilkinson. Nevertheless, he produced measurements of the visible remains of the temple before leaving for the mountain site of Shenshef.

  • 10 Likely now lost due to 20th century building activities.
  • 11 Heuglin 1860, p. 333.

10When the explorer Theodor von Heuglin arrived in Berenike on the 6th of July 1857 by means of a small local freight ship hired at Quseir, he saw “a temple of large limestone blocks...probably originating from stone quarries I discovered about 2 miles north west of the ruins...”.10 He found the temple inaccessible as it was buried in the sand up to the roof slabs. The visible stone surface was so eroded that no inscriptions or reliefs were visible, except for an upturned roof block with stars. Although most of the temple was covered by sand, traces of recent excavations were still visible.11

  • 12 Schweinfurth, 1922, p. 132.

11In 1864, German botanist and traveler Georg August Schweinfurth, during a short visit to the site, found a single excavated room, “sized 15 x 15 feet”, already partly buried under the sand. At the entrance a roof slab was the only block visible decorated with five pointed stars.12 Most likely this was the same block that Wellsted had observed seven years before.

  • 13 Purdy 1886, pp. 431-445.
  • 14 Daressy 1922, p. 170.

12As part of the plan to modernize the Egyptian army, in 1870 the Egyptian ruler Ismail Pasha hired fifty veterans of the American Civil War. Among them was Erastus Sparrow Purdy, a Union Army major who was also an experienced surveyor. Purdy was sent on several expeditions to the south of Egypt and Sudan. In 1870 and 1873 he surveyed the Berenike region. During his second visit to the area he also visited Berenike.13 With a group of Egyptian soldiers he excavated parts of the temple. Although it is claimed that Purdy excavated the temple in its entirety, precisely how much was unearthed during the 1873 expedition is unclear. After Purdy’s sudden death in 1881 in Cairo his notes of the expedition were never found. However, in 1922 Daressy discovered a plan of the temple made by Purdy in the archives of the Institute of Egypt.14 On this plan the northern and southern walls of the so-called forecourt converge. The plan also shows a huge fallen roof slab in the forecourt. Purdy took some squeezes of the “facade”, in fact the western wall of the so-called forecourt. When Daressy found these in 1922, they were already too flat to read. Another detail on the map retrieved during the Purdy expedition is a crypt under room 8, with the narrow entrance in the “forecourt”.

  • 15 Golenischeff 1890, Pl. V.
  • 16 Golenischeff 1890, Pl. V.

13Russian Egyptologist Vladimir Golenischeff traveled to Berenike in 1889, where he saw only traces of the “forecourt”. Contrary to Purdy’s plan, Golenischeff’s shows the walls of the “forecourt” to be parallel.15 Golenischeff records the complete decoration of the inner walls of the entrance to room 2, which means that Purdy excavated this part, as Wilkinson did not record the lower half of the double row of nb-signs at the lower end of the inside of the door jambs. This is also the case for room 1, where Wilkinson never fully documented the northern wall. Golenischeff also recorded several niches in the still roofed corridor connecting the “forecourt” with room 4. He also noted an oval hole in the roof of the corridor.16

14Inspector General of the Egyptian Telegraphs Ernest Floyer made the oldest known photograph of the temple in 1891. It shows traces of the early excavations, with the forecourt, room 1 and the corridor entrance partly exposed.

  • 17 Bent 1900, p. 296.

15The British archaeologist and explorer James Theodore Bent arrived at Berenike during his voyage along the Red Sea coast on the 1st of January 1896. With his dhow as a base, he stayed several days and conducted several small excavations, but it is not known if any of these was in or near the temple. He noted, however, the fading of the temple reliefs: the centre is an old temple of the date of Tiberius Caesar, the hieroglyphs in which are rapidly becoming obliterated.17

16In 1908 Jules Couyat-Barthoux, a French geologist and archaeologist, produced the second and last photograph known to be made before the start of the excavations in the late 20th century.

  • 18 Daressy 1922, p. 170.
  • 19 Meredith 1957, pp. 59-60.

17In 1922 Daressy found and published a copy of Purdy’s temple plan.18 Daressy pointed out that in the “forecourt” an enormous roof slab was visible. It seems that the copy, probably made by one of the members of the Purdy expedition of 1873, showed more than just a plan, as Daressy’s article also contains several elevations of the temple. Meredith, in his overview of the research of the temple, found the existence of the roof slab unlikely. His main reason was the size of the block, but also because neither Wilkinson, nor Wellsted nor Golenischeff recorded this slab blocking the entrance of the staircase.19

Berenike project

  • 20 Directed by S.E. Sidebotham (University of Delaware) and W.Z. Wendrich (University of Leiden) and H (...)

18Until the end of the 20th century, no further research took place in Berenike or the temple. When the Berenike Project started in 199420 the temple was almost completely buried by windblown sand. Two test trenches revealed that, although the temple had been excavated during the 19th century, a great deal of archaeological information was still present.

Excavation of room 3

19This room in the back of the temple was excavated to check the condition of the stone and the stability of the walls. This room had clearly been previously excavated as lines of salt on the walls marked the different layers of windblown sand that had filled the room subsequent to the earlier European excavations. However, the room was never completely excavated during the 19th century. Clearing revealed a trap door in the stone floor that had not been recorded on the 19th century plans. The trap door gave access to a crypt, created by the removal of the silt between the heavy foundation walls of room 3. It seems that the northern foundation wall was built on top of an older structure, of which a row of stones emerged in the floor of the crypt. Possibly the temple stood on a stone platform. In that case, the original floor level around the temple can be placed well into the levels of the Ptolemaic Period, the tops of which were excavated in the nearby trench 10 in 1999.

20The floor of room 3 comprised a series of large stone slabs, resting on the foundation walls. The very rough surface of the large slabs strongly suggests that they were once covered with flat paving stones. This is confirmed by a small ledge at the base of the walls. The walls of the room seem to be a result of several building phases. Possibly the temple was finished or partly rebuilt during the early Roman period. A portal in to the sanctuary (room 2), once contained a wooden door, as the lintel contained a slot for a door pivot block, probably made of bronze.

21A large fragment of a roof block found resting on the floor of room 3 still preserved some remnants of a coral wall attached to it. These are probably traces of structures built on top of the temple, after its abandonment in the 5th century. This confirmed Wilkinson’s claim that coral walls stood on top of the roof of the adjoining room 5.

The test trench BE11-79

22In 2011 a small test trench opened against the back wall of the temple revealed a partly collapsed stone wall close to the surface. This thin gypsum/anhydrite wall was built at a short distance from the western temple wall. The space in between was filled up with small irregular stones and coral blocks.

23During the Roman period, all non-religious buildings in Berenike seem to have been built of extinct coral heads, with only a few stone ashlars in doorways and corners. The gypsum/anhydrite wall at the back of the temple must represent a repair of a damaged wall surface, or the back wall of a small contra-temple. In the wall debris were two parts of a small stone statue of a crocodile-falcon god. About a dozen parallels of this type of statuette are known in collections worldwide. All date to the Late Period-Ptolemaic era, with one exception dating to the 18th dynasty. However, the context of these statues is unclear.

Trench BE15-112

  • 21 The excavations of the Berenike Temple Project, a sub-project of the Berenike Project, are conducte (...)

24Our project began excavations of the first large trenches in the temple area in early 2015 (Fig. 2).21 In the so-called forecourt we excavated most of the southern part, leaving the west wall, possibly still with fragile reliefs, untouched. After removing a thick layer of windblown sand, a large block of stone, 3.15 meters in length and with an estimated weight of 3500 kilograms emerged thereby corroborating the existence of the big stone slab on Purdy’s plan (Fig. 3). Fragments of at least two more of these large roof blocks were excavated here among a layer of large stone debris fragments. Purdy halted excavations at this level, which is evident from a salt layer the border of which stands out sharply on the debris.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Overview of the excavations of 2015.

© S.E. Sidebotham

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Large roof block in trench BE15-112.

© M. Hense

25It seems the decoration of the temple was never finished, as the exposed wall faces inside the hall are all undecorated. If 19th century research of the rest of the building was exhaustive, reliefs and inscriptions are only to be found on the outside of the entrance to the building, the west inner wall of the hall, and in rooms 1 and 2.

26It is now clear that the forecourt was, in fact, a hall roofed with large stone slabs, about 4.5 meters in length, each with a weight of over 4500 kilograms (Fig. 4). The collapse of the roof of this hall was probably due to a combination of the bad quality of some of the stone of the walls and weight of the roof. Some time after the collapse, the temple was put in to use again. A low wall was built on top of the debris in the entrance, most likely because of risen floor levels outside the temple (Fig. 5).

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

Reconstruction of the temple.

© M. Hense

Fig. 5

Fig. 5

Entrance of the temple.

© S.E. Sidebotham

27Pottery sherds provide a date of late 4th to early 5th century AD for the fill behind the low wall, which means the roof collapsed in the early 5th century the latest. It is not likely that the whole roof collapsed in a single event. The process leading to a complete destruction of the roof of a hall of this type however, might have taken place within a period of a few years.

28The roof debris layer in BE15-112 seems to rest on a layer of sand, which is probably over 20 centimeters thick. This indicates that before the collapse of the roof, the temple had already been abandoned for some time. Excavations in Berenike have shown that the town was, at best, sparsely populated from the 3rd until the mid 4th century AD. It is probable that the temple complex in this period underwent little maintenance. Not only did this lead to the formation of a layer of windblown sand in the hall, but the lack of maintenance also meant that protective plaster layers on the temple walls were not repaired. With the stone exposed to wind and moisture, some of the stones weakened and the roof collapsed on top of the sand covered floor.

29The top of the fill against the low wall in the entrance contained a group of small cowry shells. Pottery in the fill provided a 5th century date. These cowry shells are found at the entrances of several sanctuaries of Late Roman Berenike. This implies that the temple was still some sort of sanctuary in the 5th century AD.

30Also between the remains of the roof was the lower part a Roman period stela, and a small fragment of a bronze statue.

Trench BE15-111

31In 2015 a second trench was excavated directly east of the temple, exposing the area directly in front of the building. The upper layers of the trench contained debris thrown out of the hall during the Purdy excavations of 1873. In addition to the architectural fragments this layer also contained artifacts lost by the 19th century expeditions, most likely those of Purdy. Among the objects were a fragment of porcelain, the neck of a bottle with the cork still in place, and some copper buttons.

32Excavations of the temple façade documented parts of reliefs directly left and right of the entrance. On the southern part of the door frame are traces of a relief depicting a king, probably facing one or two gods. Behind the king is part of a large hieroglyph. Directly under this relief a band of papyrus plants and lotus flowers indicates the base of the wall. On the northern side of the entrance is a goddess figure, probably Isis or Hathor (Fig. 6). Nearby a fragment of marble revetment was found still attached to the wall. Numerous fragments of these quality polished marble slabs found near the facade indicate that the temple during the early Roman period was quite richly decorated.

Fig. 6

Fig. 6

Isis or Hathor depicted on the temple doorway (photograph and illustration: M. Hense).

© M. Hense

  • 22 Ast and Bagnall 2015, p. 172.
  • 23 Ast and Bagnall 2015, p. 176.
  • 24 Ast and Bagnall 2015, p. 178.

33Directly south of the entrance, and close to the wall, excavations recorded a large inscription block, 104 centimeters in height. It was still in its original location, resting on a pedestal (Fig. 7). This monument was dedicated in the year 9 of the emperor Claudius (AD 49) to Isis, and its production ordered by Eirenaos, a Greek secretary of the Receiver’s Department.22 Isis is addressed in this inscription as “the greatest nurse goddess”. This is a reference to Isis nursing her son Horus-Harpocrates.23 Most likely, the inscription was a base of a statue or relief (possibly in a miniature shrine) depicting Isis.24

Fig. 7

Fig. 7

The Eirenaos inscription in front of the temple.

© S.E. Sidebotham

  • 25 Ast and Bagnall 2015, p. 174.

34A similar inscription block, also still in situ and over 70 centimeters in height and dated to the year 15 of Trajan (AD 112/113), was excavated at the northern side of the courtyard in front of the temple. This monument was set up by Gaius Julius Eucharistos, secretary of the aromatics magazine, in honor of Gaius Julius Faustinus, “receiver of Berenike”.25 The inscription also seems to indicate that this block was the base of a statue.

  • 26 Sidebotham 2007, pp. 127 and 129.

35Excavations in 2000, in a large house (BE00-37) close to the temple, documented another inscription of a secretary. This monument was dedicated to Isis by an interpreter and secretary, whose name is lost, during the reign of Trajan.26 The same courtyard also produced two inscriptions dedicated to Zeus, from the reign of Nero. Several other stones, probably also originating from the temple, were found in this courtyard. It seems that the courtyard of the temple, and possibly the collapsed hall, acted as a stone quarry in the late 5th or 6th century. However, the debris in front of the temple still produced a considerable number of inscription fragments, and among them was at least one belonging to a monument comparable to the two big inscription blocks.

36Also in the debris, and evidence that at least some of the stones were part of a wall of the temple or the courtyard wall, were several wooden dovetail clamps. These clamps made of acacia can also be seen in the walls of room 3, and in the walls of the façade of the temple. In general the wood was remarkably well preserved in these trenches. Parts of wooden structures found in the rubble in the courtyard may have been the remains of niche frames. In these niches in the courtyard walls, small monuments like stelai might have been placed.

37The heap of debris in the courtyard produced fragments of several other types of objects. A complete large offering basin comprised three fragments found dispersed through the debris. A relief depicting a cobra, partly shattered by the weight of the stones on top of it, must have been part of a much larger relief depicting at least cartouches of a king. Near the northern baulk of the trench excavations recorded a stela, probably of Ptolemaic origin. This stela depicts, Isis, Osiris and Harpocarates in front of Min. This was another monument that had been originally placed in the courtyard, before the collapse of the hall.

38These finds are evidence that the temple was an important sanctuary during the 1st and 2nd century and also into the early third century with inscriptions dated to the reign of Septimus Severus and Caracalla. During this period statues, shrines, stelai and other monuments lined the walls of the courtyard in front of the temple building. Although called a Serapis temple since the early 19th century, the finds now suggest that the temple was at least also dedicated to Isis.

Ceiling decoration

39The excavations of 2015 recorded a fragment of the ceiling decoration in the debris in the hall. The slab of stone is decorated with a pattern of stars, traditional for Egyptian temple ceilings (Fig. 8). Wilkinson saw at least two fragments, one in room 1 and another one in room 2. Wilkinson produced a sketch of the second fragment, which shows the name and titles of a Roman emperor and a part of a vulture. This is decoration typical for the central axis of the temple ceiling.

Fig. 8

Fig. 8

Ceiling fragment with star pattern decoration.

© M. Hense

40In room 2 Wellsted dislodged several roof blocks. This gave him the opportunity to uncover several ceiling blocks never seen since the Roman period. On several of these ceiling blocks the hieroglyphic inscriptions were, according to Wellsted, “in a beautiful state of preservation”. Theodor Heugling saw another block with stars during his visit to Berenike in 1857. This ceiling fragment might, however, be one of the blocks removed from its original location by Wellsted, some twenty years before.

Date of the temple

  • 27 Sidebotham 2007, pp. 54 and 56.

41The Great Temple of Berenike has an interesting parallel in the temple of Dabod, some 21 kilometers south of Aswan. This Ptolemaic temple has a plan that is more similar to that of the Serapis temple of Berenike, than any other temple of the Roman era in Egypt. The indications for several building phases in room 3 also points to a pre-Roman origin of the temple. The floor of the temple and its courtyard must be situated less than four meters above current sea level. In neighboring trench 10, excavated during the 1996- 2000 seasons, late Ptolemaic layers were unearthed at a depth of less than four meters above current sea level.27

  • 28 Strack 1897, p. 257, nr. 111. This stela probably dates from 124-116 B.C.

42In 1838 Wellsted found two fragments of a stela in room 2. This stela is a dedication of Ptolemy VIII.28 No traces of any Ptolemaic sanctuary were found elsewhere in Berenike so far, making the Great Temple the most likely original location of this stela.

Middle Kingdom stela fragments

  • 29 Kaper, Hense and Geerts 2015, pp. 585-601.

43Unexpectedly, two fragments belonging to a Middle Kindom stela were found in a 5th century AD layer in front of the temple (Fig. 9). One fragment depicts the cartouche of Amenemhat IV (c. 1786-1777 BC), the other fragment contains a part of the titles of an official and mentions regnal year 7. Surprisingly, the fragment found by Belzoni in 1818 was part of the same stela.29

Fig. 9

Fig. 9

Two fragments of a Middle Kingdom stela.

© S.E. Sidebotham

44Until recently, the exact location of Belzoni’s excavation was unclear. Although Belzoni stated that the pit Mussa dug was in the cella, Wilkinson claimed in 1826 to have found traces of an earlier excavation in the northeast corner of room 1. Based on the recent excavations, Belzoni’s excavation can now be pinpointed to the northern wall of room 2, directly west of the entrance to room 3. Belzoni described how the excavations uncovered the upper half of the entrance to an inner room of the temple. The entrance to room 1 was, however, already badly damaged during the Roman period. The only possibility is the entrance to room 3, found still intact in 2011. As the eastern wall right of this door is too narrow for the two scenes Belzoni sketched, he can only have seen this relief on the northern wall, directly west of the door.

45The likely explanation for the presence of this stela in the temple would be that it was found during the Roman period on a nearby site and brought to the temple. However, in a radius of 200 kilometers, no Middle Kingdom sites are known. This suggests that in or close to Berenike there once existed some kind of Middle Kingdom roadstead or trading post, established to support expeditions to Punt in the South.

  • 30 Mahfouz 2010, p. 169; Mahfouz 2012, pp. 122-123. In 2005-2006 the remains of a series of wooden car (...)

46In 2007, two wooden boxes were found in Wâdi Gawasis located 330 km north of Berenike.30 The hieroglyphic text on the boxes mentions an expedition to Punt returning in year 8 of the reign of Amenemhat IV. So, it is possible during the outward journey or in preparation for the expedition of year 8, that a stop on the way to Punt was built or put into use again, during which time the stela was dedicated.

  • 31 Kaper, Hense and Geerts 2015, pp. 600-601.

47The presence of this Middle Kingdom stela in this late temple suggests that this already ancient monument was valued, either for its religious significance or the prestige it lent to a sanctuary.31


48The evidence thus far recorded from the excavations permits a suggested short chronology for the temple. The first building phase of the temple, defining at least the layout of building without the large hall, probably took place in the 3rd century BC. During the start of the early Roman period, at the latest, the hall was added giving the building its final form. During the reign of Tiberius, the first reliefs were applied.

49During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the temple had a courtyard lined with monuments, among them the inscriptions of the secretaries and the Middle Kingdom. Ptolemaic and Roman period stelai. Reused monuments found in a nearby house along the city’s decumanus together with inscriptions from the temple itself indicates a period of activity that continued into at least the early 3rd century AD.

  • 32 Sidebotham 2007, pp. 74-75.

50A substantial amount of pepper was stored in large jars, dug into the first century AD floor of a courtyard that lay directly north of the temple. These Indian made storage jars were excavated in 1999 and one still contained over 7.5 kilograms of black peppercorns, the largest amount ever found anywhere in the Roman Empire.32 It seems, assuming this area also belonged to the temple complex, that the temple was also used in this period as a safe place to store precious trade goods, or that the temple was itself active in the international trade at that time. Between the late 3rd and up to about the middle of the 4th century AD, Berenike was at a nadir in its fortunes and the roof of the hall of the temple collapsed.

51At least during the 5th century, the damaged temple again served as some sort of sanctuary, as indicated by the cowry shells found in the entrance. To the end of the 5th century, the building was put out of commission and served as a stone quarry for the nearby houses along the main street directly east of the temple. In the late 5th and early 6th century, the temple structure was used for domestic activities, during which structures of coral blocks were built on the roof. Also during this phase, a hole was cut in the roof of the corridor, maybe because the entrances to the inner rooms were blocked by debris and windblown sand. After the abandonment of Berenike in the 6th century, windblown sand quickly covered the remaining parts of the temple.


52The long walls seen by Belzoni and Wilkinson, stretching far beyond the facade, of the building are probably courtyard walls, which seems to be confirmed by an on-going geo-magnetic survey of Berenike. The survey, carried out under the direction of Thomasz Herbich, resulted in a map that shows most of the temple area in some detail. In this geo-magnetic map, walls of a series of at least two courtyards are visible directly east of the temple. Not visible on this map, as the area around the temple and courtyards are covered by late Roman buildings, are a series of workshops and storage rooms that must have been present in the temple complex. Although during the 19th century there were several excavations in the Great Temple of Berenike, recent research has proven that the temple and its immediate surroundings still contain a wealth of archaeological information.



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Hense M. 2012. “De Serapistempel van Berenike”. Ta-Mery: Jaarlijks magazine voor vrienden van het oude Egypte 5, p. 92 Fig. 5.

Heuglin T. 1860. “Reise in Nordost-Afrika und längs des Rothen Meeres im Jahre 1857”. Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen, vol. 6, pp. 325-358.

Kaper O.E., Hense M. and Geerts R.C. 2015. “A stela of Amenemhet IV from the main temple at Berenike”. Bibliotheca Orientalis 5-6, pp. 585-601.

Mahfouz E.S. 2010. “Amenemhat IV au ouadi Gaouasis”. BIFAO 110, pp. 165-173.

Mahfouz E.S. 2012. “New epigraphic material from Wâdi Gawasis”. The Red Sea in Pharaonic Times, recent discoveries along the Red Sea Coast, Proceedings of the Colloqium hel in Cairo/Ayn Soukhna. P. Tallet and E-S. Mahfouz (eds), pp. 117-132.

Meredith D. 1957. “Berenice Troglodytica”. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 43, pp. 56–70.

Purdy E.S. 1886. Une Reconnaissance entre Bérénice et Berber : Expédition Purdy-Colston, BskGÉ, 2nd ser., 8, pp. 431-445.

Schweinfurth G.A. 1922. Auf unbetretenen Wegen in Aegypten, Hamburg.

Sidebotham S.E. 2007. “Excavations”. In Berenike 1999/2000: Report on the Excavations at Berenike, including excavations in Wâdi Kalalat and Siket, and the Survey of the Mons Smaragdus Region. S.E. Sidebotham and W.Z. Wendrich (eds), Los Angeles.

Wellsted J.R. 1836. “Notices on the Ruins of Berenice”. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London vol. 6, pp. 96-100.


1 The Berenike Temple project is part of the Berenike Project.

2 Belzoni 1821, p. 330.

3 Belzoni 1821, p. 331.

4 Belzoni 1821, p. 332.

5 Wilkinson, MS. XXXVIII, 92; Meredith 1957, pp. 61-62.

6 British Museum, BM no. EA135, possibly of Ptolemaic origin. A drawing appeared in Hense 2012, p. 92 fig. 5.

7 Meredith 1957, p. 69.

8 Wellsted 1836, p. 98.

9 Barth 1859, p. 16.

10 Likely now lost due to 20th century building activities.

11 Heuglin 1860, p. 333.

12 Schweinfurth, 1922, p. 132.

13 Purdy 1886, pp. 431-445.

14 Daressy 1922, p. 170.

15 Golenischeff 1890, Pl. V.

16 Golenischeff 1890, Pl. V.

17 Bent 1900, p. 296.

18 Daressy 1922, p. 170.

19 Meredith 1957, pp. 59-60.

20 Directed by S.E. Sidebotham (University of Delaware) and W.Z. Wendrich (University of Leiden) and H.M. Nouwens (1994-2001), since 2007 by S.E. Sidebotham and I. Zych (Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw).

21 The excavations of the Berenike Temple Project, a sub-project of the Berenike Project, are conducted by a Dutch-Swedish team, directed by S. Kluitenberg and M. Hense.

22 Ast and Bagnall 2015, p. 172.

23 Ast and Bagnall 2015, p. 176.

24 Ast and Bagnall 2015, p. 178.

25 Ast and Bagnall 2015, p. 174.

26 Sidebotham 2007, pp. 127 and 129.

27 Sidebotham 2007, pp. 54 and 56.

28 Strack 1897, p. 257, nr. 111. This stela probably dates from 124-116 B.C.

29 Kaper, Hense and Geerts 2015, pp. 585-601.

30 Mahfouz 2010, p. 169; Mahfouz 2012, pp. 122-123. In 2005-2006 the remains of a series of wooden cargo boxes were excavated: Bard, Fatovich and Manzo 2013, pp. 539-540; p. 542; pp. 546-547, fig. 12.

31 Kaper, Hense and Geerts 2015, pp. 600-601.

32 Sidebotham 2007, pp. 74-75.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Légende Plan of the temple, based on the results of the 2015 season and earlier research. Small plans based on the drawings of Belzoni (1a: based on G.B. Belzoni, Narrative, 3rd edition (London 1822), Pl. 32.) and Wilkinson (1b: based on a detail of the Wilkinson plan of Berenike (Ms. J.G. Wilkinson XLV D.11, Gardner Wilkinson papers from Calke Abbey, Bodleian Library, Oxford).
Fichier image/jpeg, 156k
Titre Fig. 2
Légende Overview of the excavations of 2015.
Crédits © S.E. Sidebotham
Fichier image/jpeg, 368k
Titre Fig. 3
Légende Large roof block in trench BE15-112.
Crédits © M. Hense
Fichier image/jpeg, 444k
Titre Fig. 4
Légende Reconstruction of the temple.
Crédits © M. Hense
Fichier image/jpeg, 212k
Titre Fig. 5
Légende Entrance of the temple.
Crédits © S.E. Sidebotham
Fichier image/jpeg, 440k
Titre Fig. 6
Légende Isis or Hathor depicted on the temple doorway (photograph and illustration: M. Hense).
Crédits © M. Hense
Fichier image/jpeg, 376k
Titre Fig. 7
Légende The Eirenaos inscription in front of the temple.
Crédits © S.E. Sidebotham
Fichier image/jpeg, 644k
Titre Fig. 8
Légende Ceiling fragment with star pattern decoration.
Crédits © M. Hense
Fichier image/jpeg, 580k
Titre Fig. 9
Légende Two fragments of a Middle Kingdom stela.
Crédits © S.E. Sidebotham
Fichier image/jpeg, 311k

© Collège de France, 2018

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