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African Archaeological Review

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 599–635 | Cite as

Religion and Burial at the Ptolemaic-Roman Red Sea Emporium of Berenike, Egypt

  • Steven E. SidebothamEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

Partial excavation of five or possibly six religious edifices at the Ptolemaic-Roman (third century bc-sixth century ad) Red Sea emporium of Berenike, Egypt, chronicles many aspects of the sacred, especially in the middle and late Roman periods. We know far less about Ptolemaic and early Roman era religious life at the port. Epigraphic remains and artifacts of a devotional nature also provide insights into the spiritual lives of those residing in or passing through the city. Egyptian, classical Greco-Roman and Hellenistic hybrid deities predominated with evidence of Christian, Palmyrene, South Arabian, and Zoroastrian religious activities as well. There may also be some data on the religious practices of indigenous desert dwellers, the Blemmyes, the Trog(l)odites/Trogodytes, the Ichthyophagi, and people from Nubia and, perhaps, Meroë. We know far less about the burial practices of Berenike’s inhabitants. Aside from a few makeshift interments and disarticulated remains, only a small portion of a cemetery at the edge of the site has been excavated and many hundreds of tombs, mostly robbed, have been examined southwest and west of the city. Both necropoleis are late Roman in date; the one adjacent to the city preserves different modes of burial depending, most likely, on the economic circumstances, ages, or ethnic identities of the deceased entombed there. Paradoxically, though there is ample documentation for peoples from South Asia and the African Kingdom of Axum residing at or regularly passing through Berenike, little or no recognizable evidence of their religious proclivities or burial customs has been recorded.

Keywords

Late Roman Harbor Temple Sunken feature Shrine of the Palmyrenes So-called Serapis Temple Northern Shrine Christian ecclesiastical facility South Asians South Arabians Axumites Blemmyes Trog(l)odites/Trogodytes Ichthyophagi Nubia Meroë 

Résumé

Excavation partielle de cinq ou peut-être six édifices religieux à la ptolémaïque-romain (IIIe siècle av JC-sixième siècle de notre ère) Mer Rouge emporium de Berenike relate de nombreux aspects du sacré en particulier dans le milieu et romaine tardive. Nous savons beaucoup moins sur ptolémaïque et au début de la vie religieuse de l’époque romaine au port. Épigraphique restes et les artefacts de nature religieuse donnent aussi une idée sur la vie spirituelle de ceux qui résident ou de passage à travers la ville. Divinités hybrides classiques gréco-romaine et hellénistique égyptiens ont prédominé avec preuve de Christian, Palmyre, l’Arabie du Sud et des activités religieuses zoroastrienne ainsi. Nous savons beaucoup moins sur les pratiques funéraires des habitants de Bérénice. Mis à part quelques enterrements de fortune et des restes désarticulés, seule une petite partie d’un cimetière à la périphérie du site a été fouillé et plusieurs centaines de tombes, la plupart du temps volé, ont été examinés sud-ouest et l’ouest de la ville. Les deux nécropoles sont en retard dans la date romaine; l’un à côté de la ville conserve différents modes de sépulture en fonction, probablement, sur la situation économique, l’âge ou identifie ethniques du défunt enseveli là. Paradoxalement, bien qu’il y ait suffisamment de preuves pour les peuples d’Asie du Sud et le Royaume d’Aksoum africaine résidant à ou qui passent régulièrement si Bérénice, aucune preuve de leurs penchants religieux ou les coutumes funéraires a été enregistrée.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The Berenike Project was a combined University of Delaware, USA (co-director S.E. Sidebotham), and Leiden University, the Netherlands, and University of California at Los Angeles (co-director W.Z. Wendrich) endeavor for eight seasons from 1994 to 2001. After a hiatus, the expedition resumed in 2009 as a joint University of Delaware (co-director S.E. Sidebotham)-Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, Warsaw University (co-director I. Zych) project. There was a brief 1-week geomagnetic survey of the site in March 2008 directed by I. Zych that is not considered in this article. Collectively, see Sidebotham and Wendrich (1995, 1996, 1998a, b, 1999, 2000, 2001–2002, 2007); Sidebotham and Zych (2010, 2011, 2012a, b); Bagnall et al. (2000, 2005); Cappers (2006); Sidebotham et al. (2008); Sidebotham (1986, 2011); and most recently Tomber (2012). The author wishes to thank the editor and the anonymous readers for their helpful comments and criticisms, most of which have been incorporated into this manuscript.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.History DepartmentUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

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