karanis Eastern Edge of Fayoum  Kom Aushim and Karanis The first village to greet visitors upon arrival from Cairo is the small hamlet of Kom Aushim.

People tend to get confused between Kom Aushim and Karanis. Although the names are often used interchangeably, Kom Aushim is a small village a few kilometers north of Karanis.

Kom Aushim Museum

Open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Entrance fee,Small and newly renovated with a marble facade and dramatic, entrance, the Kom Aushim Museum was originally erected in 1974.

Since then, the grounds have been converted into a friendly oasis.

The museum exhibits artifacts dating from the prehistoric through the Roman period.

BY far the best object in the museum IS the solitary Bayou Portrait left in its native Bayou when the other famous Pf) were taken to the Egyptian antiqueties Museum in Cairo.


(For details of these portraits, The museum is a good place up guides to all parts of the Fayoum especially to Qasr al-Sagha and Dimeh-(The road to Qasr al-Sagha begins acr0SS the highway from the museum.) Fees are minimal and the guides provide govda courteous, and friendly service.

The ruins of Karanis are entered from the museum grounds.

Between the museum and the ruins is the former dence of the British High Commission» Sir Miles Lampson.

FAYOUM – Karanis

Km-anis, the Lord’s Town, is one of the 131-gest Greco-Roman cities in the Fayoum.

Founded in the third century BC and originally inhabited by the mercenaries of plumy II’s any, Karanis, with a population hovering around three thousand, Pampered for seven centuries. It declined mly during the turbulent times of the fourth ind fifth centuries.

It had two main north to thoroughfares, while houses, numbering in the hundreds, were grouped together in small clusters.

Through most of the centuries, the population was poor and contained good mix nationalities. Early, it was predominately

-Greek soldiers. In 165, Karanis, like all of Egypt, was visited by the plague and the population decreased considerably.

In 171, percent of the population was Roman They lived in simple mud- if rick houses, the more affluent with stone keels, all with courtyards for work and under the warm winter sun.

Most of the houses were multi-storied and had a basement for storage They had small win cut high in the walls to let in the light  help the house stay warm in winter and ‘cool in summer.

They also had stone steps Some had small gardens.


The community thrived for many cen- many occupations were ted.

Affair number of people worked State-owned property.

Some were well the majority were not.

One family pots from Nile Valley clay.

Another as pots, especially Brindisi amphora.

Were sold to other merchant families Hilled them with wine and olive oil and them.

There were wool shearer’s fullers, and wool sellers for a com textile industry.

During excavation, textile pieces were uncovered.

Carpenters made everything from tools as mallets, axes, and drills to furniture, household equipment, and doors.

They also wooden toys such as rattles, horses on Wheels, top, and dolls. There may also have glass factory.

Many of these trades’ makeshift shops along the outside walls in the temples, many like merchants in Cairo’s medieval city did until the last century.

There were also public buildings in which the business of the community and the state took place, and hot and cold public

baths, where a person could relax and enjoy a sauna and the companionship of friends. But the vast majority of the villagers (94 percent in the second century) were farmers

who worked not only their own land and sites in nearby villages but also state-owned

fields throughout the Fayoum. In addition to the mandatory grain,

they grew grapes and other fruit, as well as olives, which were pressed for oil in at least two presses.

In addition to domestic animals we know, like dogs, cows, pigs, mules, camels, pigeons,

and horses, they also kept antelopes and crocodiles.


And they paid taxes; too many of them and always in kind in exchange for government services. A textile manufacturer paid in cloth, a potter in pots, and, one assumes, a fisherman in fish.

The people also paid taxes in meat, which was used to feed the troops in the area. Grain, of course, was the most important tax. Karanis: An Egyptian Town in Roman limes by

Elaine Gazda recorded that Karanis supplied “twenty-four tunics and eight cloaks for the years AD 310-311.” It took the community three years to make them.

The temples

were once maintained by donation but by Roman times, this, too, was a tax.It was the duty of the centurions to keep the peace.

Petitions by the people to the centurions, found within the ruins of the grapheion at Karanis, give us some local color at this time: a petition tells of an assault in 71 on the assistant of an estate manager; in 192, there was vandalism at a threshing floor; in 198, a dispute with a violent tax collector took place; at an unknown

date, there was a robbery of a woman whose brother was in the army; in 214, a fire destroyed a field of crops; and in 216, burglary and vandalism of a house took place.

Just people, doing what people do in almost any period of hiunan history. The two temples in Karanis were dedicated to forms of the crocodile god.

Living crocodiles

were kept in the sacred lakes of these temples and were fed grain, meat, and wine mixed with milk and honey.

They participated in ceremonies and were mummified after death.

Excavations on the Northern Temple were begun on March 17, 1925, by a team from the University of Michigan in the United States.

Facing north and built on older ruins, the structure is mainly gray limestone.

It was once surrounded by a thick, mud-brick temenos wall, of which a small portion can be seen north of the temple.

The four outer corners of the temple are decorated with slender columns.

The temple has two pylons.

By the middle of the third century, it had been abandoned. The stone entrance to the House of the Banker, an otherwise mud-brick building attests to the wealth of the owner, in this instance a banker.

Twenty-six thousand coins in jars and cloth bags were unearthed here.

There are ten large granaries and seven small ones in Karanis.

The large ones mostly housed the grain for taxes to Rome and were well guarded, with Roman soldiers’ barracks erected adjacent to one of them.

As the grain was harvested, it was stored here in one of two types of granaries: a silo-type cylinder with a door at the top for pouring in and another at the bottom for pouring out, and a barnyard-type with a courtyard and bins for storage.

The second-century bamyard- type found at Karanais was 22 by 28 meters (72 by 92 ft) in size, two-stored, and ten-roomed_ The grain was transported to Alexandria where it was stored in granaries before shipping.

Grain became such an important commodity that guilds existed in Alexandria

to oversee the shipments to Rome In the first century the gram of Egypt fed Rome for four months out of the year so the arrival of the ships was a happy occasion The arrival of the fleet in the Bay of Naples is recorded by Seneca Suddenly there came into our view today the Alexandrrne ships I mean those which are usually sent ahead to announce the coming of the fleet The Campanrans are glad to see them all the rabble of Puteoli stand on the docks Everybody was bustling about and hurrying to the waterfront Six dovecotes were uncovered at Karanis, a number of them attached to the upper stories of homes.

Like many of the dovecotes still in use along the byways of the Fayoum, these were made of mud brick in which pots were placed for the pigeons to nest, one bird per pot.

Two of the structures were big enough to house 1,250 birds.

These families were vendors, selling manure and pigeons.

The smaller dovecotes were for the family needs only.

Southern Temple

Located in the southem part of the ancient town, the limestone Temple of Pnepheros and Petesouchos is the larger of two temples found on the site.

Dedicated to the crocodile gods Pnepheros and Petesouchos, it was erected in the second part of the first century on the site of an earlier temple erected in the first century BC.

It is situated at the eastern edge of a large square.

Directly in front of it, facing north.

is the Gate of Vespasian.

The entrance to the temple, which faces east, contains the Gate of Claudius, with an inscription on the lintel that indicates the temple was dedicated by Nero and usurped by Claudius. The temple proper has three rooms.

Baths The large Roman baths contain ample evidence of the splendor in which the Romans bathed.

First there was a cold water bath, then a hot-water chamber much like a steam bath, then another hot but dry bath, much like a sauna.

Bathers would pass through the various chambers and finally into a large area where they could recline and rest The baths was heated by ceramic pipes still in situ Archaeological History Karanis was uncovered when Fayoum farmers were digging in the area to collect the rich szbakh decomposed organic debris left by the ancient occupants They found papyri which someone sold to collectors and museums The papyri became one of the most coveted treasures from Egypt and rt was not long before the S1f€ received serious archaeological attention Fayoum was rich in such treasure because the desert desiccated abandoned sites.

Allowed to dry in this manner for centuries, the documents were preserved.

Unfortunately, they also made good sibakh. Here at Karanis, the sale of sibakh was big business, big enough to warrant the construction of a railway to remove it.

When archaeology finally arrived here, the archaeologists tried to stop the loss.

An agreement was reached with the Italian company that was processing the fertilizer.

The archaeologists would provide enough sibakh to keep the company and the railway working. And, in what Alston calls “an early example of rescue archaeology,” the papyri were hastily removed between 1928 and 1935.

The excavation of Karanis

was begun by Bemard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt in 1895.

It was the first Greco-Roman site ever excavated in Egypt.

The two gentlemen found little, as they were excavating too far north, and left the site the following season.

In 1920, Francis W. Kelsey came to Egypt from the University of Michigan and, following in the footsteps of Sir Flinders Petrie (see below),

began intensive archaeological excavations.

In November 1924, the team arrived at Karanis, where the sabbakhin had been hard at work removing fertilizer since the site was abandoned by Grenfell and Hunt in 1895.

The Michigan team worked there for eleven seasons.

Much of their work was doctmrented and the results are now on view in the Kelsey Museum in Michigan.

In all the Michigan team found five datable levels of debris at Karanis and three areas the north temple the south temple and the residential district Karanis was later excavated by Cairo University and most recently by the French Institute Kom Umm al Atl N29 32 382 E 3100 412 A short distance away ftom the larger Community of Karanis stood the small Community of

Bacchias or Kom Umm al Atl (Kom al Atel or Umm al Atel Mound or Mother of Murder)

located along the ancient caravan road from Memphis to Medinet Fayoum (Arsinoe at the time).

Once containing approximately seven hundred mud-brick houses and about three thousand people, it, like Karanis to the northwest, was founded in the third century.

Although most of the houses are now rubble, several interesting ruins are still standing.

The site is almost always deserted, but a local guard will arrive in short order.

One is free to roam at will through the ancient buildings, which include a mud-brick temple dedicated to Sokanobkonneus, a local crocodile god.

It was in this temple that the papyri were found.

A few Fayoum Portraits were found here, too.

A badly looted cemetery exists to the north of the settlement.

The site was visited by Petrie in 1889-90, and Grenfell and Hogarth excavated here for seven weeks in 1896.

Among other things, like papyri and domestic objects, they found three jars filled with 4,300 coins.

In 1992 and 1993, the site was excavated by an Italian-Egyptian team from Bologna and Lecce. Although the site was ahnost destroyed by looters, many pre-historic tools were found by the first excavation and new streets and buildings were unearthed by the second.

From the Kom Aushim Museum,

head west and ahnost immediately turn left on the first road going south (it requires a U-tum).

Continue for half a kilometer to a mosque, followed by an iron bridge.

Cross the bridge and tum left, or east, on the dirt road.

There is a canal to the left of the road and a small

rise that holds the southem slopes of Karanis Follow the road for ll km (6 8 miles) to

the village of Gharay There are no English signs announcing this village Just ask Even

if you do not speak Arabic roll down your wmdow say hello (very important) and say

Gharay The person will point the way At go straight through the very small village

and head for the desert Philadelphia or Kom al Kharaba al Kebir Philadelphia or Kom al Kharaba al Kebir Great Hill of Ruins was an Bacchias (Bakchias) or Gharay, turn left across the cement bridge, important garrisoned frontier town between the eastern escarpment of Hellenistic Fayoum and the westem edge of the Nile Valley.

It was founded as an agricultural community by Ptolemy ll Philadelphus for his wife/sister, Arsinoe,and flourished for three centmies. With a town plan similar to Alexandria, it lay

along the Bahr Wadan irrigation canal and was higher than most of Fayotun and there-

fore cooler.

lt had small, mud-brick homes with courtyards.

The citizens enjoyed two temples, athletic games, and festivals. The community still thrived during the Roman era.

We know that one-fifth of the community was Roman army veterans who purchased property here in the third century.

They were not always welcomed by the Egyptians, but they lived in many villages in the Fayoum. By the fourth century the irrigation system was a shambles and Philadelphia was abandoned.

Caravans left Philadelphia for the Nile Valley regularly.

Today, Philadelphia is still on the edge of the cultivated land, and the small village of Beit al-Rai before it almost looks like a toll gate.

One expects to wait in line to be assessed for a desert patrol tax, as was a man called Diogenes on September 16, 147: “Paid at the toll house of Philadelphia, for the desert patrol tax: Diogenes exporting fresh dates, one donkey load, and wheat, one donkey load.”Now totally leveled, this once prosperous and famous city offers nothing for the visitor except ground litter.

But to the archaeologist, Philadelphia is a treasure trove with two main assets, papyri and por-


The most important find is the archives of Zenon, the estate manager for Apollonius and the treasurer of Ptolemy Il, who owned acreage in the area.

These archives, covering about forty years in the third century and including nearly two thousand documents, were discovered in 1914-15 in the same manner as much of the papyri there, while Fayoumis were digging for sabakh.

The archives include details about a journey to Palestine, a letter about a shipment of wheat and wine, and personal letters from Panakestor, the overseer at Philadelphia (257-256).

The Zenon Papyri are divided into six segments and are filled with details of production and management that shed light on daily activities in the Fayoum during Ptolemaic times.

Today the papyri can be seen at a number of museums, including at the University of Michigan, Columbia University, the Societa Italiana per la Ricerca dei Papiri, the British Museum,

and the Egyptian Antiquities Museum.

Philadelphia is also the site where the largest number of Fayoum Portraits were discovered. At first the location was unclear because the grave robbers had shown their cache in a cave, but later evidence pointed to a cemetery at Philadelphia.

According to Euphrosyne Doxiadis, in The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt, they were found by locals looking for fertilizer, who began to sell them to Theodor Graf, a Viennese antiquities dealer.

This was one year (1887) before Sir Flinders Petrie found his cache at Hawara. Through the years, Graf acquired at least 350 such portraits.

(For a description of the portraits, see Roman Fayoum Portraits.

When they were first discovered, a number of the portraits were exhibited by Graf in Munich, Paris, Brussels, London, and Berlin.

There is a little intrigue connected with Graf and the portraits. He wanted to sell them and needed to date them. Scholars, eager to study them, gave various dates from Hellenistic to Roman. Everyone joined the fray. H. Heydemann said they were post-Hadrianic while Georg Ebers said they were not Roman, but perhaps Jewish and Hellenistic.

Petrie, finding additional paintings at Hawara,

determined Graf’s portraits to be second century Roman, and Hadrianic. Graf picked Greek.

and then made a big mistake.


He suggested they were portraits of the Ptolemies the II 1’selves, and marketed them as such.

Of course, his identification was wrong.

A scandal erupted and the authenticity of the portraits was brought into question.

After all, if he had lied about the subjects, he could well be lying about the origin.

But he was not.

Of course, Graf ’s portraits are Ombos, Abydos, and Zawyat genuine and he sold them to museums throughout the world.

The area was excavated by Viereck and Zucker in 1908-1909 and also by Ludwig Borchardt.

After visiting Bacchias, return to the dirt track and turn left. After 14 km (8.7 X miles) turn left and cross the canal at the picturesque checkpoint of Beit al-Rai.

A mere half-kilometer later is Philadelphia.

To the right, along a dirt track beginning of just before the checkpoint, is the road to the Pyramid of Sila. At the checkpoint up a guide to both places.

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