Graeco-Roman Temple Unearthed in Egypt’s Western Desert

Graeco-Roman Temple Unearthed in Egypt’s Western Desert

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THU 14 FEB 2019 05:07 PM

Graeco-Roman Temple Unearthed in Egypt’s Western Desert:

Head of a Graeco-Roman statue discovered at temple near Egypt's Siwa Oasis

Head of a Graeco-Roman statue discovered at temple near Egypt’s Siwa Oasis

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced Wednesday that archaeologists have discovered the remains of a GrecoRoman temple in Egypt’s Western Desert.

Discovered at the Al-Salam site, which is roughly 200 miles south of the Mediterranean Sea, the ruins include the front section of the temple and parts of its foundation and main entrance.

The archaeologists also found a 3-feet-thick outer wall leading to a front courtyard, which is surrounded on both sides by entrances to other chambers.

Ayman Ashmawi, the head of the Ministry Ancient Egyptian Antiquities department, says the archaeologists expect to find more temple remains after other excavations are carried out later this year.

Once rubble had been removed from the site, which is located about 30 miles east of Siwa Oasis, head of the archaeological mission Abdel Aziz El-Demery says stones and architectural elements that had made up the temples walls resurfaced, showing their GrecoRoman motifs.

The temple upper lintels and corner pillars are decorated with well-known designs like the egg-and-dart patterns, a molding design incorporating bas-relief ovals with pointed, narrow carvings.

A lion statue discovered at Graeco-Roman temple near Egypt's Siwa Oasis
A lion statue discovered at Graeco-Roman temple near Egypt’s Siwa Oasis

The archaeologists also found fragments of pottery, coins, and a Greek-inspired sculpture of a man’s head. They also uncovered 2 limestone lion statues, one of which is headless.

Exciting Find

“What is amazing is you don’t tend to hear every day of new temples found in Egypt,” says Sarah Parcak, a space archaeologist and National Geographic explorer. “It is going to shed more light on the history of Siwa Oasis.”

Located far out in the Western Desert, Siwa Oasis is remote. It is famous because Alexander the Great allegedly visited an oracle there who told him he was the divine king of Egypt.

Based on the Pictures that have been released so far, it is difficult to make out the overall size and extent of the temple and exactly when it was constructed, Parcak says.

This finds might provide some clues about GrecoRoman occupation and activities that took place in Egypt during this time. Not only were temples used as religious places, but they were also economic hubs where priests lived and locals visited.

“I’m hopeful that this excavation team is going to uncover the settlements or the houses of the priest’s,” Parcak says. Such discovery could also give some insight into ancient everyday life and the size of the population.

Timely Context

The Greek king Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, bringing an end to Persian rule. After his death, control of Egypt fell to one of Alexander generals, Ptolemy I Soter. Ptolemy then began a line of monarchs who would rule for the next 275 year’s, until the Romans took over from 30 B.C. and 395 A.D. 

Through the GrecoRoman period, ancient Egyptian religion—and its architectures—prevailed. People carried on building traditional Egyptian temples, and their Roman successors continued this.

Although few ruin’s from the GrecoRoman period remain, their architectural legacy is lasting. Monuments erected by Macedonian rulers, like the Temple of Edfu on the west bank of the Nile river, have Egyptian architectural conventions paired with Ptolemaic flourishes.

For example, this temples pillars are shaped like giant sistra—a type of Egyptian musical instruments—with elaborately composite capitals, monumental screen walls, and subterranean crypts. 

Relief carving saw more Greek influences, rendering human representations—particularly the female form—in more generous styles. There was also a new emphasis on portraiture, which could be chalked up to influences from the Classical world or earlier Egyptian sculptural tendencies.

Votive sculptures for private patron were popular during the Ptolemaic period, but production declined and changed after the Roman conquest. 

Parcak says it’s also important that Egyptian archaeologists are making these discoveries, which speaks to the level of archaeological advancements coming out of the country.

“It is part of this narrative,” she says. “We think we know so much about ancient Egypt, but there is so much of it left to find.”


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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.

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