Berenike

Berenike

Berenike, Barnis (modern names)
Berenike (Βερενίκη), Berenike Troglodytica (Greek name)
Berenice (Latin name, used mostly in English in reference to the Roman city)
  • Project name:

    The Berenike Project
    Polish-American Archaeological Mission to Berenike

    Project logo:

    Facebook:

    www.facebook.com/theberenikeproject

  • Type of site:

    Settlement – harbor city, necropolis

    Location:

    Egypt
    Red Sea coast
    Eastern Desert

    Dating:

    – Hellenistic period (half of the 3rd century–1st century BC)
    – Early Roman and Roman period (1st–3rd century AD)
    – Late Roman/late antique period (late 4th century–half of the 6th century AD)

Most interesting finds:

– Hellenistic fortifications (fort and city defense walls)
– Hellenistic underground structures (water cisterns, tunnel)
– Several temples and a church
– Offering of 8 kg of black pepper in Indian jars found near the Great Temple – a find proving that Eastern Africa had contacts with India
– Assemblage of texts on papyri and ostraca
– 11 evidenced languages and alphabets
– Perfectly-preserved organic (skins, textiles from China and India, sails) and botanical materials: rice, sesame, lotus, irises, frankincense, myrrh, coconuts, teak wood
– Remains of ship planks and sailing ropes in the harbor bay; the only excavated hull fragment from an early Roman ship which sailed on the Red Sea
– Elephant’s tooth – evidence of the presence of elephants in Berenike
– Stela commemorating the expedition to Punt, dated to the Middle Kingdom – a find which could mean that Berenike had existed already in the Pharaonic period
– Animal cemetery with burials of cats, dogs and monkeys

History of research:

Investigated by the PCMA mission in:

2008–

Type of research:

Excavations, non-invasive prospection

Directors:

American-Polish project:
Steven E. Sidebotham, University of Delaware, USA (2008– )
Iwona Zych, Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw (2008– )

Co-operating institutions:

– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– University of Delaware, USA
– Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities

Additional information:

The American-Polish excavations have been conducted since 2008 as a continuation of the research of an earlier American-Dutch project (1994–2001) directed by S.E. Sidebotham and W.Z. Wendrich. The non-invasive prospection has been carried out under the supervision of Tomasz Herbich (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences) and has covered almost the whole area of the site. Berenike is only the fifth archaeological site in Egypt to have an (almost) complete magnetic map.
In the framework of The Berenike Project, the following grants are being realized:
– Iwona Zych; National Science Centre – PRELUDIUM 7: 2014/13/N/HS3/04400; “Religious practices and beliefs in the ‘Red Land’: religious building complexes and cult objects from the port of Berenike as a manifestation of the religiousness of the population of the Egyptian Red Sea coast and Eastern Desert from the mid 3rd century BC to the early 6th century AD”
– Marek Woźniak: National Science Centre – PRELUDIUM 9: 2015/17/N/HS3/00163; „From military base to international emporium: the nature and functioning of the Hellenistic port of Berenike on the Red Sea”
– Dr Marta Osypińska: National Science Centre – OPUS 12: 2016/21/N/HS3/00040; “Africa–Europe–Asia: the significance of intercontinental trade in the Roman period for the history of animal husbandry. New archaeozoological data from the Red Sea harbor of Berenike (Egypt)”

Description of the site and research:

Berenike was founded in the 3rd century BC by Ptolemy II. The king chose this remote location for a fort and a harbor in order to have constant access to African elephants, which were used in battle. The other reason was his fascination with exotic goods and animals. The site lies in a narrow strip of the Egyptian Eastern Desert between the high ridge of the Red Sea Mountains and the Red Sea itself.

In the Ptolemaic period, Berenike was a strongly fortified outpost where soldiers responsible for the transport of elephants were stationed. The animals arrived in Berenike by sea, rested for a while in specially constructed pens, and then were driven by land to the Nile valley and north to Alexandria. The first Hellenistic finds from Berenike were still being documented at the end of the 1990s.

The breakthrough came when a magnetic map of the western part of the site was created under T. Herbich’s supervision. The map showed the remains of monumental fort buildings, which have been studied since 2012 mainly by Marek Woźniak. To date, the remains of a fort tower, a fragment of defense walls and of a gate with an underground complex have been uncovered. The results of archaeological research on Hellenistic Berenike surprised even the researchers. Especially striking is the size and extent of Ptolemaic structures, which were not mentioned even by ancient historians.

Early Roman Berenike was first and foremost an Imperial harbor, a trading post where ships filled with goods from South Arabia and India arrived. This aspect is the main focus of the American-Polish project. Extensive and intensive research initiated by Iwona Zych in the area of the southern harbor bay has uncovered workshop buildings, remains of ship boards, ropes, mooring lines, as well as a so-called harbor temenos with two structures probably of sacral character – the Lotus Temple and the Square Feature. Berenike in the early Roman period was a vibrant town in the desert where the greatest fortunes of the time were made. The archaeological excavations have uncovered remains of luxury goods, precious glass, bronze figurines, ostraca, papyri. One of the most interesting discoveries from this period is a cemetery of dogs, cats and monkeys – clearly a necropolis of pets. The animals were buried with great care; some had collars decorated with beads.

The trade exchange with India and Arabia continued during the last 250 years of Berenike’s existence. The town’s character, however, had changed. According to recent findings, Berenike was controlled at that time by Blemmyes who inhabited the Eastern Desert. The typical architecture of cut coral appeared, and many elements were reused: textiles from India, sails, beads from Asia. The town was still wealthy, but it slowly began to fade into obscurity. We do not know why exactly, although political circumstances in the Red Sea region, as well as unfavorable climatic conditions in the Eastern Desert and the silting up of the harbor, may have played a part. Berenike was mentioned for the last time in historical sources in 523 AD – soon afterward, the town was deserted and buried under the sands of the desert, preserving all of its riches for researchers.

Other resources about the mission:
Project bibliography:

Kotarba-Morley, A.M. (2019). Ancient Ports of Trade on the Red Sea Coasts—The ‘Parameters of Attractiveness’ of Site Locations and Human Adaptations to Fluctuating Land- and Sea-Scapes. Case Study Berenike Troglodytica, Southeastern Egypt. In N. Rasul and I. Stewart (eds), Geological Setting, Palaeoenvironment and Archaeology of the Red Sea. Cham: Springer.

Woźniak, M., Rądkowska, J. (2018). Berenike Trogodytika: a Hellenistic fortress on the Red Sea coast, Egypt. Antiquity, 96/366, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2018.252.

Eguiluz Maestro, D. (2017). Conservation interventions at the site of Berenike (Egypt): challenges and solutions in an ancient city of the Eastern Desert. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/2, 211–223.

Hense, M. (2017). The Great Temple in Berenike: new findings of the Berenike Temple Project. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/2, 133–145.

Kotarba-Morley, A.M. (2017). Port town and its harbours: sedimentary proxies for landscape and seascape reconstruction of the Greco-Roman site of Berenike on the Red Sea coast of Egypt. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/2, 61–92.

Kucharczyk, R. (2017). Come and dine with me… Early Roman luxury glass tableware from Berenike — new evidence from the harbor area and trash dumps. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/2, 147–166.

Osypińska, M., Osypiński, P. (2017). New evidence for the emergence of a human–pet relation in early Roman Berenike (1st–2nd century AD). Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/2, 167–192.

Then-Obłuska, J. (2017). Beads and pendants from the late Harbor Temple and harbor temenos in the Red Sea port of Berenike (seasons 2010–2013): materials, techniques, functions and cultural attribution. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/2, 211–223.

Woźniak, M. (2017). Shaping a city and its defenses: fortifications of Hellenistic Berenike Trogodytika. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/2, 43–60.

Zych, I. (2017). The harbor of early Roman “Imperial” Berenike: overview of excavations from 2009 to 2015. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 26/2, 93–132.

Zych, I., Sidebotham, S.E., Hense, M., Rądkowska, J.K. and Woźniak M. (2016). Archaeological fieldwork in Berenike in 2014 and 2015: from Hellenistic rock-cut installations to abandoned temple ruins. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 25, 315–348.

Sidebotham, S. E., Zych, I., Rądkowska, J. K., and Woźniak, M. (2015). The Berenike Project: Hellenistic fort, Roman harbor and late Roman temple. Archaeological fieldwork and studies in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24/1, 297–322.

Then-Obłuska, J. (2015). Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt. Preliminary assessment (seasons 2009–2012). Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24/1, 735–777.

Zych, I. and Herbich, T. (2015). Magnetic prospection in the service of uncovering the Hellenistic and Roman port of Berenike on the Red Sea in Egypt. Archaeologia Polona, 53, 95–118.

Lach, K. (2015). Monetization of Roman Egypt during the Flavian Dynasty (AD 69–96): the case of Alexandria and Berenike. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24/1, 727–734.

Woźniak, M. and Rądkowska, J.K. (2014). In search of Berenike of the Ptolemies. The Hellenistic fort of Berenike Trogodytika, its localization, form and development (part one). Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 23/1, 505–526.

Zych, I., Rądkowska, J.K., Crespo Liñeiro, I., and Sidebotham, S.E. (2014). The “Square Feature” in the harbor: Excavations in Berenike 2010–2011. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 23/1, 245–264

Rądkowska, J.K., Sidebotham, S.E., and Zych, I. (2013). The late Roman harbor temple of Berenike. Results of the 2010 season of excavations. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 22, 209–228.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Zych, I. (2012). Berenike: Archaeological fieldwork at a Ptolemaic-Roman port on the Red Sea coast of Egypt 2011–2012. Sahara, 23, 29–48.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Zych, I. (2012). Results of fieldwork at Berenike: A Ptolemaic-Roman port on the Red Sea coast of Egypt, 2008–2010. Topoi Supplément, 11, 133–157.

Osypińska, M. (2011). Archaeozoological remains. In S.E. Sidebotham and I. Zych (eds), Berenike 2008–2009: Report on the excavations at Berenike, including a survey in the Eastern Desert (=PCMA Excavation Series 1) (pp. 67–76). Warsaw: PCMA UW.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Zych, I. (eds). (2011). Berenike 2008–2009: Report on the excavations at Berenike, including a survey in the Eastern Desert (=PCMA Excavation Series 1). Warsaw: PCMA UW.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Zych, I. (2011). Berenike: Egypt’s Red Sea gateway to the east. Egyptian Archaeology, 39, 18–20.
Sidebotham, S.E. (2011). Berenike and the ancient maritime Spice Route. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Woźniak, M. and Rądkowska, J.K. (2011). Locating the emporium of Berenike: Evidence of geology, geophysical prospection and satellite mapping. In S.E. Sidebotham and I. Zych (eds), Berenike 2008–2009: Report on the excavations at Berenike, including a survey in the Eastern Desert (=PCMA Excavation Series 1) (pp. 19–24). Warsaw: PCMA UW.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Zych, I. (2010). Berenike: Archaeological fieldwork at a Ptolemaic-Roman port on the Red Sea coast of Egypt 2008–2010. Sahara, 21, 7–25.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Zych, I. (2009). Excavations at Berenike 2009. Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology, 5, 107–110.
Tomber, R.S. (2008). Indo-Roman trade: From pots to pepper. London: Duckworth.

Select site bibliography:

Harrell, J.A. (2007). Geology. In S.E. Sidebotham and W.Z. Wendrich (eds), Berenike 1999/2000: Report on the excavations at Berenike, including excavations in Wadi Kalalat and Siket, and the survey of the Mons Smaragdus Region (pp. 166–174). Los Angeles, CA: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Wendrich, W.Z. (eds). (2007). Berenike 1999/2000: Report on the excavations at Berenike, including excavations in Wadi Kalalat and Siket, and the survey of the Mons Smaragdus Region. Los Angeles, CA: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles.

Cappers, R.T.J. (2006). Roman foodprints at Berenike: Archaeobotanical evidence of subsistence and trade in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California.

Bagnall, R.S., Helms, C.C., and Verhoogt, A.M.F.W. (2005). Documents from Berenike II. Texts from the 1999–2001 seasons (=Papyrologica Bruxellensia 33). Brussels: Fondation égyptologique Reine Elisabeth.

Wild, F.C. and Wild, J.P. (2001). Sails from the Roman port at Berenike, Egypt. The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 30(2), 211–220.

Bagnall, R.S., Helms, C.C., and Verhoogt, A.M.F.W. (2000). Preliminary report on the textual finds. In S.E. Sidebotham and W.Z. Wendrich (eds), Berenike 1998: Report of the 1998 excavations at Berenike and the survey of the Egyptian Eastern Desert, including excavations at Wadi Kalalat (pp. 179–182). Leiden: Research School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies (CNWS).

Bagnall, R.S., Helms, C.C., and Verhoogt, A.M.F.W. (2000). Documents from Berenike I. Greek ostraka from the 1996–1998 seasons (=Papyrologica Bruxellensia 31). Brussels: Fondation égyptologique Reine Elisabeth.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Wendrich, W.Z. (eds). (2000). Berenike 1998: Report of the 1998 excavations at Berenike and the survey of the Egyptian Eastern Desert, including excavations at Wadi Kalalat. Leiden: Research School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies (CNWS).

Sidebotham, S.E. and Wendrich, W.Z. (eds). (1999). Berenike 1997: Report of the 1997 excavations at Berenike and the survey of the Egyptian Eastern Desert, including excavations at Shenshef. Leiden: Research School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies (CNWS), Universiteit Leiden.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Wendrich, W.Z. (eds). (1998). Berenike 1996: Report of the 1996 excavations at Berenike (Egyptian Red Sea Coast) and the survey of the Eastern Desert. Leiden: CNWS.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Wendrich, W.Z. (1998). Berenike: Archaeological fieldwork at a Ptolemaic-Roman port on the Red Sea coast of Egypt 1994–1998. Sahara, 10, 85–96.

Bagnall, R.S., Helms, C.C., and Verhoogt, A.M.F.W. (1999). The ostraka. In S.E. Sidebotham and W.Z. Wendrich (eds), Berenike 1997: Report of the 1997 excavations at Berenike and the survey of the Egyptian Eastern Desert, including excavations at Shenshef (pp. 201–207). Leiden: Research School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies (CNWS), Universiteit Leiden.

Sidebotham, S.E. and Wendrich, W.Z. (eds). (1995). Berenike 1994: Preliminary report of the 1994 excavations at Berenike (Egyptian Red Sea coast) and the survey of the Eastern Desert. Leiden: Research School CNWS.

Sidebotham, S.E. (1986). Roman economic policy in the Erythra Thalassa 30 B.C.–A.D. 217. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

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