Egypt: The Temple of Hercules in the Bahariya Oasis

The Temple of Hercules in the Bahariya Oasis

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Brian Rosewood

Bronze Statue of Aphrodite at Hercules Temple in Bahariya Oasis

Bronze Statue of Aphrodite

The Temple of Hercules was discovered only recently in October 1996 by Faraq Allah Abdeen, and Antiquities Inspector at Bahariya. Initially, it was investigated by that local office, and was later excavated by a team led by Dr. Zahi Hawass. We know believe that it was probably constructed in about the year 21 BC, during the reign of Octavian Augustus. However, there may be some question regarding this date, given the many Greek inscriptions found about the ruins. The temple cult probably functioned until the second century AD.

Though we believe that the major deity worshipped in this temple was Hercules, artifacts found within the temple indicate that a number of other gods may have been worshipped here, including Thoth, a cow headed Hathor, Horus, Osiris, Ra, Khonsu, Pantheos, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes and possibly Serapis. A Statue of Thoth as a baboon sitting on a chair with his hands resting on his legs was found in two pieces, and statuettes of Hathor and Horus, carved from stone, were discovered at the site. Statuettes made of bronze depicting Aphrodite with the crown of Hathor, and Osiris were also discovered, along with a terracotta head of a bull, probably depicting Serapis. The other gods were mentioned in stelae found strewn about the temple floors (27 in all). The stelae were all apparently inscribed in hieratic and demotic Egyptian scripts, as well as Greek.

The Temple of Hercules in  the Bahariya Oasis

While the temple is now almost completely destroyed, there remains sufficient foundation and other evidence that we may examine the layout of the temple in some detail. The temple was probably approached from an avenue that led to the southern section of the temple. The temple itself was surrounded by a mudbrick and local sandstone wall. This wall, with an outer coating of thick, while plaster, incorporated bases that probably held a series of sphinxes. The western part of the wall was slightly curved, and three lower walls that branched off to the west may have acted as the base for statues of deities.

Entrance was made through what was probably a massive temple gate with thick mudbrick walls set on a foundation of local sandstone blocks. The entrance path through the gate measures some ten feet across.

Public worshipers must have had to walk up a short set of steps in order to enter a long, rectangular hall just in front of the inner sanctuary. The inner sanctuary itself has three chapels that archaeologists have designed A, B and C. Chapel B is the largest of the three, and was probably dedicated to Hercules, who the Greeks called Herakles (also known by the Egyptian name, Hry shef). To the Egyptians during the Roman period, Hercules (his Roman name) was a symbol of power and a protector during times of war.

Chapel B at The Temple of Hercules in  the Bahariya Oasis

Chapel B, which lies between Chapels A and C, was probably enclosed by a wooden door, as evidenced by square sockets at its entrance, and was covered with a thicker coasting of white plaster than the other chapels. To either side of the doorway were two tall blocks that framed the entrance, and below them were found sandstone stelae with Greek inscriptions Within this chapel, the ceiling was probably vaulted. Remains of carved, bas-relief legs and feet of an emperor, probably belonging to Octavian Augustus, can still be seen. Facing him are two sets of carved legs painted dark red that we believe originally depicted Hercules, and perhaps an Egyptian deity.

Chapel C at The Temple of Hercules in  the Bahariya Oasis

The other two chapels, with Chapel C being the smallest, had flat ceilings and were somewhat obviously built with less care than Chapel B. Chapel A may have contained an oven used to prepare offerings.

Sometime after the initial construction of the temple was completed, it appears that several additional rooms were added to the complex. These included a rectangular chamber next to the west wall, with a smaller inner room that may have been used to provide the temple with water. East of the temple, a completely separate structure that was fronted by two mudbrick columns covered with plaster may have been the residence of the chief priest.

Floor Map ofThe Temple of Hercules in  the Bahariya Oasis

Considerable excavation at this site will probably take place in the future, and is expected to reveal considerable information about the interaction between the Egyptian, Greek and Roman religions and rulers during this period of history.






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Last Updated: June 20th, 2011