Theadelphia (Batn Ihrit – Khawagat)

Among the sites in the former Themistou Meris, Theadelpheia sadly exhibits best the dramatic changes which have occurred in the ancient settlements in this part of the Fayoum since the beginning of the 20th century. When Francis Kelsey visited here in spring 1920. He walked along avenues which were lined by houses still standing up to their second floors.

Theadelphia; Profs. Kelsey & Grenfell at the ruins. Egypt – Fayum, Spring 1920, Bentley Historical Library.

Today, next to nothing remains of the mud brick structures of the ancient village. On the bleak ground of the huge site some remains of the usual fired brick buildings are left, namely baths, wine production facilities, and parts of other factories. Only two high raised pillars of mostly yellowish mud brick mark the location of the Temple of Pnepheros that was excavated by Breccia in 1912-13 when it was still nearly complete.’ Nevertheless, Theadelpheia does deserve a visit; it still shows where the fired brick structures of baths and production facilities were conveniently located in the villages, and how this village was linked to its cemeteries and canals.

Description of the Site:

The site consists of two parts: the main site that was once covered by the ancient village, and, to the west of it, the cemeteries c. 500 x 650 metres (E-W). It is now surrounded by green land on all sides; very close to the north, the modern canal, the Bahr Qasr el-Banât, passes by. At the north-western corner of the site, a stretch of sandy, now humid surface extends farther to the west by 200 metres; it contains numerous graves cut into the bed rock: this is in all likelihood the Roman cemetery. This stretch of a sandy surface then widens to the west and south. Covering an area of c. 270 x 500  metres (E-W), on which a number of larger graves were cut into the bed rock, some of them built over by mud brick structures: this was probably the Ptolemaic cemetery. Further to the north the pottery indicates the remains of more Roman tombs.

El Kom El Eswed – Dark Ashes mound

The main site presents itself today as a large plain scattered here and there with holes dug by the sebakhin and with piles of pottery that seem to be in situ only in some places. Only the two pillars of yellowish mudbrick stand out just straight ahead from where the entrance now reaches the site; there are remains of a tholos-bath in the west of the pillars (Bath 1), a two storey high building with three vaults to the south-east of the pillars with a second bath in front of it (Bath 2), and four vats that were used for the fermentation of wine in the far south. Further on to the south- east of Bath 2, a dark hill of very hard ashes overlooks the site. From here, the best view is taken over the whole extent of the former village and its adjoining cemeteries to the west.

Walking around the site, one finds some well-preserved millstones, parts of what once were small bath houses (pebbled floors with single hip-baths), single small vats the use of which is not clear, and possible fragments of columns and statues. Of the former distinct decoration of houses in this village, still seen by O. Rubensohn in 1902, or of the numerous temples that are attested in the papyri, hardly anything remains. Completely gone is the temple recorded by Grenfell and Hunt in 1899, as well as the Temple of Pnepheros excavated by Breccia in 1912/13, except for the two high pillars in the middle of the site. When the old canals were reactivated at the end of the 19th century, Theadelpheia was the western outpost of the newly created fields, and perhaps therefore suffered more from the sebakhin than Philoteris and Dionysias, which are situated downstream. Theadelpheia’s poor condition is shared by that of Euhemeria, only 3.5 km down the canal. The Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

The Architectural Remains still Standing on the Site (from North to South) a) The two high mud brick pillars, belonging to the Temple of Pnepheros Approaching the site from Euhemeria, one observes the two high pillars first. They stand between Baths I and 2. Today, the eastern pillar still reaches a hight of 6 metres, while the western one has been reduced recently to mere 3  metres. Both pillars are made of mud bricks of a yellowish colour with much straw mixed in.” In the lower registers, dark and yellow mud bricks, it is highly probable that these are remains of the Temple of Pnepheros, which together with its dromos once formed the main middle axe of the village. The two pillars may fit into the inner sanctuary of Breccia’s plan of the temple, east of the “vestibule”.

Remains of the Bathhouses:

The Two Tholos-Baths at Theadelpheia. The two baths are located at the western (Bath 1) and eastern (Bath 2) original fringes respectively in the northern part of the village. The fringe location is a resuming pattern in the Graeco-Roman villages in the Fayoum and elsewhere.” This bath was located at what was the western edge of the ancient village in its beginning and is clearly visible when one enters the site from the main northern entrance at the canal.

Theadelpheia Mysterious Building?!

The most prominent building in Theadelpheia is a construction of fired bricks with three vaults and still standing to a height of more than three meters: it is situated on the eastern edge of the site, about 180 m to the south-east of Bath: 1. S. Yeivin considered this building to be part of a bathing facility, without giving any further interpretation regarding in what way it might have been used.” The building consists of a row of three vaults, under each of which a reservoir is due to a depth of about one metre into the ground. On top of the building, three flat reservoirs are connected to each other by Small openings in the dividing walls. Two of the ground floor reservoirs are square and located side by side, while the third one is larger and projects beyond the westem outline of the building the vault covers only two thirds of this third container, thus leaving the eastern corner uncovered. About 10 m to the west of this building we discovered a tholos with hip-baths, of which we were then allowed to clear a small area. About 10 m to the south of this tholos, there are remains of four single immersion bathtubs. There is no doubt that this once was an extensive bathing facility, probably larger than Bath I on the western edge of the village.

The building with three vaults in Theadelpheia is made of solid fired bricks and entirely plas- tered with opus signinum and therefore clearly dates to the Roman period. The tholos with hip- bathtubs was certainly earlier.

The Wine Vats:

The fermentation vats are situated at the south-eastern fringe of the village. The four vats are grouped in pairs: each two vats stand side by side at a distance of 80 cm from each other, one being set back against the other by 80 cm. The distance between the two groups is c. 25 m. All four are of the same make and seem to have formed one large facility at the time of their use (this does not necessarily mean that the two groups were physically connected with each other at that time.

The dating of these impressive structures – seems to be of the kind used in the Roman period. Whether the shell of the building might be older is impossible to say; similar examples of wine production are equally difficult to date, but there is no doubt that wine consumption in the diet of people living in Egypt increased in the Roman period and later, when most of the preserved examples were presumably built. In the four vats at Theadelpheia, a considerable amount of wine could be produced. Whether the vats were filled only in the lower, round parts, or filled up to the rim, also in the upper square part, must remain open. The four vats combined may have held 100 hl wine and more in one fermentation process. Considering the amounts of wine distributed by the Appianus Estate, these vats may have been well involved in that process. In AD 253 the pressing of c. 112 hl of wine is reported in SB XIV 12054; this papyrus belongs to the Heroninus Archive (Archive No. 7  below), and refers to 14  of the altogether 20  vineyards owned by the Appianus Estate in Theadelpheia. Perhaps those large amounts of that year were dealt within the four vats still standing at the southern edge of the former village, while the harvest of the remaining vineyards might have been processed in the other wineries that are partly preserved on the site.

Text: C.E. Romer, The Fayoum Survey Project,  the Themistou Meris, Volume A, 2019

Theadelpheia can be accessed from the village of Khawagat. A toktok ride from Batn Ihrit Village to Khawagat village is a pleasant one. The site is known among the locals as (Al Kom El Eswed – the Dark Ashes Mound). Visiting the site with a local guide is preferable.

Explore Theadelpheia with Fayoumer!

As to provide the Fayoum visitors with an ultimate Fayoum experience. Explore Fayoum founder, Mahmoud a.k.a Fayoumer, a local guide and a researcher based in Fayoum Governorate will take you on curated tours to explore fabulous Fayoum in different thematic itineraries to ensure an ultimate Fayoum experience. He will share with you his knowledge of the area and his interesting Fayoum stories. More Info

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