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Place names
Arabicجبانة البجوات
EnglishAl-Bagawat | Bagawat | al-Qabwat
FrenchBagawât | el-Bagaouat | el-Bagawât | el-Baqawat | Gabâouet | Ghabaouet
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Site information
DEChriM ID15
Trismegistos GeoID2739
Pleiades ID776156
PAThs ID115
Ancient name-
Modern nameal-Baǧawāt
Date from-
Date to-
Dating criteria-

The necropolis of al-Baǧawāt, located on the Ǧabal al-Ṭayr plateau, is a cemetery of considerable proportions. Spread over an area roughly 500 by 200 meters, there are some 263 chapels extant and an abundance of pit burials (Lythgoe 1908b: 203; Fakhry 1951: 9). Excavations of the cemetery began in 1909, led by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) under H. E. Winlock, following on from initial fieldwork initiated in 1908, which investigated select areas of ʿAyn al-Ṭurba and Hibis Temple, both of which are located a few hundred meters south of the cemetery. These expeditions were said to have occurred annually until 1914, when the First World War broke out. Investigations commenced again in 1926, but only lasted one season. Excavations resumed again in 1931 under Walter Hauser, which similarly only lasted a single season. Hauser published the findings from 1931 the following year, which is one of the very limited number of publications from these early investigations.

The cemetery is understood to have originally served a predominantly pagan community, perhaps some time in the third century, before being modified to suit a Christian population (Hauser 1932: 50; Fakhry 1951: 2). This is particularly evident in relation to the largest structure, that of a triple-naved church denoted mausoleum no. 180 (Fakhry 1951: 9; Hauser 1932: 40). This church was originally a ‘pagan’ mausoleum that subsequently underwent a number of architectural modifications in order to create a more appropriate space of worship for the community (Grossmann 1989: 1899; Ghica 2012: 221). While this is the only church in the necropolis, a number of the chapels contain apses and appear to have been places where funerary rites were conducted (Fakhry 1951: 9).  

The significance of the site derives from its size and its incredible state of preservation. Both of these factors provide great insight into developments in early Christian architecture and art (Ghica 2012: 221). Alongside the preservation of architectural remains, a number of extraordinary paintings have been preserved; of note are the works located in the “Chapel of Peace” and the “Chapel of Exodus”, so called because of motifs included in the artworks (Lythgoe 1908a: 86; Lythgoe 1908b: 206; Wagner 1987: 362). The “Chapel of Exodus”, chapel no. 30, belongs to the oldest architectural type and was considered by Fakhry to be one of the earliest chapels in the necropolis, dating to the first half of the fourth century (Fakhry 1951: 39). Aptly named, the scenes depicted include representations of the story of Exodus in the Old testament. The “Chapel of Peace”, chapel no. 80, is located in the southern end of the necropolis. Again, this chapel contains depictions of biblical scenes, realised in a distinctly more skilled hand (Wilkinson 1928: 30; Fakhry 1951: 67). The preservation of these works is particularly useful in relation to understanding the developments in iconographic motifs in early Christian art (Roquet 1976: 34).

These unique artworks are accompanied by a great deal of graffiti and dipinti of visitors as well as ‘original’ texts, the latter of which include a number of liturgical fragments. Surprisingly, it was not until 1976 that a systematic study of these graffiti was first undertaken, with the Coptic texts being studied by G. Roquet and V. Ghica (publication forthcoming), and the Greek ones being published by Guy Wagner (Roquet 1976; Wagner 1987: 62-76). The information provided by this body of texts is remarkably illuminating, with some authors even including the month and date of their visit (Roquet 1976: 28, 30). Additionally, we are able to speculate about the chronology of a number of the chapels based on the name of an artist who signed his work after completion (Roquet 1976: 31; Bag. 31.92).

The proximity and similarities of material findings to those from ʿAyn al-Ṭurba, an area of the ancient city of Hibis, indicate that the necropolis of al-Baǧawāt and ʿAyn al-Ṭurba were, at least partly, contemporaneous, with al-Baǧawāt serving as the main burial ground for the inhabitants (Hauser 1932: 38). This material includes an abundance of unique glass fragments, the documentation of which was first reappraised in 1989 by Marsha Hill (Hill 1989). A number of glass types found at ʿAyn al-Ṭurba date from the third to fourth centuries, with a selection of other glass finds corresponding typologically to that from one of the funerary chapels at al-Baǧawāt, the find spot of which is considered a closed context, and has been dated to the mid 4th to early 5th centuries (Hill & Nenna 2003: 88, 91). Viewing all of this material in conjunction strongly attests to the presence of a wealthy Christian community as early as the first third of the fourth century (Bagnall & Tallet 2015: 176).

Archaeological research

The first excavatory work was initiated in 1907 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA), under the directorship of H. E. Winlock. This work was conducted annually until 1910 when an epidemic of malaria brought excavation work in the oasis to a halt for some 20 years, though A. Fakhry mentions that some members of the team continued to visit Kharga annually until the outbreak of the First World War (Fakhry 1951: 5). Official activity of the MMA was resumed in 1926 until 1931, under the directorship of W. Hauser (Kajitani 2006: 95-96, n. 3). A. Fakhry published a monograph in 1951 in an attempt to garner the attention of international scholars so more thorough work could be carried out on the seemingly ignored site, though to little avail. Systematic investigation of the Coptic graffiti began in 1976, undertaken by Gérard Roquet, with Guy Wagner publishing the Greek graffiti in 1987. Additional epigraphic and topographic fieldwork was carried out by Victor Ghica in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. A volume comprising the edition of the Coptic graffiti is awaiting publication, co-authored by Gérard Roquet and Victor Ghica.

In the 1980s, the local inspectorate carried out several field seasons geared towards the clearing of pit graves located in two areas of the cemetery: in the west, between A. Fakhry's rest house and the mausoleum no. 25, to the west, and the “Chapel of Peace” (no. 80), to the north; in the north, to the northeast of the “Chapel of Exodus” (no. 30).

DEChriM conducted a brief season of fieldwork in October/November 2021, centred on documenting the Christian decoration of the chapels.


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Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica, 2020
Suggested citation
Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica, 2020, "al-Baǧawāt", 4CARE database - Fourth-Century Christian Archaeological Record of Egypt,
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