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Place names
EgyptianḪnty-Mỉn | Šmn | Ỉpw
GreekΠανὸς πόλις | Χεμμις
Coptic¥min | a¥min | e¥min | yhin | ymin
FrenchAkhmîm | Achmim
Site map
Site information
DEChriM ID25
Trismegistos GeoID1589
Pleiades ID756613
PAThs ID24
Ancient namePanopolis
Modern nameAḫmīm
Date from-
Date to-
Dating criteria-

The site of Aḫmīm, ancient Panopolis, is c. 350km south of Cairo. From the Roman period onwards, the Panopolite nome was subdivided into six sub-districts (toparchies), with the area of Min-Gaus extending over both banks of the Nile, the two most important urban centers being Aḫmīm on the east bank, and Athribis on the west (El-Sayed et al. 2021: 15). Capital of the 9th nome of Upper Egypt, the city has seen an extensive history of occupation, with a large township having been established from at least the Old Kingdom (Kuhlmann 1983: 5). The area of inhabitation has not particularly interested archaeologists, rather it is the numerous cemeteries that served the city that have captured their attention. The use of these burial grounds span from the predynastic period, until the c. ninth century (with at least one item dated to the tenth century CE), with majority of the burials belonging to the Greco-Roman period (Forrer 1895a: 58; Kulhmann 1983: 50). From north to south, the cemeteries on the west bank comprise al-Haǧarsa, Athribis, al-Dayr al-Abyaḍ, Awlād ʿAzzāz and al-Ǧuhayna, and on the east bank Ǧabal Harīdī, Nagʿ al-Kulaybāt, al-Sawāmiʿa, al-Salāmūnī (‘Necropolis C’), al-Ḥawāwīš (‘Necropolis A’), Bayt al-Madīna, or simply ‘Madīna’ (‘Necropolis B’), and the urban Necropolis D on the north-eastern outskirts of Aḫmīm (El-Sayed et al. 2021: 126-127, 129). The main cemeteries, and those which will be the focus here, are A, B and C. The vastness of the site, and the rather non-methodological approaches of the earliest excavators, have resulted in a great deal of uncertainty with regards to which of the cemeteries the masses of material derive, heavily impacting the scientific value of many objects as well as our understandings of the site itself (Kulhmann 1983: 52; Depauw 2002; El-Sayed 2018; El Sayed et al. 2016). This messiness of excavations in addition to the sheer number of them conducted means that compiling a summary work was a daunting task but was made possible largely thanks to the clarifying summaries offered by K. P. Kuhlmann, which remain the most comprehensive synopses for the funerary areas (i.e., Kuhlmann 1983).

Necropolis A (near al-Ḥawāwīš)
This cemetery, denoted ‘Necropolis A’ by Kuhlmann, is the most renowned of all the burial areas associated with Aḫmīm, and it is from here that many of the famous Coptic textiles derive (i.e., Forrer 1883; see also Kuhlmann 1983: pl. 19-21), in addition to majority of the finds from Aḫmīm, including numerous hieroglyphic stelae of the Greco-Roman period and hundreds of mummies (Kulhmann 1983: 52, 62). The cemetery is located on a low hill east of the village of al-Ḥawāwīš on the east bank of the Nile and includes three Coptic monasteries, Dayr al-Qiblī, Dayr al-Wasṭānī and Dayr al-Bahrī. Though important testaments of the Christianisation of Aḫmīm, these monasteries will not be discussed here. The cemetery contains numerous Neolithic burials from the Naqada period, with continuous use from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom, followed by use during the Greco-Roman epoch, where most remains date from, extending into the Byzantine period (Farouk 2020: 5). This extended, and consistent, history of use is further exemplified by the interment of individuals one, or several, on top of another (Forrer 1883: 11). Many corpses were buried in fine textiles, including socks, in addition to inscribed tablets and tools relevant to the former occupation of the deceased (Forrer 1883: 11; id 1893a: 10, 16). Included in this cemetery is an area seemingly dedicated exclusively, or predominantly, to the interment of children, dating from Pharaonic to the Roman period, while in the ‘Christian’ areas, children and adults were mixed (Kulhmann 1983: 60). These ‘Christian’ areas are understood to be the burial areas in the immediate vicinity of the monasteries (Forrer 1895a: 34; Maspero 1887: 210; von Bissing 1946/7: 1; id 1950: 555; Kuhlmann 1983: 55, 60).

Necropolis B (Bayt al-Madīna)
The second main cemetery, Cemetery B, has been a cause for some confusion. Known as Bayt al-Madīna by the local inhabitants, or simply Madīna, it has been regularly misunderstood as the cemetery near al-Ḥawāwīš (i.e., Necropolis A), with the tombs here denoted “the rock tombs of el-Ḥawāwīš” by N. Kanawati, being listed as such in the Lexikon der Ägyptologie (Kuhlmann 1983: 52, 53; El-Sayed et al 2021: 119 fig. 3a shows Necropolis B labelled as “Cemetery of El-Hawawish”). In reality, this cemetery is situated 2km east of Necropolis A. Masses of wooden coffins originated in this cemetery, the dating of which is contested, as is the case with the dating of the tombs themselves (Kuhlmann 1983: 64). Also located within this cemetery are several mortuary temples, one of which (Complex 19) is understood to have been dedicated to Pepis I or II, that is, sixth dynasty (Kuhlmann 1983: 67).

Necropolis C (al-Salāmūnī)
The third necropolis of the site is Necropolis C, also known as al-Salāmūnī, situated to the north of the town (Kuhlmann 1983: pl. 27-38). Perhaps the least well known of the three ‘main’ necropoleis, the area has seen comparatively limited systematic archaeological work, though it has been equally plundered. Notable features of this cemetery include several Zodiac representations as well as the apparent secondary occupation of several tombs, understood to have been occupied by anchorites (Kuhlmann 1983: 79). New Kingdom burials are not yet proven in this cemetery, and Middle Kingdom burials are not likely to have occurred on a large scale; most graves appear to date to the late second/early third centuries BCE based on the Hellenistic decorative elements and the Zodiac representations (Kuhlmann 1983: 80, 83). There is also a quarry located in this cemetery and the temple of Eje (Kuhlmann 1983: 53, 86).

Christianity flourished in Aḫmīm with institutions present already prior to the reign of Constantine. In an early fourth century building register, six deacons are listed as owning houses, while one of these houses listed was rebuilt into a church (Geens 2007: 397-398, n. 2309). The earliest bishop, Artemidoros, is attested to in 335 CE via his attendance of the Council of Tyr (Geens 2007: 396). The Christian community was vibrant from an early date, and Christians were undoubtedly buried in these cemeteries. Despite the methodological limitations that come with any attempt to equate funerary material with religious affiliation, there are numerous instances where Christianness is explicit. This includes crosses, often in the form of jewelry (Forrer 1883: pl. I, fig. 1, 8 and 19; pl. XIV fig. 14, 15 and 16), as well as scenes of the crucifixion (id: pl. XIV fig. 8) and other miscellaneous figures (pl. VIII fig. 17; pl. XIV fig. 1; pl. XV fig. 10) depicted on textiles, as well as Menas flasks (Forrer 1893a: 11, pl. 1 figs. 2 and 3) and liturgical artefacts (id: 15, pl. VII). Given that majority of the work was conducted in Necropolises A and B (predominantly the former), it is relatively safe to say that this is where much of the Christian material likely derives, though, of course, for most artefacts we can never be certain. Thousands of mummy labels, several of which are explicitly Christian, are relatively safely attributed to the cemeteries on the western bank, specifically the cemetery of Athribis (Forrer 1895a: 59-61).

In addition to the renowned Christian funerary material deriving from Aḫmīm, a great majority of the attestations of the Christianness of the region are present in the remnants of monasticism, both formal and informal. Alongside the famed monasteries of Pachomius and Shenoute, situated on the east and west banks respectively, were numerous smaller-scale monastic communities, in addition to innumerable anchoritic communities established in the rock-cut tombs of the various burial areas, as can be seen at Ǧabal Harīdī and Necropolis C (al-Salāmūnī) on the east bank, and al-Haǧarsa, Awlād ʿAzzāz and Athribis on the west bank (Geens 2007: 398-400, 421-424; El-Sayed, et al 2021: 84-89).

Archaeological research

A remarkable sum of archaeological work has been conducted at Aḫmīm. The vastness of the archaeological area has meant that it has understandably been divided into smaller sites, with archaeological teams concentrating on specific sectors within the greater area of Aḫmīm (referred to by their individual name, rather than ‘Aḫmīm’). This work has varied in quality and quantity between the different areas. Though it has come to be the case that certain teams concentrate on specific areas, the earliest excavators approached the material rather haphazardly, unsystematically digging into numerous areas. This is an attempt at summarizing the fieldword undertaken by the main excavators and teams in the region of Aḫmīm, with specific focus on Necropolises A, B and C.

Necropolis A
The cemetery near al-Ḥawāwīš (Necropolis A) was first mentioned by P. Lucas, who visited in 1699 and again in 1703. This was then accompanied by visits from Pococke, Saint-Génis, W. G. Browne, B. De Cadalvene and De Breuvery, as well as L’Hôte. The latter provided brief descriptions and was the last to visit for almost half a century. The cemetery was then visited by R. Forrer in the early 1880s, then by G. Maspero, who conducted excavations between 1884-1888, though he never published his finds. Coptologist K. Schmidt investigated the necropolis in January of 1896 (El-Sayed et al. 2021: 130). Due to the duration of use of the site and excessive looting, material from some of the oldest and some of the newest graves often became co-mingled leading to various misunderstandings regarding the origin and dating of certain objects (Forrer 1895: 41). K. P. Kuhlmann studied the area in 1981-2, followed by the Inspectorate of Antiquities of Sūhāǧ, who sounded the cemetery in 1985 and then again from 1989 to 1999 (Farouk 2020: 6).

Necropolis B
The oldest clearly identifiable mention of necropolis B was by Saint-Génis in 1792 (Kuhlmann 1983: 63). The tombs were rediscovered by E. Schiaparelli in 1885, and in 1888 saw a brief campaign lasting a single season, directed by Maspero, after four years excavating in Necropolis A (Kuhlmann 1983: 55). The site was explored by Wilbour, Bouriant and Browne (Kuhlmann 1983: 50). Later, in 1912, the cemetery was visited by P. Newberry, who provided a brief description of the rock-cut tombs (Newberry 1912; Kuhlmann 1983: 55, 63). The cemetery has been extensively excavated and systematically recorded by the Australian Centre for Egyptology, under the direction of N. Kanawati, since 1979, with this mission also extending work to include al-Haǧarsa, one of the burial areas on the west bank (Kanawati 1980-2010; El-Sayed, et al. 2021: 116).

Necropolis C
The cemetery of al-Salāmūnī (Necropolis C) was first described by Pococke, and then visited by Saint-Génis (Kuhlmann 1983: 71-72). It was first excavated by N. L’Hôte in 1839, followed by visits by Lepsius between 1843 and 1845 and Wilbour in 1881 (Kuhlmann 1983: 73). The site was described in detail by F. E. von Bissing, who also conducted excavations in 1914 (Bissing 1946/7: 11; Kuhlmann 1983: 71-72; El-Sayed et al. 2021: 142). In 1952, Nims recorded zodiac representations in several tombs (Kuhlmann 1983: 74 n. 376). From 1977 to 1981, the German Archaeological Institute explored the necropolis and the rock-temple of Eje (Farouk 2020: 6; El-Sayed et al. 2021: 142).

Other Areas
Naǧʿ al-Kulaybāt saw a brief four-day campaign in 1906, directed by Tewfik Boulos, the chief antiquities inspector for Abydos, resulting in the publication of a three-page report indicating that the material chiefly derived from 18th Dynasty burials (Boulos 1906; El-Sayed et al. 2021: 122).

Al-Sawāmiʿa was briefly explored in 1914 by a mission of the American department of the Egypt Exploration Society, directed by T. Whittemore and G. A. Wainwright, with 161 graves examined revealing material dating from the 17th and 18th Dynasties, with possible presence of predynastic burials as well (Whittemore 1914; El-Sayed et al. 2021: 122).

The cemetery of Athribis or Tripheion, on the west bank of the Nile near the temple of Athribis, was excavated by N. L’Hôte in 1839, followed by Lepsius, resulting in the retrieval of thousands of mummy labels, which were obtained by Bouriant, Schmidt and Forrer in the late 19th century. Petrie conducted excavations here in 1908, followed by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation in 1981-5 (Farouk 2020: 5; El-Sayed 2021: 142).

The mortuary area of Awlād ʿAzzāz, situated on the west bank, was investigated by B. Ockinga from 1988 to 1990 (El-Sayed et al. 2021: 123-124).

An American mission, directed by S. McNally of the University of Minnesota, was initiated in 1978 (‘The Minnesota Akhmim Project’). The excavations, of which there were three seasons (1978, 1981 and 1982) were conducted in a number of area in the modern city. The mission was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, private donations and by grants from the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota and the University Computer Center (See: McNally 1978/1979; id 1981/1982; McNally and Dvorzak Schrunk; McNally and Walsh 1984). This was some of the only work to have been conducted in the residential area of the town, with other work including that of the SCA. Occurring from 1979 until 2003, this work was directed by El-Masry who, in 1981, initiated a joint project with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Abteilung Kairo (DAIK) dedicated to the archaeological study of Athribis. This joint Egyptian-German project ceased in 2002 (El-Sayed et al. 2021: 142-143).

In 2015, a chapel dedicated to the god Atum was found during illegal excavations beneath a local house. The chapel is understood to date from the late Ptolemaic or early Roman Period. The exact location of this is unclear but it is said to have been in the ancient city (Nasser et. al. 2020: 3).

In 2012, R. El-Sayed initiated the multidisciplinary research project ‘The Archaeology of Religious Change. The Cultic Topography of the AkhmÎm District (Upper Egypt) in Late Antiquity’, based at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and funded by Dilthey-Fellowship 2012-2017 by Volkswagenstifftung. Utilising the masses of archaeological material deriving from the site and associated archival material, the project was developed to study the archaeology of religious change and to develop upon understandings of agents of religious change in antiquity. This information, comprising archaeological finds, photographs, maps, plans and associated texts (including travelogues and archaeological reports), was intended to be accessible in the form of a database. As of yet, however, its publication is yet to be finalised (El Sayed et al. 2016; El-Sayed, in-press; Wegener, in press; Hussein-Yosef, in press). Until the database is made public, Kuhlmann’s publications remain the best summary works providing comprehensive overviews of the site of Aḫmīm and the archaeological work that has been conducted there, alongside the newly published exhibition catalogue of the Staatliche Museeun zu Berlin (El-Sayed et al. 2021).


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Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica, 2021
Suggested citation
Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica, 2021, "Aḫmīm", 4CARE database - Fourth-Century Christian Archaeological Record of Egypt,
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