TALL AL-FARAMĀ (PELOUSION)
|Egyptian||Pr-ỉr-Ỉmn | Pȝ-ỉ.ỉr-Ỉmn|
|English||Pelousion | Pelusium | Tell el-Farama|
|Pleiades ID||727192||PAThs ID||36|
|Modern name||Tall al-Faramā|
The site of Pelusium is situated in north-west Sinai, approximately 40km east of the Suez Canal. Located at the mouth of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, the site was host to one of Egypt’s busiest ports of the Greco-Roman period, second only to that in Alexandria (Stanley et al. 2008: 451). The site was thus both an important departure point (i.e., for expeditions to Asia), and entry point (i.e., for foreign invaders). Pelusium ‘proper’ is situated on the modern Tall al-Faramā, while the ‘Pelusium conglomerate' extends latitudinally for 4km, including Tall al-Maḫzan and Tall al-Kanāʾis to the east (Grzymski 1997). The origins of the settlement are obscure; majority of the site’s documented history dates from the Persian invasion, while the archaeological work has concentrated predominantly on the Late Roman and Byzantine material, as that is what abounds (Stanley et al. 2008: 451, 453). The site is mentioned as the bishopric of the Meletian Kallinikos from 325, with abundant remnants of Christian material culture uncovered during archaeological fieldwork (Timm 1984-1992: 296).
Prominent archaeological features include a military fort, a roman theater, a temple dedicated to Zeus-Casios, a possible hippodrome, public houses, and thermal baths, in addition to five churches (three of which comprise the vast pilgrimage complex of Tall al-Maḫzan). The Roman fort is undoubtedly the most domineering structure (Abd el-Maksoud et al. 1994; id 2001). Made of red brick, it is dated to the sixth century, with such a late date leading one to assume that the monumental structure was constructed atop of earlier deposits (Jakubiak 2019: 113). To the north of the fort, near the northern enclosure wall, is a small bath complex, presumably datable to the third century CE (Abd el-Maksoud 1984-1985; Abd el-Maksoud and Wagner 1989). The second-most dominant archaeological feature is the ‘Great Theater’, located east of the fortress. Understood to date from the second-third century CE, the structure has been the key focus of the joint Polish-Egyptian mission (Jakubiak 2008b: 224; id 2013: 570). The discovery of rubbish dumps under the theater, containing Ptolemaic ceramic, indicates that, in earlier phases of occupation, the area of the theater was outside the city limits. Deposits identified underneath the western entrance to the theater appear to belong to a bathing complex, dating from the first century CE (Jakubiak 2019: 109).
To the north and north-east of the theater are residential quarters, some of which appear to have belonged to relatively wealthy families. The most distinctive evidence for this is a house in the northern sector of the northern residential area (sector 2), which contained a decorated floor mosaic, with a terminus post quem in the first half of the fourth century (Jakubiak 2008a: 115). Retrieved from the same house were three amphora stoppers stamped with Latin inscriptions, two of which included Christograms, and a large quantity of fourth century coins (Jakubiak 2008a: 117; Jakubiak 2019: 116). The residential structures spread towards the east along two columned streets comprising the main arteries of the city, with electro resistance and magnetromic research indicating that the streets of Pelusium formed a regular Hippodamus grid plan (Jakubiak 2019: 116, 118). Underneath the city’s streets, a remarkably well-preserved sewage system was identified, the oldest parts of which are considered to date back to the Ptolemaic period (Jakubiak 2019: 110).
Additional structures of interest are located to the south-west of the Great Theater, comprising a somewhat confusing amalgam of structures, one of the earliest of which was a suburban villa, datable to the late third century, part of which seems to have operated as a monetary workshop (Bonnet et al. 2006: 372). A room belonging to this villa was transformed into an oratory in the late-fourth century, which then formed the nucleus of a monumental tetraconch church constructed in the early fifth century, with the oratory being integrated into the northern apse (Bonnet et al. 2008: 126; Bonnet et al. 2009: 142). The villa seems to have been in partial operation at the time of the church’s construction (Bonnet et al. 2009: 142). Underneath the church, a potter’s workshop datable to the fourth century was uncovered (Bonnet et al. 2009: 142). To the east of the church, a bathing complex was revealed, with associated coins ranging from the first century BCE to the fourth century CE, but the earliest phase of the baths themselves seems to be the end of the third century CE (Bonnet et al. 2008: 125). Near these baths is an additional structure suspected to have been a gymnasium, presumed to be that mentioned in a second century CE inscription re-used in the tetraconch church (Carrez-Maratray 2006; Łajtar, A. 2007; Bonnet et al. 2008: 122; Bonnet et al. 2009: 135). The initial funerary function of the church is attested to via the presence of at least four locations intended for sarcophagi, as well as a number of east-west oriented graves in the floor. This has led to the interpretation of the structure as a familial mausoleum, likely related to the owner of the earlier residential structure (Bonnet et al. 2006: 373-374, fig. 1; Bonnet et al. 2008: 126; Bonnet et al. 2009: 142). The second phase comprised a number of architectural modifications, while in the third phase, at the beginning of the sixth century, a number of chapels and two baptisteries were added (Bonnet et al. 2006: 375-376). The whole structure was destroyed in either the mid-sixth or perhaps seventh century (Bonnet et al. 2006: 376).
The western area of Pelusium has seen the least exploration. In addition to the Temple of Zeus Casios, identified by J. Clédat (Clédat 2013: 79-85), and a possible hippodrome, identified by the Canadian team (Jakubiak 2019: 111; Grzymski 1997), the area is host to a rotunda church, datable to the second half of the fifth century. Excavated in the 90s, the structure includes a crypt/martyrion, accessible via two symmetrical sets of stairs, in addition to a cruciform baptismal font (El-Taher and Grossmann 1997; Grossmann and Hafiz 2001; Grossmann 2002: 471). To the east of the possible hippodrome, an industrial quarter was identified (Abd el-Maksoud et al. 2001).
A great deal of what is known about Pelusium derives from the work conducted at Tall al-Maḫzan, a pilgrimage complex located east of Tall al-Faramā. The area includes three churches, in addition to a number of hydraulic installations in the south-west (baths and latrines) and cooking installations, all of which were intended to accommodate the visitors. The complex is constructed atop of a cemetery, indicating that the area was originally situated outside the city limits and that the burial of an important figure likely acted as the impetus for the construction of the complex. According to textual sources, the body of St. Epimachus was transferred here in the fourth century, though whether this burial acted as the original core is uncertain (Carrez-Maratray 1999: 156; Grossmann 2002: 472; Bonnet et al. 2004a: 47; Bonnet et al. 2005: 281). Work in the area began in the mid-90s under the direction of M. Abd el-Sami, whose doctoral thesis was concentrated on the central church, the large basilica (Abd el-Sami 1999).
To the north of the church, in-between it and the basilica, are numerous burials, including those of newborns and very young children interred in amphorae. All these burials were disturbed, apart from a few rare instances which contained material datable to the fourth and fifth centuries, including a fourth-century amphora used for one of the aforementioned infant interments (Bonnet and Abd el-Sami 2000: 77; Bonnet and Abd el-Sami 2003: 81; Bonnet et al. 2004a: 56, 58). Certainly not all these burials should be interpreted with relation to the churches, however, given the fact that the area operated as a cemetery in earlier periods, with Ptolemaic material also having been found (Bonnet and Abd al-Sami 2000: 69).
Large Basilica and Northern Church
The construction of the church can be understood in relation to an increase in popularity of the location as a place of pilgrimage, necessitating the expansion of the complex, in addition to the development of facilities to accommodate for the visitors (Bonnet et al. 2005: 283). These facilities included an area dedicated to the production of food stuffs (an olive press, bread ovens etc.), in addition to modifications made to the latrines, and the construction of thermal baths, much of which was concurrent with the fifth century construction of the basilica church (Bonnet and Abd el-Sami 2003: 84, 87; Bonnet et al. 2004a: 54; Bonnet et al. 2005: 286).
The third, and latest, church is situated to the north of the basilica, with an associated baptistery and burial area. Given that construction of the basilica was finalised in the sixth century, the construction of this later church (and associated northern quarter) can be situated in the second half of the sixth century, with modifications in the seventh century (Bonnet et al. 2004a: 52).
The first documented archaeological exploration of the ruins of ancient Pelusium were those of A. H. Sayce in 1887, but these results were never published (Timm 1984-1992: 932). Further exploration was conducted under the direction of Flinders Petrie (Flinders Petrie et al. 1888: 99-101), but the most substantial early exploration was that of J. Clédat in 1910 (Clédat 1913; id 1915; id 1923).
Once the Sinai was back in the possession of Egypt, work was conducted in the 1980s by M. Abd el-Maksoud, with J.-Y. Carraz-Marratray. In the early 1990s, plans for the construction of the Salam (‘Peace’) Canal necessitated the initiation of a large-scale salvage mission geared towards the collection of data from sites which would have been destroyed by the construction, and to potentially re-direct certain stretches of the canal in order to maintain the integrity of archaeological remnants. Under the aegis of the North Sinai Salvage Project, Tall al-Faramā was the largest, and most important site involved in this salvage work. As a result of its size, the various areas of the site were divided into independent concessions and allocated to teams from Egypt, Canada, Switzerland and Britain. The Western part of Pelusium was investigated by a joint Canadian-Egyptian mission, directed by K. Grzymski, which saw two seasons of work (1993-1994), with only limited output (Grzymski 1997). The southern area of the site was the concession of the British under the direction of S. Snape. Like the Canadian mission, the work was brief, with four seasons having been conducted and resulting in a limited scientific output (Snape and White 1996).
Majority of the work to have been conducted at the site was that in the east by the Swiss, who, in collaboration with the Egyptians, have concentrated on Tall al-Maḫzan (in addition to limited surveys of Tall al-Kanāʾis). Initially part of the salvage mission, in 2006 the work developed into a program titled “Farama Southeast Zone”, under the co-direction of M. Abd el-Maksoud (SCA) and Ch. Bonnet, assisted by J.-Y. Carraz-Marratray (French-Swiss). This work has been on hold since 2010.
In 2003, the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology and the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw accepted an invitation from the SCA to participate in a joint mission, which lasted until 2006 (with “at least five” seasons of excavation) (Jakubiak 2019: 109). The mission, which concentrated on the theater in the center of the settlement, developed upon the work instigated on the structure by the SCA in the 1990s (Abd el-Maksoud et al. 2003). Although the mission was collaborative, the work was structured in such a way so that the Polish and Egyptian teams worked independently. The main aim of this work was the creation of a plan for the protection and basic reconstruction of the building. The Polish team was directed by M. Gawlikowski, followed by K. Jakubiak, while the Egyptian team was directed by A. Samiya and A. Taba’i.
A number of geophysical prospections have been conducted on the site, first in the 1990s by various Egyptian universities (Ibrahim et al. 1998), followed by T. Herbich in 2008 and 2009, as part of the Polish-Egyptian mission. In 2019, an independent Egyptian archaeological mission revealed a large Greco-Roman building (c. 2500 square meters), though very limited information is available about this.
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