Bakchias (meris of Herakleides)
Bakchias was identified by Grenfell and Hunt with the northern kôm of Umm el-cAtl, on the old Bahr Wardan, near the modern village of Gorein, on the basis of papyri found on the site. The ruins are about 7.5 km north-east of Tamia and 9 km south of Karanis. The southern mound does not seem to have been inhabited before the Arab period. Our information on the village is based (1) on excavations, those of Grenfell and Hunt and the ongoing work by an Italian team, (2) on papyri found in situ and (3) on papyri, found elsewhere, but mentioning the village.
Grenfell and Hunt started their work in the Fayum in the winter of 1895-1896 in Umm el- cAtl, which "owing to its distance from cultivated land had not been much disturbed" (P.Fay., p.20). But the village was reasonably well preserved and clearly the plan of the settlement was dominated by the central temple. "On three sides the houses approach the temple walls, but on the east, where is the portal of the sacred building, lies a considerable open space, which may safely be assumed to have been the agora. The best-built parts of the town lie north-west of the temple, both on the lower ground and on the southern face of the high ridge, which, divided only by one pass taken by the desert road, skirts the north of the mound" (p.36). Even today the archaeological area covers about 150.000 square meters.
The village was spread more or less over the whole mound, though houses clustered more thickly on the highest parts to the north. Grenfell and Hunt estimate that it cannot have contained more than 700 houses and some 3000 inhabitants as its maximum population. The houses are built of mud brick, lacking even the stone doorways common in Karanis. Since, however, their excavations were mainly directed at finding papyri in places that had not been searched before, they hardly investigated the southern slope nor the steep northern slope. The section lying north-east of the temple and containing some of the best built houses had been explored by the Greek from Senurês and was therefore also left unsearched.
Because the mud bricks of the walls had been reused for modern villages, quite often only the substructures of the houses was all that remained. These cellars were"excavated out of the hard gebel, without doors opening to the street, being entered instead by stairways, of which we found man examples. These stairs are constructed in two or three flights round a buttress of brick-work, and conduct to subterranean vaults unnder a roof supported on rough stakes and thatched over" (p.39). The houses seem to have consisted of three to six small rooms, of which one opened straight on to the street, with no particular plan. Several small chambers with mud brick floors on the steep outer slope on the west and north were probably store-rooms. Under the floor of one of these was found three large amphorae with more 4421 Roman billon tetradrachms, ranging from Claudius to 164-165 AD (Noeske 2006, 281-288).
Most houses were thoroughly plundered, but some household furniture had remained in place : remains of wooden beds and tables (one with beautifully carved legs in acacia woord, representing coursing greyhounds), fragments of stone tables on four feet, sometimes adorned with a lion's head in relief, probably stands for water-jars; wooden bowls, hair-combs, blank and unwaxed writing tablets and stili and a few woorden stamps, toilet implements and dice in bone, baskets, shoe-soles, ropes and pins for loading pack-animals, beads in glass and paste etc.
According to Davoli 2005,222 the orientation of the buildings was different in the prehellenistic period and was adapted to the newly built temples, with their dromoi, in the third cent. BC.
Papyri found in situ
As regards to papyri, Umm el- cAtl was not very productive. There was no cemetery with mummy cartonnage, and it yielded only a single inscription (SEG 26 [1976/77]. 1718; first century AD), which is, however, provenanced by the divine name Sykykynis, not by archaeological data. Though according to Grenfell and Hunt as far as papyri were concerned Bakchias was "the poorest of the Fayum sites art which we dug on an extensive scale", they publish and describe 87 documentary and 11 literary texts found at the site.
The name Bakchias is clearly derived from Bakchos, one of the names of Dionysos, who was particularly venerated by the Ptolemies. Most village names in -as, derived from divine names, correspond to Alexandrian demes (e.g. Hephaistias), but a deme Bakchieus is thus far not attested. As shown by Yoyotte 1962b, pp.116-119 the old Egyptian name of the site Genout, is preserved in the divine epithet of Soka-nob-koneus , Sok-no-koneus and in the geographcial procession texts on the walls of some temples, of which the oldest dates from the 19th dynasty. Thus far the name has not appeared in demotic documents.
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Bakchias is archaeologically identified. It had particularly close links with Hephaistias
A settlement of Greek cavalrymen is attested as early as 250. They were headed by the epistates Neon, who acts as a kind of mediator in a case of a stolen pig. Several of these kleroi are leased by Zenon (P.Cairo Zen. III 59325) in 250. A generation later Lachares and his son Alexandros, two soldiers from Asia, lease their kleroi to a priest of Soknokonis, but then withdraw from the lease just before harvest.
In 250 BC grain taxes paid for Bakchias amount to 19,686 artabas of wheat and 1,289 artabas of lentils (P.Hib. II 212). At a rate of 4 artabas per aroura, this would amount to an agricultural area of 4,000 arouras. A similar hight amount in a recently published text from Michigan is more difficult to interpret (see Clarysse-Muller 2004).
Grenfell and Hunt (pp.36-38) give a full description of the temple, which dominated the village. Their plan is reproduced here. The temple measures 41 x 26 m and is oriented roughly east-west. It is built of unusually large mud bricks (38 x 15 x 12 cm), well laid, and the outer walls are uniformly 3 m thick. At that time they stood up to 3.5 m high, though nothing was left of the roof, so that it is uncertain if there ever was a second story. Stairs were found only in a single room and several rooms did not even have a doorway. Though the temple had been searched before their arrival by "a Senurês Greek", it had not been used as a dwelling-place and was not completely plundered, so that quite a few ancient objects and also papyri survived. The portal a had a stone foundation and a double door, for a large block of the central post still survived in situ. The hall A was filled with Arab rubbish on a rough stone pavement; pieces of pal-wood beams survived. In the central room even two oracle questions were found, yielding the names of the gods worshipped in the temple (see religion). The walls of the naos, which were preserved to a height of 4 m., were still plastered with fine stucco. In the western side-chamber D were found some pieces of Ptolemaic papyrus cartonnage, a bronze bell, fragments of amphorae with handle-stamps in Latin and a broken wooden shrine with bronze fittings. Ptolemaic papyrus fragments were also found in rooms E, F and I. A late Ptolemaic demotic roll was found in room S, scraps of Roman papyri in hall A and in rooms Z and Y (click here for a plan).
In the last ten years Italian excavations on the site have shown that there were at least three temples, two built in mud bricks (temple A is the one found by Grenfell and Hunt) of the Ptolemaic period, with later Roman additions, and one in sandstone of the Roman period (temple C), wich was built at right angles to temple A, so that the two gateways were joined. By that time the smaller temple B was apparently abandoned [Davoli 2005,218-224].
The temples were dedicated to two crocodile gods, Soknobkonneus and Soknobraisis, Greek transcriptions of Sbk nb Gnwt "Sobek lord of Bakchias" and Sbk nb r3-Hs3 "Sobek lord with the terrible mouth" respectively (Yoyotte 1962b, 117-119 and 133-134). Soknokonnis is attested from the Ptolemaic period onwards, Soknobraisis only in the Roman period. An oracle question (P.Fay. 137) found in the temple is directed to the "lords Dioskouroi". In Greek mythology the two sons of Zeus are of course Kastor and Pollyx, but in Egypt the name is an interpretatio graeca of two crocodile gods (Quaegebeur 1992, 265-272). In BGU I 248 Chairemon, gymnasiarch in Arsinoe and land-owner in Hephaistias, swears in a letter "by the Dioskouroi, which both of us venerate". This private letter of the late first century AD is the earliest witness of the crocodile brothers in Bakchias.
BGU XIII 2215 mentions "2 temples (ἱερά) in Bakchias for Soknebresis [and So]kanebkeneus and their synnaoi theoi" and some of the temple inventories also make mention of temples in the plural (SB VI 9337, nazien 9327 nazien and P.Turner 27). The two temples, no doubt A and C, were separate buildings, joined at their entrance. Some other gods were worshipped along the crocodile gods, such as Isis and Boubastis (P.Fouad 14; SB VI 9338; perhaps SB VI 9333, cf. Andrén 1947, 166) and Pnepheros (SB 000). Ammon apparently had a separate temple in the village (P.Lund IV 1).
Some detailed information on the priesthood and of the equipment of the twin temple is preserved in a temple archive, consisting of more than thirty texts of the second cent. AD (temple of Soknobraisis). In AD 113/114 the personnel of the double temple, priests and pastophoroi counted together, amounted to 61 persons, compared to 80 in Tebtynis and 104 in Karanis (BGU XIII 2215).
From an administrative point of view Bakchias dominated nearby Hephaistias. In the Roman period nearly all taxes, both those in money and in kind, are levied by officials of a single administrative entity called Bakchias-Hephaistias, as was shown by Nachtergael 2000.
In the Ptolemaic period Bakchias also seems to have had a leading position vis-à-vis Karanis. This is completely changed in the Roman period, when Karanis is clearly the more important village.