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Egyptian – Greek relations at Daphnae (Nile Delta)

Gold figure of the god Ra

Project leader: Jeffrey Spencer

Department: Ancient Egypt and Sudan


Project start: April 2008
Project end: March 2011

Other British Museum staff: François Leclère, Alexandra Villing

Other departments: Greece and Rome

Project funded by:
The Leverhulme Trust
The British Museum

External partners: Supreme Council for Antiquities of Egypt

Description:

View of the site of Daphnae

This project has examined evidence for interaction between Egyptian and Greek cultures in the Nile Delta of Egypt from the seventh to fifth centuries BC through a reappraisal of the antiquities from the site of ancient Daphnae, now called Tell Dafana. This was a garrison town guarding the Pelusiac branch of the Nile and controlling traffic into the heart of the Delta. The site was first excavated for the Egypt Exploration Society in 1885-6 by Flinders Petrie, who identified it as a camp for Greek mercenaries employed by the Egyptian king Psamtik I (664-610 BC). Our research, however, indicates that the site was probably a temple-town of Egyptian design. Petrie recovered many objects including some fine Greek pottery, but the majority of the items were of Egyptian manufacture. The objects, many of which are in the British Museum, have been the subject of detailed study over the three years of the project. The predominance of Egyptian material suggests that the Greek pottery may have been an individual gift, presented to the local temple, rather than evidence for prolonged Greek settlement at the site.

Alongside the examination of the objects and pottery, new excavation has been carried out at Daphnae by Egyptian colleagues. This work has confirmed the presence of the temple in the middle of the town, surrounded by storerooms and a huge enclosure wall. The design of this building is once again entirely Egyptian. It would seem that Daphnae is to be interpreted as an Egyptian frontier town, with some limited and perhaps transitory contact with the Greek world. Although this contact may have been from the presence of Greek mercenaries in the service of the Pharaoh, there is no evidence for a permanent camp for these troops, as suggested by Petrie. More probably they would have passed through Daphnae on occasion, as Greek troops were regularly employed in the Egyptian military at the period. The limited quantity of Greek pottery and absence of other types of Greek antiquities at the site contrasts sharply with material from the Greek trading centre of Naukratis, also in the Nile Delta, where a Greek presence was much more substantial.

Further information:

Publications:

F. Leclère, 'Daphnae des Palus', in Les villes de Basse Égypte au Ier mill. av. J.-C. Analyse historique et archéologique de la topographie urbaine, Bibliotheque d’Études 144/2, Institut francais d'archéologie orientale (Cairo, 2008), p. 507-540.

F. Leclère, 'An Egyptian Temple at Tell Dafana?' in Egyptian Archaeology 30 (Spring 2007), 14-17.

A. Villing and U. Schlotzhauer, Naukratis: Greek Diversity in Egypt. Studies on East Greek pottery and Exchange in the Eastern Mediterranean, (London, British Museum Research Publication no. 162. 2006)

W.M.F. Petrie, TanisII, Nebesheh (Am) and Defenneh (Tahpanhes), (London, Egypt Exploration Fund, 1888)


Images (from top):

  • Gold figure of the god Ra, contained in a bronze shrine. After 600 BC. AES 38005.

  • Image 02: View of the site of Daphnae, with mounds marking the location of the archaeological site.

  • Image 03: The mound of the so-called "fort" excavated in the 1880s.