A marble statue of Buddha has been discovered in the site of the ancient port of Berenike on Egypt’s Red Sea coast by an American Polish archaeological mission doing excavations at the ancient city temple. The statue was found in the forecourt of the temple which was dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, and goes back to the early Roman era in Egypt, an era which lasted through 33BC – 640AD.
Mostafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the archaeological mission had been conducting excavations at the site since 1994 under supervision of the SCA. The current season, he said, has uncovered significant indications of trade between Egypt and India during the Roman era. The Buddha statue discovered, he said, offers striking evidence of such trade ties.
Egypt, Mr Waziri explained, was at the centre of the trade route that connected the Roman Empire with other areas of the ancient world, including India. Several Roman-era harbours on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, he said, engaged in that commerce, the most important being Berenike. Ships would from India carrying goods such as pepper, semi-precious stones, textiles and ivory; offload them at Berenike, then load them on camels that would carry them through the desert to the Nile, and on to Alexandria where they would be shipped to Rome.
Mariusz Gwiazda, director of the Polish partner in the mission, described the statue as of exquisite workmanship, measuring 71 centimetres in height, and depicting Buddha in a standing position, holding part of his garment in his left hand. A halo of sun rays emanates from his head, indicating his radiant mind, and a lotus flower is at his side.
Gwiazda said the statue can be considered the best evidence of Buddhism thus far discovered in Egypt.
“The Buddha statue was made from stone probably quarried from the region just south of modern-day Istanbul in Turkey. It must have been sculpted locally at Berenike and dedicated to the temple by one or more rich merchants from India,” he said.
Steven Sidebotham, director of the American part of the mission, said that apart from this statue, archaeologists also found an inscription in Sanskrit dating to the Roman emperor Philip the Arab, Marcus Philip Julius (244 – 249AD). These inscriptions, he said, appeared to belong to a time much later than that of the Buddha statue.
Other inscriptions found at the temple, Sidebotham said, are in Greek and date from the early first AD century to 305AD. He said that two 2nd-century coins from the central Indian Kingdom of the Satavahanas were also found inside the temple.
30 April 2023