Berenice Troglodytica

[
Egypt: Site of Berenice on Red Sea (right).]

Berenice or Berenice Troglodytica (Greek: polytonic|Βερενίκη), now known as Medinet-el Haras, is an ancient seaport of Egypt on the west coast of the Red Sea. It was founded or certainly converted from a village into a city, by Ptolemy II (285 BC—246 BC), who named it after his mother, Berenice I of Egypt. "Troglodytica" refers to the aboriginal people of the region, the "Troglodytai" or "cave dwellers". Although the name is attested by several ancient writers, the more ancient Ptolemaic inscriptions read "Trogodytai" (which G.W.B. Huntingford has speculated could be related to the same root as Tuareg, or to the Arabic word "tawāriq", sing. "tāriqa", "tribe"). It is possible that later copyists confused this name with the more common term "Troglodytai".

Built at the head of a gulf, the Sinus Immundus, or Foul Bay, of Strabo, it was sheltered on the north by Ras Benas (Lepte Extrema). A lofty range of mountains runs along this side of the African coast, and separates Berenice from the Nile Valley. The emerald mines of Zabara and Saket are in its neighbourhood. The harbour is indifferent, but was improved by art. Berenice stood upon a narrow rim of shore between the hills and the Red Sea. The harbor of Berenice was sheltered from the northeast wind by the island Ophiodes (polytonic|Ὀφιώδης νήσος, Strabo xvi. p. 770; Diod. iii. 39), which was rich in topazes.

History

Berenice was quite famous and prosperous in antiquity. The city is noted by most ancient geographers, including Strabo, Pliny the Elder (vi. 23, 26, 29, 33), and Stephanus of Byzantium ("s. v."). Its prosperity after the third century was owing in great measure to three causes: the favour of the Macedonian kings, its safe anchorage, and its being a terminus of the great road from Coptos, which rendered Berenice and Myos Hormos the two principal emporia of the trade between Aethiopia and Egypt on the one hand, and Syria and India on the other. The road across the desert from Coptos was 258 Roman miles long, or eleven days' journey. The road was provided with watering stations (Greek "hydreumata", see Hadhramaut); the wells and halting places of the caravans are enumerated by Pliny (vi. 23. s. 26), and in the Itineraries (Antonin. p. 172, f.). Belzoni ("Travels", vol. ii. p. 35) found traces of several of these stations.

From the 1st century BC until the 2nd century AD Berenice was one of the trans-shipping points of trade between India, Arabia, and Upper Egypt. The coastal trade from Berenice along the coast of the Indian Ocean is described in the anonymous 1st century AD handbook "Periplus of the Erythraean Sea". In the 4th century Berenice again become an active port, but after the 6th century the port was abandoned. Under the Roman Empire, Berenice formed a district in itself, with its peculiar prefect, who was entitled "Praefectus Berenicidis", or "P. montis Berenicidis". (Orelli, "Inscr. Lat." no. 3880, f.)

In 1818 the ruins of Berenice were identified by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, confirming an earlier opinion of D'Anville. Since then, several excavations have been undertaken. The port is now nearly filled up, has a sand-bar at its entrance and can be reached only by small craft. Most important of the ruins is a temple; the remnants of its sculptures and inscriptions preserve the name of Tiberius and the figures of many deities, including a (goddess?) Alabarch or Arabarch, also the name of the head magistrate of the Jews in Alexandria under Ptolemaic and Roman rule. The temple is of sandstone and soft calcareous stone, in the Egyptian style. It is convert|102|ft|m long, and 43 wide. A portion of its walls is sculptured with well-executed basso relieves, of Greek workmanship, and hieroglyphics also occasionally occur on the walls. Belzoni said that the city measured convert|1600|ft|m from north to south, and 2,000 from east to west. He estimated the ancient population at 10,000. ("Researches", vol. ii. p. 73.)

ee also

* Red Sea Riviera

References

*The [http://www.archbase.com/berenike/ Berenike Project] : the port's excavation.
*G.W.B. Huntingford "The Ethnology and History of the Area Covered by the Periplus" in Huntingford (trans. & ed.), "Periplus of the Erythraean Sea" (London, 1980).
*S. Sidebotham and W. Wendrich, "Roms Tor am Roten Meer nach Arabien und Indien", in "AW" 32-3 (2001), p.251-263.
*SmithDGRG


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