Excavations in House 5 to the south of the Temple of Isis in Syene

Autumn 2013, the so-called House 5 at the end of excavation
Autumn 2013, the so-called House 5 at the end of excavation

Since 2012, a FWF-Project (P23866) carried out by the Austrian Archaeological Institute has focussed on studying the domestic culture of the Hellenistic-Roman period at Syene. Under the direction of the Swiss Institute for Egyptian Building Research and Archaeology, excavations took place in 2013 in the area of the residential quarter to the south of the Temple of Isis. Research concentrated in particular on House 5 where, starting with the coping of the wall, already visible on the surface, an attempt was made to clarify the groundplan and the architectonic superstructure. House 5 has an almost square groundplan, and is divided by a corridor into a northern and a southern tract. It could be entered from the west via a short alleyway, which was aligned with the entrance of the Temple of Isis. Room A, which was completely excavated, is remarkably well preserved. Here it was possible to identify not only a number of floor levels, but also remains of plaster, partially still coloured, on the walls, as well as a hearth installation. Passages led to at least three additional rooms. The courtard to the east was the hardest to comprehend. Here, recent illegal excavations have led to the collapse of the exterior wall.


According to the first analyses of pottery, the house was erected during the late Ptolemaic period, when older buildings were abandoned, torn down, and the area south of the Temple of Isis was levelled. Only one rectangular structure consisting of two rooms was preserved and integrated into the later, much larger and more elaborately designed House 5. This, then, contained a lower and an upper storey, each having three rectangular rooms oriented north-south and featuring a vault, wall niches and a door leading to a corridor. At the east a staircase and an open courtyard were adjoined. The presence of alterations in the structure indicates that at a later period a number of phases existed, before House 5 was abandoned in two stages. Thus, the northern tract of the building, including the corridor and the staircase, was raised up to the floor level of the upper storey and the spatial concept was abandoned. Isolated remains of wall traces indicate that here the area continued to be used as a residential complex with a courtyard, although certainly this section has been particularly damaged by recent destructions and, therefore, a reconstruction of the groundplan is no longer possible. In contrast, the rooms to the south remained almost completely unaltered in their original structural state, until the collapse of the vault led to the complete abandonment of the house. Subsequently, buildings were constructed on top of the partially preserved walls, although these paid no regard to the groundplan of the original building but instead were oriented to the course of the streets and alleyways which developed later in the residential quarter.


Following the field research in Area 1, typological comparisons of houses with the late Ptolemaic and Roman domestic structures in the neighbouring Area 2, and also on the island of Elephantine, should take place. In addition, the detailed analysis of finds should enable a precise chronological sequence of the building phases.


Thomas Koch