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6 INHABITANTS OF BERENIKE IN ROMAN TIMES Here we will examine those who lived in Berenike in the Roman period, their professions, religious practices, and the languages they wrote and, likely, spoke. We will also explore how the foods they consumed were, along with other excavated data, indications of their ethnicity and social status. POPULATION SIZE Estimatingpopulationsizesof ancientsettlements,especiallylargerurbancenters,isfraught with pitfalls. At Berenike visible surface remains and excavations reveal predominantly midto late fourth- to fifth-century structures. During this late Roman renaissance a population of approximately five hundred to one thousand is likely.1 In all periods of Berenike’s history numbers of residents undoubtedly fluctuated throughout the year, peaking with the arrival and departure of ships; times when the vessels were not in port probably saw some of the city’s population drift back to the desert or the Nile valley due to a decline in employment opportunities. No Ptolemaic domestic areas, though some industrial facilities , have been examined. The same is true for the early Roman city, though documents excavated from the early Roman trash dump indicate that the early Roman era was the zenith of the port’s prosperity and, therefore, size. This suggests that the city’s population was probably greatest at that time. Calculating population numbers for the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods, however, is impossible until excavations document more of these periods of the city’s history. 68 Sidebotham, Berenike 11/18/10 10:25 AM Page 68 PERSONS, PROFESSIONS, ETHNICITY People of different regions, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses sought their fortunes in Roman Berenike. They participated in the trade and its infrastructural support . Archaeological finds record their statuses, and graffiti found along the Eastern Desert roads, together with formal inscriptions, ostraka, and papyri found at Berenike itself, provide information on who was involved in the commerce. Some texts record the names of individuals, and from these, scholars can begin to understand who they were and something about their ethnic and social backgrounds. Information on their diet, the textiles, rope, and basketry that they used, and the objects with which they adorned themselves and decorated their houses allows intimate views of their lives. Those who dwelt in Berenike, either briefly or as more or less permanent settlers, came from throughout the ancient world, including Egypt, the Mediterranean, Axum, sub-Saharan Africa, and the kingdoms of southern Arabia, Nabataea, and Palmyra. Indian sailors or merchants, and likely their Sinhalese contemporaries, visited Berenike and either stayed for a few months, arriving in early summer and catching the monsoon back to India in August, or resided there on a more permanent basis. Texts excavated at Berenike were written on various objects. These texts were primarily on pottery ostraka, with the second most plentiful on papyri; the rest are on stone, plaster amphora stoppers, and so forth. Most ostraka are public documents from the early Roman era and include archives of individuals associated with the Berenike customs house; there is also a corpus, found in 2009 and 2010, that lists members of the Roman military and their involvement in the city’s freshwater supply.2 Most papyri, on the other hand, are private in nature: personal letters, bills of sale, and so on. There are also formal dedications (usually religious) carved on stone made by individuals, and also a smattering of texts written on seashells or stamped on dozens of plaster jar and amphora stoppers used to seal containers of commodities transported to Berenike for consumption there or for onward shipment to other areas of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Collections of texts, some excavated at Berenike and others found in different parts of Egypt, document individuals involved in the trade. The Nikanor Ostraka Archive is that of a family of camel owners from Koptos involved in the transport of goods between the Nile valley and Berenike and Myos Hormos from late first century b.c.e. until the 60s c.e.3 Ostraka from praesidia along the Myos Hormos–Koptos route deal mostly with provisions of the garrisons based there; some refer to trade and transport.4 Ostraka from the early Roman trash dump at Berenike consist, in part, of laissez-passer, which indicate that the bearer, or his agent or company, had paid certain taxes at Koptos and that he was allowed to bring a specified amount of goods into the customs area at Berenike.5 These passes were written in Greek, but from the terminology used it is clear that the organization...


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