Kom Ushim {Karanis}


Currency in Al Fayoum


Kom Ushim In Al Fayoum


 KomUshim, also known as Karanis, is a village located on the north-eastern side of Birket-Qarun. Coming from Cairo through the desert along the southeast path, Karanis is the first village you get to while visiting tourist centers in Al-Fayoum.

 KomUshim proudly claims a small museum that is nearly hidden in its own garden. It was renovated lately and features artifacts from the prehistoric Roman era found in Al-Fayoum. There are some beautiful Hawara Middle Kingdom versions of these artifacts and the monumental head of a Karanis Roman god and other pottery pieces and coins found at the Faiyum. The museum is adequately illuminated and has a regulated temperature.

 There are also two of the renowned ‘Al-Fayoum Portraits’ on display, others of which can be found in the Museum of Cairo. They were personal portraits drawn on linen or wood that are used to obscure the mummy about the end of Graeco-Roman times.

 The Egyptians at this period had a strong belief in life after death, also in the practice of painting the face of the dead, to help the spirits to identify the body. Sometimes the portraits were drawn in powdered encaustic using scalpel or brush while some others are water based paints.

 Usually wearing a serious face and having dark and gazing eyes that are very wide. The portraits are always depicting the prime of their life, when they are young, and often wearing their finest clothes and jewels. These portraits greatly inspired Coptic art in Egypt and provided a connection between ancient Egyptian art and the Middle Age portraiture later on.

Although mummy portraits have been found in many parts of Egypt, the best selection came from Al-Fayoum areas ancient Philadelphia, Hawara, and Karanis.


 KomUshim is popularly recognized as the old Karanis, which is the largest town site of Graeco-Roman in Al-Fayoum that could be accessed from the museum grounds. After the end of dynastic rule in Egypt, the city was inhabited for a cumulative duration of around seven centuries and saw several changes.

 Petrie had previously explored the site; however the first major excavations at Karanis were conducted by Michigan University, which commenced in 1925 and was the first to understand the full potential of the Graeco-Roman sites in Egypt been studied and explored.

 During this time, the town has served as a very useful source of knowledge about day to day life, religious belief, government, and commerce. Numerous papyri and documents have also been found, which were amazingly preserved by the dry climate in Egypt. These have the special benefit of being read in comparison with the remains of the town’s architecture and artifacts.

 During their excavations, the Michigan team discovered five datable stratigraphy ranges across the three major areas they explored. The site after that was explored by the University of Cairo and then by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology most recently.

 Karanis’ archeological site is located on a massive mound, which was 12 m above the surrounding ground level. The town was established in the 3rd century BC by Ptolemy II, basically as a garrison for his soldiers, and it would have been on the shores of Lake Qarun at the time of the construction. But it thrived and later got developed, probably due to its proximity to more populated cities along the north.

 The houses are positioned in clusters along the two major routes extending from north to south and ranging from plain mud-brick homes to the high-status and more luxurious villas of the officials.

 Remnants of millstones and olive presses still lay on the field, and six dovecotes were also discovered in the ruins, which could be compared to those found in Al-Fayoum today. Although the town is characterized by many professions and industries, it would seem that the majority were farmers who worked on the nearby fertile land. Ten large storehouses and seven other smaller ones were found in Karanis.

 The town was established around two Ptolemaic Era temples, and much of the details from Karanis excavations illustrate the religious beliefs of its residents. There are reported 27 different deities of Egyptian, Roman, or Greek.

 In the later part of the 1st century AD, The temple in the south was constructed at the site of an earlier building, which is the largest of both. It was devoted to the crocodile-god known as Suchos or Sobek, who they worshipped in this temple as Pnepheros and Petesuchos.

 Though it was left plain without decorations, the southern temple is constructed with limestone, and it follows the traditional Egyptian plan of a quay at the end of a processional road that leads to the temple via a paved colonnaded courtyard.

 The main gate of the entrance that was seized by Claudius contains an illustration of Nero, who is acclaimed to have dedicated the temple initially. To the east, near a small sacred lake, lies a gate of Vespasian. The building consists of three rooms; the largest room leads to a vestibule from which was access to the sanctuary. There is a clear view of the town of Karanis and the rich soil southwards from the roof of the sanctuary.

 Deep enclosures in the vestibule walls were intended to hold the mummies of sacred crocodiles that would have been integrated into the rituals of the temples.  There are several mummified crocodiles found buried at Karanis. A large altar in the sanctuary itself reveals a low hidden chamber beneath which the priests likely used to deliver oracles.

The Northern Temple

 The temple of the north, which was built on an earlier site, also could be traced to the late 1st century AD but has no engravings whatsoever on it.  It is a gray limestone building, and it faces north. It has a smaller size compared to the southern temple and was formerly surrounded by mud-brick temenos walls, which are almost destroyed. There are two entrance pylons of small size, and four slender columns decorate the outer corners of the temple. The sanctuary is dominated by a large stone altar also with an oracle enclosure.

 Karanis is believed to have had worshipers of the sacred triad of Isis, Serapis, and Harpocrates, same as various other Egyptian and Greek domestic gods, other than the worship of the crocodile-god.

Though now largely destroyed, Karanis occupies a special position in Egypt’s Graeco-Roman monuments. Investigating the site in the past century has significantly improved knowledge of its residents’ daily lives during the Greek and Roman rule.