Alexandria’s first Roman civil basilica found

Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities officials announced that archaeologists have discovered the first Roman-era civil basilica built in Alexandria. It was found during a five month excavation in the in Semouha district that ended in May when the team hit underground water.

Constructed in the wake of the Augustan conquest of Egypt that ended the reign of the Ptolemies, the basilica was built directly on top of the ruins of a Ptolemaic temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Graeco-Egyptian deities Serapis and Harpocrates.

Mohamed Mostafa, director general of Alexandria antiquities, said that excavations have also uncovered two parallel rows of granite and lime stones as well as parts of granite pillars that give the impression that these items were once part of a larger building that can be dated to the Roman period. Early investigations, said Mostafa, reveal that it could be a court, a club, or for trade activities.

For his part, Osama El-Nahas, head of the excavation mission, asserted that unearthing a number of terracotta statues onsite, featuring the goddess Isis breastfeeding her son, and the god Serapis, without religious objects surrounding them, suggests that such an edifice was a Roman civil basilica.

El-Nahas added that the Ptolemaic temple found underneath the basilica was one of two temples mentioned by historian Strabo when he was describing the area during his visit to Alexandria in 24 AD. […]

“It is a unique discovery in Alexandria,” Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass told Ahram Online, adding that it is the first time that a civil basilica was found in Alexandria and that it confirms that the area of Al-Baron is the one mentioned by Strabo as Usis province.

The excavation also uncovered a number of ovens, a lead statue of a knight on horseback, and a group of clay lamps decorated with human features. It seems like the basilica, or at least the area, was being used for religious purposes centuries later, though, because there were a series of clay vessels found filled with human bones. The bones date to the 6th c. A.D. and are of youths between 25 and 30 years of age.