The Monastery of St. Paulos, modern Deir el-Bakhît (5th to 10th century AD), located on the hilltop of Dra’ Abu el-Naga on the western shore of Thebes in Upper Egypt, comprises hermitages built in former pharaonic tombs and occupied by individual monks, which grew into a monastic settlement including multiple external units and a central walled monastery complex. Excavations have uncovered both the interior layout and fittings of the monastery buildings as well as texts and have made it possible to gain unique insights into the daily life and social hierarchy of the monks.
Excavations have been undertaken at Deir el-Bakhit since 2001 to explore various issues and with different foci. Since 2017, a collaborative international project organised by the DAI and the OeAI has focused primarily on issues relating to the functional, social and religious-cultic connections between the monastic facilities at Dra’ Abu el-Naga, on what triggered the transformation and shift of the monastic structures from anchorite cells to a coenobitic community, and on the hierarchies within the monastic community.
The large-scale excavations were completed in 2017–2020 and the archaeological fieldwork is now concentrating on investigations relating to the building’s chronology, exploring the phases of expansion and transformation, and on the continued analysis of the many find materials (more than 8,000 objects found) and the documents (papyri, ostraca). Thanks to the good state of preservation of the buildings and the interior fittings (such as the seat rings in the refectory), the variety of small finds that have survived, and the large number of texts on ostraca, papyrus and parchment, we are able to gain significant insights into the monastery’s social structures, its hierarchies, trade and the exchange of goods, as well as the level of education of the monks (knowledge of cryptography, bilingualism). Based on the mutual relationships between this and other monasteries, influences on the monastery and any effects that it had elsewhere are to be examined more closely and analysed.
In Unit XXVI, a hermitage, a Christian chapel and a hoard of coins found within it in ago as 2014. By analysing graffiti and inscriptions, it has now been possible to identify another church in Unit XXVI and a church in the main monastery complex. The people named in the inscriptions in the main monastery and in Unit XXVI can all be attributed to the community of the monastery of St. Paulos and, what is more, specifically to the elite circle of the monastery’s hierarchy, thereby proving the religious-cultic relationships between the various units.
Hierarchies and social structures can most readily be detected in the necropolis with the aid of textile analysis and anthropological studies. The anthropological analyses of the individuals therein have also enabled us to learn about physical strain, health, stature (obesity), hereditary diseases and relationships as well as the age at death. The regular sequence of the graves built next to each other has made it possible to establish a relative chronology for the individuals and their clothing.
Analyses of the ostraca and papyri as well as inscriptions on amphorae and walls have resulted in the list of abbots being supplemented, the reconstruction of the career paths of certain monks and the identification of people who had special knowledge and a higher level of education (cryptography, multilingualism). A list of books has also enabled an at least partial inventory of the monastery’s books to be drawn up.
As a large quantity of written witnesses and material artefacts from the excavations between 2003 and 2020 are available, it is possible to reconstruct in great detail the social structures and social history of the monastic community.
March 2017 – March 2023