Location and Architecture

Al-Bagawat is an early Christian necropolis of the ancient town of Hibis (modern Khargah). The graves of the pagan period were arranged as rock tombs on the north and west slopes of the cliff lying to the east opposite the former town area (on the general situation, see Winlock, 1941, pl. 29), or gradually climbed higher. The later graves, predominantly deriving from the Christian period, spread out on the height of the cliff itself and gradually moved from there farther to the east. Almost in the middle and at the same time in a commanding position is a large building (chapel 180) with extremely thin walls, originally constructed as a courtyard building, which in the archaeological literature is frequently described as a church (Hauser, 1932, p. 40; Fakhry, 1951, pp. 157-59).

Inside, a western portico and an open triconch directed toward the east are situated exactly opposite one another on the two sides of the inner court. Later the interior was transformed into a three-aisle BASILICA and provided with an external peristyle running all round. Functionally the building served for the holding of meals for the dead (cenae funebres). In the side aisles and also in the area of the outside peristyle, the couches (klinai), arranged in a semicircle, are still preserved at several places, and in some cases the masonry tables are preserved as well. They must have been reserved by the poorer families, who in their graves could not provide for any room of their own for the purpose.

The graves themselves are either flat oblong hollows in the ground with a low superstructure built of bricks or quarrystone, or underground hypogea accessible only by a vertical shaft and sometimes containing several grave chambers. Over the entrance to the shaft there is usually a mausoleum. In several cases the klinai for the meals for the dead, here also arranged in a semicircle, have also survived outside these mausoleums.

While there are several rotundas, the great majority of the mausoleums are constructed as tetrapyla built upon four corner supports. The side openings are, however, everywhere closed up, or at most give room for a small niche. The roofing above almost always consists of a dome. In numerous cases these tetrapyla have been provided on the entrance side with a row of applied columns, which are evidently meant to feign the existence of a propylon (the propyla at chapels 23 and 166). In addition, several have a walled forecourt (chapels 150, 199, 211, 233). In some cases an apse is added on the east side of the mausoleum (chapels 205, 206), and this was occasionally expanded into a rotunda-like (chapels 69, 192, 259) or octagonal form (chapel 213).

In not a few cases, the mausoleums are connected with a small church (chapels 9, 24, 90), or have themselves assumed the form of a church through the addition of corresponding cultic rooms (chapels 25, 66, 130). Of particular importance is a building complex lying in the northern area (chapels 23-29), which started out from a three-aisle double hall, repeatedly provided with further buildings, some of them ecclesiastical (chapels 24 and 25 are unmistakably churches). Presumably, this double hall, like the latter so-called church, was a building for holding meals for the dead.


  • Bock, W. de. Matériaux pour servir à l’archéologie de l’Egypte chrétienne, pp. 7-38. St. Petersburg, 1901.
  • Fakhry, A. The Egyptian Deserts: The Necropolis of El-Bagawat in Kharga Oasis. Cairo, 1951.
  • Grossmann, P. Mittelalterliche Langhauskuppelkirchen und verwandte Typen in Oberägypten. Glückstadt, 1982.
  • Hauser, W. “The Christian Necropolis in Khargeh Oasis.” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1932):38-50.
  • Kaufmann, C. M. Ein altchristliches Pompeji. Mainz, 1902.
  • Winlock, H. E. The Temple of Hibis in el Khargeh Oasis I. New York, 1941.


Greek Inscriptions

Among nearly 400 Coptic or Greco-Coptic graffiti, one may count at al-Bagawat scarcely twenty-five Greek inscriptions or graffiti, to which must be added a dozen funerary stelae discovered in recent years in situ. A fundamental distinction must be made between graffiti by visitors and graffiti or drawings that may be called original to the site. It is among the latter that we rank several liturgical texts, a trisagion (a short hymn of response), some prayers, or simple quotations of sacred texts. In this respect, appeals to the divine pity are most frequent. The God of the Old Testament, Christ, and the Holy Trinity are invoked impartially.

Even Saint Paul is quoted. In the tomb of the young Petechon, a long acrostic poem on the name of the deceased informs us that he left his earthly fiancée to become a partaker of the spirit. With some epitaphs, only the surrounding decoration and the general context give reason for thinking them Christian. So it is with the epitaph of a soldier from Hermonthis; for that of Aytheio, no doubt also a soldier who came from far away, since he was a native of the region of Bostra; and for that of Tis, which recalls that his mausoleum cost forty artabae (of wheat). Passing visitors address themselves to Christ, to enter into his kingdom, or to God, the one who succors. There are also naturally slaves of Jesus Christ, who have left only a signature.

Some of the Greek texts of al-Bagawat go back to the fourth century. They are naturally indigenous; transient visitors wrote there in Greek down to the sixth and seventh centuries and perhaps beyond. The known funerary stelae from al-Bagawat are all late, and in general contain only the name of the deceased. They are those of Sarapammon, Apollon, Senamounis, Psenpnouthes, Timouthis, Horus, Thlatos, Tephatis, and Ploua.


  • Roquet, G. “Les graffites coptes de Bagawat (Oasis de Kharga). Remarques préliminaires.” Bulletin (trimestriel) de la Société française d’études mariales 76 (1976):25-49.


Coptic Inscriptions

Of the 263 chapels in the cemetery of al-Bagawat counted by Fakhry (1951), a considerable number are covered with Arabic graffiti of all periods; the historical importance of some of them has been opportunely underlined by I. M. Haggagi (1978). Thirty-five chapels contain Greek and Coptic graffiti, numbering nearly 400. Recently (Roquet, 1976) the history of the exploration of the site has been recalled, and the interest of the documentation collected made plain.

Some graffiti are simple signatures, a name, a family connection, a visitor’s identity card. Others are elaborate, incised or painted, sometimes carefully done: a prayer, an appeal to the invited visitor to pray for the signatory, imitating the usual formulas of the colophons of manuscripts. Other graffiti are anecdotal. With others, we follow the itinerary of some persons in their visiting of the chapels and in their devotion. Some writers are monks or clergy—so they say—but others are more unexpected: local officers, such as a lashane (village magistrate); a lamashe (warrior, champion); an amir’s courier. If the visitor prides himself on his birthplace, a place name is preserved.

Few texts are dated. From 1013, however, there are two graffiti by the same visitor, written in Bohairic. The local speech shows traces or remainders of its affinities with the Lycopolitan dialect. In sum, everything seems to indicate that the frequenting of the site at al-Bagawat by Coptic speakers was spaced out between the sixth and eleventh centuries.


  • Fakhry, A. The Egyptian Deserts: The Necropolis of El-Bagawat in Kharga Oasis. Cairo, 1951.
  • Haggagi, I. M. “Graffites arabes de Bagawat.” In Annales islamologiques 14 (1978):271-87, pls. 21-22.
  • Roquet, G. “Les graffites coptes de Bagawat (Oasis de Kharga). Remarques préliminaires.” Bulletin (trimestriel) de la Société française d’études mariales 76 (1976):25-49.


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