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Children's Burials from Antinoopolis: Discoveries from Recent Excavations - Coptic Wiki

Children’s Burials from Antinoopolis: Discoveries from Recent Excavations


Exploration of Antinoopolis—the well-known city founded by the Roman emperor Hadrian around ad 130 to honor his beloved after his legendary death in the Nile—began in the late nineteenth century.[1] In January 1896, Carl Schmidt (1868—1938), a German scholar, undertook a first small excavation in the northern cemetery (Fluck 2000: 175—76). In the same year, the French scholar Albert Gayet (1856—1916) started a large mission at this site. Continuously between 1896 and 1911, excavation took place in the entire ancient town (Calament 2005:110—50).

From 1913 to 1914 the Egypt Exploration Fund under the leader­ship of John de Monins Johnson (1882—1956) excavated the rubbish heaps along the ancient city wall in the southwestern and eastern section of the town. The findings are spread over various collections in Britain, the majority now in the British Museum (Andorlini 1998; Pritchard 2013; O’Connell 2014).

Since winter 1935/1936 the site has been under Italian auspices under the direction of the Istituto G. in Florence and the University of Rome. After a long interruption due to the vicissitudes and the aftermath of the Second World War, excavations were re-established in 1965 (Pensabene 1993: 273—88; Manfredi 1998; Donadoni, Spallanzani Zimmermann, and Bongrani Fanfoni 1974). Since 2000, an international team of specialists under the leadership of Rosario Pintaudi has been exploring the entire ancient town, including, for instance, areas in the northern that had never been touched by previous excavations (Pintaudi 2008).[2]

In particular, the cemeteries of Antinoopolis that were discovered during the various campaigns are considered an inexhaustible source for artifacts and objects of daily use—especially textiles in which the bodies were dressed and wrapped. The variety and quantity is enormous, ranging from little fragments and simple shrouds to almost complete garments and furnishing textiles. These textiles were often beautifully and richly deco­rated.

The findings are distributed in museums and collections, particularly in France and some other European countries (Calament 1989; Rassart- Debergh 1997: 53-56; Calament 2005: 438-48; Linz and Coudert 2013: 493). A recent exhibition “Antinoe, a la vie, a la mode:Visions d’elegance dans les solitudes” in the Musee de Tissus in Lyons (from 1 2013 to 28 February 2014) gave a lively impression about fashion and style in ancient Antinoopolis.

Burials and textiles from Antinoopolis in the collec­tion of the were shown and published in a splendid catalog by Maximilien Durand and Florence Calament, which includes a comprehen­sive that reflects the research on textiles from Antinoopolis from the late ninteenth century till today (Cat. Lyon 2013).

Children’s Burials from the ‘Peristyle Complex’

This chapter is part of a study carried out in the context of “DressID: Clothing and Identities: New Perspectives on Textiles in the Roman Empire,” a project funded by the cultural program of the European Commission that ran between 2007 and 2012. It focuses on textiles from four children’s burials that Rosario Pintaudi and his team excavated in a ‘peristyle’ complex at the eastern edge of the northern at Antinoopolis in 2007.[3]

This complex most probably served as a meeting place for descendants to commemorate the dead before parts of it were converted into living quarters (Grossmann 2008: 42-44). Many coins and papyri were found in this area that date from the third to the seventh centuries ad—a period to which the majority of the textile finds belong (Pintaudi 2008:12).

During the campaigns in January, February, and 2007, some corpses and lots of single pieces of textile were found there.[4] Most of the corpses were not in their graves any more but dispersed in the dump. We do not know when this happened exactly. It might be that the area was plundered at some unknown date. But it cannot be excluded either that the inhabitants of the dwellings, which were installed in the colonnade when the was not in use anymore, destroyed the place, or even that Gayet’s staff used it as a deposit for all the material not meant for export to Europe (Pintaudi 2008:11-12; Grossmann 2008; Fluck 2013: 89—91).

Nevertheless, a few graves remained still untouched. Some were found in under the pavement of the peristyle court (Pintaudi 2008: 14); others were in the eastern boundary wall.[5]

Newborn Buried with His Mother (Kind 1)

One of these intact graves was that of a mother buried together with her newborn. It was discovered in January 2007 in the center of the court.[6] Both corpses were wrapped in shrouds and fixed by bands arranged in the form of a lozenge pattern. This wrapping was typical for burials not only in Antinoopolis, but all over Egypt in the late antique and early Christian periods.

Due to the decomposition of the skeleton of the baby, it was not pos­sible to determine its sex. It was dressed in four tiny garments worn one upon the other and a shawl that was put around its neck (Fluck 2010: 182-84, figs. 3-7).

All the garments were made of linen basic weaves. Their measurements vary between 38 and 43 centimeters in length and 32 to 42 centimeters in width, including the sleeves.

  1. A simple, undecorated tunic (Kind l:T_2009.03) fitted out with a hood and sewn together from six pieces of a discarded linen fabric; plain weave with self bands; height 38 cm, width 35 cm, length of sleeves 14 cm, height of hood 17 cm, width of hood 26 cm, length of neck slit 16 cm.
  2. A hooded tunic (Kind l:T_2009.02) made of seven pieces from two different linen fabrics; both are in plain weave with self bands; height 41 cm, width 32 cm, length of sleeves 13.5 cm (left) and 18 cm (right), height of hood 18 cm, width of hood 25 cm, length of neck slit 17 cm; sections at armpits are left open. Only the hood is decorated, with four little tassels of black and red wool at the top.
  3. A little dress with flared sides (Kind 1: Kleid_2009.01, fig. 20.1), a type of garment that was inspired by Persian or Syrian fashion. It is made out of eight pieces of a hnen fabric; plain weave; height 40.5 cm, width 42 cm, length of sleeves 15.5 cm, length of neck slit (back) 19.5 cm. The front and back parts—both including the upper parts of the sleeves—are cut to shape separately, and then sewn together on the shoulders. The lower parts of the sleeves were joined to the upper parts. They taper toward the ends. Two gores on each side were added to the lower part of the dress to give it its flared shape. The neck opening is cut out in a semicircle and ends in a slit on the left shoulder. A cord of red and white wool served to fasten the slit. The neck opening and the lower ends of the sleeves are decorated with a band of little squares, embroidered in green wool. The back of the dress is left undecorated, and the middle of the front is emphasized by a cross within a corona hanging down from a chain. The decoration, made of green and yellow wool, is unusual in that it is embroidered.[7]


    Fig. 20.1. Dress with flared sides (Kind 1: Kleid_2009.01). © Harald Froschauer.
    Fig. 20.1. Dress with flared sides (Kind 1: Kleid_2009.01). © Harald Froschauer.

  4. A hooded sleeveless tunic (Kind l:T_2009.01) served as an outer garment. The body and hood are made of two different linen fab­rics; both in plain weave with self bands; height 43 cm, width 36 cm, height of hood 20 cm, width of hood 28 cm, length of neck sht 19 cm. The tunic is decorated with tiny clavi consisting of a brown stripe between red lines running down toward the lower end. Going out from the neck slit, on the front and the back sides, there are five vertical lines of twined additional weft threads: two long lines of red and white wool run parallel to the inner side of the clavi and three short hnes of red wool lie between them. The hood is embellished with red circles, each filled with a cross, in tapestry technique; its front edge is trimmed with a red braid and fringes are on the top.
  5. A simple scarf (Kind 1: Schal_2009.01), found wrapped around the neck, completed the baby’s equipment. It was cut out from a linen fabric, most probably from the same cloth used for the tunic T_2009.03; plain weave with self bands; length 75 cm (weft direction),width 11.5-12 cm.

Textile Equipment of a Little Boy’s Burial (Kind 2)

Fifteen textiles from a boy’s burial are preserved.[8] His corpse was found in the peristyle court on the same level as the newborn with its mother. The boy was dressed in three tunics (fig. 20.2) and his head was covered with fragments of different cloths. He was laid on two wooden beams before being wrapped in several layers of sheets, which were fixed on top by bands arranged in a lozenge pattern as usual.

The tunics, all made of linen, were worn one upon the other. Two are almost completely preserved. From one tunic one half of the front is miss­ing. Their length varies between 45 and 50 cm, the largest neck slit cm long, and the sleeves measure between 12.5 and 17 cm. They could fit a child of an age of approximately one year.

Fig. 20.2. The three tunics of 'Kind 2.' © Andreas Wietheger and Cacilia Fluck, after drawings by Harald Froschauer.
Fig. 20.2. The three tunics of ‘Kind 2.’ © Andreas Wietheger and Cacilia Fluck, after drawings by Harald Froschauer.
  1. Innermost, a cross-shaped linen tunic woven in one piece (Kind 2: T-2009.02, fig. 20.2, middle); plain weave; height 47 cm, width 35 cm, length of sleeves 12.5 cm, neck opening 23 cm; sections at arm­pits are left open. Roundels decorate the shoulders and the edges of the tunic’s lower part, and clavi run down from the shoulders and end in ovals. They are done in tapestry technique and show white or yellowish circles on a red ground. From the decorative stripes that were woven into the sleeves, only remnants of red wool and traces of a tapestry in bright-colored linen are preserved. The trim­mings at the end of the sleeves and around the neck opening are made using with a lozenge pattern in red wool and undyed hnen.
  2. The middle tunic (Kind 2:T_2009.03, fig. 20.2, right) is of the same type, but with a horizontal tuck in the middle; plain weave; height 50 cm, width 37.5 cm, length of sleeves 17.5 cm, neck opening 21 cm. The neck opening and the lower end of the sleeve are again trimmed with a small braid in very fine tablet weaving, but now the geometric pattern is carried out in blue wool and undyed hnen. At the right shoulder can still be seen remnants of a small ribbon that served to fasten a neck slit, which is typical for children’s tunics. The tunic is decorated with tiny clavi that consist of a row of alternating red, yellow, and green heart-shaped leaves that run into a sigillum in the form of a leaf. Blossoms in red, yellow, and green decorate the little tunic on both shoulders and at the lower edges. A small band on the sleeve consists of a row of red rods and green leaves. Clavi, blossoms, and the sleeve band are done in tapestry and inserted into the basic weave of the tunic.
  3. The upper tunic (Kind 2:T_2009.01, fig. 20.2, left)—again of the woven-to-shape type—is badly damaged. The front, larger parts of the back and one sleeve are well preserved; plain weave; height 45 cm, width 34.5 cm, length of sleeves 14.5 cm, neck opening 18 cm. The clavi and the squares on one shoulder and at the lower edges are done in tapestry. They contain circles, dots, and little squares in green and yellow wool or undyed linen. The stripes on the sleeves show a band of red and green rods. The trimmings at the neck opening and the end of the sleeves are again in tablet weaving, corresponding to the above-mentioned style (Kind 2:T_2009.02).

The corpse of the little boy was wrapped in seven linen sheets, five of a coarse quality and two of a finer quality. One of them belongs to a special type of shroud with a striking brocaded red cross on one or two of the edges that was frequently found in this part of the cemetery (Kind 2:Tuch_2009.02). The other sheets lack any colored decoration.

Only five have fringes (Kind 2: Tuch_2009.02, Tuch_2009.03a-b, Tuch_2009.04a-o, Tuch_2009.06a-b, Tuch_2009.07a—b), three of them are fitted out with self bands—stripes of similar colors created by at least two weft threads in the same shed (Kind 2:Tuch_2009.04a-b, Tuch_2009.06a—b, Tuch_2009.07a—b), and another is structured by a thick weft yarn that was inserted at regular intervals, creating a wavy selvedge (Kind 2:Tuch_03a—b).

Remnants of the trimming and fixing band at the neck of tunic T_2009.01 were found onTuch_2009.07a—b, so it must have been the undermost shroud. Tuch_2009.04a—o was the upper­most because it shows traces of the diamond-shaped lacing.

Fragments of the strings were used to fix the sheets around the corpse (Kind 2: Ba_2009.01a—b, Ba_2009.02, Ba_2009.03). A little bundle of strong linen threads (Knauel_2009.01) bringing to mind tied-up oracular requests on papyri repeatedly found in the northern part of this cemetery (Cat. Florence 1998: 100—101, no. 86), and rags that were used as filling material, among them a checkered linen weave in blue and bleached linen with a slightly shimmering surface in a fine quality (Kind 2: UF_2009.01), also belonged to this burial.

The Burial of a Naked Boy (Kind 3)

Another corpse found below the floor of the peristyle court belongs to a boy who was buried on a wooden panel that imitates the outline of the body. His equipment was much poorer than those of the two other children.[9] It consists only of several layers of cloth that were wrapped around his naked body.

Two of them belong to the type of fringed shroud with one or two of the edges decorated by a red cross in brocading (Kind 3: Tuch_2009.01 (fig. 20.3) and Tuch_2009.03). Two were made out of coarse linen yarns and have long fringes (Kind 3: Tuch_2009.02 and Tuch_2009.04), while the uppermost sheet is made out of a woolen fabric in a striking peach color that is slightly napped on both sides.[10]

Traces of the original lacing and also remnants of the woolen strings can still be clearly seen on the surface. Some torn rags of different sizes, together with a piece of a linen hairnet in sprang technique with remnants of a decoration in red wool (Kind 3: Haarnetz_2009.01), were used as filling material.

Fig. 20.3. Shroud with cross motif. © Harald Froschauer.
Fig. 20.3. Shroud with cross motif. © Harald Froschauer.

Dispersed Items of Children’s Clothing

Two infant tunics

Among the dispersed finds in the peristyle complex in 2007 were the remnants of the corpse of a baby dressed in two linen tunics.[11] The arms of the child were not put into the sleeves but through the open edges at the armpit.

  1. The tunic next to the body (T_2010_04) is of the cross-shaped type, woven in one piece. It is completely preserved; plain weave with self bands in regular intervals; height 34 cm, width 32 cm, length of sleeves 12 cm; neck opening 15 cm (measured from the back); sections at armpits are left open. The neck opening is semi­circular; a band to close the opening is attached on the left part of the rear edging. A vertical red woolen stripe of triple weft threads on both sides marks the transition from the front and back part of the tunic to the sleeves. The decoration, done in tapestry, consists of tiny clavi showing bright circles on a red ground; the sigilia at the end are of leaf shape. The same pattern occurs in the stripes on the sleeves. Little roundels of a diameter of only 2 cm are inserted at the shoulders and symmetrically in the lower edges of the tunic. Each contains a little rosette in a circle and is framed by the so-called ‘running wave’ motif.
  2. The upper tunic (T_2010.03, fig. 20.4) is of the same type, again completely preserved and fitted out with a semicircular neck open­ing. It is torn at the left shoulder and vertically on the rear; plain weave with self bands; height 35 cm, width 31 cm, sleeves 11 and 12 cm, neck opening 12.5 cm (measured from the back); sections at armpits are left open. The transition between front and back and sleeves is marked by twined linen weft threads. Two red woolen weft threads are inserted on the right shoulder. The tunic is decorated with simple triple stripes made of blue wool in plain weave that run down from the shoulders to the tunic’s lower edge. A fastening band for the neck opening, partly torn off now, was stitched to the left shoulder. A comparable piece was found by Albert Gayet (Coudert, Cortopassi, and Medard 2013: 271, no. 93).
Fig. 20.4. Child's tunic with blue stripes. © Harald Froschauer.
Fig. 20.4. Child’s tunic with blue stripes. © Harald Froschauer.

A girl’s

A small with a wreath on top (Schleier_2009.01, fig. 20.5) is to date unique among the finds from the peristyle complex (Fluck 2010: 184—85, fig. 8; Fluck and Froschauer 2011: 63, figs. 10—11); height 20.5 cm, width 32 cm; length of wreath 17 cm, diameter of wreath 1.5 cm; plain weave. The veil is made of a piece of a fine linen fabric.

A selvedge at the bottom marks its lower end. The original width of the piece cannot be determined. The weave at the upper end of the is gathered and rolled to form a wreath. The latter is fixed by linen and wool yarns in three colors (undyed linen and apricot and turquoise wool) alternating regularly at intervals of about 1 cm. The wreath is fixed to the veil by a few threads of linen yarn in simple stitches.

Given the dimensions of the piece, it seems that the is almost com­pletely preserved. Only a few centimeters are missing from the sides and from the wreath. Most probably the veil once belonged to a little girl. Similar veils but in larger dimensions, or mantles and hairnets combined with wreaths, were uncovered in Antinoopolis in connection with female burials (Fluck and Froschauer 2011: 63 with further references).

Fig. 20.5. A girl's veil. © Harald Froschauer.
Fig. 20.5. A girl’s veil. © Harald Froschauer.

A child’s hood

Another piece of headgear, a little hood (Kapuze_2010.01, fig. 20.6), belongs to the isolated finds from the peristyle complex (Fluck and Froschauer 2011: 60, fig. 6). It consists of a piece of cloth trimmed with a rolled hem all around, originally folded along the vertical axis, sewn together at the upper edge and then pleated into a triangular form; plain weave with self bands in the upper part; height 28 cm, width 39 cm (unfolded); the upper edges are destroyed. The top and the sides are decorated with carefully constructed braids of plaited linen and wool threads (undyed linen, wool in red and green colors). One of the wool threads is cut off to create small fringes. The lateral braids end 4 cm above the lower edge, where remnants of the sewing thread are visible.

Hooded tunics seem to be restricted to children’s graves. They were found not only in Antinoopolis, but at other sites as well. In this context it is worth mentioning that some church fathers, such as Evagrius, Palladius, Sozomenus, and others, describe the hood as a typical element of children’s clothing that influenced the monk’s habit. The koukoullion—the monk’s cowl—was regarded as a symbol of the innocence of childhood (Giorda 2011:183-84).

Fig. 20.6. A child's hood. © Harald Froschauer.
Fig. 20.6. A child’s hood. © Harald Froschauer.


The textiles from children’s burials that were discovered in the peristyle complex are of a solid but not outstanding quality, like some of the chil­dren’s garments with elaborate decoration that go back to Albert Gayets excavations between 1896 and 1911 (for example, Calament 2005. 26, fig. 26a; Cat. Lyon 2013: 194-97, nos. 59 and 62; Linz and Coudert 2013: 222-29, nos. 58-61; Coudert, Cortopassi, and Medard 2013: 267-68, nos. 88-89, and 272-73, no. 96).

As usual, children’s garments imitate those of the adults, but on a mini­ature scale, with the exception of hooded tunics, which are a special item of children’s apparel. All of the tunics presented in this study are made out of linen; most of them are woven to shape and—like their ‘adult’ models decorated with symmetrical tapestry work. However, some undergarments are made of several pieces cut out from torn-off fabric and sewn together in a tunic shape. All garments, including headgear, analyzed so far are fab­ricated very accurately and with care for tiny details. They resemble some pieces found during Gayet’s excavations (Coudert, Cortopassi, and Medard 2013: 271, nos. 93-94, and 275, nos. 100-101), and later, during the 1930s campaigns of the Italian Mission in the northern in the vicinity of the peristyle complex (Cat. Florence 1998: 230, nos. 315-16).

Three of the children were dressed in at least two tunics and then wrapped in shrouds; only one boy was found naked. Some of the shrouds show red crosses on one or two edges. Such shrouds were found frequently in this part of the cemetery, and not only in connection with children’s burials. They attest the Christian belief of the deceased.

In none of the children’s graves were toys or other attributes found. Only a small bundle of linen threads could have been used as a sort of amulet. Judging from the medium quality of the textiles, the reduced deco­ration, and the fact that some garments were made of reused fabrics, it seems that the children belonged to middle-class families. The fact that the corpses of the deceased children were treated the same way as that of adults—dressed in their clothing and wrapped up carefully—reflects a respected status afforded to children in Antinoopolis in late antiquity.

Cacilia Fluck

[1] Sporadically, European travelers have visited the site since the sixteenth century (Calament 2005: 82-93). Some monuments and an excellent topographical map were published in the Description de I’Egypte, a monumental oeuvre of eleven volumes that resulted from the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt in the years 1798- 1801 (Description 1822, vol. 4: pl. 53—58).

[2] See also Antinoupolis Foundation, http://www.antinoupolis.org/.

[3] I am deeply grateful to the field director, Rosario Pintaudi, for admitting me to his excavation team and for his permission to publish the findings related to children’s burials here. Many thanks are owed to Harald Froschauer for providing me with drawings and images for this chapter.

[4] The textile finds from the burials and the debris were put into storage in the house of the Italian Mission. Recording started in the winter campaign 2008; conservation of the first pieces began in the autumn season 2007. It has been carried out by Mohammed Saleh Ahmed and Nasr Ahmed Mohammed from the National of Egyptian Civilization and Somaya Abdelkhalek from the Museum of Islamic Art, both institutions in Cairo.

[5] For the finding circumstances, see Pintaudi 2008: 11-14, pls. XIV-XVII, figs. 74-94, and pls. XXIV-XXV, figs. 134-44; Minutoli 2008:61-62.

[6] Found 10 2007, northern necropolis, Kom Est, quadrant El, level I.

[7] A fourth-century child’s garment with an embroidered cross motif was found in Kellis (personal from Rosanne Livingstone, March 2013). For a brief description of this find, see Livingstone, Chandler, and Martin 2008:36.

[8] Found 3 February 2007, northern necropolis, Kom Est, quadrant DI, level I; unwrapped 4 February 2007.

[9] Found 1 January 2007, northern necropolis, Kom Est, quadrant D1/A4, level I.

[10] Comparable to the treatment of the fabrics used for the famous Persian riding coats and gaiters found by Albert Gayet and Carl Schmidt: see Cat. Florence 1998: 193, no. 233 (= Louvre inv. E29410); Fluck 2004: 142 and 144; 2004: 154; Malek 2004: 166-68,170; Cat. Lyon 2013: 62-64, no. 4; 90-93, no. 18; 98-103, no. 20; 120-30, nos. 29,30; 136-43, nos. 34-35; 164-67, no. 46; 176-78, no. 51; 184-85, no. 54; 190-93, no. 58; 198-204, nos. 63-64; 218-19, no. 72; 308-309, no. 123; 320- 23, no. 132; 392—95, no. 157. For the peach color, compare other fragments from Antinoopolis in Cat.Lyon 2013:160-61,no. 43, and 292-93, no. 111.

[11] Found 10 2007, northern necropolis, Kom Est, quadrant El, level I.