BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Buddha in Ancient Egypt

Statue of Buddha discovered in Roman period temple

Buddha

Statue of Buddha discovered at Berenike, Egypt. Courtesy Szymon Popławski, Berenike Project.

While excavating the ancient Red Sea port of Berenike in southeastern Egypt, an international team discovered a remarkable statue of Buddha dating to the Roman period (c. 31 BCE–330 CE). Along with several other finds, the statue highlights the far-reaching trade connections that existed between Egypt and India at the time.

A Buddha Statue and More

Standing a little over 2 feet tall, the marble statue of Buddha was uncovered in the forecourt of a Roman-period temple in the ancient seaport of Berenike. The statue depicts Buddha standing beside a lotus flower with a halo behind his head. The statue’s prominent place in the temple serves as an example of the religious pluralism that characterized Egypt at the time. The marble likely came from western Turkey, but the statue itself was carved locally, possibly by one of the many Indian merchants who did business in Berenike.

Inside the temple, the archaeologists also discovered a Sanskrit inscription dating to the time of the Roman emperor Philip the Arab (c. 244–249 CE), two second-century coins that originated in the Indian kingdom of the Satavahanas, and multiple Greek inscriptions from the first through fourth centuries. Although the statue could not be dated precisely, researchers believe it was likely in place by the early Roman period.


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While Buddhism was certainly not native to Egypt, having originated around the Ganges River in India in the fifth century BCE, the important trade network connecting Egypt to India allowed for the continual flow of ideas along with traded goods. Indeed, Egypt was the main connection between the Roman Empire and India, with Berenike serving as the main seaport. From there, goods coming from India would be carried across the desert to the Nile River via camel caravan and then transported to the rest of the empire. Among the goods imported from India were pepper, textiles, and ivory.


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Temple of Zeus Uncovered in Egyptian Sinai

Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World

The Many Faces of Angels

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Egyptian Papyrus Sheds New Light on Jewish History

The Egyptianizing of Canaan

Eros in Egypt

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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1 Responses

  1. Patrick Paulsen says:

    Interesting Buddhist statue. I was aware of Buddhist missionaries and traders traveling to the ‘Middle East’ in the Roman period. This makes sense of the verse in the letter to the Hebrews which states that “…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Why include the word ‘once’ – it hardly seems necessary. But if belief in reincarnation had been introduced during this period it makes perfect sense to stress that we only die once (according to Judeo-Christian theology).

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1 Responses

  1. Patrick Paulsen says:

    Interesting Buddhist statue. I was aware of Buddhist missionaries and traders traveling to the ‘Middle East’ in the Roman period. This makes sense of the verse in the letter to the Hebrews which states that “…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Why include the word ‘once’ – it hardly seems necessary. But if belief in reincarnation had been introduced during this period it makes perfect sense to stress that we only die once (according to Judeo-Christian theology).

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