The ancient Buddha statue found in the courtyard of the main temple of the Egyptian city of Berenike has been recognised by the American Society of Overseas Research as one of the most interesting discoveries in the Near Eastern archaeology of 2023. The distinction is owed partly to researchers from the Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology (PCMA), University of Warsaw.

In the early Roman period, Berenike was one of the most important ports on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, part of a trade route used to transport goods from distant regions – including India – to the Roman Empire. Research at the site is being conducted by the Polish-American archaeological expedition, The Berenike Project, led by Dr Mariusz Gwiazda from the Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, and Prof. Steven E. Sidebotham from the University of Delaware. In April 2023, the researchers reported on a valuable find in the city. The team of Dr Rodney Asta from the University of Heidelberg discovered a Buddha statue in the courtyard of the temple of Isis.


“The Buddha statue is the first evidence of the transfer of objects along the route from east to west, as well as the first material trace of the transfer of ideas along this route. Moreover, it is the first unequivocal evidence of the practice of Indian religion within the Roman Empire. This indicates an extraordinary cultural integration in the Indian Ocean basin at the beginning of the current era,” Dr Mariusz Gwiazda says.


The Buddha effigy was made of Anatolian marble and scientists date its creation to the late first and early second centuries AD.

Other finds attesting to cultural exchange with India were also identified at Berenike, including Indian coins and objects carved from local gypsum that contain Indian iconography with inscriptions in Sanskrit.


A list of the most fascinating

In December 2023, the American Society of Overseas Research (ASOR) published a list of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries of the Middle East, including the Buddha statue from Berenike.


The entire ranking is available on the ASOR website.


More information about the discovery can be found on the PCMA UW website.