Archaeologists have made an astounding discovery in the ancient Egyptian port city of Berenike, unearthing a marble Buddha statue that sheds new light on the trade links between India and ancient Rome. This two-foot-tall artefact, depicting Buddha’s torso and head with a radiating halo of sun rays, was found in a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis by a Polish-American research team in March 2022. Prior to this discovery, no depiction of the Buddha had ever been found further west than Afghanistan.
Berenike was a bustling hub along the trade route connecting the Roman Empire to the rest of the ancient world until it was abandoned in the 6th century C.E. The Buddha statue’s hybrid style mixes Indian-Gandharan influences with the local Classical tradition, leading experts to believe that it was likely made in Alexandria in the 2nd century C.E. out of Mediterranean marble.
Polish researcher Mariusz Gwiazda believes that the Buddha statue was commissioned by a wealthy Indian sea merchant, who at some point donated it to the temple. Steve Sidebotham, from the University of Delaware, further speculates that it would have been a thank-you gift for the trader’s safe reception by the Roman Empire.
The discovery of the Buddha statue and other items in the temple, such as two coins from the Indian kingdom of Satavahana, a bilingual inscription in Greek and Sanskrit, and sacred Hindu objects, including a trinity of early deities, provide further insight into the extensive trade routes and cross-cultural exchanges that took place in ancient times. The Buddha statue’s discovery in Berenike highlights the significance of this ancient port city as a major hub for trade and cultural exchange between the East and West.