Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


Among late antique textiles in the British Museum Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan (hereafter, AES), nearly half (c. 135) are said to have come from the Upper Egyptian town of Akhmim. If the attribution to the site is correct, the textiles provide the Museum with an excellent opportunity to discuss the transformation of Egypt in Late Antiquity through the lens of death and burial.

The late antique site is well represented in Greek and Coptic literature and by the material culture of the city and its cemeteries. The modern name Akhmim holds a vestige of the name Min, the Egyptian god to whom the city was dedicated, and whom Greek-speakers equated with Pan. Thus, the city was known as Panopolis in Greek and, later, Shmin in Coptic. The city was the birthplace of numerous “pagan” elites who figure prominently in ancient literature: the alchemist Zosimos (c. 300 CE), fourth-century pagan philosophers (e.g., the Neo-Platonist Horapollon Sr.) and fifth-century pagan poets (e.g., Pamprepius). Fourthcentury family archives surviving on papyrus demonstrate the everyday life of, for example, Ammon, a temple priest and his family. At the same time, from at least 347 CE, Panopolis was the seat of a bishop, and some of the earliest practitioners of communal monasticism established monasteries in the region. The Life of Saint Pachomius suggests that the abbot founded at least three monasteries at or near Akhmim in the first half of the fourth-century. Across the river at Shenoute’s Monastery, near modern Sohag, the fifth-century abbot wrote scathing attacks on elites whom he accused of being pagans.