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Ancient ties: First Hellenistic gymnasium discovered in Egypt

Remains of an ancient gymnasium from the Hellenistic period have been discovered by archaeologists in Egypt

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Photo: Ministry of Antiquities

08 November 2017

A German-Egyptian archaeological team has uncovered the remains of an ancient Greek gymnasium, that was used to train young Greek-speaking men in sports, literacy and philosophy, at Wafta in Fayoum during excavations.

Dr Ayman Ashmawi, Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector said the gymnasium included a large meeting hall once adorned with statues, a dining hall and courtyard. The gymnasium was surrounded by gardens and a 200 metre racetrack on which the young men would train for important 180 metre races.

These gymnasia were built like those in the Hellenistic world – although on a much smaller scale – where young men of the Greek speaking upper-class were trained in sports, learned to read and write, and to enjoy philosophical discussions.

Professor Cornelia Römer, who led the excavation by the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), said gymnasia were privately founded by people who wanted their villages to possess en even greater Greek influence.

A statement released by the Ministry of Antiquities said Watfa, ancient Philoteris, was one of the many villages founded under the first Ptolemies in the middle of the 3rd century BC in the years after Alexander the Great invaded Egypt, and saw around 1200 inhabitants, two thirds Egyptians, and one third Greek speaking settlers.

The exploits of Alexander the Great, had made Egypt part of the Hellenistic world, seeing the Hellenisation of ancient Egypt and thousands of Greeks migrating to the Nile.

"Although much smaller, the gymnasium of Wafta clearly shows the impact of Greek life in Egypt, not only in Alexandria, but also in the countryside," Professor Römer said.

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