Kom el-Hammam is about 40km to the north-east of Medinet el-Faiyum and is the site of the ancient garrison town of Philadelphia. It is also known by the name of el-Roda and Kom el-Kharaba el-Kebir, the ‘Great Hill of Ruins’.
The Graeco-Roman town of Philadelphia was situated on the eastern edge of the Faiyum’s cultivated land and like the nome it was dedicated to Arsinoe, the sister of Ptolemy II, Philadelphus, who founded the community. It is known to archaeologists as a ‘model town’ set up by Apollonius, a minister of the Pharaoh.
Today there is nothing left of Philadelphia to see, but its importance lies in the fact that many of the mummy-portraits in the world’s museums come originally from this site’s necropolis. The portraits were discovered by locals in the 19th century while taking fertiliser for their fields, and bought by a European dealer, who subsequently sold them to various museums.
Many papyri have also been found at the site, including the archive of Zeno, a steward of Apollonius, who kept records of his correspondence filled with details of agricultural production. These records have provided a great deal of information about the management of a Ptolemaic town and daily life in this farming community.
The site was excavated in the early 1900s and although now covered by the desert, extensive remains can still be seen beneath the sand. Evidence of a once important town site is represented by the large quantities of pottery sherds scattered over the area.
Pyramid of Seila
The small step pyramid of Seila is situated a little to the south of Kom el-Hammam on the top of the escarpment on the eastern side of the Faiyum.
Seila is the most northerly of seven very small step pyramids (similar to the size of queens’ pyramids) in the Nile Valley. The most southerly one is on Elephantine Island. The function of these pyramids is unknown because they do not follow the usual mortuary style, have no subsidiary buildings and so far no burial chambers have been found, but they all appear to date from Dynasties III or IV. It is suggested that the pyramids may mark royal boundaries, or homelands of royal consorts.
The remains of Seila today are only 7m high and only the lower levels can be seen, with parts of these buried in rubble. The pyramid was first investigated by Borchardt at the beginning of the 20th century but at the time the owner’s name was not discovered. In the 1980s the pyramid was re-investigated by Brigham Young University with Nabil Swelim, an Egyptian archaeologist, and remains of builder’s marks and inscriptions were found on some of the blocks. Fragments of two limestone stelae and an offering table were also discovered, which made it possible to identify the structure as belonging to Snefru of Dynasty IV. The pyramid is aligned north to south with a four-stepped core of small blocks of limestone and mortar. No internal chambers have been found.
There are some uninscribed rock-cut tombs at the base of the escarpment below Seila pyramid in which thousands of papyri have been found. The tombs date from the Roman and Coptic Periods.