Troglodytes: Graffiti and inscriptions from the Red Sea area thanking Pan / Min for rescue from Cave-dwellers (second century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Troglodytes: Graffiti and inscriptions from the Red Sea area thanking Pan / Min for rescue from Cave-dwellers (second century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 22, 2024,

Ancient authors: Numerous travellers passing by the temple of Pan / Min in the Eastern Desert near the Red Sea, in André Bernand, Le Paneion d’El-Kanaïs: Les inscriptions grecques (Leiden: Brill, 1972), nos. 2, 3, 8, 13, 18, 43, 44, 47, 62 (link).

Comments: Inscriptions are not a place where we would expect frequent negative statements about other peoples, but there are exceptions like these graffiti and inscriptions from the Paneion or temple of Pan (identified with the Egyptian deity Min) in the Eastern Desert near the Red Sea (at the modern settlement of El-Kanayis). Traversing the desert for trading (with routes as far as India), mining (gold), or military purposes was a difficult task and so watering stops were needed. One of these watering stops was the location of this temple of Pan or Min (at a site where a temple of Amen-Re existed since about 1200 BCE) on the road from the port settlement of Berenike on the Red Sea to Apollonopolis in the Nile valley.

The so called “Cave-dwellers” or Troglodytes (also spelled without the lambda) are a somewhat common feature of ethnographic writing by Greek authors, where they are among the “paradoxical” Ethiopian or Egyptian peoples (link to examples on this site). Their custom of inhabiting caves, of course, is synonymous with uncivilized living from the elite Greek perspective, and they are assumed to be savages who live like animals.

In light of this, the somewhat regular appearance of Troglodytes in inscriptions from the temple of Pan is quite notable. In all cases below, the person or group who is making the journey across the eastern desert dedicates something to Pan and this is expressed in terms of being rescued “from the land of the Troglodytes” or simply “from the Troglodytes” or from some other people, including the sub-group of Kolobians (but see also the one case of rescue from Sabaians, an Arabian people). It is not entirely clear whether the references are intended to literally refer to the dedicator’s (or dedicators’) fears of actually encountering specific savage and dangerous peoples, or whether the phrase is more along the lines of a metaphorical statement that one is rescued from all that is uncivilized about the desert (with Troglodytes being a catchphrase). The fact that more than one people is evoked in such settings suggests that real, localized people are in view, rather than a generalized “barbarian.” Either way, stereotypes about the dangerous and uncivilized Cave-dwellers or ideas about them are evidently playing a role in the day-to-day life of regular merchants, soldiers, and other travellers from various parts. It is noteworthy that the longest text below is, in fact, graffiti (no. 8).

Works consulted: R. Mairs, “Egyptian ‘Inscriptions’ and Greek  ‘Graffiti’ at El Kanais in the  Egyptian Eastern Desert,” in Ancient Graffiti in Context, ed. Jennifer Baird and Claire Taylor (New York: Routledge, 2010), 153–64 (link).


no. 2, inscription from the Hellenistic era, from the forecourt or portico of the temple (link)

Pan of the good journey (Euodos). Zenodotos son of Glaukos has offered this . . . honour (?) . . . to you, having been rescued from the land of the Sabaians (Sabaioi).

Εὔοδε Πάν, σοὶ τόνδε παῖς | Γλαύκου πόρ[ε κόσ]μ̣ον / | Ζηνόδοτος, σ[ω]θεὶς | γῆς ἀπὸ τῆς <Σ>αβαίων.

no. 3, inscription from the Hellenistic era (link)

Eutychides dedicated this to Pan because he has been rescued from the Trogodytes [alternative spelling for Troglodytes, i.e. Cave-dwellers].

Πανὶ χάριν σω|θεὶς Εὐτυχίδης | ἔθετο / | ἐκ Τρογοδυτῶν {Τρωγλοδυτῶν}.

no. 8, grafitti in elegiac couplets in a private collection in New York (provenance identified based on content), ca. 200 BCE (link)

This is dedicated to Pan of the good hunt who listens to prayer, who rescued me from the land of the Troglodytes, having suffered greatly in repeated hardships, and who rescued me from the sacred myrrh-producing land and from among the Kolobians (Koloboi; literally, “Mutilated ones”) [with reference to circumcision; cf. Diodoros, Library of History 3.32 (link); Agatharchides, On the Erythraean Sea (link)]. You rescued us (5) when we went off course on the Erythraian sea [Red Sea], turning us around in the sea with a breeze, whistling sweet breaths in the reeds, until you yourself brought us to the port of Ptolemais, steering us with your hands, most skillful from the hunt. Now, (10) friend, save the city which Alexander first founded in Egypt, the most famous of cities. I proclaim your power, friend Pan, having been rescued back to Ptolemais (?). . . (15) and Arsinoe. . . [final three lines too fragmentary to translate].

Π̣ανὶ τόδε εὐάγρ̣ῳ καὶ ἐπ[ηκό]|ω̣ι̣, ὃ̣ς̣ δ̣ι̣έσωισεν / Τρωγο̣δ̣υτῶν με [ἐκ] | γῆς, πολλὰ παθόντα πόνοις / δισσοῖς, Σ̣[μυρνο]|φόρου θ’ ἱερᾶς̣ Κ̣ο̣λοβῶν τ̣ε̣ ἀπὸ –– / σώισα̣ς̣ [δὲ(?) ἐν πε]|| λάγει πλαζο̣μ̣έ̣νους Ἐ̣ρ̣υ̣θ̣ρ̣[ῷ], / οὖρον νευσὶ με|θῆκας ἑλισσ[ομ]έναις ἐνὶ πόντωι, / συρίζων | λ̣ιγυροῖς πνεύ̣μασιν ἐγ δονάκ[ων] / μ̣έχ̣ρ̣ι κ̣α̣ὶ εἰ[ς] | [λιμ]ένα Πτολε̣μ̣αΐδος ἤγαγες αὐτὸς / σ̣αῖσι κ̣[υ]|[βε]ρ̣νήσας χε̣[ρ]σ̣ὶ̣[ν ἐ]π̣αγροτ[ά]{τα}τα̣ι̣ς̣ {ἐπαγροτάταις}. / ν[ῦν], || [φί]λε, Ἀλεξάνδ̣ρ̣ο̣υ̣ [σ]ῷισον πόλ̣ιν ἥν πο̣[τε] | π̣ρῶτο̣ς̣ / τε[ῦ]ξ[ε]ν̣ [ἐ]π’ Αἰγύπτ̣ου, κλ̣ε̣ινο[τάτην] | [π]ο̣λ̣ί̣ων, / | [α]ὐ̣δή[σω] δ̣[ὲ] τ̣ὸ σὸν κράτος, ὦ̣ [φ]ίλε [Πάν], | [δ]ι̣α̣σω̣[θ]εὶς. / πρ̣ὸς Πτολεμαῖ[ον(?) — — —] || [τ]ε Ἀρσινοίην̣. / Ε̣ὐάγρους̣ [— — —] | [βα]σιλείας | ․․․․․ / ․․Α̣․․Ο̣․Α̣Ι̣Τ̣․ΤΗΑΝ̣ [— — —]

no. 13, inscription from the southern part of the temple forecourt, ca. 246-221 BCE (link)

(A) Akestimos, Cretan of Kourtolia, dedicated this to Pan of the good journey, having been rescued from the Trogodytes. (B) . . . worship . . . [remainder too fragmentary to translate].

(A) Ἀ[κέ]σ̣τιμος Κρὴς | Κουρτωλῖαος | Πανὶ Εὐόδωι | σωθεὶς ἐκ Τρω<γυ>δυτῶν.
(B) [— —] π[ρ]οσκ[ύ]ν[ημα] | [— — —]ΙΟΙΟϹϹ[— — —] | [— — —]Υ̣[— — —].

no. 18, inscription found to the east of the temple, third or second century BCE (link)

Euphaidas set this up, having been rescued from Trogodytes.

Εὐφαίδας | σωθεὶς ἐκ Τρωγυδυτῶν {Τρωγλοδυτῶν}.

no. 43 = SB V 8863, inscription with red paint from near the temple, late Hellenistic era (link)

This was dedicated to Saviour Pan of the good journey by Melanias son of Apollonios, from Perge [in Lycia, southern Turkey], having been rescued from the Trogodytes.

Πανὶ Εὐόδωι | Σωτῆρι Μελανιᾶς | Ἀπολλωνίου Περγάος | σωθὲν {σωθεὶς} ἐκ Τρωγοδυτῶν.

no. 44 = SB I 4059, Hellenistic era (link)

The soldiers of Artemidoros dedicated this to Pan of the good journey, having been rescued from the Trogodytes: . . . Name, Amastrios, . . . Name, Artemidoros, Amastrios, Artemidoros, Memnon, . . . [nine or more names missing].

Πανὶ Εὐόδωι [στρατιῶτ]|α̣ι τῶν Ἀρτεμιδώρου σωθέν|τες ἐκ τῶν Τρογ[ο]δυτῶν | [— — —]μος, Ἀμάστρ[ιος], || [— — —] Ἀρτεμίδω[ρος], | Ἀμάστριος, Ἀρτεμίδω[ρος], | Μέμνων, [— — —] | [— — —] | [— — —] || [— — —] | [— — —] | [— — —] | [— — —] | [— — —] || [— — —].

no. 47 = SB I 4049, Hellenistic era (link)

Meneas, having been rescued from Trogodytes, dedicated this to Pan of the good journey as a thanks.

Μενέας | σωθεὶς ἐκ Τρω|γοδυτῶν· Πα|νὶ Εὐόδωι χάρις.

no. 62, Hellenistic era (link)

Polystratos son of Eratinas, Lycian, having been rescued from Trogotytes, dedicated this to Pan of the good journey.

Πολύστρατος | Ἐρατίνου Λύκ[ι]ος, | σωθεὶς ἐκ Τρω[γο]|δύτων, || Πανὶ Εὐόδωι.


Source of translations: Translations by Harland.

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