Ruins of the Hydreuma at Paneion (Πανεῖον), El-Kanayis Egypt

In Roman Egypt, Hydreuma (plural hydreumata) was an enclosed (and often fortified) "watering station" along trade routes in dry regions. A hydreuma was a manned and fortified watering hole or way station along a caravan route, providing a man-made oasis.


The term Hydreuma only refers to wells, not to any other source of water. Water-tanks were known as hydreia or lakkos; technically the term hydreuma wasn't being applied to these forts.[1] An example of the other usages of the term "hydreuma" are the water basins of Roman era-Kharga Oasis[2] and outlying parts of villages with wells there.[3] The Arabs called these Roman fortified wells dêr (monastery), kariyah (village) or diminutive kurêyah or wekâla (caravanserai).[4]

Construction, use and history

Hydreuma are fortified water supply posts in the Eastern Sahara. According to Strabo they had wells or cisterns:[5]

Apart from water supply, they might have been used as trading monitoring posts for tax collection purposes, as garrisons and also as military-representative structures.[17] Some hydreumata were used as water sources to irrigate land,[18] and to supply water for the port of Berenice Troglodytica (Berenike).[19] The fortifications served to protect the well from desert sand.[20]

These forts are attested by Pliny, in texts found through the Eastern Desert,[1] reports of individual transports,[21] as well as in the Antonine Itinerary and the Tabula Peutingeriana.[22] While Strabo mentions that the first ones were built by Ptolemy II,[23] most were built by the Romans between the first and second century AD on the old Egyptian routes between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea,[5] after the earlier Ptolemaic trade route between Edfu and Berenike was largely abandoned.[24] Reportedly, Emperor Vespasian fortified many hydreumata, which thus became praesidia,[1] presumably because indigenous people began to use camels for raids.[22] They were later often repaired or reconstructed. Today many are either destroyed or buried by sand,[25] some were restaurated in the early 20th century.[26]

Roads with hydreumata

They are found along the old roads that lead to Berenike and Myos Hormos. These ports were part of the Roman-Indian trade routes and were active during the era of the early Roman Empire, when as many as hundred ships departed from Berenike every year,[27] and are mentioned in ancient accounts like the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.[15] Traffic through these routes increased after the discovery of the monsoon winds[28] and was mostly by caravan, without wagons.[7] These ports were not self-sufficient, instead relying on supplies brought to them overland from the Nile Valley, as contemporary records indicate.[29] The roads were not paved nor did they feature milestones, sometimes they were not even cleared of rocks on the roadway.[30] Numerous branch roads connected the roads with each other and with sites like quarries.[31] Caravans on average would have reached each hydreuma after two days from the last one;[32] Strabo reports that some travel occurred during night.[33]

The two roads to Berenike and Myos Hormos have distinct hydreuma architectures, which may be due to them having different strategic importance to the Romans,[32] as the Koptos-Myos Hormos route may have doubled as an internal military border.[34] Additionally, there are non-hydreuma buildings along the roads,[35] as well as gold mines.[36]


A map with roads
Map of roads in Roman Egypt

Among the hydreumata are:

Other small hydreumata lie along the Edfu (Apollonopolis Magna[28])-Berenike road at Abbad, Abu Rahal, Abu Midrik (24°55.20′N 33°40.84′E / 24.92000°N 33.68067°E / 24.92000; 33.68067[40]), Rod al-Legah, Seyrig and Umm Gariya.[41] Their occurrence has been reported from west of the Nile as well,[42] in particular late Roman oasis fortifications,[43] but not from Numidia.[44] In the Libyan Desert, Roman-era centenaria resemble hydreumata[45] but were fortified grain-houses.[46]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Brun et al. 2018, A Survey of Place-Names in the Egyptian Eastern Desert during the Principate according to the Ostraca and the Inscriptions.
  2. ^ Rossi et al. 2022, p. 22.
  3. ^ Eccleston 2007, p. 12.
  4. ^ Murray 1925, p. 141.
  5. ^ a b Scott 2011, p. 16.
  6. ^ Sidebotham 2002, p. 422.
  7. ^ a b Zitterkopf & Sidebotham 1989, p. 168.
  8. ^ Sidebotham 2003, p. 91.
  9. ^ Sidebotham 1994, p. 263.
  10. ^ Sidebotham 1994, p. 264.
  11. ^ Woźniak 2019, p. 404.
  12. ^ Woźniak 2019, p. 405.
  13. ^ Wilson 2015, p. 18.
  14. ^ Scott 2011, pp. 18–19.
  15. ^ a b c d Scott 2011, p. 18.
  16. ^ Zitterkopf & Sidebotham 1989, pp. 167–168.
  17. ^ Zitterkopf & Sidebotham 1989, p. 166.
  18. ^ Sidebotham 1996, p. 778.
  19. ^ Sidebotham 2002, p. 429.
  20. ^ Woźniak 2019, p. 399.
  21. ^ Adams 2013, p. 271.
  22. ^ a b Murray & Warmington 1967, p. 29.
  23. ^ Woźniak 2019, p. 398.
  24. ^ Brun et al. 2018, The Control of the Eastern Desert by the Ptolemies: New Archaeological Data.
  25. ^ Scott 2011, p. 19.
  26. ^ Sidebotham 2003, p. 95.
  27. ^ Scott 2011, pp. 16–17.
  28. ^ a b Zitterkopf & Sidebotham 1989, p. 156.
  29. ^ Scott 2011, p. 21.
  30. ^ Sidebotham 2002, p. 424.
  31. ^ Sidebotham 2002, p. 428.
  32. ^ a b Scott 2011, p. 20.
  33. ^ Zitterkopf & Sidebotham 1989, p. 170.
  34. ^ Scott 2011, p. 22.
  35. ^ a b Scott 2011, p. 19-20.
  36. ^ Brun et al. 2018, Chronology of the Forts of the Routes to Myos Hormos and Berenike during the Graeco-Roman Period.
  37. ^ Sidebotham 2003, p. 92.
  38. ^ a b Sidebotham 2003, p. 102.
  39. ^ Sidebotham, Zitterkopf & Helms 2000, pp. 116–117.
  40. ^ Sidebotham 2003, p. 97.
  41. ^ Woźniak 2019, p. 400.
  42. ^ Żurawski 2021, p. 183.
  43. ^ Kucera 2005, p. 26.
  44. ^ Hester, Hobler & Russell 1970, p. 387.
  45. ^ Munzi, Schirru & Tantillo 2014, p. 60.
  46. ^ Munzi, Schirru & Tantillo 2014, p. 55.