Gods and Grapes in Granaries C65 and C123 by Alexandra Creola

During the course of the past several weeks, I have been investigating granary C65 at Karanis. My work has involved using plans, drawings, preliminary reports, archival photographs, and objects housed in the Kelsey Museum to study the complexity of this building. How can we understand C65 within the wider context of other granaries in the city?

KM 4_2988 Watercolor image of the Harpocrates painting found in C65.
KM 4_2988 Watercolor image of the Harpocrates painting found in C65.

In the past week, I have begun thinking more specifically about one of C65’s most notable features, which is a well-preserved painting of the child-god Harpocrates on the first floor of the building. How typical is this type of painting in a granary, and are there other examples of paintings in granaries in Karanis?

Granary C123 provides one comparative example of a granary in Karanis that is similar in size and dates to the same excavation level as granary C65. C123 also contained frescoes, but the images were not as well-preserved as the Harpocrates painting from C65. One particular fresco in C123 has been the topic of inquiry among our team members for the past week. Several team members believe the design of the fresco from C123 depicts grapes, yet as far as we know, the granaries were not associated with grapes or wine production.

KM 5.3850 Wall painting from granary C123 of possible grapes.
KM 5.3850 Wall painting from granary C123 of possible grapes.

The Fresco from C123 appears very different in style and content from the Harpocrates painting of C65. In C123, the pattern is almost abstract. Does the fresco from C123 depict grapes, or something else? The Kelsey collection holds several different types of objects from various houses at Karanis that also depict grapes, including pottery decorations, flasks, and jewelry. Yesterday, Lizzie Nabney, Mollie Fox, and I examined examples of artifacts associated with grapes at Karanis in the storeroom of the Kelsey Museum, including the flasks pictured below. If the wall painting indeed depicts grapes, then why was this fruit the chosen subject matter for granary C123? Do the grapes have a symbolic function? Do they relate to the cult of Dionysus, to agricultural fertility, or did they have some other meaning?

Left: KM 0000.00.6923 Grape shaped flask from Karanis E107. Right: KM 0000.00.6555 Grape shaped flask from the Fayum.
Left: KM 0000.00.6923 Grape shaped flask from Karanis E107. Right: KM 0000.00.6555 Grape shaped flask from the Fayum.

Broader comparisons of C65 with other granaries in Karanis can open new avenues of exploration. Through comparative examination, we can begin to investigate what features were common among the granaries at Karanis. While wall paintings occur in multiple granaries, exploring the subject matter of the frescoes is one possible avenue for attempting to understand the ways in which C65 is similar to other granaries at Karanis and in what respects C65 is also unique.