Dush(ancient Kysis), lies about 125 kilometers South of Khargah deep in the Western Desert of Egypt, at the intersection of five major trade routes in Kharga Oasis, it was the site of a major military installation during the Roman time. Temple of Dush is the primary monument in which is a Roman fortress; the temple has an axial plan with an inner and an outer sanctuary, a columned hall and two pylons.

Hieroglyphic texts suggest the temple was originally dedicated to Osiris; later, during the Greco-Roman era, the temple became sacred to Serapis and Isis. The current structure dates primarily to the reigns of Domitian, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius.

The Roman Fortress at Dush

The very southernmost outpost of Kharga Oasis is marked by a Roman fortress known simply as el-Qasr (literally ‘the Fortress’), a mudbrick structure measuring about 30m by 20m. In Roman times a small garrison of troops would have guarded the fortress, but it is not known whether it was purely a military guard-post or if intended to control the trade route at the southern end of the Darb el-Arba’in. The structure is situated in a palm-grove on the eastern side of the paved road, but little is visible today. When it was excavated by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities in the 1980s over 150 Ottoman tombs were discovered as well as a great deal of Roman pottery sherds, attesting to the age and continued use of the site.

Dush is situated about 15km north-east of el-Qasr, at a point where five ancient desert tracks met. One of the tracks, the Darb el-Dush, led over the treacherous desert escarpment to the Nile valley towns of Esna and Edfu, an important and heavily used route during Roman times. Surrounding the hill of Dush is the site of the ancient town of Kysis, one of the oldest Roman ruins in Kharga Oasis.Once a border town commanded by a large garrison of Roman troops, it contains a mudbrick fortress (Qasr Dush) and two temples. To the north and north-east of the fortress was an extensive necropolis zone where families of funeral workers plied their trade, attested by an archive of around fifty documents dating from AD 237 to AD 314.

The area around Dush has been investigated since 1976 by French archaeologists of the IFAO who have found evidence of temporary occupation possibly dating back as early as the Old Kingdom (possibly Dynasty IV). On the slopes of the hill,Persian and Ptolemaic Period settlements have been identified and the earliest fortress which enclosed a rectangular area at the top of the hill was of Ptolemaic or possibly even Persian origin. The massive crumbling mudbrick walls of the Roman fortress still stand 6m to 12m tall in places. The Romans enlarged the Ptolemaic structure on this strategic point overlooking the wide desert plain and the town of Kysis with its large community and cultivated agricultural land would have grown around it. Inside the fortress walls the interior is densely covered with barrack structures, while the underground chambers go down four or five levels.

Abutting the Roman fortress on the eastern side are the remains of a sandstone temple,probably erected by Domitian, enlarged by Trajan and then partly decorated by the Emperor Hadrian during the 1st to 2nd centuries AD. The temple was originally dedicated to Osiris, who the Greeks transformed into Serapis and also to the goddess Isis.

A monumental stone gateway fronts the temple and contains a dedicatory inscription by Trajan dated AD 116 as well as graffiti by Cailliaud and other nineteenth-century travellers. To the north is a large forecourt containing five columns with a pylon at its northern end.

The main part of the temple measures approximately 7.5m by 15.5m and contains a pillared hall with four slender columns, a staircase to the roof, an offering table in an outer chamber and inner sanctuary with vaulted roof. Two long side-chambers also had barrel-vaulted roofs. A taller pronaos was later added to the front of the main building. All three Roman Emperors are depicted in scenes carved on the temple walls, which were reputed to be partly sheathed in gold.

In March 1989, during the excavation of a magazine complex on the west side of the temple, French archaeologists discovered a magnificent collection of artifacts, now known as the ‘Dush Treasure’ (Cairo Egyptian Museum). They first uncovered a linen-wrapped gilded statuette of Isis, a small bronze figure of Horus dressed as a Roman legionary, and a bronze figure of Osiris. Nearby, a large loose-lidded pottery jar which had been concealed by masonry, was found to contain a hoard of magnificent gold religious jewelry and ex-votos objects.

These precious items had obviously been gathered together for safety and hidden in the jar during the 4th to 5th centuries AD. The religious treasure was of the highest quality craftsmanship and included a golden crown depicting the Roman god Serapis as well as bracelets and pendants of gold and semi-precious stones. These objects have provided scholars with valuable information about Roman worship in Egypt.