This article reviews recent archaeological work—in particular archaeological surveys, excavations, and analysis of pottery—in the western Egyptian Delta. The goal is to present a synthesis and to elucidate patterns of settlement in this region that can be of value in a historical reconstruction. The article argues that in the fifth and sixth centuries the western Delta was booming and was deeply integrated into the economy of the Eastern Roman Empire. Settlement was at an all-time high point for the area. The desert margins were colonized with vineyards, saints, and monks; the northern swamps were filled with new villages. The western Delta had been a most important region of Egypt since the Saite period, yet it is argued here that the Roman period (including much of the fourth century) shows a contraction of settlement and economic activity. This contraction separates two periods of remarkable growth: the Ptolemaic and late antique periods. The western Delta is therefore another example of the widespread growth of the rural economy in the eastern Mediterranean in the last centuries of antiquity.

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