Zeus, Greek mythology’s god of the sky, was thought to be omnipresent and observant of people’s worldly affairs. Given his Greek roots—and his spectacular temple in Olympia—you’d be forgiven for thinking the only temples to Zeus are in Greece.
A new discovery in Egypt challenges that notion. In a statement released on Monday, Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Ministry announced that archaeologists have discovered the remains of a Zeus-inspired temple in the Sinai Peninsula.
The temple honors Zeus Kasios—a deity who merges Greek god Zeus and Mount Kasios. Located on the border of Syria and Turkey, the mountain is associated with a legendary battle that took place between Zeus and the monster Typhon to decide who would rule the cosmos. (Zeus won with the help of his trusty lightning bolt.)
Known today as Jebel Aqra, Kasios is home to frequent thunderstorms and became an important site of worship in multiple ancient traditions. The fusion of god and mountain, writes Judith Sudilovsky for the Jerusalem Post is “an example of the legacy of religious multiculturalism in antiquity.”
In the statement, Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s antiquities council, said the team identified the Zeus Kasios temple with the help of the remains of a pair of 6.5-foot-tall pink granite pillars that once served as the temple’s entrance gate. The columns possibly collapsed due to an earthquake, he added.
Archaeologists also discovered a collection of granite blocks at the site—likely part of a staircase that enabled worshippers to reach the temple.
The site has been excavated before: In the early 20th century, Jean Clédat, a French Egyptologist in search of Christian monuments in Egypt, found Greek carvings at the site that mentioned Zeus Kasios. Clédat never excavated the entire site, though—and now modern archaeologists have taken the lead. They rediscovered the stone Clédat found and discovered a similar stone bearing Greek carvings, along with evidence that the temple’s pink stones were reused in other structures.
Hisham Hussein, the director general of the excavation, said he is currently studying the discovered blocks and that he will conduct a photogrammetry survey to understand the temple’s underlying architectural design.
Inscriptions found during the dig show that the temple was renovated by Hadrian (117-138 C.E.). Known for his admiration of Greek civilization, the Roman emperor renovated other structures throughout his empire, including the Pantheon.
Given the importance of the deity during ancient times, temples dedicated to Zeus have been found in other countries as well, as David Kindy reports for Smithsonian magazine’s Smart News section. Last year, researchers uncovered the entrance gate to yet another of the god’s temples in the ancient Greek city of Magnesia in what is now Turkey.