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4.14: Ancient Egyptian Trade

  • Page ID
    253470
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    Learning Objective

    • Describe the economic structure of ancient Egypt

    Key Points

    • Trade was occurring in the 5th century BCE onwards, especially with Canaan, Lebanon, Nubia and Punt.
    • Just before the First Dynasty, Egypt had a colony in southern Canaan that produced Egyptian pottery for export to Egypt.
    • In the Second Dynasty, Byblos provided quality timber that could not be found in Egypt.
    • By the Fifth Dynasty, trade with Punt gave Egyptians gold, aromatic resins, ebony, ivory, and wild animals.
    • A well-traveled land route from the Nile to the Red Sea crossed through the Wadi Hammamat. Another route, the Darb el-Arbain, was used from the time of the Old Kingdom of Egypt.
    • Egyptians built ships as early as 3000 BCE by lashing planks of wood together and stuffing the gaps with reeds. They used them to import goods from Lebanon and Punt.

    Terms

    papyrus

    A material prepared in ancient Egypt from the stem of a water plant, used in sheets for writing, painting, or making rope, sandals, and boats.

    obsidian

    A hard, dark, glasslike volcanic rock.

    electrum

    A natural or artifical alloy of gold, with at least 20% silver, used for jewelry.

    myrrh

    A fragrant gum resin obtained from certain trees, often used in perfumery, medicine and incense.

    malachite

    A bright green mineral consisting of copper hydroxyl carbonate.

    Early examples of ancient Egyptian trade included contact with Syria in the 5th century BCE, and importation of pottery and construction ideas from Canaan in the 4th century BCE. By this time, shipping was common, and the donkey, camel, and horse were domesticated and used for transportation. Lebanese cedar has been found in the tombs of Nekhen, dated to the Naqada I and II periods. Egyptians during this period also imported obsidian from Ethiopia, gold and incense from Nubia in the south, oil jugs from Palestine, and other goods from the oases of the western desert and the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean. Egyptian artifacts from this era have been found in Canaan and parts of the former Mesopotamia. In the latter half of the 4th century BCE, the gemstone lapis lazuli was being imported from Badakhshan (modern-day Afghanistan).

    Just before the First Dynasty, Egypt had a colony in southern Canaan that produced Egyptian pottery for export to Egypt. In the Second Dynasty, Byblos provided quality timber that could not be found in Egypt. By the Fifth Dynasty, trade with Punt gave Egyptians gold, aromatic resins, ebony, ivory, and wild animals. Egypt also traded with Anatolia for tin and copper in order to make bronze. Mediterranean trading partners provided olive oil and other fine goods.

    Egypt commonly exported grain, gold, linen, papyrus, and finished goods, such as glass and stone objects.

    image
    Depiction of Queen Hatshepsut’s Expedition to Punt. This painting shows Queen Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt.

    Land Trade Routes

    A well-traveled land route from the Nile to the Red Sea crossed through the Wadi Hammamat, and was known from predynastic times. This route allowed travelers to move from Thebes to the Red Sea port of Elim, and led to the rise of ancient cities.

    Another route, the Darb el-Arbain, was used from the time of the Old Kingdom of Egypt to trade gold, ivory, spices, wheat, animals, and plants. This route passed through Kharga in the south and Asyut in the north, and was a major route between Nubia and Egypt.

    Maritime Trade Routes

    Egyptians built ships as early as 3000 BCE by lashing planks of wood together and stuffing the gaps with reeds.

    image
    Egyptian Sailing Ship. This painting depicts an Egyptian ship from c. 1420 BCE.

    Pharaoh Sahure, of the Fifth Dynasty, is known to have sent ships to Lebanon to import cedar, and to the Land of Punt for myrrh, malachite, and electrum. Queen Hatshepsut sent ships for myrrh in Punt, and extended Egyptian trade into modern-day Somalia and the Mediterranean.

    image
    Queen Hatshepsut. Queen Hatshepsut expanded trade into modern-day Somalia and the Mediterranean.

    An ancient form of the Suez Canal is believed to have been started by Pharaoh Senusret II or III of the Twelfth Dynasty, in order to connect the Nile River with the Red Sea.

    Sources

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