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History of the Trade Contacts

The Puntite factor in the history of ancient Egypt had existed since the pre-dynastic period, the turn of fourth century millennium BCE. But the definite data about trading missions sent to Punt cover nearly fifteen centuries of 2590-1150 BCE, which contain the greatest periods in the history of dynastic Egypt.

Fig. 2 Somalo-Egyptian contacts with other trade routes of Egypt, (After Rosemary Reese 2006, The Ancient Egyptians, teaching
The known information about Punt began with Pharaoh Khufu 2589-2566 BCE, the builder of great pyramids in Giza, near Cairo. His son owned a slave from Punt. It ended with Pharaoh Ramses III, 1182-1151 BCE. Probably as an attempt at spiritual rehabilitation of irrevocably declining Egypt by boosting ritual services and by showing that the old glory is still at hand, Ramses 111 sent an ambitious mission to Punt around 1167 BCE which returned with fresh incense. This was almost the last expedition to Punt.

Although the excavations always come up with new information, generally there are about twenty known naval expeditions to Punt.

In addition to the national name of Ta Punt (Punt Land) the Egyptians gave the land ideological names such as Ta Neter (Land of God), and land of Gods or Ancestors; as well as material names like Kheto-Anti (terraces of incense trees) and land of gold. Besides their individual names, they called products collectively ‘wonderful things from Punt’.

One of the earliest and most detailed imports from Punt was brought by a mission sent by Pharaoh Sahure (2490-76 BCE) of the new Kingdom. Incense was the main part of the Cargo brought back by the mission which consists of 80,000 aromatic units, 6,000 gold and silver units, and a lot of ebony woods, with first Puntite Pictures.

Unlike the pictures of various other nations, the representations of Puntites or Somalis in this early period were depicted on the monuments in sharp resemblances to the Egyptians themselves. Punt was described as land of gold and aromatics, god and ancestors of Huur (falcon) Kings.[i]

During the first intermediate period, just shortly prior to the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, the purpose of the missions was still the same as the earlier era. A leader in the Red Sea area called Henu built ships for a naval mission to Punt by an order of the Luxor-based pharaoh Mentuhotep (2125-12). The expedition returned with cargo that consisted mainly incense. Throughout the era of the Middle Kingdom, 2040-1780 BCE, expeditions were almost taking place on a regular course. The contacts might have sometimes been interrupted by internal crises or foreign disturbances.[ii]

However, the greatest and most detailed maritime expedition was dispatched by Queen Hatshepsut of the New Kingdom around 1,490 BCE. The mission, whose destination is reckoned to be at Caluula, near Raas Caseyr or Cape of Spices (Guardafui),[iii] brought back:

“all the goodly fragrant woods of God’s Land (Land of Punt) heaps of myrrh resin, fresh myrrh trees, ebony, pure ivory, green gold of Emu, cinnamon wood, khyst wood, ihmut incense, souter incense, eye cosmetic, apes and monkeys, dogs, skins of southern panther.”[iv]

Read more: Kingdom of Punt


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