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Asiatic traders in ancient Egypt: An New Kingdom marketscene from the tomb of Qenamen.
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Asiatic traders in Egypt

Asiatic traders doing business at the Theban quayside-     In this scene from the tomb of Qenamen, a mayor of Thebes and overseer of the barns of Amen, a number of ships have are at the quayside of Thebes, who lived during the reign of Amenhotep III (1402-1364 BCE). Ancient seagoing ships with a displacement of less than 100 tons were small enough to sail up the Nile. Bearded asiatic merchants sumptuously dressed interact with Egyptians, greeting them in the submissive pose often depicted at the time: both hands raised with the palms forwards. Some of the Egyptians, possibly officials, wield sticks.

    Much of the interpretation of this picture is guesswork. There are no explaining hieroglyphs. One is therefore left to wonder whether the Syrian in the middle register is showing a bowl because it is made of precious metal or because of the value of its contents.

    Three Egyptian merchants, among them a woman, sit in little stalls. Their wares, everyday items like sandals, pieces of cloth, loaves of bread and cakes, are displayed on low tables or hanging from the stall roof. They have scales probably used for measuring spices rather than precious metal. Jars are being unloaded containing oil, wine or the like. Cattle are being driven away. A Syrian leads a group of people who keep very close together, probably slaves, towards a man who could be a scribe.

Phoenician amphora; Source Ballard et al. 2002     Much of the overseas trade during the late New Kingdom and the Late Period was in the hands of Phoenician traders. Liquids were transported in amphoras which were mass produced to quite exacting specifications, so they could be stacked by the hundreds in the ship's hold.

Phoenician amphora found off Ashkelon, 8th century BCE
Extract, source: American Journal of Archaeology, Volume 106.2, April 2002

    The amphoras found in shipwrecks off the southern Canaanite coast had small pierced handles designed for the ropes with which they were tied down. The inside was covered with pine resin and contained almost 18 litres of liquid each, in this case, according to analyses made, wine. Syrian wine was seemingly often transported overland in big vessels of 180 litres and decanted into the amphoras for export [1].



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-[1] Iron Age Shipwrecks in Deep Water off Ashkelon, Israel

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© March 2001
Update: August 2004