Ancient Egypt: History and culture
Ancient Egypt: The tale of the Journey of Wenamen
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Wenamen's Journey

Map of Wenamen's journey     The Sea Peoples' defeats by Merneptah and Ramses III prevented them from conquering Egypt itself, but the Egyptians were incapable of defending their possessions in the East, territories which were colonized by the Philistines, Sidonites and others. The effects of the eclipse of Egyptian power are described in the Wenamen papyrus: Local kings, such as the king of Dor, showed almost open contempt for the ambassador of the Pharaoh.
    According to the probably fictitious account set at the beginning of the 11th century BCE Wenamen, a priest of the Amen temple at Karnak, sailed in a Phoenician ship to Gebal (Byblos) in order to buy timber for the construction of a solar ship. He carried with him a letter of introduction to Zekharbaal, king of Gebal, a statue of the god Amen and some valuables: One golden vessel weighing five deben (about 450 grams, the deben was about 91 grammes), four silver jugs weighing twenty deben and a purse containing eleven deben of silver, a total of five deben of gold and 31 deben of silver.
    Silver, which in earliest times had been rarer than gold in Egypt, was worth half the same amount of gold by this time and, at a ratio of 1 to 60, quite a bit more valuable than copper. Thirty-one deben of silver and five deben of gold were worth 2,460 copper deben [1]. According to Ronald Leprohon [3] of the University of Toronto the amount of precious metal carried by Wenamen should have been enough to buy thousands of cubic metres of wood, at least during the times of Egyptian power.
    A worker during late Ramesside times was paid in kind the equivalent of about 11 deben of copper a month, and a scribe about 15 deben of copper [1]. The valuables Wenamen had been entrusted with represented a fortune which the priest would not have been able to replace.
Year five, third month of the third season (eleventh month), day 16, day of the departure of the "eldest of the hall," of the house of Amon, [the lord of the] lands, Wenamon, to bring the timber for the great and august barge of Amon-Re, king of gods, which is on [the river (?)] /// /// /// (called): "Userhet" of Amon.
On the day of my arrival at Tanis (Dan), at the place of abode of Nesubenebded (ns-sw-bA-nb-dd) and Tentamon, I gave to them the writings of Amon-Re, king of gods, which they caused to be read in their presence, and they said: "I will do (it), I will do (it) according to that which Amon-Re, king of gods, our lord, saith."
I abode until the fourth month of the third season, being in Tanis.
Nesubenebded and Tentamon sent me with the ship-captain, Mengebet (m-n-g-b-tj), and I descended into the great Syrian (xArw) sea, in the fourth month of the third season, on the first day. I arrived at Dor, a city of Thekel (TAkArA), and Bedel (bAdjrA), its king, caused to be brought for me much bread, a jar of wine, and a joint of beef.
Then a man of my ship fled, having stolen:
/// [vessels] of gold, [amounting to] 5 deben
4 vessels of silver, amounting to 20 deben
A sack of silver, 11 deben
[Total of what] he [stole]: 5 deben of gold, 31 deben of silver
- -Year five: The reigning king is not mentioned anywhere. Breasted thought that there was a powerless Ramses XII, most think the story is set in the reign of Ramses XI (year 5 of the Renaissance Era=year 19 of his reign), but the reigns of Smendes or Herihor have also been proposed, although neither is referred to as king in the document. This tale most probably being historical fiction it doesn't really matter very much.
-third month of the third season: M. Lichtheim [5]: fourth month of summer, but thinks it should read: second month of summer.
-"Userhet" of Amon: This barge of Amen was of considerable dimensions [4].
-Nesubenebded: Smendes I (c.1070-1043). Ruled Lower Egypt from Tanis after the demise of Ramses XI.
-Tentamon: daughter of Ramses XI and wife of Smendes. Her mother had also been called Tentamen. M. Lichtheim is not certain about that, referring to her as perhaps a Ramesside princess.
-ship-captain, Mengebet: a Syrian commanding a Syrian crew on an Egyptian ship.
-fourth month of the third season: Lichtheim: Emend to "first month of the inundation"
-Thekel: Djeker, one of the Sea Peoples settled along the Canaanite coast to the north of the Philistines.
-much bread: Lichtheim: fifty loaves
In the morning then I rose and went to the abode of the prince, and I said to him: "I have been robbed in thy harbor. Since thou art the king of this land, thou art therefore its investigator, who should search for my money. For the money belongs to Amon-Re, king of gods, the lord of the lands; it belongs to Nesubenebded, and it belongs to Hrihor, my lord, and the other magnates of Egypt; it belongs also to Weret (wArtj), and to Mekmel {mkAmrw), and to Zakar-Baal (TAkArw barA), the prince of Byblos."
He said to me: "To thy honor and thy excellence! But, behold, I know nothing of this complaint which thou hast lodged with me. If the thief belonged to my land, he who went on board thy ship, that he might steal thy treasure, I would repay it to thee from my treasury till they find thy thief by name; but the thief who robbed thee belongs to thy ship. Tarry a few days here with me, and I will seek him."
When I had spent nine days, moored in his harbor, I went to him, and said to him: " Behold, thou hast not found my money [therefore let me depart (?)] with [the] ship-captain, and with those who go /// /// /// /// ///.
///////////////// the sea. He said to me, "Be silent. ///////////////
-I have been robbed in thy harbor: Rulers were generally held responsible for the welfare of foreign merchants in their territories.(Cf. Might and Right in International Relations)
-the lord of the lands: The Egyptians saw the whole civilized world as being subject to their own gods. Beyond that chaos reigned.
-Hrihor: Herihor (c.1080-1074), general and High Priest of Amen, ruler of Upper Egypt since the latter part of the reign of Ramses XI
-Mekmel: Lichtheim: Mekmer. Ancient Egyptian did not distinguish between "l" and "r" sounds.
-To thy honor and thy excellence: Lichtheim: Are you serious? [Are you joking (?) ?]
-I know nothing of this complaint which thou hast lodged with me: Lichtheim: I do not understand the demand you make to me
-by name: Lichtheim: Whatever his name
-ship-captain, and with those who go ///: Lichtheim: captains, with those who go to sea
////////// the harbor ////////// /// /// /// [I arrived at (?)] [Ty]r[e]. I went forth from Tyre at early dawn ///////// /// /// /// /// Zakar-Baal (TAkArA Bar), the prince of Byblos. ////////
////////// the /// /// /// I found 30 deben of silver therein. I seized [it, [saying to them: "I will take(?)]] your money, and it shall remain with me until ye find [my money. [Was it not a man of Thekel (?)]] who stole it, and no thief [of ours (?)]? I will take it /////////."
-Lichtheim did not attempt to translate this broken passage but gave a synopsis: Apparently the prince advises Wenamun to wait some more, but Wenamun departs. He passes Tyre and approaches Byblos. Then he seizes thirty deben of silver from a ship he has encountered which belongs to the Tjeker. He tells the owners that he will keep the money until his money has been found. Through this action he incurs the enmity of the Tjeker.
They went away, while I /// /// /// ///. [I] arrived /// /// /// /// the harbor of Byblos. [I made a place of concealment, I hid (?)] "Amon-of-the-Way," and I placed his things in it. The prince of Byblos sent to me, saying: "Be[take thyself] (from) my harbor."
I sent to him, saying: "///////////// if they sail, let them take [me (?)] to Egypt."
/// /// I spent nineteen days in his [harbor), and he continually sent to me daily, saying: "Betake thyself away from my harbor."
Now, when he sacrificed to his gods ///, the god seized one of his noble youths (aDd), making him frenzied, so that he said: "Bring [the god] hither! Bring the messenger of Amon who hath him. Send him, and let him go."
-They went away, while I /// /// /// ///. [I] arrived /// /// /// /// the harbor: Lichtheim: They departed and I celebrated [in] a tent on the shore of the sea in the harbor
-"Amon-of-the-Way": a portable statuette of Amen as protector of travellers.
-///////////// if they sail: Lichtheim: Where shall [I go]? ------ If [you have a ship to carry me]
-nineteen: Lichtheim: twenty-nine
-the god seized one of his noble youths: divine rapture is rarely mentioned in Egyptians writings. Lichtheim: , the god took hold of a young man [of] his young men and put him in a trance
-"Bring [the god] hither!....: Statues of gods were identified with the gods themselves. Breasted: In ecstasy the youth demands the summoning of Wenamon and his image of Amon, and that they be honorably treated and dismissed.
Now, while the frenzied (youth) continued in frenzy during this night, I found a ship bound for Egypt, and I loaded in all my belongings into it. I waited for the darkness, saying: "When it descends I will embark the god also, in order that no other eye may see him."
The harbor-master came to me, saying: "Remain until morning by the prince."
I said to him: "Art not thou he who continually came to me daily, saying: 'Betake thyself away from my harbor'? Doest thou not say, 'Remain in the [land (?)], in order to let depart the ship that I have found? that thou mayest come and say again, 'Away I'"?
He went and told it to the prince, and the prince sent to the captain of the ship, saying: "Remain until morning by the king."
When morning came he sent and had me brought up, when the divine offering occurred in the fortress wherein he was, on the shore of the sea. I found him sitting in his upper chamber, leaning his back against a window, while the waves of the great Syrian sea beat against the /// behind him. I said to him: "[Kindness (?)] of Amon!"
He said to me: "How long is it until this day since thou camest (away) from the abode of Amon ?"
I said: "Five months and one day until now."
-by the king: Lichtheim: says the prince.
-when the divine offering occurred in the fortress wherein he was: Lichtheim: while the god rested in the tent where he was
-[Kindness (?)]: Lichtheim: Blessings
He said to me: "Behold, if thou art true, where is the writing of Amon, which, is in thy hand? Where is the letter of the High Priest of Amon, which is in thy hand?"
I said to him: "I gave them to Nesubenebded and Tentamon."
Then he was very wroth, and he said to me: "Now, behold, the writing and the letter are not in thy hand! Where is the ship of cedar, which Nesubenebded gave to thee? Where is its Syrian crew? He would not deliver thy business to this ship-captain [/// ///] to have thee killed, that they might cast thee into the sea. From whom would they have sought the god then? And thee, from whom would they have sought thee then?"
So spake he to me. I said to him: "There are indeed Egyptian ships and Egyptian crews who sail under Nesubenebded, (but) he hath no Syrian crews."
He said to me: "There are surely twenty ships here in my harbor, which are in connection with Nesubenebded, and at this Sidon, whither thou also [wouldst go (?)] there are indeed 10,000 ships also which are in connection with Berket-el (wArAkA tjrA) and sail to his house."
-Where is the ship of cedar: Lichtheim: Where is the ship of pinewood. She suggests: Or, "for (the transport of) the pinewood."
-There are indeed Egyptian ships: Lichtheim: Is it not an Egyptian ship?
-10,000: Lichtheim: another fifty ships
-Berket-el: Lichtheim: Werketer
-sail: Lichtheim: haul
Then I was silent in this great hour. He answered and said to me: "On what business hast thou come hither?"
I said to him: "I have come after the timber for the great and august barge of Amon-Re, king of gods. Thy father did it, thy grandfather did it, and thou wilt also do it."
So spake I to him. He said to me: "They did it, truly. If thou give me (something) for doing it, I will do it. Indeed, my agents transacted the business; the Pharaoh, L. P. H., sent six ships, laden with the products of Egypt, and they were unloaded into their storehouses. And thou also shall bring something for me."
He had the journal of his fathers brought in, and he had them read it before me. They found 1,000 deben of every (kind of) silver, which was in his book.
-Thy father did it, thy grandfather did it: Byblos had been supplying timber to Egypt since the Old Kingdom.
-agents: Lichtheim: relations
-1,000 deben of every (kind of) silver: Lichtheim: a thousand deben of silver and all sorts of things
He said to me: "If the ruler of Egypt were the owner of my property, and I were also his servant, he would not send silver and gold, saying: 'Do the command of Amon.' It was not the payment of [tribute (?)] which they exacted of my father. As for me, I am myself neither thy servant nor am I the servant of him that sent thee. If I cry out to the Lebanon, the heavens open, and the logs lie here on the shore of the sea. Give me the sails which thou hast brought to propel thy ships which bear thy logs to [Egypt). Give me the cordage [which thou hast brought to bind (?)] the trees which I fell, in order to make them [fast (?)] for thee //////////// I make them for thee [into (?)] the sails of thy ships, and the tops are (too) heavy and they break, and thou die in the midst of the sea when Amon thunders in heaven, and puts Sutekh in his time. For Amon equips all lands; he equips them, having first equipped the land of Egypt, whence thou comest. For artisanship came forth from it, to reach my place of abode; and teaching came forth from it, to reach my place of abode. What (then) are these miserable journeys which they have had thee make?" -It was not the payment of [tribute (?)] which they exacted of my father: Lichtheim: ' It was not a royal gift that they gave to my father!
-, and puts Sutekh in his time: Lichtheim: sky ever since he placed Seth beside him. Sutekh (Seth) was the Egyptian equivalent of Baal, the god of thunder.
-equips: Lichtheim: founded. Byblos, or at least its ruling class, was heavily influenced by Egyptian culture. Tjekerbaal accepts Egypt having been created first and the indebtedness of all other countries to Egypt for having brought forth all arts and crafts.
-miserable: Lichtheim: foolish
I said to him: "O guilty one! They are no miserable journeys on which I am. There is no ship upon the river, which Amon does not own. For his is the sea, and his is Lebanon of which thou sayest, 'It is mine.' It grows for 'Userhet' (the barge) of Amon, the lord of every ship. Yea, so spake Amon-Re, king of gods, saying to Hrihor, my lord: 'Send me,' and he made me go, bearing this great god. But, behold, thou hast let this great god wait twenty-nine days, when he had landed [in] thy harbor, although thou didst certainly know he was here. He is indeed (still) what he (once) was, while thou standest and bargainest for the Lebanon with Amon, its lord. As for what thou sayest, that the former kings sent silver and gold, if they had given life and health, they would not have sent the valuables; (but) they sent the valuables [to] thy fathers instead of life and health. -O guilty one: Lichtheim: Wrong!
-miserable: Lichtheim: foolish
-although thou didst certainly know he was here: Lichtheim: Did you not know that he was here?
-given: Lichtheim: owned
Now, as for Amon-Re, king of gods, he is the lord of life and health, and he was the lord of thy fathers, who spent their lifetime offering to Amon. And thou also, thou art the servant of Amon. If thou sayest to Amon, 'I will do (it), I will do (it),' and thou executest his command, thou shalt live, and thou shalt be prosperous, and thou shalt be healthy, and thou shalt be pleasant to thy whole land and thy people. Wish not for thyself a thing belonging to Amon-Re, (king of) gods. Yea, the lion loves his own. Let my scribe be brought to me, that I may send him to Nesubenebded and Tentamon, the rulers whom Amon hath given to the North of his land, and they will send all that of which I shall write to them, saying: 'Let it be brought;' until I return to the South and send thee all, all thy trifles again." So spake I to him. -pleasant: Lichtheim: beneficent
-own: Lichtheim: possessions
-my: Lichtheim: your
-rulers: Lichtheim: pillars
He gave my letter into the hand of his messenger. He loaded in the [keel (?)], the head of the bow and the head of the stern, with four other hewn timbers, together seven; and he had them taken to Egypt. His messenger went to Egypt, and returned to me, to Syria, in the first month of the second season. Nesubenebded and Tentamon sent:
Gold: 4
Tb-vessels, 1 kAk-mn-vessel,
Silver: 5
Royal linen: 10 garments, 10
[Hm=xrd (?)];
Papyrus: 500 rolls;
Ox-hides: 500;
Rope: 500 (coils);
Lentils: 20 measures;
Fish: 30 measures
(mstA); She sent me:
Linen: 5 [///], 5
[Hm-xrd (?)]; Lentils: 1 measure;
Fish: 5 measures
-papyrus: from this (and the use of journals) Breasted concluded that by this time the people of Byblos were using alphabetical script possibly based on the Egyptian basic hieroglyphic signs rather than cuneiform which is better adapted to being impressed into clay. Lichtheim translates ox-hides which could be used for other purposes as well. She renders the measures of lentils as sacks of lentils and the measures of fish as baskets of fish.
-She: Tentamen
The prince rejoiced, and detailed 300 men and 300 oxen, placing overseers over them, to have the trees felled. They spent the second season therewith [///]. In the third month of the second season (seventh month) they dragged them [to] the shore of the sea. The prince came forth and stood by them. -They spent the second season therewith [///]: Lichtheim: They were felled and they lay there during the winter
-third month of the second season: Lichtheim: third month of summer
He sent to me, saying: "Come."
Now, when I had presented myself before him, the shadow of his sunshade fell upon me. Penamon, a butler, he stepped between me, saying: "The shadow of Pharaoh, L. P. H., thy lord, falls upon thee."
He was angry with him, saying; "Let him alone!"
I presented myself before him, and he answered and said to me: "Behold, the command which my fathers formerly executed, I have executed, although thou for thy part hast not done for me that which thy fathers did for me. Behold, there has arrived the last of thy timber, and there it lies. Do according to my desire and come to load it, for they will indeed give it to thee."
-sunshade: a mark of high rank
-me: Lichtheim: mine
-they will indeed give it to thee: Lichtheim: has it not been given to you?
Come not to contemplate the terror of the sea, (but) if thou dost contemplate the terror of the sea, thou shalt (also) contemplate my own. Indeed, I have not done to thee that which they did to the messengers of Khamwese, when they spent seventeen years in this land. They died in their place."
He said to his butler: "Take him, and let him see their tomb, wherein they sleep."
I said to him: "Let me not see it! As for Khamwese, (mere) people were the messengers whom he sent to thee, but people /// /// there was no [god among] his messengers. And yet thou sayest, 'Go and see thy companions.' Lo, art thou not glad? and dost thou not have made for thee a tablet, whereon thou sayest: 'Amon-Re, king of gods, sent to me "Amon-of-the-Way," his [divine] messenger, and Wenamon, his human messenger, after the timber for the great and august barge of Amon-Re, king of gods? I felled it, I loaded it, I supplied him (with) my ships and my crews, I brought them to Egypt, to beseech for me 10,000 years of life from Amon, more than my ordained (life), and it came to pass.' Then in future days when a messenger comes from the land of Egypt, who is able to write, and reads thy name upon the stela, thou shalt receive water in the West, like the gods who are there."
He said to me: "It is a great testimony which thou tellest me."
-10,000: Lichtheim: fifty
-and it came to pass.': according to Lichtheim this belongs to the next sentence: ' And if it comes to pass that in another day an envoy ...
-receive water in the West: as a mortuary offering.
-great testimony: Lichtheim: speech of admonition. In a footnote she adds: This reply of the prince seems to be ironic.
I said to him: "As for the many things which thou hast said to me, when I reach the place of abode of the High Priest of Amon, and he shall see thy command in thy command, [he] will have something delivered to thee."
I went to the shore of the sea, to the place where the timbers lay; I spied eleven ships coming from the sea, belonging to the Thekel, saying: "Arrest him! Let not a ship of his (pass) to Egypt!"
I sat down and began, to weep. The letter-scribe of the prince came out to me, and said to me: "What is the matter with thee?"
I said to him: "Surely thou seest these birds which twice descend upon Egypt. Behold them! They come to the pool, and how long shall I be here, forsaken? For thou seest surely those who come to arrest me again."
-he shall see thy command in thy command, [he] will have something delivered to thee: Lichtheim: he sees your accomplishment, it is your accomplishment that will draw profit to you
-They come to the pool: Lichtheim: Look at them traveling to the cool water!
He went and told it to the prince. The prince began to weep at the evil words which they spoke to him. He sent out his letter-scribe to me, he brought me two jars of wine and a ram. He sent to me Tentno (tjnt-nw.t), an Egyptian singer (feminine), who was with him, saying; "Sing for him; let not his heart feel apprehension."
He sent to me, saying: "Eat, drink, and let not thy heart feel apprehension. Thou shalt hear all that I have to say in the morning."
Morning came, he had (the Thekel) called into his [///], he stood in their midst and said to the Thekel: "Why have ye come?"
They said to him: "We have come after the stove-up ships which thou sendest to Egypt with our [///] comrades."
He said to them: "I cannot arrest the messenger of Amon in my land. Let me send him away, and ye shall pursue him, to arrest him."
-evil: Lichtheim: painful
-(the Thekel) called into his [///]: Lichtheim: his assembly summoned
-stove-up: Lichtheim: blasted explaining that the verb qnqn, to beat, appears to be used idiomatically as a curse word.
He loaded me on board, he sent me away /// to the harbor of the sea. The wind drove me to the land of Alasa (ArAsA), those of the city came forth to me to slay me. I was brought among them to the abode of Heteb (HAtjbA), the queen of the city. I found her as she was going forth from one of her houses and entering into her other. I saluted her, I asked the people who stood about her: "There is surely one among you who understands Egyptian?"
One among them said: "I understand (it)."
I said to him: "Say to my mistress: 'I have heard as far as Thebes, the abode of Amon, that in every city injustice is done, but that justice is done in the land of Alasa; (but), lo, injustice is done every day here."
She said: "Indeed! What is this that thou sayest?"
I said to her: "If the sea raged and the wind drove me to the land where I am, thou wilt not let them take [advantage (?)] of me to slay me; I being a messenger of Amon. I am one for whom they will seek unceasingly. As for the crew of the prince of Byblos whom they sought to kill, their lord will surely find ten crews of thine, and he will slay them, on his part."
She had the people called and stationed (before her); she said to me; "Pass the night //////////."
-Alasa: Alasiya, generally thought to be Cyprus.
-Heteb: Lichtheim: Hatiba
-and stationed (before her): Lichtheim: and they were reprimanded

J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 557 ff.


[4] The Harris papyrus describes how Ramses III had the "Userhet" barge built. A cubit is about half a metre:
I hewed for thee (i.e. Amen) thy august ship "Userhet" of 130 cubits (length) upon the river of great cedars of the (royal) domain, of remarkable size, overlaid with fine gold to the water line, like the barge of the Sun, when he comes from the east, and everyone lives at the sight of him. A great shrine was in the midst of it, of fine gold, with inlay of every costly stone like a palace; rams' heads of fine gold from front to rear, [fitted] with uraeus-serpents wearing etef-crowns.
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt Part Four, §209)
[5] M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.2, pp.224 ff.

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Ronald J. Leprohon: What Wenamun Could Have Bought: The Value of his Stolen Goods[3] Ronald J. Leprohon: What Wenamun Could Have Bought: The Value of his Stolen Goods, Donald B. Redford Festschrift, 2001
Twenty-first DynastyTwenty-first Dynasty
Wenamon, Wenamun, Wen-Amun, Wen-Amon, Amun-Re - Lucifer at TyreWenamon, Wenamun, Wen-Amun, Wen-Amon, Amun-Re - Lucifer at Tyre
Wenamun loves a WomanWenamun loves a Woman

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Update April 2004