views updated


Flourished Circa 2298-2194 b.c.e.



Trade or War. Harkhuf served as Governor of Upper Egypt after Weni. Harkhuf’s career is not spelled out in his autobiography in as much detail as Weni gave in his text. Though Harkhuf achieved the rank of Count and Sole Companion, he also functioned as a Lector Priest, Chamberlain, Warden of Nekhen, Mayor of Nekheb, Royal Seal Bearer, and, most importantly, as a Chief of Scouts who led four trading expeditions to Nubia. His autobiography is most informative about the nature of trade relations between Nubia (southern Egypt and the Sudan) and Egypt at the end of Dynasty 6 (circa 2350-2170 b.c.e.). His autobiography also highlights the ambiguity surrounding these expeditions and the difficulty of classifying them as trade expeditions or military maneuvers.

Yertjet. King Merenre sent Harkhuf on his first trip to Nubia. Harkhuf’s father, Yeri, accompanied him on this trip. Harkhuf opened new trade routes into the south to a place called Yertjet. This region was probably south of Yam, the area of Nubia explored in trips made before Harkhuf’s time and closest to Egypt. The first trip lasted seven months. Harkhuf led a second expedition to Yertjet, this time exploring three settlements not mentioned in earlier explorations. This time he led the expeditions alone and traveled for eight months.

Local Strife. On his third trip to Nubia, visiting Yam this time, Harkhuf helped the local ruler in his war against Tjemeh-land. Though Harkhuf planned for a trading expedition and discovered the need for military action only after he had arrived in Yam, he was thoroughly prepared for it. Trade expeditions were heavily armed and could hardly be distinguished from military maneuvers. The same word in ancient Egyptian, mesha, was used to describe both trade expeditions and military actions.

Rewards. Harkhuf returned from Nubia with incense, ebony, exotic oils, panther skins, elephant tusks, throw sticks (used for hunting), and other products including a dancing pygmy for the king’s entertainment. The king rewarded Harkhuf with luxurious provisions for his own use including wine, cakes, bread, and beer and a thank-you letter considered so important that it was carved on the walls of Harkhuf’s tomb.


Lionel Casson, The Pharaohs (Chicago: Stonehenge, 1981).

Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1994).

Jaromir Malek, “The Old Kingdom (c.2686-2125 BC),” in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 89–117.