views updated


Flourished Circa 2008-1957 b.c.e.

Traveler to punt


Route to Punt . For the ancient Egyptians, both land and sea travel might be required for a single expedition. This mode of travel was especially the case when the Egyptians wanted to go to Punt. The Nile River is not connected to the Red Sea, so it was necessary for the Egyptians to march overland through the Eastern Desert to reach the coast. The usual route was through a large natural passageway called the Wadi Hammamat (Hammamat Valley), which leaves the Nile valley at a town on the Qena Bend called Coptos and then proceeds eastward to reach the Red Sea coast. Because ancient Egyptian ships were sewn or lashed together, rather than nailed, it was possible for them to be built on the Nile River, taken apart into individual pieces, and carried overland to the Red Sea, where they could be lashed back together.

The Voyage of Henenu. One of the best documented of these expeditions was under the direction of a man named Henenu, an official of Dynasty 11 kings Mentuhotep II and III. How expeditions such as these proceeded can be best understood by simply letting Henenu speak for himself:

“My lord (may he live, be prosperous, and healthy!) sent me to dispatch a fleet to Punt to bring for him fresh myrrh from the chieftains of the desert…. Then I went forth from Coptos upon the road which his majesty commanded me. There was with me an army of the South…; the army cleared the way, overthrowing those who were hostile towards the king; the hunters and the highlanders were posted as the protection of my limbs….I went forth with an army of 3,000 men; I gave a leather bottle, a carrying pole, 2 jars of water and 20 loaves to each one among them every day. The donkeys were laden with sandals…Now, I made 12 wells in the desert….Then I reached the Sea, and I constructed the fleet, and I dispatched it with everything.”

Thousands of Sandals . There were many logistical problems connected with such a large expedition. An army was necessary because the Egyptians did not have complete control over the dwellers of the desert. All of the food and drink of the expedition had to be carried, as well as the pieces of the fleet that Henenu was intending to build. Most interesting is the fact that the donkeys had to carry, so it would seem, thousands of extra sandals! Egyptian sandals were generally woven out of papyrus fibers and evidently did not stand up well to heavy marching through the stony desert tracks of the Wadi Hammamat.


James Henry Breasted, ed., Ancient Records of Egypt, volume 1, The First to the Seventeenth Dynasties (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906), pp. 208–210.

Gae Callender, “The Middle Kingdom Renaissance (c. 2055-1650),” in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw (Oxford &c New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 148–183.

Aidan Dodson, Monarchs of the Nile (London: Rubicon, 1995).