Flourished Circa 1104-1075 b.c.e.
Man of Mystery. Wenamun may have been a literary creation or a real person. He appears in the Papyrus Moscow 120, a report of his trading mission to Lebanon. Little is known of his personal life except that he was an Elder of the Portal of the Temple of Amun in Karnak. Herihor, High Priest of Amun, and effective ruler of Upper Egypt by 1075 b.c.e., sent Wenamun to Byblos to obtain cedarwood for a new barque of Amun-the ceremonial boat that the statue of the god used in traveling.
Robbery. Wenamun’s journey reflected the declining fortunes of the New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 b.c.e.) state at the end of Dynasty 20 (circa 1190-1075 b.c.e.). He traveled to Byblos in a boat crewed by Syrians rather than Egyptians. Unlike the bureaucrat Harkhuf in the Old Kingdom (circa 2675-2130 b.c.e.), Wenamun had no military escort. In fact, one of the Syrian sailors robbed him early in his journey while the boat was docked on the Levantine coast. Wenamun demanded justice from the Prince of Tjeker, who controlled the port where the robbery took place. Wenamun received no satisfaction and left. En route to Byblos, Wenamun robbed a Tjeker ship of the amount he believed the Prince of Tjeker’s inaction had cost him.
Closing the Deal. Arriving in Byblos, Wenamun encountered many obstacles to concluding his dealings for the cedar. At last, a courtier of the Prince of Byblos fell into a trance, interpreted by all as a sign that the Prince should deal with Wenamun. Lengthy negotiations followed that resulted in Wenamun requesting further trade goods from Egypt to close the deal. The list of goods included four jars and one vessel of gold; five jars of silver; ten garments of royal linen; ten garments of fine linen; five hundred smooth linen mats; five hundred ox hides; five hundred ropes; twenty sacks of lentils; and thirty baskets of fish. This list provides some of the best evidence for Egyptian exports to the Levant preserved. The cedarwood was then provided.
Fate Unknown. Wenamun’s troubles were not over, however. Ships dispatched by the Prince of Tjeker arrived at Byblos to arrest him for the robbery. Wenamun escaped but was blown off course to Cyprus. Unfortunately, what exactly happened to Wenamun after this point is unknown because the remainder of the papyrus is lost. Whether this story is fact or fiction, it presents a colorful account of the dangers of long-distance trade at the end of the New Kingdom.
Lionel Casson, The Pharaohs (Chicago: Stonehenge, 1981).
“The Report of Wenamun,” in Ancient Egyptian Literature, volume II: The New Kingdom, edited by Miriam Lichtheim (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 224–230.