November 2, 2012

Ancient Egyptian and Travel In Nubia

Travel In Nubia
Egyptian incursions into Nubia, a land rich in copper and gold ores, started from early times. Djer, the 1st dynasty pharaoh, left an inscription at the entrance to the Second Cataract depicting several corpses and a man being taken as prisoner (probably no more than a punitive raid), and there is evidence that one site in Nubia near a particularly rich vein of copper was occupied for two centuries for the smelting of large quantities of ore. By the 4th and 5th dynasties there was considerable activity there. Rock inscriptions at Kulb, a gold- mining area, indicate the most southern point at which Egyptian Old Kingdom prospectors worked.

Exploitation of Nubia’s mineral wealth does not imply colonisation which did not, in fact, occur until the Middle Kingdom (when massive fortresses were constructed at the Second Cataract). The expeditions, though primarily conducted to satisfy ancient Egyptian requirements, were mutually beneficial. Egypt acquired highly valued commodities including gold, myrrh, electrum (a gold and silver alloy), ebony, animal skins (especially panther) and gums, and the Nubians depended on Egypt for corn, oil, honey, clothing and other items. The Nile in Nubia was flanked by a wall of hills to east and west which closely confined the valley, and apart from the narrow strip between the river and the ridges, the land was desolate, the Nubians impoverished. They lived in squalid low- built houses and homes in settlements along the river’s edge or beside water holes and channels.

It was from the Nubian tribes that a 6th-dynasty nobleman called Uni recruited troops to suppress agitating Bedouins in the frontier provinces of the Delta, in order to safeguard ancient Egyptian sources of raw material in Sinai. Egypt had no standing army at this time, and diere is little doubt that the Nubians readily seized the opportunity of finding work in the Egyptian forces. Uni quelled revolts in the Delta and Sinai regions on no less than five occasions and was thenceforth appointed as ‘Keeper of the Door of the South’. His main task appears to have been to keep the bordering Egyptian Nubian tribes in check. His success is attested by the fact that in the 5th year of Merenre’s reign he did what no pharaoh had done: he personally travelled to the First Cataract to receive homage from the Nubian chiefs. A relief recording the occasion shows Uni leaning on a staff while the chiefs of Medja, Irtje and Wawat bow to him.

Uni’s next task was to improve methods of communication and establish an unbroken water connection between the granite quarries and Memphis, to aid conveyance of granite blocks for the pharaoh’s tomb. The now-aged Uni was put in charge of digging five canals through parts of the Cataract that had proved especially difficult to navigate. The canals were successfully excavated; ‘Indeed, I made a [saving] for the palace with all these five canals,’ wrote Uni. Three boats and four barges had then to be constructed to transport the ‘very large blocks for the Egyptian pyramid’ and so great was Egypt’s prestige that the timber for them was provided by the chiefs of Lower Nubia. Uni wrote: ‘The foreign chiefs of Irtje, Wawat, Yam and Medja cut the timber for them. I did it all in one year.’

With peaceful relations between Egypt and Nubia cemented and the waterway open, it was natural that Egypt should exploit the surrounding areas more fully, especially the ridges of Nubia’s eastern desert bearing rich veins of gold-bearing quartz. Journeys further south were no longer formidable and a closer interest in Yam (Upper Nubia) and Kush (Sudan) was also inevitable. The tombs of successive Egyptian noblemen clearly indicate the vigorous approach being introduced in Egypt’s foreign policy towards the end of the Old Kingdom. ‘Caravan- leaders’, travelling on foot accompanied by pack-donkeys, began to venture further south and explore hitherto unknown Harkhuf, a powerful nobleman and caravan-leader from Elephantine was the first recorded explorer in history. He made four journeys to Yam, the inhospitable country south of the Second Cataract, and also travelled westwards to unexplored regions on the ‘Elephant Road’, which may have been the route extending southwards from Aswan which is still used today for transporting herds from the Sudan.

His first journey took seven months. His second was more adventurous and he recorded that ‘never had any companion or caravan-leader who went forth to Yam done (it)’, and also that he brought back items ‘the likes of which no one has ever brought back before’. When Harkhuf reached Yam on his third expedition he found the country in an uproar. The chiefs were engaged in war with the settlements of Temehu (tribes related to the Libyans). Ancient Egypt had always acted on the defensive against incursions on the Nile valley from the western desert. Under the adventurous Harkhuf, however, a convoy followed the chief of Yam westwards and reduced him to subjection. On his return journey Harkhuf’s convoy, laden with tributes and products and furnished with a heavy escort, so impressed the tribal chiefs of the Nubian border that, instead of plundering the convoy, they offered Harkhuf guides and cattle. It was on his fourth journey that Harkhuf brought back to Egypt gold, ostrich feathers, lion and leopard skins, elephant tusks, cowrie shells, logs of ebony, incense, gum Arabic and a dancing pygmy.

The foot convoys into the unknown interior must have been interminable and exhausting. Accompanied by pack-donkeys the caravan-leaders were obliged to travel very slowly, following old river channels where wells and springs could be found. It took months to cover routes that camels can today cover in a few weeks. The expeditions were usually successful, but they were not without hazard and more than one Egyptian nobleman lost his life venturing into the interior.

The Ancient Egyptians were well acquainted with some of the languages and dialects of the tribes of Nubia, and the loose sovereignty they exercised over them was respected; the Nubians had long been won over by admiration. A more aggressive policy towards them only becomes apparent towards the close of the Old Kingdom, and the complete conquest of Lower Nubia occurred in the Middle Kingdom.

Egypt commanded the routes to the south. Broken pottery vessels bearing the names of the pharaohs Pepi I's pharaoh, Merenre and Pepi II have been found as far south as Kerma in the Sudan. The gateway to the vast riches of interior Africa was open. Caravans could explore overland routes to distant Punt on the Somali Coast, an area rich in incense, ointments, and other exotica considered indispensable to the wealthy.

Related Web Search :
Nubia
Ancient Nubia
Nubia Map
Nubia Africa
Nubia Kush

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