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Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route

Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route

Steven E. Sidebotham
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 456
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppv29
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  • Book Info
    Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route
    Book Description:

    The legendary overland silk road was not the only way to reach Asia for ancient travelers from the Mediterranean. During the Roman Empire’s heyday, equally important maritime routes reached from the Egyptian Red Sea across the Indian Ocean. The ancient city of Berenike, located approximately 500 miles south of today’s Suez Canal, was a significant port among these conduits. In this book, Steven E. Sidebotham, the archaeologist who excavated Berenike, uncovers the role the city played in the regional, local, and “global” economies during the eight centuries of its existence. Sidebotham analyzes many of the artifacts, botanical and faunal remains, and hundreds of the texts he and his team found in excavations, providing a profoundly intimate glimpse of the people who lived, worked, and died in this emporium between the classical Mediterranean world and Asia.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94838-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    There was a “global economy” thousands of years before the term became fashionable in the late twentieth century.¹ Yet, it is difficult to know where to begin to study this phenomenon or how it functioned and affected people’s lives in the centuries straddling the turn of the Common Era. The extant, best-known written sources for the last few centuries B.C.E. and early centuries C.E. are predominately from the “western/Roman” perspective and picture the Mediterranean basin as the center of the trade. This network and the Romano-centric view of it are, however, much more complicated. The images and ideas that peoples...

  7. 2 GEOGRAPHY, CLIMATE, ANCIENT AUTHORS, AND MODERN VISITORS
    (pp. 7-20)

    The remains of Berenike Trogodytika¹ lie approximately 825 km south-southeast of Suez and about 260 km east of Aswan (figure 1-2). In the third century B.C.E. Ptolemaic authorities founded a settlement here, at the interface of the Eastern Desert and the Red Sea. Initially in the Ptolemaic era military and diplomatic, and later economic and government administrative, interests were the main impetus to founding and maintaining the community. Eventually Berenike evolved into a bustling metropolis and grew to enormous importance in the first century C.E. and later, when it became an integral part of the ancient global economic network.

    The...

  8. 3 PRE-ROMAN INFRASTRUCTURE IN THE EASTERN DESERT
    (pp. 21-31)

    To communicate with the Red Sea ports in Egypt including Berenike, it was necessary to build roads linking the Nile to emporia on the coast and to provide those routes with water and protection to accommodate merchants, other civilian and military-government travelers, and their pack and draft animals.

    Numerous graffiti, which from the Archaic/Early Dynastic period (Dynasties 1–3; 2920–2575 B.C.E.) on included hieroglyphic and pictorial scribblings, are found adjacent to pre-Dynastic and prehistoric rock art.¹ Routes throughout Egypt, including the deserts, had existed since prehistoric times—millennia prior to the unification of Egypt in about 3000 B.C.E. This...

  9. 4 PTOLEMAIC DIPLOMATIC-MILITARY-COMMERCIAL ACTIVITIES
    (pp. 32-54)

    Ptolemaic strata excavated at Berenike produced archaeological evidence that corroborates and adds to information preserved in ancient literary sources. The segment of an elephant tooth, mentioned later in this chapter, is evidence for live pachyderms in the city, as may be a V-shaped ditch, possibly the remains of an elephant retaining pen (see chapter 7). Pottery from Phoenicia and Rhodes signals possible imports of wine and oil from those regions. We cannot determine whether these were consumed at Berenike, used as trade goods, or destined as provisions for the ships’ crews or for outposts farther south along the Red Sea...

  10. 5 PTOLEMAIC AND EARLY ROMAN BERENIKE AND ENVIRONS
    (pp. 55-67)

    Excavations at Berenike revealed something about the size, layout, and building methods and materials used to create the port’s infrastructure and how these changed over the life of the city. Our project also recovered written documents (in at least twelve different ancient languages, although most texts are in Greek and Latin) and other artifacts and ecofacts that provide insights into those who lived and worked here, the items traded, and other areas of the ancient world with which Berenike was in contact (see chapters 6 and 12). The architecture and materials used to construct Berenike throughout its history must have...

  11. 6 INHABITANTS OF BERENIKE IN ROMAN TIMES
    (pp. 68-86)

    Here we will examine those who lived in Berenike in the Roman period, their professions, religious practices, and the languages they wrote and, likely, spoke. We will also explore how the foods they consumed were, along with other excavated data, indications of their ethnicity and social status.

    Estimating population sizes of ancient settlements, especially larger urban centers, is fraught with pitfalls. At Berenike visible surface remains and excavations reveal predominantly mid to late fourth-to fifth-century structures. During this late Roman renaissance a population of approximately five hundred to one thousand is likely.¹ In all periods of Berenike’s history numbers of...

  12. 7 WATER IN THE DESERT AND THE PORTS
    (pp. 87-124)

    Methods used for water acquisition, storage, protection, and distribution in Ptolemaic and Roman times in the Eastern Desert (figure 7-1) were undoubtedly similar to those employed in the Pharaonic era (see chapter 3). The most noteworthy difference was the scale on which these operations were conducted. Ptolemaic activities would have dwarfed earlier ones, with Roman logistical efforts being the most impressive and sustaining of them all.¹

    The critical importance that water played in Ptolemaic and Roman times deserves special examination in more detail. Given the paltry amount of precipitation (see chapter 2), the primary concern for anybody venturing into and...

  13. 8 NILE–RED SEA ROADS
    (pp. 125-174)

    An elaborate maritime network concatenated Berenike and other Egyptian Red Sea ports with emporia elsewhere in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. This maritime web was, however, incomplete without complementary terrestrial transportation points at those ports. Here we will examine these land routes in the Eastern Desert from about 30 B.C.E. until the sixth century C.E. (figure 8-1). The Romans enlarged the earlier infrastructure, especially that of the Ptolemies. Unfortunately, little is known about the Eastern Desert during the transition from Roman to Muslim domination that took place beginning in 641 C.E. This is, in any case, beyond the scope...

  14. 9 OTHER EMPORIA
    (pp. 175-194)

    Other ports operating throughout the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in Hellenistic and Roman times were important in the global economy (figure 9-1). Many were in contact either directly or indirectly with Berenike and with each other.

    Though unlocated, Ampelome/Ampelonewas likely founded by Ptolemy II along the Arabian Red Sea coast. Pliny (NH6.32.159) reports that the colonists came from the Aegean city of Miletus, which was under Ptolemaic control at that time.¹

    Leuke Kome/Albus Portus (White Village in Greek/Latin) was initially under Nabataean control. Strabo (Geography16.4.23–24) and thePeriplus(19) indicate that it was active in early...

  15. 10 MERCHANT SHIPS
    (pp. 195-205)

    Excavations have just begun in Berenike’s harbor south-southeast of the Ptolemaic industrial area. Nevertheless, we can estimate dimensions of Ptolemaic and early Roman ships, perhaps includingelephantegoi(see chapter 4), that landed here. Calculations, which are based on remains visible on the surface, may vary somewhat from the actual dimensions of piers and quays once these are excavated. The ends of the faces of the extant enclosing arm of the harbor are approximately 590 m apart, although about a 90 m portion toward its southwestern end has been partially destroyed or lies beneath sediments washed into the area. Onewell-preserved berth...

  16. 11 COMMERCIAL NETWORKS AND TRADE COSTS
    (pp. 206-220)

    After the annexation of Egypt in 30 B.C.E. Berenike became an important player in a series of interconnected local, regional, and wider-ranging trade and communication systems within and beyond the Roman Empire. A brief examination of important routes in the Mediterranean world and a lengthier discussion of the Red Sea–Indian Ocean network permit a better understanding of how Berenike fit into this European-African-Asian trading system.

    There were two major trade and communication webs in the Roman world; portions of these were not mutually exclusive, but rather extensions of one another. First, there were the land and water networks that...

  17. 12 TRADE IN ROMAN BERENIKE
    (pp. 221-258)

    Evidence for Berenike’s commercial contacts in the Roman period is far better than for the Ptolemaic. Berenike’s peak era of trade was the first century C.E.; it may have continued into the second century, but not into the latter part, when a smallpox or measles epidemic, starting probably in spring 166, likely devastated the port’s inhabitants, as it did much of Egypt and the Roman Empire as a whole.¹ There was a modest recovery during the late second/early third century C.E., as Palmyrene dedications to the Roman Imperial cult and Hierobol (see chapters 6 and 13) suggest.² We know far...

  18. 13 LATE ROMAN BERENIKE AND ITS DEMISE
    (pp. 259-282)

    Following a brief flurry at Berenike in the late second/early third centuries, there was a hiatus with little archaeological documentation for much activity until about the mid fourth century C.E. Evidence for continued occupation in this period includes a papyrus of 163 C.E. requisitioning a camel from Fayum for imperial service on the Berenike caravan route.¹ There were additions to the Serapis temple during the joint reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus in 161–169;² and our project recovered a Greek inscription mentioning the Roman imperial cult dated to 215 C.E.³ as well as a Palymrene-Greek bilingual text dedicated...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 283-354)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 355-424)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 425-434)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 435-436)