Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Egyptian and Phoenician Quests to the Far East

The Phoenicians were perhaps the most prolific seafarers and traders of the ancient world. Theirs was an enterpresing maritime trade culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550 to 300 BC. The first recorded appearance of the Phoenicians in the Indian Ocean is connected with the establishment of the port of Ezion-Geber in 950 BC. For more than a thousand years, the Phoenicians sailed under different flags (Lienhardt Delekat: Phönizier in Amerika, Bonn 1960). in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is also possible for them to sail by their own trading expeditions since they knew about the benefits of sailing to the Far East.

Wether they were at the service of the Hebrew, the Egyptians, or the Persians, there is no doubt they were capable of crossing vast oceans using currents and winds. For instance, the Hebrew Historian Flavius Josephus spoke of 6,500 tonnes able to carry up to six hundred passengers and cargoes as well as their crew. The Egyptian and Phoenician Ships that sailed from the Red Sea had to follow the traditional route, calling at Malabar, Taprobane (Ceylon) and the Golden Chersonese (Malayan peninsula) on to Zabai (Sabah). Herodotus (The History, Book IV; G.E. Gerini: Early Geography of Indo-China, Journal of the Royal Society, 1897) says that the ships of that period normally sailed a distance of 70,000 orguias (fathoms) by day, and another 60,000 by night, in all, 130,000 orguias (fathoms) in a day's run, every twenty-four hours. The three years given as the total length of the voyages both to Punt and Ophir (Kings I, 10 11,22)

The renowned maritime skills of the Phoenicians amazed King Solomon (973-33BC) that he asked the King of Tyre to send him Phoenician carpenters and veteran sailors to join his fleet to the land of Ophir in 945 BC (Kings 1: 9-26). There is no exact certainty thou about the location of the land of Ophir. The geographical location of Ophir is described in exactly the same way as the Land of Punt. Both countries lie ‘far away, to the south-east'; the ships set sail from a port on the Red Sea and the round voyage lasts three years in both cases. The goods brought from Ophir are more or less the same as those the Egyptians brought from Punt and their other ports of call: gold, precious woods, incense, spices, slaves etc. (Avezac – Macaya Marie Armand Pascal d': Memoire de le pays d'Ophir où les flotes de Salomón aillent chercher l'or, in l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres 30, Paris, 1864; Richard Hennig: Terrae Incognitae, Vol 4, Leiden, Brill, 1950).

The existence of the Biblical Eldorado of the Land of Ophir (I Kings 10:11, II Chronicles 9:21) is believed to be the final destination of the Lost Tribes of Israel. In Genesis 10 (the Table of Nations) is said to be the name of one of the sons of Joktan. Joktan or Yoktan was the second of the two sons of Eber,the great grandson of Shem- the son of Noah. In pre-Islamic literature, Ophir is metioned in the three pre-islamic Arabic and Ethiopic sources: The Kitab-al-Magall, The Cave of Treasure, and the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan.
The Kitab al-Magall states that in the days of Reu, a king of Saba (Sheba) named "Pharoah" annexed Ophir and Havilah to his kingdom, and "built Ophir with stones of gold, for the stones of its mountains are pure gold." According to De Morga: (1,000 B.C. is when King Solomon’s navy of ships going to Ophir for gold)

Mines dating back to at least 1,000 B.C. have been found in the Philippines. When the Spanish arrived the
Filipinos worked various mines of gold, silver, copper and iron. They also seemed to have worked in brass using tin that was likely imported from the Malay Peninsula. The iron work in particular was said to be of very high quality in some cases, and occasionally in some areas, even better than that found in Europe.

When the Spanish arrived, the Philippines was so gilded with gold that most of the gold mines had been neglected. "... the natives proceed more slowly in this, and content themselves with what they already possess in jewels and gold ingots handed down from antiquity and inherited from their ancestors. This
is considerable, for he must be poor and wrethced who has no gold chains, calombigas, and earrings."

During the early stages of the European colonization of the world the existence of the biblical El Dorado of Tarshish and Ophir captured the imagination of the European mariners. In a book found in Spain entitled Collecion General de Documentos Relativos a las Islas Filipinas, the author has described how to locate Ophir. According to the section "Document No. 98", dated 1519-1522, Ophir can be found by travelling from the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, to India, to Burma, to Sumatra, to Moluccas, to Borneo, to Sulu, to China, then finally Ophir. Ophir was said to be "[...] in front of China towards the sea, of many islands where the Moluccans, Chinese, and Lequios met to trade..." Jes Tirol asserts that this group of islands could not be Japan because the Moluccans did not get there, nor Taiwan, since it is not composed of "many islands." Only the present-day Philippines, he says, could fit the description. Spanish records also mention the presence of Lequious (big, bearded white men, probably descendants of the Phoenicians, whose ships were always laden with gold and silver) in the Islands to gather gold and silver. Other evidence has also been pointed out suggesting that the Philippines was the biblical Ophir.

So how did the early Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and the Old World of Europe learned about the Lands of Punt and Ophir? The historian James Innes Miller was possibly the first modern scholar to use Pliny and other evidence to suggest that Austronesian traders had brought spices to African markets via a southern maritime route. Miller connected the spice route with the prehistoric settlement of Madagascar by Austronesian seafarers. Cultural items that came from Southeast Asia, or at least tropical Asia, were diffused first to the southeastern coast of Africa before moving northward. An important factor in ascertaining the old spice routes from Southeast Asia is the trail of cloves from Maluku and the southern Philippines north to South China and Indochina and then south again along the coast to the Strait of Malacca. From there the cloves went to India spice markets and points further west. This north-south direction of commerce through the Philippines has recently been recognized by UNESCO as part of the ancient maritime spice route. The Philippine-Maluku hub persisted into Muslim times and is chronicled in Arabic historical and geographic writings.

While the clove route started in the south, cinnamon trade began in the north. The cinnamon route started in the cinnamon and cassia-producing regions of northern Indochina and southern China and then likely proceeded from South China spice ports southward during the winter monsoon down the Philippine corridor. The route likely turned southeast at that point to Sumatra and/or Java to pick up different varieties of cinnamon and cassia along with aloeswood and benzoin. From southwestern Indonesia the voyage then took the Austronesian merchants across the great expanse of the Indian Ocean to Africa.

Linguistically the clove route is supported by the distribution of names for ginger in the Malay Archipelago. These appear to have followed the clove route from China through the Philippines to the rest of insular Southeast Asia. In the medieval Chinese and Muslim texts we first get specific details about these routes although they probably were unchanged from the ones used centuries or thousands of years earlier. The Chinese records in particular gave detailed itineraries including directions and voyage length for each stop along the way to the southern spice markets. Of particular importance are the entrepots known to the Chinese as Sanfotsi and Toupo. The same marketplaces were likely known to the Muslim geographers likely by the names of Zabag and Waqwaq respectively.

The earliest recorded Egyptian expedition to Punt was organized by Pharaoh Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty (25th century BC) although gold from Punt is recorded as having been in Egypt in the time of king Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt. During the New Kingdom period in Egypt (16th-11th Century BC) Egypt’s trade relations and voyages to the divine land of Punt became more frequent with large fleets bringing back impressive hauls of tribute for the Pharaoh. Subsequently, there were more expeditions to Punt in the Sixth, Eleventh, Twelfth and Eighteenth dynasties of Egypt.

Hatshepsut is well known for her ambitious building projects in Egypt particularly the erection of several Obelisks’ at Karnack and her funerary Temple at Deir el-Bahri. Apparently, in order to eliminate the middlemen in their acquisition of trade commodties, Hatshepsut built her Red Sea fleet in 1480 BC to facilitate trade between the head of the Gulf of Aqaba and points south as far as Punt to bring mortuary goods to Karnak in exchange for Nubian gold.

During the reign of Queen Hatshepsut in the 15th century BC ships regularly crossed the Red Sea in order to obtain bitumen, copper, carved amulets, naptha and other goods transported overland and down the Dead Sea to Elat at the head of the gulf of Aqaba where they were joined with frankincense and myrrh coming north both by sea and overland along trade routes through the mountains running north along the east coast of the Red Sea. Hatshepsut personally made the most famous ancient Egyptian expedition that sailed to Punt. A report of that 5 ship voyage survives on reliefs in Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. Throughout the temple texts, Hatshepsut "maintains the fiction that her envoy" Chancellor Nehsi, who is mentioned as the head of the expedition, had travelled to Punt "in order to extract tribute from the natives" who admit their allegiance to the Egyptian pharaoh. In reality, Nehsi's expedition was a simple trading mission to a land, Punt, which was by this time a well-established trading post. Moreover, Nehsi's visit to Punt was not inordinately brave since he was "accompanied by at least five shiploads of [Egyptian] marines" and greeted warmly by the chief of Punt and his immediate family. Apparently, even foreigners desired Filipino gold products. Recent discoveries show that gold jewelry of Philippine origin was found in Egypt near the beginning of the era. These finds are mentioned in Laszlo
Legeza's "Tantric elements in pre-Hispanic Philippines Gold Art," (Arts of Asia, Jul-Aug 1988, p. 131) along a discussion of Philippine Tantric art. Some outstanding examples of Philippine jewelry, which included necklaces, belts, armlets and rings placed around the waist, are showcased in J. T. Peralta's "Prehistoric gold ornaments from the Central Bank of the Philippines," Arts of Asia 1981, no.4, p.54.

The Puntites "traded not only in their own produce of incense, ebony and short-horned cattle, but [also] in goods from other African states including gold, ivory and animal skins. According to the temple reliefs, the Land of Punt was ruled at that time by King Parahu and Queen Ati. This well illustrated expedition of Hatshepsut occurred in Year 9 of the female pharaoh's reign with the blessing of the god Amun. Hatshepsut's 18th dynasty successors, such as Thutmose III and Amenhotep III also continued the Egyptian tradition of trading with Punt. The trade with Punt continued into the start of the 20th dynasty before terminating prior to the end of Egypt's New Kingdom. After the end of the New Kingdom period, Punt became "an unreal and fabulous land of myths and legends

The Muslim geographers and historians still record trade activity between Africa and Southeast Asia in aloeswood, tortoise-shell, iron and other products centuries after the Arabs had established themselves on the Tanzanian coast. By the time the Portuguese reached this area though it appears this trade had disappeared. All that was left were traces of the Austronesian contact including the local boats with their outriggers and lateen sails made of coconut fiber. With the end of the cinnamon and clove route and the advent of the European control of the spice trade, the Far East component of this commerce almost completely faded away. However, some three thousand years of spice trade from the New Kingdom to the late Muslim period left a lasting legacy that reshaped the world.

1. ^ Philippines is Ophir. Accessed February 16, 2009.
2. ^ Vedic Empire. Retrieved on 2008-10-11.
3. ^ Legeza, Laszlo. "Tantric Elements in pre-Hispanic Philippines Gold Art," Arts of Asia, July-Aug. 1988, pp.129-136. (Mentions gold jewelry of Philippine origin in first century CE Egypt)
4. ^ Peralta, J.T. "Prehistoric gold ornaments from the Central Bank of the Philippines," Arts of Asia 1981, no.4, p.54.
5. ^By Paul Kekai Manansala, Quests of the Dragon and Bird Clan, p. 426
6. ^Wikipedia, Land of Punt
7. ^The Philippines is the Ophir of the Bible