restricted access Chapter 1. Introduction
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1 1 INTRODUCTION 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 Romanocentric view of it are, however, much more complicated. The images and ideas that peoples had of themselves and of distant trading partners are complex and not easily understood, and changed over time. It would be best to start with the investigation of a single city, one that owed its existence to the economic boom of its age. Berenike, a port on Egypt’s Red Sea coast (figure 1-1), is the ideal microcosm to study in order to come to grips with ancient “Old World” commerce and its impact on those who participated in it. Berenike was one of many hubs in the extensive Old World economic network of the first millennium b.c.e. and first millennium c.e. that concatenated east and west. This intricate, far-flung web reached from at least Xian in China westward and overland along the numerous caravan routes, known collectively as the Silk Road, through Central Asia, South Asia, and the Near East, eventually ending at its westernmost termini on the eastern coasts of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.2 Another link, the Trans-Arabian Incense Route, connected southern Arabia with ports on the southeastern Mediterranean seaboard and on the Persian Gulf.3 The Maritime Spice Route was the southern land-cummaritime counterpart of the central Asian Silk Road. It supplemented and complemented Sidebotham, Berenike 11/18/10 10:24 AM Page 1 figure 1-1 Map of the southeastern Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and surrounding land masses. Drawing by M. Hense. Sidebotham, Berenike 11/18/10 10:24 AM Page 2 I N T R O D U C T I O N • 3 but was never a major competitor of the more northerly and more famous terrestrial route. The Maritime Spice Route connected China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf, Arabia, and Africa by sea via South Asia and to the Mediterranean via the Red Sea and Egypt.4 It also complemented and to some extent competed with the Trans-Arabian Incense Route. Another route joined sub-Saharan regions to the Mediterranean littoral of North Africa.5 The Amber Route, the only ancient long-distance trade network solely within Europe, linked the Mediterranean—primarily through the northern Adriatic port of Aquileia—with the amber-producing areas of the Baltic Sea.6 Berenike itself was an important conduit in the southern Maritime Spice Route, which served long-distance commerce ranging from the Mediterranean basin, Egypt, and the Red Sea on the one hand to the Indian Ocean, including the African coast, the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, and to a lesser extent the Persian Gulf and perhaps beyond on the other. Varieties of merchandise, both prosaic trade goods and more exotic items, passed through Berenike; peoples from many parts of the ancient world, both inside and beyond the boundaries of the Greco-Roman Mediterranean, passed through the city or made it their home.7 The commodities, material possessions, records, and structures that people left behind are concrete testimony to this trade. Merchants, travelers, and mariners also conveyed knowledge and ideas—which, however, have left few if any physical traces—and medical, philosophical, astrological-astronomical, and religious concepts whose practices have left some material remains. These ideas and concepts influenced what people believed and how and what they thought far more and longer than any altars or temples they may have left behind. These abstract “commodities” also passed both ways along the Berenike conduit linking east with west, and south (sub-Saharan Africa) with north (Mediterranean). Several emporia on the Nile served Berenike (figure 1-2). Archaeological surveys have yet to identify an ancient track leading to Syene (modern Aswan), about 260 km to the west, though circumstantial evidence suggests that at least one such route existed in antiquity . Our archaeological projects at Berenike and throughout the Eastern Desert of Egypt have surveyed the major ancient routes leading...