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32 4 PTOLEMAIC DIPLOMATICMILITARY -COMMERCIAL ACTIVITIES 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 coast. It does indicate, however, that the Ptolemaic trade network covered important regions of the eastern Mediterranean, the East African coast, and South Arabia. In addition to elephants, ivory, and the mining of amethysts, iron, gold, and some other minerals,1 the Ptolemies had other interests in the Eastern Desert, the Red Sea, and beyond , though initially these were secondary to elephant and ivory acquisition and gold mining. Goods from South Arabia, a hub for trade with Mesopotamia, India, and the East African coast, traditionally followed the desert route north through the Arabian Peninsula and from there across to Mediterranean ports such as Gaza (figure 4-1). After Alexander the Great, much of this northern area fell to the Seleucids. From the Ptolemaic perspective , trade had to be rerouted to avoid or minimize Seleucid control; direct contact with the source was far preferable to commerce controlled by middlemen. Finds from excavations conducted throughout Ptolemaic Egypt and in parts of the eastern Mediterranean in Hellenistic contexts have unearthed products from and inscriptions left by peoples from Sidebotham, Berenike 11/18/10 10:25 AM Page 32 figure 4-1 Map of Egypt, the Near East, and Arabia in Ptolemaic and early Roman times. Drawing by M. Hense. D I P L O M A T I C - M I L I T A R Y - C O M M E R C I A L A C T I V I T I E S • 33 southern Arabia and India; these, together with descriptions of ancient authors and records on papyri and ostraka, have given us clues as to what these peoples were like.2 Much transactional information appears in the archive of Zenon, manager of Apollonius, who was both businessman and dioiketes, “treasurer general,” of Ptolemy II.3 Zenon and Apollonius corresponded mostly about legal issues and newly developed land in the Fayum, but this exchange also mentions regions of southern Arabia as sources of incense.4 Zenon mainly traveled between Philadelphia, a newly founded agricultural village in the Fayum, and Memphis and Alexandria; his only trip abroad took him to Palestine. The Zenon papyri occasionally mention the “harbor Berenike” and transactions with Trogodytes residSidebotham , Berenike 11/18/10 10:25 AM Page 33 34 • D I P L O M A T I C - M I L I T A R Y - C O M M E R C I A L A C T I V I T I E S ing there. From the context it seems, however, that this was not the Red Sea port, but rather a location in the vicinity of the Fayum. It was a “harbor” either on Lake Moeris (modern Lake Qarun) or on a canal leading to the Nile. One scholar suggests that the Trogodytes were seasonal agricultural workers.5 Perhaps they were hired because they had experience with agriculture in difficult desert circumstances. One Trogodyte was hired for seventeen days to assist with a shipment of imported garlic used as a test crop in the desert soil of a land-reclamation project in the Fayum.6 Trade in Ptolemaic times from South Arabia, or transshipped from elsewhere in the Indian Ocean via southern Arabia, seems to have been mainly in frankincense, myrrh, calamus, saffron, cassia, cinnamon, and textiles.7 Also imported from India were valuable woods, precious and semiprecious stones, and special breeds of dogs.8 A Minaean inscription survives, carved on a wooden sarcophagus dated 264 b.c.e. and found at Memphis . The casket contained the remains of Zaydil bin Zayd, a merchant who “imported myrrh and calamus for the temples of the gods of Egypt.” A second-century b.c.e. Minaean altar was found on Delos, though we cannot be certain whether it arrived via the Red Sea or along the terrestrial trans-Arabian caravan routes.9 One Zenon...


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