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Land of Punt

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The Land of Punt, also called Pwenet, or Pwene[1] by the ancient Egyptians, (Greek: Φουδ) was a trading partner known for producing and exporting gold, aromatic resins, African blackwood, ebony, ivory, slaves and wild animals.[2] Information about Punt has been found in ancient Egyptian records of trade missions to this region.

At times Punt is referred to as Ta netjer, the "land of the god".[3]

The exact location of Punt remains a mystery. Most scholars today believe Punt was located to the south-east of Egypt, most likely on the coast of the Horn of Africa in what is today northern Somalia. However some scholars point instead to a range of ancient inscriptions which locate Punt in Arabia.

Egyptian expeditions to Punt

The earliest recorded Egyptian expedition to Punt was organized by Pharaoh Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty (25th century BCE) although gold from Punt is recorded as having been in Egypt in the time of king Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt.[4]

Subsequently, there were more expeditions to Punt in the Sixth dynasty, the Eleventh dynast, the Twelfth and the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. In the Twelfth dynasty, trade with Punt was celebrated in popular literature in the "Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor"

In the reign of Mentuhotep III (around 1950 BCE), an officer named Hannu organized one or more voyages to Punt, but it is uncertain whether he traveled on these expeditions.[5] Trading missions of the 12th dynasty pharaohs Senusret I and Amenemhat II had also successfully navigated their way to and from the mysterious land of Punt.[6]

In the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, Hatshepsut built a Red Sea fleet 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. Hatshepsut personally made the most famous ancient Egyptian expedition that sailed to Punt. 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.[7]

A report of that 5 ship voyage survives on reliefs in Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri.[8] 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.[9] In reality, Nehsi's expedition was a simple trading mission to a land, Punt, which was by this time a well-established trading post.[9] 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.[10] 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."[9] According to the temple reliefs, the Land of Punt was ruled at that time by King Parahu and Queen Ati.[11] This well illustrated expedition of Hatshepsut occurred in Year 9 of the female pharaoh's reign with the blessing of the god Amun:

Said by Amen, the Lord of the Thrones of the Two Land: 'Come, come in peace my daughter, the graceful, who art in my heart, King Maatkare [ie. Hatshepsut]...I will give thee Punt, the whole of it...I will lead your soldiers by land and by water, on mysterious shores, which join the harbours of incense...They will take incense as much as they like. They will load their ships to the satisfaction of their hearts with trees of green [ie. fresh] incense, and all the good things of the land.'[12]

While the Egyptians "were not particularly well versed in the hazards of sea travel, and the long voyage to Punt, must have seemed something akin to a journey to the moon for present-day explorers...the rewards of [obtaining frankincense, ebony and myrrh] clearly outweighted the risks."[13] Hatshepsut's 18th dynasty successors, such as Thutmose III and Amenhotep III also continued the Egyptian tradition of trading with Punt.[14] The trade with Punt continued into the start of the 20th dynasty before terminating prior to the end of Egypt's New Kingdom.[15] Papyrus Harris I, a contemporary Egyptian document which detailed events that occurred in the reign of the early 20th dynasty king Ramesses III, includes an explicit description of an Egyptian expedition's return from Punt:

They arrived safely at the desert-country of Coptos: they moored in peace, carrying the goods they had brought. They [the goods] were loaded, in travelling overland, upon asses and upon men, being reloaded into vessels at the harbour of Coptos. They [the goods and the Puntites] were sent forward downstream, arriving in festivity, bringing tribute into the royal presence.[16]

After the end of the New Kingdom period, Punt became "an unreal and fabulous land of myths and legends."[17]

Ta netjer

At times, the ancient Egyptians called Punt Ta netjer, meaning "God's Land".[18] This referred to the fact that it was among the regions of the Sun God, that is, the regions located in the direction of the sunrise, to the East of Egypt. These eastern regions resources included products used in temples, notably incense. The term was not only applied to Punt, located southeast of Egypt, but also to regions of Asia east and northeast of Egypt, such as Lebanon, which was the source of wood for temples.[19] Older literature (and current non-mainstream literature) maintained that the label "God's Land", when interpreted as "Holy Land" or "Land of the gods/ancestors", meant that the ancient Egyptians viewed the Land of Punt as their ancestral homeland. Examples of such opinions may be found with Jon White[20], W. M. Flinders[21], and E.A. Wallis Budge[22].


The majority opinion places Punt in Eastern Africa, based on the fact that the products of Punt (as depicted in the Hatshepsut illustrations) were abundantly found in East Africa but were less common or sometimes absent in Arabia. These products included gold, aromatic resins such as myrrh, ebony and elephant tusks. The wild animals depicted in Punt include giraffes, baboons, hippopotami and leopards. Says Richard Pankhurst : “[Punt] has been identified with territory on both the Arabian and African coasts. Consideration of the articles which the Egyptians obtained from Punt, notably gold and ivory, suggests, however, that these were primarily of African origin. … This leads us to suppose that the term Punt probably applied more to African than Arabian territory.”[2][9][23][24]

Encyclopædia Britannica describes Punt as follows: “in ancient Egyptian and Greek geography, the southern coast of the Red Sea and adjacent coasts of the Gulf of Aden, corresponding to modern coastal Eritrea and Djibouti.”[25]

However some scholars disagree with this view and point to a range of ancient inscriptions which locate Punt in Arabia. Dimitri Meeks has written that “Texts locating Punt beyond doubt to the south are in the minority, but they are the only ones cited in the current consensus about the location of the country. Punt, we are told by the Egyptians, is situated – in relation to the Nile Valley – both to the north, in contact with the countries of the Near East of the Mediterranean area, and also to the east or south-east, while its furthest borders are far away to the south. Only the Arabian Peninsula satisfies all these indications.”[26]

In 2003 a newly discovered text was found in a tomb in El Kab, a small town that is located about 50 kilometres south of Thebes. The tomb belonged to the local governor, Sobeknakht II, and dates to the 17th dynasty (c.1600-1550 BCE). Newspaper articles reported that the inscription mentions “a huge attack from the south on Elkab and Egypt by the Kingdom of Kush and its allies from the land of Punt.”[27][28]


  1. Ian Shaw & Paul Nicholson, The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London. 1995, p.231.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Shaw & Nicholson, p.231.
  3. Breasted, John Henry (1906-1907), Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical Documents from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest, collected, edited, and translated, with Commentary, p.433, vol.1
  4. Breasted 1906-07, p. 161, vol. 1.
  5. Breasted 1906-07, p. 427-433, vol. 1.
  6. Joyce Tyldesley, Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh, Penguin Books, 1996 hardback, p.145
  7. Dr. Muhammed Abdul Nayeem, (1990). Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula. Hyderabad. ISBN.
  8. Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, p.149
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, p.147
  10. Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, pp.147 & 149
  11. Breasted 1906-07, p. 246-295, vol. 1.
  12. E. Naville, The Life and Monuments of the Queen in T.M. Davis (ed.), the tomb of Hatshopsitu, London: 1906. pp.28-29
  13. Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, pp.145 & 148
  14. Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, pp.145-46
  15. Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, pp.145-146
  16. K.A. Kitchen, Punt and how to get there, Orientalia 40 (1971), 184-207:190.
  17. Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, p.146
  18. Breasted 1906-07, p. 658, vol. II.
  19. Breasted 1906-07, p. 451,773,820,888, vol. II.
  20. White, Jon Manchip., Ancient Egypt: Its Culture and History (Dover Publications; New Ed edition, June 1, 1970), p. 141. "It may be noted that the ancient Egyptians themselves appear to have been convinced that their place of origin was African rather than Asian. They made continued reference to the land of Punt as their homeland."
  21. “The Making of Egypt” (1939). Petrie states that the Land of Punt was “sacred to the Egyptians as the source of their race.”
  22. Short History of the Egyptian People, by E. A. Wallis Budge. Budge stated that “Egyptian tradition of the Dynastic Period held that the aboriginal home of the Egyptians was Punt…”
  24. Hatshepsut's Temple at Deir El Bahari By Frederick Monderson
  26. Dimitri Meeks - Chapter 4 - “Locating Punt” from the book “Mysterious Lands”, by David B. O'Connor and Stephen Quirke.
  28. Ancient Egypt's Humiliating Secret


  • Bradbury, Louise (1988), "Reflections on Travelling to 'God's Land' and Punt in the Middle Kingdom", Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 25: 127–156 .
  • Breasted, John Henry (1906-1907), Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical Documents from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest, collected, edited, and translated, with Commentary, 1-5, University of Chicago Press .
  • Fattovich, Rodolfo. 1991. "The Problem of Punt in the Light of the Recent Field Work in the Eastern Sudan". In Akten des vierten internationalen Ägyptologen Kongresses, München 1985, edited by Sylvia Schoske. Vol. 4 of 4 vols. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag. 257–272.
  • ———. 1993. "Punt: The Archaeological Perspective". In Sesto congresso internazionale de egittologia: Atti, edited by Gian Maria Zaccone and Tomaso Ricardi di Netro. Vol. 2 of 2 vols. Torino: Italgas. 399–405.
  • Herzog, Rolf. 1968. Punt. Abhandlungen des Deutsches Archäologischen Instituts Kairo, Ägyptische Reihe 6. Glückstadt: Verlag J. J. Augustin.
  • Kitchen, Kenneth (1971), "Punt and How to Get There", Orientalia 40: 184–207 
  • Kitchen, Kenneth (1993), "The Land of Punt", in Shaw, Thurstan; Sinclair, Paul; Andah, Bassey et al., The Archaeology of Africa: Foods, Metals, Towns, 20, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 587–608 .
  • Meeks, Dimitri (2003), "Locating Punt", in O'Connor, David B.; Quirke, Stephen G. J., Mysterious Lands, Encounters with ancient Egypt, 5, London: Institute of Archaeology, University College London, University College London Press, pp. 53–80, ISBN 1-84472-004-7 .
  • Paice, Patricia (1992), "The Punt Relief, the Pithom Stela, and the Periplus of the Erythean Sea", in Harrak, Amir, Contacts Between Cultures: Selected Papers from the 33rd International Congress of Asian and North African Studies, Toronto, August 15–25, 1990, 1, Lewiston, Queenston, and Lampeter: The Edwin Mellon Press, pp. 227–235 .
  • O'Connor, David (1994), Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa, University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 41–44.

Older literature

  • Johannes Dumichen: Die Flotte einer ägyptischen Königin, Leipzig, 1868.
  • Wilhelm Max Müller: Asien und Europa nach altägyptischen Denkmälern, Leipzig, 1893.
  • Adolf Erman: Life in Ancient Egypt, London, 1894.
  • Édouard Naville: "Deir-el-Bahri" in Egypt Exploration Fund, Memoirs XII, XIII, XIV, and XIX, London, 1894 et seq.
  • James Henry Breasted: A History of the Ancient Egyptians, New York, 1908.

External links

News reports on Wadi Gawasis excavations

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Land of Punt. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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