Art, Ancient art, Wenamon report, Wenamun report, The sacred boats of Amun-Ra as depicted in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, Egypt, frescoes, Amor-Ra
The sacred boats of Amun-Ra as depicted in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos. Picture courtesy of kairoinfo text

The first documented trip in world’s history

A reticent Phoenician King. A bag of silver stolen from the ship’s Captain. A strange little god hidden by a merchant. A last moment evasion to fall in the power of a Cyprian Princess. All because of the precious Lebanon trees. The scenery is the bright, blue, legendary water of the Mediterranean Sea, and, unexpectedly, the story is true1

Year 5, fourth month of summer, day 16, the day of departure of Wenamun, the Elder of the Portal of the Temple of Amun, Lord of Thrones-of-the-Two-Lands, to fetch timber for the great noble bark of Amen-Re, King of Gods, which is upon the river and [is called] Amen-user-he.
(Incipit of the Report of Wenamon)

Around 3.100 years ago, at the time of Pharaoh Ramesses XI, the tenth and last ruler of the Twentieth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, Hrihor, the High Priest of the god Amon and ruler of Thebes, dispatches Wenamon, one of his functionary, to the city of Byblos (present-day Lebanon) to procure cedar in order to construct a sacred vessel for the god Amon. What Wenamon did not know at the time of his departure from Thebes was that a regular trade mission was about to become an incredible series of adventure that destiny will consign to the eternity as the first documented trip in world’s history.

The report of Wenamon is presented as an official document (the original papyrus is now in the collection of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow) our protagonist wrote to explain to his chief the long series of incidents and difficulties he met on the way. Lively and essential, fast and unpredictable, The Report of Wenamon is not a literature masterpiece yet is a curious entertaining reading for all travellers.

Egypt, travel, travelling, Wenamon, Mediterranean, public domain picture
Wenamon’s route

The story has a quiet beginning. Hrihor gives to Wenamon money to buy the cedars, gifts for the king of Byblos, credentials, and a small statue of the god “Amon-of-the-way”. Therefore, Wenamon left Thebes to Tanis. Once arrived he shows his credential to the rulers of Tanis, and they sent him off with the ship’s captain Mengebet entering the great sea of Syria.

Wenamon reach safely the city of Dor, a petty kingdom of Thakkara, and here troubles began. One of the sailor steals all Wenamon’s money and fled away. Wenamon goes to the Thakkara chief of Dor to ask for a compensation due to the fact that the theft was committed in the Dor‘s harbour. The king gives him a very, but very little compensation and Wenamon, after waiting 9 days, sails North to Tyre.

During the Journey somehow (the papyrus is incomplete) he meets Some Thakkara people and he sized their money. Finally, he arrives in Byblos four month after his departure. Here things does not turn good. Zakaar-Baal, king of Byblos, refuses to receive our unlucky hero. Wenamon waits. Every day he receives injunction to leave the harbour and he is threatened by the men of Zakaar-Baal. Wenamon hold up 19 days of waiting, and, in the exact moment he determines to leave Zakar-Baal accepts to receive him. In fact, that very same day, one the Zakar-Baal priest had fallen into a prophetic frenzy and told to the king to receive Wenamon.

Wenamon shows up to Zakaar-Baal without gifts, without the credential he forgot in Tyris, without money for the timber so the king refuses to make any deal with him. Well, our smart hero, after a bad beginning, surprisingly convinces Zaaka-Baal to sell him the cedar but he has to dispatches one of his man back to Egypt to get some money. 48 days after Wenamon’s man comes back. The timber is loaded. Wenamon is ready to sail back when Thakkara’s ships enters the harbour to ask to Zakar-Baal the permission to arrest Wenamon for his seizure of the silver. Wenamon let himself go to discouragment but Zakar-baal, touched by his misfortune, send him reassuring messages, food, wine, and a female singer to wipe out his sadness.

The morning after Zaakar-Baal does not do much for Wenamon. The king simply tells to the Thakkara’s people he cannot arrest a man of the Pharaoh in his land but what he can do is force Wenamon to take the sea, once he is out of Byblos’ harbour Thakkara’ people are free to arrest him. Somehow (this part of the papyrus is missed) Wenamon evades the pursuers but contrary winds lead him to Cyprus. Here Wenamon is about to be slaughtered but at the very last moment he manages to gain the favour of Hatiba, Princess of Cyprus. Unfortunately the report is broken and we never know how Wenamon will reach Egypt.

She said: “What is it you have said?” I said to her: “If the sea rages and the wind drives me to the land where you are, will you let me be received so as to kill me, though I am the envoy of Amun? Look, as for me, they would search for me till the end of time. As for this crew of the prince of Byblos, whom they seek to kill, will not their lord find ten crews of yours and kill them also?” She had the people summoned and they were reprimanded. She said to me: “Spend the night…
(Meeting the Princess of Cyprus, theese are the last lines of the Report of Wenamon)

The reading is fascinating. Through the words and the adventures of Wenamon the Ancient Mediterranean sea comes to life. The report were not written to entertatin, but to clearly report facts. This gives to it an unusual power able to break time and reality and immerse the reader straight on the deck of a ship sailing the sea 3100 years ago. One can clearly listen to the voices of the sailors, the sounds of the veils tensed by the wind, the roars of the waves of a sea who nourished never-ending legends: during the same time of Wenamon travels, the stories that will give birth to Ulysses began timidly to rise from the mist of the sea, a sea of merchant and sailors, adventures and wonders, cheating and dreaming, of travel and travellers.


1) The veracity of the report is still debating. This article is not minted to go into detailes. At any rate who writes firmly  believe that the report of Wenamon has been at least inspired by true fact (Erman 2005, pp. 174–175.)

 

 

Leandro Perez Zambullo

A bird took my father, and my mother married a fish. I was born one leg in the air, one in the water was. That day sea and wind pulled so hard, that in two broke my chest. My heart fell in a well, and when I want to know who I am, I have to drink a lot.
I am Leandro, content writer at OTW.

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