Wenamen's Journey

Wenamen's Journey

The Sea peoples' defeat prevented them from conquering Egypt itself, but it left the Egyptians incapable of defending their possessions in the East, which were colonized by the Philistines, Sidonites and others. The effects of the eclipse of Egyptian power are described in the Wenamen papyrus. Local kings, such as the king of Dor, showed quite open contempt for the ambassador of the Pharaoh.

At the beginning of the 11th century BCE, during the reign of Ramses XI, Wenamen, a priest of the Amen temple at Karnak, sailed in a Phoenician ship to Gebal (Byblos) in order to buy timber for the construction of a solar ship. He carried with him a letter of introduction to Zekharbaal, king of Gebal, a statue of the god Amen and some valuables: One golden vessel weighing five deben (about 450 grams), four silver jugs weighing twenty deben and a purse containing eleven deben of silver, a total of five deben of gold and 31 deben of silver.

A worker during Ramesside times was payed in kind the equivalent of about 11 deben of copper a month. Silver, which in earlier times had been rarer than gold was worth half the same amount of gold by this time and quite a bit more valuable than copper. According to Ronald Leprohon of the University of Toronto the amount of precious metal carried by Wenamen should have been enough to buy thousands of cubic metres of wood, at least during the times of Egyptian power.

Year 5, fourth month of the Summer season, day 16; the day on which Wenamun, the elder of the portal of the estate of Amun, lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, set forth to fetch the timber for the great noble bark of Amen-Re', King of the Gods, which is upon the river and is called Amen-user-her. On the day of my arrival at Tanis, the place where Nesbanebded and Tentamun are, I gave them the dispatches of Amen-Re', King of the Gods. They caused them to be read before them and they said:

'We will surely do as Amen-Re', King of the Gods, our lord has said.'

I stayed until the fourth month of the Summer season in Tanis. And Nesbanebded and Tentamun sent me forth with the ship's captain Mengebet, and I went down upon the great sea of Syria in the first month of the Summer season. And I arrived at Dor, a Tjekker-town, and Beder its prince caused to be brought to me 50 loaves, one flagon of wine, and one haunch of an ox. And a man of my ship fled after stealing one vessel of gold worth 5 deben, four jars of silver worth 20 deben, and a bag of silver, 11 deben; total of what he stole, gold 5 deben, silver 31 deben. And I arose in the morning and went to the place where the prince was and said to him:

'I have been robbed in your harbor. But you are the prince of this land and you are its controller. Search for my money, for indeed the money belongs to Amen-Re', King of the Gods, the lord of the lands, it belongs to Nesbanebded, it belongs to Hrihor my lord and to the other great ones of Egypt; it belongs to you, it belongs to Waret, it belongs to Mekamar, it belongs to Tjikarba'al the prince of Byblos.'

He said to me:

'Are you in earnest or are you inventing? For indeed I know nothing of this tale that you have told me. If it had been a thief belonging to my land who had gone down into your ship and had stolen your money, I would have replaced it for you from my storehouse, until your thief had been found, whoever he may be. But in fact the thief who robbed you, he is yours, he belongs to your ship. Spend a few days here with me, that I may search for him.

' I stayed nine days anchored in his harbor, and then I went before him and said to him:

'Look, you have not found my money.'

There follows a much broken passage the gist of which may be guessed to be as follows: Wenamen expresses the wish to depart with some ship's captains about to put to sea, but the prince urges him to refrain, suggesting that he should seize goods belonging to the suspected persons until they had gone to search for the thief. Wenamen, however, prefers to continue his journey and after touching at Tyre leaves that port at daybreak. He is soon at Byblos, where Tjikarba'al is the prince. There he comes across a ship that contains 30 deben of silver, which he annexes saying that the money shall remain with him until those whom he addresses have found the thief.

...They departed, and I celebrated in a tent on the shore of the sea in the harbor of Byblos. And I found a hiding place for Amun-of-the-Road and placed his possessions within it. And the prince of Byblos sent to me saying:

'Remove yourself from my harbor.'

And I sent to him saying: 'Where shall I go?...If you can find a ship to carry me, let me be taken back to Egypt.' And I spent twenty-nine days in his harbor and he spent time sending to me daily to say: 'Remove yourself from my harbor.' Now whilst he was offering to his gods, the god seized a young man of his young men and put him in a frenzy and said to him:

'Bring the god up and bring up the envoy who is carrying him. It is Amun who sent him, it is he who caused him to come.'

And the frenzied one was in a frenzy during this night, when I had found a ship with its face set towards Egypt and had loaded all my belongings onto it and was watching for the darkness saying

'When it descends, I will put the god aboard so that no other eye shall see him.'

And the harbor-master came to me saying:

'Wait here until tomorrow, so says the prince.'

And I said to him:

'Was it not you who spent time coming to me daily saying 'Remove yourself from my harbor', and have you not said 'Wait here this night' in order to let the ship which I have found depart, and then you will come again and tell me to go?'

And he went and told it to the prince. And the prince sent to the captain of the ship saying

'Wait until the morning--so says the prince.'

And when the morning came, he sent and brought me up, while the god was reposing in the tent where he was on the shore of the sea. And I found him seated in his upper chamber with his back against a window, while the waves of the great sea of Syria beat behind his head. And I said to him:

'Amun be merciful(?).'

And he said to me:

'How long until today is it since you came from the place where Amun is?'
And I said to him:

'Five whole months until now.'

And he said to me:

'Supposing you are right, where is the dispatch of Amun which is in your hand, and where is the letter of the First Prophet of Amun which is in your hand?'

And I said to him:

'I gave them to Nesbanebded and Tentamun.'

Then he was very angry and said to me:

'Well now, dispatch or letter there is none in your hand, but where is the ship of pinewood which Nesbanebded gave you and where is its Syrian crew? Did he not entrust you to this barbarian ship's captain to cause him to kill you and that they should throw you into the sea? From whom then would the god have been sought for, and you too, from whom would you too have been sought for?'

So he said to me.But I said to him:

'Is it not an Egyptian ship and an Egyptian crew which carry Nesbanebded? He has no Syrian crews.'

And he said to me:

'Are there not twenty vessels here in my harbor which do business with Nesbanebded, and as for that Sidon, that other place by which you passed, are there not fifty more ships there which do business with Waraktir, and which toil to his house?'

I kept silence at that great moment.

Then he proceeded to say to me:

'On what commission have you come?'

And I said to him:

'I have come in quest of the timber for the great noble bark of Amen-Re', King of the Gods. What your father did and what the father of your father did, you too will do it.' So I said to him.

And he said to me:

'They did it in truth. You shall pay me for doing it, and I will do it. Certainly my people performed this commission, but only after Pharaoh had caused to be brought six ships laden with Egyptian goods and they had unloaded them into their storehouses. But you--what have you brought to me myself?'

And he caused the daybook rolls of his fathers to be brought and he caused them to be read before me. And they found entered on his roll a thousand deben of silver, things of all sorts. And he said to me:

'If the ruler of Egypt had been the possessor of mine own and I too his servant, he would not have caused silver and gold to be brought when he said 'Perform the commission of Amun'; it was no gratuitous gift that they used to make for my father. And as for me too, I myself, I am not your servant, and I am not the servant of him who sent you either. When I cry aloud to the Lebanon, the heaven opens and the timber lies here on the shore of the sea. Give me the sails that you brought to carry your ships which are to bear your timber to Egypt. Give me the ropes that you have brought to lash together the cedars which I am to fell for you in order to make them for you...which I am to make for the sails of your ships and the yards may be too heavy and may break and you may perish in the midst of the sea. Behold, Amun will give voice in the heaven having placed Sutekh beside himself. True, Amun fitted out all the lands. He fitted them out after having earlier fitted out the land of Egypt whence you have come. And craftsmanship came forth from it reaching to the place where I am. And learning came forth from it reaching to the place where I am. What then are these foolish journeyings which you have been caused to make?'

But I said to him:

'False! No foolish journeyings are these on which I am now engaged. There are no boats on the river which do not belong to Amun. His is the sea, and his the Lebanon about which you say 'It is mine'. It is the growing-place for Amen-user-he the lord of all ships. Truly it was Amen-Re', King of the Gods, who said to Hrihor my master 'Send him', and he caused me to come with this great god. But now see, you have let this great god spend these twenty-nine days moored in you harbor without your knowing. Is he not here, is he not what he was? And you stand chauffeuring over the Lebanon with Amun its lord. As for what you say that the former kings caused silver and gold to be brought, if they had possessed Life and Health, they would not have caused the goods to be brought; it was in place of Life and Health that they caused the goods to be brought to your fathers. But Amen-Re', the King of Gods, he is the lord of this Life and Health, and was the lord of your fathers. They passed their lifetime offering to Amun, and you too, you at the servant of Amun. If you say 'Yes, I will do it' to Amun, and you complete his commission you will live, will be prosperous, will be in health, and will be good for your entire land and your people. Do not covet ought belonging to Amen-Re', King of the Gods--truly a lion loves his property. Let your scribe be brought to me that I may send him to Nesbanebded and Tentamun, the officers whom Amun has given to the north of his land, and they will cause to be brought until I have gone to the south' and I will cause to be brought to you all your deficit as well.' So I said to him.

And he placed my letter in the hand of his envoy, and put on board the keel, the prow-piece, and the stern-piece, together with four other hewn planks, total 7, and he caused them to be brought to Egypt. And his envoy who had gone to Egypt returned to me in Syria in the first month of the Winter season, Nesbanebded and Tentamun having sent gold, 4 jars; 1 kakmen-vessel; silver, 5 jars; coverlets of royal linen, 10 pieces; fine Upper Egyptian linen, 10 veils; plain mats, 500; ox-hides, 500; ropes, 500; lentils, 20 sacks; fish, 30 baskets. And she sent to me coverlets, fine Upper Egyptian linen, 5 pieces; fine Upper Egyptian linen, 5 veils; lentils, 1 sack, and fish, 5 baskets.

And the prince rejoiced, and he fitted out 300 men and 300 oxen, and he placed superintendents in charge of them to cause them to fell the logs. And they felled them and they lay there during the winter. And in the third month of Summer they dragged them to the shore of the sea. And the prince went forth and stood by them, and he sent to me telling me to come. And when I had been brought into his presence, the shadow of his lotus-fan fell upon me. And Penamun, a butler of his, approached me saying:

'The shadow of Pharaoh your lord has fallen upon you.'

And he was angry with him and said

'Leave him alone.'

And I was brought into his presence and he proceeded to say to me: 'Look, the commission which my fathers performed formerly, I having performed it--but you have not done for me yourself what your fathers did for mine. Look, the last of your timber has arrived and is in its place. Do according to my will and come and place it on board, for will they not give it to you? Do not come to look at the terrors of the sea, but if you look at the terrors of the sea, look at my own. Assuredly I have not done to you what was done to the envoys of Kha'emwise when they passed seventeen years in this land and died on the spot.'

And he said to his butler:

Take him and let him see their tomb where they lie.'

But I said to him: 'Do not make me see it. As regards Kha'emwise, those envoys whom he sent to you were men, and he himself was a man. But you have not here one of his envoys when you say 'Go and look at your companions'. Do you not rejoice that you can cause to be made for yourself a stele and that you can say on it: 'Amen-Re', King of the Gods, sent me Amun-of-the-Road his envoy, together with Wenamun his human envoy, in quest of the timber for the great noble bark of Amen-Re', King of the Gods. I felled it and I put it on board and I provided it with my ships and my crews. And I caused them to reach Egypt so as to beg for me from Amun fifty years of life over and above my fate.' And it would come to pass if after another day an envoy who had knowledge of writing were to come from the land of Egypt and were to read your name upon the stele, you would receive water of the West just like the gods who are there.'

And he said to me:

'This is a great testimony of speech that you have said to me.'

And I said to him:

'As regards the many things which you have said to me, if I reach the place where the First prophet of Amun is, and he see your commission, your commission will draw profit unto you.'

And I went off to the shore of the sea to the place where the logs ere laid, and I saw eleven ships coming from the sea which belonged to the Tjekker, they saying:

'Imprison him, let no ship of his leave for the land of Egypt.'

Thereupon I sat and wept. And the letter-writer of the prince came out to me and said to me: 'What ails you?' And I said to him:

'Do you not see the migrant birds which go down twice to Egypt? Look at them, how they come to the cool waters. Until what arrives am I to be abandoned here? And do you not see those who have come to imprison me again?'

And he went and told it to the prince. And the prince began to weep on account of the words that were said to him, they being so painful. And he sent out his letter-writer to me bringing me two flagons of wine and a sheep. And he caused to be brought to me Tentne, an Egyptian singing-woman whom he had , saying:

'Sing to him, do not let his heart be worried.'

And he sent to me saying:

'Eat and drink, and let not your heart be worried. You shall hear tomorrow all that I shall say.

'The morrow came and he caused his council to be summoned and he stood among them and said to the Tjekker:

'What mean these journeyings of yours?'

And they said to him:

'We have come in pursuit of the fighting vessels which you are sending to Egypt with our adversaries.'

And he said to them:

'I cannot imprison the envoy of Amun within my land. Let me send him away, and you shall go after him to imprison him.'

And he loaded me up and sent me thence to the harbor of the sea. And the wind drove me to the land of Alasiya. And the inhabitants of the place came out against me to kill me, but I forced my way through them to the place where Hatiba, the female prince of the town was. And I found her as she was going out from her one house and was entering into her other house. And I greeted her, and said to the people who stood around her:

'Is there not one among you who understands the language of Egypt?'

And one among them said:

'I understand it.'

And I said to him:

'Tell my mistress: as far as Ne, as the place where Amun is, I used to hear that injustice is done in every town, but that justice is done in the land of Alasiya. Is then injustice done every day here?'

And she said:

'What indeed do you mean by saying it?'

And I said to her:

'If the sea is angry and the wind drives me to the land where you are, will you cause me to be received so as to kill me, although I am the envoy of Amun? Look now, as regards myself they would seek me to the end of time. But as regards this crew of the prince of Byblos whom they seek to kill, will not their master find ten crews of yours and himself too kill them?'

And she caused the people to be summoned, and they were made to attend. And she said to me:

'Pass the night....

This is where the story breaks off. We know Wenamen reached Egypt, as we have this story written by him.