c. 2500 BC – c. 1400 BC?
I’ve made the joke about taking a punt at this already. Which is a shame because I think we can get good mileage out of that, but I’ll stop using it… soon. Because to take a punt at Punt for the purposes of this series is verging into the realms of fiction so this will be a bit of a speculative historical overview, but then what isn’t speculative at around 2000 BC? Except maybe a few of the king names of Egypt and Mesopotamia and some other select information, a lot of this period’s history is guesswork. But Punt is more guesswork than most.
And we right away hit on the single biggest problem with Punt, we aren’t sure where it is. On the map, you’ll see that I’ve put it on the African side of the Red Sea, leading down to the Horn of Africa where Eritrea and Djibouti are located today, but I’ve also stripe coloured in its colours on the Arabian peninsula and further down the horn into Somalia.
Now this doesn’t mean that Punt covered all of this territory, although it might have. The general consensus on this state is that it existed somewhere most likely in the full colour location as described above, but could have also existed in the the striped locations, either instead of Eritrea/Djibouti or as well as that area. Depending on how powerful it was, and we’re not sure on that.
Sometimes associated with the biblical land of Put, Punt is mainly known to us by records from Egypt saying that Punt was a big trading partner of theirs, in fact, Punt was probably one of the main places where the trade goods coming through Nubia up to the overly rich Egyptians that I mentioned last post were originating from. Not that there weren’t other African tribes or kingdoms or something along those lines trading with Egypt as well as Punt but they weren’t really mentioned so likely were less organised than Punt, which had a name that Egyptian records mention, from as early as the time of Knufu, he of the Great Pyramid, the first and last wonder of the Ancient World. Expeditions down to Punt begin with the Pharoah Sahure of the 5th dynasty a century later. Sahure sent a fleet of ships down the Red Sea and returned with large quantities of myrrh and other valuable goods. Other expeditions are recorded as going to Punt sporadically throughout the history of Egypt all as far down the line as the 18th dynasty, when Queen Hatsheput put ships down towards Punt to collect boatloads of trade goods from the area. And this wasn’t usual for the Egyptians, going on long voyages by sea, this would have been a once in a lifetime trip down to a strange land of wonder. This is of course about the time of the New Kingdom, which will be a most awesome post, I’m very excited to write that one. You can tell I’m happier here because I’m just talking about the Pharoahs through association because I know, we know the names and the existence of Egypt very well, most of what we know of Punt is that Egypt constantly got valuable stuff like gold, wild animals, ivory, from there.
And the other thing we know about Punt is that it was almost mythical, after the New Kingdom fell, there’s no more references to it, by 1000 BC a new kingdom, the kingdom of D’mut is ruling the rough area, and it must be assumed that whatever governmental system that Punt had, it went at around the same time the New Kingdom of Egypt fell.
Some of the Egyptian references to Punt call it the ‘Land of God’ in their language, which seems to be referring to the fact that it’s a land to the east where the sun comes from, the Egyptians of course referring to the sun as a god as many other ancient religions did. This is not, as was once believed a reference to Punt being the original homeland of the Egyptians, as some earlier Egyptologists thought.
But that aside, Punt is quite inextricably tied up with Ancient Egypt because all we know of it comes from Ancient Egypt. It was probably a rich and prosperous land with the amount of goods they sent up the Red Sea by land and by sea, but very little about it has survived. No rulers (except for King Parahu and Queen Ati being the names of the rulers when Hatshephut made her expedition to that country), no military information, no buildings, no works of culture or art except for what we know they traded to Egypt, the land of Punt is a land of mystery, one that existed under that name for sure as a trading partner of Ancient Egypt enough for Egypt to value them as a partner state but not a state that we have any records on.
Next time, I’m going to Ancient China for the first time. Prepare for more myths but this time ones that we can say more concrete things about.