Morris Silver
Economics Department
City College of New York

TOPIC IV: Egypt's Acquisition of Foreign Goods (and Labor-Power) Mainly in the Old Kingdom:

Trade Versus Plunder (Continued)

2. The Mythical Conflict between Osiris and Seth and Egypt's Trade with Byblos during the Old Kingdom* (Last revised September 25, 2002)

a. Overview of Egypt's Trade Relations

The age beginning with the 4th Dynasty (2575-2467) of the Old Kingdom (2575-2134) was one of prosperity, pyramid building, and, it would seem, trade with land near and far. To the south, Egypt possessed an important trading station at Bhutan in Lower Nubia (neb) "gold". The excavation of an extensive settlement at the eastern end of the Dakhla Oasis (near current Balat) indicates a strong economic presence in the Western Desert. Another major concentration of Old Kingdom sites was discovered at the southwestern end of the Oasis. Evidence of economic motivation is provided by the statue of an Old Kingdom personage titled ta-ah(w) "governor of the land of cattle," a possible reference to the Farafra Oasis. Pyramid Texts 53b and 54a refer to the "resin and oil" or, alternatively, the "finest oil" of Libya (Tehnew).1 (The Pyramid Texts (Pyr.) date from the end of the 5th Dynasty through the 6th Dynasty.) There is little reason to doubt that livestock and (olive?) oil were among "all the good things" brought to Old Kingdom Egypt by the canine deity Ash, the "lord of Libya."

Further afield, and much less conclusively, a cup bearing the name of the 5th Dynasty sun-temple of Userkaf (2465-2458) at Abusir was found at Kythera, an island strategically placed off the southern tip of the Peloponnesus. Pyr. 629b and 1631a and inscriptions, for example, of Sahure (2458-2446), refer moreover to the hau-nebwet. Based primarily on the translations given in the Canopus Decree and the Rosetta Stone, many scholars take this as a reference the inhabitants of the Aegean islands and possibly of the mainland as well (nebwet) is determined by the sign for an island.2 Far to Egypt's north, an inscription of Sahure was reportedly found in Anatolia, at Dorak, near the Sea of Marmara. The finds at Kythera and Dorak, it should be noted. do not come from secure archaeological contexts. The royal annals of the Old Kingdom--the so-called Palermo Stone covering from predynastic times through the reign of Neferikare (2446-2426)--includes the report that Sahure imported myrrh and other goods from Punt (probably the Somali coast).

Ships on the waters of the "Beautiful West". Scene from tomb chapel of Ra-em-kai at Saqqara, dated to late Dynasty 5.

The same source also records that Egypt provided an estate for the gods of Babylonia (Weeks), probably to facilitate trade (see ESoA, Ch. 1 on the economic role of syncretism). Vases
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"Palermo Stone"

and jars bearing the names of Khafre 2520-2494) and Pepi I (2289-2255) have been excavated in a secure third-millennium context at Ebla, an important commercial center in north Syria's Orontes Valley). Pettinato (1991: 128) suggests that the mention in the Ebla texts of DUKI-DUKI might refer to "Two Lands," a term used to designate Upper and Lower Egypt in the Old Kingdom.

b. Relations with Byblos

Most importantly for the present study, Egypt possessed a significant trading station in the Levant at Byblos (Semitic gbl), located on the Mediterranean about twenty-five miles north of Beirut below the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains. The name keben (later kepney) "Byblos"3 occurs for the first time in an Egyptian text on the lintel of the false door of a 4th Dynasty mastaba-tomb at Giza and it occurs in Byblos itself on a 6th Dynasty bas-relief.

A series of Egyptian "dedications" in the temple precinct of Byblos begins with the last ruler of the 2nd Dynasty. His name and those of Egyptian rulers of the 3d through 6th Dynasties appear on stone vessels. The construction of an "Egyptianized" temple at Byblos coincides with the 3d or 4th Dynasty, according to Saghieh (1983: 130-31) who adds that the rebuilt Baalat-Gebal ("Lady of Byblos") shows architectural influences of Sahure's valley temple. Besides a questionable cylinder seal reference, the Egyptian goddess Hathor is mentioned on three objects from third millennium Byblos. One object refers to Pepi II (2150-2134) and the other two equate "Hathor of Denderah" with Baalat-Gebal (Schulman 1979: 92-3). Hathor is also depicted on an Old Kingdom relief at Byblos (Ward 1963: 24). As Bleeker (1973: 73) rightly notes, the identification of Hathor with the goddess of Byblos is indicative of trade relations.

A 6th Dynasty tomb inscription at Aswan commemorates an expedition to Byblos by a "treasurer of the god" named Khui (Newberry 1938). Teti, one of Khui's companions on the Byblos journey, is described on another Aswan tomb as "one who brings the products of the foreign lands to the king" (Sethe cited by Wright 1988: 147). We also have a reference to "the man of Byblos, Wentjet" (Jones 2000: II, #3699, 998). The Palermo Stone (PS r.VI.2) records that under Sneferu (2575-2551) forty shiploads of ash-wood were imported, probably from Byblos.4 This inference is supported by the discovery near Syria's Adonis River of an axehead of Khufu (2551-2558) or Sahure that is inscribed with the name of a crew of lumberjacks or a ship's crew (MacDonald 1972: 75-6). Also the "lands of the Fenekhu" meaning "lands of the woodcutters (or woodworkers)," which are mentioned in Egyptian texts beginning with the 5th Dynasty temple of Niuserre (2416-2392) are, with good reason, identified with the forested areas of Lebanon-Syria (Green 1983: 40). The regularity of the maritime lumber trade is witnessed by the specialized title "overseer of commissions wepewet of ash-wood" in an Old Kingdom inscription at Giza (Jones 2000: I, #382, 91). What precisely is ash wood? Meiggs (1982: 405-9), in an influential study, argues that it is cedar or possible a taller species of juniper.5

Sneferu's entry in the Palermo Stone also notes the building 60 sasetaw-depet-nesewet "sixteener royal boats" made of merew-wood (="cedar"?) (cf. PS r.VI.3). The latter vessels were evidently 52.4 m. in length. (T.A.H. Wilkinson 2000: 141-3). "Byblos-ships" are mentioned for the first time in a 6th Dynasty tomb relief at Elephantine. Possibly these ships were constructed in Byblos or by Western Asiatics resident in Egypt. (The surviving archaeological evidence suggests that the Egyptians were capable of building seaworthy vessels no later than 2500 BCE. [See Haldane (1998)].

Men working on a ship. The inscription reads "We are sailing well like this." The relief, which comes from an unknown tomb, is from the North Pyramid core at Lisht.

Reliefs on the tomb of Sahure show boatloads of bearded Syrians with their wives and children, not obviously prisoners, for they are unbound, paying homage as they arrive in Egypt. The arrivals are led by Seth and Soped, gods with Asiatic connections. Above some of the men, Egyptians (if we may rely for identification on their clean-shaven faces and wigs), is the label "dragoman" (W.S. Smith 1965: 7, fig. 6). Bearded Asiatics are also depicted as passengers on an Egyptian-manned sea vessel on a 4th Dynasty Giza tomb (MacDonald 1972: 78). Texts of the early second millennium mention Egyptian ships constructed of ash and a 4th Dynasty source records the use of coniferous woods to construct ships measuring 170 feet in length.6

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Scenes from the tomb of Nefer and Ka-hay depict lumbermen cutting trees and the warping of the hull of a seagoing ship. The scenes probably date from the reign of Niuserre.
Source: Ahmed M. Moussa and Hartwig Altenmüller (1971). The Tomb of Nefer and Ka-Hay. Mainz am Rhein: von Zabern, 27; pl. 18-23.

A testimony to the importance of shipbuilding in the Old Kingdom economy is provided by a "private" sculpture of the Third Dynasty. The costly granite statue of Ankhwa (also named Bedjmose), now in the British Museum, shows him holding a carpenter's adze over his shoulder. An inscription carved on the figure's kilt terms Ankhwa "carpenter of sema-ships" and notes his title "who is responsible for the things of the King."
Sources:; Michael Tilgner, EEF, August 8, 2001, Subject: Ankhwa the shipbuilder

Besides lumber, the olive oil of Syria was also imported in quantity (Ben-Tor 1982: 11-13). According to Saghieh (1983: 130), "Byblos-type pottery" is found in tombs of the 3d and 4th Dynasties, but not earlier. This reconstructed import pattern is at least consistent with later times. 13th and 12th Dynasty literary texts list "much oil of harbor" and wine among Egypt's imports from Syria. The Second Stela of Kamose (c. 1555-1550) attests the continuing import of lumber from the Levant (Smith and Smith 1976: 60, 70).

c. Egypt's Exports to Lebanon-Syria

The question of the means or transactions mode by which Egypt obtained the lumber and olive oil of Byblos naturally arises for the historical economist. The evidence does not suggest that the Egyptians acquired these commodities without compensation of any kind, by means of naked force and intimidation. Neither does the evidence demonstrate or even hint that Byblos' exports should be understood as a fee or "tribute" for the benefits of being sheltered under Egypt's military defense umbrella. The perspective adopted here is that Egypt paid for its imports with commodity exports. Given the scarcity of Egyptian artifacts in Lebanon-Syria, any such exports would have been "invisible" in an archaeological sense. Based on a consideration of Egypt's export potentialities and an analysis of the Osiris versus Seth complex of myths, the obvious candidates for this role are linen cloth and grain, especially wheat. As we shall see linen cloth was a major player in the Old Kingdom economy.

By the 3d Dynasty, Egypt was growing flax (hema)and wheat (sewet). Indeed, granaries filled with wheat are mentioned in the 3d and 4th Dynasties, and a tomb inscription at Saqqara notes the deceased's receipt of "wheat and barley from the two granaries" (Strudwick 1985: 270). Scenes of flax workers are accompanied by captions listing bundles of 20,000 or 62,000 and over 73,000. Tomb scenes of the early second millennium at Beni Hasan depict the various operations in linen production including flax cultivation, retting, beating, boxings, rovings for spinning, rope-making, weaving, and the folding of cloth.7

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One such scene is from the Twelfth Dynasty tomb of Khnunhotep. The scene depicts women in different stages of linen production accompanied by an overseer. For complete discussion of the scene, see Catherine H. Roehrig (1996). "Women's Work: Some Occupations of Nonroyal Women as Depicted in Ancient Egyptian Art." In Anne K. Capel and Glenn E. Markoe (eds.)Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt. New York: Hudson Hills Press for the Cincinnati Art Museum, 13-24 (esp. p. 20).

Another tomb scene, this one of the Old Kingdom, shows "treasury officials packing linen into low wooden boxes, which are long enough for the pieces not to be folded. Each box contains but one sort of material" (Erman 1894: 440). The chests full of linen were taken to the "house of silver" (per hed), literally "white house"). Another Old Kingdom scene of the payment of weavers bears the caption "taking (symbol for some kind of linen) to the treasury" (Strudwick 1985: 294).

Numerous Old Kingdom offering formulas attest to the receipt by deceased dignitaries of linen garments or bandages from the "two treasuries" and painted linen chests are a prominent feature in numerous tombs, including Sahure's. Indeed, each of the four chests of linen in the 6th Dynasty tomb of Ankhmahor is labeled: "royal linen," sesherew-linen," "aa-fabric(?), and "good Upper Egyptian cloth" (Gardiner 1930; 175). Stelae inscribed with linen lists including details of color, fineness, width, and the presence or absence of fringes run from the 2nd through 6th Dynasties and are especially common in the 4th Dynasty. A complete dress was found in the tomb of the

Linen dress from a 5th Dynasty tomb at Deshasheh

1st Dynasty at Tarkhan and a number of dresses and dress fragments have been discovered in tombs of the 5th and 6th Dynasties. Fragments of decent-to-fine linen cloth were found even in the relatively undistinguished tombs of "ordinary people" (see Needler 1977: 246). Hall (1986: 29) reports that the Tarkhan dress and the dresses from a 5th Dynasty tomb at Deshasheh clearly resemble the hieroglyphic determinative for a sleeved garment in the linen lists.

Linen mummy cloth from Deir el-Bahri dating to the late 11th Dynasty (c. 2000). The blue border perhaps suggests that the linen had a domestic use before its reuse as a mummy wrapping.

Warp-faced plain linen cloth dated to the 3d-4th Dynasty from Tarkhan. Considered to be an item of daily use since it was worn and wrinkled many times.

The deceased in the previously mentioned Beni Hasan tombs bore such titles as: "Sem-Master of all the Tunics," "Superintendent of Weaving and Linen," Master of Linen and Linen-makers, Spinners, and Twine-Makers" (McDowell 1986: 232-4, 239). McDowell (1986: 239) suggests that "the pictorial evidence at Beni Hasan, and the titles of several of the nomarchs, argues for a considerable linen industry in that region during the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties." However, a number of Old Kingdom officials also bore specialized titles linking them with the linen industry. Metjen, a late 3d-early 4th Dynasty personage was "Supervisor of the King's Flax." This Metjen, moreover, actually purchased on his own behalf a great deal of land from numerous smallholders called neswetjew (Baer 1963: 13; Wenig 1962). Perhaps his objective was to grow flax or wheat for the market, domestic and/or international. Indeed, according to Helck (1994, English summary), "Towards the end of the Vth Dynasty there is a rapid expansion of domains which had been newly founded by private persons, perhaps as a result of fresh colonising efforts." There is evidence relating to organized migration into underpopulated districts and the founding there of "new villages" (nawet mawet) whose administrative center was the "house of the plow" (per shena (Badawy 1967: 104). Another of Metjen's titles was "overseer of colonists (amy-r sanew) of the Fish Nome (Het-mehit)", according to Goedicke [cited and rejected by Fischer (1968: 213, 223)]. Goedicke's rendering is given some credence by the localization of Metjen's authority in L.E. 16. Fischer, however, objects that sanew means "runners" and he suggests that Het-mehit heads a mention of property in the next column of the inscription. Pyr. 881a (cf. 1559a-1605a) mentions the greg.wet "settlements, colonies," according to Mercer (1952, I: 162; II: 450). Papyrus Sallier II, a difficult text of New Kingdom date, is also relevant in this connection. Here we read that "The runner is going abroad, having bequeathed his affairs to his children..." Hoch (1991/92: 95) notes that sekhesekhtey "runner" is from the verb sekheskh "to run."8

In the 5th Dynasty we hear of the payment to artisans of various kinds of linen and in a market scene "well-crafted linen" is offered for sale (Altenmüller cited by Renger 1984: 155-6; see TOPIC III.4 and TOPIC IV.1). Roth 1994: 236) notes that cloth "is frequently cited in the few [Old Kingdom] documents of economic transactions that have survived. As a means of payment it offered durability and established qualities and quantities ..." (citing Posener-Kriéger). Indeed, Roth (1994: 235-6) ventures the suggestion that the verb djeba "to dress, to adorn" also meant "to pay."

In the 5th Dynasty first-quality admy-linen played a prominent role in Niuserre's "festival (heb) of Sed. The admy-linen is mentioned five times in the texts accompanying scenes from the festival in the temple at Abu Gurob (Smith 1935; 142). This type of linen is also mentioned in the Pyramid Texts (e.g., Pyr. 816b). Bleeker (1967; 120) citing a variety of evidence including the fact that sed is sometimes replaced by seshed "linen band," concludes that sed means cloth.9 Smith (1935: 142) provides the supporting observation that the admy-linen of the Abu Gurob inscriptions "seems to refer to the Sed-garment worn by the king' in a central ritual of the festival. The importance of linen cloth in the Egyptian economy would of course be underlined by the celebration of a "Festival of Cloth."

In this connection it is not without significance that a bust of Niuserre was discovered in Byblos (Griffiths 1980: 33). More basically, stone vessels at Byblos actually mention the Sed-festivals of Pepi I (2289-2255) and Pepi II (MacDonald 1972: 81). These and other dedications in the Baalat Gebal temple may well have served as a form of advertising for Egyptian linen. In any event, it does seem clear that Egypt and Byblos were linked by a festival arguably dedicated to linen cloth (and lumber, as we shall see).

The hypothesis that Old Kingdom Egypt exported linen and grain (wheat) finds a modicum of support in evidence of such exports in later times. The "Report of Wenamun," a literary text of the late second millennium, mentions the shipment of Egyptian linen to Byblos in order to purchase timber (Wente 1972: 151). The linen shipment includes "ten garments of royal linen, five garments of fine linen, twenty [khered] garments of fine linen ..., and five hundred 'smooth' linen pieces [naaken] ..." (Kemp and Vogelsang-Eastwood 2001: 437). Ezekiel (27.7) and Isaiah (23.3) refer to Tyre's import of Egyptian linen and wheat. Fine Egyptian linen reached Mesopotamia in the first millennium (Oppenheim 1967). More speculatively, it is not impossible that Egypt was the origin of a shipment of linen listed in a text of Lagash (southern Mesopotamia) as arriving from Ebla. The connecting link between Egypt and Ebla, a major producer of woolen cloth in the mid-third millennium, might be some 140 miles to the south at Byblos. This port is apparently mentioned frequently in the Ebla texts. Pettinato (1991: 128) is "convinced that DU-luki in the economic texts [of Ebla] and DU-lumki in the 'Gazetteer of the Ancient Near East' to be read gublullumki is Byblos." Klengel (1992: 30) is more cautious noting that that DU-lu "is not to equated with Gublu [Byblos] with certainty" but he notes that Pepi I is mentioned in inscriptions of both Ebla and Byblos. Pettinato (1991: 130) sees a "red thread" in lists of material coming to Ebla from Byblos.10

c. The Economic Testimony of the Osiris Myth Complex

It will be shown that Egyptian mythology reinforces the perspective that Egypt paid grain and linen to Byblos for lumber and olive oil. Osiris was a mortuary god as well as a god of fertility and, according to Greek sources, a patron of the agricultural arts. The idea of rebirth or resurrection (see below) seems to link the god's funerary and vegetative roles. Note in this connection Osiris-shaped containers that were lined with linen, filled with earth, planted with grain, and deposited in tombs during the second millennium (Griffiths 1980: 167). Representations of Osiris from the third millennium are not known, but in later times the god is shown carrying implements identified as the shepherd's crook and the flail used to thresh grain and he is always pictured in mummified form (Griffiths 1970: 35). In connection with this symbolism and the growing importance of linen in the Egyptian economy, it is worth noting that not very long after the 3d Dynasty the normal hieroglyph for "god" changed from a staff with streamers to a staff wound with cloth (Hornung 1982: 34). Also, Osiris' blue flower is usually understood to be the lotus but, as Guépin (1968; 211, n.13) reminds us, the flax-flower is blue as well. Griffiths (1970: 271) adds that: "The Egyptians called blue linen, that is, the finished product, arteyew after the colour itself ... but they also made it white and red."

i. Osiris Is Grain and Linen

Osiris is identified with grain (barley) in the Dramatic Ramesseum Papyrus (29-33), dating to the late third or early second millennium, and, quite possibly, in the Pyramid Texts (Griffiths 1980; 80). The Papyrus visualizes the god Seth as an ass who threshes grain (Osiris) and then carries it up to heaven. The Coffin Texts, again dating to the late third or early second millennium, also identify Osiris with vegetation. For example, in a "spell for becoming barley" we read: "I am the plant of life which comes forth from Osiris, which allows the people to live" (269, corrected by BMUS 6654; Clark 1960: 118-9). Coffin Text Spell 330 maintains that: "Whether I live or die I am Osiris ... I decay in you, I grow in you, I fall down in you, I fall upon my side ... I cover the earth, whether I live or die, I am barley" (Clark 1960: 142). Spell 80 adds: "I an Life at his collar, the one who freshens the throat--whom Atum made as Grain when he sent me down to this land, and to the Isle of Fires, when my identity became Osiris, son of Geb" (Allen 1997; 13).

Osiris' links with grain, flax, linen, and ultimately, with Byblos are evident in Pyr. 184b, in which the god is addressed as "He (who is in) the chest (deben), He (who is in) the shrine (or "portable chest"; tjesa), He (who is in) the sack" (anek) (Griffiths 1970: 311; Mercer 1952, I: 65, II: 91). The storing and transport of linen in chests and the depiction of linen chests in tombs was noted above. The sign of the bag or sack was used in writing the words for "linen" and "grain." Thus the "sack" in the above Spell might be a reference to linen sacks filled with grain. In Pyr. 2094a the god Horus (the son of Osiris who is identified with the living king) equips his king (the deceased king who is identified with Osiris) "with woven linen(?) which came from him" (Griffiths 1980: 69; cf. Mercer 1952, I: 307; Faulkner 1969: 298). A similar concept is elaborated in Coffin Texts 308:

Ho N [the deceased]! You are clad in the Eye of Horus, which belongs to your body. Ho! I have given it to you, it having appeared and having been seen on your flesh in this its name of "Red Linen." You are clad in it in this its name of "Cloth" ... Here comes Tayt. Here comes Taytet. Here comes the Eye of Horus, which issued from the earth. Here comes the netting [seshnet] of Isis. Here comes the cloth [setja] of Nepthys. Here comes the plaiting ["weave," sety] of Neith. Here comes the woven stuff of the two Sisterly Companions. Here comes what Ptah has worked in ["inlay," sam]. Here comes what Horus gave to his father Osiris to clothe him in it. Ho N! Provide yourself with the Eye of Horus, which belongs to your body. Provide yourself with the woven Eye of Horus. (Faulkner 1977: 197)

In Pyr. 737c the deceased (Osiris) is instructed to "clothe thyself with the Eye of Horus, which is in Taa.t ['Weaving-town']" (Mercer 1952, I: 141; Faulkner 1969: 136) and elsewhere (Pyr. 56c) reference is made to "[the eye] which the weavers wove(?)" (Mercer 1952, I: 36). It seems clear enough that the "Eye of Horus" is linen cloth. Also in Pyr. 56a-57e Tayt (Taa.t), the "mistress of linen" whose name is usually written with a weaver's-loom determinative, provides Osiris with linen (see Mercer 195, II; 35-7, 370; III: 818, 832-3). [I could not detect this theme in Faulkner's (1969) translation.] Evidently Tayt was worshipped in a weaving center ("Tayt") in Lower Egypt.

Lorton (1985: 118, 120½) has suggested that [set-aret] "Osiris" means "something that has been made, product," a meaning he relates to mummification: Osiris is "the result of the process of mummification, mummified one." On the other hand, "product" might as easily refer to the god himself. Osiris, it should be noted, is mentioned for the first time in the Pyramid Texts. Or "product" might relate to Osiris' identification with grain or, especially, linen. Mythology, it should be recalled, operates on more than one level of meaning. Morenz (1973: 19) takes note of the theory that netjer, translated as "god" is derived from the word netjer "natron" and he finds it "striking that the most human of gods, Osiris, is called netjer in a particular context: in quite a number of puns this word is used almost as though it were his name."

Lorton (1985: 118-9) traces the emergence of the Osiris concept to an improvement in the technology of mummification:

The earliest mummies were wrapped in plaster or resin coated linen, with no attempt at treatment of the body, other than removal of the viscera. A terminus post quem for the development of "true" mummification is provided by the canopis chest of Hetepheres, the mother of Cheops, whose internal organs show traces of a natron solution. The terminus ad quem is more difficult to fix in terms of a specific reign, but there was a mummy (now destroyed) of Dyn. V date whose body had been treated with natron.
A weakness in Lorton's explanation of the origin of the Osiris concept is that during the Old Kingdom mummification was rudimentary and, as the above quote attests, not very well attested.

Natron is a salt mixture found in natural deposits which contains a large proportion of sodium bicarbonate (washing soda). The substance is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts (for example, Pyr. 32-46; 459). Besides, and, I suspect, antedating its employment, as a drying agent, in true mummification, natron played a key role in the production of high-quality, white linen cloth. McDowell (1986: 232) explains:

Weaving was by no means the end of cloth manufacture . . . for after the cloth is cut off the loom it may still be grayish-brown in colour and the Egyptians preferred better-quality linen to be almost white. ... They wet the cloth, rub it with a detergent like natron or potash, pound it on a stone with wooden clubs, rinse it in running water, they lay it out to dry and bleach in the hot sun.

The preference of the Egyptians for white linen was shared in the Indo-European milieu. Puhvel (1987: 160) notes:

White and red were ... the two "privileged" colors produced by the costly treatments (bleaching) of linen and red (purple dyes) while the rest (green, blue, yellow, black, etc.) were the more or less "natural" hues. For Mycenaean Greek textile inventories only leuka "white" and porphureia "purple" cloth is expressly attested by color.

Significantly, I believe, the sack which served as the Old Kingdom's ideograph for "linen" was half red and half white (Gardiner 1930: 163-4). The bleaching process is clearly attested in the earlier second millennium (12th Dynasty). White linen cloth was known in the Old Kingdom and so, according to Erman (1894: 62, 217-8), was a functionary titled "royal chief bleacher." Rosalind Hall of the Petrie Museum of Archaeology informs me (in a letter dated 1 April 1987) that she has "no doubts that natron (or potash) was used for bleaching linen in the Old Kingdom" and she goes on to call attention to surviving flat stones which were probably linen polishers. Most importantly, Curator Hall states that: "The Egyptians preferred better quality cloth to be white, as evidenced by examples of Old Kingdom linen, from sites such as Deshasheh and Meydum."

Bleaching is perhaps not the only point of overlap between Osiris and the technology of linen production. (For a discussion of this technology, see Wicker 1997). McDowell (1986: 231) describes the process of retting

or soaking the [flax] stems in water. This could last for up to fourteen days, allowing fermentation which helped to soften and separate the bast fibres from the woody parts. Retting is often shown in Middle Kingdom tomb-paintings, taking place in a square tank, though sometimes the fibres are seem boiling in a pot. After retting, it was possible to separate the bast fibres from the rest. This was done by hand before the New Kingdom.

It is tempting to associate the retting or fermentation process with the repew "rotting" of Osiris in Pyr. 1257a-1258b. The problem with this identification is that, according to to both Mercer's (1952, I: 207, III: 628) and Faulkner's (1969: 200) translations, the "rotting" is to be "prevented" by Isis and Nepthys. On the other hand, in the previously quoted Coffin Texts 308 both sisters are implicated in linen production. In addition to the theme of Osiris "rotting," the Pyramid Texts (e.g., Pyr. 24d, 615d, and 766d) also make reference to the meh "drowning" (literally "to die in water") of Osiris (Mercer 1952, II: 300). This may refer to the submersion of the flax stems in the tank. It is at least consistent with this hypothesis that the Memphite Theology (quite possibly of Old Kingdom date) places the drowning of Osiris in Egypt at Pesshet-tawey "that is, in the neighborhood of Memphis or in the nome of Atfih" (Griffiths 1980: 22).

ii. Osiris in Byblos

Trade symbolism or more specifically the exchange of linen for lumber lies close to the surface in Plutarch (Isis 13-16) wherein the chest into which Osiris had been shut and cast into the Nile by his brother Seth was sought for and found by Isis at Byblos incorporated into the trunk of a tree. The goddess cut the tree down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and presented it to Byblos. Later, the sacred tree containing the body of Osiris was returned to Egypt. Here Osiris is transformed from linen (the contents of the chest) into lumber by means of international trade!

The problem here is that there is no explicit reference to the chest in the era that concerns us. There are, however, many strong hints in the Old Kingdom literature. Plutarch's image of Isis wandering and searching for Osiris figures prominently in Pyr. 972a-c, 1007c-1008c, 1255a-1256c, and 1280a-1282a. [It is of some interest in this connection that Isis (and Nepthys) are given an appellation semenet.t that also underlies the title of a group of traders known as sementeyew, "men of the sack" (Yoyotte 1975: 46)] Then there is the already noted reference to Osiris being in the "chest" (see further Griffiths 1980: 21, n. 66). Pyr 1267c states that Osiris should "go to Nedat; at once; let him begone to adja" (Mercer 1952, I: 209; Faulkner 1969: 201). Nedat and adja are determined with the sign for a place or city (Mercer 1952, I: 209, III: 634). Nedat is apparently derived from the verb neda "to fell" [Tobin 1993: 103], thus "Place of Felling." Elsewhere (Pyr. 1019b, 1094c) the deceased (Osiris) travels (or encircles) the sky personified as the deity Sewnet, the "chest (deben) of heaven" (Mercer 1952, I: 517-8, III: 545-6). It is possible to surmise that Osiris is the linen in the traveling chest and the admonition for him to depart signals the commencement of the trading voyage. The "funerary theory," namely that Osiris is in a chest and is provided with linen solely because he is dead needs to come to grips with this motif in the myth.

Several Pyramid Texts tell that Osiris was struck (hewa and thrown (neda) "on the ground" or "on his side (ges)" by Seth (e.g., Pyr. 721a, 819a, 1033a-b, 1256a-b, 2018a). The meaning is that Seth killed him. "You have come in search of your brother Osiris, after his brother has cast him on his side on yonder side of Gehestey" (Pyr. 972a-c; cf. 1033a-b; Mercer 1952, II: 495; Faulkner 1969: 166). Gehestey is possibly a word play on ges "side" (Tobin 1993: 103). However, Mercer (1952, II: 495) explains that Gehestey is written with two gazelles and with the determinative for desert or foreign land. Hence the name of the place may be rendered as "Foreign Land (or Desert) of the Two Gazelles." Tobin (1993: 103) suggests the name "Place of the Gazelle."11 "They found Osiris after his brother Seth had felled him to earth in Nedat" (Pyr. 1256a-b; Mercer 1952, I: 107, III: 834; Faulkner 1969: 200). Now "felling" (neda) to earth on its side describes the "execution" of trees by lumberjacks. The funerary theorists who regard economic explanations as far fetched should help us to understand why Osiris had to be "felled on his side."12

Let us try to pinpoint the location of Nedat, the "Place of Felling." A clue is provided by the mention in Pyr. 423a-c of an "ox-god" named Khay-tau in the context of "this foreign country at the mouth of the river" (Mercer 1952, I: 96; Faulkner [1969: 85] marks this passage as "untranslatable"), possibly the Orontes or the Adonis. (Recall the Old Kingdom axehead found near the Adonis.) This line of identification seems to be confirmed in Pyr. 518d where it is said that Osiris was "Khay-tau in Negau" (Mercer 1952, I: 110). [Faulkner (1969: 102) translates Negau as "Lebanon" .] "Negau," the Negaw-mountains, is Lebanon's tree-felling district, and Khay-tau was its "lord." In Pyr. 590a and elsewhere the deceased Osiris is told not to "languish" [nega] or "groan" [as]: "Clearly this is a word play or pun using the region of Negau and ... esh fir trees" (Wright 1988: 159, n. 16).

The circle of identification tightens with the naming of Khay-tau, together with Hathor(?) and Re of the Foreign Land, on an Old Kingdom cylinder seal impression form Byblos (compare Wright 1988: 151).13 Note further that neg means "ox" and that Khay-tau is an "ox-god." The important role of oxen in the Syrian lumber trade is attested in the Gebal Barkal Stela of Thutmose III (1479-1425) wherein the "chieftains of Retjenu," a term applied to Canaan and southern Syria in the second millennium, are said to employ oxen to drag "flagpoles" to the shore for dispatch to Egypt (Aharoni 1982: 911; Cummings 1982: 5).

The Osiris myth complex is also tied to Byblos in Pyr. 1007a-1008a by a reference placing the adversary of Osiris, undoubtedly Seth, under his (Horus') "great daughter who is in Kedem" (Mercer 1952, I: 177; Faulkner 1969: 169). Now kedem "East," is also mentioned in a (possibly) sixteenth-century gate inscription at Karnak. It is a term, Redford (1979: 217) explains,

meaningful to an Egyptian whose approach to the Levant is from the sea, and also to a native whose place of residence is the coastal plain. Byblos is the obvious settlement where the "East," as a geographical term could have been passed on to Egyptians, and its coupling here [in the Karnak inscription] with "God's land" in the place where timber and cattle of Negau were procured, i.e., the Lebanon can only confirm this.

The "Story of Sinuhe" (early second millennium) seems to place Kedem in southern Syria inland from Byblos (Aharoni 1982: 91; Wente 1972: 60).

We have, then, a reasonably good picture: Osiris journeyed to Byblos in a chest as linen and once in Byblos he was transformed into lumber.

iii. Osiris is Lumber

The hypothesis that Osiris was transformed into lumber is reinforced by reliefs of the Sed-festival of Amenhotep III (1391-1353). The ruler is shown participating in the erection and worship of the djed-pillar, to which strips of cloth are attached. Bleeker (1967: 116) observes that

This pillar is rightly esteemed to be an Osiris symbol. For the rest, the djed pillar with its four remarkable crenels is a poly-interpretable symbol. Opinions about the origin and significance of this cultic object are anything but unanimous. ... In the pyramid texts djed belongs to the category of impersonal divine powers.

During the New Kingdom the Osiris symbolism "is made plain in depictions of the djed with the eyes, arms, crowns, and other insignia of the god" (R.H. Wilkinson 1994: 30).

Djed with Osiris attributes from Tomb of Seti I, Dynasty 19

Again in the earlier first millennium we observe the Osiriform djed, as in the Papyrus of Padiamun (R.H. Wilkinson 1992: 164). Although documented for late times it is some interest in the present connection to take note of end-of-the-year rites in the temple of Horus at Edfu which included a six-day long "clothing festival." During the festival Horus acquired his new clothes for the year. More significantly, on the day considered to be his birthday, "the clothing ritual was devoted to Osiris, in his aspect of Great Pillar, and to his Ennead" (Meeks and Meeks 1996: 193).

Glanville (1933: 9) is willing to venture beyond the Osirian symbolism by viewing the djed-pillar as a conventionalized representation of a lopped tree.14 Glanville's argument is quite reasonable:
Now both common sense and the nature of the determinative demand that ash was imported into Egypt, if not actually in planks at all events as logs which had already been trimmed ... To the Egyptian joiner or shipwright ... the outstanding feature of the timber he called ash would be its "ready for use" appearance. ... It is possible that the word ash was a local Syrian name for a species of fir or pine ... and that the Egyptian expeditions which were sent to get the wood learned the native name from the source of supply. It is also possible, however, and very tempting in view of the modern analogy of deal that ash, like "deal" originally meant "cut wood," and only later came to be applied to the type of tree which produced it.15
Carpenter shapes djed-pillar. 5th Dynasty.

The Abu Gurob reliefs also depict a Sed-garment clad Amenhotep III standing in a boat towed by several persons. It is tempting to associate this rite with a Pyramid Texts (1255a-c) scenario set in Nedat wherein the dead Osiris is aboard a ship of the djed-pillar (Mercer 1952, III: 626-7, 725; Faulkner 1969: 199; see also iv below).

It becomes increasingly clear that the djed-pillar with its attached strips of linen cloth symbolizes Osiris in his dual identities of lumber and linen. The myth-ritual pattern may be reconstructed along the following line. Osiris as linen is banished to Byblos in a linen-chest. Upon the completion of his voyage, about which more shortly, the linen chest is transformed into a tree. Then the tree is felled to ground on its side by Seth who, as will be shown, represents the Syrians. The tree is trimmed and sent to Egypt by the Syrians, where its arrival is celebrated in the Sed-festival by the raising of the djed-pillar. This in turn completes the resurrection of Osiris.

Unfortunately this scenario does not even begin to scratch the surface of the underlying economic institutions. Toward this end only a few disjointed fragments of evidence from the second millennium may be cited. Women from wehat, the Oasis of the Western Desert, participated in Amenhotep III's Sed-festival(Giddy 1987: 80). The statue of a personage of the 19th Dynasty (late 14th-13th century) identifies him as rewedjew "agent" (Kruchten 1979: 523) of the per "firm, estate" of Osiris in wehat reseyet, the "Southern Oasis of the Western Desert," possibly to be identified with Dakhla (Giddy 1987: 37-40, 82-3). It should, perhaps, come as no surprise that Osiris' arch-rival Seth, about whom more shortly, is linked with wehatin the Chester Beatty Papyrus IX, a document of the second half of the second millennium (Giddy 1987: 83-4). Of course, these isolated facts are at best suggestive of the direction that might be taken by future research.

iv. Osiris in the Sea

Next we turn to the evidence concerning Osiris' voyages between Egypt and Byblos. Pyr. 1260b has the deceased Osiris traversing the "Great Green," quite probably a reference to the Mediterranean Sea. A "water-ritual" or "carrying rite" in which Osiris is carried by Seth, who swims or floats beneath him is attested in Pyr. 588a: "he swims bearing you" or "he swims under you" (Faulkner 1969: 115; Mercer 1952, I: 120). (See also Pyr. 261a-b, 581a-b, 1258c 1628a-c). In discussing the meaning of this verse, Griffiths (1980: 75) takes note of a passage in the Dramatic Ramesseum Papyrus (21-4) "which throws light on the 'water ritual,' for Seth is represented by a ship (24), and it is said (21) that Osiris is he who is placed on Seth's back ..." (emphasis in original). Several Pyramid Texts (for example, 1544a-d; 1550a) indicate that the ship of Osiris was decorated with a bull's head representing Seth (see Velde 1977: 97-8).

Note finally in connection with Osiris' voyages the boat-towing scene in Amenhotep III's Sed-festival. It is not difficult to understand Seth as a cargo ship transporting chests of Egyptian linen (Osiris) to Byblos and returning to Egypt hauling Byblos' lumber (Osiris).

v. Seth the International Merchant

The canine deity Seth was well suited to participate in overseas trade. Pyr. 51a links him with the "oil" of Libya, as the "he" who took the "Eye of Horus" (see above) is no doubt Seth (see Pyr. 1339a; Clark 1960: 224). Apparently Seth's cult places were located at the origins of caravan routes and, at least in Ramesside times, he was preeminently a god of deserts and oases.16 Indeed, as Velde (1977: 5-6, 31-2) observes, the name "Seth" (setesh) includes the letters tesh meaning "frontier" and in the Coffin Texts the god's name is replaced by a sign meaning "to separate."

Seth animal. Detail from fragment of inscribed relief dating to Dynasties 4-5 from tomb of an "Overseer of the Treasury" whose name has been lost.

These connections may explain why Pyr. 14a identifies Seth with baa probably meaning "copper" (Mercer 1952, I: 23, II: 13; Faulkner [1969: 40] translates the term as "iron").17 Copper ore was very early mined in the central and southern Sinai peninsula, a region enjoying close cultural and economic ties to Syria-Canaan. It is not clear whether the Egyptians mined the copper themselves or obtained it by means of trade.18 A glimpse at the probable pattern of economic relations between Egyptians and Asiatics is perhaps depicted Beni Hasan scene discussed in Part 1.19 Kemp (1983: 142) notes the attestation of "Asiatic (setjet copper" in late Old Kingdom texts. The setjet-signs representation of a packsaddle seems to link the word with trade (Nibbi 1978; 1985: 131-2).

Seth was identified with the routes to western Asia and, as will be seen shortly, with the Syro-Canaanite god Baal, whom, it may be noted, was worshipped in Byblos and Ebla (Dahood 1981: 307; Pettinato 1981: 245-7). More concretely, several scholars have associated Seth with a northeastern frontier town on the route to Asia. The issues are summarized by van Seters (1966: 99):

H. Junker has tried to see in the title of an official [Priest of Seth] of the Fourth Dynasty a connection between Seth and a place called ... setjret, which he identifies as Sethroe of the Greek sources. Cerný supports this identification and sees the same name in the Peribsen inscription of the Second Dynasty which has setjet, a name used later to designate Asia. The connection between the two names and Sethroe has been disputed by Gardiner and Kees. The latter admits only that Seth may have an early connection with Asia, but he does not explain how, in this early form, the name is written with the determinative of a town. Cerný suggests the name was originally associated with a frontier town on the route to Asia and that later the name was applied to the region beyond the frontier. (Hieroglyphs omitted).

In the second half of the second millennium, Velde (1977: 12) explains:

From the hieroglyphic way of writing Baal, one can already deduce that the god is a form in which Seth manifests himself. The divine name Baal is determined with the Seth animal.

Both gods are weather gods and controllers of the seas (Velde 1977: 85, 122-3, 128).20 Thus in the "Report of Wenamun" the ruler of Byblos asserts that Egypt gained access to the technology of the maritime lumber trade "only after he [the god Amun] placed Seth [Baal] beside him" (Wente 1972: 149).

Concluding Remark

The combination of historical and mythological evidence lends support to the perspective that Old Kingdom Egypt paid for the lumber and oil of Byblos by exporting linen and grain (probably wheat). Seth (Baal) with his maritime expertise and Asiatic connections played the role of "middleman" in the transformation of Osiris from linen into lumber. From the standpoint of the present research the relationship between Osiris and Seth is marked more by cooperation than by conflict. This perspective, I submit, fits the evidence more closely than a conventional, purely funerary interpretation. 21


*This section is a revision and update of a chapter that appeared in Morris Silver (ed.) 1991). Ancient Economy in Mythology. Savage, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 193-215.

1 I have often relied on Mercer's (1952) translation of the Pyramid Texts. I realize that this translation may be regarded as "outdated." Nevertheless, Mercer's translation seems to be to be more literal and less "digested" than later, philologically superior, translations. It also is accompanied by an extensive commentary. These are critical advantages from the perspective of a historical economist seeking new insights. I have sought to indicate some of the more important differences in translation between Faulkner (1969) and Mercer (or Griffith) in brackets. I trust that Egyptologists will bring any errors to my attention.

2 Bontty (1995) has, however, argued, that hau-nebwet simply means "everything beyond" and does not indicate a specific geographic location.

3 Nibbi (1981: 25-6),(1996) rejects the identification of kbn with gbl or, more accurately, with "Byblos," but hers is a distinctly minority position among Egyptologists. Note the discovey of Egyptian-styled khat-tables (flat-topped circular tables) in the Baalat Gebal temple in Byblos, one of which possiblly includes a mention of nbt kbn which "seems to indicate that these objects were destined for the goddess of Byblos" (Espinel 2002: 109, 113) The inscriptions on the tables are dated to the reign of Pepi I.

4 Small tablets of two early 1st Dynasty rulers record the delivery of wood. However, Helck (1979: 363) notes that "we do not hear anything about the Byblos trade from the kings of the second half of the First Dynasty." Apparently the wood found in Egyptian tombs prior to the 3rd Dynasty is of local origin.

5 Sources for Egyptian imports of lumber from Byblos in Old Kingdom times: Fischer (1964: 29, 34), (1968: 222), (1976: 76, n. 42); Horn (1963: 52-3); Kanawati (1980: 22); Newberry (1938); Ward (1963: 169); Wright (1988). The meaning of ash is disputed. Some scholars, following Loret, take it the term to refer to fir or pine or as a generic term for both (see Nibbi 1996). "Suffice it to say for the present that the material record, which to date has not played a full enough part in the debate, looks to be very much on Meigg's side" (W. Vivian Davis 1995: 149).

6 Sources for Byblos-ships: Bradbury (1996: 47-56); Helck (1970: 35); Montet (1968: 42); Sasson (1966: 127, n. 4; 128, n. 13); Säve-Söderbergh (1946: 10-11, 32, 37, 53-4); W. S. Smith (1965: 7, fig. 6). The ship of Khufu/Cheops (2551-2528) beneath the Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed mainly of cedar (as were beanms in the bent temple of Sneferu).

7 The Old Kingdom hieroglyph for "weaver" is a "seated woman holding what is probably a shuttle or weaver's sword, used for beating in the weft threads. Women are also shown accepting payment for finished cloth..." (Roehrig 1996: 19, citing Fischer).

8 Sources for Egypt's production of wheat and linen, Metjen's land purchases, and colonies: Badawy (1967: 104), (1983: 669); Baer (1963: 13); Dixon (1969: 138-9); Erman (1894: 188, 488-9, 516); Forbes (1964, V: 31, 228); Gardiner (1930: 170-5, 179), (1947: 8); Hall (1986: 27-31); Helck (1979: 363); Horn (1963: 52-3); Kadish (1966); Kaplony (1962); Kemp (1983: 147): Lichtheim (1973: Ch. 10)l McDowell (1986: 232-4, 239); Smith and Smith (1976: 60, 70); W.S. Smith (1935: 134-6, 141-2)l Strudwick (1985: 270, 290, 294); Vercoutter (1967: 287-8)l Wainwright (1938: 12); Ward (1963: 169), (1971: 65-7); Wenig (1962); Wilson (1951: 88, 101), (1969: 227). Fisher (1968: 213, 223) dogmatically objects that sanew means "runners" not "colonists." He fails to see that "running" might symbolize "colonization" because "running" is what colonists do to reach their new homes.

9 K. van Dam (1982) cites two possibilities for the meaning of sed: "One possibility is that it has to do with the cloth of which the special festival clothing of the king was made. That cloth at least was called 'sed' as well. Another possibility is that Sed is an older form of [the god] Wepwawet." (Aayko Eyma's translation of the Dutch. EEF: Wepwawet/Khentamenthes, 11 April 1998 ( Graham)). Gohary (1992: 2) also cites Bleeker's explanation but adds the observation that the earliest writing of Sed "occurs in the First Dynasty tombs at Abydos where it already has the determinative showing the double pavilion." See along the same line Griffiths (1991: 175).

10 Additional sources for Egyptian exports of linen to Ebla: Dahood (1983; 55-60); Westenholz (1984); compare Wright (1988: 152). 11 An inscription of the time of Pepi I tells of a seaborne landing and battle at a place in Canaan called the "Gazelle's Nose" which, on purely picturesque grounds, is sometimes identified with Mount Carmel (Aharoni 1982: 79; Kemp 1983: 142-3; Wright 1988: 152).

12 Admittedly, however, in Pyr. 1032-35 it is apparently Seth who is thrown on his side by Geb in the "Land of the Lion."

13 Sources for Khay-tau and Lebanon: Drower (1971: 349); Griffiths (1980: 9-10); Mercer (1952, I: 246-7); Weill (1940: 61-2).

14 This interpretation has not been rejected by more recent research. Martin (1991) notes that the djed may represent a lopped tree or possibly a notched stake.

15 The trimming of the branches from the trunk before export is also attested in "Gilgamesh in the Cedar Forest."

16 Sources for Seth as a god of deserts, oases, and caravan routes: David (1982: 11); Velde (1977: 84-5, 97-8, 110-1, 122-4, 129); Watterson (1984: 116).

17 The identification of baa with copper is not essential for the argument as the ores of iron (and tin), like those of copper, would have originated in the Eastern Desert or Sinai. See Trigger (1969: 29-34) and Nibbi (1977: 59) vs. Faulkner (1969) and Rendsburg (1982: 56). See also Stech and Pigott (1986: 46-7). 18 The Old Kingdom inscriptions found in situ at Sinai and an entry on the Palermo Stone are primarily concerned with the acquisition of turquoise, not copper.

19 Sources for the Sinai: Giveon (1978: 51-2); Gophna (1976); Kemp (1983: 26, 33-4, 139-43); MacDonald (1972: 78); Shea (1981); Trigger (1983: 25-6). The Seth-animal is depicted in the tombs at Beni Hasan (Velde 1977: 15-16, 111).

20 In the early second millennium, as Williams-Forte (1983: 22-3) notes, artifacts of the "weather god" lined the main routes between Anatolia and Syria.

21 Banyai calls to my attention (in personal correspondence dated June 20, 1998) that the funerary interpretation of the Osiris-Byblos connection is strengthened by the Ipuwer papyrus (18th or 19th Dynasty) wherein it is indicated that Byblos is the source of the cedar oil or resin used for embalming the dead.


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