Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route

Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route

Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route

Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route

Synopsis

The legendary overland silk road was not the only way to reach Asia for ancient travelers from the Mediterranean. During the Roman Empire's heyday, equally important maritime routes reached from the Egyptian Red Sea across the Indian Ocean. The ancient city of Berenike, located approximately 500 miles south of today's Suez Canal, was a significant port among these conduits. In this book, Steven E. Sidebotham, the archaeologist who excavated Berenike, uncovers the role the city played in the regional, local, and "global" economies during the eight centuries of its existence. Sidebotham analyzes many of the artifacts, botanical and faunal remains, and hundreds of the texts he and his team found in excavations, providing a profoundly intimate glimpse of the people who lived, worked, and died in this emporium between the classical Mediterranean world and Asia.

Excerpt

There was a “global economy” thousands of years before the term became fashionable in the late twentieth century. Yet, it is difficult to know where to begin to study this phenomenon or how it functioned and affected people’s lives in the centuries straddling the turn of the Common Era. the extant, best-known written sources for the last few centuries B.C.E. and early centuries C.E. are predominately from the “western/Roman” perspective and picture the Mediterranean basin as the center of the trade. This network and the Romanocentric view of it are, however, much more complicated. the images and ideas that peoples had of themselves and of distant trading partners are complex and not easily understood, and changed over time. It would be best to start with the investigation of a single city, one that owed its existence to the economic boom of its age. Berenike, a port on Egypt’s Red Sea coast (figure 1-1), is the ideal microcosm to study in order to come to grips with ancient “Old World” commerce and its impact on those who participated in it.

Berenike was one of many hubs in the extensive Old World economic network of the first millennium B.C.E. and first millennium C.E. that concatenated east and west. This intricate, far-flung web reached from at least Xian in China westward and overland along the numerous caravan routes, known collectively as the Silk Road, through Central Asia, South Asia, and the Near East, eventually ending at its westernmost termini on the eastern coasts of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Another link, the Trans-Arabian Incense Route, connected southern Arabia with ports on the southeastern Mediterranean seaboard and on the Persian Gulf. the Maritime Spice Route was the southern land-cummaritime counterpart of the central Asian Silk Road. It supplemented and complemented . . .

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