Wen-Amun and Zakar-Ba'al: Gift or Trade?
The trade negotiations carried on by the Theban envoy Wen-Amun and Zakar-Ba'al king of Byblos must be seen against a complex economic and political background. 1 The two countries are at the same technological level, and they employ a common measure of value in their trade: each partner is aware of what the other wants and why, and the value that he is disposed to place on it. The specific object of negotiation between them – wood of the cedar tree – is a raw material; this implies that Byblos is a peripheral country and Egypt the central one, where the raw material is converted into usable products. But the economic sophistication of Byblos turns the tables on Egypt, especially since the latter's need for cedar is much greater than the need of Byblos to export it. A similar situation in the Amarna period put the Alashiya king in a strong position: he ruled a commercially developed country (the Cyprus of today) that monopolized another essential material, copper. This explains the impudent tone of the small Cypriot king in comparison with the humble and pressing requests of the Mitanni or Kassite kings.
The political relations between Byblos and Egypt must also be considered. At the time of Wen-Amun's trip, Egypt (and especially the Theban kingdom, which was remote from the Mediterranean) had no means of exerting political pressure on Byblos. 2 Yet the memory was still fresh of the political control traditionally exerted over it by the Egyptian kings. This encourages Wen-Amun to say to the king of Byblos: ‘I have come in quest of timber for the great noble bark of Amun-Ra, king of gods. What your father did, what your grandfather did, you too will do it!’ 3 But this merely provokes resentment on the part of Zakar-Ba'al, who points out that even in the past, in the golden days of Egyptian power, the wood was not supplied without payment: