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Wenamon was a priest at the temple to Amon in Thebes in the 12th century BCE. Around 1130 BCE he undertook a business trip, and wrote a detailed report upon returning; by pure chance, modern Egyptian peasants came upon the tattered papyrus scroll while searching for fuel, making Wenamon the author of the first known travel narrative. The gist of his account is this:

The high priest of Amon selected Wenamon to travel to Lebanon and there purchase a load of cedar for the construction of the ceremonial barge used in the temple's annual festival. Wenamon made his way to the mouth of the Nile delta and on April 20th, after presenting his letter of introduction and travel credentials, set sail on a vessel bound for Syria.

The trip went swimmingly at first; at his first port of call (a town called Dor, where a group of sea-raiding Tjekers had established a colony) he was presented with a gift of fifty loaves of bread, a jar of wine, and a joint of beef by the local ruler. Then, disaster struck - a member of the ship's crew deserted, taking five deben in gold and thirty-one in silver: the sum total of Wenamon's travelling funds, and the money intended for the purchase of the cedar besides.

The local ruler refused to take responsibility for the theft, promising only that he'd look for the thief if Wenamon waited in town - which he did. After nine days, however, he grew impatient and continued on his journey. Somewhere between Tyre and Byblos, he solved his money problem - by the simple expedient of finding some Tjekers and stealing 30 deben from them.

Unfortunately, this little bit of larceny came back to haunt him before too long, as word of his theft preceded him to Byblos (where he intended to buy his cedar.) When he reached the city, he was met by a message from the local prince, Zakar-Baal, that read simply "get out of my harbor." Wenamon was undeterred - he waited in the harbor for 29 days, and every morning the harbormaster delivered another "get out of my harbor" message.

At last, Zakar-Baal - having made a good enough effort at outrage to deter the Tjekers, and not wanting to miss out on a profitable sale - granted Wenamon an interview. However, he refused to sell his cedar for so trifling a sum, forcing Wenamon to send back to Egypt for more funds. Between waiting for the money to arrive, and the procurement and loading of the cedar, eight months passed. Then, on the very morning that Wenamon was set to sail for Egypt, eleven Tjeker warships sailed into Byblos' harbor, demanding retribution for the money stolen from them a year before. Wenamon went to the beach, his narrative says; there, he sat down and cried. Zakar-Baal, ever considerate, sent him a fine meal and a dancing girl and told him to enjoy himself.

The prince himself was in something of a bind. If he refused to hand Wenamon over to the sea-raiders, then they would most certainly plague him in the future; but Wenamon was his guest, and a paying customer (the sort of person he did not want to discourage from coming to visit his city.) His solution was simple but elegant - he refused on religious grounds to arrest Wenamon, but ordered the envoy out of his harbor at once (in all seriousness, this time.)

Wenamon's lumbering cargo vessel had little chance against the sea-raiders' ships, but he had no choice. He set sail - straight into the teeth of a typical gale of the Syrian coast, which blew him all the way to Cyprus (or the nearby shores of Asia Minor,) in the exact opposite of the direction he wished to travel. Fortunately, the Tjekers - either because they feared the storm, or because the didn't feel Wenamon worth the effort - declined to pursue him.

The instant that Wenamon set foot on shore, the local natives took him prisoner, and hauled him off to be killed. He managed to get the attention of their queen, however, and set forth an eloquent and impassioned (at least, in his narrative) plea, via a native who happened to speak Egyptian. She appeared to be swayed by his words, as Wenamon writes "She had the people called and, as they stood before her, she said to me 'spend the night-'"

And here, the parchment breaks off. It is clear that Wenamon returned safely to Egypt, of course, but whether or not he managed to deliver his cedar or not is unknown, as are the details of the rest of his adventures. Unless by some miracle the rest of the narrative is recovered, the modern world will never hear the rest of his remarkable tale.

My sources for this condensed summary were Lionel Casson's Travel in the Ancient World and The Ancient Mariners, two of the finest books on the ancient world I've ever read. Check them out. Seriously.

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