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A stone statue of Hatshepsut and Egyptian soldiers from Hatshepsut's expedition to the Land of Punt as depicted from her temple at Deir el-Bahri.

Out for War or A Shopping Trip? Why Hatshepsut Traveled to the Kingdom of Punt

The walls of the great temple in Karnak depicted the story of an expedition of impressive ships to the mysterious land known as Punt. The fleet of Queen Hatshepsut traveled there for unknown reasons. Traditional interpretations summarized that Hatshepsut wanted to acquire some loot in Punt, but there may be another reason.

Hatshepsut was a famous ruler of the 18th dynasty in Egypt. She lived during one of the most magnificent periods in the history of Egypt, when the country was powerful and the treasury of the royal palaces were full of gold. It is unknown when Hatshepsut started her preparations for the journey to Punt, but it believed to have been a very expensive trip.

The Road to Punt

The female pharaoh ordered a few ships to be built in the shipyard near the Nile and transported by land to the harbor on the Red Sea. Some researchers believe that Hatshepsut wanted to attack Punt, but this statement brings about other questions.

For one, it is unknown where Punt was really located, but it is possible that it was the territory of modern Ethiopia. There are several pieces of evidence suggesting that Punt was located not far from Egypt. For example, an official of the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom claimed that he visited Punt and Byblos eleven times. This means that Punt was probably located near Byblos. Apart from this, there is information from the Fifth Dynasty that pharaoh Sahure brought back 80,000 measures of myrrh from Punt. There are also many recordings of trade between Egyptians and Puntians during the Middle Kingdom Period.

Red Sea and major travel routes by land and sea.

Red Sea and major travel routes by land and sea. ( Public Domain )

It seems that shopping travels to Punt were very normal for the pharaohs of Egypt. Why would Hatshepsut want to attack and loot an area which traditionally was a place where Egyptians bought precious items?

During the 18th dynasty, pharaoh Thutmose III conquered Punt during the first year of his reign. The same year also brought him the lands of Palestine, Nubia, and Third Cataract (near Napata). All of the lands were close to Egypt, so it shouldn't be any different in the case of Punt. On the inscriptions discovered in Deir el-Bahri the name of Punt was written as a part of Egypt, not a foreign land.

Women Have Almost Always Loved Shopping

Punt was well known as a paradise for anyone who loved luxurious goods. The reliefs from Karnak show the goods which Hatshepsut brought back to Egypt. There were animals, food, precious stones, and other treasures. It is also believed that Punt had an oracle who was respected by the female pharaoh. However, the translation of the relief’s inscription isn't clear and may be read in two ways:

''She has no enemies among the southerners
she has no antagonists among the northerners.
Heaven and all foreign lands created by the god are completely subservient to her
They come to her with fearful heart, their chiefs bowing their heads,
with tributes on their backs. They present her with their children,
so that they may be given the breath of life,
because of the greatness of the might of her father Amun,
who placed every land under her feet, 
the king himself, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Maatkare.
The majesty of the palace beseeched the stairs of the lord of the gods 
and instructions were heard from the Great Throne, an oracle from the god himself: 
Explore the routes to Punt, open the roads to the Myrrh-terraces,
and lead an expedition on water and on land to bring exotic goods from the God's Land 
to this god who created her beauty.''

Some still believe that Hatshepsut went to Punt to conquer it once more, or to steal the goods and plunder the capital. However, it seems more reasonable to conclude that her visit was of a more peaceful nature. The pharaoh, called ‘Maatkare’ in the ancient inscriptions, doesn't sound like an invader.

This relief depicts incense and myrrh trees obtained by Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt.

This relief depicts incense and myrrh trees obtained by Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

War, Looting or a Friendly Visit?

Later in the same inscription we discover the reasons to her visit to Punt. It suggests that ideas of war or invasion are very overrated. The pharaoh says:

''I have given you Punt in its entirety including the lands of the gods
the God's Land that has not been entered, and the Myrrh-terraces unknown to Egyptians.
It was learned of by hearsay, from the stories of the ancestors. Exotic goods were brought,
and these were brought from there to your fathers, the kings of Lower Egypt,
from one to the other since the era of the ancestors, to the kings who were before,
in return for many payments. No one will reach them your explorers,
for I will let your expedition enter it after I will have guided them by water and by land,
disclosing to them the unexplored roads after I will have entered the Myrrh-terraces.''

Later the inscription speaks about the goods Egyptians took on the ship. There is also a feeling that the Egyptians didn't know the people of Punt very well. Does it sound like an invasion? Not at all. It seems more likely that Hatshepsut’s travel to Punt was directed by an interest in goods. It is unknown, however, if she received the items she needed by domination or, like many of her ancestors, she saw Punt as similar to a modern shopping center.

Egyptian expedition to Punt during the reign of Hatshepsut.

Egyptian expedition to Punt during the reign of Hatshepsut. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Truth Will Be Revealed

The inscription explains that the Puntians were happy to see the Egyptians and they offered them lots of precious goods. Also the rulers of Punt are mentioned as being very pleased about Hatshepsut’s arrival. Nothing suggests that Hatshepsut hurt the kingdom of Punt.

The ships, which were often described as warships, have no sure signs of being prepared for anything other than transport. It seems that many old analyses followed an untrue assumption. It is almost impossible that Hatshepsut went to Punt to conquer it, but it is almost certain that she traveled there to fill her vanity with the treasures of the mysterious kingdom.

A tree in front of Hatshepsut's temple, claimed to have been brought from Punt by Hatshepsut's Expedition which is depicted on the Temple walls.

A tree in front of Hatshepsut's temple, claimed to have been brought from Punt by Hatshepsut's Expedition which is depicted on the Temple walls. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Top image: A stone statue of Hatshepsut ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ) and Egyptian soldiers from Hatshepsut's expedition to the Land of Punt as depicted from her temple at Deir el-Bahri. ( CC BY 2.0 )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Joyce Tyldesley, Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh,1996.

Kara Cooney, The Woman Who Would Be King, 2014.

Punt expedition of Queen Hatshepsut, available at:
https://mjn.host.cs.st-andrews.ac.uk/egyptian/texts/corpus/pdf/HatshepsutPunt.pdf

Queen Hatasu, and her expedition to the land of Punt, available at:
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/edwards/pharaohs/pharaohs-8.html

Hatshepsut's Expedition to Punt: Its Purpose and Commemoration by Emmet Sweeney, available at:
http://www.hope-of-israel.org/expeditionpunt.html

Comments

"For example, an official of the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom claimed that he visited Punt and Byblos eleven times."
Byblos is North of Egypt, so one would expect Punt to be North also - if the official visited both places on the same trip.
If Punt translates to the Holy Land - as it does - perhaps Israel and Jerusalem were Punt. Others have put forward that idea. That area was also called the Holy Land in ancient times, long before the Christian era. The portion of the Bible that deals with Jerusalem and it's acquisition by Israel also indicates it was considered a holy place at that time.
Josephus referred to the Queen of Sbeba as queen of Egypt and Ethiopia, so some have also argued that Sheba and Hatsheput were the same person.

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