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The Mediterranean Sea is a sea situated in between Europe to the north and Africa to the south. To the east, the sea is also connected to Western Asia and, to the west, the "Strait of Gibraltar" connects it to the Atlantic Ocean. Many civilizations have risen and fallen in and around the Mediterranean during Ancient Egypt's vast history.

Predynastic and Protodynastic Egypt[]

Egyp ship

Painting of an Egyptian ship. From the Tomb of Menna

The Mediterranean Sea was the end of the Nile. Even in early Predynastic Egypt , the river had become a major trade route. Although Egypt received goods from other Mediterranean nations, it was not until the 4th millennium BCE that Egypt partook in marine trade in the Mediterranean. For centuries, the sea served as a barrier, isolating Ancient Egypt, and giving time for the development of its unique culture.

In Protodynastic Egypt, An Egyptian colony had been established: stationed in southern Canaan and predating the First Dynasty. Narmer had Egyptian pottery produced in Canaan—with his name stamped on vessels—and exported back to Egypt, from regions such as Arad, En Besor, Rafiah, and Tel Erani. In 1994 excavators discovered an incised ceramic shard with the serekh sign of Narmer, dating to c. 3000 BCE. . Mineralogical studies reveal the shard to be a fragment of a wine jar exported from the Nile valley to the Mediterranean.

Trade and Exploration[]

Egyptian model boat (Amenemhet I)

An Egyptian merchant ship (reign of Amenemhet I)

Shipbuilding was known to the Ancient Egyptians as early as  3000 BCE, and perhaps earlier. Ancient Egyptians knew how to assemble planks of wood into a ship hull, with woven straps used to lash the planks together, and reeds or grass stuffed between the planks helped to seal the seams. The Archaeological Institute of America reports that the earliest dated ship—75 feet long, dating to 3000 BCE—may have possibly belonged to Pharaoh Aha. The Palermo stone mentions King Sneferu of the 4th Dynasty sending ships to import high-quality cedar from Lebanon. In one scene in the pyramid of Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty, Egyptians are returning with huge cedar trees. Sahure's name is found stamped on a thin piece of gold on a Lebanon chair, and 5th dynasty cartouches were found in Lebanon stone vessels. Other scenes in his temple depict Syrian bears. The Palermo stone also mentions expeditions to Sinai as well as to the diorite quarries northwest of Abu Simbel.

A Canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea[]

Egyptian merchantS

An Egyptian merchant ship

The legendary Sesostris (likely either Pharaoh Senusret II or Senusret III of the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt) is said to have started work on an ancient "Suez" Canal joining the River Nile with theRed Sea. This ancient account is corroborated by Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, and Strabo. "One of their kings tried to make a canal to it (for it would have been of no little advantage to them for the whole region to have become 

navigable; Sesostris is said to have been the first of the ancient kings to try), but he found that the sea was higher than the land. So he first, and Darius afterwards, stopped making the canal, lest the sea should mix with the river water and spoil it." Next comes the Tyro tribe and, on the Red Sea, the harbour of the Daneoi, from which Sesostris, king of Egypt, intended to carry a ship-canal to where the Nile flows into what is known as the Delta; this is a distance of over 60 miles. Later the Persian king Darius 


Exploration of the Mediterranean port city of Heracleion

had the same idea, and yet again Ptolemy II, who made a trench 100 feet wide, 30 feet deep and about 35 miles long, as far as the Bitter Lakes.” The canal was eventually build Darius I of Persia, who conquered Ancient Egypt, built a canal linking the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Darius's canal was wide enough for two triremes to pass each other with oars extended, and required four days to traverse.