Caravans and long-distance trade in Roman Egypt
caravans, long-distance trade, Roman Egypt (30 BC – c. AD 350)
In 163 AD, Harpagathes, son of Satabous, from the village of Soknopaiou Nesos, a small community on the northern edge of the Fayum in Egypt, reported to the strategos—the chief official of the nome—that a camel he owned had been pressed into Imperial service as part of the poreia, the supply caravan, which moved along the route that travelled from Berenike on the coast of the Red Sea, some 800 kilometers away (P.Lond. 2.328; cf. BGU 3.762). Evidently, Harpagathes was not alone; the Roman administration of Egypt requisitioned many animals who were used in the movement of various supplies, ranging from military provisions through to stone, as parts of private and state-sponsored caravans (see Adams 2001, 2007; Cuvigny 2003; Hirt 2010; Russell 2014). This papyrus reveals the state’s interest in overland transport, as well as how some caravans—at least those that supplied remote communities—were created, and the distance that they travelled. More broadly, through the evidence within the Greco–Egyptian papyri and the available archaeological evidence, this chapter considers private and imperial caravans and long-distance trade across the Eastern and Western Desert routes in Roman Egypt (30 BC – c. AD 350). It focuses not only the composition of caravans, but also the distances travelled, the communities and private individuals involved in the movement of goods, and the Roman state’s interest in both the goods transported and the transport system itself.
Gibbs, M. (2021). Caravans and long-distance trade in Roman Egypt. In P. Clarkson & C. M. Santoro (Eds.), Caravans in global perspective: contexts and boundaries. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 106–21.
Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)