Rome: The Lure of the Orient

At the height of the Roman Empire, hundreds of merchant ships left Egypt every year to voyage through the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean, exchanging the produce of the Mediterranean for exotic eastern commodities. Raoul McLaughlin traces their pioneering journeys. 

Eastern trade has a long history. Exotic goods were brought through the Red Sea over a thousand years before the Roman conquest of Egypt. Hieroglyphic texts reveal how in the third millennium bc the pharaohs brought incenses from lands on the edge of the Red Sea to burn on their altars and use in mummification. Later pharaohs established harbours on the Egyptian Red Sea coast and Queen Hatshepsut, who came to power in 1479 bc, sent a seaborne expedition to a distant and mysterious land called ‘Punt’. Her funerary temple near the Valley of the Kings has wall paintings depicting her royal missions to frankincense groves in what may be modern Somalia. 

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