Julian Jansen Van Rensburg, A Sea of Islands: Rediscovering Red Sea maritime space
Since the emergence of island archaeology in 1970s the importance of islands and island studies has been recognized throughout the world, none more so than in the Mediterranean, where the theoretical, analytical and methodological discourse is well-developed. Surprisingly, the opposite is true when we look to the Red Sea. Indeed, the lack of studies concerning islands in past research demonstrates an island-blindness that is reminiscent of the nascency of island studies. Within this paper I look to rediscover the Red Sea by delving into the maritime space that lies between the two landmasses of Africa and Arabia in a bid to highlight the importance of islands. Not as spatial units that can help reproduce on a manageable scale the dynamics and processes that exist elsewhere, but as spatial units that have their own distinctive dynamics and processes. The aim of this paper is to allow for islands to be recognized as spheres of research that can provide an alternative view to the well-worn research topics of past studies concerning mainland trade and travel, peoples and cultures, hinterlands and forelands, navigational and transportation networks, economies and natural resources, and human interaction with marine and littoral environments. Ultimately, this paper will seek to bring islands and island studies to the forefront of Red Sea research, and as such will be the catalyst in the establishment of a Red Sea Island Research Group.
Dionisius Agius, Water availability and accessibility: Red Sea voyages in the early modern period
The availability of water at any Red Sea anchorage was of great concern to sea travelers, in particular the dhow captain who was responsible for the day-to-day management and safety of the passengers. In this presentation I will discuss issues concerning sustainable access to quality water on the African and Arabian Red Sea shores as raised by Early Modern travelers. Additionally, in the line of inquiry on water demand and supply, I will look at narratives of modern-day mariners through interviews conducted between 2002 and 2013 to validate or complement the written information. Seafarers in the sailing days could go for many hours without drinking, either because of water scarcity or stored water on board ship was brackish. This was made worse as unpalatable water, particularly salty water, was often contained in coastal wells. As the demand for water by the crew and passengers became critical, both sources confirm that the dhow captain would instruct more frequent stops at landings. According to written and oral accounts, pure water was only found in Tor (Egypt) and Dumsuq Island (Saudi Arabia). Some places like Massawa (Eritrea) and Suakin (Sudan) provided clean water from inland but at other anchorages such as Quseir on the Egyptian coast, the water in its groundwater reserves became saline due to infrequent rains. Water scarcity could lead to many problems, from passengers fighting among themselves to ill-health or even death. Several questions are raised in this presentation, but the main question is what decisions were made regarding water resources and how was water provision organized and managed? Specifically, despite forts built to protect water supplies for pilgrims, what risks did the skipper still face to reach a landing and refresh the passengers with freshwater?
John Cooper, Decorative schemas on Yemen’s wooden watercraft—a unique tradition
Yemen’s boatbuilders—particularly those on the Red Sea coast—have developed complex decorative schemas for their wooden watercraft. Their exuberant use of color paints, elaborate ornamentation and carving, figurative depictions, and deployment of names and text, is quite unlike any other recent practice in other parts of the Red Sea region or Arabia. Colorful decorative schemas are commonly found on the plank-built and winged ‘large hūrī’ fishing craft, as well as the zārūq, zaʿīma and ʿubrī cargo vessels. These often comprise block-painted hulls with fore-and-aft striping above the waterline and triangular motifs at bow and stern. The most ornate section is normally the upper stern quarter, where sometimes-multi-layered friezes are often carved and/or painted along the upper hull planking. Motifs range between abstract vegetal designs, geometric motifs and figurative motifs that include symbols of comfort (rose-water droppers, water bottles), nature (birds, flowers, marine creatures), the nation (flags and other emblems), and military violence (helicopters, guns and rockets). Textual references include given names for the vessels (particularly among hūrīs) and religious verses. Aspects of this decorative tradition can be traced back through the twentieth century—and indeed earlier—during which time stern-quarter friezes and triangular hull motifs can also be identified. Nevertheless, the decoration of new vessel forms and innovative use of symbolism shows that this was a continuously developing decorative practice. The research is based on fieldwork conducted by the authors before Yemen’s civil war, and presents data gathered mainly along the coasts of Yemen and Djibouti.
Pablo Gutiérrez de León, From Adulis to Guardafui: Remapping and understanding the southern Red Sea and Horn of Africa trading ports
Since the beginning of the so called “Age of Discovery” and the improvements in maritime travel from the 16th century onwards, cartographic research and mapping of the Red Sea has been greatly enhanced. Europeans have shown profound interest in mapping the Red Sea ports from the time of the Periplus Maris Erythraei (1st century CE). Early proof of that preoccupation is Janssonius’ publication of the cart of the Eritrean Sea (1658) with the believed location of the trade ports mentioned in the Periplus. But it was during the 19th century that accurate mapping of the Red Sea and the Somali shores was achieved, chiefly thanks to the contribution by British, German and French expeditions. Among some figures were Richard Burton and Georges Revoil; the latter discovered the ancient port of Mundus. Mapping of ports continued throughout the 20th century, enhanced by the work of archaeologists such as Jehan Desanges and Neville Chittick. This paper presents a summary of previous studies on the southern harbors from Adulis to Cape Guardafui. In addition, using satellite images, it offers a complete mapping of the southern Red Sea shore. The talk argues that remote sensing, combined with field data and with the study of historical cartography, can serve as a powerful method for the analysis, especially in the case of regions where access is largely hampered. These techniques can help us reach a better understanding of the ports of trade and the dynamics in which they were involved through a long-term perspective, from the early antiquity to the 19th century.
Irene Rossi and Jérémie Schiettecatte, Mapping and synthesizing ancient Arabia: The Maparabia project
Whoever has had the opportunity to consult maps of the ancient Near East has often noticed the absence of most of the Arabian Peninsula, showing at best its northern fringe or the shore of the Persian Gulf. The region is often pushed into the background, relegated to purported desert emptiness. Yet, 50 years of intensive research into the pre-Islamic history of the Peninsula have shown otherwise. And the last decade was an incredible booster in this research area, fostered by the production of corpuses, the investigation of new territories, such as Saudi Arabia, and its share of breakthroughs. In other words, there is a considerable amount of data available that addresses topical issues and it is now possible to take advantage of the existing corpuses to develop the tools for their analysis, to produce syntheses, and to make them accessible to the greatest number of people. This is the purpose of the Maparabia project (CNRS, Paris and Lyon; CNR, Milano), a 5-year project funded by the French National Research Agency (2019-23), which encompasses a variety of fields of research: history, archaeology, epigraphy, linguistics, palaeography, geomatics, and geography. Based on archaeological data and large epigraphic corpuses (DASI, OCIANA), the project aims to develop online research instruments, adhering to Open Science and FAIR principles: an atlas, a gazetteer and a dictionary of ancient Arabia. The purpose of this paper is to present the preliminary results of this project and the collaborative research opportunities it opens up for the international scientific community. The research instruments are not only meant to be accessible to all, but also to be re-usable, either through interoperability (Gazetteer), or a remote access to the mapping projects developed with free, open-source, GIS software (Atlas).
Arthur de Graauw, Location of ancient harbours in the Red Sea—an attempt
This paper aims at listing all known ancient harbors on the Red Sea, encompassing the area between the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba to the north, and Bab-el-Mandeb to the south. The list presented includes around 200 places, many of which are well-known to archaeology, e.g., Myos Hormos, Berenike, Adulis. However, the location of a number of settlements mentioned by ancient authors is often (very) uncertain, e.g., Leuke Kome, Charmuthas, Iotabe, Ezion Geber. An additional handful of locations might be called “potential harbors” because of their nautical and/or geomorphological interest, but where no archaeological evidence has been found yet, as far as we know. The issue of the location of Leuke Kome is addressed and the favored location at this time would be al-Wajh. This does not reduce the importance of remains found in Aynunah bay, 270 km further NW, as this might be another major ancient place. Another difficult issue is that of Iotabe insula, which is provisionally located on Tiran island, but without any archaeological evidence so far. The case of Aqaba is also rather confusing, as its very long history mixes Biblical, Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic civilizations, to say the least. Special attention is also devoted to the ports along the Nile to Red Sea canal. The result of this study is thus twofold: i) reconstruction of the linear puzzle of ancient harbors along the Red Sea coastlines, and ii) identification of potential ancient harbors. This challenge has not been taken up before for the whole Red Sea and the last word on ancient harbor locations on the Red Sea is far from being said. We hope this study will help to put things into perspective.
Pierre Schneider, Why was the Garden of Eden located at the edge of the Indian Ocean?
From the 3rd century onward, many Church Fathers and Christian scholars commenting on scripture turned their attention to geographical issues which needed to be solved. In particular, discussion arose on the nature and location of the Paradise described in Genesis. A number of scholars believed that Paradise was an actual place, while others considered it as an allegory. Some partisans of the former theory went further and ascribed a place on Earth to the Garden of Eden. My talk will focus on the demonstration carried out by Philostorgius, a Church historian. Philostorgius contended that Paradise was located in the easternmost part of the inhabited world – i.e. beyond India – and on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Having presented and explained this detailed demonstration, I will analyze the arguments used by Philostorgius. As we will see, his reasoning was supported by two kinds of knowledge: 1) the knowledge he inherited from non-Christian science (or Greek paideia), e.g., the idea that countries exposed to sunbeams, such as Arabia Felix and India bring the “finest and best productions”, implying that Eastern Paradise was even more fertile; and 2) his personal knowledge of the Indian Ocean realia. In particular, he refers to animals sent as diplomatic gifts by “Indian” (Axumite?) kings to Constantinople, and to goods transported by merchants to the Mediterranean world. Thus, he gives an interesting picture of the Mediterranean – Indian Ocean connections in Late Antiquity.
Andreu Martínez, A Roman Catholic Red Sea? A Portuguese quest
There is perhaps no area on earth that better epitomizes Islam as the wider Red Sea region. Today most of the societies and states bordering this water mass to the north, east, south and west, are distinctively Muslim. It is in the lands on its eastern shore, in today’s Saudi Arabia, that Islam, in the seventh century CE, emerged and in the same region the first form of modern Islamic state, the Rashidun Caliphate, was formed. The African shore of the Red Sea was also
important for the novel religion as it is shown in the episode known as the “al-hijra ilā al-habasha,” the migration to the Eritrean-Ethiopian highlands of Prophet Muhammad’s first followers. Towards the fifteenth century, the Islamic identity of the different societies populating the Red Sea shores, as well as of the states dominating it, was well established. Yet, in the sixteenth century a European power, the Portuguese kingdom, came to challenge all this. The Portuguese blended a political-commercial expansionist project with a renewal of the old western Crusade, which main objective was the destruction of Islam at its core, Mecca, and the domination of the whole Red Sea region. The project never came to fruition but it spurred a long-lived geopolitical alliance with the Christian Ethiopian state and several military encounters with enemy fleets. In this paper I want to look at this short-lived project of putting the Red Sea region under the control of a Roman-Catholic power. I will look at the conceptualisation of the Red Sea area by earlier European humanists and by Portuguese officials and study the sporadic, timid attempts carried out to control it militarily. The paper will revisit, mostly Portuguese, historiography on this topic and plunge into the contemporary sources and literature describing this area.
Carolina Cornax Gómez, The meeting ground: Mosques in Somaliland during the medieval period
Between the 13th to the 16th centuries, the Horn of Africa went through a series of major transformations which made of this zone one of the most dynamic regions in the continent. These historical processes included the consolidation of Muslim principalities in the region, the expansion of Islam among the Somali nomads, the development of an urban network and the strengthening of existing political and trade links with the rest of the world. Throughout all these changes, Islam and its material expressions –the mosque being the most obvious one- became one of the key factors of cohesion and stability in an increasingly conflictive world. Based on six years of archaeological fieldwork in Somaliland, this paper will analyze the characteristics – style, architectural features, orientations – of the mosques of the different communities that lived in the region during the medieval period –urban dwellers, nomads, foreign traders. It will also analyze them within their wider context (either urban centers, religious settlements or nomadic territories), and it will compare them with examples of neighboring regions in the Horn of Africa like Ethiopia or Djibouti. It will also discuss the role of the mosques as a physical space which could be acknowledged by groups with very different lifestyles, leading to shared religious but also social and political identities. Special attention will be paid to mosques among the Somali nomads, whose conversion to Islam took place later than expected and for whom these buildings became not just a religious space, but a key part of their symbolic landscape.
Scott Kugle, God’s favor is a heavenly rain, God’s saints are like the seas: Sufi networks from Gujarat to the Red Sea
“God’s favor is a heavenly rain, God’s saints are like the seas.” So says al-Nur al-Safir, an Arabic history of trade, travel and the transfer of Islamic piety in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in the 10th Islamic Century (16th century CE). Its author, Abd al-Qadir al-Aydarusi, was from a Yemeni family that lived in Gujarat, India. His book presents a seamless interweaving of secular and sacred worlds, mundane and holy persons, political and religious events. Sufi saints, their poems and tombs are central to his narrative. For instance, he records the date when the ruler of Mocha built a domed tomb and lofty minaret over the tomb of Ali ibn Umar Shadhili, the Sufi credited with promoting the coffee trade in Yemen and its use in Sufi devotional gatherings. The cultural historian Engseng Ho used this text to explore a network of Sufis from Tarim who spread through the Indian Ocean Basin. But the text is much fuller than Ho’s treatment of it. It also records the network centered around Ali Muttaqi, an Indian Sufi leader and hadith scholar who traveled between Gujarat and Mecca. Al-Nur al-Safir records one of the earliest biographies of Ali Muttaqi, whose life-story includes denouncing coffee as a reprehensible innovation in Sufi practice. This presentation draws from the author’s research on Ali Muttaqi and his Sufi network for his recent book, Hajj to the Heart: Sufi Journeys in the Indian Ocean. It includes architectural monuments including Abd al-Qadir al-Aydarusi’s domed tomb in Gujarat in addition to the famous saint’s dome in Mocha. The presentation will discuss Sufism as an integral part of trade and political patronage in the Red Sea-Indian Ocean basin.
Iwona Zych, The fading of Berenike: the last days of the Red Sea harbor
Sometime in the mid-6th century the port of Berenike faded into extinction. Recent research has brought extensive evidence of the latest residents of the harbor town and their place in the geopolitics of the region and times. The new caretakers, who filled the space left by the withdrawal of the Romans, were the authors of a megalomaniac urban project that was shortly laid waste by an apparent earthquake. The 5th century CE was thus a time of growth cut at the root by a major catastrophe that left the town in ruins. The recovery that followed a brief hiatus was on a much smaller scale. The paper will explore the archaeological evidence for this latest period, seeking to understand the role of the harbor in the regional and supra-regional land and marine networks, and the ethnicity of the population still residing in Berenike.
Marta Bajtler and Szymon Popławski, In the heart of late Antique Berenike—who could have built monumental crossroads?
During archaeological excavations carried out since the year 2018 at the crossing of the two main roads of the city of Berenike (Egypt) the monumental structure of a regular layout was found. The structure uncovered in the centre of the late Roman Berenike is a tetrastylon – a four-column monument located at the junction of cardo and decumanus. This monument is thought to have been erected in either the second half of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century AD. This would make it the latest, as well as the southernmost structure of this kind in all of Egypt. Next to one of tetasylon’s podium was found a single column which could be remains of earlier construction, which still was used. During the excavations, no inscriptions to suggest a person(s) responsible for such monumental construction or in whose honour it had been erected was found. In Late Antiquity structures of this kind were a part of the imperial propaganda. It is a known fact that also tetrastyla were the rulers’ official monuments, as for instance in Luxor, where two tetrastyla were dedicated to the Tetrarchs. However, it is not known whether the power of the Tetrarchs and successive rulers had reached Berenike. In the light of the newly discovered inscription from the Northern Complex, dated similarly to the tetrastylon, where the reference to Isemne the king of the Blemmyes appears, one can wonder over this ruler’s influences.
Troy Wilkinson, The Roman military and the distribution of potable water in the Eastern Desert
Upon entering the Eastern Desert of Egypt during the Roman period merchants, travelers and workers crossed an invisible border. This border was denoted by an increased dependency on, and limited access to, large quantities of potable water. Many scholars have recognized the role played by the Roman military in guarding access to this critical resource. However, it is also possible to offer some additional hypotheses about how soldiers were involved in distributing potable water to locations across the region.
Shahista Refaat, Ethiopian eunuchs in Medina (Hijaz) in the Mamluk era
As the city of the Prophet of Islam and housing his mosque (al-Haram al-nabawi), Medina has long held a unique status in the hearts and minds of Muslim rulers. This special position and high status has led to the appointment of a group of people with certain religious characteristics, qualities and values to serve the Prophet’s Mosque. This group was called the khuddam, or servants, and were led by shaykh. The khuddam in Medina were eunuchs, initially imported as slaves to the Dar al-Islam, mostly from Ethiopia (Bilad al-Habasha) and received accordingly the nisba, or relation name, “al-Habashi.” Slave trade developed after Muslim traders took control of sea routes. Slaves were captured in Eastern Africa and then transported through the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the desert to the Mamluk sultanate after being castrated. This operation gave them special status and made them trustworthy servants. They were later on manumitted by their masters. The reason why these khuddam were chosen from among the eunuchs is that they were considered to be the purest and most impeccable. In addition, they had no family, and no child was involved. Besides, they were far from impurity and from the pursuit of women. Khuddam were responsible to serve the Prophet’s tomb and mosque. This paper will focus on the path, the career and the life of khuddam of Ethiopian (Habashi) origin and will investigate slave trade routes across the Red Sea, slaves emancipation and the establishment of Ethiopian eunuchs in Medina.
Roxani Margariti, From sponges to pearls: Aegean mariners in the Red Sea (19th–early 20th century)
The multiethnic labor force employed for the opening of the Suez Canal included Aegean islanders, most notably from the island of Kassos in the Dodecanese. There is evidence for Greek-speaking mariners in the area of the Red Sea earlier in the 19th century and intermittently since Hellenistic times. But the Canal ushered a new era in the maritime labor networks between the two seas including Greek-speaking Aegean islanders, as it did in maritime networks more broadly speaking. There are several contexts for Greek presence in the Red Sea Region and in East Africa, each with its own chronological and political logic. Colonial regimes (British, French, Italian) in the Southern Red Sea and Horn region certainly attracted European and Southern Mediterranean entrepreneurs, who acted in subimperial roles. Small-scale maritime enterprise via the Suez Canal appears to have constituted a discrete—if not unrelated—strand in the global networking and opportunities for the transnational encounters that the Canal generated. A case in point is the remarkable diary of Michalis Kantounias, a sponge merchant from the island of Symi who participated in a pearl-oyster fishing venture from his home port to the Red Sea in 1890. Kantounias left behind a concise but detailed diary vividly describing progress down the Red Sea to the pearl banks of the south, meanderings among the islands north of the Bab al-Mandab, liaisons with local pilots, encounters with local fishermen, shipwreck, death, and his eventual sojourn in Yemen for a whole year. Inspired by the publication of a transcription of Kantounias’s diary by Emmanuel Cassotis, this poster presentation summarizes and evaluates the information the diary contains about geography, toponymy, marine economy and maritime networks of the Southern Red Sea in the late 19th-century. It also ultimately aims at exploring the interplay between private, small-scale initiative in maritime labor and enterprise and imperial-colonial structures in the Red Sea region in the 19th and early 20th century.
Wolbert G.C. Smidt, Old maps and documentations of caravan routes from Red Sea ports into the Eritrean and Tigrayan highlands as sources for ancient patterns of cultural contact and exchange
This contribution is inspired by the theme „mapping of the Red Sea“. Caravan routes between the Red Sea coast and the Tigrayan and Eritrean highlands are well-documented (even if in a fragmentary way) in numerous printed and manuscript 19th century German, British and French maps found in diverse private and state collections. Old maps and cartographic itineraries are still underused and underestimated as historical sources, probably because of the contemporary framing of maps as „flat“ and „objective“ documentations of simple physical geographical realities such as topography and asphalt routes. However, until the late 19th century mapmaking depended heavily on long-term field research, networks of local informants, political and military leaders, merchants and knowledgeable elders of local polities and provinces. This makes them precious repertories of sometimes rich and detailed local knowledge and practices – while the exact geographical locations of specific centers and settlements and of specific mountain ranges or river systems were sometimes less precise. The latter point led to an underestimation of the source value of such maps as witnesses of local systems of territoriality and ideas on space organization, settlements and ethnic-regional groups, and for ancient patterns of cultural contact and exchange. Due to the dependency of map makers from local practices of travelling, especially caravan routes from ports of the Red Sea had been documented often in greatest detail by researchers, missionaries, traders and foreign diplomats depending on local gatekeepers, sometimes with notes on the local ethnology, ecology and ancient sites. Some of the sketches on such local itineraries have never been published but help reconstruct sometimes ancient routes, marked by important archaeological sites. This ethnohistorical research focusing on the Red Sea coasts and hinterlands of Eritrea and Ethiopia, started with Mekelle University and the Research Centre Gotha, is currently ongoing in cooperation with the Seminar of Middle Eastern Studies at Jena University, Germany, in a cooperation partnership in the team of the German archaeological institute (DAI) in Yeha, Tigray.“
Solène Marion De Procé, Al-Qusar: Excavating a Roman military settlement in the Red Sea?
The Roman military presence in Farasan Islands in the 2nd century CE has been evidenced by the two famous Latin inscriptions, by material on the surface and chiseled blocks reused in the modern village. Starting in 2021, the Saudi-French archaeological mission is excavating the remains of the ancient site of Kudmi, which is located south of the modern village of al-Qusar. The first season has allowed studying the landscape the Romans took advantage of—arable lands, clay sources, freshwater underground, stone quarries—in order to understand what motivated the installation in al-Qusar specifically, also by looking into the distribution of potentially Roman sites (which was evoked in the last edition of the Red Sea Project) and their strategic location. By studying the stone ashlars and quarries, we can also learn more about the techniques employed in Farasan (Roman or local?). Finally, the excavations revealed some built remains ascribable to the Roman presence and some much-awaited archaeological information on the Roman military detachment in the Farasan archipelago. This paper aims to present the first results of the Saudi-French archaeological project on the site of al-Qusar and to bring to light new information and hypothesis on the Roman presence in Farasan based on our most recent campaigns.
Joachim Le Bomin and Julie Marchand, Late Roman Deir el-Atrash fort: Daily life in a late 4th-early 5th–century fort in the Eastern Desert of Egypt
The French Archaeological mission in the Eastern Desert (MAFDO) is excavating the Roman fort of Deir el-Atrash, district of Ghozza, since 2020. A unique painting has been discovered there and dated to the Imperial period (currently being published). The site also provides quite an important reoccupation dated to the late 4th-early 5th century, associated with architectural remodeling of the buildings. Based on the study of archaeological and material of both the 2020 and 2022 field campaigns, this paper aims at questioning the desert reinvestment during this little-known period, the daily life on the desert road of the famous quarries of the Porphyrites and interactions with the desert edges, the Nile Valley and the Red Sea coast.
Ahmed Adam, The archaeology of the islands and hinterland of the Red Sea region of Sudan: Erih Island, Erkawit and Khor Nubt, as a case study
The Sudanese Red Sea region represents one of the richest regions in archaeological material and sites, some of which were identified through the field work carried out by the Red Sea Project and Suakin Mission for Archaeological, Cultural and Environmental Studies of the University of Khartoum. In the last season of 2021, much early evidence was discovered relating to the spread of Islam in the eastern regions of Sudan, especially on the island of Erih, on other islands near the Sudanese-Eritrean border, and in the hinterland of the Red Sea Hills, such as Khor Nubt and Erkawit. Here, evidence was found similar to that on the coast thus indicating a relationship between the two areas. In this paper, the evidence will be addressed, including recent discoveries comprising burials, some castles, forts, and mosques, in addition to pottery and tombstones of various forms, dating back to the early Islamic periods. Some preliminary conclusions about the date and means of the movement of Islam from the coast to the hinterland will be drawn.
Thomas Kuehn, Rethinking late Ottoman rule in Yemen from the Red Sea coast: Hudayda elites and the governance of southwest Arabia, 1871–1914
Drawing on primary sources in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and English this paper examines the roles of Hudayda-based, Ottoman Arab elites in the governance of the Province of Yemen from the Ottoman reconquest in 1871-73 to the eve of World War I. Scholarship on Ottoman rule in southwest Arabia during this period has typically focused on highland Yemen and especially on the conflict between the agents of the Ottoman state and Zaydi-Shii leaders over the control of this region. By contrast, historians have paid little attention to the political and economic dynamics of Ottoman Yemen’s coastal plain (Tihama) and its port cities. I argue that Ottoman Arab elites who operated out of Hudayda, the principal port city of Ottoman Yemen during this period, were instrumental in ensuring the Ottoman presence throughout the province.
As imperial contractors these elites supplied Ottoman military forces with foodstuffs, troop ships, and transport animals; they recruited local auxiliary forces, negotiated safe passage for military convoys with the Zaraniq confederation, and managed a significant portion of the province’s revenue collection through tax farms across the coastal plain. I show that, in so doing, they played a crucial role in making Hudayda and portions of the Tihama the pivot of Ottoman rule in southwest Arabia. It was here that Ottoman military forces arrived, mustered, took their provisions, and deployed to the theatres of conflict in the highlands. From Hudayda, Ottoman troops regrouped and counterattacked after having lost most of the highlands to the fighters of Imam al-Mansur in 1891 and 1904, thus preventing the collapse of Ottoman rule in Yemen before World War I. The Ottoman central government depended on the services of the elites under study to such an extent that they tolerated their involvement in the illegal trade in slaves and firearms between Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
Mohamed Gamal-Eldin, Lessepsian migration, the Red Sea and the Israeli military and scientific occupation of the Sinai and eastern seaboard of the Suez Canal, 1967–1972
Thinking of the Suez Canal theoretically as an edge or a zone of transition/movement (similar to Valeska Huber’s argument about acceleration/deceleration) realigns how one conceptualizes the Suez Canal as a liminal space and a place of intraspecies migration. Lessepsian migration is the movement of plankton, mollusks, crabs, shrimp and marine life from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Two seas now supported new types of fish, plant, and sea-life. Over the century from 1869 to 1969 scientists, travelers and researchers studied Lessepsian movement to better understand the transition of sea-life from the Red Sea into the canal. For American and Israeli scientists, the 1967 Egyptian-Israeli war provided an opportunity to enter spaces in which Israeli researchers had never entered before. As such, this paper looks at the historical research done by zoo-biologists on Lessepsian migration of new species and the movement of fauna and sea-life into and through the canal, connecting to broader discussions around Lessepsian migration. The paper interrogates politics and the institutional processes at play when science, war, empire and occupation intersected in the Smithsonian-Hebrew University expedition to study the canal waters, plant-life and zoological species in Red Sea and along the Suez Canal. Connections between American funding and the unique opportunity that the stalemate in hostilities between Israel and Egypt delivered to the scientists point to the intersection of science, war and occupation and raise questions about borders and their ever-changing zones of transitions.
Noura Salem, Aya Bseiso, and Khalid Odeh, Fruits of Barzakh in Aqaba
We are in search of Barzakh, exploring notions of temporality in a country whose current borders sit on multiple cities historically known as “cities of refuge.” Our research—artistic and experimental in methodology and outcome—seeks narratives and contexts often associated with pending states and states that are pending. In February 2021, we relocated to the only coastal city in Jordan, Aqaba—hibernating in its off-season, the city is constantly negotiating its identity amidst contested tourism, borders, funding, and shorelines. We would like the opportunity to present our research on Aqaba and its Barzakh—subverting hegemonic narratives, unearthing archives, inspecting histories, understanding urban genealogy, experimenting with care and hospitality, and probing the circulation of economy and emotions. On a glass boat, golf cart, picnic bench; we collided with, reveled in, were embraced, and confronted by the “sea on the way to somewhere else.” At 5 am, on a little glass boat steered by a local fisherman, we mapped the many borders illusively present and in water: Saudi (AlDurrah), Egypt (Taba), and Palestine (UmmAlRarshrash/Eilat). On a golf cart, we took a tour tracing the 3km of shoreline turned into 17km of man-made lagoons at Ayla, an exclusive resort built on a minefield bordering Umm AlRashrash from one end and the Royal Palaces from the other. At a fenced-off beach, on a picnic bench, we sat down with the Marine Scientific Station (MSS) director. He pointed across the sea and proclaimed, “there.. their marine research center, but we don’t work with them.” At one of the popular cafes dotting the contested shoreline, the owner ushers us in quickly; he curses the government and points at the loud construction next door, “they stole our sea,” he screams, but only we could hear him.
Magdalena Moorthy-Kloss, Slave trading across the Red Sea in the Rasulid era (626–858 AH / 1229–1454 CE)
Centuries of cultural, political and economic interactions across the Red Sea resulted in strong African influences on medieval Yemeni societies, especially in the coastal regions. Africans came to Yemen as conquerors, traders, travelers, scholars, but also as slaves. Despite its significant impact on societies past and present, the medieval slave trade across the Red Sea to Yemen has long remained understudied. My paper aims to address this research gap by presenting a case study from Rasulid Yemen. A 13th-century collection of administrative documents known as Nūr al-maʿārif fī nuẓum wa-qawānīn wa-aʿrāf al-Yaman fī al-ʿahd al-muẓaffarī al-wārif offers rich details on slave trading routes leading from the port of Zaylaʿ in today’s Somaliland to Yemen, including prices and taxes paid for different categories of slaves, their arrival and sale on the public slave market of Aden, and their onward overland journey. Taken together, this body of evidence suggests a well-established Red Sea trading system which created profit for East African and Yemeni traders as well as for Yemeni slave owners, chiefly for the Rasulid state which benefitted both by exacting taxes on slave imports and by claiming the most desirable slaves for itself. From the perspective of the enslaved, the Red Sea passage marked a radical transition from free to enslaved status. Their lives illustrate that the region’s interconnectedness also encompassed relations of coercion and dependency.
Craig Perry, Slavery, Luxury and Political Economy in the Eastern Desert
An undated Judeo-Arabic letter sent by a Jewish merchant in Qus to his associates in Fustat reports some sensational news. A man called al-Bulyani, probably the leader of a group called the Buja (Beja), robbed a major shipment of gifts on its way to the Fatimid caliph. Among the plundered treasures were seventy enslaved women each accompanied by a eunuch. The term used by the letter writer for this gift was “hadiyyā [sic.],” which is also the Arabic word (hadaya) used by the eleventh-century Egyptian chronicler al-Musabbihi (11th c.) to designate the baqt gift sent by the Nubian king to the Fatimid caliphs in Cairo. It seems likely that this letter reports the sending and subsequent plundering of a major diplomatic expedition from an unspecified polity to Islamic rulers in Cairo during the eleventh or twelfth century. This paper will present and analyze this unpublished letter as a way to introduce the potential of documentary sources from the Cairo Geniza for historians of Egypt’s connections with the people and polities in the so-called Eastern Desert between the Nile River and the Red Sea coast. Scholars know that the Eastern Desert was an interstitial space trade, travel, and communication that moved between the Red Sea and Nile River. This paper will argue that historians also need to study the Eastern Desert as a geographic zone with its own political economy that at turns complemented, and competed with, Islamic Egypt and Christian Nubia. I will survey supporting Geniza evidence written not in Cairo, but in the emporia that ringed the Eastern Desert, namely Qus, Aswan, and ʿAydhab. A final purpose of the paper will be to suggest how Geniza documents can be read productively alongside other Arabic sources and archaeological findings.
Marina Rustow, Geniza letters about the rigors of Red Sea travel
The Cairo Geniza preserved hundreds of documents related to the Indian Ocean trade in the period between ca. 1080 and 1240. About half were published between 2008 and 2013; several hundred remain unpublished. In this paper, I will present a handful of geniza letters, most of them unpublished, in which Indian Ocean traders describe travels along the Red Sea littoral. The letters contain warnings and complaints related to maritime travel or to Red Sea ports. Some questions I will attempt to answer: given that the descriptions are not always dispassionate, to what extent can they provide a useful index of the risks and rigors of Red Sea shipping? Why, despite the challenges, were Jewish traders attracted to the Indian Ocean trade in increasing numbers from the late eleventh century onward? What can we learn about Red Sea ports and shipping in the medieval period from the geniza?
Luisa Sernicola, Transitions and cultural transmissions between the two shores of the Southern Red Sea in the early 1st millennium BCE: A view from highland Ethiopia
Contacts between the African and the Arabic shore of the Southern Red Sea are well attested ‒ and wide recognized ‒ since at least the 5th/4th millennium BCE, when evidence of imported goods documents strict oversea interactions in this region. Starting from the early 1st millennium BCE, contacts significantly intensified, due to the commercial ambitions and the strong demand for exotic products by the South Arabian kingdoms. This resulted in the appearance of significant South Arabic cultural elements on the Ethiopian/Eritrean highlands, whose nature and meaning has long been debated. This paper sketches an overview on this topic and seeks to provide further considerations in the light of recent archaeological researches at 1st millennium BCE sites of Ethiopian highlands.
Matthew Cobb, The Imperial to the Late Antique Red Sea: Reconsidering the third century CE as phase of decline, break or transition
Traditional narratives have tended to present the first and second centuries CE as a phase of growth and apogee for Red Sea trade, notably in the north-western Roman ports (e.g. Warmington 1928; Tchernia 1997; Gurukkal 2016), followed by a period of decline and abandonment during the third century. Various causes have been cited to explain this phenomenon from increasing socio-economic problems in Egypt (Young 2001; Whittaker 2004), to unrest in Koptos (Adams 2001), and the Antonine Plague (McLaughlin 2010). This “break” is thought to be followed by a mid-fourth to fifth century revival, albeit with shifting networks, nodes, and operational patterns. Notably, northerly Red Sea ports like Clysma and Aila grew in prominence (Berenike also saw a revival – Sidebotham 2011) and Axumite controlled Adulis also became more significant (Peacock and Blue 2007). This narrative is not without merit. In a wider context, such a downturn might be expected in the wider context of the political-military instability and socio-demographic impact of the so-called Third Century Crisis. A number of developments appear to support such an interpretation. For example, in this period we see the disuse of Myos Hormos (Blue 2007) and the abandonment of the praesidia running from Koptos (Cuvigny 2014). However, just as the impact of the Third Century Crisis has been increasingly reassessed (Bachrach 2010), so too the narrative of third century downturn of activity in the northern Red Sea would benefit from a reassessment. The present paper seeks to take a focused look at this period and consider whether it might be usefully reinterpreted in light of longer-term developments (for recent work, see Cobb 2019 and Nappo 2020), with the aim of addressing the question: to what extent was this period one of transition, a culmination of longer-term trends, or a break caused by several drastic developments?
Joan Oller-Guzmán, Changes, continuities and transitions in the Smaragdos: Emerald mining in the Egyptian Eastern Desert between the Early and Late Roman period
The Smaragdos was a productive region located in the Egyptian Eastern Desert, well-known for being the only source of emeralds within the Roman Empire referred by the classical authors. Currently identified in the Wadi el Gemal National Park, extensive archaeological works have been conducted on it during the last years by the Sikait Project. One of the main issues related to the project deals with the transition between the Early Roman period (1st-2nd century CE) and the Late Roman or Byzantine period (3rd-6th century CE) in the emerald mines. Recent archaeological work in the Wadi Sikait area shows that there are remarkable changes in the settlement pattern and, probably, the extraction process since the 4th century CE. For instance, the documentation of the mines has allowed the recovery of material and epigraphic evidence suggesting a beginning of extensive mining operations in the 1st century CE, while the excavation of Sikait (the main settlement of the area) has mainly provided materials related to the late phase of occupation (4th-6th century). This presentation will try to shed some light on these discordances, analyzing the transition between these two moments from an archaeological and historical point of view, with special emphasis in the role of the nomadic tribes that were increasingly present in the region, known by the sources as the Blemmyes.
Simon Dorso and Julien Loiseau, Tell Kwiha Cherqos (Tigray, Ethiopia), from an Aksumite site to a modern village: Occupation sequence and overview of the settlement over the past two millennia.
The hill of Kwiha Cherqos located in the outskirts of Mekelle (Tigray, Ethiopia) was first reported as an archaeological site by Nathaniel Pearce in the early 19th century (Pearce 1831), and then by Italian scholars during the 1930s and 1940s (Conti-Rossini 1937; Pansera 1945). Monumental stone pillars seemed to indicate that the site had been occupied during the Aksumite Period, possibly hosting a church. This was partly confirmed by surface survey carried out in 2015 (Breton, Ayele 2019). Two short campaigns of excavations conducted in the framework of the ERC project HornEast (P.I. J. Loiseau) in 2018 and 2019 exposed significant remains, including monumental architecture, industrial structures, and graves, evidencing a complex sequence of occupation over nearly two millennia. This paper will provide a first insight into the functional evolution of the site between the Aksumite and Late Medieval Periods. It will also discuss the integration of this important site situated along the “Eastern Tigray Road” into regional and long-distance commercial networks across the Red Sea. Eventually, it intends to offer a preliminary overview of the “Post-Aksumite” material culture from domestic and artisanal archaeological contexts.
Steven E. Sidebotham, Marianne Bergmann, Martina Stoye, Shailendra Bhandare, Joanna K, Rądkowska, Szymon Popławski, and Mariana Castro, South Asian sculptures, a terracotta and an inscription from Berenike (Red Sea coast, Egypt)
Excavations at Berenike – a major third century BC-sixth century CE emporium on the Egyptian Red Sea coast – have recorded sculpture and an inscription made in India or inspired by Indian motifs and created in Egypt. Since 1994 excavations at Berenike have documented contacts between the emporium and other areas of the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the northwestern Indian Ocean especially during the first five centuries CE. Finds include organic and inorganic artifacts and ecofacts with provenances ranging from the Iberian Peninsula and northwestern Africa to Java. Finds from South Asia comprise an important corpus of objects. One category of note includes Indian-made or Indian-inspired figural representations and an inscription. Of the six objects examined in this presentation, one was made of terracotta, and the remainder were fashioned from stone. The former came from a first century CE trash dump, four from in and adjacent to the Isis temple, and one from the “Northern Complex.” Chronologically they range from the first to, possibly, the fourth-fifth centuries CE. The terracotta fragment represents a warrior. The stone objects include a stela depicting three Indian deities, a small head of Buddha, a standing Buddha and a headless standing Buddha. There is also an inscription carved in Brahmi/Sanskrit and Greek. The terracotta was probably made in India while the stone objects were created in Egypt. Three, made of anhydritic gypsum from the region of Berenike, indicate the presence of a local workshop. One other may be made of stone local to Berenike while one was made of imported marble, likely from the Proconnesian quarries in the Sea of Marmora just south of modern Istanbul. In addition to discussing the objects, the paper will examine who may have made or commissioned them.
PJ Cherian, P. Deepak, and Siddhartha Saha, The She Sphinx that flew over the Red Sea: Artefact, author, agency and audience
This paper attempts to bring to focus the role of Myths in the early historic transoceanic life (5th century BCE – 5th century CE) taking the journey of She Sphinx from Thebes in Greece to Pattanam, a Sangam Age port in India then famed as the ‘Queen of Oceans’, as an instance. We hope to underline the need of transdisciplinary engagement of the “classical age” myths with the corresponding newly unearthed archaeological and allied sources. Pattanam site located on the South Western coast of the Indian subcontinent is assumed to be the legendary port of Muziris or Muciri Pattinam which finds mention in ancient Greek and Roman sources as well as in the Sangam literature dating back to the centuries before the Common Era. It is from these references that we know Muziris was a centre for the booming trade in goods that linked the indigenous worlds of the Greco-Romans, the Egyptians, the West Asians, the Africans, the South Arabians, the Indians and the Chinese. The Pattanam excavations, 2020 findings, along with the 2006 – 2016 excavation records reconfirm the intense maritime commercial, technological and cultural two-way exchanges between Eastern Mediterranean and ancient Tamilakam. This paper is to bring out the complex web of early historic trans-oceanic relations by analyzing a single artefact – the seal ring – retrieved on April 25th, 2020, at the Pattanam site. The Pattanam seal-ring with the carving of She Sphinx, looking closely similar to the one worn by Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar, is interrogated with questions on authorship, agency role and audience of the artifact. This analysis is ought to bring out the salient features of the cultural, technological, navigational aspects of the exchanges that existed 2 millennia years ago; with Red Sea lying between the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean performing the presiding role.
Jerzy M. Oleksiak, Nicholas Bartos, Roderick C.A. Geerts, Crossroads of the Red Sea: New ceramic data from the port of Berenike
From third century BCE to the mid-sixth century CE, the port of Berenike served as a vibrant cosmopolitan hub of the central Red Sea. Ongoing archaeological investigations continue to reveal the widespread commercial networks and transcultural interactions at this edge of empire. The well-preserved remains of amphoras and other transport vessels at Berenike provide an especially detailed window into diachronic patterns of importation. This paper will present new results from the past three seasons of fieldwork across the site, with a focus on quantified analyses of the amphoras and transport vessels. Using this data, it will highlight the differing consumption patterns within the site as well as the changing role of Berenike in its broader Red Sea context. In these recently excavated areas, eastern Mediterranean imports are increasingly diverse and represent a greater percentage of the total transport assemblage in the late antique layers compared to their early Roman predecessors. Persian Gulf imports represent a relatively small, but steady presence in this material. The results of this contained case study suggest that the types of transport vessels arriving to Berenike dramatically shifted in the last centuries of its occupation and in general, the strength of the port’s relationships around the Arabian Peninsula may have been greater than previously understood. Even after almost thirty years of regular fieldwork, the maritime crossroads of Berenike continues to be an important reference point for the economic histories of the Red Sea and the greater western Indian Ocean.
Marek Woźniak and Joanna Rądkowska, Discovering Hellenistic Berenike: Answers, questions and perspectives
The last ten years of archaeological works carried by The Berenike Project have brought to light the remains of one of the southernmost cities/bases in the whole Hellenistic world. These discoveries have diametrically changed our views, not only on the shape and ways of functioning but even the size and location of the Hellenistic Berenice. Considering that it is the only archaeologically researched Hellenistic port center of the Red Sea, its example also provides a unique opportunity to take a new look at the entire chain of Ptolemaic centers of the region. The example of Berenice allows for the first time to relate the results of archaeological research to fragmentary information from written sources. Although the excavations and multidisciplinary research on the rich archaeological, biological and geological materials have brought many answers to key questions, still many of them remained unanswered. This paper will present and summarize the results of ten years of research. It will trace Hellenistic Berenice’s development from the rise in the first half of the 3rd century BC, through the fall in the first half of the 2nd century BC, until the revival at the end of the 2nd – 1st centuries BC and the transition to Roman rule. The most important buildings and structures of the Hellenistic city with the lines of fortifications and the system of obtaining and storing drinking water, having no analogies on the entire Red Sea coast, will be presented. The paper will outline research perspectives, the latest theories, and questions that can only be answered in the near future. It will present not only spectacular discoveries but also unusual, unidentified buildings. It will also discuss the prospects of research on the industrial activity of the Hellenistic center and even the chances of discovering the famous elephantagoi shipyard in Berenike.
Noran Hamed, Interpreting the Red Sea: Challenges and strategies for a better future for the heritage sites
The Red Sea coast of Egypt features several archaeological sites that functioned as harbors dating back millennia and providing evidence of how Egyptians navigated this sea since the middle of the second millennium BC until modern times. In addition, the Red Sea coast remains culturally rich and diverse due to the variety of local communities that live along these shores, including Ababda tribes, Nubians and workers from the Nile Valley. Each carries its intangible heritage and adapts to one another. Over the last 30 years, extensive excavation work has been conducted at different sites along the coast to reveal, understand, and interpret the context of Red Sea sites and how Egyptians navigated the Red Sea to reach the copper and turquoise mines in Sinai or for trade with the western Indian Ocean and Africa. However, little attention has been paid to the local communities (except for the work at Quseir and Berenike) and the public presentation of the heritage resources, despite the recent opening of two museums along the coast. Currently, some of the coastal archaeological sites face threats of deterioration due to negligence, urban expansion, and touristic activity. At the same time, no serious efforts have so far been dedicated to the preservation, safeguarding and public presentation of these sites. This paper discusses how a better future can be obtained for the preservation of these heritage resources by assessing their current condition, accessibility options and the specific threats they face. An evaluation of how the Red Sea tangible and intangible heritage is presented at the two museums at Suez and Hurghada is also undertaken. Finally, strategies and ideas as to how to best integrate the preservation and public presentation of these archaeological sites in the two museums and their ongoing excavations will be outlined.
Jacke Phillips, “… fashioned in the local manner”
At the last Red Sea conference in Lyon, I presented a paper discussing a ‘micro’ undercurrent inherent in the cross-cultural exchange of peoples, goods, ideas and technologies, following their arrival in regions beyond their origin. I used the Aksumite polity as a case study but, in this paper, I would like to consider in more detail a specific aspect of this undercurrent that I mentioned in passing in the discussion following my presentation. Goods listed in the mid-1st century AD Periplus Maris Erythraei as worth buying and selling at individual ports-of-call from Egypt through to India indicates what traders sought to offload and acquire at each port, as has long been understood. Long experience allowed its anonymous author, assumed to be a Romano-Egyptian merchant, to detail these existing ready markets at each location as a guide to his peers, and it is the major contemporary document for research into the antique Red Sea-Indian Ocean trading network. At Adulis near modern Massawa, the major port for the region of the Aksumite polity, the Periplus includes the unique statement: “For the king, silverware and goldware fashioned in the local manner” (§6.2.33-34). I will explore questions and implications inherent in this single line of the text.
Amélie Chekroun, The African ports of the Gulf of Aden at the end of the Middle Ages
This presentation will focus on the African ports of the Gulf of Aden in the medieval period. At least from the 13th century, the main port is Zaylaʿ; it is mention many times in geographical or economical Arabic books, such as the Yemeni 13th–century Nūr al-maʿārif or the mid-15th-century Egyptian Kitāb Al-Ilmām. This port is the gateway to the region, and the Muslim sultanates in particular, as evidenced by the az-Zaylaʿī nisba born by men and women from the Horn of Africa living in the Islamic world. However, the prominent position of Zaylaʿ is sometimes challenged, especially in times of crisis. This is particularly the case at two moments: the Christian takeover of Zaylaʿ after Sultan Saʿd al-Dīn’s death in 1408; and the burning of Zaylaʿ by the Portuguese Lopo Soares de Albergaria in 1517. Sources then show the importance of other ports, mainly Barbara and Sayāra. This investigation of the ports, not just Zaylaʿ, opening onto the inland of the Horn of Africa, allows for a broader view of the region in the last centuries of the medieval period. Routes and territories in contact via these ports with the other side of the Gulf, and more broadly with the Islamic world, were not concentrated solely on one point, in the extreme north of present-day Somaliland, but were spread out over the entire African side of the Gulf. The objective of this presentation is to bring new elements to the current reflection on the historical geography of the territories under the rule of the Walasmaʿ sultans between the 13th and the 16th century.
Jorge de Torres Rodríguez, Nomads, towns and states: The archaeology of Somaliland during the medieval period
The history of the southeast part of the Horn of Africa during the medieval period was framed by the emergence of a series of Muslim principalities which, by the 14th-16th centuries, controlled large areas of territory and challenged the power of the Abyssinian kingdom to the west. Recent research has started to shed light on the historical and archaeological context of these sultanates, the most important of which was Adal (1415-1577). However, many gaps still remain regarding the extension of these states, their political and economic bases, the ethnic composition of its population or the material culture of its inhabitants. Based on the results of seven years of research, this presentation analyses the influence of this states in Somaliland, a region which during the 13th and 16th centuries went through major political and social changes. These changes included the consolidation of Islam within the Somali nomadic communities, an increase in both the amount and the complexity of international trade throughout the territory, the emergence, for the first time, of permanent settlements and the growing influence of the Muslim sultanates to the west. All these transformations can be detected in the archaeological record and involved deep modifications in the material culture, the society and the beliefs of the communities living along the Somali coast. In this fluid world, religion and trade became key to set a common ground for political and social negotiation. Through the study of the changes in the trade routes, the settlement patterns and the material culture, this paper will explore the relationships between the different communities -nomads, urban dwellers and foreign traders- which inhabited the region. Combining archaeological, ethnographic and historical data, it will approach to the multifaced ways in which these groups negotiated their identities, and the strategies they used to adapt to an increasingly complex world.
Dejanirah Couto, Gregório da Quadra’s journey into Arabia (1516–1517) and the 16th-century Portuguese representations of the Red Sea
The evolution of early modern European discourses and imaginaries regarding the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea in particular, naturally reflects the cultural substratum marked by the transmission and circulation of ancient texts intertwined with those of the medieval Muslim tradition. But it also incorporates wanderings of several generations of European travelers. The Portuguese, who began to roam the shores of the Red Sea as early as 1505-1507, helped shape these discourses. Therefore, this paper deals with the early 16th-century Portuguese traveler Gregório da Quadra. Although ignored beyond the court of King D. Manuel of Portugal (1495-1521), and having left no autograph account reporting his wanderings along the Arabian shore of the Red Sea, it can be assumed that he visited Mecca and Medina around 1516-1517. More important than anything, he distilled information that swarmed in the early Portuguese and European cartography of the Red Sea, as well as in the 16th century accounts on the region, as one can verify by the contents of the anonymous (and encrypted) Portuguese itinerary related to the Arabian coast and the Muslim Holy Cities (1565), discovered in 1942 by Giorgio della Vita at the Vatican Library.
Fatih Yücel, Ottoman governors-general of Egypt and trade in the Red Sea during the last quarter of the sixteenth century
In this paper, I am going to investigate the official and semi-official roles of the governors-general in the Ottoman province of Egypt concerning the Red Sea trade, focusing on the reign of Murad III (1574-1595) with a particular emphasis on the tenures of Sinan Pasha, who was also among the grand viziers, and of his successor in Egypt, Üveys Pasha. Although the sultan himself had declared that it was a strict rule to appoint a eunuch to the province as governor-general, Üveys Pasha, who was known for his expertise on the finances of the Empire, was sent to the province after his tenure of head-treasurer. Furthermore, Giancarlo Casale’s argument (in his article “The Ottoman Administration of the Spice Trade”, 2006 and his book: The Ottoman Age of Exploration, 2010) concerning the “privatisation” and the “localisation” of the Red Sea trade after the death of the grand vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha will be re-evaluated mainly through the governorate-general of Üveys Pasha. Ottoman and non-Ottoman sources suggest that this high-ranking figure in Egypt was an active participant as the regulator of the trade in the region. I will analyze these sources in order to point out how these governors-general, whose main task was to increase the income of the central treasury via the remittances from the province, were involved in the Red Sea trade. One significant piece of evidence is the list of items in Üveys Pasha’s probate records indicating his role in this activity, and the accumulation of commodities arriving at Egypt through the Red Sea such as black pepper and other goods. In this way, this paper will reassess the existing literature and argue that the governor-General of Egypt was still one of the main actors of the trade during the last decade of the sixteenth century.
Abdulmennan M. Altıntaş, A dilemma between security and trade: The maritime boundaries of the Ottoman-dominated Red Sea (16th and 18th centuries)
The history of Ottoman naval activities in the Red Sea dates back to the beginning of the sixteenth century. During this period, one of the targets of Portugal, which followed an expansionist policy in the Indian Ocean, was the Red Sea. The Mamluk sultan, who was aware of the holy cities of Islam were in danger, requested ammunition and military personnel assistance from the Ottoman court for a fleet to be constructed against Portugal. After the Ottoman armies entered Cairo in 1517, the southward expansion of the Ottomans continued, and with the annexation of Yemen to the Ottoman lands in 1538, the Red Sea became an Ottoman lake. Based on Ottoman archival sources and the travel literature of the period, this study focuses on Ottoman policies in the trade and security dilemma and examines the Ottoman-dominated Red Sea in three phases. The first phase is the period when the long-term Portuguese-Ottoman struggle in the Red Sea took place and the strict security policies implemented by the Ottomans emerged. During this period, trade remained in the background, and trade ships belonging to non-Muslim nations were not allowed to enter the Red Sea through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. In the second phase, which started in the seventeenth century, the first commercial contacts of Northern European merchants in Yemeni ports were analyzed. The impulsive attitudes of the Ottoman governors in Yemen, which was still under the influence of security policies, caused some diplomatic crises in this period. In the last phase, which resulted in the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon’s army, the opening of the port of Jeddah and the Northern Red Sea to the Ottoman ally European nations will be discussed.
Chiara Zazzaro, Chiara Visconti, Romolo Loreto, Nicola Melis, and Luisa Terminillo, Further developments in the study of the Umm Lajj shipwreck and other 18th-century shipwrecks in the Red Sea
The Umm Lajj shipwreck is the last of three other Ottoman period shipwrecks to have been identified in the Red Sea, all dating, according to the cargo, to the 18th century, and all likely on a course heading northwest. These shipwrecks testify to an intense interaction across and along the Red Sea during the Ottoman hegemony and before the opening of the Suez Canal. None of those shipwrecks have yet been comprehensively investigated, therefore their historic and economic significance is still understudied, as is the ship architecture and the variety of cargo, which mainly includes water jars, Chinese porcelain, clay pipes, spices, etc. This paper will present the results of the latest studies on the Umm Lajj shipwreck and comparative analysis especially with unpublished similar shipwrecks found on Arabian side of the Red Sea.
Habib Saçmalı, Rebuilding the Hejaz: The Red Sea and the Hejaz in the Münşeat of Ebubekir Paşa, the governor of Jiddah between 1725 and 1728
This paper investigates how the Red Sea posed both a challenge and an opportunity for the Ottoman state in governing the affairs of the Hejaz. My analysis is based primarily on a rare local source, a collection of letters (münşeat) that belonged to Ebubekir Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Jiddah between 1725 and 1728. This collection is currently held at the Süleymaniye Library and covers the three-year period between 1725 and 1727. Ebubekir Pasha’s münşeat comprises around one hundred letters between him and the Sublime Porte, as well as his correspondence with other provincial governors and high-ranking administrators. Starting in 1725, the Ottoman government strongly re-engaged in the affairs of the Hejaz. The Porte commissioned Ebubekir Paşa to launch a large-scale project in the Hejaz, including improvements to infrastructure, superstructure, and protection, as well as highly symbolic initiatives. The project included constructing three galleons at the Suez Port, building a wall at the port of Yanbu in order to protect the provisions of the Hejaz from Bedouin assaults, extensive repairs to underground waterways in Mecca and Medina, and renovations at the Ka‘ba in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. The main reasons for the extraordinary work were the rebellion of Çerkes Mehmed Bey in Egypt and the overthrow of the Safavids in Iran by the Afghans, both events endangering the Sultan’s religio-political legitimacy. This paper deals with how Ebubekir Paşa struggled to carry out the large-scale tasks he was commissioned with and demonstrates that local impediments in the axis of Egypt, the Red Sea, and the Hejaz to the projects of the imperial center were bigger and deeper than what Istanbul imagined. It reveals that Istanbul had to revise its original plans and negotiate with local networks to strengthen its imperial image in the Hejaz.