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Ahmed Abdul Ghani


Paper 1 (Approaches to the Study of the Ancient Near East)

Bon Voyage: Memphis or Avaris?

“Perunefer” was a naval and military stronghold belonging to the Tuthmoside kings in

the early Eighteenth Dynasty.1 It was initially believed to have been located at Memphis, and

George Daressy was the first person to suggest it was located at Avaris/Piramesse instead.2

Although at both proposed locations evidence exists in favor of a harbor and royal presence

(and both are necessary in light of the fact that Perunefer was a naval and military base), I

feel the latter is a far more likely candidate, mainly due to its proximity to the sea, the fact

that the Nile is virtually unnavigable for many months near Memphis, and because

Amenhotep II’s stelae indicate Memphis and Perunefer were not the same location. This

paper elaborates on all this and more.

There is much textual evidence in favor of Memphis. Thus, of the recorded instances

of the name “Perunefer”, almost all are from Memphis while there are none from Avaris. It

is worth mentioning that all these instances turn up in titles of either officials or local cults.

In addition, proof of the existence of the foreign Levantine cults attested for Perunefer has

been found at Memphis.3 Furthermore, texts show that Memphis was an ethnically mixed

metropolis (as would be expected of a harbor). They also clearly indicate it had an important

harbor as is evident from the texts’ description of such features as “the storesheds in the

Manfred Bietak, “The Thutmoside stronghold of Perunefer,” Egyptian Archaeology 26 (2005), p. 13.
David Jeffreys, "Perunefer: at Memphis or Avaris?," Egyptian Archaeology 28 (2006), p. 36.
lake”, “the great shipyard of the palace”, and “the dockyard on the Island of Ptah”. 4 A naval

and military stronghold would, of course, presuppose a royal residence, and written records

indicate the existence of royal estates of the Tuthmoside kings at Memphis.5

Some have objected that were Memphis the location for Perunefer, the Karnak and

Memphis stelae of Amenhotep II would not have described the king as going to Memphis

after arriving at Perunefer. However, this overlooks the fact that the waterfront at Memphis

may have been twenty kilometers or more long along the river. It should, however, be

mentioned here that no evidence has been found for linking Memphis with the port. This is

also true of Avaris, so both are equal in this respect.

The presence of cults and a king common to Perunefer and Memphis constitutes

evidence too. Thus there is proof of much activity of Amenhotep II in Memphis, who is the

main pharaoh associated with Perunefer. Furthermore, he was known to have fostered

Canaanite cults, and Papyrus Petersburg 1116A indicates the existence of Canaanite cults in

Perunefer. In addition, a rock stela in Tura dating from his time depicts Astarte as mistress of

Perunefer together with Memphite gods. It is of particular interest that the Nineteenth

Dynasty Papyrus Sallier VI lists the gods of Memphis, including gods associated with

Perunefer, such as “Amun of Perunefer”. However, the fact that Canaanite cults together

with cults from different regions of the country were established in Memphis is hardly

surprising given that Memphis was the old capital of Egypt. Thus “Amun of Perunefer” also

had an affiliation cult at Thebes, even though there is no doubt Thebes was not the site of


On the other hand, we know that Canaanite cults existed in the Delta (where Avaris is

located) too. The temple of Seth, who was the Canaanite weather god in Egyptian guise,

Ibid., 37.
Ibid., 37.
shows a continuous presence from the Hyksos Period to the Eighteenth Dynasty. At the

same time we have inscriptional evidence of Canaanite cults in Perunefer again.

As mentioned earlier, a naval and military stronghold presupposes a royal residence,

and Avaris had much of the latter. To be fair to those in favor of Memphis, there did not

exist evidence of Eighteenth Dynasty installations at Avaris for quite some time. However, in

the late nineties and early naughts an Eighteenth Dynasty settlement at Avaris was

discovered by the Austrian Institute of Cairo, and three structures that can only be palaces

have been unearthed.

Avaris’s being a military center is beyond doubt as well. Thus, in addition to the three

palaces, magazines, humungous stores for grain, and at least three workshops have been

uncovered. Additional compounds, probably for troops, have also been found. Furthermore,

there is evidence for existence of camps with fireplaces, ovens, and tents.6 Graves for young

men without individual offerings indicate that they were soldiers who died of disease.7 There

is also some evidence of people being executed in pits. Anthropological evidence proves that

some of the soldiers were Nubian. The existence of Kerma household ware and Kerma

beakers confirms this. The Nubians were probably archers as the presence of bone and silex

arrow tips indicates.

Avaris also seems to have met the criterion of being a naval base since geomagnetic

surveys have revealed two huge harbor basins.8 Furthermore, the three palaces that were

found contained evident signs of a Minoan connection. In particular, the technology, style,

and motifs of the frescoes and wall paintings therein are clearly Minoan, and Minoan naval

power must have been needed by the Eighteenth Dynasty, which was more land-bound.9

Manfred Bietak, “Perunefer: an update,” Egyptian Archaeology 35 (2009), p. 16.
Manfred Bietak, “The Thutmoside stronghold of Perunefer,” Egyptian Archaeology 26 (2005), p. 13-14.
Manfred Bietak, “Perunefer: the principal New Kingdom naval base,” Egyptian Archaeology 34 (2009), p. 15.
Manfred Bietak, “The Thutmoside stronghold of Perunefer,” Egyptian Archaeology 26 (2005), p. 16.
Also, if Perunefer is Avaris, the “Keftiu” ships spoken of in the papyrus BM 10056 may refer

to actual Minoan ships in Perunefer. In addition, Avaris, being a harbor town as attested in

the Hyksos period, can safely be assumed to have continued to serve as a harbor up to and

including the Eighteenth Dynasty.10 Furthermore, King Kamose of the Seventeenth Dynasty

boasted of having destroyed hundreds of ships at Avaris as mentioned on his second stela.

The harbors must have continued to be used into the Nineteenth Dynasty, as indicated by

Papyrus Anatasi III, which says that Piramesse (Avaris) was the marshaling place of “thy (the

pharoah’s) chariotry, the mustering place of thy army, the mooring place of thy ships

troops”. Although not many Egyptian harbors have been identified by archaeological

investigations, the harbors discovered at the site of Avaris conform exactly to the concept of

ancient Egyptian harbors.11 It is interesting that the name “Perunefer”, which means “goodly

going forth”, seems to be a kind of sailors’ sending off - the ancient Egyptian equivalent of

“Bon voyage!” It is also worth mentioning here that Perunefer was known to be home to

foreigners, which is only to be expected of a harbor town. Lastly, Avaris’s proximity to the

sea makes it a more likely candidate for the toponym Perunefer than Memphis. After all, if

the country’s major harbor were over one hundred miles upstream, considerable delay

would befall any naval reaction. Avaris, being in the delta, would be far more suitable in this

regard. Also, Memphis would have had a limited function as a harbor given the fact that the

Nile was almost unnavigable from January to June there.12

There is also some textual evidence in favor of Avaris. Thus, some texts mention

Perunefer in the time of Amenhotep II, followed by a period of silence before it reappears in

the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties. This is relevant because stratigraphy shows us

Ibid., 17.
Manfred Bietak, “Perunefer: the principal New Kingdom naval base,” Egyptian Archaeology 34 (2009), p. 16.
Manfred Bietak, “Perunefer: the principal New Kingdom naval base,” Egyptian Archaeology 34 (2009), p. 17.
that the site of Avaris was abandoned after the reign of Amenhotep II and that it was

reactivated in the late Eighteenth Dynasty.

It could be concluded that Avaris is a far stronger candidate because although the

proof on each side seems almost parallel to that for the other, Avaris has much stronger

evidence going for it. Its being a naval stronghold is supported far more than Memphis’s

being one in virtue of the latter’s relative distance from the sea. In addition, it is hard to

imagine a naval stronghold with a river that is next to useless half the year. Last but not

least, the Karnak and Memphis stelae’s description of Amenhotep II going to Memphis after

arriving at Perunefer makes more sense if they are separate locations.

Works Cited

Manfred Bietak, “The Thutmoside stronghold of Perunefer,” Egyptian Archaeology 26 (2005)

Manfred Bietak, “Perunefer: an update,” Egyptian Archaeology 35 (2009)

Manfred Bietak, “Perunefer: the principal New Kingdom naval base,” Egyptian Archaeology

34 (2009)

David Jeffreys, "Perunefer: at Memphis or Avaris?," Egyptian Archaeology 28 (2006)

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