Around 275 BC, Ptolemy II (Philadelphos), king of Egypt, founded a port on the Red Sea coast. He named it after his mother, Berenike I. This port was originally created to aid in the importation of elephants for Ptolemy’s army. Berenike is a natural harbor, protected against the prevailing northern winds by a large peninsula. (See photo on the right). As the Nabataeans were known to prey on Red Sea shipping, it was desirable to have a safe port as far to the south as possible. From Berenike there were overland routes through the Eastern desert to the Nile valley. These routes were protected by caravansaries that provided the caravans with water and shelter.

Berenike Peninsula

Berenike Peninsula

When the Nabataeans began to export incense via the maritime route on the Red Sea, Berenike developed into a trade emporium. Some of the cargoes included: spices, myrrh, frankincense, pearls and textiles. These were all shipped via Berenike to Alexandria and Rome.

Until 1994 little was known about the port of Berenike. It was even unclear when the port had been abandoned. However, in 1994, Steven E. Sidebotham, a professor of ancient history at the University of Delaware began an excavation of the site. You can read his report by following the link below.

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