is the principal character of a literary text written in Late Egyptian (hereafter, Wenamun). The incomplete text is known from a Hieratic papyrus found at el-Hiba in Middle Egypt and kept in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow (Papyrus Moscow 120). On paleographic evidence, the manuscript dates from the twenty-first dynasty. The text itself was presumably composed early in that dynasty (mid-eleventh century BCE). Its literary character is apparent from the sophisticated plot, the rhetoric and irony of the dialogues, the imagery of the narrative, and the underlying reflection on political, theological, and cultural issues. Some stylistic features, for example, dates, lists, summations, and the appearance of historical personages, suggest an official report written in the first person singular, but I prefer to treat Wenamun as a work of literature cast in the form of a documentary text.

The report starts with the departure of Wenamun, an agent of the temple of Amun at Thebes acting on behalf of the high priest, Herihor, for the Phoenician harbor town of Byblos to procure timber for a new river bark of Amun. The date is placed within “Year 5,” and is traditionally associated with the “Renaissance,” which began in regnal year 19 of Ramesses XI, the last king of the twentieth dynasty. Alternatively, the date may belong to the fifth year of the twenty-first dynasty, if Herihor was the successor of Piankh (Egberts 1998, pp. 49–74). This sequence would account for the absence of an Egyptian pharaoh in Wenamun, because in the twenty-first dynasty, Egypt was divided into a southern entity with el-Hiba as northern outpost headed by the high priests of Amun, and a northern entity ruled by Smendes of Tanis and his successors. Smendes figures in Wenamun as the first sovereign visited by its protagonist. Wenamun's next stop is the harbor town of Dor (present Tell Dor, Israel), where he is robbed of his valuables. When he reaches Byblos, Wenamun is forced to stay there for nearly a year; after that he flees to Cyprus. At that point the text breaks off. The narrative's core is constituted of two disputes between Wenamun and Zakarbaal, the ruler of Byblos. In the first dispute, Zakarbaal is unwilling to deliver the timber without proper payment, dismissing Wenamun's demand for political obedience as a vassal of Egypt. Then Wenamun argues that Amun is the universal god, whose domain includes Byblos and the Lebanon. The second dispute involves, among other things, the issue of Egyptian ethnicity.

Wenamun is a work of fiction based on the historical circumstance of the construction of a new bark for Amun during the tenure of Herihor. Its theme, the vicissitudes of an Egyptian abroad, is familiar from earlier literary compositions. Like Sinuhe, Wenamun is a remnant of the ancient Egyptian discourse about cultural identity. At the same time, Wenamun constitutes a major source for the theocratic ideology of the twenty-first dynasty, in which the role of the pharaoh is assigned to Amun. By stressing the cross-cultural significance of Amun and integrating international politics into theology, the unknown author of Wenamun shows his audience a way of coping with the decline of the empire and the resulting division of Egypt.


  • Egberts, Arno. “Hard Times: The Chronology of ‘The Report of Wenamun’ Revised.” Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde 125 (1998), 93–108. Revises the traditional understanding of the chronology of Wenamun.
  • Gardiner, Alan H. Late Egyptian Stories. Bibliotheca Aegyptiaca, 1. Brussels, 1932. The standard edition of Wenamun in hieroglyphic transcription on pages 61–76.
  • Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature. Berkeley, 1976. Vol. 2, pp. 224–230, contains a good English translation of Wenamun.

Arno Egberts