A City of Technologies
Due to its location in the eastern Delta, the city of Ramesses had its own unique conditions, but also special opportunities. Certain materials or products were produced directly on site, because purchasing them from other areas of the country would have been too expensive. The proximity to neighbouring countries also promoted an intensive exchange of technological know-how.
Bronze armour plate (FZN 86/0709). Photo: Robert Stetefeld. © Qantir/Pi-Ramesse Project.
Glass was a luxurious commodity, available to just a select circle of people. Only a small number of highly specialised artisans in very few workshops could produce and process this high-tech material in the days of Ramesses II.
To investigate the role of Pi-Ramesse in the production and processing of glass, Thilo Rehren, an expert in ancient glass, came to Qantir in 1993. He worked on site for more than ten years and concluded that glass had indeed been produced from raw materials at Pi-Ramesse. The white quartz pebbles served as a source for silica, while the proximity to bronze production gave access to colouring metal oxides. Ceramic fragments proved to be crucibles used to melt down the components, while the slags can be interpreted as the refuse from the glass production.
From Pebble to Luxury Good:
Glass Production in the Late Bronze Age (1500-1200 BCE)
Prof. Thilo Rehren, a technology specialist in archaeology, reports how he and Dr. Edgar B. Pusch got on the trail of glass production in the Late Bronze Age through their research in Pi-Ramesse. Looking at white pebbles found in Ramesses II’s city, they were able to reconstruct the processes of glass production and processing in the Late Bronze Age.
Beautiful Faience Objects
‘The (city) with beautiful windows and
radiant doorways of lapis lazuli and turquoise’
Texts praise Pi-Ramesse for its grandeur and beauty. The papyrus Anastasi III reads:
You have fortified Pi-Ramesse, at the beginning of the foreign land, at Egypt's end, with its windows (made) beautiful and its galleries(?) shining from lapis lazuli and turquoise, training ground of your chariot troops, muster point of your army, home port of your marine soldiers who deliver the tribute to you.
The ancient scribes wrote that parts of some buildings were adorned with bright blue and green decoration, evocative of precious materials, such as lapis lazuli and turquoise. In fact, the builders had chosen a material that was much cheaper to obtain and easier to work, which, nevertheless, was equated in the Egyptian language with precious stones due to the intensity of its colour and its luminosity: faience.
Specialised workshops produced faience at Pi-Ramesse. To create this material, artisans mixed fine sand or crushed quartz-pebbles with natron or plant ash to add alkali. They also added metal oxides – mainly extracted from minerals, but sometimes the by-products of metal production – which were responsible for the final products’ different colours: green, turquoise, blue, black, brown, red, yellow, or white.
When making a faience object, the ancient artisans worked the matrix, adding water. Afterwards, they formed it into shape by hand, in moulds, or over pieces of wood. The colourant was either mixed with the matrix or applied as a separate layer on the surface. Before firing in a furnace, the objects were left to dry for a couple of hours.
For multicolour designs, the artisans incised the surface and filled the spaces with glaze of a different colour, or used inlays of different materials, such as calcite-alabaster. For fine decoration, they added the paint before firing.
‘Bronze: The Best Heavy Metal’
International Trade, the Transfer of Ideas
and Recycling in Pi-Ramesse
Bronze was without doubt the most important metal in Ramesses II’s Egypt. This alloy of about 90% copper and 10% tin was used to produce vases, statues, and, most of all, weapons of different kinds.
In the early 1980s, excavations at Pi-Ramesse uncovered the remains of a facility that could produce bronze on an almost industrial scale. There, in just a short span of time, several hundred kilograms of bronze could be melted and worked.
Im Kontext der Spätbronzezeit (1500‒1200 v. u. Zt.) bedeutet die zunächst gar nicht so groß erscheinende Menge von 100 kg Bronze jedoch entweder 10.000 bis 20.000 Pfeilspitzen von jeweils 5 bis 10 g Gewicht, 400 Dolche von etwa 250 g oder 250 Trensen von 400g.
The huge demand for materials caused the city to become part of an international trading system – scientific analysis has shown that copper came from Cyprus, Greece, or the Sinai. In one case, there is even evidence that copper from Oman occasionally found its way to Pi-Ramesse. The origin of tin is more difficult to trace. Analysis of tin found in the Eastern Mediterranean indicates that it was imported from remote areas, such as Tadjikistan, Spain, Cornwall in the United Kingdom, or the Ore Mountains in Germany.
In the Late Bronze Age, it was not only materials that were traded, but ideas, techniques, and production procedures too. Limestone moulds, used to create the metal fittings of shields, document the production of shields in the characteristic shape used by the Hittites. This find can most likely be interpreted as evidence for a technological exchange between the two countries in the years following the peace treaty between the Hittites and the Egyptians.
AN XXL CITY
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A CITY OF TECHNOLOGIES
HORSES FOR THE PHARAO
PI-RAMESSE AROUND THE WORLD