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MYOS-HORMOS

( Μυὸς ὅορμος, Diod. 3.39; Strab. xvi. p.760-781, xvii. p. 815; Ptol. 4.5.14, 8.15.18; Peripl. Mar. Erythr. pp. 1, 6, 9, 11; Ἀφροδίτης ὅρμος, Agatharch. p. 54; Veneris Portus, Plin. Nat. 6.29.33) was founded by Ptolemy Philadelphus (B.C. 274) upon a headland of similar name. (Mela, 3.8.7.) He selected it for the principal harbour and station of the trade of Aegypt with India, in preference to Arsinoë at the head of the Red Sea, on account of the tedious and difficult navigation down the Heroopolite gulf. The name Myos-Hormos, which indicates its Greek origin, may signify the “Harbour of the Mouse, but more probably means” the Harbour “of the Muscle” (μύειν, to close, e.g. the shell),since on the neighbouring coast the pearl-muscle or Pinna marina (comp. the Hebrew pininim, Job, 38.18; Prov. 31.10) is collected in large quantities. (Bruce, Travels, vol. vii. p. 314, 8vo. ed.) The name was afterwards changed, according to Agatharchides and those writers who copied him, to that of Aphrodites-Hormos; but the elder appellation is more generally retained. Myos Hormos seems to have obtained the designation of Aphrodite (foam of the sea), from the abundance of sea-sponge found in its bay.

The latitude of Myos-Hormos is fixed by Bruce, D'Anville, &c., at 27° N. Its situation is determined by a cluster of islands, called Jaffateen by modern navigators, of which the three largest lie opposite to an indenture of the Aegyptian coast. Behind these islands and on the curve of the shore was the harbour. Its entrance was oblique (Strab. xvi. p.769); but it was spacious and sheltered, and the water, even to the land's edge was deep enough for vessels of considerable burden.

Myos-Hormos owed its prosperity, as well as its foundation, to the trade with Africa, Arabia, and India. The vessels bound for Africa or the S. coast of Arabia left this harbour in the month of September, and thus fell in with the wind, which at the equinox blows steadily from NW., and carried them down the African coast, bringing them back in the following May. The furthest S. point of the African trade was the town of Rhaptum, in the Regio Barbarica, about 10° S. of the equator. The vessels bound for India (the coast of Malabar or Ceylon) left Myos-Hormos in July; and if they cleared the mouth of the Red Sea before the 1st of September, they had behind them the monsoon for nearly three months. The voyage out usually occupied about 40 days. We are not informed of the extent of the Indian trade under the Ptolemies; but in the reign of Claudius, when the route through Aegypt to Mlalabar first became really known to the Romans, we have a detailed account of it in Pliny (6.23. s. 26). That writer calculated the worth of gold and silver sent yearly from Rome to the East at 400,000l. sterling, in exchange for which goods were received of at least four times the value of that amount, when sold again in Rome or Constantinople. The caravans went up the Nile as far as Coptos, whence they travelled through the desert for 7 or 8 days to Berenice or Myos-Hormos, and exchanged their gold for silk, spices, porcelain, and perfumes. A pound of silk was considered equivalent to a pound of gold. Philadelphus first opened the road between Coptos and Myos-Hormos. At first the caravans carried their water with them across the desert, and employed camels for the transport of merchandise. But afterwards caravansaries (σταθμοί) were built for the use of travellers; and wells were sunk and cisterns dug for the collection of rain water; although the supply of the latter must have been scanty and precarious, since rain in that latitude seldom falls.

The prosperity of Myos-Hormos as an emporium, however, seems to have been fluctuating, and it was finally supplanted as a depôt at least by Berenice, which, being lower down the Red Sea, was yet more convenient for the southern trade. That it was fluctuating may be inferred from the mention of it by the geographers. Agatharchides, who composed his work in the reign of Philometer (B.C. 180--145), in his account of the Indian trade, makes no mention of Berenice. Diodorus who wrote in the age of Augustus, speaks of Myos-Hormos, but not of its rival. Strabo, who was nearly contemporary with Diodorus, says that Berenice was merely a roadstead, where the Indian vessels took in their cargo, but that they lay in port at Myos-Hormos. Pliny, on the other hand, in his description of the voyage to India does not notice Myos-Hormos at all, and speaks of it incidentally only in his account of the W. coast of the Red Sea. Accordingly, in the reigns of Vespasian and Trajan it must have been on the decline.

There is one difficulty in the relations between these harbours--their distance from each other. According to the Periplus, Berenice was 1800 stadia, or 225 miles, from Myos-Hormos, and even this is under the mark, if Cape Ras-el-anf be the Lepte Promontorium of Ptolemy. As the pretext for founding either city was the superior convenience of each, as compared with Arsinoë (Suez), for the Indian trade, it seems strange that the ships should have been kept at Myos-Hormos, but the ladings taken in at Berenice. It is more reasonable to suppose that the latter became the principal emporium of the Indian traffic; and as that increased in importance, the port where it was principally carried on became the more frequented and opulent place of the two.

It is uncertain whether the ruins at the village of Abuschaar represent the site of the ancient Myos-Hormos.

[W.B.D]

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