The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (Part 4): Opone

From Pano, the Periplus continues to the last Barbaria ( Somali) port mentioned: Opone.

Beyond Tabae, after four hundred stadia, there is the village of Pano. And then, after sailing four hundred stadia along a promontory, toward which place the current also draws you, there is another market-town called Opone, into which the same things are imported as those already mentioned, and in it the greatest quantity of cinnamon is produced, (the arebo and moto ), and slaves of the better sort, which are brought to Egypt in increasing numbers; and a great quantity of tortoise-shell, better than that found elsewhere.

The voyage to all these far-side market-towns is made from Egypt about the month of July, that is Epiphi. And ships are also customarily fitted out from the places across this sea, from Ariaca and Barygaza, bringing to these far-side market-towns the products of their own places; wheat, rice, clarified butter, sesame oil, cotton cloth, (the monache and the sagmatogene), and girdles, and honey from the reed called sacchari.

Some make the voyage especially to these market-towns, and others exchange their cargoes while sailing along the coast. This country is not subject to a King, but each market-town is ruled by its separate chief.

Opone is one of the few ports that is well-known and can be identified with absolute certainty. There is universal agreement that Opone is modern-day Hafun, a town on the southern side of the Ras Hafun peninsula. The peninsula protects the bay from the northeastern monsoon.

Investigations by the British Institute in Eastern Africa revealed two principal periods of activity: the 1st century BC and the 3rd-5th centuries AD and archaeological evidence brought to light ancient remains dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

In the vicinity of the settlement site are a number of very low eroded rectangular structures about 10 m square; these proved to be a tomb. Excavation of two revealed a long narrow grave, north-to-south, each with a glazed jar at the northern end, one of these containing a glass bowl.

Pottery found in the grave sites were “likely to be of late Parthian origin”. Due to its strategic location, there was a time when the merchants of Egypt, Greece and Rome used to meet those of India in the port of Hafun. Indian ceramics found at Ras Hafun were dated to the 2nd-3rd centuries A.D.

It’s clear that Hafun was an early maritime trading settlement but in his translation of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, historian G.W.B. Huntingford claimed that Opone was the location of the Land of Punt. He asserted that the name Opone was preserved from ancient times and “descended from the ancient Egyptian name for the region, Pun-t”, while Austrian explorer Eduard Glaser found a connection between the names Pano and Opone, the Egyptian ‘”Land of Punt”, the island Pa-anch of the ancient Egyptians (Socotra), the incense-land Panchaia of Virgil and the Puni or Phoenicians.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Have something to say? Leave your comments, questions, or suggestions below.