Sunnu/Swenet (also called Sunet, Sunu, Syene, or Aswan) is named after the word for "trade". It has been called the first town of Kemet (Egypt) because it is just north of the frontier at Biga Island in the first cataract.
The region is known for its granite. Swenet has granite quarries to the east and south of Swenet (Aswan). The best granite is red but it can also be grey, black, or blue.
In pre-dynastic times, Swenet (Aswan) was inhabited by the people of Ta Nehesy (Nubia, A-Group). During the 1st Dynasty, the kings of Kemet built a fortress on Abu (Elephantine) Island and Kemet began to control the Nile valley to the First Cataract. The people of the region turned their eyes from the south to the north.
Kings have been building their rock cut tombs since the Old Kingdom. One of the many royal building projects was left uncompleted. There is an unfinished obelisk nearby. There is also a lot of graffiti in the granite rocks. The area has been heavily rebuilt over time.
During this time of the Rameses kings, most of the granite used in the temples and major buildings of Kemet comes from the Swenet region. The farmers work the quarries while the Nile floods their fields. If it were not for the kings and their building projects, the farmers would have nothing to eat while their fields lie underwater. Laborers work 8 hours a day and follow a ten day week. On the tenth day, food is distributed and there is a time of rest. Slaves, prisoners of war, and criminals are also "sent to the granite". Fine sculptors and craftsmen also went to Swenet to sculpt the finer details of an obelisk, etc.
(Note: Later, in Ptolemaic times, a temple was built to Isis at Aswan).
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Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt, John Baines and Jaromir Malek, New York: Checkmark Books/ Facts on File, 2000.
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Ramses II: Magnificence on the Nile, Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1993
Last updated November 30, 2009