Canal of the Pa-Heru

Canals for Shipping in ancient EgyptCanal of the Pharaohs

The Canal of the Pharaohs, also called the Ancient Suez Canal or Necho’s Canal, is the forerunner of the Suez Canal, constructed in ancient times. It followed a different course than its modern counterpart, by linking the Nile to the Red Sea via the Wadi Tumilat. The canal was again constructed under Nekau (Necho II), in the late 6th century BCE.

In the second half of the 19th century CE, French cartographers discovered the remnants of the north–south section of Darius Canal past the east side of Lake Timsah and ending near the north end of the Great Bitter Lake. Work began under the Pharaohs, but according to the later Suez Inscriptions and Herodotus, the first opening of the canal was under Persian king Darius.

Darius’ Suez Inscriptions comprise five Egyptian monuments, including the Chalouf Stele, commemorate the construction and completion of the canal linking the Nile River with the Red Sea. They were located along the Darius Canal through the valley of Wadi Tumilat and probably recorded sections of the canal as well. It is believed that Persian Darius may have claimed the canal and simply re-opened it.

The best preserved of these monuments was a stele of pink granite, which was discovered by Charles de Lesseps in 1866, 30 kilometers from Suez near Kabret in Egypt. It was erected by Darius the king of the Achaemenid Empire (or Persia), whose reign lasted from 522 BCE to 486 BCE. The monument, also known as the Chalouf stele (Shaluf Stele), records the construction of a forerunner of the modern Suez Canal, connecting the easternmost, Bubastite, branch of the Nile with Lake Timsah which was connected to the Red Sea by natural waterways.

King Sesostris III Greek writers have been suggested that perhaps as early as the 12th Dynasty, Pharaoh Senusret III (1878 BCE–1839 BCE), (more wrongly) called Sesostris by them, may have started the construction of the canal joining the River Nile with the Red Sea. In his Meteorology, Aristotle wrote:

One of their kings tried to make a canal to it (for it would have been of no little advantage to them for the whole region to have become navigable; Sesostris is said to have been the first of the ancient kings to try), but he found that the sea was higher than the land. So he first, and Darius afterwards, stopped making the canal, lest the sea should mix with the river water and spoil it.

Strabo also wrote that Sesostris started to build a canal, and Pliny the Elder wrote:

165. Next comes the Tyro tribe and, on the Red Sea, the harbour of the Daneoi, from which Sesostris, king of Egypt, intended to carry a ship-canal to where the Nile flows into what is known as the Delta; this is a distance of over 60 miles. Later the Persian king Darius had the same idea, and yet again Ptolemy II, who made a trench 100 feet wide, 30 feet deep and about 35 miles long, as far as the Bitter Lakes.

Diodorus Siculus does not mention a completion of the canal by Necho II, instead he reports that it was completed by Ptolemy II after being fitted with a lock.

Islamic texts also discuss the canal, which they say had been silted up by the seventh century but reopened in 641 or 642 CE by ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, the conqueror of Egypt, and which was in use until closed in 767 CE in order to stop supplies reaching Mecca and Medina which were in rebellion.

Thereafter, the land routes to tranship camel caravans’ goods were from Alexandria to ports on the Red Sea or the northern Byzantine silk route through the Caucasian Mountains transhipping on the Caspian Sea and thence to India.

During his Egyptian expedition, Napoleon found the canal in 1799.

See: Wikipedia,


2 comments on “Canal of the Pa-Heru

  1. I love your history posts. It seems to me we should have studied this stuff in school.

  2. Thanks Stuart. They were too busy teaching us their world started in Greece and Rome.

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