The sun of a hot midsummer-day had risen on Naukratis. The Nile had already begun to overflow its banks, and the fields and gardens of the Egyptians were covered with water.
The harbor was crowded with craft of all kinds. Egyptian vessels were there, manned by Phoenician colonists from the coasts of the Delta, and bringing fine woven goods from Malta, metals and precious stones from Sardinia, wine and copper from Cyprus. Greek triremes laden with oil, wine and mastic-wood; metal-work and woollen wares from Chalcis, Phoenician and Syrian craft with gaily-colored sails, and freighted with cargoes of purple stuffs, gems, spices, glass-work, carpets and cedar-trees,—used in Egypt, where wood was very scarce, for building purposes, and taking back gold, ivory, ebony, brightly-plumaged tropical birds, precious stones and black slaves,—the treasures of Ethiopia; but more especially the far-famed Egyptian corn, Memphian chariots, lace from Sais, and the finer sorts of papyrus. The time when commerce was carried on merely by barter was now, however, long past, and the merchants of Naukratis not seldom paid for their goods in gold coin and carefully-weighed silver.
Large warehouses stood round the harbor of this Greek colony, and slightly-built dwelling-houses, into which the idle mariners were lured by the sounds of music and laughter, and the glances and voices of painted and rouged damsels. Slaves, both white and colored, rowers and steersmen, in various costumes, were hurrying hither and thither, while the ships’ captains, either dressed in the Greek fashion or in Phoenician garments of the most glaring colors, were shouting orders to their crews and delivering up their cargoes to the merchants. Whenever a dispute arose, the Egyptian police with their long staves, and the Greek warders of the harbor were quickly at hand. The latter were appointed by the elders of the merchant-body in this Milesian colony.
The port was getting empty now, for the hour at which the market opened was near, and none of the free Greeks cared to be absent from the market-place then. This time, however, not a few remained behind, curiously watching a beautifully-built Samian ship, the Okeia, with a long prow like a swan’s neck, on the front of which a likeness of the goddess Hera was conspicuous. It was discharging its cargo, but the public attention was more particularly attracted by three handsome youths, in the dress of Lydian officers, who left the ship, followed by a number of slaves carrying chests and packages.
The handsomest of the three travellers, in whom of course our readers recognize their three young friends, Darius, Bartja and Zopyrus, spoke to one of the harbor police and asked for the house of Theopompus the Milesian, to whom they were bound on a visit.
Polite and ready to do a service, like all the Greeks, the police functionary at once led the way across the market-place,—where the opening of business had just been announced by the sound of a bell,—to a handsome house, the property of the Milesian, Theopompus, one of the most important and respected men in Naukratis.