During the Pharaonic times, Egyptians traded goods with other countries and the Egyptian government tried to control this trade and profit from it. Much of what the Egyptians needed they had in their own country, but wood, metals, and precious stones were imported from west Asian countries and incense, spices, and perfumes were imported from Nubia and Punt, which is probably present-day Somalia. Wheat and papyrus were produced in great supply and exported to other countries.
Egypt had control over most trade routes, and garrisons were stationed along them. Fortresses located at the borders had a significant effect on trade between Egypt and other neighboring nations. As for local trade within the country, the Egyptians used to travel across villages and cities, taking advantage of the easy transportation across the River Nile. Bridges constructed over the Nile and channels allowed pedestrians to pass over them. Donkeys, mules, and boats were the daily means of transportation by land and river. The horse-drawn carriages that existed during the New Kingdom were only owned and used by the elite. Since the Pharaonic times, local trade in Egypt had been based on markets, common places that merchants used to meet in for one day. Each city and village may have had a certain day on which people went to do their shopping.
Trade was by barter, a reasonably efficient method in which most basic necessities were exchanged. Even after coined money was introduced, barter continued to be widespread among the farming population for centuries.
At the end of the Pharaonic times, Greece had abundant silver mines that enabled the manufacture and usage of silver coins that became an international means of trade exchange. The Egyptian coins were made of gold with a drawing of a dancing horse on one face and a hieroglyphic writing that reads "good gold" on the other face. Silver coin mintage flourished during the Ptolemaic period; however, the first such coin dates back to Alexander the Great himself. The impact coined money had on the domestic economy and trade was probably small until Roman times, when European business practices, such as the paying of interest became mandatory, and hoarding of wealth became possible.
In the Ptolemaic era, Egypt became a great commercial center when the old channel connecting the Nile with the Gulf of Suez, made during the era of Senusert the Second, was reopened. Thus, Alexandria became an international sea port with a huge fleet of 20 marine vessels. Alexandria established effective business ties with the cities and ports located on the Mediterranean Sea. Oils, wool, glass, pottery, wines, and small pieces of art were the most important goods exported by Egypt during that period. Egypt was not only interested in exporting its own products, but it also imported many raw materials to be re-exported to the Mediterranean basin countries at higher prices.
With the noticeable trade flourishing at the north, there was a similar activity at the Red Sea, which was a main source for spices and ivory. This trade flourished after the discovery of the seasonal wind of the Indian Ocean by the Alexandrian trader, Hybalos, in the first century BC. Afterwards, merchants moved directly through the ocean passing between the outlet of the Red Sea and the mouth of the Sind River, instead of passing their vessels parallel to the Red Sea as people did during the Pharaonic times.
During the Late Period, international trade was dominated by the Phoenicians and the Greeks who founded colonies along the shores of the Mediterranean. After the foundation of Alexandria, this Hellenistic city became a center for the exchange of knowledge and merchandise for the whole Middle East. During the Roman times, trade became more freely practiced by individuals and no longer monopolized by government, except for certain strategic goods such as wheat and papyrus. The same situation lasted during the Muslim era as the Arabs were business people by nature; thus, merchants moved to the upper classes. The Arabs realized the commercial importance of Egypt as a meeting point between the east and west. This, in fact, urged them to make use of its location through paving roads and caring for ports. Omar Ibn El-Khattab reopened the channel coming from the north of Memphis to meet with the Red Sea, linking it with the Mediterranean Sea. It was then called "Khaleeg Amir Al-Momeneen."