This article discusses some of the results of the fieldwork which has been carried out since 1994 by Liverpool University at the site of Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham (Mersa Matruh). In particular it concentrates on how the epigraphic and archaeological evidence recovered from this Ramesside fortress-town has produced new insights into Egypto-Libyan relations, and especially how Egypt operated its short-lived imperial administration of the Marmarican coast during the Late Bronze Age. Egyptian inscriptional evidence from the fortress names the specific Libyan groups against which it was directed, while adding to the debate regarding the areas of operation of these groups by locating itself within “Tjemeh-Land”. Both inscriptional and archaeological evidence indicate that Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham was intended to be, and became, a major fortress-town like those known from Egypt's Nubian and Levantine empire. Evidence for food-processing and the production of linen cloth makes it clear that Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham was largely self-sufficient rather than being reliant on supplies from the Nile Valley. However, this self-sufficiency could only be maintained with the goodwill of local Libyan groups, suggesting some level of economic symbiosis between those groups and the fortress' garrison. On a wider level, the desire to protect Egyptian economic interests, in particular international maritime trade routes, was undoubtedly a major factor behind the construction of this (and other) fortresses on the Mediterranean coast during the reign of Ramesses II.
Finds of significant quantities of foreign (Canaanite, Aegean, Cypriote) material at Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham are a clear indicator of this role, while it is suggested that the Libyan groups against whom this trade route needed to be protected were not the ‘local’ Tjehenu and Tjemeh Libyans but the newly-appeared Meshwesh and Libu.