Egypt Through The Stereoscope

A Journey Through The Land Of The Pharaohs

by James Henry Breasted | 1908 | 103,705 words

Examines how stereographs were used as a means of virtual travel. Focuses on James Henry Breasted's "Egypt through the Stereoscope" (1905, 1908). Provides context for resources in the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA). Part 3 of a 4 part course called "History through the Stereoscope."...

Position 79 - Scenes Of Battle And The Chase On The Wall Of Ramses Iii's Temple, Medinet Habu, Thebes

This is the massive side wall of the temple, enclosing the second court. Over its hollow cornice you can see the back of the first pylon (Plan 15); it was just below its further corner, outside of the court on the other side of the temple, that we viewed the bull hunt just now. We are looking almost southward and Der el-Bahri and the tombs of Shekh Abd el-Kurna are behind us, while the river and Karnak are on the left.

How marvelously preserved is this temple wall compared with the walls which we have seen at Karnak. Even the top stones of the cornice are still all in place, and the reliefs have only lost the bright colors which once brought them out with clearness and vigor. We can here gain an idea of the finished appearance of the ancient temples, as well as of the succession of great events, which found record on the temple walls as they advanced from year to year.

As we stand, the rear of the temple is at the right and the front at the left; we are looking at the middle portion of the wall, so that the early war of the king's fifth year is out of our field on the right, the scenes before us are of the year eight, and out of range on the left are those of the year twelve. The king's wars thus progress from right to left, as we pass from the rear to the front.

At the top of the wall, in hieroglyphs over two feet high, is a long inscription reciting the power and might of the Pharaoh, and below this are exploits which justify this laudation. You see the king's grooms over the door holding the royal horses. The chariot to which they are harnessed is empty and idle, but the usual occupant is far from idle. Do you observe him standing just behind the chariot, a heroic figure towering above all his attendants as with drawn bow he discharges a hail of arrows among the foe? The latter you can hardly discern, but they are of the greatest interest; for that apparently bare space before the king and his companions is occupied by a mass of struggling ships, forming the earliest known representation of a naval battle.

From here you can make out the forms of the ships, looking like new moons, and one on a level with the king's feet and to the left is especially clear. The enemy who are thus attacking the king's fleet are called “people of the sea” in the inscriptions, and one tribe who were defeated, either at this time or later, settled on the southern coast of Palestine and became the Philistines of Hebrew times. They are Cretans.

Others are Sardinians and Etruscans, whom we find for the first time on historical monuments here. Ramses III has already defeated their land forces and is now assisting in the destruction of their fleet. The “people of the sea” from Asia Minor and the Mediterranean islands constituted one of the gravest dangers that ever threatened Egypt. Their invasion was successfully met and turned back by Ramses III, and we may pardon the pride with which he has immortalized the deed upon this temple wall.

On the right of the door we see him in his chariot engaged in a lion hunt, a diversion in which he evidently indulged himself on this campaign, for it is depicted among the scenes of the war with the “peoples of the sea.” One lion, rolling upon his back, is breathing his last, while another, bristling with arrows, flees into the thicket, closely pursued by the king. Each of the numerous reliefs in this temple is accompanied by inscriptions telling who the enemy are, sometimes where the battle took place, and often exactly how many of the enemy were killed and taken prisoner.

This temple of King Ramses III forms the most complete historical record of a king's reign which has survived to us from this ancient people, for it was the work of one king and not a slow growth through many centuries like the temple at Karnak. But it is the last great monument of the native kings, and it likewise records the last great victories of the Theban Pharaohs. From now on Thebes is distinctly on the decline, and the seat of power is in the north, which we have left behind us, in the Delta, where the Libyans are henceforth gradually gaining the upper hand.

We have seen how the expanding halls of Karnak expressed the increasing power of the conquering Pharaohs, but here at Medinet Habu we see Thebes already entering the decline which left her the desolate ruin which we have found her.

We proceed now up the Nile to the ruins of the ancient city of E1 Kab. Turn to our general Map of Egypt, Map 3, and you find this city nearly fifty miles south of Thebes, on the eastern bank of the Nile. The red lines numbered 80 there show that we are to look southwest over the city and the river.

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