The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians
Chapter VIII - Historical Literature
The historical period of Egyptian history, that is to say, the period during which Egypt was ruled by kings, each one calling himself Nesu-bati, or "King of the South, King of the North," covers about 4400 years according to some Egyptologists, and 3300 years according to others. Of the kings of All Egypt who reigned during the period we know the names of about two hundred, but only about one hundred and fifty have left behind them monuments that enable us to judge of their power and greatness.
There is no evidence to show that the Egyptians ever wrote history in our sense of the word, and there is not in existence any native work that can be regarded as a history of Egypt. The only known attempt in ancient times to write a history of Egypt was that made by Manetho, a skilled scribe and learned man, who, in the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (289-246 B.C.), undertook to write a history of the country, which was to be placed in the Great Library at Alexandria.
The only portion of this History that has come down to us is the List of Kings, which formed a section of it; this List, in a form more or less accurate, is extant in the works of Africanus and Eusebius. According to the former 553 or 554 kings ruled over Egypt in 5380 years, and according to the latter 421 or 423 kings ruled over Egypt in 4547 or 4939 years. It is quite certain that the principal acts and wars of each king were recorded by the court scribes, or official "remembrancer" or "recorder" of the day, and there is no doubt that such records were preserved in the "House of Books," or Library, of the local temple for reference if necessary.
If this were not so it would have been impossible for the scribes of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties to compile the lists of kings found on the Palermo Stone, and in the Turin Papyrus, and on the Tablets set up by Seti I and Rameses II at Abydos, and on the Tablet of Ancestors at Karnak. These Lists, however, seem to show that the learned scribes of the later period were not always sure of the true sequence of the names, and that when they were dealing with the names of the kings of the first two dynasties they were not always certain even about the correct spelling and reading of their names.
The reason why the Egyptians did not write the history of their country from a general point of view is easily explained.
Each king wished to be thought as great as possible, and each king's courtiers lost no opportunity of showing that they believed him to be the greatest king who had sat on the throne of Egypt. To magnify the deeds of his ancestors was neither politic nor safe, nor did it lead to favours or promotion.
In no inscription of their descendants do we find the mighty deeds and great conquests of Amenemhāt III, or of Usertsen III, or of Thothmes III, praised or described, and no court scribe ever dared to draft a text stating that these were truly three of the greatest kings of Egypt. When a local chief succeeded in making himself king of All Egypt he did not concern himself with preserving records of the great deeds of the king whose throne he had seized.
When foreign foes invaded Egypt and conquered it their followers raided the towns, burnt and destroyed all that could be got rid of, and smashed the monuments recording the prowess of the king they had overthrown. The net result of all this is that the history of Egypt can only be partially constructed, and that the sources of our information are a series of texts that were written to glorify individual kings, and not to describe the history of a dynasty, or the general development of the country, or the working out of a policy. In attempting to draw up a connected account of a reign or period the funerary inscriptions of high officials are often more useful than the royal inscriptions.
In the following pages are given extracts from annals, building inscriptions, narratives of conquests, and "triumph inscriptions" of an official character; specimens of the funerary inscriptions that describe military expeditions, and supply valuable information about the general history of events, will be given in the chapter on Biographical Inscriptions.
I. Extract from the Palermo Stone
The earliest known annals are found on a stone which is preserved in the Museum at Palermo, and which for this reason is called "The Palermo Stone"; the Egyptian text was first published by Signor A. Pellegrini in 1896. How the principal events of certain years of the reigns of kings from the Predynastic Period to the middle of the fifth dynasty are noted is shown by the following:
[Reign of] Seneferu. Year ...
The building of Tuataua ships of mer wood of a hundred capacity, and 60 royal boats of sixteen capacity.
Raid in the Land of the Blacks (i.e. the Sūdān), and the bringing in of seven thousand prisoners, men and women, and twenty thousand cattle, sheep, and goats.
Building of the Wall of the South and North [called] House of Seneferu.
The bringing of forty ships of cedar wood (or perhaps "laden with cedar wood").
[Height of the Nile.] Two cubits, two fingers.
[Reign of Seneferu.] Year ...
The making of thirty-five ... 122 cattle
The construction of one Tuataua ship of cedar wood of a hundred capacity, and two ships of mer wood of a hundred capacity.
The numbering for the seventh time.
[Height of the Nile.] Five cubits, one hand, one finger.
The royal historical inscriptions of the first eleven dynasties are very few, and their contents are meagre and unimportant. As specimens of historical documents of the twelfth dynasty the following may be quoted:
II. Edict against the Blacks
"The southern frontier in the eighth year under the Majesty of the King of the South and North, Khākaurā (Usertsen III), endowed with life for ever. No Black whatsoever shall be permitted to pass [this stone] going down stream, whether travelling by land or sailing in a boat, with cattle, asses, goats, &c., belonging to the Blacks, with the exception of such as cometh to do business in the country of Aqen or on an embassy. Such, however, shall be well entreated in every way. No boats belonging to the Blacks shall in future be permitted to pass down the river by the region of Heh."
III. Inscription of Usertsen III at Semnah
The methods of Usertsen III and his opinions of the Sūdānī folk are illustrated by the following inscription which he set up at Semnah, a fort built by him at the foot of the Second Cataract.
"In the third month of the season Pert His Majesty fixed the boundary of Egypt on the south at Heh (Semnah).
I made my boundary and went further up the river than my fathers.
I added greatly to it.
I give commands [therein].
I am the king, and what is said by me is done. What my heart conceiveth my hand bringeth to pass.
I am [like] the crocodile which seizeth, carrieth off, and destroyeth without mercy.
Words (or matters) do not remain dormant in my heart.
To the coward soft talk suggesteth longsuffering; this I give not to my enemies.
Him who attacketh me I attack.
I am silent in the matter that is for silence; I answer as the matter demandeth.
Silence after an attack maketh the heart of the enemy bold. The attack must be sudden like that of a crocodile.
The man who hesitateth is a coward, and a wretched creature is he who is defeated on his own territory and turned into a slave. The Black understandeth talk only. Speak to him and he falleth prostrate. He fleeth before a pursuer, and he pursueth only him that fleeth. The Blacks are not bold men; on the contrary, they are timid and weak, and their hearts are cowed. My Majesty hath seen them, and [what I say] is no lie.
"I seized their women, I carried off their workers in the fields, I came to their wells, I slew their bulls, I cut their corn and I burnt it. This I swear by the life of my father.
I speak the truth; there is no doubt about the matter, and that which cometh forth from my mouth cannot be gainsaid. Furthermore, every son of mine who shall keep intact this boundary which My Majesty hath made, is indeed my son; he is the son who protecteth his father, if he keep intact the boundary of him that begot him.
He who shall allow this boundary to be removed, and shall not fight for it, is not my son, and he hath not been begotten by me. Moreover, My Majesty hath caused to be made a statue of My Majesty on this my boundary, not only with the desire that ye should prosper thereby, but that ye should do battle for it."
IV. Campaign of Thothmes II in the Sūdān
The following extract illustrates the inscriptions in which the king describes an expedition into a hostile country which he has conducted with success. It is taken from an inscription of Thothmes II, which is cut in hieroglyphs on a rock by the side of the old road leading from Elephantine to Philæ, and is dated in the first year of the king's reign.
The opening lines enumerate the names and titles of the king, and proclaim his sovereignty over the Haunebu, or the dwellers in the northern Delta and on the sea coast, Upper and Lower Egypt, Nubia and the Eastern Desert, including Sinai, Syria, the lands of the Fenkhu, and the countries that lie to the south of the modern town of Khartum. The next section states:
"A messenger came in and saluted His Majesty and said: The vile people of Kash (i.e. Cush, Northern Nubia) are in revolt. The subjects of the Lord of the Two Lands (i.e. the King of Egypt) have become hostile to him, and they have begun to fight. The Egyptians [in Nubia] are driving down their cattle from the shelter of the stronghold which thy father Thothmes [I] built to keep back the tribes of the South and the tribes of the Eastern Desert."
The last part of the envoy's message seems to contain a statement that some of the Egyptians who had settled in Nubia had thrown in their lot with the Sūdānī folk who were in revolt. The text continues:
"When His Majesty heard these words he became furious like a panther (or leopard), and he said: I swear by Rā, who loveth me, and by my father Amen, king of the gods, lord of the thrones of the Two Lands, that I will not leave any male alive among them.
Then His Majesty sent a multitude of soldiers into Nubia, now this was his first war, to effect the overthrow of all those who had rebelled against the Lord of the Two Lands, and of all those who were disaffected towards His Majesty. And the soldiers of His Majesty arrived in the miserable land of Kash, and overthrew these savages, and according to the command of His Majesty they left no male alive, except one of the sons of the miserable Prince of Kash, who was carried away alive with some of their servants to the place where His Majesty was.
His Majesty took his seat on his throne, and when the prisoners whom his soldiers had captured were brought to him they were placed under the feet of the good god.
Their land was reduced to its former state of subjection, and the people rejoiced and their chiefs were glad. They ascribed praise to the Lord of the Two Lands, and they glorified the god for his divine beneficence.
This took place because of the bravery of His Majesty, whom his father Amen loved more than any other king of Egypt from the very beginning, the King of the South and North, Āakheperenrā, the son of Rā, Thothmes (II), whose crowns are glorious, endowed with life, stability, and serenity, like Rā for ever."
V. Capture of Megiddo by Thothmes III
The following is the official account of the Battle of Megiddo in Syria, which was won by Thothmes III in the twenty-third year of his reign. The narrative is taken from the Annals of Thothmes III. The king set out from Thebes and marched into Syria, and received the submission of several small towns, and having made his way with difficulty through the hilly region to the south of the city of Megiddo, he camped there to prepare for the battle.
"Then the tents of His Majesty were pitched, and orders were sent out to the whole army, saying, Arm yourselves, get your weapons ready, for we shall set out to do battle with the miserable enemy at daybreak. The king sat in his tent, the officers made their preparations, and the rations of the servants were provided.
The military sentries went about crying, Be firm of heart. Be firm of heart. Keep watch, keep watch. Keep watch over the life of the king in his tent. And a report was brought to His Majesty that the country was quiet, and that the foot soldiers of the south and north were ready.
On the twenty-first day of the first month of the season Shemu (March-April) of the twenty-third year of the reign of His Majesty, and the day of the festival of the new moon, which was also the anniversary of the king's coronation, at dawn, behold, the order was given to set the whole army in motion.
His Majesty set out in his chariot of silver-gold, and he had girded on himself the weapons of battle, like Horus the Slayer, the lord of might, and he was like unto Menthu [the War-god] of Thebes, and Amen his father gave strength to his arms.
The southern half of the army was stationed on a hill to the south of the stream Kīnā, and the northern half lay to the south-west of Megiddo; His Majesty was between them, and Amen was protecting him and giving strength to his body. His Majesty at the head of his army attacked his enemies, and broke their line, and when they saw that he was overwhelming them they broke and fled to Megiddo in a panic, leaving their horses and their gold and silver chariots on the field.
[The fugitives] were pulled up by the people over the walls into the city; now they let down their clothes by which to pull them up.
If the soldiers of His Majesty had not devoted themselves to securing loot of the enemy, they would have been able to capture the city of Megiddo at the moment when the vile foes from Kadesh and the vile foes from this city were being dragged up hurriedly over the walls into this city; for the terror of His Majesty had entered into them, and their arms dropped helplessly, and the serpent on his crown overthrew them.
Their horses and their chariots [which were decorated] with gold and silver were seized as spoil, and their mighty men of war lay stretched out dead upon the ground like fishes, and the conquering soldiers of His Majesty went about counting their shares.
And behold, the tent of the vile chief of the enemy, wherein was his son, was also captured. Then all the soldiers rejoiced greatly, and they glorified Amen, because he had made his son (i.e. the king) victorious on that day, and they praised His Majesty greatly, and acclaimed his triumph.
And they collected the loot which they had taken, viz. hands [cut off the dead], prisoners, horses, chariots [decorated with] gold and silver," etc.
In spite of the joy of the army Thothmes was angry with his troops for having failed to capture the city. Every rebel chief was in Megiddo, and its capture would have been worth more than the capture of a thousand other cities, for he could have slain all the rebel chiefs, and the revolt would have collapsed completely.
Thothmes then laid siege to the city, and he threw up a strong wall round about it, through which none might pass, and the daily progress of the siege was recorded on a leather roll, which was subsequently preserved in the temple of Amen at Thebes. After a time the chiefs in Megiddo left their city and advanced to the gate in the siege-wall and reported that they had come to tender their submission to His Majesty, and it was accepted.
They brought to him rich gifts of gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, wheat, wine, cattle, sheep, goats, &c., and he reappointed many of the penitent chiefs to their former towns as vassals of Egypt. Among the gifts were 340 prisoners, 83 hands, 2041 mares, 191 foals, 6 stallions, a royal chariot with a golden pole, a second royal chariot, 892 chariots, total 924 chariots; 2 royal coats of mail, 200 ordinary coats of mail, 502 bows, 7 tent poles inlaid with gold, 1929 cattle, 2000 goats, and 20,500 sheep.
VI. The Conquests of Thothmes III summarised by Amen-Rā, King of the Gods
The conquests of Thothmes III were indeed splendid achievements, and the scribes of his time summarised them very skilfully in a fine text which they had cut in hieroglyphs on a large stele at Karnak. The treatment is, of course, somewhat poetical, but there are enough historical facts underlying the statements to justify a rendering of it being given in this chapter. The text is supposed to be a speech of Amen-Rā, the lord of the thrones of the Two Lands, to the king. He says:
"Thou hast come to me, thou hast rejoiced in beholding my beneficence, O my son, my advocate, Menkheperrā, living for ever! I rise upon thee through my love for thee. My heart rejoiceth at thy auspicious comings to my temple. My hands knit together thy limbs with the fluid of life; sweet unto me are thy gracious acts towards my person.
I have stablished thee in my sanctuary. I have made thee to be a source of wonder [to men].
I have given unto thee strength and conquests over all lands.
I have set thy Souls and the fear of thee in all lands. The terror of thee hath penetrated to the four pillars of the sky.
I have made great the awe of thee in all bodies.
I have set the roar of Thy Majesty everywhere [in the lands of] the Nine Bows (i.e. Nubia). The Chiefs of all lands are grouped in a bunch within thy fist.
I put out my two hands; I tied them in a bundle for thee.
I collected the Antiu of Ta-sti in tens of thousands and thousands, and I made captives by the hundred thousand of the Northern Nations.
I have cast down thy foes under thy sandals, thou hast trampled upon the hateful and vile-hearted foes even as I commanded thee. The length and breadth of the earth are thine, and those who dwell in the East and the West are vassals unto thee. Thou hast trodden upon all countries, thy heart is expanded (i.e. glad). No one dareth to approach Thy Majesty with hostility, because I am thy guide to conduct thee to them.
Thou didst sail over the Great Circuit of water (the Euphrates) of Nehren (Aram Naharayim, or Mesopotamia) with strength and power.
I have commanded for thee that they should hear thy roarings, and run away into holes in the ground.
I stopped up their nostrils [shutting out] the breath of life.
I have set the victories of Thy Majesty in their minds.
The fiery serpent Khut which is on thy forehead burnt them up. It made thee to grasp as an easy prey the Ketu peoples, it burnt up the dwellers in their marshes with its fire. The Princes of the Āamu (Asiatics) have been slaughtered, not one of them remains, and the sons of the mighty men have fallen.
I have made thy mighty deeds to go throughout all lands, the serpent on my crown hath illumined thy territory, nothing that is an abomination unto thee existeth in all the wide heaven, and the people come bearing offerings upon their backs, bowing to the ground before Thy Majesty, in accordance with my decree.
I made impotent those who dared to attack thee, their hearts melted and their limbs quaked.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot the Chief of Tchah (Syria), I have cast them down under thy feet in all the lands, I have made them to behold Thy Majesty as the 'lord of beams' (i.e. the Sun-god), thou hast shone on their faces as the image of me.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot the people of Asia, thou hast led away captive the Chiefs of the Āamu of Retenu, I have made them to behold Thy Majesty arrayed in thy decorations, grasping the weapons for battle, [mounted] on thy chariot.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot the land of the East, thou hast trodden upon those who dwell in the districts of the Land of the God, I have made them to see thee as the brilliant star that shooteth out light and fire and scattereth its dew.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot the land of the West, Kefti (Phœnicia) and Asi (Cyprus) are in awe of thee. I have made them to see Thy Majesty as a young bull, steady-hearted, with horns ready to strike, invincible.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot those who are in their marshes, the Lands of Methen (Mitani) quake through their fear of thee. I have made them to see Thy Majesty as the crocodile, the lord of terror in the water, unassailable.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot those who dwell in the Islands, those who live in the Great Green (Mediterranean) hear thy roarings, I have made them to see Thy Majesty as the slayer when he mounteth on the back of his sacrificial animal.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot the Thehenu (Libyans), the Islands of the Uthentiu [have submitted to] the power of thy Souls. I have made them to see Thy Majesty as a savage lion, which hath scattered the dead bodies of the people throughout their valleys.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot the uttermost ends of the earth, the Circuit of the Great Circuit is in thy grasp, I have made them to see Thy Majesty as the hawk, which seizeth what it seeth when it pleaseth.
"I have come, making thee to trample upon those who are on their frontiers(?), thou hast smitten 'those on their sand' (i.e. the desert dwellers), making them living captives. I have made them to see Thy Majesty as a jackal of the south, moving fleetly and stealthily, and traversing the Two Lands.
"I have come, making thee to trample under foot the Antiu of Ta-sti, as far as ... they are in thy grasp. I have made them to see Thy Majesty as the Two Brothers (Set and Horus), I have gathered together their arms about thee with [strength].
"I have placed thy Two Sisters (Isis and Nephthys) near thee as protectresses for thee, the arms of Thy Majesty are [lifted] upwards to drive away evil. I have made thee strong and glorious, O my beloved Son, thou Mighty Bull, crowned in Thebes, begotten by me ..., Thothmes, the everliving, who hast performed for me all that my Ka wished. Thou hast set up my sanctuary with work that shall endure for ever, thou hast lengthened it and broadened it more than ever was done before. The great pylon ... Thou hast celebrated the festival of the beauties of Amen-Rā, thy monuments are greater than those of any king who hath existed, I commanded thee to do it. I am satisfied with it. I have stablished thee upon the throne of Horus for hundreds of thousands of years. Thou shalt guide life ..."
A Page of the Hieratic Text, from the Great Harris Papyrus
in the British Museum, describing the great Works carried out
by Rameses III about 1200 B.C.
VII. Summary of the Reign of Rameses III
The reign of Rameses III is remarkable in the annals of the New Empire, and the great works which this king carried out, and his princely benefactions to the temples of Egypt, are described at great length in his famous papyrus in the British Museum (Harris, No. 1, No. 9999). The last section of the papyrus contains an excellent historical summary of the reign of Rameses III, and as it is one of the finest examples of this class of literature a translation of it is here given.
The text is written in the hieratic character and reads:
King Usermaātrā-meri-Amen (Rameses III), life, strength, health [be to him!] the great god, said unto the princes, and the chiefs of the land, and the soldiers, and the charioteers, and the Shartanau soldiers, and the multitudes of the bowmen, and all those who lived in the land of Ta-mera (Egypt), Hearken ye, and I will cause you to know the splendid deeds which I did when I was king of men.
The land of Kamt was laid open to the foreigner, every man [was ejected] from his rightful holding, there was no "chief mouth" (i.e. ruler) for many years in olden times until the new period [came].
The land of Egypt [was divided among] chiefs and governors of towns, each one slew his neighbour. ... Another period followed with years of nothingness (famine?). Arsu, a certain Syrian, was with them as governor, he made the whole land to be one holding before him.
He collected his vassals, and mulcted them of their possessions heavily. They treated the gods as if they were men, and they offered up no propitiatory offerings in their temples. Now when the gods turned themselves back to peace, and to the restoration of what was right in the land, according to its accustomed and proper form, they established their son who proceeded from their body to be Governor, life, strength, health [be to him!], of every land, upon their great throne, namely, Userkhārā-setep-en-Amen-meri-Amen, life strength, health [be to him!], the son of Rā, Set-nekht-merr-Rā-meri-Amen, life, strength, health [be to him!].
He was like Khepra-Set when he is wroth.
He quieted the whole country which had been in rebellion.
He slew the evil-hearted ones who were in Ta-mera (Egypt).
He purified the great throne of Egypt.
He was the Governor, life, strength, health [be to him!], of the Two Lands, on the throne of Amen.
He made to appear the faces that had withdrawn themselves.
Of those who had been behind walls every man recognised his fellow.
He endowed the temples with offerings to offer as was right to the Nine Gods, according to use and wont.
He made me by a decree to be the Hereditary Chief in the seat of Keb.
I became the "Great High Mouth" of the lands of Egypt,
I directed the affairs of the whole land, which had been made one.
He set on his double horizon (i.e. he died) like the Nine Gods.
There was performed for him what was performed for Osiris; sailing in his royal boat on the river, and resting [finally] in his house of eternity (i.e. the tomb) in Western Thebes.
My father Amen, the lord of the gods, Rā, Tem, and Ptah of the Beautiful Face made me to be crowned lord of the Two Lands in the place of my begetter.
I received the rank of my father with cries of joy. The land had peace, being fed with offerings, and men rejoiced in seeing me, Governor, life, strength, health [be to him!], of the Two Lands, like Horus when he was made to be Governor of the Two Lands on the throne of Osiris.
I was crowned with the Atef crown with the serpents, I bound on the crown with plumes, like Tatenn.
I sat on the throne of Heru-Khuti (Harmakhis).
I was arrayed in the ornaments [of sovereignty] like Tem.
I made Ta-mera to possess many [different] kinds of men,
the officers of the palace,
the great chiefs,
large numbers of horse and chariot soldiers,
hundreds of thousands of them,
the Shartanau and the Qehequ, who were numberless,
soldiers of the bodyguard in tens of thousands,
and the peasants belonging to Ta-mera.
I enlarged all the frontiers of Egypt, I conquered those who crossed over them in their [own] lands.
I slaughtered the Tanauna in their islands; the Thakra and the Purastau were made into a holocaust. The Shartanau and the Uasheshu of the sea were made non-existent; they were seized [by me] at one time, and were brought as captives to Egypt, like the sand in the furrows.
I provided fortresses for them to dwell in, and they were kept in check by my name. Their companies were very numerous, like hundreds of thousands.
I assessed every one of them for taxes yearly, in apparel and wheat from the stores and granaries.
I crushed the Sāara and the tribes of the Shasu (nomad shepherds).
I carried off their tents from their men, and the equipment thereof, and their flocks and herds likewise, which were without number. They were put in fetters and brought along as captives, as offerings to Egypt, and I gave them to the Nine Gods as slaves for their temples.
Behold, I will also make you to know concerning the other schemes that have been carried out in Ta-mera during my reign. The Labu (Libyans) and the Mashuashau had made their dwelling in Egypt, for they had captured the towns on the west bank of the Nile from Hetkaptah (Memphis) to Qarabana.
They had occupied also both banks of the "Great River," and they had been in possession of the towns (or villages) of Kutut for very, very many years whilst they were [lords] over Egypt. Behold, I crushed them and slaughtered them at one time (i.e. in one engagement).
I overthrew the Mashuashau, the Libyans, the Asbatau, the Qaiqashau, the Shaiu, the Hasau, and the Baqanau.
[I] slaughtered them in their blood, and they became piles of dead bodies.
[Thus] I drove them away from marching over the border of Egypt. The rest of them I carried away, a vast multitude of prisoners, trussed like geese in front of my horses, their women and their children in tens of thousands, and their flocks and herds in hundreds of thousands.
I allotted to their chiefs fortresses, and they lived there under my name.
I made them officers of the bowmen, and captains of the tribes; they were branded with my name and became my slaves; their wives and their children were likewise turned into slaves. Their flocks and herds I brought into the House of Amen, and they became his live-stock for ever.
I made a very large well in the desert of Āina. It had a girdle wall like a mountain of basalt(?), with twenty buttresses(?) in the foundation [on] the ground, and its height was thirty cubits, and it had bastions. The frame-work and the doors were cut out of cedar, and the bolts thereof and their sockets were of copper.
I cut out large sea-going boats, with smaller boats before them, and they were manned with large crews, and large numbers of serving-men. With them were the officers of the bowmen of the boats, and there were trained captains and mates to inspect them.
They were loaded with the products of Egypt which were without number, and they were in very large numbers, like tens of thousands. These were despatched to the Great Sea of the water of Qett (i.e. the Red Sea), they arrived at the lands of Punt, no disaster followed them, and they were in an effective state and were awe-inspiring.
Both the large boats and the little boats were laden with the products of the Land of the God, and with all kinds of wonderful and mysterious things which are produced in those lands, and with vast quantities of the ānti (myrrh) of Punt, which was loaded on to them by tens of thousands [of measures] that were without number. The sons of the chief of the Land of the God went in front of their offerings, their faces towards Egypt.
They arrived and were sound and well at the mountain of Qebtit (Coptos), they moored their boats in peace, with the things which they had brought as offerings. To cross the desert they were loaded upon asses and on [the backs of] men, and they were [re]loaded into river-barges at the quay of Coptos.
They were despatched down the river, they arrived during a festival, and some of the most wonderful of the offerings were carried into the presence of [My Majesty]. The children of their chiefs adored my face, they smelt the earth before my face, and rolled on the ground.
I gave them to all the gods of this land to propitiate the two gods in front of me every morning.
I despatched my envoys to the desert of Āataka to the great copper workings that are in this place.
Their sea-going boats were laden with [some of] them, whilst those who went through the desert rode on asses. Such a thing as this was never heard of before, from the time when kings began to reign.
Their copper workings were found, and they were full of copper, and the metal was loaded by ten thousands [of measures] into their sea-going boats.
They were despatched with their faces towards Egypt, and they arrived safely. The metal was lifted out and piled up under the veranda in the form of blocks (or ingots) of copper, vast numbers of them, as it were tens of thousands.
They were in colour like gold of three refinings. I allowed everybody to see them, as they were wonderful things.
I despatched inspectors and overseers to the turquoise desert (i.e. Sinai) of my mother, the goddess Hathor, the lady of the turquoise.
[They] carried to her silver, gold, byssus, fine (?) linen, and many things as numerous as the sand-grains, and laid them before her. And there were brought unto me most wonderfully fine turquoises, real stones, in large numbers of bags, and laid out before me. The like had never been seen before—since kings began to reign.
I caused the whole country to be planted with groves of trees and with flowering shrubs, and I made the people to sit under the shade thereof.
I made it possible for an Egyptian woman to walk with a bold step to the place whither she wished to go; no strange man attacked her, and no one on the road.
I made the foot-soldiers and the charioteers sit down in my time, and the Shartanau and the Qehequ were in their towns lying at full length on their backs; they were unafraid, for there was no fighting man [to come] from Kash (Nubia), [and no] enemy from Syria.
Their wives were with them, [their] children were by their side; there was no need to keep their eyes looking about them, their hearts were bold, for I was with them as strength and protection for their bodies.
I kept alive (i.e. fed) the whole country, aliens, artisans, gentle and simple, men and women.
I delivered a man from his foe and I gave him air. I rescued him from the strong man, him who was more honourable than the strong man. I made all men to have their rightful positions in their towns. Some I made to live [taking them] in the very chamber of the Tuat. Where the land was bare I covered it over again; the land was well filled during my reign.
I performed deeds of beneficence towards the gods as well as towards men; I had no property that belonged to the people.
I served my office of king upon earth, as Governor of the Two Lands, and ye were slaves under my feet without [complaint ?]. Ye were satisfactory to my heart, as were your good actions, and ye performed my decrees and my words.
Behold, I have set in Akert (the Other World) like my father Rā.
I am among the Great Companies of the gods of heaven, earth, and the Tuat. Amen-Rā hath stablished my son upon my throne, he hath received my rank in peace, as Governor of the Two Lands, and he is sitting upon the throne of Horus as Lord of the Two Nile-banks.
He hath put on himself the Atef crown like Ta-Tenn, Usermaātrā-setep-en-Amen,
life, strength, health [be to him!],
the eldest-born son of Rā, the self-begotten, Rameses (IV)-heqmaāt-meri-Amen,
life, strength, health [be to him!],
the divine child, the son of Amen, who came forth from his body, rising as the Lord of the Two Lands, like Ta-Tenn.
He is like a real son, favoured for his father's sake.
Tie ye yourselves to his sandals.
Smell the earth before him.
Do homage to him.
Follow him at every moment.
Magnify his beneficent actions as ye do those of Rā every morning.
Present ye before him your offerings [in] his Great House (i.e. palace), which is holy.
Carry ye to him the "blessings" (?) of the [tilled] lands and the deserts.
Be strong to fulfil his words and the decrees that are uttered among you.
Follow (?) his utterances, and ye shall be safe under his Souls.
Work all together for him in every work.
Haul monuments for him, excavate canals for him, work for him in the work of your hands, and there will accrue unto you his favour as well as his food daily.
Amen hath decreed for him his sovereignty upon earth, he hath made this period of his life twice as long as that of any other king, the King of the South and North, the Lord of the Two Lands, Usermaātrā-setep-en-Amen, life, strength, health [be to him!], the son of Rā, the lord of crowns, Rameses (IV)-heqmaāt-meri-Amen, life, strength, health [be to him!], who is endowed with life for ever.
VIII. The Invasion and Conquest of Egypt by Piānkhi, King of Nubia
The text describing the invasion and conquest of Egypt by Piānkhi, King of Nubia, is cut in hieroglyphs upon a massive stone stele which was found among the ruins of Piānkhi's temple at Gebel Barkal, near the foot of the Fourth Cataract, and which is now preserved in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Although this composition does not belong to the best period of Egyptian Literature, it is a very fine work.
The narrative is vivid, and the aim of the writer was rather to state the facts of this splendid expedition than to heap up empty compliments on the king; both the subject-matter and the dress in which it appears are well worthy of reproduction in an English form.
The inscription is dated in the twenty-first year of Piānkhi's reign, and the king says:
"Hearken ye to [the account of] what I have done more than my ancestors. I am a king, the emanation of the god, the living offspring of the god Tem, who at birth was ordained the Governor whom princes were to fear."
His mother knew before his birth that he was to be the Governor, he the beneficent god, the beloved of the gods, the son of Rā who was made by his (the god's) hands, Piānkhi-meri-Amen. One came and reported to His Majesty that the great prince Tafnekht had taken possession of all the country on the west bank of the Nile in the Delta, from the swamps even to Athi-taui, that he had sailed up the river with a large force, that all the people on both sides of the river had attached themselves to him, and that all the princes and governors and heads of temple-towns had flocked to him, and that they were "about his feet like dogs."
No city had shut its gates before him, on the contrary, Mer-Tem, Per-sekhem-kheper-Rā, Het-neter-Sebek, Per-Metchet, Thekansh, and all the towns in the west had opened their gates to him. In the east Het-benu, Taiutchait, Het-suten, and Pernebtepahet had opened to him, and he had besieged Hensu (Herakleopolis) and closely invested it. He had enclosed it like a serpent with its tail in its mouth.
"Those who would come out he will not allow to come out, and those who would go in he will not allow to go in, by reason of the fighting that taketh place every day.
He hath thrown soldiers round about it everywhere."
Piānkhi listened to the report undismayed, and he smiled, for his heart was glad. Presently further reports of the uprising came, and the king learned that Nemart, another great prince, had joined his forces to those of Tafnekht. Nemart had thrown down the fortifications of Nefrus, he had laid waste his own town, and had thrown off his allegiance to Piānkhi completely.
Then Piānkhi sent orders to Puarma and Las(?)-mer-sekni, the Nubian generals stationed in Egypt, and told them to assemble the troops, to seize the territory of Hermopolis, to besiege the city itself, to seize all the people, and cattle, and the boats on the river, and to stop all the agricultural operations that were going on; these orders were obeyed.
At the same time he despatched a body of troops to Egypt, with careful instructions as to the way in which they were to fight, and he bade them remember that they were fighting under the protection of Amen. He added,
"When ye arrive at Thebes, opposite the Apts, go into the waters of the river and wash yourselves, then array yourselves in your finest apparel, unstring your bows, and lay down your spears. Let no chief imagine that he is as strong as the Lord of strength (i.e. Amen), for without him there is no strength.
The weak of arm he maketh strong of arm. Though the enemy be many they shall turn their backs in flight before the weak man, and one shall take captive a thousand.
Wet yourselves with the water of his altars, smell the earth before him, and say:
O make a way for us! Let us fight under the shadow of thy sword, for a child, if he be but sent forth by thee, shall vanquish multitudes when he attacketh."
Then the soldiers threw themselves flat on their faces before His Majesty, saying,
"Behold, thy name breedeth strength in us. Thy counsel guideth thy soldiers into port (i.e. to success). Thy bread is in our bodies on every road, thy beer quencheth our thirst. Behold, thy bravery hath given us strength, and at the mere mention of thy name there shall be victory.
The soldiers who are led by a coward cannot stand firm.
Who is like unto thee?
Thou art the mighty king who workest with thy hands, thou art a master of the operations of war."
"Then the soldiers set out on their journey, and they sailed down the river and arrived at Thebes, and they did everything according to His Majesty's commands. And again they set out, and they sailed down the river, and they met many large boats sailing up the river, and they were full of soldiers and sailors, and mighty captains from the North land, every one fully armed to fight, and the soldiers of His Majesty inflicted a great defeat on them; they killed a very large but unknown number, they captured the boats, made the soldiers prisoners, whom they brought alive to the place where His Majesty was."
This done they proceeded on their way to the region opposite Herakleopolis, to continue the battle. Again the soldiers of Piānkhi attacked the troops of the allies, and defeated and routed them utterly, and captured their boats on the river.
A large number of the enemy succeeded in escaping, and landed on the west bank of the river at Per-pek. At dawn these were attacked by Piānkhi's troops, who slew large numbers of them, and [captured] many horses; the remainder, utterly terror-stricken, fled northwards, carrying with them the news of the worst defeat which they had ever experienced.
Nemart, one of the rebel princes, fled up the river in a boat, and landed near the town of Un (Hermopolis), wherein he took refuge. The Nubians promptly beleaguered the town with such rigour that no one could go out of it or come in. Then they reported their action to Piānkhi, and when he had read their report, he growled like a panther, and said,
"Is it possible that they have permitted any of the Northmen to live and escape to tell the tale of his flight, and have not killed them to the very last man? I swear by my life, and by my love for Rā, and by the grace which Father Amen hath bestowed upon me, that I will myself sail down the river, and destroy what the enemy hath done, and I will make him to retreat from the fight for ever."
Piānkhi also declared his intention of stopping at Thebes on his way down the river, so that he might assist at the Festival of the New Year, and might look upon the face of the god Amen in his shrine at Karnak and, said he,
"After that I will make the Lands of the North to taste my fingers."
When the soldiers in Egypt heard of their lord's wrath, they attacked Per-Metchet (Oxyrrhynchus), and they "overran it like a water-flood"; a report of the success was sent to Piānkhi, but he was not satisfied. Then they attacked Ta-tehen (Tehnah?), which was filled with northern soldiers.
The Nubians built a tower with a battering ram and breached the walls, and they poured into the town and slew every one they found. Among the dead was the son of the rebel prince Tafnekht. This success was also reported to Piānkhi, but still he was not satisfied. Het-Benu was also captured, and still he was not satisfied.
In the middle of the summer Piānkhi left Napata (Gebel Barkal) and sailed down to Thebes, where he celebrated the New Year Festival. From there he went down the river to Un (Hermopolis), where he landed and mounted his war chariot; he was furiously angry because his troops had not destroyed the enemy utterly, and he growled at them like a panther. Having pitched his camp to the south-west of the city, he began to besiege it.
He threw up a mound round about the city, he built wooden stages on it which he filled with archers and slingers, and these succeeded in killing the people of the city daily.
After three days "the city stank," and envoys came bearing rich gifts to sue for peace. With the envoys came the wife of Nemart and her ladies, who cast themselves flat on their faces before the ladies of Piānkhi's palace, saying,
"We come to you, O ye royal wives, ye royal daughters, and royal sisters. Pacify ye for us Horus (i.e. the King), the Lord of the Palace, whose Souls are mighty, and whose word of truth is great."
A break of fifteen lines occurs in the text here, and the words that immediately follow the break indicate that Piānkhi is upbraiding Nemart for his folly and wickedness in destroying his country, wherein
"not a full-grown son is seen with his father, all the districts round about being filled with children."
Nemart acknowledged his folly, and then swore fealty to Piānkhi, promising to give him more gifts than any other prince in the country. Gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, copper, and precious stones of all kinds were then presented, and Nemart himself led a horse with his right hand, and held a sistrum made of gold and lapis-lazuli in his left.
Piānkhi then arose and went into the temple of Thoth, and offered up oxen, and calves, and geese to the god, and to the Eight Gods of the city. After this he went through Nemart's palace, and then visited the stables
"where the horses were, and the stalls of the young horses, and he perceived that they had been suffering from hunger.
And he said,
'I swear by my own life, and by the love which I have for Rā, who reneweth the breath of life in my nostrils, that, in my opinion, to have allowed my horses to suffer hunger is the worst of all the evil things which thou hast done in the perversity of thy heart.'"
A list was made of the goods that were handed over to Piānkhi, and a portion of them was reserved for the temple of Amen at Thebes.
"Homage to thee, Horus, mighty king, Bull, conqueror of bulls.
I was in a pit in hell. I was sunk deep in the depths of darkness, but now light shineth on me.
I had no friend in the evil day, and none to support me in the day of battle.
Thou only, O mighty king, who hast rolled away the darkness that was on me [art my friend]. Henceforward I am thy servant, and all my possessions are thine. The city of Hensu shall pay tribute to thee.
Thou art the image of Rā, and art the master of the imperishable stars.
He was a king, and thou art a king; he perished not, and thou shalt not perish."
From Hensu Piānkhi went down to the canal leading to the Fayyūm and to Illahūn and found the town gates shut in his face. The inhabitants, however, speedily changed their minds, and opened the gates to Piānkhi, who entered with his troops, and received tribute, and slew no one.
Town after town submitted as Piānkhi advanced northwards, and none barred his progress until he reached Memphis, the gates of which were shut fast. When Piānkhi saw this he sent a message to the Memphites, saying:
"Shut not your gates, and fight not in the city that hath belonged to Shu for ever.
He who wisheth to enter may do so, he who wisheth to come out may do so, and he who wisheth to travel about may do so.
I will make an offering to Ptah and the gods of White Wall (Memphis). I will perform the ceremonies of Seker in the Hidden Shrine.
I will look upon the god of his South Wall (i.e. Ptah), and I will sail down the river in peace.
No man of Memphis shall be harmed, not a child shall cry out in distress. Look at the homes of the South! None hath been slain except those who blasphemed the face of the god, and only the rebels have suffered at the block."
These pacific words of Piānkhi were not believed, and the people of Memphis not only kept their gates shut, but manned the city walls with soldiers, and they were foolish enough to slay a small company of Nubian artisans and boatmen whom they found on the quay of Memphis. Tafnekht, the rebel prince of Saīs, entered Memphis by night, and addressed eight thousand of his troops who were there, and encouraged them to resist Piānkhi.
He said to them:
"Memphis is filled with the bravest men of war in all the Northland, and its granaries are filled with wheat, barley, and grain of all kinds. The arsenal is full of weapons. A wall goeth round the city, and the great fort is as strong as the mason could make it.
The river floweth along the east side, and no attack can be made there. The byres are full of cattle, and the treasury is well filled with gold, silver, copper, apparel, incense, honey, and unguents....
Defend ye the city till I return."
Tafnekht mounted a horse and rode away to the north.
At daybreak Piānkhi went forth to reconnoitre, and he found that the waters of the Nile were lapping the city walls on the north side of the city, where the sailing craft were tied up. He also saw that the city was extremely well fortified, and that there was no means whereby he could effect an entrance into the city through the walls. Some of his officers advised him to throw up a mound of earth about the city, but this counsel was rejected angrily by Piānkhi, for he had thought out a simpler plan.
He ordered all his boats and barges to be taken to the quay of Memphis, with their bows towards the city wall; as the water lapped the foot of the wall, the boats were able to come quite close to it, and their bows were nearly on a level with the top of the wall. Then Piānkhi's men crowded into the boats, and, when the word of command was given, they jumped from the bows of the boats on to the wall, entered the houses built near it, and then poured into the city.
They rushed through the city like a waterflood, and large numbers of the natives were slain, and large numbers taken prisoners.
Next morning Piānkhi set guards over the temples to protect the property of the gods, then he went into the great temple of Ptah and reinstated the priests, and they purified the holy place with natron and incense, and offered up many offerings. When the report of the capture of Memphis spread abroad, numerous local chiefs came to Piānkhi, and did homage, and gave him tribute.
From Memphis he passed over to the east bank of the Nile to make an offering to Temu of Heliopolis. He bathed his face in the water of the famous "Fountain of the Sun," he offered white bulls to Rā at Shaiqaem-Anu, and he went into the great temple of the Sun-god. The chief priest welcomed him and blessed him;
"he performed the ceremonies of the Tuat chamber, he girded on the seteb garment, he censed himself, he was sprinkled with holy water, and he offered (?) flowers in the chamber in which the stone, wherein the spirit of the Sun-god abode at certain times, was preserved.
He went up the step leading to the shrine to look upon Rā, and stood there. He broke the seal, unbolted and opened the doors of the shrine, and looked upon Father Rā in Het-benben.
He paid adoration to the two Boats of Rā. (Mātet and Sektet), and then closed the doors of the shrine and sealed them with his own seal."
Piānkhi returned to the west bank of the Nile, and pitched his camp at Kaheni, whither came a number of princes to tender their submission and offer gifts to him. After a time it was reported to Piānkhi that Tafnekht, the head of the rebellion, had laid waste his town, burnt his treasury and his boats, and had entrenched himself at Mest with the remainder of his army. Thereupon Piānkhi sent troops to Mest, and they slew all its inhabitants. Then Tafnekht sent an envoy to Piānkhi asking for peace, and he said,
"Be at peace [with me].
I have not seen thy face during the days of shame.
Thou didst not find thy servant in any town towards which thou hast turned thy face.
I went as far as the swamps of the Great Green (i.e. the Mediterranean), because I was afraid of thy Souls, and because thy word is a fire that worketh evil for me. Is not the heart of Thy Majesty cooled by reason of what thou hast done unto me?
Behold, I am indeed a most wretched man. Punish me not according to my abominable deeds, weigh them not in a balance as against weights; thy punishment of me is already threefold. Leave the seed, and thou shalt find it again in due season. Dig not up the young root which is about to put forth shoots.
Thy Ka and the terror of thee are in my body, and the fear of thee is in my bones.
I have not sat in the house of drinking beer, and no one hath brought to me the harp.
I have only eaten the bread which hunger demanded, and I have only drunk the water needed [to slake] my thirst. From the day in which thou didst hear my name misery hath been in my bones, and my head hath lost its hair.
My apparel shall be rags until Neith is at peace with me.
Thou hast brought on me the full weight of misery;
O turn thou thy face towards me, for, behold, this year hath separated my Ka from me.
Purge thy servant of his rebellion. Let my goods be received into thy treasury, gold, precious stones of all kinds, and the finest of my horses, and let these be my indemnity to thee for everything.
I beseech thee to send an envoy to me quickly, so that he may make an end of the fear that is in my heart. Verily I will go into the temple, and in his presence I will purge myself, and swear an oath of allegiance to thee by the God."
And Piānkhi sent to him General Puarma and General Petamennebnesttaui, and Tafnekht loaded them with gold, and silver, and raiment, and precious stones, and he went into the temple and took an oath by the God that he would never again disobey the king, or make war on a neighbour, or invade his territory without Piānkhi's knowledge. So Piānkhi was satisfied and forgave him. After this the town of Crocodilopolis tendered its submission, and Piānkhi was master of all Egypt.
Then two Governors of the South and two Governors of the North came and smelt the ground before Piānkhi, and these were followed by all the kings and princes of the North, "and their legs were [weak] like those of women."
As they were uncircumcised and were eaters of fish they could not enter the king's palace; only one, Nemart, who was ceremonially pure, entered the palace.
Piānkhi was now tired of conquests, and he had all the loot which he had collected loaded on his barges, together with goods from Syria and the Land of the God, and he sailed up the river towards Nubia. The people on both banks rejoiced at the sight of His Majesty, and they sang hymns of praise to him as he journeyed southwards, and acclaimed him as the Conqueror of Egypt.
They also invoked blessings on his father and mother, and wished him long life. When he returned to Gebel Barkal (Napata) he had the account of his invasion and conquest of Egypt cut upon a large grey granite stele about 6 feet high and 4 feet 8 inches wide, and set up in his temple, among the ruins of which it was discovered accidentally by an Egyptian officer who was serving in the Egyptian Sūdān in 1862.
Footnotes / commentary:
This district has not been identified.
The district of Semnah and Kummah, about 40 miles south of Wādī Halfah.
The natives of the Eastern Desert of Nubia.
Perhaps the district of Canopus.
i.e. the part at the Red Sea end of the Valley of Hammāmāt.
The sick and needy who were at death's door.
A fortress a few miles south of Memphis.
i.e. the temples of Karnak and Luxor.
The son of Khepera, or Tem, or Nebertcher.
The war-god of Ombos in Upper Egypt.
The war-god of Hermonthis in Upper Epypt.
The chief goddess of Saïs, the city of Tafnekht.
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