Egypt Under the Pharaohs
THE history of Egypt can never be fully known, although its memorials are more numerous and more profoundly interesting than the remains of any other ancient civilization. No other people ever took such pains to perpetuate their annals. Every one of their temples and colossal sculptures, as well as their eternal pyramids, seems to have been designed to preserve the name of a Pharaoh and the events of his reign. Mounds of stones along the Nile and by its old and deserted channels in the Delta designate the sites of dead and forgotten cities ; and every column and pedestal and fragment of wall still bears the indestructible characters which tell of the pride and power of some successor of Amon-ra.
Many of the ancient peoples have left behind them but slight vestiges of their occupancy. The nomadic races especially, like their flocks and herds, only browsed the annual herbage, and then, leaving the earth unscarred and nature’s landmarks undisturbed, vanished into the darkness. The Egyptian bent nature to his will. He left his mark upon the splintered crags of mountains; he changed the course of the great river, and defended his rich, black valley from the Libyan sands.
The ruins of Egypt, beyond all others on the planet, show grandeur of design with adequate skill and boundless energy in execution. To an Egyptian architect nothing was impossible. We are not losing sight of the works of the Greeks ; but the art and architecture of that lively and accomplished people have been so long domesticated in modern life and blended with modern thought that they give us an impression of elegance and proportion, of refined and tranquil beauty, but never the sense of sublimity. The central idea in Egypt was an all-compelling power, finding expression in original and tremendous forms. The Hall of Columns at Karnak and the gigantic twin statues of Amen-hotep III. are instances of the purely sublime.
It was wonderful that the picturewriting served both for history and for ornament. The inscriptions on temple walls and on shafts of stone seem to be a complement to the architecture, an efflorescence of beauty. And among the lonely mountains from which the huge blocks were quarried may still be seen on the faces of the cliffs the cartouches of Pharaohs, the memoranda of architects, and the mots of jesters. It was as if all Egypt, in every reign, had been chiseling the memorials for history. The broad-based pyramid, that lifted its head so high above the toilers in the valley, was the symbol of Khufu, or Khafra, or Menkaura. Every new temple commemorated an expedition to Syria, or Mesopotamia, or “ the miserable land of Kush.” Every obelisk and statue stood for a hero. So these fragments of dead cities still remain for us sermons in stones.
The vast cemeteries underneath and around the impressive ruins are also full of memorials. In the lapse of ages the under-world became incredibly populous; and we find the warrior, priest, astronomer, architect, or poet sleeping in an “ everlasting habitation,” on whose walls are depicted in still lively colors his name and family, his public services and private life, and the principal events of his time. In the cerements of his embalmed body were laid away (as if to gratify the eager curiosity of after-ages) similar records traced on leaves of papyrus, as well as copies from the hoary litanies of the gods. Never was there a people with such an overpowering desire for immortality. Their buildings were to be the landmarks of their history ; their bodies they strove to secure from corruption, as well as from insult; and they pleased themselves with an endless vista of the life to come, after passing the ordeal before Osiris, the judge of all.
In the long interval since Menes (properly Mena), some fifty centuries before our Christian era, there have been many vicissitudes. War has been the chief destructive agency in the Nile Valley, although brutal ignorance, cupidity, and fanaticism have done much. Sometimes a victorious flotilla came down from the black kingdoms above Elephantine, and left its ugly marks on the populous shores. Sometimes the Shasu, the Bedouins of antiquity, dashed through the line of fortresses on the east, across the isthmus. Sometimes, in return for an Egyptian excursion into the home of the Khita, there came an Assyrian or a Persian invasion, attended, of course, by the overthrow of public edifices, and by the effacement of the most venerable inscriptions. Sometimes rival kings in the upper and lower country, above and below Memphis, made havoc over the disputed boundary. But of all despoilers the followers of Mohammed have been the worst. Such blind bigots could have no soul for the grandeur of antiquity, and no interest in the early records of civilization. The zeal for destruction has been ceaseless and insatiable. The exquisitely wrought marbles and porphyries of the elder world have been built into tasteless palaces and mosques. Cairo is but a huge mosaic, for which every noble monument of ancient art has contributed a priceless stone.
The sands, too, have been slowly covering some of the most characteristic remains. M. Mariette, following upon a hint in Herodotus, uncovered an avenue bordered by a hundred and fifty sphinxes, which had been buried under sand from twenty to seventy feet deep. If the sands could be cleared away, and if all the multitudes of ruins could be studied by competent archæologists, with ample resources at command, there would be, probably, few important gaps in the history that could be constructed from the monuments.
Since the time when Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphics, many valuable discoveries have been made. The labors of Lepsius, Wilkinson, Rougé, and Mariette are known to all who have given any attention to this most fascinating subject. The discoveries of the last-named and justly celebrated savant are perhaps of greater extent and value than those of any other modern explorer; but it frequently happens in archæology, as in natural science, that after the eager observers have collected a great number of facts in detail, another of a more reflective turn coördinates them into the certainty of knowledge, or places them in the assured sequences of history.
One of the coördinating minds is found in Dr. Henry Brugsch-Bey, the author of the work now under consideration. Having spent nearly thirty years in exploration and in the study of inscriptions, with the active aid of the Khedive’s government, Dr. Brugsch has become doubtless the first living authority on the subject. He, above all others, seems to give life and fluency to the obscure and inflexible symbols of ancient thought. Readers do not need to be told that while equivalents in contemporary languages come to the translator almost without thought, there is a great gulf between the mental processes of the ancient and the modern world. In a very high sense of the word Dr. Brugsch is an interpreter, and succeeds in representing the formal and severe hieratic symbols in bright and smoothly connected phrases. But this facile grace is one of his minor qualifications. His work shows that he has ample historical and philological knowledge ; and his perception of the necessary order of events, the development of ideas, the growth of institutions, and all that makes the continuity of a nation’s life seems more like the operation of a marvelous instinct, than the result of a process of reasoning. He has undertaken to construct, as completely as is now possible, a history of the Egyptian dynasties from Meues to Alexander the Great, based upon the monumental inscriptions and upon the few historical papyri. To be sure, he uses as illustrations the remains of the tables of Manetho ; also the accounts of Herodotus, Diodorus, and other Greek writers; but his reliance is upon the contemporary records graven in imperishable stone.
It would be with extreme diffidence that we should attempt to criticise the results of these vast labors, guided by such intelligence and such devotion to truth. The most striking characteristics of our author, after his industry and breadth of understanding, are his sense of justice and the high and delicate tone of moderation shown in his statements and in his far-reaching deductions. In the presence of the awful mystery of monumental Egypt, there is great temptation to extravagance; the imagination kindles at the thought of the long ages of human life, until the faculties are better fitted to rhapsodize than to attend to the delivery of a calm judgment. But Dr. Brugsch is so careful, so self-contained, so free from bias, that he soon gains the reader’s entire confidence.
Probably the most worthy tribute to the author, and the most desirable thing for the reader, will be, in lieu of comments or speculations of our own, to present a compact summary of the most striking portions of his work.
Perhaps the learned reader will pardon us for stating that the cartouches of the Pharaohs, first discovered and so named by Champollion, have been of the utmost importance in fixing dates, and in other respects. The cartouches might be considered as royal coats of arms. Each monarch had his own, and it was chiseled or painted upon all the public works of his reign. At first it was a simple oval, or rounded parallelogram, inclosing representations of birds and animals, and other signs. As time went by, some renowned king would require two or more ovals to contain the symbols of his dignity. The cartouche of the warrior King Aahmes has three ovals; that of Thutmes IV. has four; while six were necessary for the great Ramses.
The names to which we are accustomed are not Egyptian, but Greek. The Nile valley was known to its inhabitants only as Kham, Khem, or Khemi, “ the black land.” Arabia was Teschen, “ the red land.” The first great capital was, in Egyptian, Men-nofer, “ the good place ; ” and this the Greeks perverted to Memphis. The city Anna (On in the Scripture) was named by the same people Heliopolis. Thebes is the Greek variation upon Tebe or Tabe.
The history of Egypt, like that of other nations of the Old World, begins in the time of the gods. There were different theological schools ; the earliest being at Memphis, the most influential at Thebes, and the latest at Tunis (Pi-Ramses), There was throughout the land little of the ferocity that characterized the worship of the tribes of Canaan. The chief god at Memphis was Ptah or Patah, the Former or supreme architect. This divinity was considered by the Greeks the same as their Hephaistos; but the two deities were totally different. The Memphian god was an awful creator ; the Greek was a shrewd, lame smith. In an inscription upon the temple at Denderah Ptah is termed “ chief of the society of gods that created all men.” At Philæ he is mentioned as the divinity “ who created all being, and formed men and gods with his own hands.” The chief of the deities at Thebes was Amon-ra, the sun-god. The god of Tunis, where Moses was born, and of Pi-tom, near by, was named “ He who Lives,” and his visible symbol was a brazen serpent. Judging from the number of the temples, and from the frequent occurrence of the name, we should say that Amon-ra was most generally venerated. The word Amon was constantly wrought into the names of titles of kings. Thus Amon-hotep (called Amunoph by the Greeks) signified “ the servant of Amon.” But Osiris, with Isis his wife and Horus their son, seemed much nearer to human sympathy, and were called on more familiarly ; just as Christ and the Virgin are more frequently the objects of adoration among Catholics than the first person in the godhead. The pictures of Isis with the infant Horus in her arms were not unlike those of the Madonna with the holy child. The religious system of the Egyptians was not very sharply defined, and the lives of their gods were less poetical and entertaining than the Grecian myths. But, though the doctrine might be vague, the ritual or religious service was rigidly followed. The priests were all-powerful, and. like the bishops in the Middle Ages, were often generals, premiers, and court architects, as well as temple ministers. The Pharaoh himself could not long rule against their will. A certain Amon-hotep, the fourth of the name, being the son of a foreign woman (probably from Canaan), introduced the worship of a new sun-god, Aten, as the one god, and took upon himself the name of Khu-enaten ; but he was resisted by the haughty priests of Thebes, and was forced to leave his capital and build a residence elsewhere. There has always been a short way of dealing with heretics.
Egyptian chronology has been the subject of fierce discussion for many years. But with every fresh discovery of a papyrus, or of an inscription, or a royal tomb, some facts have been established tending to prove that the higher estimates of the antiquity of the kingdom are probably nearer the truth.
It seems to be tolerably certain that from Menes (Mena), the founder, to Ramses II., who was the Pharaoh of the Hebrew oppression, there was about as long a period in the history of the world as has passed since that far-off epoch. This calculation is based upon the rule of allowing three lives to a century. There are many circumstances that make the lives of kings precarious ; but it is known that quite a number of the Pharaohs reigned over sixty years ; and, upon the whole, it is believed that the rule before named is just. According to this the date of Menes is B. c. 4455. Menes reigned at Tini (Greek, Thinis), near Abydus, west of the Nile. His name signifies “ the constant.” He founded Memphis, and formed or enlarged its site by turning the Nile to the eastward. The great dyke which he made still remains, and restrains the annual inundation. It is sad to think that it was his fate to be eaten by a crocodile ; but perhaps the story grows out of the myth of Set (Greek, Typhon).
According to Manetho, the first three dynasties of Memphian kings, twentyseven in number, lasted eight hundred and twenty-one years ; but this can never be verified. The names he gives differ from those on the monuments, but the persons may be the same, as the kings often had secondary titles or royal nicknames. Thus the name Tota, one of the Pharaohs of the first dynasty, signifies “ he who beats.”
The earliest well-known king is Senoferu, founder of the fourth dynasty, conqueror of the peninsula of Sinai. Khufu, bunglingly misnamed Cheops by Herodotus, was his successor. Khafra (in Greek, Kephrenes) and Menkaura were also of this dynasty. The monuments of this period are of the utmost historical value. Then arose the three gigantic pyramids named The Lights, The Great, and The High One, between three thousand and thirty-five hundred years before Christ, and from twelve hundred to seventeen hundred years before Abraham. Formerly there were seventy pyramids on the same plain of Ghizeh. In the same, or perhaps in an earlier, period was quarried the prodigious bulk of the Sphinx. Not far distant from this monstrous work a statue of Khafra, builder of the second pyramid, was found in a well near the ruined temple of Isis. It is a noble work of art, and its identity is established by the inscriptions. The stone is diorite, green in color, and exceedingly hard.
It may not be amiss to notice here the work of Professor Piazzi Smith, in which he says that the Great Pyramid was not a royal tomb, but was built to preserve astronomical data ; and that the supposed sarcophagus in “ the king’s chamber ” never held the body of Khufu, but was made for a metrical standard. This eminent mathematician has attempted to prove that a king used all the resources of a reign in erecting a pile five hundred feet high in order to make clear to future ages the points of the compass and the precise length of a Jewish cubit; and all this ages before the Jews had been “ evolved.” Dr. Brugsch nowhere alludes to this ingenious folly, that we remember ; but in the course of his work the design of the pyramids is placed beyond controversy. The names of the principal pyramids are very significant: Qebeh, the cool; Ab-setu, the purest of places ; Kha-ba, the rising of souls; Men-setu, the firm place ; Nuter-setu, the most holy place ; Nofer-setu, the most beautiful place ; Tat-setu, the most lasting place; Men-ankh, the inn of life ; Kha-nofer, the good rising; Ba, the soul. These names show that the kings knew what they were building. In the early ages every Pharaoh set about constructing his pyramid as soon as he was crowned. Later, when these piles had become numerous, it was the custom to make a chamber in the rock for a tomb.
One inscription relates the ceremony of placing the embalmed body of a king in his stone coffin in the heart of his pyramid. His son and successor spent a long time alone with the mortal remains ; then he came out and “shut the doors, laying scaling-earth upon them, and pressed upon them his own royal seal, thus commanding the priests: 'I, I have completed the locking up ; no other of any kings shall any more enter in.’ ” There is not space in this article to go over the ground, but we may mention one thing which appears to be decisive. The third pyramid was explored by Colonel Vyse, who obtained permission to remove the sarcophagus. The vessel was wrecked near Gibraltar, but the cover of the sarcophagus was saved, and here is the translation of the inscription still to be read upon it: “ O Osiris, who hast become King of Egypt, Menkaura, living eternally, child of Olympus, son of Urania, heir of Kronos, over thee may she stretch herself and cover thee, thy divine mother, Urania, in her name as mystery of heaven. May she grant that thou shouldst he like God, free from all evils, King Menkaura, living eternally.”
A formidable inscription for a yardstick or a standard bushel! The occurrence of Greek words shows either that the translator used equivalents for the names of Egyptian divinities, or that the inscription was renewed in a later age. The general form of the prayer is of very ancient origin, and examples of it have been often met.
There is undoubtedly evidence of great mathematical knowledge in the construction of the Great Pyramid. But because seven hundred and fifty-six, the number of feet in the length of one side, happens to be a multiple of the mean diameter of the earth, it is rather a violent inference to assert that the court architect was acquainted with that diameter. For we know how the pyramids were made; and if Khufu had lived another year the pyramid would have been the larger by one course of stone on each side. It is not doubted that The Lights (originally so called, perhaps, because encased in white marble) was a tomb, like all the others, — a wonderful tomb, doubtless, but still a tomb, and nothing else. When the pyramid was finished there could have been no access to the top either from without or from within, and the theory of Professor Proctor that it was used as an observatory appears to be baseless. Without telescopes and the other instruments of the astronomer. an elevated platform would have been of little service.
The long period of Egypt’s glory under the powerful sway of successive dynasties of Theban kings must be passed over rapidly. The greater part of the time from the Vth to the XIIth dynasty rests under shadows that will never be lifted.
We have one precious memorial of the time of King Assa, of the Vth dynasty. It is a work upon morals and social philosophy by Prince Ptah-hotep, the king’s son, written upon papyrus, and now in the national library at Paris. This is older by hundreds of years than any other literary work extant. We give an extract: —
“ If thou art become great after thou hast been humble, and if thou hast amassed riches after poverty, being because of that the first in the town; if thou art known for thy wealth and art become a great lord, let not thy heart become proud because of thy riches, for it is God who is the author of them for thee. Despise not another who is as thou wast: be to him as towards thy equal. Let thy face be cheerful as long as thou livest: has any one come out of the coffin after having once entered it ? ”
With the Vth dynasty the exclusive residence of the Pharaohs at Memphis closes. From the VIth to the XIth the capital was in Middle Egypt. Thebes arose at some time during this long and dim interval ; and it was in the XIith dynasty that the wonderful temple of Amon (in modern Karnak) was built.
The kings of the XIIth dynasty were warlike, and greatly extended the boundaries of power. Among them were Amenemhat and Usurtasen I., whose names occur frequently in the monuments.
The immense tombs at Beni Hassan commemorate the first five kings of this dynasty. In their time trade was opened with the East by way of the Red Sea, and voyages were made to Punt, or Ophir, for gold, ivory, and incense. The figures in the tombs represent Libyans, Asiatics, and Kushites, as well as Egyptians. In this period Tanis, in Lower Egypt, came into prominence.
The information about the XIIIth dynasty is very scanty. The Turin papyrus (an undoubted relic of antiquity, but much torn and defaced) names no fewer than eighty-seven kings. During this period the lowlands near the Mediterranean were largely occupied by Semitic people, who had flocked in from the desert. The common speech was mixed with Semitic words, just as English was once interlarded with French. The chief city (besides Tunis) was Pitom (town of the sun-god), also called Pi-ankh (city of the living god). This was the capital of the nome of Sukot (in the Bible, Succoth). The descendants of these Asiatic people still live about Lake Menzaleh, and show their nonEgyptian origin in their features. The settlement of these foreigners made the conquest of Egypt easy, and led the way to the rule of the Hyksos, or shepherd kings. Egyptian tradition says the Hyksos were Syrians, and Dr. Brugsch believes they had Arabs (Shasu) for allies.
The XVth and XVIth dynasties were the Hyksos and their descendants. The XIVth was that of Xois ; but it is not at all certain that this, as well as the XVIIth of Thebes, was not contemporary with the Hyksos rule. It is certain that for a considerable period Upper Egypt was governed by native subkings, while the lower part was under the foreign yoke. There is still extant a haughty message from King Apopi of the north to Ra-Sekeuen, called the Hak (governor), at Thebes. A tradition is preserved that Joseph was the favorite of this Pharaoh Apopi, although the records state that several years of famine, the only instance recorded, occurred in the reign of Taa III., also a shepherd king.
Here our author takes up the scriptural story of Joseph, and in the most fascinating way notes the correspondence of his career with what is known of Egyptian history and customs. His being sold as a slave was in accordance with usage then and since. Probably the last of the Hyksos was then upon the throne in Zoan-Tanis, or in Auaris, holding his court in Egyptian style, but not excluding the common use of Semitic speech. The city of Zoan, in the nome of Tunis, having been strengthened and beautified in the time of Ramses II., was thenceforward called PiRarases. To-day the place is named San (from Zoan). Auaris was on the old Pelusiac branch of the Nile. It is of course an obscure ruin, even if its site is accurately known; and the Nile channel has been filled up for ages. Joseph was made Adon over all Egypt (Genesis xlv. 9). Dr. Brugsch ingeniously dissects his title, as it is transferred to the story in Hebrew (Zaphnathpaaneah), and shows that it means “ governor of the district of the dwelling-place of life,” or “ of the living one.” This fixes his residence at Zoan-Tanis, or Pi-tom, where the god was so named. The name of Joseph’s wife, Asnat, is pure Egyptian. Her father, Potiphera (gift of the sun), was priest at On (Heliopolis). It is curious, also, to know that a papyrus is in existence which may be called the oldest novel, — using the word in the sense of Boccaccio, — and which furnishes a parallel to the story of Joseph and the wife of Putiphar. Dr. Brugsch quotes some suggestive passages, and thinks the two stories have a common origin.
Now comes an important discovery. There was a certain Aahmes (child of the moon), whose exploits have been fortunately preserved for us. He calls himself " chief of the sailors,” and relates how he commanded a flotilla from Thebes, overthrew the Hyksos king (probably Apopi), and captured the city of Auaris. Dr. Brugsch translates the military memoir in full. There is very little doubt that this renowned warrior succeeded to the throne, and wore the pshent, as lord of both Upper and Lower Egypt. At all events, it was an Aahmes who was the first of the XVIIIth dynasty, known to the Greek chroniclers as Amosis. Aahmes was therefore the new king that arose and “ knew not Joseph.” His mother was Aah-Uotep (servant of the moon), and her jewels, magnificent and wholly unequaled specimens of art, were lately found in her mummy case near Thebes, and are now in the Khedive’s museum at Boulak.
After the long foreign domination, the temples were cleansed and beautified by the orthodox king, and many new edifices erected. Time was required for these mighty works. A temple begun by Aahmes was one hundred and eighty years, three months, and fourteen days in building. Among the mighty kings of this dynasty were Thutmes I., II., and III. (The name signifies son of Thut, the scribe of the gods, whose heavenly dwelling was the moon.)
Thebes was once more the capital; and the long period was one renowned for art, as for arms. The empire was extended in all directions. The memorials of the Ilyksos were obliterated. The third Thutmes was the Alexander the Great of Egyptian history. Countless memorials of him exist in temples and statues. The records of the principal events of his reign are chiseled on the walls of the holy of holies in the temple of Amon at Karnak. These inscriptions cover large spaces of time, and some of them are curiously minute, embracing lists of booty, prisoners, and of tributes levied. Among these are names from the Khita (the Hittites of the Bible) and from Naharain (“between the rivers,” Mesopotamia) and other places, showing that Semitic people lived in Canaan three hundred years before the Exodus. This Thutmes erected gigantic statues of his ancestors, and glorified himself and them in poems full of magnificent hyperbole, which Dr. Brugsch recites. We quote from one:
POEM UPON THUTMES III. AND THE GOD AMON.
(On Granite Tablet now in Museum at Boulak.)
Thou, my son, who honorest me, Thutmes the third, ever living.
I shine in the light of the morning sun through thy love.
All people shall feel a terror before thy soul,
And shall fear thee to the utmost ends of the world, to the four props of heaven.
Thou earnest to those who dwell in the territories of the Holy Land.
I make them behold thy Holiness, like the star Canopus,
Which pours his light in a glance of fire
When he disperses the morning dew.
We quote a few paragraphs from a poem written upon the accession of Amon-hotep II., son and successor of Thutmes III : —
(35.) Behold then the king finished his course of life, after many years, glorified by conquests and by (sieges . . .),
(36.) And by triumphs, beginning in the first year (and finishing) in the last day of the month Phatnenoth, in the fiftyfourth year of his reign.
(37.) Then he fled upwards to heaven, when the disk of the sun went down. The follower of a god joined himself to his creator.
(38.) When now the earth was clear and the morning broke, the disk of the sun rose, and the heaven became clear, then was the King Amon-hotep II. (may he live forever!)
(39.) Placed on the chair of his father, and he took possession of the throne. He possessed the greatest fullness of strength.
We may mention that in the reign of Amon-hotep III., the famous twin statues of the king were erected, one of which was long after called the vocal Memnon. This story of the morning music was wholly a Greek fiction. The portrait statues were executed under the direction of a court architect, also named Amon-hotep, and were transported from Syene on a vast raft resting on eight ships. The architect has described his vast undertaking, and has celebrated himself at length and in a duly selfconscious manner. Dr. Brugsch says that the making and transporting of these statues (each seventy feet high, and a mountain of itself) could not be accomplished by any means known to the moderns. This king in one inscription avers that on a certain expedition to Naharain he killed two hundred and ten lions with his own hand. It is not related whether he used the long bow, — a favorite weapon with hunters in all ages.
This XVIIIth dynasty came to an end with the heretic King Khunaten. It extended from 1900 B. C. to 1433 B. C. The ideas of this king were undoubtedly Semitic. It was among these peoples that the truth of the one God was developed, and by them was for ages preserved.
We have a prayer composed in the reign of Khunaten by one Aahmes, a zealous supporter of the new religion. It is full of beauty and dignity : —
“ Beautiful is thy setting, thou sun’s disk of life, thou lord of lords and king of the worlds. When thou unitest thyself with the heaven at thy setting, mortals rejoice before thy countenance, and give honor to him who has created them, and pray before him who has formed them, before the glance of thy son, who loves thee, the King Khunaten. The whole land of Egypt and all peoples repeat all thy names at thy rising, to magnify thy rising in like manner as thy setting. Thou, O God, who in truth art the living one, standest before the two eyes. Thou art he who createst what never was, who formest everything, who art in all things ; we also have come into being through the word of thy mouth.”
The address of the queen of Amonhotep IV. (Khunaten) to the rising sun is also fine : —
“ Thou disk of the sun, thou living god ! There is none other beside thee ! Thou givest health to the eyes through thy beams, creator of all beings. Thou goest up on the eastern horizon of the heaven, to dispense life to all which thou hast created : to man, four-footed beasts, birds, and all manner of creeping things on the earth where they live. Thus they behold thee, and they go to sleep when thou settest.
“ Grant to thy son, who loves thee, life in truth to the Lord of the land, that he may live united with thee in eternity.”
In the XIXth dynasty, Ramses II., son of the terrible Seti I., is the monarch that most engages our attention. Dr. Brugsch. has shown that Rainses II. (one of whose names was Soter-en-ra) was the Sesostris of the Greek historians. In this reign and in that of Seti I., was built the Hall of Columns at Karnak, the most gigantic of Egyptian works; also the magnificent temple of Osiris at Abydus. Seti made many campaigns in Asia, and at one time brought immense masts from Mount Lebanon to serve as flag-staffs for his temples. The rock temple in Nubia, built by Ramses
II., sometimes called the Temple of Jupiter Ammon, Dr. Brugsch thinks is the grandest work of art in the world. This monarch was undoubtedly great, and not nearly so ferocious as Seti I., to whom wanton slaughter was the chief joy of life. But he was a hard and cruel king, and the worst neighbor that a peaceful country could have on its border. He was associated with his father at the age of twelve, and reigned sixty-seven years. His exploits are celebrated profusely upon the walls of the great temple, both in sculptured representations of battles and in an elaborate poem by Penta-ur (Penta the Great), the oldest song of triumph in the world. The song of Moses came a generation later. The poem of Penta was first deciphered by the Viscount Rougé, and has been newly rendered by Dr. Brugsch. As a whole, it is grand ; but it is very long, and unquotable within our limits. The battle scenes are powerfully drawn and deeply cut in enduring granite, and are accompanied by descriptions, enabling the beholder to follow the course of conquest and to see the butchery of the unhappy Canaanites.
In the Bible we read that the Israelites “ built for Pharaoh treasure-cities, Pithom and Raamses.” Ramses II. made Zoan-Tanis his seat. He built it anew, strengthened its fortifications, and made it the key of Egypt. Hence it came to be known by his name. The papyri show that this immense work was done by slaves, though they are never mentioned as Israelites or Hebrews. Dr. Brugsch quotes a letter of the time, written by a traveler from Middle Egypt, who had visited the new city. One sees that the art of Pencilling By the Way is not wholly modern ; for the Egyptian scribe presents a gay picture in a few swift and delicate touches, almost worthy of the graceful pen of Willis. Nothing is said of the stripes and tears of slaves. The correspondent is as silent on that subject as an American newspaper before Garrison. This Ramses was the father of the princess who found and reared the infant Moses, — Merris, the Jewish legend calls her, and we know he had a daughter named Meri. The persons of the family of Ramses are represented on the walls of the temple at Abydus. There are fifty-nine sons and sixty daughters. The fourteenth child was Mineptah (the friend of Ptah), and he, after considerable turmoil, ascended the throne (B. C. 1310). It was in his reign that the Exodus took place. It is wonderful to observe the perfect correspondence between the Mineptah II. of history and the Pharaoh of the Bible. He was a cowardly, vacillating, weak, and insignificant monarch. He is also specially reprobated by archæologists, because, having done nothing worthy of remembrance, he caused his name to be chiseled over many cartouches of celebrated kings.
Mineptah II. also continued to reside at Tanis or Pi-Ramses, From thence Thutmes III. had formerly gone forth to attack Canaan, and there Ramses II. returned in triumph. But now Mineptah was at peace with the Khita, and he had admitted the Shasu again into the Delta. The gate of the East was no longer strictly kept; else the Exodus could not have prospered. Still, the city of Ramses was a noble capital, as has been described. Its harbor was filled with vessels that made voyages to Syria, and it had a vast plain for military exercises, a kind of Champs de Mars. Here it was, according to Scripture, that Moses and Aaron wrought their miracles, ” in the plain of Zoan.”
From Pi-Ramses in a direct line to old Pelusium the course would have led over marshes and lagoons. The Sea of Serbonis lies eastward of the old Pelusiac mouth of the Nile. It was a sea of shallows, and filled with papyrus (bulrush) and other aquatic plants, but is now almost dried up. A narrow strip of sand divided it from the Mediterranean. The point aimed at after leaving Sukot (as mentioned in the biblical account) was Pihakhiroth (“ the entrance to the gulfs ”), between Migdol (“the tower ”) and the sea, over against Baal-Zephon (a noted temple). To Moses, going eastward, this was the inevitable route. The danger of marching on the border of Serbonis was well known in ancient times. Strabo relates that once while he was in Alexandria the sea (Mediterranean) rose so high between Pelusium and Mount Casius as to make the latter an island. Diodorus says that an army under Artaxerxes, not knowing the treacherous nature of the margin, was nearly swallowed up. Milton had these accounts in mind when, in Paradise Lost (B. II. 592), he wrote : —
’Twixt Damiata and Mount Casius old,
Where armies whole have sunk.”
Dr. Brugsch gives a map of the eastern portion of the Delta with the ancient names, and by this means shows the course of the Israelites so clearly that it is impossible to doubt.
The Israelites set forth from ZoanRamses on an easterly course, and in a day’s march reached Succoth. This means the nome or district of Sukot, of which Pi-tom was capital. (From Zoan to Pi-tom was twenty miles.) The next day, according to the Bible, they encamped at Etham, having marched about the same distance. The word should be Khetam, which signifies a fortress. The particular fortress meant here is the double one at the crossing of the old Pelusiac branch of the Nile, the two parts being connected by a bridge. This is called the fortress Daphnai by Herodotus. It was on the border of the desert, and there were no further obstructions in the way to Canaan ; but by divine command the Israelites turned to the north, passing by Migdol, a noted monument, and reached the western extremity of Serbonis. Here was the entrance to the narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Serbonian Sea. The royal troops came up with the fugitives near the sea, “ beside Pi-haliiroth, before Baal-Zephon.” Rather than give battle with the waters in his rear (even if he had been able), Moses pushed along the sand bar and reached Mount Casius in safety. The Egyptians rashly pursued. A great wave from the north swept over the barrier, and the awful tragedy of a drowned army followed. From Mount Casius the Israelites turned southward, “into the wilderness of Shur.” This Hebrew word is equivalent to Gerrhon in Greek, and Anbu in Egyptian, the Wall, meaning the barrier of mountains between Egypt and Arabia. Continuing southward, they naturally found unpleasant drinking at the Bitter Lakes, or in the springs near by, on the present route of the Suez Canal, and they called them waters of Marah. Still further south are the palmshaded wells of Elim, bearing a similar name to this day. Then the Israelites for the first time came into the peninsula of Sinai, near one of the arms of the Red Sea. Dr. Brugsch further assures us that in the original Hebrew the name translated as the Red Sea has no such signification. It means, he says, a reedy sea, a sea of shallows, waterplants, and bogs, which Serbonis is, and the Red Sea is not.
So, with the suggestion that the Almighty had perhaps brought about the safety of the fugitives and the destruction of the pursuers by natural means, — as by a great wave from the Mediterranean forcing the army into the bog, — Dr. Brugsch maintains that his account is strictly biblical, and that it is not possible to point out any other route that will accord with the biblical names and the facts of geography. There is no more memorable instance in all literature of thorough research and of resistless demonstration than tins portion of Dr. Brugsch’s great work.
It is a significant fact that the length of Mineptah’s reign and his place of burial are not mentioned in the monuments. One coincidence is noticed by our author, and that is that the chief priest in the time of this king was named Levi.
It might be profitable to follow through the dynasties, but probably the patience of readers would be exhausted. In the XXth, nearly all the kings bore the name of Ramses ; the third was known to the Greeks as Rhampsinitus. The record of their achievements may still be seen sculptured upon the temple at Medinet Abu. The XXIst was a line of Theban priests. It was overthrown by an invasion from Assyria, first made known to the world by our author. Here come the names written in Scripture as Nimrod and Shishak, and later those of Sennacherib and Sardanapalus. The memorials are infrequent and obscure.
While Assyrians ruled in the north, Ethiopians conquered the south, and war raged for centuries. The destruction of edifices and statues was constant and irreparable. Psametik I. (XXIVth dynasty) restored peace by a fortunate marriage, and reigned at Sais, where the remains show the influence of Greek art in their delicate lines. The Persian conquest by Cambyses followed, of which full accounts exist in the classic histories. The last Persian king was overthrown by Alexander (B. C. 332), at which point the book closes.
The character of a people is generally inferred from its customs and laws. In Egypt, though the Pharaoh was a pure autocrat, the rules of conduct were made by priests, and religion and law were one. A most remarkable work that is preserved for us is the ritual commonly called the Book of the Dead. It is a compendium of morals and observances, and contains also a description of the initiation into the future life. The soul appears in the judgment hall, where Osiris presides, assisted by forty-two inquisitors. The inquiries demand negative answers : thus, “ Have you blasphemed? Have you stolen ? ” etc.
Then, too, the reus on trial had to assume the positive, and say, “ I have made to the gods the offerings due. I have honored the dead. I have given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked.”
The title of the monarch was Perao (of the great house). Being a god, he was usually spoken of as “ his holiness.” Other titles of the principal persons of the court are Erpa, hereditary highness ; Ha, prince ; Set, the illustrious ; Semerua-t, the intimate friend ; Mur, the overseer ; Ur, the great. The personal attendants of the Pharaoh were the great lords, who were the chief proprietors of the soil. Others had charge of the stores of provisions ; also of the treasuries and of the royal demesnes and canals.
The principal literary man of the court was termed Hir-seshta, “ teacher of the secret; ” the king’s favorite was his fan-bearer ; but the office of highest dignity was the “ prophet of the pyramid of Pharaoh.”
The Egyptians are not to be classed with African races ; the form of skull indicates a connection with the Caucasian family, and the language appears to have analogies with the speech of both the Aryan and Semitic races. In the earliest ages, far before all history, they must have left Asia to found a new kingdom on the banks of the Nile. The Amu (or Amoo), east of Egypt, were herdsmen of Semitic descent, with light yellow skins ; the Libyans, on the west, had light skins, blue eyes, and blonde or red hair; on the south were the negroes. The dwellers in the Nile Valley were reddish-brown. They were a gay and brilliant people, loving life, and full of jest and amusement. Notwithstanding the sharp contrasts in society, every child had a share of education and every man of ability had a chance to rise. Persons of common birth frequently came to fill the great offices of state, and a young man of courage, talent, and address, who could make his way and hold his ground at court, often married a daughter of the Pharaoh, and became the father of a line of kings. It was said of Prince Ti, whose vast tomb at Sakkara, with its wealth of pictorial illustration, has engaged so much attention, that “ his parents were unknown persons.” In this way it was the custom to prefer the descent of a Pharaoh through the female line. When a monarch had half a hundred daughters to provide husbands for, as Ramses had, the advent of a spirited and handsome young fellow, even a nullius filius, might be welcome. However, the genealogical tables, of which a great number are still extant, show that there were no very uniform rules of succession to the throne ; and it is probable that changes were often signalized by bloodshed or banishment, as they are in the East to this day.
The work on which we have drawn for the material of this paper is in many places fragmentary ; but that so many events, covering such vast spaces of time, have been placed in due order is a most remarkable achievement. It is profoundly interesting, but only to those who are willing to give it a thorough study. Its full power and significance do not come to the mind until after at least a second reading. But whoever will persevere and follow our author with an active attention will find that the procession of Egypt’s kings has become a part of memory forever.
Francis H. Underwood.
- A History of Egypt under the Pharaohs, derived entirely from the Monuments. By HENRT BRUGSCH-BEY. Translated from the German by the late HENRY DANBY SEYMOUR, F. R. G. S. Completed and Edited by PHILIP SMITH, B. A. In Two Volumes. London: John Murray. 1879.↩