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Title: The historians' history of the world in twenty-five volumes, volume 01

Prolegomena; Egypt, Mesopotamia

Editor: Henry Smith Williams

Release date: March 20, 2016 [eBook #51514]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by David Edwards and the Online Distributed
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Transcriber’s Note: As a result of editorial shortcomings in the original, some reference letters in the text don’t have matching entries in the reference-lists, and vice versa.








A comprehensive narrative of the rise and development of nations
as recorded by over two thousand of the great writers of
all ages: edited, with the assistance of a distinguished
board of advisers and contributors,


(decorative, publisher’s mark) PRIUS PLACENDUM QUAM DOCENDUM


The Outlook Company
New York

The History Association



Copyright, 1904,

All rights reserved.

Press of J. J. Little & Co.
New York, U. S. A.


Contributors, and Editorial Revisers.




The Historians’ History of the World is in one sense of the word a compilation, but it is a compilation of unique character. The main bulk of the work is made up of direct quotations from authorities, cited with scrupulous exactness; but so novel is our method of handling this material that the casual reader might scan chapter after chapter without suspecting that the whole is not the work of a single writer. Yet every quotation, whatever its length, is explicitly credited to its source, and the reader who wishes to know the names of the authors and works quoted may constantly satisfy his curiosity without the slightest difficulty. The key to identification of authorities is found in the unobtrusive reference letters (called by the printer “superior letters”), such as b, c, d, which are scattered through the text. These reference letters refer in each case to a “Brief Reference-List” at the end of the book, where, chapter by chapter, author and work are named. Should any work be quoted more than once in a chapter, the same reference letter is used to identify that work in each case.

The reference letters are used in two ways: they are either (1) placed at the end of a sentence, in which case they designate an actual quotation, or (2) they are placed against the name of an author, in which case they designate an authority cited but not necessarily quoted. Each reference letter at the end of a sentence refers to all the matter that precedes it back to the last similarly placed reference letter. The quotation thus designated may be of any length,—a few sentences or many pages. This quotation may contain reference letters of the second type just explained, but, if so, these may be altogether disregarded in determining the limits of the quotation; the context will make it clear that there is no change of authorship. On the other hand, however continuous the narrative may seem, a reference letter at the end of a sentence must always be understood to divide one quotation from another.

All this may seem a trifle complex as told here, but it will be found admirably simple and effective in practice. The reader has but to make the experiment, to find that he can trace the authorship of every line of the work without the slightest difficulty. It may be well to add, however, that the reference letter a is reserved for editorial matter, and that, very exceptionally, this letter is used in combination with another letter, as ab, ac, ad, to give credit for matter that has been editorially adapted, but not quoted verbatim. It is perhaps hardly necessary to explain that direct quotations, such as go to make up the bulk of our work, are often given in an abbreviated form through the omission of matter that is redundant or, for any reason, inadmissible. The necessity for such change is obvious, since otherwise the varied materials could not possibly be made to harmonise or to meet the needs of our space. But, beyond this, no liberty whatever is taken with matter presented as a direct quotation. Where editorial modification is thought necessary, the use of reference letters makes such modification feasible without introducing the slightest ambiguity. We repeat that every line of the work is ascribed to its proper source with the utmost fidelity. Any matter not otherwise accredited—as, for example, various introductions, chronologies, bibliographies, and the like—will be understood to be editorial. Brackets also indicate editorial matter.




Some General Considerations1
The oriental period, 2. The classical historians, 3. The mediæval and modern histories, 4.
Materials for the Writing of History5
The Methods of the Historians9
World Histories13
The Present History22
Cosmogony—Ancient and Modern Ideas as to the Origin of the World33
Cosmology and Geography—Ancient and Modern Ideas38
The Antiquity of the Earth and of Man40
The Races of Man and the Aryan Question43
On Prehistoric Culture45
Language, 44. Clothing and housing of prehistoric man, 46. The use of fire, 46. Implements of peace and war, 47. The domestication of animals, 47. Agriculture, 48. Government, 49. The arts of painting, sculpture, and decorative architecture, 50. The art of writing, 50.
Introductory Essay. Egypt as a World Influence. By Dr. Adolf Erman57
Egyptian History in Outline (4400-332 B.C.)65
The Egyptian Race and its Origin77
The country and its inhabitants, 81. Prehistoric Egypt, 88.
The Old Memphis Kingdom (ca. 4400-2700 B.C.)90
The first dynasty, 90. The second dynasty, 92. The third dynasty, 92. The pyramid dynasty, 93. A modern account of the pyramids, 95. The builders of the pyramids, 98. The beautiful Nitocris, 104.
The Old Theban Kingdom (ca. 2700-1635 B.C.)106
The eleventh dynasty, 106. The voyage to Punt, 108. The twelfth dynasty, 110. Monuments of the twelfth dynasty; a classical view, 113. The ruins of Karnak, 115. The fall of the Theban kingdom, 117. The foreign rule, 118. The Hyksos rule; the seventeenth dynasty, 121.
The Restoration (ca. 1635-1365 B.C.)126
Eighteenth dynasty, 126. The Hyksos expulsion: Aahmes and his successors, 127. Tehutimes II; Queen Hatshepsu, 133. Triumphs of Tehutimes III; his successors, 136.
The Nineteenth Dynasty (ca. 1365-1285 B.C.)141
King Seti, 142. Ramses (II) the Great, 144. The war-poem of Pentaur, 148. The kingdom of the Kheta and the nineteenth dynasty, 150. Death of Ramses II, 153.
The Finding of the Royal Mummies155
How came these monarchs here? 157.
The Period of Decay (Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties: ca. 1285-655 B.C.)162
Meneptah, 162. From Setnekht to Ramses VIII and Meri-Amen Meri-Tmu, 166. The sorrows of a soldier, 170. Egypt under the dominion of mercenaries, 171. The Ethiopian conquest, 174. Table of contemporaneous dynasties, 179.
The Closing Scenes (Twenty-sixth To Thirty-first Dynasties: 655-322 B.C.)180
Psamthek, 180. The good king Sabach (Shabak) and Psammetichus, 184. The restoration in Egypt, 185. The Persian conquest and the end of Egyptian autonomy, 188. The atrocities of Cambyses, 191.
Manners and Customs of the Egyptians196
The position of the king, 198. Weapons of war, 202. Battle methods, 205. Social customs, 208. The Egyptians as seen by Herodotus, 212. Homes of the people, 216.
The Egyptian Religion219
Religious festivals and offerings, 222. Gifts and riches of temples, 225. Diodorus on animal worship, 228. A modern account of the worship of Apis, the sacred bull, 232. The methods of embalming the dead, 236.
Egyptian Culture240
The hieroglyphics, 249. “By what characters, pictures, and images the learned Egyptians expressed the mysteries of their mindes,” 250. The riddle of the sphinx, 251. Literature, 257. The Castaway: a tale of the twelfth dynasty, 260.
Concluding Summary of Egyptian History263
Classical Traditions267
Another ancient account of the Nile, 273. A Greek view of the origins of Egyptian history, 278.
The Problem of Egyptian Chronology287
Manetho’s table of the Egyptian dynasties, 291.
Brief Reference-List of Authorities by Chapters293
A General Bibliography of Egyptian History295
Introductory Essay. The Relations of Babylonia with other Semitic Countries. By Joseph Halévy309
Mesopotamian History in Outline (6000-538 B.C.)318
Land and People337
The land, 338. Original peoples of Babylon: the Sumerians, 342. The Semitic Babylonians, 344. The original home of the Babylonian Semite, 347.
Old Babylonian History (ca. 4500-745 B.C.)349
The beginnings of history, 351. The rulers of Shirpurla, 351. Kings of Kish and Gishban, 356. The first dynasty of Ur, 359. Kings of Agade, 360. The kings of Ur, 363. Accession of a south Arabian dynasty, 363. The Kassite dynasty, 364. Assyrian conquest of Babylon, 364.
The Rise of Assyria (ca. 3000-726 B.C.)366
Land and people, 369. Assyrian capitals: Asshur and Nineveh, 371. The rise of Assyria, 372. The first great Assyrian conqueror, 377. The reign and cruelty of Asshurnazirpal, 380. Shalmaneser II and his successors, 387. Tiglathpileser III, 391. Shalmaneser IV, 395.
Four Generations of Assyrian Greatness (722-626 B.C.)397
Sennacherib, 403. Esarhaddon and Asshurbanapal, 416. Esarhaddon’s reign, 419. Asshurbanapal’s early years, 425. The Brothers’ War, 431. The last wars of Asshurbanapal, 434.
The Decline and Fall of Assyria (626-606 B.C.)438
Last years and fall of the Assyrian Empire, 440.
Renascence and Fall of Babylon (555-538 B.C.)446
Contemporary chronology, 448. Nabopolassar and Nebuchadrezzar, 449. The followers of Nebuchadrezzar, 453. The reign of Nabonidus, 455.
Manners and Customs of Babylonia-Assyria460
War methods, 460. Our sources, 461. Assyrian war costumes and war methods, 468. The arts of peace in Babylonia-Assyria, 472. Babylon and its customs described by an eye-witness, 473. A later classical account of Babylon, 479. The commerce of the Babylonians, 484. Ships among the Assyrians, 491. Laws of the Babylonians and Assyrians, 494. Sale of a slave, 496. Sale of a house, 497. The code of Khammurabi, 498. The discovery of the code, 498. Miscellaneous regulations, 501. Regulations concerning slaves, 502. Provisions concerning robbery, 502. Concerning leases and tillage, 503. Concerning canals, 504. Commerce, debt, 504. Domestic legislation, divorce, inheritance, 505. Laws concerning adoption, 509. Laws of recompense, 509. Regulations concerning physicians and veterinary surgeons, 510. Illegal branding of slaves, 510. Regulations concerning builders, 511. Regulations concerning shipping, 511. Regulations concerning the hiring of animals, farming, wages, etc., 511. Regulations concerning the buying of slaves, 513.
The Religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians515
The Assyrian story of the creation, 520. The Babylonian religion, 521. The epic of Gilgamish, 525. Ishtar’s descent into Hades, 530.
Babylonian and Assyrian Culture534
Literature and science, 536. Epistolary literature, 539. Art, 543. Assyrian art, 552. Assyrian sculpture and the evolution of art, 558. A classical estimate of Chaldean philosophy and astrology, 563. The Babylonian year, 565. The Babylonian day and its division into hours, 566. Assyrian science, 567.
Classical Traditions571
The Creation and the Flood, described by Polyhistor, 573. Other classical fragments: of the Chaldean kings, 575. Of the Chaldean kings and the deluge, 576. Of the tower of Babel, 577. Of Abraham, 577. Of Nabonassar, 577. Of the destruction of the Jewish Temple, 577. Of Nebuchadrezzar, 577. Of the Chaldean kings after Nebuchadrezzar, 578. Of the feast of Sacea, 579. A fragment of Megasthenes concerning Nebuchadrezzar, 579. Ninus and Semiramis, 580. Semiramis builds a great city, 584. Semiramis begins a career of conquest, 588. Semiramis invades India, 589. Another view of Semiramis, 593. Reign of Ninyas to Sardanapalus, 594. The destruction of Nineveh, 598.
Excavations in Mesopotamia and Their Results600
The ruins of Nineveh and M. Botta’s first discovery, 600. Layard’s discoveries at Nineveh, 604. Later discoveries in Babylonia and Assyria, 610. The results of the excavations, 612. Treasures from Nineveh, 613. The library of a king of Nineveh, 618. How the Assyrian books were read, 623.
Brief Reference-list of Authorities by Chapters627
A General Bibliography of Mesopotamian History629





Broadly speaking, the historians of all recorded ages seem to have had the same general aims. They appear always to seek either to glorify something or somebody, or to entertain and instruct their readers. The observed variety in historical compositions arises not from difference in general motive, but from varying interpretations of the relative status of these objects, and from differing judgments as to the manner of thing likely to produce these ends, combined, of course, with varying skill in literary composition, and varying degrees of freedom of action.

As to freedom of selective judgment, the earliest historians whose records are known to us exercised practically none at all. Their task was to glorify the particular monarch who commanded them to write. The records of a Ramses, a Sennacherib, or a Darius tell only of the successful campaigns, in which the opponent is so much as mentioned only in contrast with the prowess of the victor.

With these earliest historians, therefore, the ends of historical composition were met in the simplest way, by reciting the deeds, real or alleged, of a king, as Ramses, Sennacherib, or David; or of the gods, as Osiris, or Ishtar, or Yahveh. As to entertainment and instruction, the reader was expected to be overawed by the recital of mighty deeds, and to draw the conclusion that it would be well for him to do homage to the glorified monarch, human or divine.

A little later, in what may be termed the classical period, the historians had attained to a somewhat freer position and wider vision, and they sought to glorify heroes who were neither gods nor kings, but the representatives of the people in a more popular sense. Thus the Iliad dwells upon the achievements of Achilles and Ajax and Hector rather than upon the deeds of Menelaus and Priam, the opposing kings. Hitherto the deeds of all these heroes would simply have been transferred to the credit of the king. Now the individual of lesser rank is to have a hearing. Moreover, the state itself is now considered apart from its particular ruler. The histories of Herodotus, of Xenophon, of Thucydides, of Polybius, in effect make for the glorification, not of individuals, but of peoples.


This shift from the purely egoistic to the altruistic standpoint marks a long step. The writer now has much more clearly in view the idea of entertaining, without frightening, his reader; and he thinks to instruct in matters pertaining to good citizenship and communal morality rather than in deference to kings and gods. In so doing the historian marks the progress of civilisation of the Greek and early Roman periods.

In the mediæval time there is a strong reaction. To frighten becomes again a method of attacking the consciousness; to glorify the gods and heroes a chief aim. As was the case in the Egyptian and Persian and Indian periods of degeneration, the early monotheism has given way to polytheism. Hagiology largely takes the place of secular history. A constantly growing company of saints demands attention and veneration. To glorify these, to show the futility of all human action that does not make for such glorification, became again an aim of the historian. But this influence is by no means altogether dominant; and, though there is no such list of historians worthy to be remembered as existed in the classical period, yet such names appear as those of Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne; De Joinville, the panegyrist of Saint Louis; Villani, Froissart, and Monstrelet, the chroniclers; and Comines, Machiavelli, and Guicciardini.

In the modern period the gods have been more or less disbanded, the heroes modified, even the kings subordinated. We hear much talk of the “philosophy” of history, even of the “science” of history. Common sense and the critical spirit are supposed to hold sway everywhere. Yet, after all, it would be too much to suppose that any historian even of the most modern school has written entirely without prejudice of race, of station, or of religion. And in any event the same ideals, generally stated, are before the historian of to-day that have actuated his predecessors—to glorify something or somebody, though it be, perhaps, a principle and not a person; and to entertain and instruct his readers.

The Oriental Period

The earliest historians whose writings have come down to us are the authors of the records on the monuments of Egypt and of Mesopotamia. We shall see later on that these records, made in languages a knowledge of which has only been recovered in the past century, are full of historical interest because of the facts they narrate, and the insight they give us into the life of their times. For the moment, however, we are only concerned with the method of their construction. They are parts of records dating from many centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. Their authors are utterly unknown by name. The narrative is, indeed, in some cases, couched in the first person, but it is not to be supposed from this that the alleged writer—who, of course, is the king whose deeds are glorified—is the actual composer of the narrative. The actual scribes, mere adjuncts of the royal ménage, never dreamed of putting their own names on record beside those of their royal masters. Yet their work has preserved to future generations the names of kings that otherwise would have been absolutely forgotten. For example, Tehutimes III of Egypt and Asshurbanapal of Assyria, two of the most powerful monarchs of antiquity, had ceased to be remembered even by name several centuries before the dawn of our era, and for two thousand years no human being knew that such persons had ever existed. Yet now, thanks to the monuments, their deeds are almost as fully known to us as the deeds of an Alexander or a Cæsar.


There is, indeed, one regard in which these most ancient historical records have an advantage over more recent works. They were for the most part graven in stone or stamped in clay that was burned to stonelike hardness, and they have come down to us with the assurances of authenticity which must always be lacking in many compositions of more recent periods. The Babylonian and Assyrian records lay buried with the ruins of cities whose very location had been forgotten for ages. The most recent of these records had been seen by no human eye for more than two thousand years. Their unnamed authors seem thus to speak to us directly across the centuries. However these earliest of historians may have dreamed of immortality for their work, they can hardly have hoped to speak to eager audiences in regions far beyond the limits of their world, twenty-five centuries after the very nation to which they belonged had vanished from the earth, and the language in which they wrote had ceased to be known to men. Yet that unique glory was reserved for them.

The Classical Historians

It requires but a glance at the historians of the classical period to see how altered is the point of view from which they write. Here we have no longer men commanded by a monarch, or impelled by religious fervour to glorify a single person or epoch or country to the utter exclusion of everything else. We have bounded from insularity of view to universality. Even the Homeric legends deal with the events of two continents and of several countries. Herodotus and Diodorus make the writing of their histories a life-work. They travel from one country to another, and familiarise themselves with their subject as much as possible at first hand. They mingle with the scholars of many lands, and listen to their recitals of the annals of their respective peoples. They weigh and consider, though in a quite different mental balance from that which an historian uses in our day. They spend thirty, forty, years in composing their books. From them, then, we have, not simple chronicles of a single event, but universal histories. These are in many ways different from the universal histories of our own time; but in their frank, human way of looking out upon the world, they have a charm that is quite their own. In their interest for the general reader, they have perhaps never been excelled. And in their citation of fact and fable they become a storehouse upon which succeeding generations of historians have drawn to this day.

There are other historians of the period no less remarkable, some of them even superior, from some points of view, to these masters. The names of Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius among the Greeks, of Tacitus, Livy, Cæsar among the Romans, to go no farther, are as familiar to every cultivated mind of our own day as the names of Gibbon, Macaulay, or Bancroft. Several of these were men who participated in the events they described, and, confining themselves to limited periods, treated these periods in such masterly fashion, with such breadth of view and discriminating judgment, that their verdicts have weight with all succeeding generations of historians. Thucydides, writing in the fifth century B.C., is regarded, even in our critical age, as a matchless writer of history. An oft-repeated tale relates that Macaulay despaired of ever equalling him, though feeling that he might hope to duplicate the work of any other historian. Polybius and Tacitus are mentioned with respect by the most exacting investigators. Clearly, then, this was a culminating epoch in the writing of histories.


The Mediæval and Modern Histories

We have seen that in the classical period the brief space of half a dozen generations saw a cluster of great histories written. No such intellectual activity in this direction marked the mediæval period. Now for the space of more than a thousand years there was no work produced that could bear a moment’s comparison with the great productions of the earlier periods. One theme was now dominant in the Western world, and the intellects that might have produced histories of broad scope under other circumstances contented themselves with harping on the one string. So we have ecclesiastical records in place of histories.

In due time the reaction came, but it was long before the influence of the dominant spirit was made subordinate to a saner view. Indeed, scarcely before our own generation, since the classical period, have historians been able to cast a clear and unbiased glance across the entire field of history.

Toward the middle of the eighteenth century a school of secular historians with broad views and high aims again arose. Now once more men sought to write world histories not dominated by a single idea. The first great exponents of the movement were Gibbon and Hume in England, Schlozzer and Müller in Germany. They have had a host of followers, of whom the greater number have been Germans.

The attitude of these modern writers is philosophical; they are disposed to recognise in the bald facts of human existence an importance commensurate solely with the lessons they can teach for the betterment of humanity. In this modern view, each fact must be correlated with a multitude of other facts before its true significance can be perceived. Events are, in this view, meaningless unless we know something of the human motives that led to their enactment. The task of the historian is to search for causes, to endeavour to build up from the lessons of history a true philosophy of living. It is really no different a task, as already pointed out, from that which such ancient writers as Polybius had very prominently in view; but there is an emphasis upon this phase of the subject in our time that it did not generally receive in the earlier age. In other words, the philosophy of history of our time is a more conscious philosophy. For a century past the phrase, “philosophy of history,” has been current, and it has been the custom for men who were not primarily historians to discourse on the subject. Latterly, following again the current of the times, we have come to speak even of the “science” of history; indeed, in Germany in particular, history to-day claims unchallenged position as a true science. The word “science” is a very flexible term, yet there are those who deny that it may be properly applied, as yet at any rate, to our aggregation of knowledge of historical facts. The question resolves itself into a matter of definition, the solution of which is not particularly important.

The essential thing is that the modern historical investigator is fully actuated by the spirit of scientific accuracy and impartiality. And since impartiality depends very largely upon breadth of view, it results rather curiously that the minute investigations of the specialist make indirectly for the comprehensive view of the World Historian. Professor Freeman well expressed the idea when he said:


“My position is that in all our studies of history and language—and the study of language, besides all that it is in other ways, is one most important branch of the study of history—we must cast away all distinctions of ‘ancient’ and ‘modern,’ of ‘dead’ and ‘living,’ and must boldly grapple with the great fact of the unity of history. As man is the same in all ages, the history of man is one in all ages. No language, no period of history, can be understood in its fullness; none can be clothed with its highest interest and its highest profit, if it be looked at wholly in itself, without reference to its bearing on those other languages, those other periods of history, which join with it to make up the great whole of human, or at least of Aryan and European, being.”

Such a position as this, assumed by one of the most minute searchers among modern historians, is highly interesting as illustrative of a reactionary tendency which will probably characterise the historical work of the near future. Hair-splitting analysis having been carried to its limits of refinement, there will probably come a reaction in the direction of a more comprehensive study of historical events in their wider relations. The work of the specialist, after all, is really important only when it furnishes material for wider generalisations. All minute workers in the fields of biology, geology, and the allied sciences, in the first half of the nineteenth century were unconsciously gathering material which, interesting in itself, became of real importance chiefly in so far as it ultimately aided in elucidating the great generalisation of Darwin. Perhaps the minute historians of to-day are in similar position.

The special worker, imbued with enthusiasm for his subject, is apt to forget the real insignificance of his labours. Entire epochs are dominated by the idea of microscopic research, and the workers even come to suppose that microscopic analysis is in itself an end; whereas, rightly considered, it is only the means to an end. We are just passing through such an epoch as regards historical investigation. But, as just suggested, it seems probable that we are approaching a new epoch when the work of the specialist will be subordinated to its true purpose, while at the same time proving its real value as a means to the proper end of historical studies—the comprehension of the world-historical relations of events.


It is obvious that the materials for the writing of history consist for the most part of written records. It is true that all manner of monuments, including the ruins of buried cities, remains of ancient walls and highways, and all other traces of a former civilisation, must be allotted their share as records to guide the investigator in his attempt to reconstruct past conditions. But for anything like a definite presentation of the events of by-gone days, it is absolutely essential, as Sir George Cornewall Lewis pointed out in great detail, to have access to contemporary written records, either at first hand, or through the medium of copyists, in case the original records themselves have been destroyed. Lewis reached the conclusion, as the result of his exhaustive examination of the credibility of early Roman history, that a tradition of a past event is hardly transmitted orally from generation to generation with anything like accuracy of detail for more than a century.

Theoretically, then, no accurate history could ever be constructed of events covering a longer period than about four generations before the introduction of writing. In actual practice the scope of the strictly historic view of man’s progress is confined to very much narrower limits than this, for the simple reason that the earliest written records that might otherwise serve[6] to give us glimpses of remote history have very rarely been preserved. The destruction of ancient inscriptions with the lapse of centuries has led to a great deal of difference of opinion as to the time when the art of writing was introduced among various nations. In reference to the Greeks in particular, the dispute has been ardently waged, many scholars contending that the art of writing was little practised in Greece until the sixth century B.C.

Later discoveries, in particular a knowledge of the inscription on the statue of Ramses at Abu Simbel, have made it clear that the earlier estimates were much too conservative, and it now seems probable that the Greeks had been acquainted with the art of writing for several, or perhaps many, centuries before the one previously fixed upon. It is not to be supposed, however, that the practice of the art of writing was universal in that early day. On the other hand, it was doubtless very exceptional indeed for the average individual to be able to write, and such difficulties as the lack of writing material stood in the way of composition until a relatively late period. But whether the art of writing was much or little practised in the early days does not greatly matter so far as the present-day historian is concerned, since practically all specimens of early writing in Greece disappeared in the course of succeeding ages. No fragment of any book proper, no scrap of parchment or papyrus, no single waxen tablet, from the soil of classic Greece has been preserved to us.

The Greek authors are known to us only through the efforts of successive generations of copyists; and, with the exception of a comparatively small number of Egyptian papyri, there is almost nothing in existence representing the literature of classical Greece that is older than the middle ages. There are, to be sure, considerable numbers of monumental inscriptions dating from classical times. These have the highest interest for the archæologist, but in the aggregate they give but meagre glimpses into the history of antiquity. If we were dependent upon these records for all that we know of Greek history, the entire story of that people might be told, as far as we could ever hope to learn it, in a few pages.

The case is somewhat different with Egypt and with Mesopotamia, since the climate of the former and the resistant character of the writing materials employed by the latter have permitted the modern world to receive direct messages that, under other circumstances, must inevitably have been lost. But even here the historical records are neither so abundant nor so comprehensive in their scope as might have been hoped. History-writing, in anything like a comprehensive meaning of the words, is a relatively modern art. The nearest approach to it among the nations of remote antiquity got no farther than the recording of the personal deeds of individual kings. Such records, indeed, are excellent materials for history, but they hardly constitute history by themselves. The entire lists of Egyptian inscriptions, so far as known, suffice merely to give glimpses of Egyptian history; and if the Mesopotamian records are, in this regard, somewhat more satisfactory, it is only in reference to a comparatively brief period of later Assyrian history that they can be said to have anything like comprehensiveness. As to the other nations of Oriental antiquity,—Indians, Persians, Syrians, the inhabitants of Asia Minor,—the entire sum of the monumental records that have been transmitted to us amounts to nothing more than a scattered series of vague suggestions.

In the classical world Rome is but little better off than Greece in this regard. As to both these countries, we depend for our knowledge almost[7] exclusively upon the works of historians of a relatively late period. Before Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century B.C., there is almost no consecutive history proper of Greece; and despite all the efforts of archæologists, records of Roman progress scarcely suffice to push back the prehistoric veil beyond the time of the banishment of the kings. Indeed, even for a century or two after this event transpired, the would-be historian finds himself still on very treacherous ground. The reason for this is that there were no contemporary historians in Rome in this early period; and until such contemporary chroniclers appear, no secure record of history is possible.

Once it became the fashion to write chronicles of events, the custom rapidly spread and took a fixed hold upon the people. From the day of Herodotus there was no dearth of Greek historians, and after Polybius there is an unbroken series of Roman chroniclers.

Had all the writings of these various workers been preserved to us, we should have abundant material for reconstructing the history of the entire later classical epoch in much detail; but, unfortunately, the historian worked with perishable materials. An individual papyrus or parchment roll could hardly be expected on the average to be preserved for more than a few generations, and unless copies had been made of it in the meantime, the record that it contained must inevitably be lost. Such has been the fate of the great mass of historical writings, no less than of productions in other fields of literature.

Many of the fragments of ancient writers have come down to us through rather curious channels. In the later age of Rome it became the fashion to make anthologies and compilations, and it is through such collections that the majority of classical authors are known. One of the most curious of these anthologies is that made by Athenæus about the beginning of the third century A.D. This author called his work Deipnosophistæ, or the Feast of the Learned. He attempted to give it a somewhat artistic form, making it ostensibly a dialogue in which the sayings of a company of diners were related to a friend who was not present at the banquet. The diners were supposed to have introduced quotations from the classical writers, so that the book is chiefly made up of such quotations. The work has not come down to us quite in its entirety, but, even so, no fewer than eight hundred authors and twenty-five hundred different works are represented in the anthology. Of these authors about seven hundred are known exclusively through the excerpts of Athenæus.

Two or three centuries later another Greek named Stobæus compiled a set of extracts from the Greek writers of all accessible periods prior to his own. The number of authors quoted in this anthology is more than five hundred, and here again the major part of them are quite unknown to us except through this single source. Yet another collection of excerpts was made in the latter part of the ninth century by Photius, patriarch of Constantinople, who made excerpts from about 280 authors with whose works he had familiarised himself through miscellaneous reading. In addition to these works of individual compilers there were two or three anthologies compiled in the Byzantine period, including an important collection of fragments of the Greek poets which is still extant under the title of The Greek Anthology, and the elaborate set of encyclopædias made under the direction of Constantine Porphyrogenitus. But for such collections as these, supplemented by the biographical notices of such workers as Suidas, and by fragments that have come to us through a few other channels, it would scarcely have been conceived that so many authors had[8] written in the entire period of Grecian activity, since only a fraction of this number are represented by complete works that have come down to us. Such facts as these give an inkling as to the mental activity of the old-time author, while pointing a useful lesson as to the perishability of human works. In this age of easy multiplying of books through printing, one is prone to forget how precarious must have been the existence of a manuscript of the elder day. It was a long, laborious task to produce an edition of a single copy of any extended work, and each successive duplication was precisely as slow and as difficult as the first. Under these circumstances no doubt a very considerable proportion of books were never duplicated at all, and the circulation of a very large additional number most likely was limited to two or three copies. It was only works which were early recognised as having an unusual intrinsic interest or value that stood any reasonable chance of being copied often enough to insure preservation through many succeeding generations.

As one considers the field of extant manuscripts, one is led naturally to reflect on the quality of work that was likely thus to insure perpetuity, and the more we consider the subject, limiting the view for our present purpose to historical compositions, the more clear it becomes that the one prime quality that gave a lease of life to the composition of an author was the quality of human interest. In other words, such historical compositions as were works of art, rather than such as depended upon other merits, were the ones which successive generations of copyists reproduced, and which ultimately were enabled to pass the final ordeal imposed by the monks of the middle ages, who made palimpsests of many an author deserving a better fate. The upshot of this process of the survival of the fittest was that all Greek would-be historians prior to Herodotus were allowed to sink into oblivion, causing Herodotus himself to stand out as apparently the absolute creator of a new art. In point of fact, could we know the whole truth, it would doubtless appear that there was no real revolution of method effected by the writings of Herodotus. He surpassed all of his predecessors in such a measure that the future copyist saw no necessity for preserving any work but the one, since this one practically covered the field of all the rest. It is, perhaps, an ill method of phrasing, to say that these copyists saw no reason for preserving those earlier manuscripts. There was no thought in their minds of the preservation of one book and the destruction of another; they merely copied the work which interested them, or which they believed would interest the book-buying public. The disappearance of the works not copied was a mere negative result, about which no one directly concerned himself.

The proof of the value of the work of Herodotus is found in the fact that it has come down to us entire in numerous copies, something that can be said of only three or four other considerable historical compositions of the entire classical period; two others of this select company being Thucydides and Xenophon, both of whom were contemporaries of Herodotus, though considerably younger, and therefore, properly enough, counted as belonging to the next generation. Of the other Greek historians, the biographical works of Plutarch, the works of Strabo and Pausanius, which are geographical rather than strictly historical, and the Life of Alexander the Great by Arrian, are the sole ones of the large number undoubtedly written that have come down to us intact. A survey of the Roman historians furnishes an even more striking illustration, for here no one of the great historical works has been preserved in its entirety. Livy’s monumental work is entire as to the earlier books, which treat of the mythical and half-mythical period of Roman development;[9] but the parts of it that treated of later Roman history, concerning which the author could have spoken, and probably did speak, with first-hand knowledge, are almost entirely lost. In other words, the copyists of the middle ages preserved the least valuable portion of Livy, doubtless because they found the hero tales of mythical Rome more interesting than the matter-of-fact recitals of the events of the later republic and the early empire. We can hardly suppose that Livy detailed the events of the later period with less art than characterised his earlier work, but different conditions were imposed upon him. He had now to deal with much fuller records than hitherto, and no doubt he treated many subjects that seemed important to him, simply because they were near at hand, but which another generation found tiresome and not worth the trouble of copying. Thus we see emphasised again the salient point that the interesting story rather than the important historical narrative proved itself most fit for preservation in the estimate of posterity.

Of the other great historians of Rome, Tacitus, Dionysius, Dion Cassius, Polybius, have all fared rather worse than Livy, although a few briefer masterpieces, like the two histories of Sallust and the Gallic Wars of Cæsar, and such biographies as the “Lives” of Suetonius and Cornelius Nepos, were able to fight their way through the middle ages and gain the safe shelter of the printing-press without material loss.

But perhaps the most suggestive example of all is furnished by the brief world history of Justin, which, if not quite entire, has been preserved as to its main structure in various manuscripts. This work is an artistic epitome of a large, and in its day authoritative, history of the world, written by Trogus Pompeius. Justin, when a student in Rome in the day of the early Cæsars, was led to make an epitome of this work, seemingly as proof to his friends in the provinces that he was not wasting his time. He did his task so well that future generations saw no reason to trouble themselves with the prolixities of the original work, but were content to copy and re-copy the epitome, pointing the moral that brevity, next to artistic excellence, is the surest road to permanent remembrance for the historian,—a lesson which many modern writers have overlooked to their disadvantage.


It is a curious fact, a seeming paradox, that the first two great histories ever written—the histories, namely, of Herodotus and Thucydides—should stand out pre-eminently as types of two utterly different methods of historical writing. Herodotus, “the Father of History,” wrote with the obvious intention to entertain. There is no great logicality of sequence in his use of materials; he simply rambles on from one subject to another with little regard for chronology, but with the obvious intention everywhere to tell all the good stories that he has learned in the course of his journeyings. It would be going much too far to say that there is no method in his collocation of materials, but what method he has is quite generally overshadowed and obscured in the course of presentation. Thus, for example, he is writing the history of the Persian wars, and he has reached that time in the history of Persia when Cambyses comes to the throne and prepares to invade Egypt. The mention of Egypt gives him, as it were, the cue for an utterly[10] new discourse, which he elaborates to the extent of an entire book, detailing all that he has learned of Egypt itself, its history, its people, and their manners and customs, without, for the most part, referring in any way whatever to Cambyses. He returns to the Persian king ultimately, to be sure, and takes up his story regardless of the digression, and seemingly quite oblivious of any incongruity in the fact of having introduced very much more extraneous matter in reference to Egypt than the entire subject matter proper of the Persian Empire. The method of Herodotus was justified by the results. There is every reason to believe that he was enormously popular in his own time,—as popularity went in those days,—and he has held that popularity throughout all succeeding generations. But it has been said of him often enough that this work is hardly a history in the narrower sense of the word; it is a pleasing collection of tales, in which no very close attempt is made to discriminate between fact and fiction, the prime motive being to entertain the reader. As such, the work of Herodotus stands at the head of a class which has been represented by here and there a striking example throughout all succeeding times.

Xenophon’s Anabasis, detailing the story of Cyrus the Younger and his ten thousand Greek allies, is essentially a history of the same type. It differs radically, to be sure, from Herodotus, in that it holds with the closest consistency to a single narrative, scarcely giving the barest glimpses into any other field than that directly connected with the story of the ten thousand. But it is like Herodotus in the prime essential that its motive is to entertain the reader by the citation of the incidents of a venturesome enterprise. Xenophon does indeed pause at the beginning of the second book long enough to pronounce a eulogy upon the character of Cyrus,—a eulogy that is distinctly the biased estimate of a friend, rather than the calm judgment of a critical historian. But this aside, Xenophon, philosopher though he is, concerns himself not at all with the philosophy of the subject in hand. He quite ignores the immoral features of the rebellion of Cyrus against his brother. Indeed, it seems never to occur to him that this fratricidal enterprise has any reprehensible features, or could be considered in any light other than that of a commendable proceeding of which a throne was the legitimate goal. Doubtless the very fact of this banishment of the philosophical from the work of Xenophon has been one source of its great popularity, for, as every one knows, Xenophon shares with Herodotus the credit of being the most widely read of classical authors. It would be quite aside from the present purpose to emphasise the opinion that the intrinsic merit of Xenophon’s work does not fully justify this popularity. It suffices here to note the fact that this famous work of the successor of Herodotus belongs essentially to the same class with the work of the master himself.

Of the Roman historians doubtless the one most similar to Herodotus in general aim was Livy. The author of the most famous history of Rome does not indeed make any such excursions into the history of outlying nations, as did Herodotus, but he details the history of his own people with an eye always to the literary, rather than to the strictly historical, side; transmitting to us in their best form that series of beautiful legends with which all succeeding generations have been obliged to content themselves in lieu of history proper. There is little of philosophical thought, little of search for motives, in such history-writing as this. It is essentially the art of the story-teller applied to the facts and fables of history.

Returning now to Thucydides, we have illustrated, as has been said, an utterly different plan and motive. Thucydides does indeed tell the story[11] of the Peloponnesian War; tells it, moreover, with such wealth of detail as no other historian of antiquity exceeded, and few approached. But in addition to narrating the plain facts, Thucydides searches always for the motives. He gives us an insight into the causes of events as he conceives them. He is obviously thinking more of this phase of the subject than of the mere recital of the facts themselves. It is the philosophy of history, rather than the story of history, that appeals to him, and that he wishes to make patent to the reader.

Only two or three other writers of the entire classical period whose works have come down to us followed Thucydides with any considerable measure of success in this attempt to write history philosophically; the two most prominent exponents of this method being the Greek Polybius, who told the story of Rome’s rise to world power, and Tacitus, the famous author of the Roman Annals and of the earliest history of the German people. These three examples—Thucydides, Polybius, and Tacitus—stand out at once in refutation of a claim which might otherwise be made that philosophical, or, if one prefers, didactic, historical composition is essentially a modern product. But for these exceptions one might be disposed to make a sweeping generalisation to the effect that the old-time history was a collection of tales intended to entertain the reader, and that the strictly modern historical method aims at instruction rather than at entertainment. Such generalisations, however, assuming, as they do, that the entire trend of human thought has fundamentally changed within historical times, are sure to be faulty. Quite possibly it may be true to say that the earliest historians tended as a class to write entertaining narratives rather than philosophical histories; and to say, on the other hand, that nineteenth century historians as a class have reversed the order of motives: but it must not be forgotten that our judgment here is based upon a mere fragment of the entire output of ancient historians. We have already noticed, in another connection, that the names of some hundreds of Greek writers have been preserved to us solely through a single anthological collection or two; and now, speaking of the historical works, it must be remembered that a vast number of these have perished altogether. Whole companies of historians are known to us only by name, and there is every reason to suppose that considerable other companies that once existed and wrote works of greater or less importance have not left us even this memento. The scattered fragments of Greek historical works that have come down to us, dissociated from any considerable part of their original context, fill three large volumes of the famous Didot collection of Greek classics, as edited by K. O. Müller; some hundreds of authors being represented.

We have noted that all the predecessors of Herodotus were blotted out, chiefly, perhaps, by the excellence of the work of Herodotus himself. Similarly the entire histories of Alexander the Great, written by his associates and contemporaries and his successors of the ensuing century, have without exception perished utterly.

Doubtless the excellence of the work of Arrian, which summarised and attempted to harmonise the contents of the more important preceding histories of Alexander, was responsible for the final elimination of the latter. One can hardly refer too often to that intellectual gantlet of the middle ages, which all classical literature was called upon to pass, and from which only here and there a work emerged. It is almost pathetic to consider the number of works that made their way heroically almost through this gantlet, only to succumb just before achieving the goal. One knows,[12] for example, that there was a work of Theopompus on later Grecian affairs, in fifty odd books, which was extant in the ninth century, as proved by the summary of its contents made then by a monk, but of which no single line is in existence to-day. Even the works that have come down to us in a less fragmentary condition have not usually been preserved entire in any single manuscript, but, as presented to us now, are patched together from various fragments, preserved often in widely separated collections. The explanation is that the copying of a manuscript of great length was a somewhat heroic task, and that hence the copyist would often content himself with excerpting a single book from a work which he would gladly have reproduced entire but for the labour involved.

The point of all this in our present connection is that we know the historians of antiquity very imperfectly, and that hence we are almost sure to misjudge them as a class when we attempt generalisations concerning them. In the very nature of the case, the historian who told a good story in a pleasing style stood a far better chance of being perpetuated through the efforts of copyists, than did the philosophical historian, however profound, who put forward his theories at the expense of the narrative proper. Making all due allowance for this, however, it can hardly be in doubt that the last century and a half has seen a remarkable development of the scientific spirit in its application to the work of the historian, and that the average historical work of the nineteenth century is philosophically on a far higher plane than the average historical work of antiquity. If we were to attempt to characterise the most recent phases of historical composition, we should, perhaps, not go far afield in saying that in regard to history-writing, as in regard to many other subjects, this is pre-eminently the age of specialists. In recent years no historical work could hope for any large measure of recognition among historians, unless it were based upon personal investigation of the most remote sources bearing upon the period that could be made accessible. The recent period has been pre-eminently a time of the searching out of obscure or forgotten records; the unburying of old letters and state papers; the delving into hitherto neglected archives; and the critical analysis of the conflicting statements of alleged authorities previously accessible.

The work began prominently—if any intellectual movement may properly be said to have an explicit beginning—with Gibbon and Niebuhr; it was continued by Grote and Mommsen and George Cornewall Lewis and Clinton, and the host of more recent workers, whose specific labours will claim our attention as we proceed. Naturally enough, since each generation of specialists builds upon the labours of all preceding generations, the work has become more and more minute and hair-splitting with each succeeding decade. Gibbon, specialist though he was, covered a period of a thousand years of European history, and left scarcely anything untouched that falls properly within that period. Niebuhr specialised on the few centuries of early Roman history, but his comprehensive view reached out also to Greece and to the Orient, and he was accounted a master over the whole range of ancient history. Mommsen’s efforts have followed the Roman Republic and Empire throughout the length and breadth of its wide domains, and over the whole period of its existence, as well as into all the ramifications of its political, commercial, and social life.

But there has been a tendency among most recent workers to confine their attention to a narrower field. Macaulay’s History of England attempts the really detailed history of only about seventeen years. Carlyle devotes six large volumes to the History of Frederick the Great, and such authorities as[13] Freeman and Stubbs and Gardiner and Gairdner gave years of patient research to the investigation of single periods of English history. The obvious result of all this minute and laborious effort is the piling up of a mass of more or less incoördinate details as to the crude facts of history, which only the specialist in each particular field can hope to master, and the remoter bearings of which in their relations to world history are not always clearly appreciable. It is rarely given to the same mind to have a taste or a capacity at once for minute research and for broad and accurate generalisation. Therefore much of the work of the specialist, admirable in its kind, must still be regarded rather as crude material than as a finished product. It is the work of the world historian to attempt to mass this crude material, to visualise it in its relations to other similar masses, and to build with it a unified structure of history, in which each portion shall appear in its proper relations to all the rest.

Let us turn for a moment to the work of the world historians of the past, and glance at the results of their various efforts to weld the individual history of men and of nations into a comprehensive history of mankind.


No historian worthy of the name can narrate the events even of a limited period without at least an inferential reference to the world-historic import of these events. Just in proportion as one fails to take a sweeping general view, the force of his facts is weakened; any narrow period of history, on which the attention is fixed, assumes, for the time being, a disproportionate interest, and is necessarily seen quite out of perspective. It is only when the limited period is considered in reference to other periods that it can be made to assume anything like its proper status. Something of this has been understood by all writers from the earliest times, and accordingly we find that very few of the ancient authors failed to take at least a sweeping view of contemporaneous events, even when detailing specifically the incidents of a restricted period; and often, as in the case of Herodotus, the space devoted to the history of events not strictly cognate to the main story is quite out of proportion to that reserved for the main story itself. Thus in a certain sense the history of Herodotus is a world history, inasmuch as it deals more or less comprehensively with practically all nations known to the Greeks of that time. Thucydides, as we have seen, confines himself much more closely to a precise text; yet even he devotes an introductory book to a summary of the past history of the Greeks as a preparation for the full understanding of the Peloponnesian War.

But, after all, a somewhat sharp distinction should be drawn between histories such as these, which ostensibly describe the incidents of a particular period, and more comprehensive treatises, which set the explicit task of dealing with the history of all nations in all times.

Of the works of this latter class,—World Histories proper,—the oldest one that has come down to us is at the same time probably the most comprehensive in scope, and the most extensive in point of matter, of any that was written in ancient times. This is the so-called Historical Library of Diodorus the Sicilian. Diodorus was a Greek, a native of Sicily, who lived during the time of Julius Cæsar and of Augustus. He set himself the explicit task of[14] writing a comprehensive history of the world, and he devoted thirty years to the accomplishment of this task. This history, as originally written, comprised forty books, which treated of the entire history of mankind from the earliest times to the age of Augustus. Diodorus recognised the vagueness of early chronology, and he made no attempt to estimate the exact age of the world, but he computes the time covered by what he considers the historic period proper, in the following terms:

“According to Apollodorus, we have accounted fourscore years from the Trojan War to the return of Heraclides: from thence to the first olympiad, three hundred and twenty-eight years, computing the times from the Lacedæmonian kings: from the first olympiad to the beginning of the Gallic War (where our history ends) are seven hundred and thirty years: so that our whole work (comprehended in forty books) is an history which takes in the affairs of eleven hundred and thirty-eight years, besides those times that preceded the Trojan War.”

In his preface Diodorus further explains the exact scope of his work and the precise division in the books in the following words:

“Our first six books comprehend the affairs and mythologies of the ages before the Trojan War, of which the three first contain the barbarian, and the next following almost all the Grecian antiquities. In the eleven next after these, we have given an account of what has been done in every place from the time of the Trojan War till the death of Alexander. In the three and twenty books following, we have set forth all other things and affairs, till the beginning of the war the Romans made upon the Gauls; at which time Julius Cæsar, the emperor (who upon the account of his great achievements was surnamed Divus), having subdued the warlike nations of the Gauls, enlarged the Roman Empire, as far as to the British Isles; whose first acts fall in with the first year of the hundred and eightieth olympiad, when Herodes was chief magistrate at Athens. But as to the limitations of times contained in the work, we have not bound those things that happened before the Trojan War within any certain limits, because we could not find any foundation whereon to rely with any certainty.”

Of these forty books only fifteen have come down to us intact, namely, the first five, which carry down the history only to the Trojan wars, and books eleven to twenty, which cover the period from the invasion of Greece by Xerxes to the subjugation of Greece by the Romans. The remaining books are represented by considerable fragments, which, however, even in the aggregate, are insignificant in bulk as compared with the fifteen books that are preserved entire.

Considering the time when it was written, this work of Diodorus was really an extraordinary production, though there has been a tendency on the part of the modern critic to dwell rather upon its defects than its merits. It has indeed become quite the fashion to speak of Diodorus as a weak-minded, prejudiced person, who gathered together materials for history from all sources indiscriminately, and gave them to the world, true and false together, quite unsifted by criticism. Such an estimate, however, does Diodorus a very great injustice, as the briefest perusal of his work must suffice to demonstrate. Indeed, it is perhaps not saying too much to assert that one would be nearer the truth were he to accept an estimate by Pliny, who affirms that Diodorus was the first of the Greeks who wrote seriously and avoided trifles. That Diodorus did write seriously, his work clearly testifies; that he largely avoided trifles, is shown by the mass of matter which he crowded into a comparatively small space; and that he was far from[15] using his materials without exercising selective judgment, should be evident to any one who scans these materials themselves. It is quite true that he made many mistakes. He sometimes accepted as fact what was only fable, his chronologies are not always secure, his narratives of events not always photographically accurate. But consider the task he had set himself. He was endeavouring to write a history of the entire world so far as known in his day and generation, including within the scope of his narrative all the leading events of all the nations of the globe as known in that day. No man can perform such a task, even in this day of multiplied records and edited authorities, without making mistakes.

Whoever attempts to write history philosophically is brought, sooner or later, face to face with the fact that all historical records are woven through and through with fiction. To separate the threads of truth from the threads of fable is the task of critical judgment. It will be perfectly clear to any one who considers the case, that in making such selection the historian of any generation must be biased and influenced by the prejudices and preconceptions of his time. From such prejudices and preconceptions Diodorus was, of course, not free. He looked out upon the world with eyes of the first century B.C., not with eyes of the twentieth century A.D. That century, no less than this,—perhaps not more than this,—was an age of faith and superstition; but the faith of that time was not the faith of this time; the superstitions of the Greek and Roman were not our superstitions. They were a credulous people; we are a credulous people: but the exact type of their credulity differed in many ways from the type of our credulity.

In judging Diodorus, then, one must judge him as a Roman of the first century B.C., not as a European of the twentieth century A.D. And if we bear this in mind, we shall find, after scanning his pages, that Diodorus was by no means marked among his fellows by simple credulity of the unquestioning type which accepts whatever is told it without subjecting it to criticism. Diodorus, to be sure, tells us fabulous tales as to the origin of the world and the creation of its various peoples; but he explicitly forewarns us that he tells these tales, not as matters of his own belief, but in order to make an historical record of the opinions current among the different nations themselves as to their own origin.

These tales seem to us fabulous, grotesque, absurd; but we have no reason to doubt that many of them seemed equally mythical to Diodorus himself; and modern criticism should not forget that there is one other myth tale of the creation of the world and the origin of a particular race, which, had Diodorus known it, he would doubtless have narrated with the rest, and viewed with the same scepticism which he shows towards the others, as being fabulous, grotesque, and absurd, but which would have been accepted by the critics of all Christendom, in every age prior to our own, as the authentic historical record of the actual creation of the earth, and as the true account of its chosen people.

In a word, modern criticism should bear in mind, when reproaching Diodorus and others like him for their credulity, that the accepted faith of nineteenth-century Europe would have seemed to Diodorus as absurd and fabulous and mythical as any tale which he has to tell us can seem to the twentieth-century critic.

And as to the mistakes of Diodorus in the more strictly historical portions of his narrative, these also must be viewed with a certain toleration by every candid critic when he reflects upon the vast preponderance of those[16] cases in which the records of Diodorus are worthy of the fullest credence. In considering these matters, it is very easy, indeed, to generate myths that befog our view of the true status of an ancient author. Thus, for example, it was once traditional to regard Thucydides as the most candid, just, and impartial historian who has ever lived; but it can hardly be in doubt that the real reason why this estimate has grown up about the name of Thucydides is the fact that, as Professor Mahaffy points out, Thucydides is the sole authority for the history of most of the period of which he treats. It has even been admitted by Müller that in the early portion of the first chapter of Thucydides, where he treats on Grecian history in general, and up to the Peloponnesian War, he does not manifest the same impartiality which distinguishes him in the later portions of his narrative. But it is precisely in this earlier chapter that Thucydides deals with events that are recorded by other historians. It is here, and for the most part here alone, that his story can be checked by data from other authors. Could we similarly check the story of the Peloponnesian War in general, it can hardly be in doubt that we should come across at least some discrepancies which would have tended materially to modify the almost idolatrous estimate of Thucydides that came to be, and long continued to be, unquestionably associated with his name.

Making the application of this thought to Diodorus, it is evident at once that the historian of a limited period of antiquity lays himself open to no such range of comparison as he who undertakes to write the history of the entire world. In the very nature of the case, such a writer pits himself against the whole company of specialists; and, after all, it is hardly surprising, should it be susceptible of proof, that in several, or all, fields there are specialists whose accuracy excels the accuracy of Diodorus in each particular field. Surely the comprehensiveness of his task must count for something in the estimate, and, when all this is taken into consideration, it may fairly be repeated that the general estimate of modern criticism has done but scant justice to the author of the first attempt ever made to write a complete and comprehensive history of the world.

Moreover, it must not be forgotten that in his use of authorities Diodorus sometimes showed a selective judgment that is entitled to the fullest praise. A notable instance is found in his treatment of that period of Grecian history following the Peloponnesian War, when the Spartans and the Thebans were contending for supremacy. It was treated by Xenophon in his Hellenica, and as Xenophon was actual witness of many of the events which he describes, the presumption would be that his authority for the period might be considered incontestable. But in point of fact, Xenophon, philosopher though he was and pupil of Socrates, was not above the influence of personal prejudice. He was a friend of Agesilaus, and his admiration for that hero, as well as his fondness for the Spartans in general, prejudiced his narrative to such an extent that he did very scant justice to the merits of the great Epaminondas. Indeed, were we to trust to Xenophon alone, the world never would have had in later times anything like a just appreciation of the merits of the great Theban, and since Xenophon’s account of this period is the only contemporary one that has been preserved, it was a rare chance, indeed, that preserved to posterity a just appreciation of the greatest of the Thebans, whom some critics are wont to consider the greatest of all the Greeks; and it is Diodorus whom we must thank for doing this historic justice to a great man whose merits might otherwise have been obscured by the personal prejudice of a contemporary historian.


Diodorus, in treating this period, chose as his authority, not Xenophon, but Aphorus. Just how he came to this decision is not known; it suffices that the decision was a good one. None but a prejudiced critic can doubt that in many other cases his judgment was equally perspicuous in selecting among divergent accounts the one of greatest verisimilitude.

A part of the relative neglect which has fallen to the lot of Diodorus may be ascribed to the manner of his handling. He threw his work into the form of annals, in which a chronological idea was predominant. He gives the history of a nation in a given year, and then turns aside to other nations, to follow the fortunes of each in turn over the same period. Necessarily, under such a treatment, the whole plan lacks continuity. One must break from one subject to another, must turn from Assyria to Egypt, from Greece to Rome, in order to follow the story through constantly broken chapters. Naturally, under such treatment, the reader’s interest flags. From a popular standpoint, such a treatment is clearly a mistake.

The plan of Herodotus, which took up the story of each nation, and carried it through a long period uninterruptedly, has many advantages; is infinitely more artistic. It is chiefly due to this treatment, rather than the actual phrasing of his story, that Herodotus has gained so much more universal fame than Diodorus; for in those parts of his history in which he does attempt a continuous narrative, Diodorus shows much skill as a story-teller. In the earlier portion of his work, that portion which, fortunately, has in the main been preserved to us, when dealing with what he regards as the fabulous history of the nations prior to the establishment of a fixed chronology, his narrative runs on continuously, suggesting in many ways that of the Father of History. It was so with his treatment of early Egypt, and with his even more interesting history of ancient Assyria. These parts alone of his work serve to make him one of the most important authors of antiquity whose writings have been preserved to us, and we shall have occasion to draw largely upon him for the history of this period.

What has just been said about the attitude of modern critics toward Diodorus must not be taken to imply that this earliest of great world historians has, on the whole, failed of an appreciative audience. The facts of the case amply refute such a supposition as this. An author writes to be read, and in the last resort the only valid criterion as to the value of his work is found in the preservation or neglect of that work by successive generations of readers.

Tested by this standard, very few of the ancient writers have obtained such a measure of appreciation as has been accorded to Diodorus. Something like three-fourths of what he wrote has been lost, it is true; but in fairly estimating the import of this, one must consider the bulk of what remains. The briefest comparison supplies us with some very interesting data. It appears that, of the entire series of the predecessors of Diodorus, no single historian has left us anything like a comparable bulk of extant matter. Only one predecessor in any field of literature, namely, Aristotle, greatly exceeds him in this regard, and a single other writer, Plato, about equals him. Turning to the contemporaries of Diodorus and to his successors in the use of the Greek language, a similar result is shown. A single writer exceeds him in output. This is Plutarch, the biographer and philosopher rather than historian proper. No other Greek writer in any field equals Diodorus, though two historians, Dion Cassius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, are within hailing distance. When one reflects on the actual labour implied by the preservation of any manuscript throughout the long[18] generations of the middle ages, these data speak volumes for the aggregate judgment passed upon the work of Diodorus by posterity. Of the long list of Greek historians,—a list mounting far into the hundreds, as proved by fragmentary remains,—only three as ancient as Diodorus have fared better than he, these three being Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. But the entire bulk of the works of these three writers does not so very greatly exceed the bulk of the extant writings of Diodorus. The works of Herodotus and Thucydides together do not comprise more matter than is contained in books eleven to twenty of Diodorus, which are preserved en bloc.

It would, of course, be absurd to imply that the mere bulk of the manuscripts preserved before the age of printing is a test of the value of an ancient author’s work; but, on the other hand, bearing in mind always the labour employed in the production of a single copy of a large work, it would be equally absurd to deny that the bulk of manuscripts has a certain bearing upon the value of the matter which they preserve. No doubt many a scribe would be deterred from starting out to copy manuscript by the great bulk of the work, and where he had no great preference, would be influenced by this alone to choose a smaller book. Again, doubtless many a scribe wearied of his task in the case of the more ponderous works, and gave it up after copying a few books. This common-sense explanation no doubt accounts for the fact that quite generally the earlier books rather than the later ones of works that have come down to us in a fragmentary condition are the ones preserved. Had Herodotus and Thucydides written forty books instead of eight or nine, it is very unlikely that even their genius would have sufficed to preserve the entire number. The case of Livy, whose work, despite the beauty of its style, has come down to us so sadly mutilated, sufficiently sustains this supposition. It is nothing against the merit of Diodorus, then, to reflect that half his work is lost; the wonder is rather that so much of it has been preserved.

We have dwelt thus at length upon the work of Diodorus because it is a work that may be taken as in many ways representative of world histories in general. Certainly it was by far the greatest world history produced in antiquity, of the exact merits of which we have any present means of judging. Indeed, there is only one other world history that has come down to us, and this, the work of Justin, is in itself only an abridgment of the writing of another author, Trogus Pompeius. Considering when it was written, this work of Trogus, if we may judge from the abridgment, was an admirable production, and the abridgment itself is of great value in throwing light on some periods that otherwise are not well covered by extant documents. As a whole, however, it is a compendium of history rather than a comprehensive work like that of Diodorus. Of the works of the other world historians of antiquity it is impossible to speak with any measure of certainty. Polybius accredited Aphorus with being the only man who had written a world history before his day. It is known that Aphorus lived in the fifth century B.C., and that he was a fellow-pupil of another historian, Theopompus, in the famous school of Isocrates at Athens; but his work is only known to us through inadequate fragments and the indirect quotations of other authors. The same is true of the works of Theopompus just referred to, and of Timæus, another Greek whose writing had something of world historic comprehensiveness. But, even had these works been preserved, it may well be doubted whether any one of them would compare favourably with the great history of Diodorus, which must stand out for all time as the greatest illustration of the writing of world history in antiquity.


Diodorus, as we have seen, brought his work down to the time of the Gallic wars of Cæsar. There are references in his writing which imply that he lived well into the time of Augustus. He probably died not long before the beginning of the Christian era.

No Greek of later time and no Roman of any period produced a work that supplanted the history of Diodorus, though most of the Byzantine historians produced chronicles, many of which had more or less aspect of world history in epitome. Several of these have been preserved, but no one thinks of comparing them with the work of the older writer. The chronological work of Eusebius, however, deserves a word of special mention. It was a mere epitome of world history, but a relatively comprehensive one, and one which, through the loss of more pretentious works, has come to be of great value to the modern historian. It was written originally in Greek, but the most important copy of it that has come down to us is, curiously enough, an Armenian translation. It is the Latin translation of this Armenian manuscript that is the work usually referred to by modern historians in speaking of Eusebius. The encyclopædia of history compiled for Constantine Porphyrogenitus, to which reference has already been made, must also be mentioned as a world history of real importance. It was based almost exclusively upon Greek authors, who were quoted at length, with such abbreviations or modifications as were made necessary in adjusting the various texts to one another. As a means of preserving the work of numerous important Greek historians this collection had the utmost value, but, unfortunately, it has come down to us in a much mutilated condition. During the Byzantine period the minds of would-be historians of the Western world were so occupied with ecclesiastical quarrels and the chronicles of local princes, that no one thought of world histories in the broader sense. We should be thankful that here and there a monk had interest and energy enough to copy the ancient authors, and thus in part to preserve them. Considering the intellectual atmosphere of the time, the wonder is, not that so many of the pagan authors were lost, but rather that any of them were preserved. Yet there were occasional gleams of light, even in the so-called dark age. Such a one of peculiar interest to the English reader is found in the fact that King Alfred translated into Anglo-Saxon the compendious world history of Orosius, a work that otherwise would be but little known to fame, but which, thanks to its brevity of treatment, and to this very unusual distinction of translation into a “barbaric tongue,” no doubt served a most excellent purpose in giving to the Anglo-Saxons of the ninth century a glimpse of the events of ancient times.

The best guide to the historic point of view of the generations that ushered in what we are accustomed to think of as the modern period is furnished by the History of the World which Sir Walter Raleigh wrote toward the close of his life, late in the sixteenth century. Raleigh was not an historian from choice, but was led to his task as a diversion during the time of his imprisonment. The work as far as he completed it is in five books, the titles of which are instructive. First book, “In treating of the First Ages of the World, from the Creation to Abraham.” Second book, “Of the Times from the Birth of Abraham to the Destruction of the Temple of Solomon.” Third book, “From the Destruction of Jerusalem to the Time of Philip of Macedon.” Fourth book, “From the Reign of Philip of Macedon to the Establishing of that Kingdom in the Race of Antigonus.” Fifth book,[20] “From the Settled Rule of Alexander’s Successors in the East, until the Romans (prevailing over all) made Conquest of Asia and Macedon.”

It will appear that Raleigh did not carry his history beyond the early Roman period, yet, even so, it is a very bulky book, comprising more than eight hundred enormous quarto pages, an actual bulk far exceeding the extant portions of Diodorus. Raleigh very generally names his authorities in the margin, but even had he failed to do so, it would be easy to understand the sources on which he must have drawn. Obviously he depended largely upon the Bible for the early history of mankind, and for the rest he had access, no doubt, to the dozen or so of classical authors whose names we have had occasion to mention again and again. Naturally enough, the pages of Raleigh seem archaic to the modern reader, yet passages are not wanting which show the shrewd practical insight of the courtier and statesman. As a whole, the work had sufficient interest to be reprinted in 1687, a century after the author’s death. Indeed, until this time there was practically no world history in the field in competition with Raleigh’s that had been written since classical times. It is a curious commentary on the life of the post-classical times and of the middle ages that between the work of Diodorus, written just before the beginning of the Christian era, and the work altogether similar in scope of Sir Walter Raleigh, written sixteen hundred years later, there was no world history produced that is strictly comparable to either. Nor did the seventeenth century produce any marked change in the situation as regards the literature of world history.

The true renaissance of history writing came with the eighteenth century. About 1730 an English publisher was led to notice the paucity of recent literature in this field, and to project a universal history of the widest scope. Such men as Archibald Bower, John Campbell, William Guthrie, George Sale, George Psalmanazar, and John Swinton were associated in the undertaking, and in the course of the following twenty years a long series of volumes dealing with all phases of universal history, except, curiously enough, the history of Great Britain, was brought to a close. A subsequent edition, modified and improved as regards the earlier volumes, and supplemented with an account of English history, was published toward the close of the eighteenth century, the editor being the famous Dr. Tobias Smollett. This work, the first important history of the world produced in modern times, excited great interest. It is odd to reflect in the light of more recent events that the work was translated into various European languages, including German. The production of this work was a notable achievement, but the various parts of the work had widely different degrees of merit. A competent German critic, writing about the middle of the nineteenth century, conceded that the parts of the universal history referring to antiquity were fairly well done, but noted that the treatment of the middle ages was superficial, and the treatment of modern history even worse.

Inasmuch as the history of antiquity has been very largely reconstructed within the past fifty years, it will be obvious that the universal history in question cannot now be regarded with other than an antiquarian interest. Nevertheless, it contains numberless descriptive passages, which are as historically accurate and as interesting to-day as they were when written.

The impulse to historical composition, of which this universal history is a monumental proof, found expression a little later in the great histories of Hume and Robertson and Gibbon. Thanks to these writers, England was easily in advance of all other countries at the close of the eighteenth century in the matter of historical composition. Indeed, as to world[21] histories she was first, without a second. Early in the nineteenth century, however, a great world history was produced in Germany. This was the work of Schlosser. In its earliest form this work was completed in 1824; it was a strictly technical production. But about twenty years later a pupil of Schlosser, under the direction of the author himself, elaborated a popular edition of the world history, which soon had an enormous circulation in Germany, and which in recurring editions still finds a multitude of readers. This work of Schlosser’s would probably have been translated into English were it not that the field had been preoccupied by another great universal history. This was the work which Dr. Lardner edited, and which began to appear in 1830, about a century after the inauguration of that first universal history in English to which we have just referred. Dr. Lardner’s work, like its English predecessor, was produced by a company of specialists; but it differed from the other in that each volume or set of volumes dealing with a period or country was written by a specialist whose authorship was acknowledged on the title-page, whereas the previous work had been altogether anonymous. In other words, it was essentially a collection of monographs, each by a more or less distinguished authority, which, in the aggregate, constituted a history of the world. The work as a whole comprised a large number of volumes. Needless to say the component parts were of varying merit; but as a whole the work was an excellent one, and many of the volumes still have value, though necessarily much of their contents is antiquated.

The production of the popular edition of Schlosser’s world history in Germany marked an epoch in this class of literature. Almost contemporaneously with this production several other world histories saw the light in Germany, and from that day to this world histories have come from the German press in unbroken succession. These are varied in scope, from the marvellously compressed and beautifully philosophical work of Rottock in four small volumes, published about 1830, to the gigantic Oncken series, which is just completed. In this list of German world histories the works of Bekker, of Leo, and of Weiss hold conspicuous places, in addition to those just named. But perhaps the most notable of all is the world history of Dr. George Weber. This work of Dr. Weber occupied the author during the best years of his life. It is in eighteen volumes, and occupied about twenty years in passing through the press. We shall have occasion to refer more at length to Dr. Weber’s work in another place, as well as to quote from it frequently. Suffice it here that Dr. Weber may justly be called the Diodorus of modern times, his work being certainly the most complete and comprehensive exposition of world history that has ever issued from a single pen.

One other world history of German origin must be mentioned as holding a place beside that of Weber. This is the work of Ranke. It is very different in plan from Weber’s, in some ways more philosophical, and often less detailed in its narrative of events. The author, recognised as almost the greatest of German historians, began the work late in life, and brought to bear upon it perhaps as full an equipment of historical knowledge in divers fields as any single man has ever attained. Unfortunately, he did not live to complete his work, which, as it stands, comes only to the close of the middle ages, and which, therefore, cannot be compared in its entirety with the completed work of Weber.

The most recent of all the great German world histories, the Oncken series, just referred to, is a work built essentially upon the plan of Dr. Lardner’s series of the early part of the century. Each volume of the Oncken series is written virtually as an independent work by an authority, and there[22] is no close bond between the various component parts of the structure, though doubtless an attempt was made on the part of the editor to have the various authors conform somewhat to the same scheme of treatment. The work comprises about fifty very large octavo volumes, being therefore the bulkiest, as it is the most recent, of world histories.


It is a singular fact that since the publication of Dr. Lardner’s series in the first half of the nineteenth century, no satisfactory attempt has been made to bring the entire story of the world’s history to the attention of the English reader in a single work. While the presses of Germany have sent out their never ending stream of world histories, the English-speaking world has remained utterly inactive, so that until now there has been no work in English less than half a century old that could pretend to compete with any one of the numerous German productions. Buckle’s work would, to some extent, have supplied the deficit had he lived to complete it, yet even his effort was aimed rather at philosophical generalisations regarding human evolution, than at a narrative of historical events.

If we attempt to explain this paucity of literature in so fascinating a field as that of world history, the solution is not far to seek: it is found in the very magnitude of the task. This is the age of specialists, and just in proportion as one appreciates the full meaning of special knowledge of any subject in its modern interpretation, must he feel the hopelessness of attempting to gain more than a general knowledge in a variety of fields. Yet something approaching the knowledge of the specialist should be brought to bear upon each period of history by any one who attempts to write a comprehensive history of the world. It is an appreciation of this fact that has led to the production of such a symposium as the Oncken series, just referred to, and contrariwise, it is the appreciation of the same fact that has led to the relative neglect of so admirable a work as that of Weber. The modern critic is disposed to feel that the writing of a really comprehensive world history in this age is a task beyond the capacity of any single man. When one considers the vast amount of research work in hitherto unexplored fields that is being carried on in every department of history, it becomes patent that no single mind can hope to cope at first hand with the ever increasing flood of special literature. In almost every department of history special bibliographies have been published of late years which are utterly bewildering, even to the specialist, in the wealth of material which they reveal.

To cite but a single instance, the bibliography of early English history, down to about the year 1485, as recently collated by Professor Gross, comprises a large volume of small type. It would be the work of a lifetime for any specialist to deal, even in a cursory way, with each and every one of the works cited in this list; yet this is only one little corner of the field which the world historian must cover. Obviously, then, the world historian, if he attempt personally to construct a narrative of the entire subject, must content himself with a more or less superficial glance at each field; his reading may indeed be wide, but it cannot by any possibility be exhaustive. Moreover, in the nature of the case, he must often read merely to gather material for the day’s task of writing, and no matter what his memory, he[23] will inevitably forget the greater part of the multitudinous details that he has dealt with. In the case of a man of such wide scholarship and such tenacity of purpose as Dr. Weber, it must be freely admitted that a view of the entire range of world history may be attained, which it would be rank injustice to pronounce really superficial. Yet even such a worker as Weber must have depended very largely upon second-hand epitomes for his facts. He cannot have read at first hand more than a fraction of the authors upon whom he is obliged explicitly or inferentially to pass judgment. In a word, great as is the value of works of the class of which Weber’s is the finest example, such works must, in the very nature of the case, be content to be ranked as more or less successful compilations, lacking the authority which the modern critic is unwilling to vouchsafe to anything but strictly original work,—original work, that is, in the sense of work based upon a first-hand examination of the most remote authorities, the only sense in which the word “original” can properly be applied to any form of historical composition.

If we turn from world histories of the one-man type to those produced by a symposium of specialists, we are met with a quite different, but none the less insistent, series of inherent defects.

In the first place, the intrinsic defect of the one-man treatment is not altogether overcome, since specialism has nowadays been carried to such a stage that few men feel altogether at home outside a comparatively limited period, even of the history of a single nation. If, then, one man is asked to write the entire history of, let us say, the Greeks, he necessarily passes over ground that his special studies have not covered uniformly, and in certain periods he must feel himself more or less in the position of the general historian. It would, of course, be possible to meet this objection by having a sufficient number of writers, so that each limited period should be covered by a true specialist; but the great difficulty in such a scheme as this is the entire lack of harmony of view that must pertain to such a work.

A glance at the Oncken series will convince any one how very difficult it is to attain even approximately to a true perspective of world history under the symposial plan. Thus one finds in this series, to cite but a single illustration of disproportionate treatment, that various relatively insignificant periods of modern German history are allowed to fill bulky volumes where a true perspective would have relegated them to mere chapters. It is only from a very prejudiced modern standpoint that the history of Frederick II can be thought worth greater space than the entire history of the Greek world. Where such inconsistencies are permitted there is a danger that the alleged world history will become rather the history of a single nation in its relations to other nations, past and present, than an impartial presentation of the history of nations as a whole.

In the present work an attempt has been made to avoid the pitfalls of one-man treatment on the one hand, and of ill-adjusted specialist treatment on the other. We have made sure of presenting special knowledge by drawing upon the specialists of every field, and letting them present their information in their own words; but, at the same time, we have attempted to avoid the prejudiced view from which the specialist is least of all men free, by presenting the counter views of various students wherever there is failure of agreement among those best competent to judge.

The authorities on whom historial compositions are necessarily based, and who in other works are merely cited by name, or at most by volume and page reference, are here quoted in detail in their own words wherever practicable,[24] always with full credit to the author, and with exact reference to the work from which the excerpt is taken. Such authorities are quoted, not merely from histories in English, but from the entire range of historical writings of all ages. It is hoped that few important names are overlooked. The aggregate number of different works thus quoted (not merely cited) will be about one thousand. These quotations vary in length from illuminative paragraphs to excerpts of many pages, averaging perhaps about two thousand words each. Some fifteen hundred of such extensive quotations are made from foreign languages, and by far the greater number of these have been translated from the originals expressly for the present work, thus representing matter never before accessible to the reader of English. The languages represented in this list of important historical works of foreign origin include practically all the tongues of civilised nations, ancient and modern,—Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Arabic, Syriac, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, and the entire range of European languages from Greek, Latin, and Russian to Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, German, and Scandinavian. From all of these the original words of the various authors have been translated into the most literal English consistent with our idiom. It is speaking well within bounds to assert that seldom before has so varied an exposition of cosmopolitan thought been collected in a single work.

But these excerpts are not given as random references crowded into footnotes or appendices; they are woven into the text of the consecutive story of world history so that they themselves constitute the bulk of that story. Thus the history of Germany is mainly told in the words of German writers, that of France in the words of French historians. To avoid the prejudiced national view of history, however, the story of a nation thus told by the native historian is always subject to the corrective views of foreigners. Thus we gain both the sympathetic and the critical points of view. When the authorities are not agreed as to any important fact of history, or where there are important differences of opinion in estimating the influence of a great event or the real status of a famous character, reliance is not placed upon the estimate of a single historian, but counterviews are quoted, even though they may be directly contradictory, each, of course, being ascribed to its proper source.

To give unity to these various views and to weld the entire mass of matter into a consistent and comprehensive history of the world, original editorial passages are everywhere freely introduced as a part of the main narrative, forming indeed the warp of the whole, and serving to elucidate and harmonise the views of the authorities quoted. A feature of the original editorial matter is that it comprises, first and last, critical estimates of the work of important historians of every age, informing the reader as to the status—even to the particular prejudice and bias—of the authority he is asked to consult. Thus the novice is everywhere placed somewhat on a par with the special student in his estimate of the authorities. Where conflicting views are quoted of nominally equal authority, the reader is given data on which to base an intelligent personal opinion as to the probabilities. Moreover, elaborate additional bibliographies of works that may advantageously be consulted are everywhere given, and these in the aggregate constitute such a critical bibliography of the entire range of historical compositions as cannot fail to interest even the general reader.

Our method of introducing critical bibliography, and the critical selection of the excerpts themselves, make it feasible to introduce quotations, not only from the latest authority in any field, but also from the great historians[25] of the past. Thus in the case of ancient history, the classical authorities themselves are drawn upon wherever available,—Herodotus for the Persian wars, Thucydides for the Peloponnesian wars, Xenophon for later Greek history, Sallust, Cæsar, Livy, Dionysius, Dion Cassius, Tacitus, Ammianus, and the rest for Roman history; and so on indefinitely. Herodotus describes the battle of Thermopylæ; Arrian tells of the glories of Alexander; Dionysius relates the story of Virginia; Polybius shows us Hannibal crossing the Alps; Appian pictures the fall of Carthage; Josephus the fall of Jerusalem; Zosimus the fall of Palmyra. In this way a mass of first-hand matter, much of it hitherto absolutely inaccessible to the reader of English, and much more only to be found in rare and costly editions, is put within the reach of the least scholarly. But—what is most essential—such matter as this is not merely given by itself unsupported. It is supplemented by the verdicts of the latest investigators in the various fields covered. Thus, to cite but a single instance, in the history of early Greece, not merely Herodotus, Thucydides, Diodorus, Pausanias, and other ancient authorities are quoted, but the long range of modern students as well, from Mitford, Thirlwall, and Grote to Curtius, Bezold, Busolt, Geddes, Schliemann, Mahaffy, Bury, and in general the latest investigators in the field of classical archæology.

Thanks to this system of checking ancient accounts with editorial criticism and other recent expert evidence, it is even practicable to avail ourselves sometimes of the writings of men who are not primarily historians, but who wrote, as so many other great authors have done, most important incidental essays on historical subjects; thus matter in the highest degree picturesque and interesting is often presented in a manner which the technical historian, however great his scientific authority, is seldom able to imitate.

Another peculiar merit of this system is that it enables us to preserve specimens of the work of a large coterie of historians, whose influence was great and whose writings were formerly standard, but whose books, as a whole, have been superseded by more recent works. Some of the classical authors are cases in point. A few of these are indeed read by students in colleges everywhere, but the great bulk of them are as utterly unknown to the average reader as if they had never existed. Who reads Pausanias, or Diodorus, or Polybius, or Appian, or Dion Cassius, or Dionysius, or Ælianus, or Arrian, or Quintus Curtius, or Zosimus? Yet these men are the only original authorities left us in many fields of ancient history. Their works are the sources which moderns can do little more than paraphrase in writing of those times. Surely, then, it is worth while to go to these authors themselves and hear their story at first hand, applying to it the corrective judgment of later criticism, rather than to depend upon the mere paraphrase of some modern compiler.

Much the same argument applies to parts of the work of once famous historians of more recent times: such historians as Hume, Mitford, Thirlwall, and a host of others. Their work, as a whole, can no longer be commended to the student who is to confine himself to a single authority, for in many parts their writings have been superseded; yet there are other parts of their work that are to-day as valuable as when they were written, and it seems regrettable that a great name should drop from public recognition merely because the sweep of progress has dethroned it from supremacy. It is inevitable that the present should always loom large before mankind, and that egotism should stamp with peculiar force the importance of the Recent.[26] “Each generation abandons the ideas of its predecessors like stranded ships,” says Emerson. Yet it must not be forgotten that posterity often plays strange tricks with reputations. Herodotus was held up to ridicule some centuries after his death by a “False Plutarch,” who is only known now because of his attack upon the master historian, while the work criticised, though for some generations looked on with suspicion, is as fully appreciated, after more than two thousand years, as it can have been in the day when it was written.

Similarly, the judgments of our own age of specialism may be reversed by posterity; and in any event it would be regrettable if a once important historical work should be quite forgotten. Yet such a fate threatens work of every grade. Müller’s collection of the fragments of Greek historians gives mere bits from the writings of more than five hundred authors about whom nothing is known—not even the exact age in which they lived—beyond the fact that they wrote works of which these fragments are the only mementoes. Could any page of manuscript of any one of these authors be recovered, it would to-day be considered worth many times its weight in gold.

Precisely the same process of decay is gradually removing the evidences of the historical labours of the writers of recent generations even now. The multiplication of books by the printing-press makes the process a trifle slower, perhaps; but it is no less sure. A goodly number of works that were famous half a century ago are now absolutely inaccessible to the would-be purchaser: the great book markets of Paris, Berlin, and London cannot secure or supply them. A few copies of these works are still extant in private collections and public libraries, but the fate of these is assured. Libraries are constructed to be burned. Some day a lick of flame will wipe out the last copy of any work issued only in a single edition, and the author will become thenceforth merely a name and a memory; or if, perchance, some latter-day Suidas or Stobæus has quoted a sentence from him, such sentence will be treasured in catalogues of fragments of eighteenth and nineteenth century historians. For many such an author, the present work may perform the function of Suidas or Stobæus, for a long list of these obsolescent writers will be found represented in our pages,—not always preserved for their antiquarian interest indeed, but quoted in regard to events concerning which their authority is still standard, and because it is believed that, in the cases selected, their treatment has not been excelled by any more recent performance; sometimes, on the other hand,—but more rarely,—quoted because of the quaintness of their diction, because of the archaic cast of thought through which they reflect the spirit of their times, or because of their sheer whimsicality.

But while emphasising the catholicity of taste that judges matter on its own merits, excluding nothing simply because it is old, it must be emphasised also that in the main such selection leads to the inclusion of a preponderance of recent matter. Each generation builds upon the shoulders of the last, and the work, as a whole, is progressive. So we go not merely to the latest books, but also to the recent numbers of periodicals, the publications of learned societies and the like. And to put the cap-sheaf to modernity, the greatest living experts in each field have contributed original essays and characterisations expounding the latest developments. These contributions, in which master workers summarise the results of years of investigation, will be found not the least valuable part of our work.

Most that has been said thus far has tended to emphasise the variorum or anthological features of our work. But it must be evident that there is another and quite different point of view from which our historical structure[27] may be considered. This point of view regards our history not as a compilation—an anthology—but as an altogether new and original work. A moment’s consideration will show how fully justified we are in referring to this aspect of the subject. For it is obvious to the least attentive consideration that the intrinsic materials which make up the story of history might be never so abundant, never so valuable, without in the least presupposing that the history composed of them will be an artistic or valuable work; any more than an abundant supply of bricks, marble, and mortar necessarily determines the building of a beautiful edifice. The materials are, indeed, prerequisites; but an intelligent manipulation of the materials is at least equally essential. There must be an architect to plan the structure as a whole, and artists and artisans to select and manipulate the materials in accordance with the plan, or the result will be, not an edifice, but a brick-heap.

Since, then, we have dwelt at some length upon the fundamental materials of our historical structure, it is necessary that we should be equally explicit regarding the shaping of the architectural design—to hold to our figure—in accordance with which the materials have been first selected, and secondly amalgamated with other materials;—each stone not only selected of proper quality and size, but chiselled and polished to fit its proper niche.

The simile of an architect constructing a building, cheap and trite as it is, cannot well be dispensed with if we are to give the reader a vivid picture of our method of construction. It must be understood that whether our result be good or bad, there is nothing fortuitous, nothing haphazard about it. We did not start groping blindly for material, hoping to see an artistic structure form itself out of chaos. Our entire plan was as fully preconceived as the plan of any other architect. First, the kind of structure was determined on: in other words the scope of our subject,—world history; the entire sweep of important human events from the earliest times to the present day. Secondly, the approximate size of the projected structure was determined—its ground surface, its height, its total mass; or, speaking in the terminology of our specific structure, the number of volumes, the size of each volume, the total mass or number of pages involved.

Next the proportions of the structure, the number of floors and of rooms to each floor; the relative size and dimensions of the various departments; or, in book terms, the proportionate number of volumes or pages to be given to each important department of history: so many volumes to the Old Orient; so many to the Classical World; so many to the Middle Ages; so many to the important divisions of modern history.

All this, let it be repeated, was accurately predetermined before a single block of material was explicitly selected for the building. It does not follow that absolutely no changes have ever been made in the original plan—no architect perhaps ever made a building of which this was quite true; but it is true that the original plan was so carefully thought out, so well considered, that the changes are utterly insignificant in comparison with the unmodified portions of the structure. This point should be emphasised and clearly borne in mind, because upon it depends a large measure of our confidence that we have produced a structure not without artistic and correct proportions. It was the predetermination of the proportions, and this alone, that could control the enthusiasm of unrestrained specialism, and keep to anything like a true historical perspective. Over and over again it has been proved that the special worker, when he came to focus upon a given period, was in the position of a microscopist, viewing his wonderfully interesting microcosm. All the rest of the world shut out for[28] the moment, the little circle of the microscopic field, which may be in reality one hundredth of an inch in diameter, looms before the view at an angle which literally makes it seem to eclipse the world itself.

And so the historical delver, when he finds himself in the midst of the literature on any period whatever—be it a mere historical mole-hill—finds himself surrounded by a heap of literary bricks which shuts out the very mountain ranges of history from his vision. At once he demands—feels that he must have—space for his magnified mole-hill; and it is only the predetermined editorial restrictions that keep him from filling entire volumes with fascinating stories about some petty kingdom which, from the world-historical standpoint, is entitled to pages only. It is a conservative estimate of the facts to assert that there is no period of our history for which ten times the amount of material has not been garnered than could possibly be used in extenso. The chart of the architect has lain always open upon the editorial desk, and rule and compass have been ever ready to restrain and check the over-enthusiasm of the worker whose zeal would otherwise lead him to present megaliths where the specification called for, and the plan permitted, only tiny bricks.

As to whether the plans of the architect were intrinsically good; whether the specification called for bricks where bricks were logically needed, and for megaliths in their proper place—these are questions that will not be entered on here. But a word may be permitted as to the ruling motives which have dominated the conception, and which, it is hoped, have never been lost sight of. These ruling motives are two: first, the hope of attaining a high standard of historical accuracy in the most critical acceptance of the term; secondly, the desire to retain as much as possible of human interest in the broadest and best sense of the words. To attain the first of these ends it is necessary to be free from prejudice, to have unflagging zeal in collecting testimony, to have scientific and critical acumen in weighing evidence; to attain the second end it is essential that kindred faculties should be applied not to the facts of history but to the literary presentations of these facts, that the good and true story may not be spoiled in the telling.

The desire to be free from all prejudice in the judgment of historical facts is, then, the key-note of all our philosophy of historical criticism; and the desire to retain interest—human interest—is the key-note of our philosophy of historical composition.

To attain either end, what perhaps is most required is catholicity of sympathies. There must be no race prejudice, no national prejudice. There must be no attempt to blacken or whiten historical characters, in correspondence with the personal bias. There must be no special pleading for or against any form of government, any racial propensity, or any individual deed. In a word, there must be freedom from prejudice in every field,—except indeed that prejudice in favour of the broad principles of right, regarding which all civilised nations of every age have been in virtual agreement. But the deeds, the motives, the superstitions of all times and of all races must be viewed, so far as such a thing is possible, through the same clear atmosphere of impartiality. As between Egyptian, Assyrian, Hebrew, Hindoo, Persian, Mongul—he who would produce a world history of truly catholic scope should have no inherent prejudice or preconception.

Equally must there be freedom from prejudice regarding various classes of ideas. “Whatever concerns mankind is of interest to me,” must be the editorial motto. Some persons are interested only in military events, in battles, treaties, and the like; others care only for constitutional and[29] governmental affairs; yet others think most of literature and of art, or of science. But the editorial spirit of a world history should show a catholicity of taste that is receptive of each and all of these. Xerxes at Thermopylæ, and Æschylus writing his tragedy “The Persians”; Alexander mourning for Hephæstion, and Phidias building the Parthenon; Augustus Cæsar disputing the mastery of the world with Antony, and Dionysius telling of the myths of early Rome; Richard of the lion heart prosecuting a crusade, and Dante vitalising the Italian language; each and all of these and kindred topics up and down the scroll of history should equally, each in proportion to its relative influence, excite the sympathetic attention of the historian. With the same zeal he should tell of the alleged iniquities of a Messalina or a Catherine de’ Medici and of the noble self-abnegation of a Cornelia; of the self-seeking of a Cæsar and of the self-abnegation of a Cincinnatus or a St. Louis. With sound common-sense for a guide, he should strive to avoid on the one hand the over-credulity of the untrained mind, and on the other the dogmatic scepticism that so often perverts the judgment of the specialist.

But what then, it may be asked, of the moral of our story—of our drama? Shall we be content to present the bare facts, and leave their philosophical interpretation to chance? To this it may be replied, that in the minds of most of us a profound philosophical idea is one that accords with our own preconception;—other views are superficial, perverse, or obviously mistaken. Hence a wise interpreter of history will be extremely chary of putting forward his own more or less dogmatic interpretations of the events he relates. It does not follow that no opinion can ever be expressed; indeed, a tacit expression of opinion is implied in the selection of almost every excerpt. But witnesses from all sides must be given an impartial hearing in any case where a clear balance of evidence is not attainable; and where the evidence is demonstrative it must be presented with all fairness, and without reservation or innuendo, regardless of its apparent bearing.

Fortunately the study of world history in itself tends to make for precisely such impartiality. He who has attentively followed the story of the rise and fall of nations will have learned that human nature is everywhere at its foundation much the same; that no race, no nation, no individual even is ideally good or totally bad; that the Past has always been a Golden Age for the pessimist, the Future always utopian for the dreamer, and that a broad optimism regarding the Present—a belief that on the whole the conditions of any given time are about as good as the character of the time permits—is, perhaps, the safest philosophy of living.

In the main, then, we may rest content with the conviction that, however unobtrusive our philosophy, the great lessons of history will not fail to make themselves felt by any attentive reader of these pages. We greatly mistake the purport of the story if it does not on the whole make for broader views, for truer humanitarianism, for higher morals, personal and communal;—in a word, for better citizenship in the fullest and broadest meaning of the term. Indeed, to attain the plane of the best citizenship, historical studies are absolutely essential. No one can have a competent judgment regarding the affairs of his own country without such studies; no one is a fair judge of the political principles of the party he supports or of the one that he opposes, who has not prepared himself by a study of the political systems of the past. “Had I begun earlier and spent thirty years in reading history,” said Schiller, “I should be far different and a far better man than I am.” Echoing these words, we may say that the outlook for every constitutional government would be brighter if every youth and every man who exercises[30] or is about to exercise the responsibilities of a voter, and every woman whose advice aids or stimulates a father, brother, husband, or son towards the performance of his civic duties, could spend not thirty years, let us say, but as many weeks in studying the history of nations. Little fear that the student who has got such a start as this would willingly stop there. He would have gained enough of insight to be keenly interested, and it would require no urging to send him on; for the panorama of history, once we gain a little insight into it as it unfolds before us its never ending variety of scenes, can hardly be viewed otherwise than with unflagging interest; unless indeed the view is befogged by the atmosphere through which it is presented. To prevent such befogging,—to present the story through a clear medium,—requires only that the narrative shall be true to the facts in its presentation of topics of real importance. This is what we had in mind when we said that interest—human interest—is the key-note of our philosophy of historical composition. It is the editorial conviction that attention, based upon interest, is the foundation of mental development. A literary work that lacks interest, might, indeed, subserve a useful purpose, but the scope of its influence is curtailed from the outset if the reader must go to it as a task and not as to a recreation. Interest breaks down the barriers between work and play. Interest fixes attention, and fixed attention is the basis of memorising.

Let it freely be asserted, then, that in the selection of material for our work the principle acted on has been that, other things being equal, the best account of any historical event is the most picturesque and entertaining account,—for what, after all, does picturesqueness imply, except an approach to the vivid reproduction of the actualities? Written words are intended to be read, and any writer who, like Polybius, despises the literary graces must expect to be despised in turn, or, at least, neglected. Properly presented, the narrative of history should have all the breathless interest of a novel,—for what is so fascinating as a true story from human life? In the present work an attempt is made to raise history towards the level of fiction in point of interest, without sacrificing anything of scientific accuracy. No account is given here merely because it is picturesque, to the exclusion of a truer narrative; but the preference is always given to the graphic story as against the dull, where the two have equal authority as to matters of fact. Further to enhance the vividness of presentation, pictures are everywhere introduced. There are thousands of these pictures in the aggregate, drawn from the most varied sources, and constituting, it is believed, one of the most remarkable series of historical illustrations ever collected.

All in all, then, one might describe our intention as the desire to dramatise the story of history,—for, again, what is dramatisation but the mimicry of life? Our various books and sections are the settings for the acts and scenes of the play, and it is hoped that, with the aid of the introductions by way of proem, and the pictures to aid the eye, the characters are made to move across the stage before the reader with something like the vividness of living actors. One cannot quite dare promise that there shall be no dull scenes, but it is hoped that, in the main, the play will be found to move lightly on, as with words spoken “trippingly upon the tongue.”

In particular, it is hoped that our dramatisation of history will present the events of the long play in something like a true perspective, the large events looming large in our story, the lesser ones forced into the background. As an aid to this treatment, tables of chronology are everywhere introduced before the curtain rises, if it be permissible to hold to our metaphor. These are virtually the lists of dramatis personæ. Even the minor characters will[31] be named here, though they act only as chorus, or prate a few lines in the play where the chief personages will dominate the situation as they dominated it in real life, and as they dominate it in the memory of posterity. Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne, Napoleon—such figures will loom large in our drama of history; yet it will never be forgotten that the play is not a monologue. The minor actors will be given a fair hearing from first to last.

It follows from this that the main story of our history has to do with the deeds of men of action. But here at the very outset an important question may be raised: do the deeds of men of action then, after all, constitute the great events of history? An affirmative answer may be given with much confidence. Great men of action carve out the contour of history. High culture can only rise from soil fertilised by material prosperity. The swords of Leonidas, Themistocles, and Pausanias must prune the tree of civilisation before the flower of Periclesian culture can bloom at Athens. There are no names like Livy, Horace, Ovid, and Virgil in the annals of Rome before the conquests and the carnage of Marius, Sulla, and Cæsar. But let us hasten to add that the deeds of men of action can never be rightly understood unless they are considered in relation to the intellectual and social surroundings in which these men of action moved. In other words, the civilisation and culture of each succeeding period cannot be ignored. It will be found to be as fully treated here in all its phases as the limitations of space permit. It furnishes the atmosphere everywhere for our picture, or, if you prefer, the setting for our stage.

In a word, then, our work becomes, if its intent has been realised in actuality, a Comprehensive History of Human Progress in all departments of action and of thought, told dramatically and picturesquely, yet authoritatively, in the words of the great historical writers of every age. Recurring to our metaphor, it is the book of a veritable Drama of History; our unity of action being Historic Truth; our unity of time, the Age of Man; our stage, the World.




A complete world history should, properly speaking, begin with the creation of the world as man’s habitat, and should trace every step of human progress from the time when man first appeared on the globe. Unfortunately, the knowledge of to-day does not permit us to follow this theoretical obligation. We now know that the gaps in the history of human evolution as accessible to us to-day, vastly exceed the recorded chapters; that, in short, the period with which history proper has, at present, to content itself, is a mere moment in comparison with the vast reaches of time which, in recognition of our ignorance, we term “prehistoric.” But this recognition of limitations of our knowledge is a quite recent growth—no older, indeed, than a half century. Prior to 1859 the people of Christendom rested secure in the supposition that the chronology of man’s history was fully known, from the very year of his creation. One has but to turn to the first chapter of Genesis to find in the margin the date 4004 B.C., recorded with all confidence as the year of man’s first appearance on the globe. One finds there, too, a brief but comprehensive account of the manner of his appearance, as well as of the creation of the earth itself, his abiding-place. Until about half a century ago, as has just been said, the peoples of our portion of the globe rested secure in the supposition that this record and this date were a part of our definite knowledge of man’s history. Therefore, one finds the writers of general histories of the earlier days of the nineteenth century beginning their accounts with the creation of man, B.C. 4004, and coming on down to date with a full and seemingly secure chronology.

Our knowledge of the world and of man’s history has come on by leaps and bounds since then, with the curious result that to-day no one thinks of making any reference to the exact date of the beginnings of human history,—unless, indeed, it be to remark that it probably reaches back some hundreds of thousands of years. The historian can speak of dates anterior to 4004 B.C., to be sure. The Egyptologist is disposed to date the building of the Pyramids a full thousand years earlier than that. And the Assyriologist is learning to speak of the state of civilisation in Chaldea some 6000 or 7000 years B.C. with a certain measure of confidence. But he no longer thinks of these dates as standing anywhere near the beginning of history. He knows that man in that age, in the centres of progress, had attained a high stage of civilisation, and he feels sure that there were some thousands of centuries of earlier time, during which man was slowly climbing through savagery and barbarism, of which we have only the most fragmentary record. He does not pretend to know anything, except by inference, of the[33] “dawnings of civilisation.” Whichever way he turns in the centres of progress, such as China, Egypt, Chaldea, India, he finds the earliest accessible records, covering at best a period of only eight or ten thousand years, giving evidence of a civilisation already far advanced. Of the exact origin of any one of the civilisations with which he deals he knows absolutely nothing. “The Creation of Man,” with its fixed chronology, is a chapter that has vanished from our modern histories.

Nevertheless, it is important to a correct understanding of the development of human thought, as well as of personal interest, to bear in mind the attitude of our predecessors in the field of historical writing, regarding this ever interesting problem of cosmogony. It was not alone the ancient Hebrews who thought that they had solved the problem. Indeed, as we shall see, the Hebrews were rather the purveyors than the originators of the story of cosmogony which they made current; and every other nation, when it had reached a certain stage of mental evolution, appears to have originated or borrowed a set of chronicles which, as adapted to the use of each nation, explained the creation of the earth and its human inhabitants in a way very flattering to the self-love of the nation giving the recital. No one to-day takes any of these recitals seriously, as a matter of course; but, on the other hand, they possess an abiding interest as historical documents. If for nothing else, they have interest as illustrating the advance of human knowledge during the comparatively brief period since these strange recitals found currency.


No thinking man in any age can have failed to wonder about the origin of the world. The answers that the ancients gave to this ever present question were various, but they all had one quality in common, namely, extreme vagueness. Even after men had attained a relatively high stage of civilisation, their ideas of the natural phenomena about them were so endued with superstition, and so hedged about with ignorance as to the real causes, that their explanations of cause and effect in the natural world belong to the domain of poetry rather than to that of science. If this applies to such phenomena as wind and clouds and rain and lightning, the manifestations of which are constantly observed, it naturally applies with ten-fold force to the great mystery of the origin of things. Yet the human mind, childlike in the simplicity of its questionings, demands always an answer, and accepts the answer, if pronounced with a certain authority, in a spirit of childlike faith. The great poets and prophets of every nation of antiquity had supplied, each in his kind, the answers to the riddle of cosmogony, and many of these alleged solutions have come down to us to give us an insight into the mentality of their time. It is worth while to quote two or three of these in brief epitome, if for nothing else, to show their similar trend, and to emphasise their universal trait of vagueness.

Here is the cosmogonic scheme of the Phoenicians as transmitted to us by Sanchoniathon:

“At the beginning of all things was a dark and windy air, or a breeze of thick air and a turbid Chaos resembling Erebus; and that these were[34] unbounded, and for a long series of ages had no limit. But when this wind became enamoured of its own first principles (the Chaos), and an intimate union took place, that connection was called Pothos; and this was the beginning of the creation of all things. But it (the Chaos) knew not its own production; and from its embrace with the wind was generated Mot; which some call mud, but others the putrefaction of a watery mixture. And from this sprung all the seed of the creation, and the generation of the universe.

“And there were certain animals without sensation, from which intelligent animals were produced, and these were called Zophasemin, that is, beholders of the heavens; and they were formed in the shape of an egg: and from Mot shone forth the sun, and the moon, and the less and the greater stars. And when the air began to send forth life, by its fiery influence on the sea and earth, winds were produced and clouds, and very great defluxions and torrents of the heavenly waters. And when they were thus separated, and carried out of their proper places by the heat of the sun, and all met again in the air, and were dashed against each other, thunder and lightnings were the result: and at the sound of the thunder, the before-mentioned intelligent animals were aroused, and startled by the noise, and moved upon the earth and in the sea, male and female.”

This creation scheme of the Phœnicians has a peculiar interest for the Western world, because of the intimate relations that existed between the Phœnicians and the Jews. For a similar reason the ideas of the Babylonians and the Assyrians, as recorded on the so-called creation tablets exhumed at Nineveh, have fascinated the Bible scholars.

Trending still further to the East, one finds with the Hindus a slightly different cast of thought couched in a no less poetic diction. Thus in one of the sacred books, Brahma, the Eternal Worker, is represented as creating the earth while seeing his own reflection in the ocean of sweat that had fallen from his brow (Réclus).

The Chinese scheme of cosmogony is presented in the form of alleged answers to questions, by Confucius. Here is a characteristic excerpt as translated by M’Clatchie:

“At the beginning of Heaven and Earth, before chaos was divided, I think there were only two things, Fire and Water; and the sediment of the water formed the Earth. When we ascend a height and look down, the host of hills resemble the waves of the sea in appearance; the Water just flowed like this: I know not at what period it coagulated. At first it was very soft, but afterward it coagulated and became hard. One asked whether it resembled sand thrown up by the tide? He replied, Just so: the coarsest sediment of the Water became the Earth, and the most pure portion of the Fire became Wind, Thunder, Lightning, Sun, and Stars.

“Being asked: From the commencement of Heaven and Earth to the present time is not 10,000 years; I know not how it was before that time? He replied, Before that there was another clear opening (i.e. another Heaven and Earth) like the present one. Being further asked whether Heaven and Earth can perish altogether, he replied, They cannot: but, when mankind totally degenerate, then the whole shall return to Chaos, and Men and things shall all cease to exist; and then the World shall begin again. Some one asked how the first Man was generated; and he replied by the transmutation of the Air; the subtle portions of the Light and Darkness and the Five Elements united and produced his form. The Buddhists call this transmuting and generating. At present things are transmuted and generated in abundance like lice.


“Before Chaos was divided the Light-Dark Air was mixed up and dark, and when it divided, the centre formed an enormous and most brilliant opening, and the two E were established. Shaou Kang-tsee considers 129,600 years to be a Yuen (Kalpa); then, before this period of 129,600 years there was another opening and spreading out of the World; and before that again, there was another like the present; so that, Motion and Rest, Light and Darkness, have no beginning. As little things shadow forth great things, this may be illustrated by the revolutions of Day and Night. What Woo-Fung says about the Great Cessation of the entire Air, the vast and boundless agitation of all things, the whole expanse of waters changing position, the mountains bursting asunder, the channels being obliterated, Men and things all coming to an end, and the ancient vestiges all destroyed—all this refers to the utter destruction of the world by Deluge. We frequently see, on lofty mountains, the shells of the sea-snail and pearl-oyster, as it were generated in the middle of stones; these stones were (part of) the soil of the former world. The sea-snail and pearl-oyster belong to the water; so that that which was below changed and became high; that which was soft changed and became hard. This is a deep subject, and should be investigated.

“Being asked whether the multitude of things existed before Heaven and Earth divided, he replied: There was merely the idea of each thing. Heaven and Earth generate all things, and throughout all time, ancient and modern, cannot be separated from all things.”

It should be remarked as illustrating the difficulties of translating the thought of one language into the words of another, that Mr. F. H. Balfour questions certain of Canon M’Clatchie’s renderings. Thus a sentence which M’Clatchie interprets, “In the entire universe where there is no fate there is no air, and where there is no air there is no fate,” Mr. Balfour would read instead of “fate” “mind,” and instead of “air” “matter,” the sentence becoming, “In the entire universe where there is no mind there is no matter, and where there is no matter there is no mind.” Such divergent renderings as this are to be expected in the case of any Oriental language. It will not be forgotten how George Smith, one of the first great interpreters of the Assyrian tablets, read the Hebrew story of the Garden of Eden in the vague phrasing of the cuneiform document, where, as Menant quickly demonstrated, the writer of the document had composed a quite different story. This “reading into Homer that which Homer never knew” is much too familiar a subject to require further elucidation; but it is peculiarly desirable to bear it in mind in dealing with the philosophical and religious notions of any alien people.

Turning from the Orient, it is of interest to interrogate the Greek writers as to the creation schemes that were current in classical times. In the histories of Greece and Rome, we shall have occasion to examine these somewhat more in detail. For the present purpose, perhaps, an excerpt from Diodorus, who wrote with a full knowledge both of Greek and Roman ideas at about the beginning of our era, will be sufficiently illuminative.

Diodorus begins his history of the World with a brief account of the current notions as to the creation. He says: “Of the origin, therefore, of men there are two opinions amongst the most famous and authentic naturalists and historians. Some of these are of opinion that the world had neither beginning nor ever shall have end, and likewise say that mankind was from eternity and there never was a time when he first began to be. Others, on the contrary, conceive both the world to be made, and to be corruptible,[36] and that there was a certain time when men had first a being; for, whereas all things at the first were jumbled together, heaven and earth were in one mass and had one and the same form. But afterward they say when corporeal beings appeared one after another, the world at length presented itself in the order we now see, and that the air was in continual agitation, whose fiery parts ascended together to the highest place, its nature ‘by reason of its levity’ trending always upward, for which reason both the sun and that vast number of stars are contained within that orb; that the gross and earthy matter clotted together by moisture, by reason of its weight sunk down below into which place by continually whirling about. The sea was made of the humid, and the muddy earth of the more solid, as yet very soft, which by degrees at first was made crusty by the heat of the sun, and then, after the face of the earth was parched, and, as it were, fermented, the moisture afterward in many places bubbled up, as may be seen in standing ponds and marshy places, when, after the earth has been pierced with cold, the air grows hot on a sudden without a gradual alteration, and whereas moisture generates creatures from heat, things so generated by being enrapt in the dewy mists of the night grew and increased, and in the day solidified and were made hard by the heat of the sun, and thus the forms of all sorts of living creatures were brought forth into the light, and those that had most heat mounted aloft, and were fowls and birds of the air, but those that had more of earth were numbered in the order of creeping things and other creatures altogether suited to the earth. Then those beasts that were naturally watery and moist, called fishes, presently hastened to the place natural to them; and when the earth afterward became more dry and solid by the heat of the sun and the drying winds, it had not power at length to produce any more of the greater living creatures. And Euripides, the pupil of Anaxagoras, seems to be of the same opinion concerning the first generation of all things, for in his Menilippe he has these verses:

“‘A mass confused
Heaven and Earth once were
Of one form; but after separation
Then men, trees, beasts of the earth with fowls of the air
First sprang up in a generation.’

“But if this power of the earth to produce living creatures at the first origin of all things seem incredible to any, the Egyptians bring testimonies of this energy of the earth by the same things done there at this day; for they say that about Thebes in Egypt, after the overflowing of the river Nile, the earth thereby being covered by mud and slime, many places putrefy by the heat of the sun, and thence are bred multitudes of mice. It is certain, therefore, that out of the earth when it is hardened, and the air changed from its dew and natural temperament, animals are generated, by which means it came to pass that in the first beginning of all things various living creatures proceeded from the earth. And these are the opinions touching the original of all things.”

It would be difficult to say to what extent this Greek conception of creation had its origin in, or was influenced by, Oriental conception. Certainly the resemblance between this description and the Mosaic accounts, as contained in the first two chapters of Genesis, is noteworthy. Quite probably the ideas of both Hebrews and Greeks had been moulded to some extent in the pattern of Egyptian thought. Be that as it may, it was the scheme of cosmogony expressed in the Hebrew legends that was to become dominant[37] in post-classical times, and to rule unchallenged in the Western world for more than a thousand years. Indeed, this estimate of the time of real supremacy of the Hebrew thought is much too low; for that thought, though challenged as to some of its features by the science of the Renaissance which ushered in the period of modern history, was none the less to retain its hold upon the thoughts of men, but little abated in force, for another half millennium.

Not till well toward the close of the eighteenth century was an attempt made to substitute a scientific guess at the riddle of creation for the old poetic ones, and yet another century elapsed before the new explanations availed fully to supplant the old ones. It was Laplace, the great French mathematician, who elaborated toward the close of the eighteenth century a so-called nebular hypothesis, which may fairly be considered the first measurably scientific attempt ever made to explain the origin of the world. The hypothesis conceives that, at a time indefinitely remote, the entire solar system and space far beyond it was filled with a “fire mist,” consisting of the material in a gaseous state which now forms the sun and planets. This gaseous body, contracting through loss of heat, and rotating on its axis, left behind from time to time, successive rings of its own substance, that, consolidating, became the planets; the remaining core of substance contracting finally to constitute the body that we call the sun.

Nineteenth century science elaborated, without essentially modifying, this nebular hypothesis. Elaborate attempts have been made by Dr. Croll and by Sir Norman Lockyer to explain the origin of the “fire mist” itself, from which per hypothesis our solar system and an infinity of like stellar systems were formed. The meteoritic hypothesis of Lockyer supposes that the primeval fire mist was due to the collision of swarms of meteors; Croll’s theory postulates the smashing together of dark stars: but the two theories are essentially identical in their main thought, which is, that previously solidified bodies of the universe are made gaseous through mutual impact, thus affording material for the operation of those changes outlined in the nebular hypothesis of Laplace. True or false, this hypothesis stands to-day as the expression of the profoundest cosmogonic scientific guess that modern thought has been able to substitute for the poetic guesses of antiquity.

As to the creation of the living things on the globe, including man, the Oriental idea, which amounted to no explanation at all, but was rather the hiding of utter ignorance behind a screen of positive assertion, has been supplanted in the latter part of the nineteenth century by the scientific explanations of the evolutionists. The theory of evolution, as first formulated in anything like scientific terms, about the close of the eighteenth century, by the elder Darwin, the poet Goethe, and the French philosophical zoölogist Lamarck, and as given such amazing fertility by Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection in 1859, has taken full possession of the field as an explanation of the development of man through a series of lower organisms. But it must not be forgotten that this theory, with all of its revolutionary implications, does not as yet explain in clear scientific terms the origin of that lowliest organism which is the first in its series of living beings. It is for the science of the future to take this remaining step. Meantime, the developmental theory of to-day suffices to substitute in precise terms a scientific explanation of the origin of man for the vagaries of the old-time dreamers; and the more daring thinkers feel that the gap between the inorganic world and the lowest of man’s ancestors is not an impassable barrier to the application of a theory of universal evolution.



The vague notions of the ancients as to the origin of the world were inseparably linked with their restricted notions as to the present status of the world itself.

It is curious to reflect how small a portion of the habitable globe was the theatre of all those human activities, the record of which constitutes ancient history. Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, Greece, and Italy taken as a whole constitute but a small patch of territory encircling the Mediterranean Sea. Persia and India, stretching away to the East, lay vaguely at the confines of the world as conceived even in relatively late classical times. From a very early day, doubtless, there had been intercommunication between India and the West. Nevertheless, the conquest of Alexander was regarded as extending into regions hitherto utterly unknown, and as opening up a new world to Greek thought. Similarly two centuries later, Cæsar’s invasion of Britain brought regions to the attention of the geographer concerning which only the vaguest notions had been current.

Spain had long been known through the explorations and commercial enterprises of the Phœnicians and Greeks, and when it became a part of Roman territory, it was as familiarly known as Gaul or Britain. But these bounds, India on the east, Britain at the north, Spain in the west, and Upper Egypt toward the equator were the limits of the known world as understood by the classical mind. The vague traditions probably based on fact, as recorded by Herodotus, that a company of Phœnicians had sailed out of the Red Sea and gone by water about all the southern continent, to reappear from the west by way of the pillars of Hercules—or present Gibraltar,—served to give support to the theory that all the continental mass was encompassed in a universal sea, rather than to extend geographical knowledge in any precise sense.

Considering, then, the limitations of ancient geographical knowledge, it is wonderful how clear, precise, and correct an idea as to the shape, and even in a general way, as to the size, of the earth were attained by the classical geographers. To be sure, the Oriental thinkers applied the same poetical conceptions to cosmology that dominated them in other fields. The Hindu conceived the world as resting on the back of a mammoth elephant, which stood in turn on the back of a tortoise, and was transported thus across a boundless sea of milk. Greek mythology gives us the familiar picture of a human giant, Atlas, supporting the world. But such poetic conceptions as these, whatever their force may once have been with the Greeks, had been supplanted before the close of the classical epoch by ideas of a strictly scientific nature.

Not long after the beginning of the Christian era there lived a Greek named Strabo, whose status as a truly scientific geographer is gladly acknowledged to-day. Strabo’s remarks on cosmology may well be quoted here as showing the heights to which the science of geography had attained among the Greeks. Making due allowance for the changed phraseology of another age, these are such things as might be said by a geographer of to-day, yet they were written over two thousand years ago:

“We have treated these subjects at length in the first Book of the Geography. At present we shall make a few remarks on the operations of[39] nature and of Providence conjointly. On the operations of nature, that all things converge to a point, namely, the centre of the whole, and assume a spherical shape around it. The earth is the densest body and nearer the centre than all others: the less dense and next to it is water: but both land and water are spheres, the first solid, the second hollow, containing this earth within it. On the operations of Providence, that it has exercised a will, is disposed to variety, and is the artificer of innumerable works. In the first rank, as greatly surpassing all the rest is the generation of animals, of which the most excellent are gods and man, for whose sake the rest were formed. To the gods Providence assigned heaven; and the earth to men: the extreme parts of the world; for the extreme parts of the sphere are the centre and the circumference. But since water encompasses the earth, and man is not an aquatic, but a land animal, living in the air, and requiring much light, Providence formed many eminences and cavities in the earth, so that these cavities should receive the whole or a great part of the water which covers the land beneath it; and that the eminences should rise and conceal the water beneath them, except as much as was necessary for the use of the human race and the animals and plants about it.

“But as all things are in constant motion, and undergo great changes (for it is not possible that such things of such a nature, so numerous and vast, could be otherwise regulated in the world), we must not suppose the earth or the water always to continue in this state, so as to retain perpetually the same bulk, without increase or diminution, or that each preserves the same fixed place, particularly as the reciprocal change of one into the other is most consonant to nature from their proximity; but that much of the land is changed into water, and a great portion of water becomes land, just as we observe great differences in the earth itself. For one kind of earth crumbles easily, another is solid and rocky, and contains iron; and so of others. There is also a variety in the quality of water; for some waters are saline, others sweet and potable, others medicinal, and either salutary or noxious; others cold or hot. Is it therefore surprising that some parts of the earth which are now inhabited should formerly have been occupied by sea, and that what are now seas should formerly have been inhabited land? So also fountains once existing have failed and others have burst forth; and similarly in the case of rivers and lakes; again, mountains and plains have been converted reciprocally one into the other. On this subject I have spoken before at length, and now let this be said:

“Geometry and astronomy, as we before remarked, seem absolutely indispensable in this science. This in fact is evident, that without some such assistance, it would be impossible to be accurately acquainted with the configuration of the earth; its climate, dimensions, and the like information.

“As the size of the earth has been demonstrated by other writers, we shall here take for granted and receive as accurate what they have advanced. We shall also assume that the earth is spheroidal, that its surface is likewise spheroidal, and above all, that bodies have a tendency toward its centre, which later point is clear to the perception of the most average understanding. However, we may show summarily that the earth is spheroidal, from the consideration that all things however distant tend to its centre, and that everybody is attracted toward its centre of gravity; this is more distinctly proved from observations of the sea and sky, for here the evidence of the senses, and common observation is alone requisite. The convexity of the sea is a further proof of this to those who have sailed; for they cannot perceive lights at a distance when placed at the same level as their eyes, but if[40] raised on high, they at once become perceptible to vision, though at the same time farther removed. So, when the eye is raised, it sees what before was utterly imperceptible. Homer speaks of this when he says:

“‘Lifted up on the vast wave he quickly beheld afar.’ Sailors, as they approach their destination, behold the shore continually raising itself to their view; and objects which had at first seemed low, begin to elevate themselves. Our gnomons, also, are, among other things, evidence of the revolution of the heavenly bodies; and common sense at once shows us, that if the depth of the earth were infinite, such a revolution could not take place.”

It is astounding in the light of present-day knowledge to reflect that such correct and scientific views as to the form of the earth were subordinated, and, at last, almost entirely supplanted, by the curiously faulty conceptions of the Oriental dreamers. A chance phrase of the Hebrew writings refers to the corners of the earth, and this sufficed to promulgate a false conception of cosmology, which dominated the world for a millennium. The old Greek conception never quite died out, as the faith of Columbus showed, but it was so crushed beneath the weight of ecclesiastical authority, that it maintained existence only with here and there a nonconformist to the ideas of his time; and when Columbus and Magellan had demonstrated the falsity of the Oriental conception, and Copernicus and Galileo had further revolutionised the Hebrew conception, the advocates of the false view fought tooth and nail for a conception which had come to be intimately associated with those religious tenets which, to them, were more sacred than life itself.

Truth prevailed in the end, of course; but it was not till well into the nineteenth century that the chief supporters of the old Hebrew cosmology officially abandoned their position, and admitted that the world is round, and is not the centre of the universe.


Generally speaking, the old-time nations rejoiced in their alleged antiquity. Notions as to exact chronology for long periods of time were practically non-existent. A full sense of the value of chronology as the foundation stone of history was only acquired in relatively modern times. The figures that the ancients used in referring to their national existence were very sweeping, and suffered from the same defects of vagueness that characterise their other thoughts.

Herodotus, basing his belief on what he learned in Egypt, ascribed to the Egyptians a national existence of thirteen thousand years. Diodorus extends this period to twenty-three thousand, and some other reports current in classical times increase the figures by yet another ten thousand. Even this is a meagre period compared with the claims made by the Babylonians, who number the years of their own nation in hundreds of thousands; and it is said that the Chinese, in computing their own history, do not stop short of millions of years.

The Babylonians were the astronomers of antiquity, and doubtless the less scientific Greeks regarded their knowledge of the stars as something quite occult, and were ready to believe almost any chronological statement that the Babylonians put forward. The Romans, indeed, practical people that they always were in the day of their prime, were disposed to look with[41] more of scepticism upon such claims. Cicero announces himself as distinctly sceptical regarding the allegation that the Babylonian records extend over a period of two hundred and seventy thousand years. His scepticism, however, was probably based rather upon a shrewd common-sense estimate of human affairs than upon any preconception as to the antiquity of man. In a word, the ancients as a class had no fear of time, and most of them had no religious or other preconception that limited their estimate as to the age of a nation or the exact age of the world itself. The latter-day Hebrew was an exception to this rule. He came at last to look upon the vague historical records of his people as sacred books, inspired in their every word, and detailing among other things the exact genealogy of the leaders of his race from the creation to his own time. It is not, indeed, probable that the ancient Hebrew made any great point of the exact period of time compassed by his records, since, as has been said, questions of exact chronology entered but little into the thoughts of man in that day; but in a more recent time students of Hebrew records have attempted to ascertain the exact age of the earth and the exact period of human existence by aggregating the various disconnected records of the Hebrew scriptures, long after the modern historical method had been applied acutely to all other accessible writings of antiquity.

These writings of the Hebrews were held to constitute a class apart, and were looked to as having an authenticity not to be claimed by any other ancient documents; and while no two scholars of authority, making independent computations, were ever able to agree as to the exact facts connoted by the Hebrew chronology, yet none the less, each prominent investigator clung with full faith to his own estimate, and several of them found schools of followers who battled as eagerly as the masters themselves for the exact dates they believed to be represented by the vague Hebrew estimates. Generally speaking, these estimates ascribe the creation of the world and of man to a period about four thousand years before the Christian era; the year of the Deluge, which was supposed to have engulfed all the inhabitants of the earth except a single family, being variously estimated between the years 3200 and 2300 B.C. That some such figures as these represented the truth regarding a period of man’s residence here on the earth came to be accepted throughout Christendom as an article of faith, to question which was a rank heresy.

The larger figures which the Greeks, Egyptians, Mesopotamians and other nations had employed came to be regarded as absurd guesses, which it were a sacrilege to countenance now that the truth was known; and yet, as every one nowadays knows, these larger figures, vague guesses though they were, approach much nearer to the actual truth than the restricted numbers that supplanted them.

The changed point of view with which the modern historian regards the ancient chronology has been attained through a process of scientific development extending over about a century. A truer knowledge of the cosmic scheme did not bring with it as a necessary counterpart the correct conception as to the length of time that this scheme had been in operation.

Laplace, in formulating his nebular hypothesis, had nothing definite to say as to the length of time required for its development, and there was nothing in his computation to throw any light whatever upon the antiquity of the earth as a habitable sphere.

Cuvier, the great contemporary of Laplace, no doubt accepted the nebular hypothesis as a valid explanation of the origin of the world, but he held to[42] the conception of about six thousand years for the age of man as rigidly as did any Middle Age monk. Cuvier was the first to demonstrate that certain fossil skeletons belonged to no existing species of animal. In other words, he believed that races of great beasts had once inhabited the earth, but no longer have living representatives. This, however, did not suggest to him that the earth had long been peopled, but only went to show, as he believed, that a great catastrophe, as the universal flood was supposed to have been, had actually taken place. It remained for Charles Lyell, the famous English geologist, working along the lines first suggested by another great Englishman, James Hutton, to prove that the successive populations of the earth, whose remains are found in fossil beds, had lived for enormous periods of time, and had supplanted one another on the earth, not through any sudden catastrophe, but by slow processes of the natural development and decay of different kinds of beings.

Following the demonstrations of Lyell there came about a sudden change of belief among geologists as to the age of the earth, until, in our day, the period during which the earth has been inhabited by one kind of creature and another is computed, not by specific thousands, but by vague hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.

The last refuge for champions of the old chronology was found in the claim that man himself had been but about six thousand years upon the earth, whatever might be true of his non-human forerunners. But even this claim had presently to be abandoned when the researches of the palæontologists had been directed to the subject of fossil man.

The researches of Schmerling, of Boucher de Perth, of Lyell himself, and of a host of later workers demonstrated that fossil remains of man were found commingled in embedded strata and in cave bottoms under conditions that demonstrated their extreme antiquity; and in the course of the quarter century after 1865, in which year Lyell had published his epoch-marking work on the antiquity of man, the new idea had made a complete conquest, until now no one any more thinks of disputing the extreme antiquity of man than he thinks of questioning the great age of the earth itself. To be sure, no one pretends any longer to put a precise date upon man’s first appearance. The new figures take on something of the vagueness that characterise the estimates of the Babylonians; but it is accepted as clearly proven that the racial age of man is at least to be numbered in tens of thousands of years. The only clues at present accessible that tend to give anything like definiteness to the computations are the researches of Egyptologists and Assyriologists.

In Egypt remains are found, as we shall see, which carry the history of civilisation back to something like 5000 B.C., and in Mesopotamia the latest finds are believed to extend the record by yet another two thousand years. Man then existed in a state of high civilisation at a period antedating the Christian era by about twice the length of time formerly admitted for the age of earth itself.

How much more ancient the remains of barbaric man, as preserved in the oldest caves, may be, it would be but vague guess work and serve no useful purpose, to attempt to estimate. History proper, as usually conceived, is concerned only with the doings of civilised man; and, indeed, in one sense, such a restricted view is absolutely forced upon the historian, for it is only civilised man who is able to produce records that are preserved through the ages in such manner as to tell a connected story to after generations. The arrow-heads and charred sticks of the stone age of man are indeed proofs that this man existed, and that he led his certain manner of life, some clear[43] intimations as to which are given by these mementoes; but they point to no path by which we may hope to follow the precise history of those succeeding generations by which the man of the stone age was connected with, for example, the builder of the Egyptian Pyramids. We can, indeed, trace in general terms the course of human progress. We know that from using rough stone implements chipped into shape, man came finally to acquire the art of polishing stones by friction, thus making more finished implements. We know that later on he learned to smelt metals, marvellous achievement that it was; and when this had been accomplished, we may suppose that he pretty rapidly developed cognate arts that led to higher civilisation.

Reasoning from this knowledge, we speak of the palæolithic or rough stone age, of the neolithic or polished stone age, of the age of bronze, and finally of the age of iron, as representing great epochs in human progress. But it is only in the vaguest terms that we can connect one of these ages with another, and any attempt at a definite chronology in relation to them utterly fails us. This would not so much matter if we were sure in any given case that we were tracing the history of the same individual race through the successive periods; but, in point of fact, no such unity of race can be predicated. There is every reason to believe that each and every race that ever attained to higher civilisation passed through these various stages, but the familiar examples of the American Indians, who were in the rough stone age when their continent was discovered by Columbus, and of the African and Australian races, who, even now, have advanced no farther, illustrate the fact that different races have passed through these various stages of development in widely separated periods of time, and take away all certainty from any attempts to compute exact chronologies.


The question of races of mankind is one that has given rise to great diversity of opinion among scientists and students of ethnology, and it may as well be admitted at the outset that no very definite conclusions have as yet been arrived at. One set of ethnologists have been disposed to look to physical characters as the basis of a classification; others have been guided more by language. In the earlier stages of the inquiry the Biblical traditions have entered into the case with prejudicial effect, and with the advances of science this subject as a whole has seemed to grow more confused rather than clearer. For a time there was a certain unanimity in regarding the Egyptians and their allies as Hamites, the Babylonians, Hebrews, Phœnicians, and their allies as Semites, and in bringing all other non-Aryan races into a conglomerate class under the title of Turanians. Latterly, however, the artificial character of such a classification as this has been more and more apparent, and a growing belief tends to consider all the peoples grouped about the Mediterranean as forming a single race, including within that race, as is apparent, members of the old races of Hamites, Semites, and Aryans. Yet another classification would group the peoples of the earth according to their several stages of civilisation. But, without attempting a complete enumeration of all the various systems that have been suggested, one may summarise them all by repeating that there is no complete uniformity of classification accepted by all authoritative students of the subject.


Here as elsewhere, however, there is a tendency for old systems and old names to maintain their hold, and notwithstanding the disavowals of the most recent schools of ethnology, the classification into Hamites, Semites, Aryans, and Turanians is doubtless the one that has still the widest vogue. In particular the Aryan race, to which all modern European races belong, has seemed more and more to make good its claims to recognition. Thanks to the relatively new science of comparative philology, it has been shown, and has now come to be familiarly understood, that the languages of the Hindu and the Persian in the far East are based upon the same principles of phonation as the Greek and Latin and their daughter languages, and the language of the great Teutonic race.

It is this affinity of languages that is the one defining feature of the Aryan race. Since historical studies have made it more and more plain that a nation in its wanderings, whether as a conquering or a conquered people, may adopt the language of another nation, it has become clear that a classification of mankind based on ethnic features would have no necessary correspondence with a classification based upon language. The philologists, therefore, who cling to the word “Aryan,” or to the idea which it connotes, have latterly been disposed to urge, as for example Professor Max Müller does in the most strenuous terms, that in contending for an Aryan race they refer solely to a set of people speaking the Aryan language, quite regardless of the physical affinities of these people. And it is in this sense of the word, and this alone, that the dark-skinned race of India is to be considered brother to the fair-skinned Scandinavian; that, in short, all the nations of modern Europe and the classical nations of antiquity are to be jumbled together in an arbitrary union with the people of far-off Persia and India.

While this classification establishing an Aryan race on the basis of language has the support of all philologists, and, indeed, is susceptible of the readiest verification, there is a growing tendency to frown upon the use of the word “Aryan” itself. The word came into vogue at a time when it was supposed on all hands that the original home of the people to whom it was applied was Central Asia; that this was the cradle of the Aryan race was long accepted quite as a matter of course—hence the general acceptance of the name. But, in the course of the last century, the supposed fact of the Asiatic origin of the Aryans has been placed in dispute, and there is a seemingly growing school of students, who, basing their claims on the evidence of philology, are disposed to believe that the cradle of this race—if race it be—was not Central Asia, but perhaps Western or Northwestern Europe. We must not pause to discuss the evidence for this new view here; suffice it that the evidence seems highly suggestive, if not conclusive.

To many philologists, including some who still hold that the probabilities favour an Asiatic origin of the race, it now seems advisable to adopt a name of less doubtful import, and of late it has become quite usual to substitute for the word “Aryan” the compound word “Indo-European,” or, what is perhaps better, “Indo-Germanic.” Such a word, it is clear, summarises the fact that the Indians in the far East and the Germanic race in the far West have a language that is fundamentally the same, without connoting any theory whatever as to the origin or other relations of these widely scattered peoples. The name thus has an undoubted scientific status that makes it attractive, but nevertheless it is too cumbersome to be accepted at once as a substitute for the word “Aryan” in ordinary usage. Nor, indeed does there seem to be any good reason why such substitution should be made. Words very generally come in the course of time to have an application which their[45] original derivation would not at all justify, and there is no more reason for ruling out the word “Aryan,” even should it be proven absolutely that Asia was not the original cradle of the Indo-Germanic race, than there would be for discarding a very large number of words of Greek and Latin derivation that are familiarly employed in the various modern European languages. Indeed, it may be taken for granted that the generality of people to whom the word “Aryan” is familiar have no such preconception aroused in their minds by the word as it conveys to the mind of special scholars, and in any event where a distinct disavowal is made of any ethnological preconceptions in connection with the word, one is surely justified for convenience sake in continuing to use the word “Aryan” as a synonym for the more complicated term “Indo-Germanic.”


It has been said that history proper is usually regarded as having to do solely with the deeds of civilised man, but in point of fact the scope of history as written at the present day necessarily falls far short of comprehending the entire history of civilisation. Before the dawn of recorded history man had evolved to a stage in which the greater number of the greatest arts had been attained. That is to say, he was possessed of articulate language. He had learned to clothe and to house himself. He knew the use of fire. He could manufacture implements of war and of peace. He had surrounded himself with domesticated animals. He added to his food supply by practising agriculture. He had established systems of government. He knew how to embellish his surroundings by the practice of painting and of decorative architecture, and last, and perhaps greatest, he had invented the art of writing, and carried it far toward perfection.

With the development of these arts history proper is not concerned, but this is not because the development of these arts would not constitute true history if its course were known, but simply because of our entire ignorance of all details of the subject.

In order to gain a clearer idea, however, of the status of human culture at the dawn of history proper, it may be worth while to glance in the most cursory way at each of the great inventions and developments upon which the entire structure of civilisation depends.

First. Language.

Perhaps the greatest single step ever made in the history of man’s upward progress was taken when the practice of articulate speech began. It would be contrary to all that we know of human evolution to suppose that this development was a sudden one, or that it transformed a non-human into a human species at a sudden vault. It is well known that many of the lower animals are able to communicate with one another in a way that implies at least a vague form of speech, and it has been questioned whether the higher species of apes do not actually articulate in a way strictly comparable to the vocalisation of man. Be that as it may, the clear fact remains that one species of animal did at a very remote time in the past develop the power of vocalisation in the direction of articulate speech to a degree that in course of time broadened the gap between that species and all others, till it became an impassable chasm.


Without language of an explicit kind not even the rudiments of civilisation would be possible. No one perhaps ever epitomised the value of articulate speech in a single phrase more tellingly than does Herder when he says: “The lyre of Amphion has not built cities. No magic wand has transformed deserts into gardens. Language has done it,—that great source of sociality.”

Obviously, then, could we know the history of the evolution of articulate speech it would be one of the very greatest chapters in all human records; but it is equally obvious that we can never hope to know that history except inferentially. When the dawn of history proper came, man had so long practised speaking that he had developed countless languages so widely divergent from one another that they are easily classified into several great types. From the study of these languages the philologist draws more or less valid inferences as to the later stages of linguistic growth and development. But he gains no inklings whatever as to any of those earlier developments which constituted the origin or the creation of language.

Second. Clothing and Housing of Prehistoric Man.

Nothing is more surprising to the student of antiquity than to find at what seems the very beginning of civilisation such monuments as the Pyramids and the great sculptures of Egypt and Mesopotamia. But a moment’s reflection makes it clear that man must have learned to house himself, as well as to clothe himself, before he can have started on that tour of conquest of the world which was so far advanced before the dawn of history. Doubtless the original home of man must have been in a tropical or subtropical climate, and he cannot well have left these pampering regions until he had made a considerable development, almost the first step of which required that he should gain the means of protecting himself from the cold. The idea of such protection once acquired, its elaboration was but a question of time. It is amazing to observe how closely, both as regards attire and building, man had approximated to the modern standards at the time when he first produced monumental or other records that have come down to us.

Third. The Use of Fire.

Quite as fundamental as the matter of housing and clothing, and even more marvellous, considered as an invention, was the recognition of the uses of fire, and the development of the methods of producing fire at will. It is conceivable that some individual man at a relatively early stage of human progress developed and elaborated this idea, becoming the actual inventor of fire as applied to human uses. If such was really the case, no greater inventor ever lived. But the wildest flight of speculative imagination does not suffice to suggest where or when this man may have lived. It cannot well be doubted, however, that the use of fire must have been well known to the earliest generations of men that attempted to wander far from the tropics. Clothed, housed, and provided with fire, man was able to undertake the conquest of all regions, but without fire he dare not have braved the winters even of the middle latitudes, to say nothing of Arctic regions.

No doubt the earliest method of producing fire practically employed was by friction of dry sticks, much after the manner still in use among certain savage tribes. Obviously the flint and steel, which for so many thousands of years was to be the sole practical means of producing fire among the civilised races, could not have come into vogue until the age of iron. The lucifer match, which was finally to banish flint and steel, was an invention of the nineteenth century.


Fourth. Implements of Peace and War.

A gigantic bound was made when man first learned to use a club habitually, and doubtless the transition from a club to a mechanically pointed spear constituted a journey as long and as hard as the evolution from the spear to the modern repeating rifle. But before the dawn of history there had been evolved from the club the battle-axe of metal, and from the crude spear the metal-pointed javelin, the arrow, the sword, and the dagger; the bow, too, of which the arrow was the complement, had long been perfected, and from it had evolved various other implements of warfare, culminating in the gigantic battering-ram.

Of implements of a more pacific character, boats of various types furnished means of transportation on the water, and wagons with wheel and axle, acting on precisely the same principle which is still employed, had been perfected, both of these being used in certain of their types for purposes of war as well as in the arts of peace. Manufacture included necessarily the making of materials for clothing from an early stage, and this had advanced from the crude art of dressing skins to the weaving of woollen fabrics and fine linens that would bear comparison with the products of the modern loom. Stones were shaped and bricks made as materials for building. The principle of the pulley was well understood as an aid to human strength; and the potter’s wheel, with which various household utensils were shaped, was absurdly like the ones that are still used for a like purpose. In all of these arts of manufacture, indeed, a degree of perfection had been attained upon which there was to be singularly little advance for some thousands of years. It was not until well toward the close of the eighteenth century that the series of great mechanical advances began with the application of steam to the propulsion of machinery, which has revolutionised manufacture and for the first time made a radical change from the systems of transportation that were in vogue before the dawn of history; and it was only a few centuries earlier that the invention of gunpowder metamorphosed the methods of warfare that had been in vogue for a like period.

Fifth. The Domestication of Animals.

It is not difficult, if one considers the matter attentively, to imagine how revolutionary must have been the effect of the domestication of animals. Primitive man can at first have had no idea of the possible utility of the animals about him, except as objects of pursuit; but doubtless at a very early stage it became customary for children to tame, or attempt to tame, such animals as wolves, foxes, and cats of various tribes when taken young, much as children of to-day enjoy doing the same thing. This more readily led to the early domestication or half-domestication of such animals as that species of wolf from which the various races of dogs sprang. It is held that the dog was the first animal to become truly domesticated. Obviously this animal could be of advantage to man in the chase, even in very early stages of human evolution; and it is quite possible that a long series of generations may have elapsed before any animal was added to the list of man’s companions. But the great step was taken when herbivorous animals, useful not for the chase, but as supplying milk and flesh for food, were made tributary to the use of man. From that day man was no longer a mere hunter and fisher; he became a herdsman, and in the fact of entering upon a pastoral life, he had placed his foot firmly on the first rung of the ladder of civilisation. An obvious change became necessary in the life of pastoral people. They could still remain nomads, to be sure, but their wanderings were restricted by a new factor. They must go where food could be found[48] for their herds. Moreover, economic features of vast importance were introduced in the fact that the herds of a people became a natural prey of less civilised peoples of the same region. It became necessary, therefore, to make provision for the protection of the herds, and in so doing an increased feeling of communal unity was necessarily engendered. Hitherto we may suppose that a single family might live by itself without greatly encountering interference from other families. So long as game was abundant, and equally open to the pursuit of all, there would seem to be no reason why one family should systematically interfere with another, except in individual instances where quarrels of a strictly personal nature had arisen. But the pastoral life introduced an element of contention that must necessarily have led to the perpetual danger of warfare, and concomitantly to the growing necessity for such aggregate action on the part of numerous families as constituted the essentials of a primitive government. It is curious to reflect on these two opposite results that must have grown almost directly from the introduction of the custom of domesticating food animals. On the one hand, the growth of the spirit of war between tribes; on the other, the development of the spirit of tribal unity, the germs of nationality.

Much thought has been given by naturalists to the exact origin of the various races of domesticated animals. Speaking in general terms, it may be said that Asia is the great original home of domesticated animals as a class. Possibly the dog may be the descendant of some European wolf, and he had perhaps become the companion of man before that great hypothetical eastward migration of the Aryans took place, which the modern ethnologist believes to have preceded the Asiatic settlement of that race. The cat also may not unlikely be a descendant of the European wild cat, but the sheep, the cow, the donkey, and the horse, as well as the barnyard fowl, are almost unquestionably of Asiatic origin. Of these the horse was probably the last to be domesticated, since we find that the Egyptians did not employ this animal until a relatively late stage of the historic period, namely, about the twentieth century B.C. This does not mean that the horse was unknown to the Asiatic nations until so late a period, but it suggests a relatively recent use of this animal as compared, for example, with the use of cattle, which had been introduced into Egypt before the beginning of the historic period. No animal of importance and only one bird—the turkey—has been added to the list of domesticated creatures since the dawn of history.

Sixth. Agriculture.

The studies of the philologists make it certain that long periods of time elapsed after man had entered on a pastoral life before he became an agriculturist. The proof of this is found, for example, in the fact that the Greeks and Romans use words obviously of the same derivation for the names of various domesticated animals, while a similar uniformity does not pertain to their names for cultivated cereals or for implements of agriculture. Theoretical considerations of the probable state of pastoral man would lead to the same conclusion, for the gap between the wandering habits of the owners of flocks, whose chief care was to find pasture, and the fixed abode of an agricultural people, is indeed a wide one. To be sure, the earliest agriculturist may not have been a strictly permanent resident of any particular district; he might migrate like the bird with the seasons, and change the region of his abode utterly from year to year, but he must in the nature of the case have remained in one place for several months together, that is to say, from sowing to harvest time; and to people of nomadic instincts this[49] interference with their desires might be extremely irksome, to say nothing of the work involved in cultivating the soil. But once the advantages of producing a vegetable food supply, according to a preconceived plan, instead of depending upon the precarious supply of nature, were fully understood and appreciated, another great forward movement had been made in the direction of ultimate civilisation. Incidentally it may be added that another incentive had been given one tribe to prey upon another, and conversely another motive for strengthening the bonds of tribal unity.

Agricultural plants, like domesticated animals, are practically all of Asiatic origin. There are, however, three important exceptions, namely, maize among cereals and the two varieties of potato, all of which are indigenous to the Western hemisphere, and hence were necessarily unknown to the civilised nations of antiquity. With these exceptions all the important agricultural plants had been known and cultivated for numberless generations before the opening of the historic period.

Seventh. Government.

We have just seen how the introduction of domesticated animals and agricultural plants must have influenced the communal habits of primitive man in the direction of the establishment of local government. There are reasons to believe that, prior to taking these steps, the most advanced form of human settlement was the tribe or clan consisting of the members of a single family. The unit of this settlement was the single family itself with a man at its head, who was at once provider, protector, and master. As the various members of a family held together in obedience to the gregarious instinct, which man shares with the greater number of animals, it was natural that some one member of the clan should be looked to as the leader of the whole. In the ordinary course of events, such leader would be the oldest man, the founder of the original family; but there must have been a constant tendency for younger men of pronounced ability to aspire to the leadership, and to wrest from the patriarch his right of mastery.

Such mastery, however, whether held by right of age, or of superior capacity, must have been in the early day very restricted in scope, for of necessity primitive man depended largely on his own individual efforts both for securing food, and for protection of himself and his immediate family against enemies, and under such circumstances an independence of character must have been developed that implies an unwillingness to submit to the autocratic authority of another. Only when the pastoral and agricultural phases of civilisation had become fully established, would communities assume such numerical proportions as to bring the question of leadership of the clan into perpetual prominence; and no doubt a very long series of internal strifes and revolutionary dissensions must have preceded the final recognition of the fact that no large community of people can aspire to anything like integrity without the clear recognition of some centralised authority. Under the conditions incident to the early stages of civilisation, where man was subject to the marauding raids of enemies, it was but natural that this centralised authority should be conceded to some man whose recognised prowess in warfare had aroused the respect and admiration of his fellows. Thus arose the system of monarchial government, which we find fully established everywhere among the nations of antiquity when they first emerge out of the obscuration of the prehistoric period. The slow steps of progress by which the rights of the individual came to strike an evener balance, as against the all-absorbing usurpations of the monarch and a small coterie of his adherents, constitute one of the chief elements of the story of[50] history that is to be unfolded in our pages. But when the story opens, there is no intimation of this reaction. The monarch is all dominant; his individual subjects seem the mere puppets of his will.

Eighth. The Arts of Painting, Sculpture, and Decorative Architecture.

The graven fragments of ivory and of reindeer horn, found in the cave deposits of the stone age, give ample proof that man early developed the desire and the capacity for drawing. Doubtless there was a more or less steady advance upon this art of the cave-dweller throughout succeeding generations, though the records of such progress are for the most part lost. The monuments of Egypt and of Mesopotamia, however, have been preserved to us in sufficient completeness to prove that the graphic arts had reached a really high stage of development before the close of the prehistoric period. It is but fair to add, however, that in this direction the changes of the earlier centuries of the historic period were far greater than were the changes in the practical arts.

As early as the ninth century B.C. the Assyrians had developed the art of sculpture in bas-relief in a way that constituted a marvellous advance upon anything that may reasonably be believed to have been performed by prehistoric man, and only three centuries later came the culminating period of Greek art, which marked the stage of almost revolutionary progress.

Ninth. The Art of Writing.

One other art remains to be mentioned even in the most cursory survey. This is the latest, and in some respects the greatest of them all—the art of writing. In one sense this art is only a development of the art of drawing, but it is a development that has such momentous consequences that it may well be considered as distinct. Moreover, it led to results so important for the historian, and so directly in line of all our future studies, that we shall do well to examine it somewhat more in detail.

All the various phases of prehistoric culture at which we have just glanced have left reminiscences, more or less vague in character, for the guidance of students of later ages; but the materials for history proper only began to be accumulated after man had learned to give tangible expression to his thoughts in written words. No doubt the first steps toward this accomplishment were taken at a very early day. We have seen that the cave-dweller even made graphic though crude pictures, including hunting scenes, that are in effect the same in intent, and up to a certain point the same in result, as if the features of the event were described in words. Doubtless there was no generation after the stone age in which men did not resort, more or less, to the graphic delineation of ideas.

The familiar story that Herodotus tells of the message sent by the Scythians to Darius is significant. It will be recalled that the Scythian messenger brought the body of a bird, a mouse, and a frog, together with a bundle of five arrows. Interrogated as to the meaning of this strange gift, the messenger replied that his instructions were to present the objects and retire. Darius and his officers were much puzzled to interpret the message, Darius himself being disposed to regard it as an admission on the part of the Scythians that they conceded him lord of their territory, the land, water, and air; but one of the officers of the great king gave a different interpretation, which was presently accepted as the correct one. As he read the message it implied that unless the Persians could learn to fly through the air like birds, or to burrow through the earth like a mouse, or to dive through the water like a frog, they should not be able to escape the arrows of the Scythians. Miss Amelia B. Edwards, in her delightful book on[51] Egypt, has hazarded some conjectures as to the exact way in which the bird and mouse and frog and arrows were presented to Darius. She believes that they were fastened to a piece of bark, or perhaps to a fragment of hide, in fixed position, so that they became virtually hieroglyphics. The question is interesting, but of no vital importance, since the exact manner of presentation would not in any way alter the intent, but would only bear upon the readiness of its interpretation. The real point of interest lies in the fact of this transmission of ideas by symbols, which constitutes the essence of the art of writing.

It may be presumed that crude methods of sending messages, not unlike this of the Scythians, were practised more or less independently, and with greater or less degrees of elaboration, by barbaric and half-civilised tribes everywhere. The familiar case of the American Indians, who were wont to send a belt of wampum and an arrow as a declaration of war, is an illustration in point. The gap between such a presentation of tangible objects and the use of crude pictures to replace the objects themselves would not seem, from a civilised standpoint, to be a very wide one. Yet no doubt it was an enormously difficult gap to cross. Granted the idea, any one could string together the frog, the bird, the mouse, and the arrows, but only here and there a man would possess the artistic skill requisite to make fairly recognisable pictures of these objects. It is true that the cave man of a vastly earlier period had developed a capacity to draw the outlines of such animals as the reindeer and the mammoth with astonishing verisimilitude. Professor Sayce has drawn the conclusion from this that the average man dwelling in the caves of France at that remote epoch could draw as well as the average Frenchman of to-day; but a moment’s consideration will make it clear that the facts in hand by no means warrant so sweeping a conclusion. There is nothing to show, nor is there any reason to believe, that the cave-dweller pictures that have come down to us are the work of average men of that period. On the contrary, it is much more likely that they were the work, not of average men, but of the artistic geniuses of their day,—of the Michelangelos, Raphaels, or if you prefer, the Landseers, the Bonheurs, and Corots of their time.

There is no more reason to suppose that the average cave dweller could have drawn the reindeer hunting scene or the famous picture of the mammoth, than that the average Frenchman of to-day could have painted the Horse Fair. There is no reason then to suppose that the average Scythian could have made himself equally intelligible to Darius by drawing pictures instead of sending actual objects, though quite possibly there were some men among the Scythian hordes who could have done so. The idea of such pictorial ideographs had seemingly not yet come to the Scythians, but that idea had been attained many centuries before by other people of a higher plane of civilisation. At least four thousand years before the age of Darius, the Babylonians, over whose descendants the Persian king was to rule, had invented or developed a picture-writing and elaborated it until it was able to convey, not merely vague generalities, but exquisite shades of meaning. The Egyptians, too, at a period probably at least as remote, had developed what seems an independent system of picture-writing, and brought it to an astonishing degree of perfection.

At least three other systems of picture-writing in elaborated forms are recognised, namely, that used by the Hittites in Western Asia, that of the Chinese, and that of the Mexican Indians in America. No dates can be fixed as to when these were introduced, neither is it possible to demonstrate[52] the entire independence of the various systems; but all of them were developed in prehistoric periods. There seems no reason to doubt that in each case the picture-writing consisted originally of the mere graphic presentation of an object as representing an idea connected with that object itself, precisely as if the Scythians had drawn pictures of the mouse, the bird, the frog, and the arrows in order to convey the message to Darius. Doubtless periods of incalculable length elapsed after the use of such ideograms as this had come into vogue before the next great step was taken, which consisted in using a picture, not merely to represent some idea associated with the object depicted, but to represent a sound. Probably the first steps of this development came about through the attempt to depict the names of men. Since the name of a man is often a combination of syllables, having no independent significance, it was obviously difficult to represent that name in a picture record, and yet, in the nature of the case, the name of the man might often constitute the most important part of the record. Sooner or later the difficulty was met, as the Egyptian hieroglyphics prove to us, by adopting a system of phonetics, in which a certain picture stands for the sound of each syllable of the name. The pictures selected for such syllabic use were usually chosen because the name of the object presented by the picture began with the sound in question. Such a syllabary having been introduced, its obvious utility led presently to its application, not merely to the spelling of proper names, but to general purposes of writing.

One other step remained, namely, to make that final analysis of sounds which reduces the multitude of syllables to about twenty-five elementary sounds, and to recognise that, by supplying a symbol for each one of these sounds, the entire cumbersome structure of ideographs and syllables might be dispensed with. The Egyptians made this analysis before the dawn of history, and had provided themselves with an alphabet; but strangely enough they had not given up, nor did they ever relinquish in subsequent times, the system of ideographs and syllabics that mark the stages of evolution of the alphabet. The Babylonians at the beginning of their historic period had developed a most elaborate system of syllables, but their writing had not reached the alphabet stage.

The introduction of the alphabet to the exclusion of the cruder methods was a feat accomplished within the historic period by the Phœnicians, some details of which we shall have occasion to examine later on. This feat is justly regarded as one of the greatest accomplishments of the entire historic period. But that estimate must not blind us to the fact that the Egyptians and Babylonians, and probably also the Chinese, were in possession of their fully elaborated systems of writing long before the very beginnings of that historic period of which we are all along speaking. Indeed, as has been said, true history could not begin until individual human deeds began to be recorded in written words.













Copyright, 1904,

All rights reserved.




Introductory Essay. Egypt as a World Influence. By Dr. Adolf Erman57
Egyptian History in Outline65
Chapter I. The Egyptian Race and its Origin77
Chapter II. The Old Memphis Kingdom90
Chapter III. The Old Theban Kingdom106
Chapter IV. The Restoration126
Chapter V. The XIXth Dynasty141
Chapter VI. The Finding of the Royal Mummies155
Chapter VII. The Period of Decay162
Chapter VIII. The Closing Scenes180
Chapter IX. Manners and Customs of the Egyptians196
Chapter X. The Egyptian Religion219
Chapter XI. Egyptian Culture240
Chapter XII. Concluding Summary of Egyptian History263
Appendix A. Classical Traditions267
Appendix B. The Problem of Egyptian Chronology287
Brief Reference-List of Authorities by Chapters293
A General Bibliography of Egyptian History295



Ancient and Modern Egypt



Written Specially for the Present Work


Professor of Egyptology in the University of Berlin; Director of the Berlin Egyptian Museum; Member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, Berlin, etc.

The countries that laid the foundation of our civilisation are not of those through which traffic passes on its way from land to land. Neither Babylon nor Egypt lies on one of the natural highways of the world; they lie hidden, encircled by mountains or deserts, and the seas that wash their shores are such as the ordinary seafarer avoids rather than frequents.

But this very seclusion, which to us, with our modern ideas, seems a thing prejudicial to culture, did its part toward furthering the development of mankind in these ancient lands; it assured to their inhabitants a less troublous life than otherwise falls to the lot of nations under primitive conditions. Egypt, more particularly, had no determined adversary, nor any that could meet her on equal terms close at hand. To west of her stretched a desert, leading by interminable wanderings to sparsely populated lands. On the east the desert was less wide indeed, but beyond it lay the Red Sea, and he who crossed it did but reach another desert, the Arabian waste. Southward for hundreds of miles stretched the barren land of Nubia, where even the waterway of the Nile withholds its wonted service, so that the races of the Sudan are likewise shut off from Egypt. And even the route from Palestine to the Nile, which we are apt to think of as so short and easy, involved a march of several days through waterless desert and marshy ground. These neighbour countries, barren as they are, were certainly inhabited, but the dwellers there were poor nomads; they might conquer Egypt now and again, but they could not permanently injure her civilisation.

Thus the people which dwelt in Egypt could enjoy undisturbed all the good things their country had to bestow. For in this singular river valley it was easier for men to live and thrive than in most other countries of the world. Not that the life was such as is led in those tropic lands where the fruits of earth simply drop into the mouth, and the human race grows enervated in a pleasant indolence; the dweller in Egypt had to cultivate his fields, to tend his cattle, but if he did so he was bounteously repaid for his labour. Every year the river fertilised his fields that they might bring forth barley and spelt and fodder for his oxen. He became a settled husbandman, a grave and diligent man, who was spared the disquiet and hardships endured by the nomadic tribes. Hence in this place there early developed a civilisation which far surpassed that of other nations, and with which only that of[58] far-off Babylonia, where somewhat similar local conditions obtained, could in any degree vie. And this civilisation, and the national characteristics of the Egyptian nation which went hand in hand with it, were so strong that they could weather even a grievous storm. For long ago, in the remote antiquity which lies far beyond all tradition, Egypt was once overtaken by the same calamity which was destined to befall her twice within historic times—she was conquered by Arab Bedouins, who lorded it over the country so long that the Egyptians adopted their language, though they altered and adapted it curiously in the process. This transplantation of an Asiatic language to African soil is the lasting, but likewise the only, trace left by this primeval invasion; in all other respects the conquerors were merged into the Egyptian people, to whom they, as barbarians, had nothing to offer. There is nothing in the ideas and reminiscences of later Egyptians to indicate that a Bedouin element had been absorbed into the race; in spite of their language the aspect they present to us is that of the true children of their singular country, a people to whom the desert and its inhabitants are something alien and incomprehensible. It is the same scene, mutatis mutandis, that was enacted in the full light of history at the rise of Islam; then, too, the unwarlike land was subdued by the swift onset of the Bedouins, who also imposed their language on it in the days of their rule; and yet the Egyptian people remains ever the same, and the people who speak Arabic to-day in the valley of the Nile have little in common with the Arabs of the desert.

Long before the period at which our historical knowledge begins, these Egyptian husbandmen had laid the foundations of their civilisation. They still went unclad and delighted to paint their bodies with green pigment; their ruler still wore a lion’s tail at his girdle and a strange savage-looking top-knot on his head; his sceptre was still a staff such as may be cut from the tree; but these staves already ruled a wide domain full of townships large and small. And in each of these there were already nobles, responsible to the king for the government thereof, looking with reverence toward his “great house,” and paying him tribute of their corn and cattle. And in the midst of the clay huts in every place stood a large hut, with wattled walls, the entrance adorned with poles; no other than the sanctuary of their god. Already they carved his image in wood and carried it round the town at festivals. Manifold are the accomplishments which the Egyptians have acquired by this time. They fashion the flint of the desert into knives and weapons of the utmost perfection of workmanship, they make cords, mats, and skiffs out of the rushes from the marsh-land, they are acquainted with the art of manufacturing tiles and earthen vessels from the clay of the soil. They carve in wood and ivory, and their carvings have already a peculiar character wholly their own. Moreover, they have prepared the way for the greatest of their achievements and have learned to record their ideas by drawing small pictures; the character is still for the most part pictographic, but even now certain particular pictures are used to denote sounds.

On this primitive period of the Egyptian nation we can only gaze from afar; we do not meet it face to face until the time when the two kingdoms, into which the country had hitherto been divided, were united for the first time by King Menes; this may have taken place after the middle of the fourth millennium. The union must have given a strong impulse to the life of the nation, and but a few generations after the days of King Menes the monuments that have come down to us exhibit most of the features characteristic of Egyptian civilisation in the later centuries. The might of[59] Egypt waxes apace; a few centuries more—at the period we are in the habit of speaking of as the Old Kingdom—and its development has progressed so far that nothing now seems beyond its strength. The gigantic buildings of the IVth Dynasty, whose great pyramids defy the tooth of time, bear witness to this. How proudly self-conscious must the race have been which strove thus to set up for itself a perpetual memorial! And if this passion for the huge is relinquished in succeeding centuries, it is merely a token of the further development of the nation; it has wearied of the colossal scale, and turns its attention to a greater refinement of life, the grace of which still looks forth upon us from the monuments of the Vth Dynasty.

Thus, even under the Old Kingdom, Egypt is a country in a high state of civilisation; a centralised government, a high level of technical skill, a religion in exuberant development, an art that has reached its zenith, a literature that strives upward to its culminating point,—this it is that we see displayed in its monuments. It is an early blossom, put forth by the human race at a time when other nations were yet wrapped in their winter sleep. In ancient Babylonia alone, where conditions equally favourable prevailed, the nation of the Sumerians reached a similar height. Any one who will compare these two ancient civilisations of Babylonia and Egypt cannot fail to see that they present many similarities of custom; thus in both the seal is rolled upon the clay, and both date their years according to certain events. The idea that some connection subsisted between them, and that then, as in later times, the products of both countries were dispersed by commerce through the world about them, is one that suggests itself spontaneously. But substantial evidence in support of this conjecture is still lacking and will probably ever remain so.

The great age of the Old Kingdom ends in a collapse, the body politic breaks up into its component parts, and the level of civilisation in the provinces sinks rapidly. But it rises again no less rapidly, when, at the close of the third millennium B.C., Egypt is once more united under a single sovereign.

The Middle Kingdom, as we customarily call this epoch, is a second season of efflorescence; indeed, it is the time upon which the Egyptians of succeeding generations looked back as the classic period of their literature; and many centuries later, boys at school were still patiently copying out the wise lessons which the first king of the period imparted to his son, or the adventures of his contemporary, Sinuhe, and thereby learning the elegance of style in which the Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom were such adepts. This, moreover, is the epoch in which, so far as we know, the Egyptian arms were first carried to remoter lands; at this time Nubia became an Egyptian province, and the gold of its desert thenceforth belonged to the Pharaohs. The memory of this extension of the sway of Egypt survived among the Egyptians of later days, embodied in the semi-mythical figure of the great King Sesostris. When legend reports that this monarch likewise subjugated distant lands to the north, we have now no means of judging how much truth there may be in the tale. But this we can see, that at that time Egypt maintained commercial relations with the countries of the Mediterranean; for their dainty vases are found in Egyptian rubbish heaps of the period, and may have been imported into the Nile valley then, as later, as vessels for containing delicate foreign oils.

These palmy days of the second period of Egyptian history lasted for barely two hundred years, and then a time of political decadence again set in,[60] and Egypt for some centuries passes almost out of sight. One thing only do we know of its fortunes during this interval, namely, that it once more fell a prey to barbarian conquerors. The Hyksos—presumably a Bedouin tribe from the Syrio-Arabian desert—long reigned in Egypt as its lords. But the sway of these barbarians was naturally lax, and while the foreign great king abode in his camp on the Delta, Egyptian princes ruled as his vassals in the great cities of Egypt. And when, as was inevitable, the might of the barbarians waned, the might of these dynasts increased, till one of them, who ruled in the little city of Thebes in distant Upper Egypt, rose to such a height of power as to gain the mastery, not only over the other princes, but ultimately over the Hyksos themselves. About the year 1600 B.C. we find Egypt free once more, and under the sceptre of this same upper Egyptian line which has rendered the names of Thebes, its city, and Amen, its god, forever famous. The New Kingdom, the greatest age that the Nile Valley ever saw, has dawned.

The power of the kingdom waxed apace beyond its borders. Tehutimes I and his son, the indefatigable warrior, Tehutimes III, subdued a region that extended northward to northern Syria and southward to the Sudan; Egypt became the neighbour of the kingdom of Mitani [or Mitanni] on the Euphrates, of the rising power of Assyria, of ancient Babylonia. The two ancient civilisations which had been developing for thousands of years in Mesopotamia and the valley of the Nile were thus brought into direct contact, and we shall hardly be wrong in saying that during these centuries a great part of the civilised world whose heirs we are, met together in a common life. A brisk trade must have developed as a result of this new relation of country to country. The countries of the Mediterranean, where the so-called Mycenæan civilisation was then in its prime, had their part in it, as is proved by the discovery of numerous Mycenæan vessels in the tombs and ruins of the New Kingdom, and no less by the productions of Egyptian technical art which have been brought to light from the seats of Mycenæan civilisation.

The effect of these altered relations upon Egypt is easy to see. Vast wealth pours into the country and enables the Pharaohs to erect the gigantic fabric of the Theban temples. But at the very time when the spirit of ancient Egypt finds its most splendid transfiguration in these buildings, it begins to suffer loss and change. The old simple garb no longer beseems the lords of so great an empire; it must give place to a costlier. The antiquated literary language handed down from days of old is gradually superseded by the vulgar tongue. And if the Egyptians had up to this time looked proudly down upon all other nations as wretched barbarians, they must have found this narrow-minded view untenable when once they had met face to face the equally ancient civilisation of Babylonia and the vigorous growth of Syrian and Mediterranean cultures. The sons of Egypt’s Asiatic vassals attend her king, their daughters sit in his harem; Syrian mercenaries form one regiment of his bodyguard, foreign captives work on the edifices he builds. His officers, military and civil, have all made some stay on Asiatic soil, and his “letter-scribe” can read and write the cuneiform characters of Babylonia. The commerce which led foreign merchants to Egypt must have acted no less powerfully; they brought in silverware, wood of various kinds, horses and oxen, wine, beer, oil, and unguents, and carried away in return the manifold products of Egyptian industry and Egyptian crafts. In the long result not only does their traditional fear of foreigners pass away, but Asiatic fashions actually come into vogue[61] among cultured Egyptians. They coquet with foreign Canaanitish phrases, and think it permissible to offer up prayer to Baal [Bel] Astarte, and other gods of alien peoples. Asiatic singing-girls set the lyre of their native land in place of the old Egyptian harp, and many an intellectual possession may have migrated into Egypt with their songs.

It is far harder to gauge in detail the effect of Egyptian supremacy on Asia and Europe. We can see from the discoveries made in these countries what a quantity of small Egyptian wares in glass and faience, silver and bronze, was exported during this period, and we may further conclude that this was the time when the industrial art of Syrio-Phœnicia acquired its Egyptianised style. Similarly we may conjecture that it was then that our civilisation adopted all those things which were undoubtedly invented or perfected on Egyptian soil, and which we meet with even in the very oldest Greek and Etruscan times—the forms of household furniture, of columns, statues, weapons, seals, and many other things which still play their part in our daily life, though we are all unconscious of their Egyptian origin. At that period, when Egypt held the first place in Asia and Europe, a stream of Egyptian influence must have flowed out upon the whole world—a stream of which we still can guess the force only from these traces it has left.

As for the most precious lore that other nations might have learned from the Egyptians, we have no information concerning it whatever; though it is certain that their intellectual riches, their religion and poetry, their medical and arithmetical skill, can have been no less widely spread abroad than these productions of their technical dexterity. If, for example, our religion tells us of an immortality of the soul more excellent than the melancholy existence of the shades, the conception is one first met with in ancient Egypt; and Egyptian, likewise, is the idea that the fate of the dead is determined by the life led upon earth. These conceptions come to us by way of the Jewish religion. But may not the Jews have obtained them from Egypt, the land that bore its dead so heedfully in mind? The silent paths by which such thoughts pass from nation to nation are, it is true, beyond all showing. Or, if much in the gnomic poetry of the Hebrews reminds us strikingly of the abundant proverbial literature of Egypt, the idea of seeking its origin in the Nile Valley is one that occurs almost spontaneously. Here, too, of course, we have no proof to offer; connections of the kind can be no more than guessed at.

Thus the first part of the New Kingdom, or what we are in the habit of calling the XVIIIth Dynasty, is one of those periods which are pre-eminent as having advanced the progress of the world. To Egypt herself this co-operation with other nations might have brought a new and loftier development, had she been able really to assimilate the influx of new ideas. But of this the old nation was no longer capable; it had not vigour enough to shake off the ballast wherewith its thousands of years of existence had laden it.

About 1400 B.C. one of the Pharaohs—it was Amenhotep IV—did indeed make a serious attempt to break with custom and tradition and adapt the faith and thought of his people to the new conditions. He tried to create a new religion, in which only one god should be worshipped—the Sun, a divinity which could be equally adored by all peoples within his kingdom. And it sounds strangely un-Egyptian when the hymns to this new god insist that all men, Syrians, Ethiopians, and Egyptians, are alike dear to him; he has made them to differ in colour and speech, and has placed them in different lands, but he takes thought for all alike.


But this attempt of the fourth Amenhotep came to naught, and the spirit of ancient Egypt triumphed over the abominable heretic. And with this triumph the fate of Egypt was sealed. True, in the next century, under the Sethos and the Ramses she enjoyed a period of external splendour, to which the great temples of Karnak, Luxor, and Medinet Habu still testify. But it was an illusory glory. Egypt was outworn and exhausted; she could no longer maintain her political ascendency, her might falls to pitiable ruin while younger and more vigorous nations in anterior Asia take the place that once was hers. And therewith begins the long and mournful death struggle of the Egyptian nation. The chief authority passes from the hands of the kings to those of the priests, from them to the commanders of the Syrian mercenaries; and then Egypt falls a prey to the Ethiopian barbarians, with whom the Assyrians next dispute it. For five long centuries the wretched nation is whelmed beneath these miseries, and yet, so far as we can see, they work no change in it; it is, in truth, exhausted utterly.

Once more, after the fall of the Assyrian empire, the political situation changes in Egypt’s favour, and Psamthek I and his successors won back wealth and power for her. But the aged nation had no longer the skill to take wise advantage of propitious fortune; it had no thoughts of its own, nor could it find fitting form for its new splendour. The Egyptians rested content with imitating in whimsical fashion, in all things, the Old Kingdom, the earliest period of their national glory, and the contemporaries of Neku and Apries [Uah-ab-Ra] took pleasure in feigning themselves the subjects of Cheops, in bearing the titles of his court, and writing in a language and orthography which had been in use two thousand years before. Learned antiquarianism is the distinguishing feature of this latest Egyptian development.

The end of the sixth century brought fresh calamities upon the land. Cambyses conquered it, and it became a Persian province. And although, after many a vain attempt at revolt, it shook off the foreign yoke for awhile, about 400 B.C., yet in a few decades it again fell into the hands of the Persians. Since those days Egypt has never had a ruler of her own blood; she has been the hapless spoil of any who chose to take her.

Alexander the Great was the first to whom the country fell, and at his death it became the heritage of his general, Ptolemy. In his family it was handed down, to become at length a province of the Roman Empire in the year 30 B.C. Throughout its length and breadth there is but one spot that thrives during this period, the new port of Alexandria, founded by the great king in the barren west of the Delta; this becomes a metropolis of the Greek world, and its merchants and manufacturers extend their trade by land and sea to every quarter. But this same Alexandria was ever something of an alien in Egypt, and the rest of the country took no part in the busy life that ran its round there; it grew corn and flax and wine and supplied them to the Roman world, it throve, but less for its own profit than that of the empire. Greek culture made its way but slowly there, and even in the great cities of the interior the Greek language and the Greek religion were never strong enough to displace the native idiom and the old faith. They influenced it by degrees, much as the European culture of to-day influences the ancient civilisation of the far East, but even as the Chinese remain Chinese in spite of railroads and the telegraph, so the Egyptians of the Græco-Roman period clung tenaciously to their own ways. They held fast all points of the national customs they only half understood; above all, they held to their ancient faith. And yet by that time the religion of Egypt was as degenerate[63] and debased as it could possibly be. As is apt to be the case with antiquated beliefs, its mere singularities had flourished at the expense of its wholesome side; cats, snakes, and crocodiles had now become the most sacred of beings in the eyes of the vulgar, and every kind of superstition was rampant. The depositaries of this religion were the members of a stereotyped hierarchy that had long lost touch with the outer world; they worshipped their gods according to the old tradition, used the ample wealth of the temples to build them new shrines in the old style, and enjoyed their fat benefices under the benevolent protection of the foreign government.

Thus the Egypt of this later day had long been empty of all vital force; it continued to exist, but only because the aged nation had lost the power of adapting itself to the new world. And yet this decrepit Egyptian character, with its dead religion, cast a singular spell over the sated spirit of the Roman world. The worship of Isis and Serapis spread far and wide; everywhere Egyptian sorcerers found a willing public for their superstitions. Roman tourists visited the ancient land, gazed in amazement at its wonders, while at home the nobles built themselves villas in the Egyptian style and adorned them with statues from Memphis. Even the most highly educated looked upon Egypt as a holy land, where everything was full of mystery and marvel, and piety and the true worship of the gods had their dwelling place from of old. And even after the fashionable predilection for things Egyptian had passed away, this notion of the mysterious and sacred land of Egypt remained fixed in men’s minds, and was handed on from generation to generation. Whenever ancient Egypt is mentioned in later days it suggests ideas of mystery, symbolism, and esoteric wisdom. And so anything to which it is desired to lend an air of mystery claims derivation preferably from Egypt, the secret lodges of the eighteenth century no less than the spiritualists and quacks of our own day. Ancient Egypt has acquired this reputation, and though, now that we know it better, we perceive that it is but little in accordance with her true character, all our researches will not be able to dispel the illusion of two thousand years. In the future, as in the past, the feeling with which the multitude regards the remains of Egyptian antiquity will be one of awestruck reverence. Nevertheless, another feeling would be more appropriate, a feeling of grateful acknowledgment and veneration, such as one of a later generation might feel for the ancestor who had founded his family and endowed it with a large part of its wealth. For though we are seldom able to say with certainty of any one thing in our possession that it is a legacy we have inherited from the Egyptians, yet no one who seriously turns his attention to such subjects can now doubt that a great part of our heritage comes from them. In all the implements which are about us nowadays, in every art and craft which we practise now, a large and important element has descended to us from the Egyptians. And it is no less certain that we owe to them many ideas and opinions of which we can no longer trace the origin, and which have long come to seem to us the natural property of our own minds.

This legacy of ideas, no less than of technical dexterity and artistic form, which the Egyptians have bequeathed to us, constitutes the service they have done to the human race. They cannot vie with the Greeks in intellectual gifts, and they never possessed the force that determines the course of history; but they were able to develop their capabilities earlier than other nations, and thus secured for the world the substantial groundwork of civilisation.

Thirty centuries have passed since ancient Egypt accomplished this, her real mission for the world; since then she has hardly done more than till her[64] soil in its service. Silently her existence has flowed on, and all the catastrophes which have befallen her since Roman times have not been able to stir her to fresh vigour. Christianity spread in Egypt early, but the philosophic labours accomplished there in connection with it are the work of the educated Hellenistic classes, not of the Egyptians proper. What these last added to Christianity, the anchoretic and monastic life, cannot be counted among its advantages. And when, in the fifth century, the Egyptians broke away from the Catholic Church, the barbarian element to which the nation succumbed thenceforward finally triumphed. The tie that had bound the Egyptians to European civilisation was severed, and the Arab conquest had only to set the seal to this divorce.

This same Arab conquest, which, in the course of centuries, went so far as to rob the ancient nation of its ancient language, and imposed a new faith upon the great majority of its inhabitants, was powerless to inspire it with new life. Outwardly Egypt has become Arab, but the Egyptians had but a very small share in the intellectual life of the Arab Middle Ages, a share probably not much larger than that which they had taken in Alexandrian culture.

Once again, in our own days, the opportunity of rousing itself afresh is offered to the Egyptian nation. It is once more linked with Europe, and its prosperity has advanced with astounding rapidity. From all sides new influences stream in upon the ancient people, and we would fain indulge in the hope that now at length it might awake to new life. But, unhappily, this hope has but little prospect of fulfilment, and all things will but run again the course they ran long ago in Græco-Roman days. The foreigner will prosper in Egypt and invest it with a tinge of his own civilisation, the work of European civilisation will inspire an Egyptian here and there with a profound sympathy. But the nation itself will remain untouched, it will rise up no more, it has lived itself out and its intellectual capabilities are exhausted. In time to come, the Egyptian nation will probably do no more for the human race than diligently provide it with cotton and onions, as it does to-day.






Until somewhat recently it has been customary to think of Egyptian history as constituting a single uniform period. Before our generation it was quite impossible for any one to realise the extreme length of time which this history involves; or if a certain few did realise it, a consensus of opinion among the many forbade the acceptance of their estimate. Now, however, limitations of time are no longer a bugbear to the historian, and we are coming to realise the full import of the fact that when one speaks of historic Egypt he is referring to an epoch at least four thousand years in extent. Prior to the nineteenth century discoveries, the historian had only the most meagre supply of material dealing with any epoch prior to that age of the Trojan War which marked the extreme limits of the historic view in Greece; but now we understand that the men who built the Pyramids in Egypt were at least as far removed from Homer as Homer is removed from us: and it is but the expression of an historical platitude to say that a vast stretch of Egyptian history must lie back of the Pyramids; for no one any longer supposes that a people recently emerged from barbarism could have created such structures.

Throughout classical times very little was known of the history of Egypt, except what was contained in the fragmentary remains of Manetho and the more lengthy descriptions of Herodotus and Diodorus. There were other references, of course, but for anything like a comprehensive knowledge of the history of the country it would have been necessary to understand the Egyptian language and decipher the hieroglyphics; and no person throughout classical times had such understanding.

There were practically no additions to the world’s knowledge of ancient Egyptian history from classical times till about the beginning of the nineteenth century. The stimulus to the new knowledge that was then acquired came about chiefly through the Egyptian expedition of Napoleon. The French expedition included various scientists who made a concerted effort to study the antiquities, and to transport as many of them as might be to Paris. In the latter regard the expedition failed, as in some more important particulars, through the interference of the British, with the result that some of the most important antiquities, including the since famous Rosetta stone,[66] found their way to the British Museum. A large amount of material, however, was transported to Paris, and gave occupation to the savants of France for about a generation before the final publication of results in a monumental work.

But before this publication, thanks to the efforts of Thomas Young in England, and Champollion in France, the hieroglyphics had been deciphered, and at last the almost inexhaustible word treasures of Egypt were made available as witnesses for history. Very naturally, a large number of explorers entered the field, and from that day till this there has been no dearth of Egyptologists either in the field of exploration or of interpretation. Prominent among these in the first half of the century were the pupils of Champollion, the Italians, Rossellini and Salvolini. But the most important work, perhaps, was done by the German, Lepsius, who came to be recognised as the foremost Egyptologist of his time, and whose Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien is still one of the most monumental works on the subject. In England, Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson took up the study of Egyptian life in particular, and deduced from the inscriptions of the monuments and from the pictures a comprehensive understanding of Egyptian manners and customs. The various workers at the British Museum, beginning with Birch and continuing with Renouf and with E. A. Wallis Budge, have added an ever increasing complement to our knowledge of Egyptian archæology.

The country of Champollion has been ably represented in more recent time by Mariette and Maspero; while in Germany, Dümichen, Meyer, and Wiedemann have worked and written exhaustively, the former with special reference to archæology, the two latter with reference to history. But no one else perhaps has given quite such attention to the language of old Egypt as Professor Adolf Erman. The field that Wilkinson occupied earlier in the century has also been entered by Professor Erman, and the most recent and authoritative studies of Egyptian manners and customs are those that he has deduced from the papyri and the monumental inscriptions. Wilkinson depended largely upon pictorial representations for his information, but Erman has been able to go beyond these to the subtler and sometimes more illuminative written records.

As to the early history of Egypt, no one else has made such exhaustive studies as Professor W. M. Flinders Petrie, whose publications cover a wide range, from the most technical to the relatively popular. For a strictly popular presentation of the subject, however, the works of George Ebers, of Baron Bunsen, and of Amelia B. Edwards should be consulted, together with the books of Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson and the works of Professor Adolf Erman.

A more comprehensive account of these writers and their labours, together with reasonably complete bibliographies of the entire subject, will be found at the close of the history of Egypt. The character of the materials with which the Egyptologists have worked in creating a new history of one of the oldest civilisations, will be revealed as we proceed.

The Egyptians of history are probably a fusion of an indigenous white race of northeastern Africa and an intruding people of Asiatic origin. In the Archaic period independent kings ruled in the Delta region (Kings of the Red Crown) and in Upper Egypt (Kings of the White Crown). Under King Menes the two crowns were probably first united, and the Dynastic period begins. According to Egyptian traditions the pre-dynastic ages were[67] filled with dynasties of gods and demigods, who were perhaps primeval chiefs or tribal leaders. Monuments of the pre-dynastic period are earthenware vases, jars, sculptured ivory objects, and flint implements.

The dynasties which formed the foundation of all classifications of Egyptian history are based upon the lists of the Egyptian priest Manetho, who wrote a history of Egypt in the time of the Ptolemies. The original work of Manetho has not come down to us, and it is quite impossible to restore it in extenso from the fragmentary excerpts that are preserved. The writings of Josephus and of Eusebius are our chief sources for Manetho’s lists, but Josephus copied the lists only in part, and Eusebius seemingly knew them only at second or third hand, when, it is suspected, they had been somewhat perverted in the interests of Hebrew chronology. Nevertheless, the dynasties of Manetho as we now know them probably do not very radically differ from the original lists. Beyond question these are based upon authentic Egyptian documents, but there is a good deal of confusion and much difference of opinion among Egyptologists, as to whether some of the dynasties were not contemporaneous; and for many periods the lists are only provisional.

It is notable, however, that the somewhat recent discoveries of original Egyptian lists, such as the so-called Turin Papyrus and the dynastic lists of Karnak and Abydos, tend to corroborate the lists of Manetho, and show that he was an historian of very great merit. It is convenient also to regard the grand divisions of Egyptian history noted by Manetho, namely, the Old Memphis Kingdom, comprising the first ten dynasties; the Middle Kingdom or Old Theban Kingdom, comprising the XIth to the XVIIth Dynasties; and the New Theban Kingdom, comprising the remaining dynasties.[1]

As to the dates employed in the following chronology, a word of explanation is necessary. Neither Manetho’s lists nor any other available sources enable us at present to supply exact dates for the earlier periods of Egyptian history with any precision. Authorities differ as to the early period to the extent of more than three thousand years. Thus Champollion gives the date 5867 B.C. for the beginning of the Ist Dynasty, while Wilkinson supplies for the same event the date 2320 B.C. Later authorities are pretty fully agreed that such a date as that of Wilkinson is much too recent. Meyer fixes upon 3180 B.C. as the minimum date, and no doubt he would very willingly admit that the probable date is much more remote. For our present purpose it has been thought well to adopt an intermediate date, as in some sense striking an average among divergent opinions. The dates of Brugsch, which agree rather closely with those of Mariette and Petrie, have in the main been followed here, with certain modifications made necessary by recent discoveries, chiefly with reference to synchronism with known dates of the Assyrian empire and other countries. It will be understood, therefore, that all the earlier dates of this chronology are accepted as merely approximative, the approximation becoming closer and closer as we come down the centuries. At the middle of the XVIIIth Dynasty the dates cannot be more than twenty years out of the way, while from the XXIInd onward the probable error is very small indeed, vanishing entirely with the accession of Psamthek I of the XXVIth Dynasty.


For present purposes it is undesirable to give a complete list of the names of Egyptian kings. Fuller details as to monarchs and events will be given elsewhere in our text. But the purposes of our preliminary[68] view are better subserved by confining attention to the more important Pharaohs, and to the principal events that give picturesqueness and interest to Egyptian history.

We take up now the synoptical view of the successive dynasties. Such a survey will, it is believed, furnish the reader with the best possible preparation for the full comprehension of the more detailed presentation that is to follow.


Ist DYNASTY, 4400-4133 B.C.

4400 B.C. Accession of Menes. Ist Dynasty founded. Tradition ascribes to him the foundation of Memphis, the capital of the Old Memphite Kingdom, whither it was moved from This or Thinis; and states that he was killed by a hippopotamus in a campaign against the Libyans.

Monument.—A tomb discovered by De Morgan (1897) is believed to be that of King Menes, or of his wife Nit-hotep.

4366 Teta.—Second king, said to have written a work on anatomy.

Monument.—A papyrus bought in Thebes by Ebers refers to a pomatum made for Teta’s mother, Shesh.

4266 Hesepti (Semti).—Fifth king. Several passages in the Book of the Dead refer to him. King Senta of the IInd Dynasty owned a medical work which once belonged to Semti.

Monument.—His tomb has been discovered by Amélineau at Abydos. It contained among other things an ebony tablet representing the king dancing before Osiris. (Now in the British Museum.)

4233 Merbapen.—Sixth king.

Monument.—Tomb at Abydos, discovered by Amélineau.

4200 Semen-Ptah (Semsu).—Seventh king. Manetho says: “In his reign a terrible pestilence afflicted Egypt.”

IInd DYNASTY, 4133-3900 B.C.

4133 Neter-b’au.—First king. Manetho says: “During his reign a chasm opened near Bubastis and many persons perished.”

Monument.—Tomb discovered by Amélineau in 1897 at Abydos.

4100 Ka-ka-u.—Second (?) king; establishes or expands the worship of Apis; also of Mnevis and the Mendesian goat.

4066 Ba-en-neter.—Third (?) king; establishes the right of female succession.

IIIrd DYNASTY, 3900-3766 B.C.

3900 Neb-ka.—First or third king. According to Manetho a revolt of the Libyans in which they submitted “on account of an unexpected increase in the moon,” took place in this reign.

3866 Zeser (T´er-sa).—Second or fourth king. Builder of the Step Pyramid of Saqqarah. Dr. Budge says of this: “It is certainly the oldest of all the large buildings which have successfully resisted the action of wind and weather, and destruction by the hand of man.”

Monuments.—The Step Pyramid; the Great Sphinx of Gizeh.

Rapid development of civilisation during the first three dynasties.

IVth DYNASTY, 3766-3566 B.C.

3766 Sneferu.—First king. He wars against the robber-like tribes of the desert. He is said, on a monument of the XIIth Dynasty, to have [69]founded Egyptian dominion in the peninsula of Sinai, which he conquered for its mineral wealth.

Monuments.—A number of carved stones, a bas-relief at Wady Magharah showing him smiting an enemy.

3733 Khufu or Cheops.—Builder of the Great Pyramid, Khut—“The Horizon.”

3666 Khaf-Ra.—Builder of the pyramid Ur,—“The Great.”

3633 Men-kau-Ra.—Builder of the pyramid Her,—“The Supreme.” He enlarges it after it is built. He afterward builds another pyramid at Abu Roash, and was probably buried there.

A peaceful dynasty. Brilliant age of art and literature.

Vth DYNASTY, 3566-3300 B.C.

3566 A new house from Elephantine “of priestly character” founded by Us-kaf.

3533 Sahu-Ra.—One of the most renowned rulers of the Old Memphis Kingdom. Wars in Sinai.

Monument.—Pyramid Khaba, at Abusir.

3433 Usen-en-Ra.—First Pharaoh to adopt a second cartouche with his private name, An. He holds the rule over the peninsula of Sinai.

Monuments.—The pyramid Menasu; a victory tablet at Wady Magharah; two statues, etc.

3366 Tat-ka-Ra (Assa).—He continues to wage war with even greater activity in the peninsula of Sinai.

Monuments.—The oldest papyri of authentic date belong to this reign. They are: “The Papyrus of Accounts” found at Saqqarah and the “Proverbs of Ptah-hotep.”

Ptah-hotep was probably the uncle and tutor of the king, under whose patronage the work was given to the world.

3333 Close of dynasty and first period of Egyptian history with King Unas.

Monument.—Pyramid Nefer-asu, at Saqqarah.

No great monuments in this dynasty. An age of decline. The art of building shows a great falling off from that of the IVth Dynasty. Methods are careless; decoration becomes formal, coarse, and flat.

Monument of Vth Dynasty.—The Palermo stele, containing, among others, names of some of the pre-dynastic kings of Lower Egypt.

VIth DYNASTY, 3300-3000 B.C.

3300 A new line of vigorous Memphite kings founded by Teta.

Monument.—Pyramid Tat-asu at Saqqarah, one of the first and worst despoiled by plunderers.

3233 Pepi Ist.—Most important ruler of this dynasty. He has left more monuments than any other ruler before the XIIth Dynasty. Great and successful wars against the Aamu and Herusha, inhabiting the desert east of the Delta. War against the people of Terebah, a country of doubtful location, probably in western Asia.

Monuments.—The long inscription on the tomb of Una, Pepi’s general, is our source of the history of this reign. Pyramid Men-nefer, at Saqqarah; the red granite sphinx of Tanis; statuettes, etc.

3066 Queen Men-ka-Ra.—The Nitocris of Herodotus. The early part of this dynasty is characterised by foreign conquest and exploration, but[70] toward the end internal troubles have brought the kingdom to a state of disorganisation. Architecture rapidly declines.

VIIth, VIIIth, IXth, AND Xth DYNASTIES, 3000-2700 B.C.

3000-2700 A long era of confusion. Rapid decay of the Memphite power in the VIIth and VIIIth Dynasties, while that of Thebes is rising. The Delta invaded and occupied by Syrian tribes, which drive the capital from Memphis south to Heracleopolis. A great wall is built across the Isthmus of Suez to keep the invaders out. Dynasties IX and X at Heracleopolis in constant conflict with the Theban princes, in which the latter gradually attain their independence and establish the XIth (First Theban) Dynasty. For about a century the Xth and XIth Dynasties probably reign contemporaneously.

Monuments.—Mainly scarabs.


XIth DYNASTY, 2700-2466 B.C.

2700 Beginning of the Old Theban (Middle) Kingdom. Antef I (?), first of nine (?) kings. They are all buried at the foot of the Western Mountain of the Theban Necropolis.

Monument.—The coarsely carved coffin of Antef I, rudely painted in red, blue, and yellow. (Now in the Louvre.)

2600 Mentuhotep II (Neb-taui-Ra).

Monuments.—A tablet at Konosso relating his conquest of thirteen tribes; inscriptions in the quarries of Hammamat.

2550 Metuhotep III.—The greatest king of the dynasty, judging from the number of his monuments. A patron of art. His worship continues till a late day.

Monuments.—Pyramid Khut-asu, at Thebes; sandstone tablet at Silsilis; tablets at Assuan; a temple at Thebes.

2500 Sankh-ka-Ra.—Last king of dynasty. The first voyage to Punt and Ophir under the leadership of Hannu takes place in his reign.

Monuments.—Inscriptions at Hammamat recording the voyage to Punt; a statue found at Saqqarah.

XIIth DYNASTY, 2466-2250 B.C.

2466 The power of Thebes is now firmly established, and the country enters upon a period of greatness with Amenemhat I, the first king, who shows remarkable vigour. Expedition against the Libyans, Herusha, Mazau, and Sati (Asiatics).

Monuments.—The great temple of Amen at Thebes; statues; inscriptions; the papyrus containing the famous “Instructions to his Son”; and the memoirs of Sineh (Sinehat or Sinhue).

2446 Usertsen I.—Took charge of foreign campaigns in his father’s reign. Asserts his power in the Sinaitic peninsula. Warlike expedition to Nubia as related on the Tomb of Ameni. Enlarges temple at Karnak. Order re-established in the land.

Monuments.—Obelisk of Heliopolis; a portrait bust and statues; the tomb of Ameni.

2400 Amenemhat II.—Works the mines of Sarbut-el-Khadem. Manetho says he was slain by his chamberlains.


2370 Usertsen II.

Monuments.—A curious and unusual temple at Illahun; a bust of Queen Nefert; the tomb of Khnum-hotep with historical records.

2340 Usertsen III.—A famous name. The conqueror of Ethiopia after many campaigns. He makes the conquest secure by fixing the frontier of Egypt above the Second Cataract and building the fortresses of Semneh and Kummeh. Afterward revered as the founder of Ethiopia.

Monuments.—A papyrus containing a long hymn to the king; statues; pyramid at Dahshur; tomb of Princess Set-hathor, which contained some remarkable jewellery.

2305 Amenemhat III.—Constructs Lake Mœris as a storage reservoir for the Nile overflow. Also the Labyrinth palace. These are his monuments.

2265 Amenemhat IV.—The dynasty begins to decline.

2255 Queen Sebek-neferu-Ra, sister of Amenemhat IV.

The XIIth Dynasty a great age for art and literature. Immense activity in building. The literary style is the model for future ages. Valuable historic records on the tombs.

THE XIIIth, XIVth, XVth, XVIth, AND XVIIth DYNASTIES, 2250-1635 B.C.

2250-1635 A period the length of which is unknown, and which has been variously estimated at from four hundred to nearly a thousand years. (See Chapter III, pages 120, 121.) The XIIIth Dynasty reigns at Thebes, and Sebekhotep I is its first king. Before its close the Hyksos invaders have gained rapidly in power, and the new dynasty (XIVth) is driven to Xoïs in the western Delta. The Hyksos establish their rule, and the later kings of the XIVth are probably provincial governors with a short tenure of office, retained by the Hyksos for purposes of internal government. The XVth Dynasty is that of the great Hyksos kings, Salatis, Bnon, Apachnan, Aphobis, Annas, Asseth, and marks the climax of their power. Their principal towns are Ha-Uar (Avaris), Pelusium, and Tanis. They adopt the customs, language, and writings of the Egyptians. Their chief god is Sutekh, “the Great Set,” to whom they build a great temple at Tanis. The XVth Dynasty is in part contemporaneous with the XIVth and XVIth Egyptian; in the latter the provincial governors gradually have their tenure of power lengthened. The XVIIth is of both Hyksos and Egyptians, in which the former begin to lose their power.

Monuments.—Many statues, inscriptions, implements of war, etc.

1800 A new house from the south gradually regains Egypt from the Hyksos. Its principal kings are named Seqenen Ra. Seqenen Ra III marries Aah-hotep, a princess of pure Egyptian blood. By the time her son by a former marriage, Aahmes I, comes to the throne, the Hyksos have been driven and confined to the district around Avaris, where they prepare to make a final stand.

1730 Descent of the Hebrews into Egypt.


XVIIIth DYNASTY, 1635-1365 B.C.

1635 Aahmes I.—Founds the New Theban Kingdom. Defeats and drives the Hyksos from Avaris; pursues them into Asia. Campaign against[72] Nubia, whose people again need repelling. Rebuilds temples in the principal cities. Thebes embellished. Marries Nefert-ari.

Monuments.—Coffins and mummies of the king and queen; statues; jewellery from coffin of Aah-hotep.

1610 Amenhotep I.—Campaign against Cush and Libya. Historical records on the tomb of Admiral Aahmes.

Monuments.—His coffin and mummy; temple at Thebes; statues.

1590 Tehutimes I.—Penetrates into Asia as far as the Euphrates. Campaign in Libya.

Monuments.—Coffin and mummy; obelisks, pylons, and pillars at Karnak; many statues, etc.; tomb of Admiral Aahmes.

1565 Tehutimes II.

Monuments.—Coffin and mummy; part of temples of Deir-el-Bahari and Medinet Habu; statues.

1552 Queen Hatshepsu, a reign of peaceful enterprise. Mining industries developed, also potteries and glass works. Sends expedition of discovery to Punt.

Monuments.—The Great Temple of Deir-el-Bahari; statues; a sculptured account of the voyage to Punt; furniture; a draughtboard and draughtmen, etc.

1530 Tehutimes III.—Begins his independent reign. The Great Conqueror of Egyptian history. Southern Syria had rebelled some time before and, 1529, he begins operations at Zaru. Second year of independent reign, battle of Megiddo in campaign against the Ruthennu. In the following years campaigns in Syria, fifteen in all; cities reduced and the Kharu, Zahi, Ruthennu, Kheta and Naharaina made tributary. Great activity in temple building. The influence of Syrian culture now begins to be felt in Egypt. Art and manners lose their distinctive characteristics, and a decline sets in.

Monuments.—Coffin and mummy; obelisks; part of temple at Karnak, etc.; numerous statues and relics of all kinds, and very full annals.

1500 Amenhotep II.—Campaign in Asia to check revolt among his vassals.

Monuments.—Portrait statues; obelisks and columns at Karnak.

1470 Tehutimes IV.—Continues work of keeping together the empire of Tehutimes III. Marries a Mitannian princess.

Monuments.—Statues, scarabs, fine private tombs.

1455 Amenhotep III.—With the exception of one campaign in fifth year in Egypt, rests secure in his supremacy abroad. Trade and art are developed at home. Close relations between Egypt and Syria. Marries Thi, perhaps of Syrian origin (mother of Amenhotep IV), also Gilukhipa (or Kirgipa), daughter of the king of Mitanni (Naharain). He becomes the ally of the king of Mitanni. He also seems to have married a daughter of the king of Kardunyash (Babylon).

Monuments.—Very numerous. The Avenue of Sphinxes between Karnak and Luxor; temple of Mentu at Karnak; great temple of Luxor; the famous colossi of the Nile; tomb of Amenhotep the architect and administrator, etc.

1420 Amenhotep IV (Khun-aten).—Early in this reign the king and court renounce the national religion, and substitute a strictly monotheistic worship of Aten, the sun’s disk,—a conception that tallies marvellously with modern knowledge of the sun as a source of power and energy. The whole movement shows an intellectual stride of tremendous proportions. In the hymns of the new sun-god we seem[73] to have the first trace of the idea of the brotherhood of man. War is no longer glorified. The king changes his name to Khun-aten (“Splendour of the Sun’s disk”), and builds a new capital.

Monuments.—Palace and tomb at Tel-el-Amarna; temple of Aten; statues, including one perfect statuette now in the Louvre; the great hymn to Aten. To this and the former reign belongs the correspondence in the Babylonian language and the cuneiform character. These tablets were discovered at Tel-el-Amarna, whither Amenhotep IV carried them from Thebes. They deal principally with the relations of the kings of Egypt with those of Babylonia and Assyria, concerning the marriages of Mesopotamian princesses, etc.; troubles and loss of power in northern Syria and Palestine.

1400 Saa-nekht.

1390 Tut-ankh-Amen.

1380 Ai.

1368 Hor-em-heb.—Suppresses the solar religion; reconquers Ethiopia.

Monuments.—His private tomb; numerous steles, etc.

The XVIIIth Dynasty is a period in which the progress of the world pre-eminently advanced.

XIXth DYNASTY, 1365-1235 B.C.

1365 Ramses I.—The power of the Kheta begins to make itself felt.

1355 Seti I.—Wars with the Shasu, Kharu, and Kheta. Capture of Kadesh and defeat of the Kheta. Wars with the Libyans. Patron of art.

Monuments.—Hall of Columns at Karnak; temple of Osiris at Abydos; the Memnonum at Gurnah; the Tablet of Abydos.

1345 Ramses II, the Great.—The Pharaoh of the Oppression. A noted builder. Fierce war with the Kheta and their allies breaks out (year V). Battle of Kadesh. Continual warfare and victories in the land of Canaan. Treaty of peace with the Kheta. Subjugates small tribes of Ethiopia and Libya. Semitic influence is felt in the customs and language.

Monuments.—Northern court of temple of Ptah at Memphis. New temples at Abydos and Memphis. Temples and statues at Abu Simbel—on the knee of one of the statues, some Greek mercenaries of Psamthek I cut an inscription in archaic Greek. It is the most ancient piece of non-Semitic alphabetical writing extant. The Ramesseum; the poem of Pentaur; treaty with the Kheta, etc.; the Tablet of Saqqarah.

1285 Meneptah.—The Libyans and their allies invade Egypt and are repulsed. Battle of Proposis (year V). The Pharaoh of the Exodus (circa 1270). To this king belonged the papyrus containing the “Tale of the Two Brothers.”

1250 Seti II.—A troubled reign at Pa-Ramessu, worried by a claimant to the throne, Amenmes, who reigned as rival king, probably at Thebes.

Monuments.—Fine sepulchre and a small temple.

XXth DYNASTY, 1235-1075 B.C.

1235 Set-nekht.—Succeeds his father Seti II. Siptah-Meneptah succeeds his father Amenmes, as rival king. The kingdom is now practically in a state of anarchy. The power rests chiefly with the nomarchs, and[74] one of them, Arisu, a Phœnician, becomes their leader and seizes the throne. Set-nekht drives him out and restores the monarchy.

1225 Ramses III (sometimes reckoned as the founder of the XXth Dynasty).—Succeeds to a united Egypt but a disorganised empire. The provinces have ceased to pay tribute. The king begins a reconquest of foreign territory. Defeats Libyans in the west (year V) and the great confederation of tribes in the east (year VIII). A land and sea war. Great naval battle near Pelusium. Second campaign against Libyans (year XI). Eastern provinces and tributary states recovered. The harem conspiracy. Later years peaceful. Mining and trade encouraged. The last of the great kings of Egypt.

Monuments.—The Turin and Harris papyri; effigies of conquered kings; temples, etc.; the account of the harem conspiracy.

1195-1075 The successors of Ramses III have short reigns. There were some military expeditions but no great wars. The kingdom is maintained, but the power of the high priests comes more and more into prominence, until in the reign of Ramses IX it begins to exceed that of the Pharaohs. The structure of the kingdom begins rapidly to decay. Ramses XIII, last king of dynasty.

XXIst DYNASTY, 1075-945 B.C.

1075 Her-Hor.—High priest of Amen of Thebes, attains to royal power. The Ramessides are banished.

A new house arises at Tanis. Its chief, Se-Amen, soon overthrows the dominion of the high priests, and Her-Hor’s son (Piankhi) and grandson (Painet´em I) have uncontrolled power as high priests only in the neighbourhood of Thebes. The land is governed simultaneously by the Tanites and the high priests. The Ramessides attempt to regain the throne in the Thebaid. The Tanites crush this rebellion, and Men-kheper-Ra, one of the family, is made high priest at Thebes. Solomon marries the daughter of the Tanite king, probably Pasebkhanu II. The army has since the time of Seti I been composed chiefly of Libyan mercenaries, out of which a separate class has now been developed. The chief authority gradually passes from the Tanites and high priests to the commanders of these mercenaries, and one of them, Shashanq of Bubastis, by some means gains the crown of Egypt. The high priests and their adherents retire to Ethiopia and found a new kingdom whose capital is at Napata.

XXIInd DYNASTY, 945-750 B.C.

945 Shashanq I.—Rules at Bubastis. The high-priesthood of Amen is given to princes of the reigning family.

Monuments.—The hall of the Bubastites at Karnak; inscriptions, etc.

925 Shashanq invades Judah, captures and sacks Jerusalem.

920-750 Under Shashanq’s successors, the high places in the government and army are filled with members of the royal family, who found princedoms for themselves, and the Pharaoh becomes a nominal ruler. Egypt is a land of petty kings, into which condition of affairs the kings of Ethiopia (Napata) now intrude.


800 In the reign of Shashanq III, Thebes falls into the hands of the Ethiopians. Their conquests gradually extend to Hermopolis under their[75] king, Piankhi. At the same time Tefnekht, Prince of Saïs, subjects the western Delta and Memphis, comes in contact with Piankhi, but ends by giving the Ethiopian his allegiance. Piankhi’s power over Egypt not complete, for the XXIIIrd Dynasty of three kings (Uasarken III among them) seems to have ruled in the Delta, probably at Bubastis, and is succeeded by the XXIVth Dynasty, composed of Tefnekht’s son, Bakenranf, who is conquered by Piankhi’s grandson, Shabak.

Monuments.—The memorial stele of Piankhi, with account of his reign.

XXVth DYNASTY, 728-655 B.C.

728 Shabak.—Ethiopian rule over Egypt complete. He puts his sister Ameniritis and her husband to rule over Egypt. A uniform and strict dominion is not practised; the local princes still retain their power. Shabak advises Hoshea of Israel to withhold tribute from Shalmaneser IV. First connection of Egypt with the Sargonides.

717 Shabatak.

704 Tirhaqa.—Joins Syrian coalition against the Assyrians.

701 The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, invades Palestine. Tirhaqa hastens to Hezekiah’s assistance. Sennacherib compelled by pestilence to retire. 673, The Assyrian monarch, Esarhaddon, marches as far as the Egyptian frontier, but withdraws. 670, Esarhaddon appears again, and captures and destroys Memphis. Tirhaqa flees to Nubia. The whole country surrenders to Esarhaddon, who reorganises the government with a native prince over each nome. Neku of Saïs is the chief one. 668, Esarhaddon abdicates. Tirhaqa attempts to win back the country; retakes Memphis. 667, Asshurbanapal sends an army and defeats Egyptians. Conspiracy of several Egyptian princes to restore Tirhaqa. They are taken and punished. 664, Tirhaqa dies; Tanut-Amen, his stepson (son of Shabak), succeeds. Is beaten by Assyrians at Kipkip. Thebes is sacked. End of Ethiopian rule.

664-655 The country is ruled by petty princes. In the Delta there are twelve of these who form the Dodecarchy. Psamthek of Saïs becomes the leader. He throws off the Assyrian yoke with the help of Carian and Ionian mercenaries, and declares himself Pharaoh.

XXVIth DYNASTY, 655-527 B.C.

655 (Sometimes dated from 666-4)—Psamthek I makes his rule legitimate by marrying an Ethiopian princess, Shepenapet. Invasion of Syria. Capture of Ashdod after a long siege. Commercial treaties with the Greeks. Two hundred thousand of his Egyptian and Libyan soldiers desert to Ethiopia through jealousy of the mercenaries. He restores Thebes.

610 Neku II.—Endeavours to reconstruct the canal between Nile and Red Sea, attempted by Seti I. and Ramses II. By his orders Phœnician navigators circumnavigate Africa. Attempts to recover Egypt’s rule in the east, and marches into Syria. 608, Encounters Josiah at Megiddo. The king of Israel is slain in the battle. Neku marches toward the Euphrates. 605, Defeat of Neku by Nebuchadrezzar at Carchemish. End of Egyptian rule in Egypt.


594 Psamthek II.—Makes an expedition against the king of Ethiopia.

589 Uah-ab-Ra.—Allies himself with Zedekiah and king of Phœnicia against Nebuchadrezzar, who afterward invades Egypt. The coalition is unsuccessful, but his fleet helps Tyre to hold out for thirteen years. Goes to war with the Greeks of Cyrene, and is defeated. His troops fear he will destroy and replace them by mercenaries; they revolt and choose Aahmes, an officer, to be king.

570 Aahmes II.—Defeats Uah-ab-Ra and strangles him; marries the daughter of Psamthek II, to legitimise his pretensions. He encourages commercial relations with Greeks. Allies himself with Crœsus against Cyrus of Persia. Cambyses attacks Egypt on death of Cyrus.

526 Psamthek III.—In his second year he was defeated by Cambyses at Pelusium and Memphis. Egypt a Persian province, 525-405 B.C.

XXVIIth DYNASTY, 525-405 B.C.

525 The Persian Cambyses tolerates the religion, maintains temples, and does all he can to conciliate the people. Leaves Egypt in charge of the first satrap Aryandes. Cambyses, in his rage, after an unsuccessful expedition against Napata, orders destruction of temples, etc.

521 Darius I.—Works hard to conciliate the people.

488 Egyptians revolt and expel Persians. Set up a native ruler, Khabbosh, who holds out for three years.

485 The Persian Xerxes I.—Reconquers Egypt and appoints Achæmenes, his brother, governor.

464 Artaxerxes I.

460 Inarus, King of Libya, aids Egyptians to rise against Persia. Battle of Papramis. Memphis captured, but Persians regain supremacy.

424 Xerxes II. Darius II. Continued endeavours of Egyptians to throw off Persian yoke.

XXVIIIth DYNASTY, 405-399 B.C.

405 Amen-Rut.—A native prince in revolt against Persia, on death of Darius II becomes practically independent. At his death the government passes to the prince of Mendes.

XXIXth DYNASTY, 399-378 B.C.

399 Nia-faa-urut I. 393 Haker. 380 Psa-mut.—Ally themselves with enemies of Persia.

379 Nia-faa-urut II.

XXXth DYNASTY, 378-340 B.C.

378 Nectanebo I.—Defeats Persians and Greeks at Mendes. This victory secures peace for some years. Revival of art.

364 Tachus.—Wars with Persia.

361 Nectanebo II.—The Persians again invade Egypt, at first unsuccessfully.

XXXIst DYNASTY, 340-332 B.C.

340 Ochus (Artaxerxes III).—Defeats Nectanebo at Pelusium. Nectanebo flees to Napata. Ochus proves a cruel governor.

332 Alexander the Great appears at Pelusium. The Persians surrender without a struggle. Beginning of Greek dominion.


[1] [For a full discussion of Egyptian chronology, see Appendix B.]




Egypt is a long Contree; but it is streyt, that is to seye narrow; for thei may not enlargen it toward the Desert, for defaute of Watre. And the Contree is sett along upon the Ryvere of Nyle; be als much as that Ryvere may serve be Flodes or otherwise that whanne it flowethe it may spreden abrood thorghe the Contree; so is the Contree large of Lengthe. For there it reyneth not but litylle in the Contree; and for that Cause, they have no Watre, but zif it be of that Flood of that Ryvere. And for als moche as it ne reyeneth not in that Contree, but the Eyr is alwey pure and clear, therefor in that Contree ben the gode Astronomyeres; for thei fynde there no Cloudes to letten hem.—The voyage and travile of Sir John Maundeville, Kt.

Two theories as to the origin of the Egyptians have been prominent, the one supposing that they came originally from Asia, the other that their racial cradle lay in the upper regions of the Nile, particularly in Ethiopia. Even to-day there is no agreement among Egyptologists as to which of these theories is correct. Among the earlier students of the subject, Heeren was prominent in pointing out an alleged analogy between the form of skull of the Egyptian and that of the Indian races. He believed in the Indian origin of the Egyptians.

One of the most recent authorities, Professor Flinders Petrie, inclines to the opinion that the Egyptians were of common origin with the Phœnicians, and that they came into the Nile region from the land of Punt, across the Red Sea. Professor Maspero, on the other hand, inclines to the belief in the African origin of the race; and the latest important anthropological theory, as propounded by Professor Sergi, contends for the Ethiopic origin of the entire Mediterranean race, of which the Egyptians are a part. According to this theory, a race whose primitive seat of residence was in the upper regions of the Nile spread gradually to the north, finally invading Asia by way of the Isthmus of Suez, and crossing to the peninsulas of southern Europe by way of Crete and Cyprus and Sicily, and perhaps also, after a long journey to the west along the Mediterranean coast of Africa, by way of the Straits of Gibraltar.

The true scientific status of the matter amounts merely to a confession of almost entire ignorance. The theory of Sergi, just referred to, finds a certain support in the data of cranial measurements, but it would be going[78] much beyond warrantable conclusions to affirm anything like certainty for the inferences drawn from all the observations as yet available. The historian is obliged, therefore, to fall back upon the simple fact that for a good many thousands of years before the Christian era, a race of people of unknown origin inhabited the Nile Valley, and had attained a very high state of civilisation. Whatever the origin of this people, and however diversified the racial elements of which it was composed, the climatic conditions of Egypt had long since imposed upon the entire population an influence that welded all the diverse elements into a single racial mould, so that, as Professor Maspero points out, at the very dawn of Egyptian history the inhabitants of the entire land of Egypt constituted a single race, speaking one language and showing very little diversity of culture.

Mummy of the Pre-dynastic Period discovered recently in Egypt

(Now in the British Museum)

It is one of the standing surprises for the student of antiquity that the most massive structures ever built by man should be found in Egypt, dating from a period so remote as to be almost prehistoric. One finds it hard to avoid the feeling that there was a race sprung suddenly to a very high plane of civilisation, as if by a sheer leap from barbarism; but, of course, no modern student of the subject considers the matter in this light. It is uniformly accepted that a vast period of time lies back of the Pyramids, in which the Egyptians were slowly working their way upward. Professor Maspero estimates that for at least eight or ten thousand years the people had inhabited this land, all along developing their peculiar civilisation. Of course such an estimate makes no claim to historical accuracy; it is only a general conclusion based upon what seems a reasonable rate of progress.

The recent explorations in Egypt have endeavoured to penetrate the mysteries of what has hitherto been the prehistoric period, and these efforts have met with a certain measure of success. In the Fayum, Professor Petrie has made excavations that revealed the remains of a much earlier period than that of the first dynasties hitherto recognised. Among other interesting relics, sarcophagi were found containing mummified bodies in a marvellous state of preservation. One of these now exhibited at the British Museum in London shows the body of a man of full proportions lying on his side with knees folded up against his body. Unlike the mummies of the later Egyptian period, this ancient effigy has no wrappings of any kind, but so remarkable are the results of the processes of embalming to which[79] it has been subjected, that the form of the various members, and the features even, have been preserved with marvellously little shrinkage or distortion. The skin is indeed dry and dark, yet its resemblance to the skin of a living person of a dark-hued race is so striking that one can hardly realise, in looking at it, that the corpse before him is the body of a person who lived perhaps eight or ten thousand years ago.

As to other remains found by the later explorations, among the most interesting and suggestive are flint implements chipped in the manner characteristic of the Palæolithic or rough stone age. We are guarded, however, against drawing too sweeping inferences from these antiquities by Professor Petrie’s assurance that the Egyptians continued to use such chipped flint implements throughout the period from the IVth to the Xth Dynasty. It has been doubted whether any of these stone implements can be regarded as of strictly prehistoric origin, or whether, indeed, any of the antiquities discovered in Egypt evidence an uncivilised stage of racial history. The latest opinion, however, is that the makers of the pottery and flint implements were the aborigines of the country, who were displaced by the invasion of the Egyptians of history.

The most important excavations of the last eight or ten years, carried on by Amélineau, Petrie, and De Morgan have had for their object the collection of remains of this pre-dynastic era.

We are not likely to hear more of the contention that the archaic objects found at Naqada and other places were the work of a “New Race” of invaders that had intruded somewhere in those dark ages between the VIth and XIth Dynasties, for this long and bitter controversy is now replaced by a state of complete agreement among the authorities that the people who could lay claim to the pottery and flint objects were the aborigines, living in Egypt when the Egyptians of history invaded the country.

In their possession of the country these aborigines were ousted by the race which gradually loomed upon the historic horizon and to whom it has long been the custom to assign Menes as the first king, treating the preceding periods as the time of the gods and demigods, to whose rule tradition assigns an epoch which varies from 1000 to nearly 40,000 years. But the indications are that within a few years there will be much light thrown on the period preceding King Menes. Just why this king should have been placed at the head of the Ist Dynasty now seems quite clear. He was the first “Lord of the Two Lands”—the united Upper and Lower Egypt.

It must be recognised by any one who would gain a clear idea of national existence, that the character of a race is enormously influenced by the physical and climatic features of its environment. There have been differences of opinion among students of the subject as to the amount of change that may be effected by altered surroundings. But whoever considers the matter in the light of modern ideas, can hardly be much in doubt as to the answer to any question thus raised.

If it be admitted that all the races of mankind sprang originally from a single source,—an hypothesis upon which students of the most diverse habits of thought are agreed,—then in the last analysis it would appear that we must look to such environing conditions as soil and climate for the causes of all the differences that are observed among the different races of the earth to-day. The man inhabiting equatorial regions has a dark skin and certain well-marked traits of character, simply because his ancestors for almost endless generations have been subjected to the influences of a tropical climate; and the light-skinned inhabitant of northern Europe[80] owes his antagonistic characteristics to the widely different climatic conditions of high latitudes. And what is true of these extreme instances, is no less true of all intermediate races.

In a word, then, the Egyptian would not have been the individual that we know, had he not lived in the valley of the Nile. The Mesopotamian required the environment of the Tigris and Euphrates to develop his typical characteristics, and similarly with the Greek and Roman, and with the members of every other race.

But, in accepting this view, one must not be blinded to the fact that the changes wrought by environment in the character of a race, are of necessity extremely slow. The peculiar traits that give racial distinction to any company of people have not been attained except through many generations of slow alteration; and such is the conservative power of heredity that the characteristics thus slowly stamped upon a race are well-nigh indelible. How pertinacious is their hold is best illustrated in the case of the modern Jews, who retain their racial identity though scattered in all regions of the globe. With this illustration in mind, it cannot be matter for surprise that any race that remains in the same environment, and as a rule does not mingle with other races, shall have retained the same essential characteristics throughout the historic period. That such is really the historic fact regarding any particular race of antiquity, might not at first sight be obvious. It might seem, for example, that the modern Egyptian, who plays so insignificant a part in the world-history of the nineteenth century, must be a very different person indeed from his ancient progenitor, who maintained for many centuries the dominant civilisation of the world.

But it must not be forgotten that national standards are relative; in other words, that the status of a people depends, not alone upon the plane of civilisation of that people itself, but quite as much upon the relative plane of civilisation of its neighbours. When the Egyptians sank from power, it was not so much that they lost their inherent capacity for progress, as that other nations outstripped them in the race, and came presently to dominate and subjugate them, and thus to stamp out their ambition. In support of this view, note the fact that the Egyptians again and again, at intervals of many centuries, were able to rouse themselves from a lethargy imposed by their conquerors, and to regain for a time their old position of supremacy. But the best tangible illustration of the fixity of the character of a race is furnished by the modern historians, who have at the same time most profoundly studied the ancient conditions as recorded on the monuments, and, while doing so, have been brought in contact with the present inhabitants of the Nile Valley.

No other scholars of the present generation have made more profound investigations than Professor Petrie and Professor Erman, both of whom have been led to comment on the extraordinary similarity of manner and custom and inherent characteristics between the ancient and the modern Egyptians. Here is Professor Erman’sg verdict:

“The people who inhabited ancient Egypt still survive in their descendants, the modern Egyptians. The vicissitudes of history have changed both language and religion, but invasions and conquests have not been able to alter the features of this ancient people. The hundreds and thousands of Greeks and Arabs who have settled in the country seem to have been absorbed into it; they have modified the race in the great towns, where their numbers were considerable, but in the open country they scarcely produced any effect. The modern fellah resembles his forefather of four thousand[81] years ago, except that he speaks Arabic, and has become a Mohammedan. In a modern Egyptian village, figures meet one that might have walked out of the pictures in an ancient Egyptian tomb. We must not deny that this resemblance is partly due to another reason besides the continuance of the old race. Each country and condition of life stamps the inhabitants with certain characteristics. The nomad of the desert has the same features, whether he wanders through the Sahara or the interior of Arabia; and the Copt, who has maintained his religion through centuries of oppression, might be mistaken at first sight for a Polish Jew, who has suffered in the same way. The Egyptian soil, therefore, with its ever constant conditions of life, has always stamped the population of the Nile Valley with the same seal.

“As a nation the Egyptians appear to have been intelligent, practical, and very energetic, but lacking poetical imagination; this is exactly what we should expect from peasants living in this country of toilsome agriculture. ‘In his youth the Egyptian peasant is wonderfully docile, sensible, and active; in his riper years, owing to want and care, and the continual work of drawing water, he loses the cheerfulness and elasticity of mind which made him appear so amiable and promising.’ This picture of a race, cheerful by nature, but losing the happy temperament and becoming selfish and hardened, represents also the ancient people.”

But, however freely it may be admitted that soil and climate put their seal upon a race, opinions will always differ as to just how the racial characteristics are to be interpreted. In the case of all Oriental nations the European mind has found such interpretation peculiarly difficult. The Egyptians are no exception to this rule, as we shall see.a


The whole of North Africa is covered by a great desert, bordered only on the northwest by a considerable arable district, which at present forms the states of Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis. Except for this, if we set aside a single strip of coast land in the country between the two Syrtes (Tripolis, Leptis) and in Cyrenaica (Bengari), this whole territory is totally destitute of all higher civilisation. It forms the natural frontier of the Mediterranean world, beyond which not even ancient civilisation ever penetrated. The interior of Africa was practically unknown to the Greek and Roman world.

The formidable desert land, embracing more than three million square miles, contains a series of depressed levels in which springs are harboured, and vegetation, especially the date-palm, thrives. These are the oases. Here, and here only, are permanent human settlements possible. At the same time the oases form stations in the wearisome and difficult way through the desert, where the trader who wants to acquire goods in the countries on the other side is exposed not only to the dangers that threaten him from want of water, loss of his way, and sand-storms, but also to the attacks of vagrant robber hordes that traverse the desert in nomadic confusion.

East of the great desert, at a distance of a few days’ journey from the Arabian Gulf, lies a straggling fruitful valley, which in some sense may be regarded as an oasis of colossal dimensions. This is Egypt, the valley of the Lower Nile. On both sides it is bounded by desert land. On the west rises the plateau of the Libyan Desert, flat, absolutely barren, covered with impenetrable sand-banks. On the east a rocky highland of solid quartz and chalk rises in a gradual slope, at the back of which the crystalline masses of the so-called Arabian Mountains ascend to a height of about six[82] thousand feet. In geological structure the two territorial districts are entirely different, but, although it is true that nomadic hordes can, at a pinch, keep body and soul together in the eastern desert, and that they are not entirely cut off from vegetation, from springs and cisterns in which the rainwater is gathered up from storm and tempest, civilisation is as much sealed to them as it is to the Libyan waste, through which it is impossible to penetrate, and which is habitable only in the oases.

Between the two deserts, occupying a breadth of from fifteen to thirty-three miles, lies the depression forming the valley of Egypt. It forms the bed which the river has dug for itself in the soft chalky soil with untiring activity. Formerly, thousands of years ago,—thousands indeterminate,—it poured through the country in riotous cascades, the traces of which are still clearly recognisable in many spots. Gradually the river cleaned out the whole bed and established a regular surface level. When the historical period begins, the creative career of the river has already long been completed; from this time forward, the Nile flows in manifold curves and with numerous tributaries through the wrinkled valley, which it floods to a considerable degree only in midsummer, when the Ethiopian snow melts and seeks an outlet. The fertile land extends precisely as far as the waters of the Nile penetrate, or are guided by the hand of man in the flood season; a sharp line of demarcation separates the black fertile land formed of the muddy deposit left by the river, from the gray-yellow of the bordering desert. The breadth of the fertile territory is variable; on an average it covers eight, rarely more than ten, miles. Only at the mouth of the Nile it expands to the wide marsh lands of the Delta, intersected by numerous swamps and lakes.

Statue of the Goddess Sekhet

(Now in the British Museum)

Also on the south the border-land of Egypt has a sharp natural line of demarcation. A little above the 24th degree of latitude, at Gebel Silsilis, the sandstone plateau joins right on the river, higher up covering the whole of Nubia. The narrow neck of river at Gebel Silsilis is the southern boundary of fertile Egypt. A significant saga rising from the Arabian name of the mountain range (Silsilis means “the chain”) tells how once upon a time the stream was cut off by a chain that connected the opposite mountains. About eight miles higher up, at Assuan (Syene) a mountain range of granite and syenite opposes the course of the river like a cross-rail. True, the river has broken through the hard stone, but it has not had the power to rub it away, as it has done with the chalk-stone of Egypt; in numerous rapids it forces a passage between neighbouring rocks and innumerable islands raised from its bed. Without doubt, however, the torrent has continued to make its bed deeper here also. We know from old Egyptian accounts of the Nile levels that about four[83] thousand years ago, at the time of the XIIth Dynasty, the Nile at the fortresses of Semneh and Kumneh, above the second cataract, must have been at least eight metres higher than it is at the present day. This can be explained only by supposing that, since then, the river must have burrowed an equivalent depth in the rocks of the cataract district.

This “First Cataract,” which makes real navigation very nearly an impossibility,—a vessel can be steered through the rapids only with considerable difficulty and danger,—has always formed the southern boundary of Egypt. Above it, the Nile flows in a great curve through the Nubian sandstone plateau. At numerous places its way is blocked by hard stone material, through which it digs a bed in cataracts. The river valley has throughout no more than a breadth of from five to nine miles. The fertile land, which at the time of the old empire was pretty thickly wooded, confines itself, where it does not cease altogether, to a narrow seam on the banks, so that the inhabitants, in order to leave as little as possible of it unutilised, formed their villages on the barren, unfruitful heights above it. The whole stretch of 1000 miles from Khartum to the first cataract contains at the present day only 1125 square miles of laid-out land. South of the Tropic only, the country on the Red Sea is gradually becoming capable of fertilisation; for the most part, here it bears the character of the Steppes. Also in the Nile, therefore, Egypt is almost totally shut off from Africa. The campaign of the English against the Mahdi has again given us a vigorous picture of how wearisome and difficult is the connection here; of the dangers that a tropical sun, a deficiency of habitations, and the difficulties of communication offer to a small army that tries to advance here.

Statue of Meneptah II, XIXth Dynasty

(Now in the British Museum)

Egypt is the narrowest country in the world; embracing an expanse of 570 miles in length, it does not contain more than 12,000 square miles of fertile land, that is to say, it is not larger than the kingdom of Belgium. It is necessary to keep this fact clearly in view, especially as the maps accessible may only too easily convey quite a false impression, because they include the desert land within the boundary line of Egypt, and as a rule do not distinguish it by any sign from the fertile land. The ancient indigenous conception is in complete accordance with the geographical character of the land. Egypt, or Kamit, as the country is termed in the indigenous language (the name certainly signifies “the dark country”), is only the fertile valley of the Nile. Here only do the Egyptians dwell. The oases in the west and the “red country” (Tasherit) in the east, i.e. the naked, reddish, glimmering plateaus of the Arabian Desert, are reckoned as foreign with[84] consistent regularity, and they are not inhabited by Egyptians. The true state of affairs is quite accurately portrayed in the oracle which decreed, “Egypt is all the country watered by the Nile, and Egyptians are all those who dwell below the town Elephantine and drink Nile water.”

Herodotus defines Egypt accurately as a “bequest of the river”; to the river alone it owes its fertility and its well-being. But for the flowing river, the sand of the Libyan Desert would cover that whole wrinkled valley, which, with the aid of the river, has become one of the most fertile and most thickly populated countries on the earth.

At the time in which our historical information begins, we find the Lower Nile Valley inhabited by a race which, after the precedent of the Greeks, we call Egyptians. Whence the word comes, we know not; we can only say that Aigyptos in the first instance denotes the river—almost without exception in the Odyssey it is thus. The word was then transferred to the country and its inhabitants, and the river received the name of Neilos (Nile), the origin of which is equally obscure. An indigenous name of the population did not exist; the Egyptians denoted themselves, in distinction from foreigners, simply as “men” (rometu). Their country, as we have already mentioned, they called Kamit, “Black Country”; the river was named Ha-pi. Semitic people called Egypt, we know not why, Mior or Musr (Hebrew Mizraim, the termination being a very common one with the names of localities). In its Arabian form, Masr, this word, at the present day, has become the indigenous name of the country and of its capital, which we call Cairo. From the name Egyptians, on the contrary, was developed the modern denotation of the Christian successors of the old indigenous population, the Copts.

Controversy has been abundant and vigorous with regard to the ethnographical place of the Egyptians. While philologists and historians assume a relation with the neighbouring Asiatic races, separating the Egyptians by a sharp line of distinction from the negro race, ethnologists and biologists, Robert Hartmann pre-eminent amongst them, have defined them as genuine children of Africa who stood in indisputable physical relation with the races of the interior of the continent. And certainly in the type of the modern Egyptian there are points of contact with the typical negro, and we shall not here dispute the validity of the possible contention that a gradual transition from the Egyptians to the negroes of the Sudan can be demonstrated, and that in the Nile Valley we never are confronted with an acute ethnological contrast.

We should note, however, that an acute contradiction in races is nowhere on earth perceptible. Everywhere may be found members to bridge over the gap, and the classification which we so much need does not ever start with the intermediate stages, but with the extremes in which the racial type finds its purest illustration.

Moreover, the type of the modern Egyptian cannot straightway determine the question as to the origin of the ancient Egyptian population, even if we do not take into account the difficult problem of how far climate and soil exercise a moderating influence upon a race. The inhabitants of the Lower Nile Valley at the time of the New Kingdom, and from that time forward in the whole course of history, have mingled so extensively with pure African blood, that it would have been a miracle if no assimilation had taken place. It is an undoubted fact that the Turks belong to the peoples resembling the Mongolians; but who will put the modern Osman in the same line with the Chinaman, or fail to recognise the assimilation to[85] the Armenian, Persian, Semitic, Greek type? The same is true, for example, of the Magyars. A strictly analogous state of things is found in Egypt. It has been proved that, in the skull-formation of the modern Egyptian, the influence of the African element is more clearly discernible than in the days of the ancients. Moreover, a careful comparison leads to the conclusion that in ancient, as in modern Egypt, there are two coexistent types: one resembling the Nubian more closely, who is naturally more strongly represented in Upper Egypt than in Memphis and Cairo; and one sharply distinguished from him whom we may define as the pure Egyptian. Midway between these two stands a hybrid form, represented in numerous examples and sufficiently accounted for by the intermixture of the two races.

While the Nubian type is closer akin to the pure negro type and is indigenous in Africa, we must regard the purely Egyptian type as foreign to this continent; this directs us toward the assumption that the most ancient home of the Egyptian is to be sought in Asia. The Egyptians have depicted themselves, times out of number, on monuments, and enable us clearly enough to recognise their type.

For the most part, they are powerful, close-knit figures, frequently with vigorous features. Not infrequently, as Erman has sagaciously suggested, the heads have a “clever, witty expression just like what we are accustomed to meet with in cunning old peasants.” We have a recurrence of the same trait in several early Roman portraits. Side by side with this we have finely cut features: for instance, we are reminded of the almost effeminate expression in the head of Ramses II. The Egyptian type is altogether different from the negro type; the structure of the nose, for instance, is delicate for the most part, and there is no trace of prognathismus, or the protrusion of the lower part of the face.

On the monuments the colour of the skin in male Egyptians, who in ancient days went totally naked but for a loin cloth, is a red-brown. On the other hand, the women, who were clad in a long robe and were not equally exposed to the effects of air and sun, are painted in a lighter brown or yellow. In quite similar fashion the Greeks of old represented men on their vases as red and women as white. We should not forget that the art of depicting the finer shades of colours in paint had not yet been learnt.

Just as the Egyptians are distinguished from the population of the interior of Africa, so they have their nearest kinsmen in the inhabitants of the northern zone of the continent. West of them, on the coast lands on the Mediterranean as well as in the oases of the desert, dwell races which are comprehended by Egyptians under the term Thuhen. Following the precedent of the Greeks, we have transferred to all of them the name of the Libyans, that race which was settled in the territory of Cyrene, where the Greeks first learned of their existence. In Egyptian memorials we find them again under the name of Rebu (we should observe here, once for all, that neither Egyptian speech nor Egyptian writing has an L, and so in foreign words every R may be read as an L). The name Rebu, as the Greek form of the name tells us, was pronounced Lebu [Libu]. To the east of these Libyans proper, in the desert plateau of the country of Marmarica, dwell the Tuhennu, who spread as far as the borders of Egypt, and even also settled in the western portion of the Delta. Further westward, presumably in the neighbourhood of the Syrtes, we find the Mashauasha. The Greeks, especially Herodotus, have preserved for us a great number of other names. All these tribes, to which the dwellers in the oases also belong, are most closely related to one another, and form, together with the inhabitants of[86] western North Africa, the Numidians and the Moors, a great group of nations, which we denote by the term Libyan or Moorish, or in modern terminology the group of Berber nations. The Libyans are light in colour; on the Egyptian monuments they are represented by a white-gray skin tint.

In the Moors the old type is to some extent still preserved. They are warlike, brave tribes, not without talent. But none of them, it is true, developed a high civilisation, although they adopted certain elements of civilisation from the Egyptians, and later on, in Mauretania, from the Carthaginians. According to the representations on the monuments, the custom of tattooing their arms and legs ruled amongst them; among the engraved signs we also meet with the symbol of Nit, the patron goddess of Saïs, whose population would appear to have consisted chiefly of Libyans.

As in the west, Libyans and Moors, to judge from their language, are connected with the Egyptians, so this is true in the south of a great number of tribes east of the Nile Valley. These are the ancestors of the modern Bedia tribes (i.e. of the Ababde, the Bischarin, and others, dwelling in the deserts and steppes east of the Upper Nile Valley), and of their relations the Falaschas, the Gallas, the Somali. Among them the country and people of Cush attained particular pre-eminence in antiquity; they were the southeastern neighbours of the Egyptians, who had their original settlements in the wastes and steppes of the mountain country east of the Nile. In the course of history they press forward against the negroes of the Nile Valley, the ancestors of the modern Nubians, and finally establish here a powerful empire.

The Hebrews and the Assyrians are accustomed to call this country Cush, and we too are in the habit of using this name Cushite instead of Egyptian. The Greeks call them Ethiopians. In the Christian era this name was adopted by a people living much farther south, the Semitic inhabitants of the great highlands of Habesh (Abyssinia), and this people and its language (Ge-ez) are therefore to-day called Ethiopian. But care must be taken not to transfer this term of modern usage in its modern significance to the circumstances of antiquity. The Ethiopia of antiquity is geographically about coterminous with modern Nubia.

A still more bewildering confusion has been engendered by the term Cushites. In the Old Testament, in the review of the races taking their departure from Noah, the name Cush has been transferred to Babylonia (Gen. x. 8; possibly also in the story of the Fall, ii. 13). This is to be explained by the fact that the robber mountain horde of the Kossæans, or, as they called themselves, the Kasshu, maintained supremacy for centuries in Babylonia; this name was identified by the Hebrew narrator with that denoting the African tribe. Recent experts have derived the most illusory consequences from this misunderstanding. In consequence of it the Cushites have become for them an Asiatic-African aboriginal people of wide extent, appearing everywhere and never at home; and wherever we encounter riddles in the matter handed down to us, or a bold combination has to be made possible, these Cushites are trotted out, only to sink again into nothingness as soon as they have done their work. Conceptions of this character have found their way into ethnographical, philological, and historical works of high merit.

From the abortion that has grown out of the amalgamation of the Babylonian robber and warrior hordes with an African tribe, originally[87] of quite a low grade of cultivation and the scantiest mental endowment, has been manufactured a people to whom the beginning of all civilisation has been referred, to whose inspiration the great monuments of Egypt, as of Babylonia, are supposed to owe their origin, but whose personality ceases to be tangible anywhere from the moment that positive historical evidence begins.

In the face of this we must again dwell on the fact that the Kossæans and the Cushites have not the slenderest historical connection with each other. The latter is a very real people that gradually absorbed a certain degree of external civilisation from the Egyptians.

With these East African nationalities on the one side, and the Libyans and Moors on the other, the Egyptians form a great group of nations whose languages are closely related to one another, and whom one may designate as North Africans. The North African languages again, in their grammatical structure as well as in their vocabulary, reveal a kindred spirit, however distant, with that in the language of their eastern Asiatic neighbours, the Semites, i.e. the inhabitants of Arabia, Syria, Assyria, and Babylonia. Especially in the most ancient form of Egyptian handed down to us, in the language of the time of the Pyramids, are we everywhere confronted with this kindred spirit. It is impossible to resist the conclusion that there was a time when the forefathers of the Egyptians and of the rest of the North Africans enjoyed a community of speech with the Semites.

Such being the case, we are inclined to conclude that the North Africans belong to the so-called Caucasian race of men, and that they reached their later domicile in prehistoric times, after their detachment from the Semites.

If this assumption can claim for itself a high degree of probability, we have not advanced a very great deal toward the understanding of the historical development of Egypt. For these wanderings and migrations belong in any case to times remote—ay, very remote—from all historical evidence, and they provide us with no new disclosures from any direction as to the character and the development of the Egyptians. A further inference has been expressed that the immigrants into Egypt found it occupied by an indigenous population, which they subdued, and that from this population came the bondmen whom we find in ancient Egypt, while the immigrants went to make the lords and the aristocracy.

Possibly this assumption is just; in support of it we may cite the agreement subsisting between the nature of the Egyptian animal worship and the religious conceptions of several of the African peoples. But we must never lose sight of the fact that the Egyptians themselves have no knowledge of any such theory.

If an immigration and an amalgamation of peoples took place, at the time of the Pyramids it had already long been buried in oblivion; the Egyptians regard themselves as autocthonous, and—with the exception of a part of the population in the lower lands of Nubia, Libya, and Asia—as a single nation, within which there can be no question of a clash of mental conceptions, and within which the proud and the humble, the lord and the bondman, have nothing to distinguish them externally.

Historical presentation demands that we should treat the Egyptians throughout as one people, whatever may be the number of different tribes that settled in the Nile Valley in prehistoric time.b


The earliest stage of man that is known in Egypt is the Palæolithic; this was contemporary with a rainy climate, which enabled at least some vegetation to grow on the high desert, for the great bulk of the worked flints are found five to fifteen hundred feet above the Nile, on a tableland which is now entirely barren desert. Water-worn palæoliths are found in the beds of the stream courses, now entirely dried up, and flaked flints of a rather later style occur in the deep beds of Nile gravels, which are twenty or thirty feet above the highest level of the present river. This type of work, however, lasted on to the age of the existing conditions, for perfectly sharp and fresh palæoliths are found on the desert as low down as the present high Nile.


The date of the change of climate is roughly shown by the depth of the Nile deposits. It is well known by a scale extending over about three thousand years, that in different parts of Egypt the rise of the Nile bed has been on an average about four inches per century, owing to the annual deposits of mud during the inundation. And in various borings that have been made, the depth of the Nile mud is only about twenty-five or thirty feet. Hence an age of about eight or nine thousand years for the cultivable land may be taken as a minimum, probably to be somewhat extended by slighter deposit in the earlier time.

The continuous history extends to about 5000 B.C., and the prehistoric age of continuous culture known to us covers probably two thousand years more; hence our continuous knowledge probably extends back to about 7000 B.C., or to about the time when the change of climate took place. At that time we find a race of European type starting on a continuous career, but with remains of a steatopygous race, of “Bushman” (Koranna) type known and represented in modelled figures. We can hardly avoid the conclusion that this steatopygous race was that of Palæolithic man in Egypt, especially as that equivalence is also known in the French cave remains. It is noticeable that all the figures known of this race—in France, Malta, and Egypt—are women, suggesting that the men were exterminated by the newer people, but the women were kept as slaves, and hence were familiar to the pioneers of the European race. These Palæolithic women were broadly built, with deep lumbar curve, great masses of fat on the hips and thighs, with hair along the lower jaw and over most of the body.

The fresh race which entered Egypt was of European type—slender, fair-skinned, with long, wavy brown hair. The skull was closely like that of the ancient and modern Algerians of the interior; and as one of the earliest classes of their pottery is similar in material and decoration to the present Kabyle pottery, we may consider them a branch of Algerians. They seem to have entered the country as soon as the Nile deposits rendered it habitable by an agricultural people. They already made well-formed pottery by hand, knew copper as a rarity, and were clad in goatskins. Entering a fertile country, and mixing probably with the earlier race, they made rapid advance in all their products, and in a few generations they had an able civilisation. Their work in flint was fine and bold, with more delicate handiwork than that of any other people except their descendants; their stone vases were cut in the hardest materials with exquisite regularity; their carving of ivory and slate was better than anything which followed for over a thousand years; and they had a large number of signs in use, which were probably the first stages of our alphabet.


After some centuries of this culture a change appears, at the same point of time in every kind of work. A difference of people seems probable, but no great change of race, as the type is unaltered. The later people show some Eastern affinities; and it seems as if a part of the earlier Libyan people had entered Syria or North Arabia and had afterward flowed back through Egypt, modified by their Semitic contact. It is perhaps to this influx that the Semitic element in the Egyptian language is due.

This later prehistoric people brought in new kinds of pottery and more commerce, which provided gold, silver, and various foreign stones; they also elaborated the art of flint-working to its highest pitch of regularity and beauty, and they generally extended the use of copper, and developed the principal tools to full size. But they show even less artistic feeling than the earlier branch, for all figure-carving quickly decayed, both in ivory and in stone. The use of amulets was brought in, and also forehead pendants of shell. And the signs which were already in use almost entirely disappeared.

This prehistoric civilisation was much decayed when it was overcome by a new influx of people, who founded the dynastic rule. These came apparently from the Red Sea, as they entered Egypt in the reign of Coptos, and not either from the north or from the Upper Nile. They were a highly artistic people, as the earliest works attributable to them—the Min sculptures at Coptos—show better drawing than any work by the older inhabitants; and they rapidly advanced in art to the noble works of the Ist Dynasty. They also brought in the hieroglyphic system, which was developed along with their art. It seems probable that they came up from the Land of Punt, at the south of the Red Sea, and they may have been a branch of the Punic race in its migration from the Persian Gulf round by sea to the Mediterranean. They rapidly subdued the various tribes which were in Egypt, and at least five different types of man are shown on the monuments of their earliest kings.d Of these there were two distinct lines, the kings of Upper and the kings of Lower Egypt. The Palermo stone gives us the names of seven independent kings of Lower Egypt who ruled before the time of Menes—Seker, Tesau, Tau, Thesh, Neheb, Uat´-nar, and Mekha, while within the past few years the names of three pre-dynastic kings of Upper Egypt have been revealed—Te, Re, and Ka. To discover when and where these early monarchs reigned is probably the most interesting and important problem engaging the Egyptologist to-day.a





The First Dynasty

Manetho Turin Papyrus Abydos Saqqarah Monuments Years in Manetho
Afr. Euseb.
Total 253 (L. 263) 252 or 253 (L. 258)
[ca. 4400-4133 B.C.]

The first human king who, according to Greek authors as well as according to the Egyptian lists of kings, ruled over the Nile Valley was Menes, called Mena in Egyptian. His family came from Teni, a spot in Middle Egypt, the Greek This [or Thinis] in Abydos, a place which formed a certain religious centre of the kingdom down to a late period. Menes himself, it is true, soon quitted the place and built his residence on another more favourably situated spot, the place where the fruitful plains of the Delta began. This new capital is Memphis, the city that flourished down to the latest periods of Egyptian history as a royal residence and a commercial centre. The foundation of the place is to-day exposed to the flooding of the Nile; this was already the case in ancient days, and the king was forced to protect the ground from this danger by a powerful dam. The dike which he constructed is in the neighbourhood of the place called Cocheiche. And this dike to this day secures the whole province of Gizeh from the floods.

This danger of flooding is less to be apprehended from the Nile itself than from the natural canal, called Bahr Yusuf [“River of Joseph”], which skirts the Libyan Desert. Thus the topographical conditions of this place have hardly varied at all from the time of Menes. The ruined site of ancient Memphis is now traced by only a few monuments, and the excavations here have been very unproductive, while even in the days of the Arabs the remnants of the town aroused the highest admiration in Arabian authors. At all events the name has remained, and to this day the great mound at Mitraheni is called Tel-el-Monf, the mound of Monf. The ancient Egyptian[91] name was Men-nefer, “the good place,” the sacred name Ha-kha-Ptah, “the house of the divine person of Ptah,” just as Ptah has remained for all time the chief god of the city. From this name, with but little right, it has been sought to derive the Greek name of the country of Egypt.

The acts, which for the rest are ascribed to Menes, are just those with which the first prince of a country is usually accredited. According to the Greeks he founded in Memphis the great temple of Ptah, the very first temple in Egypt; he regulated the service in the temple and the honouring of the god; he further was responsible for the introduction of the cult of Apis. Finally, he even discovered the alphabet, according to Anticlides, fifteen years (it would probably be more reasonable to read it 15,000) before Phoroneus, the architect of Argos.

Diodorus obliges us with the additional information that King Menes once was pursued by his own dogs, that he fled into Lake Mœris and was carried to the opposite shore on the back of a crocodile. In gratitude for, and in memory of, his marvellous deliverance he founded, so goes the tale, the town of Crocodilopolis, and introduced the veneration of crocodiles, to whom he surrendered the use of the lake. For himself he raised here a memorial pyramid and founded the famous Labyrinth. As for his character, according to the legend, he was a luxurious prince, who discovered the art of dressing a meal, and taught his subjects to eat in a reclining posture. In conflict with this is the account of Manetho, which depicts him as the first warrior-prince, and makes him fight the Libyans. According to Manetho he met his death through being swallowed by a hippopotamus. According to a widely spread but quite unauthentic story, he had in earlier life lost his only son Maneros, and the nation had composed a dirge on the subject entitled “Maneros,” of which text and melody are supposed to have survived for long.

Down to a late period Menes was honoured as a god in Egypt. In this capacity he appears on the Tablet of Abydos as the first of the kings; his statue is carried round in a procession in the Ramesseum, and even in the time of the Ptolemies, a priest of the statues of Nectanebo I, by the name of Un-nefer, was entrusted with his worship. His name lasted in Egypt even longer than his worship; it was borne by one of the most important Coptic saints, who lived at the beginning of the fourth century and to whom a church in old Cairo is yet dedicated.

Teta: Styled Athothis I by Eratosthenes, he is supposed to have ruled for fifty-nine years. According to Manetho, he constructed the royal castle of Memphis and wrote a work on anatomy, being particularly occupied with medicine. The latter supposition is rendered more complete to a certain extent by the account, due to the Ebers papyrus, that a method for making the hair grow described accurately therein, was supposed to have been discovered by our king’s mother, Shesh. For the rest we have no information of his period, except that in the reign of the son of Menes a double-headed crane revealed itself; this was supposed to be a sign of long prosperity for Egypt. We may possibly explain this legend from the circumstance that the names of the two successors of Menes are formed with the names of the crane-headed or ibis-headed god, Tehuti.

Ata: A great plague broke out in his reign.

Hesep-ti: [Within the past few years the correct reading of this name has been shown to be Sem-ti. His Horus name is Ten.]

Sem-en-ptah: [This name is also read Semsu.] According to Manetho there was a great pestilence in this reign.


The Second Dynasty

Manetho Turin Papyrus Abydos Saqqarah Monuments Years in Manetho
Afr. Euseb.
Total 302
[ca. 4135-3766 B.C.]

[There is a king whose Horus name is read Hotep-Sekhemui, and who is placed by some authorities early in the IInd Dynasty, but as yet we do not even know his name as king of United Egypt.] Ka-ka-u. [Under this king the worship of the Apis bulls was instituted.] Baneter-en. This is the Biophis of Eusebius. Of high importance for the whole of Egyptian history is the observation of Manetho that this king declared female succession to be legitimate. In the course of the history of Egypt we shall indeed frequently have occasion to note what immense weight this people attached to female succession, and how it is this which in innumerable instances gives the colour of legitimacy to the assumption of the throne by a sovereign or a dynasty. John of Antioch makes the Nile flow with honey for eleven days in the reign of Binothris, while Manetho postpones this miracle until the reign of Nefercheres.d

The Third Dynasty

Manetho Turin Papyrus Abydos Saqqarah Monuments Years in Manetho
Afr. Euseb.
Note.—T´ is to be pronounced tch or z.Total 214

Unfortunately we cannot as yet positively identify Necherophes on the tablets and monuments. A new arrangement, and one that has much in its[93] favour, is to connect him with Neb-ka or Neb-ka-Ra (No. 4, in Wiedemann’s table). This would join Seker-nefer-ka with Sesochris (No. 8, IInd Dynasty) with the additional support that “ochris” is plainly the Greek equivalent of “Seker”; and T´efa with Cheneres, although the latter assumption is admittedly the merest guesswork. This brings T´er-sa (or Zeser, as it is more often spelled) opposite Tosorthros. We know that Zeser built the step-pyramid of Saqqarah and Manetho says that Tosorthros “built a house of hewn stones.” He is the most important sovereign of the dynasty. Manetho further credits him with bringing the art of writing to perfection; he is also supposed to have been a physician, and for this reason the divine Æsculapius of the Greeks. From Tosertasis to the end of the dynasty there are differences of opinion in regard to order or identification, and consequently we are still at sea with regard to Tyreïs, Mesochris, and Soüphis.


[ca. 3766 B.C.]

The IVth Dynasty has a peculiar and unique interest for the casual observer of Egyptian history, because it was the time when the world-famous pyramids were erected, the pyramids which were accounted among the wonders of the world in classical antiquity, and the name of which has stood almost as a synonym of Egypt for all succeeding generations. If one were to list the wonders of the world in our day, the legitimate number would swell far beyond the classical estimate of seven; but it may be doubted if among them all there would be any more justly accounted wonderful than these same pyramids. Even if constructed to-day, they would be accounted marvellous structures; and, dating as they do from remotest antiquity, when the devices of the modern mechanic were yet undreamed of, they seem almost miraculous. Nothing that any other land can show at all rivals or duplicates them; they are unique, like Egypt herself.

What adds to the unique interest of the pyramids is the fact that we know almost nothing of their builders, except what these structures themselves relate. The pyramids epitomise the history of an epoch. They are the standing witness that Egypt in that epoch was inhabited by a highly civilised people. But practically all that we know of this people is that they were the builders of the pyramids. Even that is much, however, and we shall advantageously dwell at length upon these monuments, viewing them from as many standpoints as possible—through the eyes of Diodorus on the one hand, and of the most recent European explorers on the other.a

[ca. 3733-3633 B.C.]

Diodorus, voicing the traditions of his time, gives the following entertaining account of these marvels:[2]


“Chemmis [Khufu or Cheops], the Eighth King from Remphis, was of Memphis, and reign’d Fifty Years. He built the greatest of the Three Pyramids, which were accounted amongst the Seven Wonders of the World. They stand towards Lybia a Hundred and Twenty Furlongs from Memphis, and Five and Forty from Nile. The Greatness of these Works, and the excessive Labour of the Workmen seen in them, do even strike the Beholders with Admiration and Astonishment. The greatest being Four-square, took up on every Square Seven Hundred Foot of Ground in the Basis, and above Six Hundred Foot in height, spiring up narrower by little and little, till it come up to the Point, the Top of which was Six Cubits Square. It’s built of solid Marble throughout, of rough Work, but of perpetual Duration: For though it be now a Thousand Years since it was built (some say above Three Thousand and Four Hundred) yet the Stones are as firmly joynted, and the whole Building as intire and without the least decay, as they were at the first laying and Erection. The Stone, they say, was brought a long way off, out of Arabia, and that the Work was rais’d by making Mounts of Earth; Cranes and other Engines being not known at that time. And that which is most to be admir’d at, is to see such a Foundation so imprudently laid, as it seems to be, in a Sandy Place, where there’s not the least Sign of any Earth cast up, nor Marks where any Stone was cut and polish’d; so that the whole Pile seems to be rear’d all at once, and fixt in the midst of Heaps of Sand by some God, and not built by degrees by the Hands of Men. Some of the Egyptians tell wonderful things, and invent strange Fables concerning these Works, affirming that the Mounts were made of Salt and Salt-Peter, and that they were melted by the Inundation of the River, and being so dissolv’d, everything was washt away but the Building itself. But this is not the Truth of the thing; but the great Multitude of Hands that rais’d the Mounts, the same carry’d back the Earth to the Place whence they dug it, for they say there were Three Hundred and Sixty Thousand Men imploy’d in this Work, and the Whole was scarce compleated in Twenty Years time.

“When this King was dead, his Brother Cephres [Khaf-Ra] succeeded him, and reign’d Six and Fifty Years: Some say it was not his Brother, but his Son Chabryis that came to the Crown: But all agree in this, that the Successor, in imitation of his Predecessor, erected another Pyramid like to the former, both in Structure and Artificial Workmanship, but not near so large, every square of the Basis being only a Furlong in Breadth.

“Upon the greater Pyramid was inscrib’d the value of the Herbs and Onions that were spent upon the Labourers during the Works, which amounted to above Sixteen Hundred Talents.

“There’s nothing writ upon the lesser: The Entrance and Ascent is only on one side, cut by steps into the main Stone. Although the Kings design’d these Two for their Sepulchers, yet it hapen’d that neither of them were there buri’d. For the People, being incens’d at them by reason of the Toyl and Labour they were put to, and the cruelty and oppression of their Kings, threatened to drag their Carkasses out of their Graves, and pull them by piece-meal, and cast them to the Dogs; and therefore both of them upon their Beds commanded their Servants to bury them in some obscure place.

“After him reign’d Mycerinus [Mencheres] (otherwise call’d Cherinus) the Son of him who built the first Pyramid. This Prince began a Third, but died before it was finish’d; every square of the Basis was Three Hundred Foot. The Walls for fifteen Stories high were Black Marble like that of Thebes, the rest was of the same Stone with the other Pyramids. Though[95] the other Pyramids went beyond this in greatness, yet this far excell’d the rest in the Curiosity of the Structure and the largeness of the Stones. On that side of the Pyramid towards the North, was inscrib’d the Name of the Founder Mecerinus. This King, they say, detesting the severity of the former Kings, carried himself all his Days gently and graciously towards all his Subjects, and did all that possibly he could to gain their Love and Good Will towards him; besides other things, he expended vast Sums of Money upon the Oracles and Worship of the Gods; and bestowing large Gifts upon honest Men whom he judg’d to be injur’d, and to be hardly dealt with in the Courts of Justice.

“There are other Pyramids, every Square of which are Two Hundred Foot in the Basis; and in all things like unto the other, except in bigness. It’s said that these Three last Kings built them for their Wives.

“It is not in the least doubted, but that these Pyramids far excel all the other Works throughout all Egypt, not only in the Greatness and Costs of the Building, but in the Excellency of the Workmanship: For the Architects (they say) are much more to be admir’d than the Kings themselves that were at the Cost. For those perform’d all by their own Ingenuity, but these did nothing but by the Wealth handed to them by descent from their Predecessors, and by the Toyl and Labour of other Men.”e


The Egyptians of the Theban period were compelled to form their opinions of the Pharaohs of the Memphite dynasties in the same way as we do, less by the positive evidence of their acts than by the size and number of their monuments: they measured the magnificence of Cheops [Khufu] by the dimensions of his pyramid, and all nations having followed this example, Cheops has continued to be one of the three or four names of former times which sound familiar to our ears. The hills of Gizeh in his time terminated in a bare, wind-swept tableland. A few solitary mastabas were scattered here and there on its surface, similar to those whose ruins still crown the hill of Dahshur.

The Sphinx, buried even in ancient times to its shoulders, raised its head halfway down the eastern slope, at its southern angle; beside him the temple of Osiris, lord of the Necropolis, was fast disappearing under the sand; and still farther back, old abandoned tombs honeycombed the rock.

[ca. 3733 B.C.]

Cheops [Khufu] chose a site for his pyramid on the northern edge of the plateau, whence a view of the city of the White Wall, at the same time of the holy city of Heliopolis, could be obtained. A small mound which commanded this prospect was roughly squared, and incorporated into the masonry; the rest of the site was levelled to receive the first course of stones.

The pyramid when completed had a height of 476 feet on a base 764 feet square; but the decaying influence of time has reduced these dimensions to 450 and 730 feet respectively. It possessed, up to the Arab conquest, its polished facing, coloured by age, and so subtly jointed that one would have said that it was a single slab from top to bottom. The work of facing the pyramid began at the top; that of the point was first placed in position, then the courses were successively covered until the bottom was reached.

In the interior every device had been employed to conceal the exact position of the sarcophagus, and to discourage the excavators whom chance or persistent search might have put upon the right track. Their first difficulty would be to discover the entrance under the limestone casing. It lay hidden[96] almost in the middle of the northern face, on the level of the eighteenth course, at about forty-five feet above the ground. A movable flagstone, working on a stone pivot, disguised it so effectively that no one except the priests and custodians could have distinguished this stone from its neighbours. When it was tilted up, a yawning passage was revealed, three and a half feet in height, with a breadth of four feet. The passage is an inclined plane, extending partly through the masonry and partly through the solid rock for a distance of 318 feet; it passes through an unfinished chamber and ends in cul-de-sac 59 feet farther on.

The Great Pyramid was called Khut, “the Horizon,” in which Khufu had to be swallowed up, as his father, the Sun, was engulfed every evening in the horizon of the west. It contained only the chambers of the deceased, without a word of inscription, and we should not know to whom it belonged, if the masons, during its construction, had not daubed here and there in red paint among their private marks the name of the king and the date of his reign. Worship was rendered to this Pharaoh in a temple constructed a little in front of the eastern side of the pyramid, but of which nothing remains but a mass of ruins.

Pharaoh had no need to wait until he was mummified before he became a god; religious rites in his honour were established on his ascension; and many of the individuals who made up his court attached themselves to his double long before his double had become disembodied. They served him faithfully during their life, to repose finally in his shadow in the little pyramids and mastabas which clustered around him. Of Dadef-Ra (or Tatf-Ra), his immediate successor, we can probably say that he reigned eight years.

[This is according to the Abydos and Saqqarah lists, but his chronological position is still uncertain. The inscription of Mertitefs, one of Sneferu’s queens, mentions that she was later a favourite of Khufu, and even in her old age, of Khaf-Ra. This, if true, would leave no space for Dadef-Ra between these reigns, so he was either a co-regent or successor. In the XXVIth Dynasty his priests give, in several instances, the succession as Khufu, Khaf-Ra, Dadef-Ra. Professor Petrie identifies him with the Rhatoises of Manetho, and so makes him the third successor of Khufu, but Professor Maspero, in his reading “Dadef-Ra,” distinctly dissents from any such recognition. It is possible that this king is the same person as the Prince Hortotef, son of Khufu, who, as the hero of a famous tale, is one of the best-known characters of early Egyptian literature.]

[ca. 3666-3600 B.C.]

But Khaf-Ra (or Khephren), the next son, who succeeded to the throne, erected temples and a gigantic pyramid, like his father. He placed it some 394 feet to the southwest of that of Cheops (Khufu); and called it Ur, “the Great.” It is, however, smaller than its neighbour, and attains a height of only 443 feet, but at a distance the difference in height disappears, and many travellers have thus been led to attribute the same elevation to the two.

The internal arrangements of the pyramid are of the simplest character; they consist of a granite-built passage carefully concealed in the north face, running at first at an angle of 25°, and then horizontally, until stopped by a granite barrier at a point which indicates a change of direction; a second passage, which begins on the outside, at a distance of some yards in advance of the base of the pyramid, and proceeds, after passing through an unfinished chamber, to rejoin the first; finally, a chamber hollowed in the rock, but surmounted by a pointed roof of fine limestone slabs. The sarcophagus was of granite, and, like that of Khufu, bore neither the name of a king nor the representation of a god.


Of Khaf-Ra’s sons, Men-kau-Ra (the Mycerinus of the Greeks), who was his successor, could scarcely dream of excelling his father and grandfather; his pyramid, “the Supreme” (Her), barely attained an elevation of 216 feet, and was exceeded in height by those which were built at a later date. Up to one-fourth of its height it was faced with syenite, and the remainder, up to the summit, with limestone. For lack of time, doubtless, the dressing of the granite was not completed, but the limestone received all the polish it was capable of taking. The enclosing wall was extended to the north so as to meet, and be of one width with, that of the Second Pyramid. The temple was connected with the plain by a long and almost straight causeway, which ran for the greater part of its course upon an embankment raised above the neighbouring ground.

The arrangement of the interior of the pyramid is somewhat complicated, and bears witness to changes brought about unexpectedly in the course of construction. The original central mass probably did not exceed 180 feet in breadth at the base, with a vertical height of 154 feet. It contained a sloping passage cut into the hill itself, and an oblong low-roofed cell devoid of ornament. The main bulk of the work had been already completed, and the casing not yet begun, when it was decided to modify the proportions of the whole. Men-kau-Ra was not, it appears, the eldest son and appointed heir of Khaf-Ra; while still a mere prince he was preparing for himself a pyramid similar to those which lie near “the Horizon,” when the deaths of his father and brother called him to the throne.

What was sufficient for him as a child, was no longer suitable for him as a Pharaoh; the mass of the structure was increased to its present dimensions, and a new inclined passage was effected in it, at the end of which a hall panelled with granite gave access to a kind of antechamber. The latter communicated by a horizontal corridor with the first vault, which was deepened for the occasion; the old entrance, now no longer of use, was roughly filled up.

Men-kau-Ra did not find his last resting-place in this upper level of the interior of the pyramid: a narrow passage, hidden behind the slabbing of the second chamber, descended into a secret crypt, lined with granite and covered with a barrel-vaulted roof. The sarcophagus was a single block of blue-black basalt, polished, and carved into the form of a house, with a façade having three doors and three openings in the form of windows, the whole framed in a rounded moulding and surmounted by a projecting cornice such as we are accustomed to see on the temples. The mummy-case of cedar-wood had a man’s head, and was shaped to the form of the human body; it was neither painted nor gilt, but an inscription in two columns, cut on its front, contained the name of the Pharaoh, and a prayer on his behalf.

The example given by Khufu, Khaf-Ra, and Men-kau-Ra was by no means lost in later times. From the beginning of the IVth to the end of the XIVth Dynasty—during more than fifteen hundred years—the construction of pyramids was a common state affair, provided for by the administration.

Not only did the Pharaohs build them for themselves, but the princes and princesses belonging to the family of the Pharaohs constructed theirs, each one according to his resources; three of these secondary mausoleums are ranged opposite the eastern side of “the Horizon,” three opposite the southern face of “the Supreme,” and everywhere else—near Abusir, at Saqqarah, at Dahshur, or in the Fayum—the majority of the royal pyramids attracted around them a more or less numerous cortège of pyramids of princely foundation often debased in shape and faulty in proportion.f



[ca. 3766-3566 B.C.]

Sneferu is the first ruler of Egypt of whose deeds we know something. A relief with an inscription in Wady Magharah on the peninsula of Sinai represents him as slaying the robber-like tribes of the desert, the Mentu, with a club. According to the inscriptions of the XIIth Dynasty in Sarbut-el-Hadim, it appears that he was considered as founder of the Egyptian dominion in the peninsula of Sinai. His memory was honoured for many years; his worship was often mentioned, and in literary works his bountiful reign was also called to mind. He was probably buried in the Great Pyramid, which has the appearance of terraces, at Medum, the opening of which was begun a short while ago. In one of the neighbouring tombs a statue was found of its architect, Henka, and probably the remaining tombs at Medum belong to this epoch.

Sneferu’s successor Khufu, the Cheops of Herodotus, was the builder of the largest pyramid. The construction of temples was also attributed to him (the temple of the “Lady of the Pyramids,” Isis, in Gizeh, and the planning of the temple of Denderah), and the town of Menat Khufu bears his name. He also fought in the peninsula of Sinai. In front of the immense sepulchre of the king, his wives or other relatives are buried in three small pyramids, and around them in mastabas the nobles of his court. What the Greeks relate concerning the oppression of Egypt by Khufu and Khaf-Ra and of their ungodliness, whilst Men-kau-Ra as the builder of the small Pyramid is looked on as a righteous and just ruler, are their own words which they place in the mouth of the Egyptians; such a conception is remote from the truth, and the picture which we gain from the tombs of the period is throughout bright and cheerful. Certainly every contemporary was proud of having taken part in this giant construction.

After the short reign of Tatf-Ra followed Khaf-Ra, the builder of the second pyramid of Gizeh, to which time probably dates back the enigmatically immense construction of granite and alabaster to the south of the Great Sphinx; the fragments of nine statues of the king were found in it. His next followers were Men-kau-Ra, the Mycerinus of Herodotus, the builder of the third pyramid at Gizeh, and Shepses-ka-f, of whom we learn something definite through the biography of Ptah-Shepses, buried in Saqqarah. He had formerly been brought up at the court of Men-kau-Ra with the children of the king; he grew up under Shepses-ka-f, who gave him his eldest daughter to wife, loaded him with honours, and appointed him as secretary to all constructions which he planned to build.

The circumstance, that there is no mention of warlike expeditions either in this biography or in other monuments of this epoch, but that peaceful undertakings, journeys, and festivals, and above all, the constructions of the king, are continually quoted, is an important sign of the character of the times.

[ca. 3566-3300 B.C.]

Manetho now makes three kings follow for thirty-eight years, who are nowhere mentioned in the inscriptions, and then begins a new dynasty (the Vth), with Usercheres, which sprang from Elephantine. But in the monuments it is stated that Shepses-ka-f was immediately followed by Uskaf (or User-ka-f) [Usercheres]. At the most, only short interregnums can have intervened, and Prince Sechem-ka-Ra lived under five kings, Khaf-Ra, Men-kau-Ra, Shepses-ka-f, Uskaf, and Sahu-Ra, whose reigns occupied about a century. It is very probable that a new family came to the throne either in a peaceful or violent manner; in the Turin papyrus the portion which probably contained Uskaf’s reign has completely fallen out.


We learn very little of Uskaf or Usercheres. His successor Sahu-Ra, on the contrary, is one of the most renowned rulers of the time. He also fought in Wady Magharah. The next kings cannot be placed in their order with certainty. The Turin papyrus allows eight reigns, mostly short, to follow, and at the fifth introduces a gap; the lists of Abydos and Saqqarah have only given us three names. Only Nefer-ar-ka-Ra and especially An, the first king who gave himself a title (User-en-Ra), were at all important. Then followed Men-kau-hor (reign of eight years), Assa, with the name of Tat-ka-Ra (twenty-eight years), and Unas (thirty years), of whom the first and second, like An, left monuments commemorative of their victories on the peninsula of Sinai.

Drawings of Egyptian Birds

(From the monuments)

The first epoch of Egyptian history closes with the reign of Unas. Almost three hundred years had passed since Sneferu had built up his pyramid and celebrated his victory in Wady Magharah. Throughout the whole period Memphis was the central point of the kingdom, and its necropolis almost the only source of our instruction. After the death of Unas—it is not known whether he died in peace or was overthrown by a revolution—a new race ascended the throne and the centre of Egyptian life begins gradually to shift itself. The Turin papyrus rightly makes the first principal division here, and gives the sum of all the reigns from Menes to Unas; but the figures are unfortunately lost to us.

[ca. 3866-3300 B.C.]

Here follows a table of kings in which the lists of Manetho for the IIIrd, IVth, and Vth Dynasties are compared with the lists of the Turin papyrus, the Abydos tablet, the Saqqarah tablet, and the wall list of Karnak.b It will be recalled that these lists, taken together, furnish us with the chief information at present accessible as to the true sequence of the early Egyptian rulers. Notwithstanding its somewhat forbidding appearance at first glance, this tablet will repay careful study. It illustrates the way in which the different lists must be pieced together in an attempt to form a complete record. It shows, also, how widely the Hellenised names of Manetho’s list differ from the Egyptian originals; suggesting the extent to which surmise must sometimes enter into identification. Indeed, it would be hard to tell which were the greater misfortune: the disappearance of Manetho’s history, or the accident by which the Turin papyrus was broken into scores of little pieces only to be restored in an unscientific and almost worthless condition by Seyffarth.a


Turin Papyrus [P.], Abydos Tablet [A.], Saqqarah Tablet [S.] Karnak [K.]Manetho
1.Zeser, P. A. S.Dyn. III—2Tosorthros29 years
Gap in dynasty19 years6Tosertasis19 years
2.Zeser Teta, P. A. S.6 years
3.Set´es, A.; Neb-ka-Ra, S.6 years
4.Nefer-ka-Ra, A.; Huni, S.24 years
5.Sneferu, A. S. K.24 yearsDyn. IV—1Soris29 years
6.Khufu, A. S.23 years2Suphis63 years
7.Tatf-Ra, A. S.8 years
8.Khaf-Ra, A. S.? years3Suphis66 years
9.Men-kau-Ra, A. S.? years4Mencheres63 years
10.Shepses-ka-f, A. S.? years5Rhatoises25 years
6Bicheris22 years
7Sebercheres7 years
8Tamphthis9 years
11.[Us-ka-f, A. S.][missing]Dyn. V—1Usercheres28 years
12.[A. S. K.] Sahu-Ra18-38 years2Sephres13 years
Here belong:
13.{Kakaa, A.; and Monum.4 years
14.{Nefer-Ra, A.2 years
15.{Nefer-ar-ka-Ra, S.; and Monum.7 years3Nephercheres20 years
16.{Shepses-ka-Ra, S.12 years4Sisires7 years
17.{Nefer-kha-Ra, S.? years}5Cheres20 years
{Gap in Dynasty}
18.{Akau-hor, Monum.7 years}
19.{and perhaps Ahtes? years}
20.[User-en-Ra, An. A. K.]10-30 years}6Rhathures44 years
21.Men-kau-hor, P. A. S.8 years7Mencheres9 years
22.Tat-ka-Ra, Assa., P. A. S. K.28 years8Tancheres44 years
23.Unas, P. A. S.30 years9Onnos33 years
Total of seventeen reigns,236-276 years
To these must be added six reigns; the duration of which is unknown.Totals give 277 years for Dyn. IV, 248 for Dyn. V, differing from the sums of the single reigns.

If we allow fifteen years for each of the six missing reigns, we get for the period from Zeser to Unas about 350 years. For the something like nineteen kings of the Turin Papyrus from Menes to Zeser (exclusive) there falls, then, about 350 years, from Menes to Sneferu (exclusive) therefore, about 350, from Sneferu to Unas about 300, which agrees very well with the indications on the monuments. (According to the most reliable of the reported figures of Manetho the first three dynasties lasted 769 years, the IVth and Vth 525 years.)b

[ca. 3566-3300 B.C.]

Very recent discoveries have thrown a certain amount of light on the obscurities of the Vth Dynasty, particularly with reference to the kings Nos. 13-19 bracketed in the above table. The latest research has developed:

(1) That Kakaa (No. 13) must be only another, and probably personal, name of either Nefer-ar-ka-Ra or Shepses-ka-Ra, probably of the former.


(2) That the Akau-hor of a few monuments is probably the personal name of Nefer-kha-Ra (Saqqarah tablet); now read Nefer-f-Ra.

We may also now reject the Nefer-Ra (No. 14) and the Ahtes (No. 19) and consider the Vth Dynasty, beginning with Uskaf and ending with Unas to consist of nine kings, and to have lasted about two hundred and twenty years.


Various monuments have come down to us from the Vth Dynasty, including inscriptions on steles and tablets, an alabaster vase, a polished ink slab and scarabs. Among the most interesting remains of the period is a papyrus roll found in 1893 at Saqqarah near the Step Pyramid. This papyrus contains an account of the reign of King Tat-ka-Ra or Assa, and it is believed to be the oldest fragment of manuscript in existence. A much more famous papyrus roll, the so-called Prisse Papyrus—sometimes called the oldest book in the world—now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, is believed to be a copy of an original written in the time of Assa. The Prisse Papyrus itself dates from the XIIth Dynasty. It was written by one Ptah-hotep, spoken of in the book itself as “Son of the King, of his body,” which phrase may mean that the author was actually the son of the king (Brugsch) or, that he was really a relative of the monarch, perhaps his uncle (Petrie). The document itself has a peculiar interest aside from its age. It is the philosophical moralising of an old man who, plaintively lamenting the infirmities of age, casts a regretful glance on by-gone times; yet whose view on the whole is wise and optimistic. “It does the heart good and rejoices the mind,” says Brugsch, “to follow that old harangue which preserves the intimate thought of the age of the prince, embracing the whole course of human existence in simple, childish words. Here is a noble lesson on the true greatness of man, for throughout he breathes a spirit of human purity which finds the only true greatness in a modest mind.”

Professor Mahaffy, speaking in a somewhat similar vein, calls attention to the fact that the morals, the aspirations, and the unsolved social problems of the remote time in which Ptah-hotep wrote bear a singular resemblance to those of to-day, pointing the moral that humanity has not greatly changed in essentials during the intervening five or six thousand years.

[ca. 3300-3166 B.C.]

After the Vth Dynasty, which was regarded by the author of the Turin Papyrus as closing an epoch, there is a period of five hundred years or more during which relatively little is known of Egyptian history. According to the lists of Manetho, this period saw the rise and fall of various dynasties which, vaguely as they are known, have passed into traditional history as Dynasties VI to X. The Turin Papyrus and the lists of Abydos, Saqqarah, and Karnak supply us with various names, mostly unsuggestive of the names of Manetho. There are, however, two or three exceptions to this, notably the king named third in Manetho’s VIth Dynasty, Philos, who is believed to represent the monarch named on all the other lists as Meri-Ra, or, as he is more generally known, Pepi, the latter being his family name. This monarch, who probably lived about 3200 B.C., was the Ramses II of his epoch. He has left us more monuments than any other ruler before the XIIth Dynasty. These include a pyramid at Saqqarah, rock inscriptions in steles at Elephantine and elsewhere, statuettes, canopic jars, cylinders, and scarabs. The most notable of all the monuments ascribed to him is the Red Sphinx of Tanis, now in the Louvre in Paris, which, if really his,—the matter is still not quite decided among the best authorities,—is the oldest sphinx known. If authentic, the face of this sphinx probably furnishes[102] a representation of Pepi which is doubtless the most ancient portrait in existence.

A great builder and monument-maker, he was a great conqueror as well, waging successful wars against the Aamu and Herusha, who inhabited the desert east of the Delta. He even extended his conquests against “the land of the Terehbah,” which, it has been surmised, may be Syria; or which may possibly have been even farther to the north: the similarity of names suggests that the people referred to may have been the Tibareni, one of the smaller peoples of Asia Minor. In any event, the warlike expedition against this unknown people was made in ships.

The most interesting thing about King Pepi remains to be told. This is the manner in which records of his deeds have come down to us. The various monuments left by the king himself contain scant reference to his accomplishments. The inscription that enables us to gain glimpses of the life of the greatest monarch of his epoch is not the inscription of the monarch himself, but of one of his servants. This officer of the king bore the name of Una. He was of unknown origin, and there is no reason to suppose that he was of royal blood; but he attained to the highest distinction. He had come to be, according to the inscription over his tomb, “Crown bearer of the Majesty (of the King), Superintendent of the storehouse, and Registrar (Sacred Scribe) of the docks” for King Teta, the predecessor of King Pepi.

[ca. 3166-3033 B.C.]

On the death of his master, Una appears to have passed into the service of the next incumbent, Pepi, as “Chief of the coffer of the Majesty (of the King) with the rank of Companion, Scribe, Priest of the place of his pyramid.” “His Majesty was satisfied with me (beyond all) his servants,” declares Una. “(He gave me also) to hear all things. I was alone with the Royal Scribe, and officer of all the secrets. The King was satisfied with me more than any of his chiefs, of his family, of his servants.”

The inscription then goes on to detail the services rendered by Una to Pepi, and his son Mer-en-Ra as well. He fully earned all of his titles and honours. He would seem to have been in charge, not merely of household affairs, building operations, the moving of monuments and the like, but to have been commander-in-chief of the armies, and the efficient agent of Pepi in his conquests at home and abroad, as he says: “ He sent me five times, to subdue the land of Herusha to subdue their revolt by this force. His Majesty was pleased at it beyond everything Saying, have revolted the Negroes of this tribe of the land of Khetam, safely to Takhisa; I sailed again in boats with this force. I subdued this country from the extreme frontier on the North of the land of Herusha. Then was ordered this army on the road. They subdued them also smiting all opponents there. The place was thrown under my sandals. The King of Upper and Lower Egypt Mer-en-Ra the Divine Lord the ever living gave me to be a Duke, Governor of the South ascending from Abu to the North of the nome Letopolis. I very much pleased His Majesty, I greatly pleased His Majesty to the Satisfaction of His Majesty.”

One of the most interesting passages in the inscription of Una is that in which he gives details of the transportation of the pyramid Kha-nefer of Mer-en-Ra, making for it “a boat of burthen in the little dock 60 cubits in length and thirty in its breadth, put together in 17 days in the month of Epiphi.” There was not water enough in the river to tow the pyramid safely, but the inscription continues: “It was done by me forthwith before the god (King). His Majesty the Divine Lord ordered and sent me to excavate four docks in the South for three boats of burthen, four transports in the[103] small basin of the land of Uauat. Then the rulers of the countries of Araret, Aam, and Ma, supplied the wood for them. It was made in about a year at the time of the inundation loaded with very much granite for the Kha-nefer pyramid of Mer-en-Ra.” (Birch’sg translation.)

Aside from its intrinsic interest, this inscription of Una has a peculiar historical importance as illustrating a phase of life in Egypt that we shall not see duplicated among the Semitic nations of Asia; the fact, namely, that a mere subject of the king could leave a permanent record of his deeds. In Babylonia and Assyria it is the monarch always who speaks from the inscriptions; the name of a subject is never mentioned. It is not so very often, even in Egypt, that the name of a subject is heard, but the fact that this sometimes occurs marks a distinct difference between the character of the Egyptian and Asiatic civilisations.

An Egyptian High Priest

(Based on the monuments)

[ca. 3066-3033 B.C.]

One other monarch of the VIth Dynasty has gained traditional fame; this time through the pages of Herodotus. This is the Queen Nitocris. Herodotus, to be sure, gives us no clew as to the age when this female monarch ruled, but the name appears in the lists of Manetho. Herodotus was attracted by the picturesque story told him in reference to Nitocris by the Egyptian priests. He asserts that of the names of three hundred and thirty sovereigns, successors of Menes, recited to him from a book by the Egyptian priests, only one was a female native of the country. He continues: “The female was called Nitocris, which was also the name of the Babylonian princess. They affirm that the Egyptians having slain her brother, who was their sovereign, she was appointed his successor; and that afterwards, to avenge his death, she destroyed by artifice a great number of Egyptians. By her orders a large subterraneous apartment was constructed professedly for festivals, but in reality for a different purpose. She invited to this place a great number of those Egyptians whom she knew to be the principal instruments of her brother’s death, and then by a private canal introduced the river amongst them. They added, that to avoid the indignation of the people, she suffocated herself in an apartment filled with ashes.” (Herodotus, II, 99.)

The Turin papyrus gives the name of Nit-aqert as one of the Pharaohs of the VIth Dynasty, so it would appear that Herodotus was writing of an actual personage, whether or not the story that he tells was well founded. Manetho says of Nitocris that she governed twelve years, “the noblest and most beautiful woman of that period, fair, and at the same time the builder of the Third Pyramid.” Brugsch, commenting upon this, says: “It is difficult to discover the historical foundation for the tale of Herodotus, and we would only say that it must indicate that about the time of Queen Nitocris, internecine murders and dissensions began in the kingdom, awakened by the poisonous envy of the pretenders to the throne.” As to Maneth[104]o’s assertion that Nitocris built the Third Pyramid, it has been explained by Perring that the Third Pyramid was transformed and enlarged at a later date. It is suggested that “Queen Nitocris took possession of Men-kau-Ra’s tomb, left the king’s sarcophagus in a lower vault, and placed her own in the chamber in front. If we are to be guided by the ruined fragments of bluish basalt which lie on the spot, she had the surface of the monument faced with that costly decoration of highly polished granite, which afterward served inventive Greek story-tellers with a foundation for the tale of Rhodopis, the hetaira, who reduced her friends to beggary that she might obtain vast sums of money for the building of the pyramid.”


Various romances have become associated with traditions in reference to Nitocris. She was credited with supernatural witchery, and it was said that after her death her naked spirit haunted the pyramid she was alleged to have built, and that by the magic of her mere smile she drove her lovers mad. The story of her revenge upon the men who, in a riot, had killed her brother the king, is given by Herodotus as above. The brother she avenged was Menthesouphis, whom Meyer places at some distance from her in the line. Round this same Nitocris gathered other legends, among them the original of our Cinderella story. According to this version, Nitocris was originally a courtesan named Rhodopis (“Rosy-cheeked”—a translation into Greek of the name Nitocris). Once when she was bathing in the river, an eagle stole one of her little gilded sandals, and flying away let it fall into the lap of the king, who was holding a court of justice in the open air. He was so taken with the beauty of the tiny shoe that he had a search made for the woman whom it fitted, and made her his queen.

Beyond the historical narratives of Una, and the traditions about Nitocris, only shreds of knowledge are forthcoming regarding the monarchs of the long epoch with which we are dealing. The epoch as a whole is well characterised in the words of Brugsch:a

A profound darkness falls over Egyptian history after the time of Ne-fer-ka-Ra, shrouding even the faintest traces of the existence of kings whose empty names the tablets of Abydos and Saqqarah have preserved to us, names without deeds, sounds without meaning, like the inscriptions on the tombs of unknown, obscure men. Unless we are deceived, we may here picture a state split up into petty kingdoms and scourged by civil war and regicide, from whose haq or princes no saviour arose to strike down the refractory with the strong arm, grasp with a firm hand the loosened rein, and once more establish a central government.h

In a few words may be added certain more or less inchoate details as to the few monarchs of the VIth to Xth Dynasties upon whose history the most recent research has thrown some rays of light.

As for the VIth Dynasty, the most modern attempts at disentanglement place a Mer-en-Ra II and a Neter-ka-Ra after Nefer-ka-Ra; Mer-en-Ra II to correspond with the Menthesuphis of Manetho as distinct from the Methusuphis [Mer-en-Ra I] of the same historian. The Neter-ka-Ra occurs only on the Abydos Tablet, and is followed by Men-ka-Ra, which is also found nowhere else. But there is some reason to believe that the bearer of this name is identical with the Nit-aqert of the Turin papyrus and the Nitocris of Manetho, and in this connection the confusion between Men-kau-Ra and Nitocris is susceptible of another and perhaps better explanation[105] than that offered by Perring; for although the Third Pyramid has been enlarged, the manner of its enlargement shows that it was done in the age of the Pyramid builders and not so late as the end of the VIth Dynasty. Therefore it is better to accept M. Maspero’s theory of the alterations as given in a preceding page; while the similarity of the names Men-kau-Ra and Men-ka-Ra will show how Manetho was led into the error of assigning the building of the Third Gizeh Pyramid to Queen Nitocris.

A Soldier of Ancient Egypt

[ca. 3033-2700 B.C.]

The VIIth and VIIIth Dynasties fell through causes of disintegration and decay. The capital was transferred to Heracleopolis, presumably because of the intrusion of an outside people into the Delta.

Some authorities assign the dislodgment of the native dynasty to a perplexing line of foreign kings whose position still defies definition; but Professor Petrie writing in 1901 says: “The group of foreign kings, mainly known by scarabs and cylinders, Khyan, Samqan, Anthar, Yaqebar, Shesha, and Uazed, are probably of the XVth-XVIth Dynasties, though some connections place them shortly before the XIIth Dynasty.” All we yet know of the intrusion is concisely stated by Eduard Meyer: “We may with some certainty assume that strange Syrian races attacked Egypt and probably ruled the land or part of it for a while.”

Two legitimate kings of the IXth or Xth Dynasty now stand out prominently; Ab-meri-Ra (Kheti) who may be the Achthoes of Manetho, the first of his recorded IXth Dynasty, and Ka-meri-Ra. But the most interesting historical information of this period is from three tombs of the princes of Assiut; Kheti I, Tefa-ba, and Kheti II.

The Thebans had now practically obtained their independence, and certain circumstances indicate that the beginning of the XIth Dynasty was contemporary with the Xth. Such a state of affairs will explain the singular fact that Manetho assigns only forty-three years to the XIth Dynasty. For it is held that he ignored contemporaneous dynasties, and therefore may have rejected about one hundred and twenty years, during which period he does not recognise the XIth Dynasty as legitimate.a


[2] [Here and in subsequent excerpts from Diodorus we use a seventeenth-century translation.]





Egypt is the monumental land of the earth, as the Egyptians are the monumental people of history.—Baron Bunsen.

The history of civilisation is very largely the history of a few great cities.

There has been no great people without its great metropolis. The overthrow of such a city, as in the case of Nineveh, or Babylon, or Tyre, or Sardis, often meant the subjugation or destruction of a nation. And the mere transfer of supremacy from one city to another within the same country meant the beginning of a new era. It was so in Egypt when the centre of authority shifted from Memphis to Thebes. By common consent, historians mark the period in which Thebes became the home of the ruling monarch, and hence the capital of Egypt, as a new era in Egyptian history. This new era is commonly designated the Old Theban Kingdom, or the Middle Kingdom.

This era of the Theban supremacy was by no means a homogeneous epoch. It saw many dynasties established and overthrown; it even witnessed the conquest of the country by a strange horde from the east, a horde spoken of as the Shepherd invaders, whose leaders, seated upon the throne of Egypt for some generations, have passed into history as the Hyksos or Shepherd kings. These outsiders held the power so long, indeed, that they may very well have felt entitled to call themselves Egyptians. The later generations had as good claim to that name as, for example, any Caucasian has to call himself an American. Yet when the Hyksos kings were finally overthrown, the feat seems to have been regarded as the expulsion of intruders, and the verdict of posterity is that the governmental power passed back to its rightful possessors. It would be difficult, however, to say how much the ethnic status of the race may have been modified by the influence of these many generations of outsiders. Be that as it may, the Egyptians who expelled the Hyksos kings and established anew the “native” dynasties were in some respects a very different people from the Egyptians whom the Hyksos had overthrown. But before expanding this point we had best follow the fortunes of the Old Theban Kingdom itself.


[ca. 2700-2500 B.C.]

For the XIth Dynasty we have as yet no good list; the total number of kings even is unknown, but the best authorities agree that there were probably about nine. But since this dynasty undoubtedly ruled at Thebes[107] simultaneously with the Xth at Heracleopolis, whence it had been driven from Memphis, the question as to just which Theban prince so far overcame the legitimate government in the struggle that had been long going on, as to be acknowledged the ruler of Egypt, will probably never reach solution. Professor Petrie begins with Antef I and follows him with Mentuhotep I, Antef II, Antef III, Mentuhotep II, Antef IV, and then Nub-kheper-Ra (or Antef V). Concerning the latter and his two successors, there is no question; we emerge once more into the daylight. After Nub-kheper-Ra comes Neb-kher-Ra whose other name was Mentuhotep, and we designate him as the third of his name. He stands fifty-seventh on the Abydos list.a

The princely line from which the commanding figure of King Mentuhotep III stood forth to the healing of the reunited kingdom was of Theban origin. The feeble ancestors of his race bore alternately the names of Antef and Mentuhotep. They had set up their regal dwelling in that city of Thebes which afterward became of such world-wide importance, and their tombs (simple, homely tiled pyramids) lay at the foot of the “Western Mountain” of the Theban necropolis. Here a few ruins of ancient date indicate the names of the rulers. It was here too that, more than twenty years ago, two quite modest sarcophagi belonging to these Pharaohs were brought to light by some Arabs in search of gold, and unconscious of what a treasure they had found.

In that part of the city of the dead which nowadays goes among the inhabitants by the name of Assassif, those sarcophagi were found, only lightly covered with sand and rubble and one of them containing the embalmed body of a king, his head adorned with a royal circlet. The cover of the casket was richly gilded, and the sacred symbols which decked the central strip soon revealed the name of Pharaoh Antef in the royal cartouche.

In the year 1854, when Brugsch for the first time stayed on the banks of the Nile, he had the unhoped-for good fortune to stumble, in a lumber room in the house of the Greek consul, across the coffin of a second Antef, which was notably distinguished from the first by his cognomen of “the Great.” The coffin is now preserved in the Louvre, a precious and valuable relic of the ancient kingdom of the Pharaohs.

The black rocks of the island of Konosso, near Osiris’s favoured island of Philæ above the First Cataract, preserve the memory of the Mentuhotep (II) who bore the royal name of Neb-taui-Ra, “Sun of the Lord of the Country.” A sculpture chiselled in the hard stone shows the Pharaoh as the conqueror of thirteen peoples, and as the devout servant of his original progenitor Khem or Amsu, the famous god of Coptos. The place of this name (Qobt it was actually called among the Egyptians) had at that time a great reputation.

This Mentuhotep also appears perpetuated on the wall in the rocky valley, together with his mother, Ama. He had, so his inscription distinctly says, caused a deep well, ten cubits in diameter, to be sunk in the waterless, desolate waste, in order to provide reviving draughts of fresh water for all pilgrims with their beasts of burden and all men whom the king had commissioned to quarry stone in the hot valley.

Another inscription, dated the 15th of Paophi in the second year of the reign of our Mentuhotep, next commemorates the god Khem, “the Lord of the Peoples of this Wilderness,” then renders homage to other heavenly beings, and informs us how it was marvellously contrived to convey the gigantic blocks of stone Nileward to serve for the future housing of the royal corpse. A high dignitary, Amenemhat by name, and appointed to[108] superintend all works of the kind for Pharaoh, received an express order to forward the heavy load of the sarcophagus and its cover from the mountains to the ruler’s eternal resting-place.

Long was the way and hard the labour of the task, for the mighty mass of hewn stone measured eight cubits in length, whilst the proportion of this to the breadth and height was as four to two. When rich offerings had been made to the gods, three thousand strong men succeeded in moving the gigantic weight of stone from its place, and in rolling it down the valley to the river.

We have less information respecting the other Mentuhotep, whose pyramid bears the name of Khu-asu, “the most shining place.” A tombstone found in the carefully explored valley of Abydos commemorates the priest who presented the offerings of the dead to the departed king at the pyramid.

The list of kings closes with Sankh-ka-Ra, the fifty-eighth of the long series of Abydos. The rock valley of Hammamat commemorates him in an inscription of the highest value. From Coptos the way led through waterless deserts toward the coast of the Red Sea, and was much frequented by merchants, who, for the sake of profit, ventured life and limb, and after painful wanderings on desert paths trusted themselves in the harbour to frail vessels, that they might steer for the southern regions of the farther coasts and bring valuable goods, principally costly spices full of sweet savours, back from the land of Punt to their native country and the temples of the gods.


Under the name of Punt, the ancient inhabitants of Kamit understood a distant country, washed by the great sea, full of valleys and hills, rich in ebony and other valuable woods, in incense, balsam, precious metals and stones; rich also in animals, for there are camelopards, cheetahs, panthers, dog-headed apes, and long-tailed monkeys. Winged creatures with strange feathers flew up to the boughs of wonderful trees, especially of the incense tree and the cocoanut palm. Such was the conception of the Egyptian Ophir, doubtless the coast of the modern Somaliland, which lies in view of Arabia, though divided from it by the sea.

According to the old dim legend, the land of Punt was the primeval dwelling of the gods. From Punt the heavenly beings had, headed by Amen, Horus, and Hathor, passed into the Nile Valley. The passage of the gods had consecrated the coast lands, which the waters of the Red Sea washed as far as Punt and whose very name “God’s land” (Ta-neter) recalls the legend. Amen is called Haq, that is, “King of Punt,” Hathor similarly, “Lady and Ruler of Punt,” while Hor was spoken of as “the holy morning star which rises westward from the land of Punt.” To this same country belongs that idol of Bes, the ancient figure of the deity in the land of Punt, who in frequent wanderings obtained a footing, not only in Egypt, but in Arabia and other countries of Asia, as far as the Greek islands. The deformed figure of Bes, with its grinning visage, is none other than the benevolent Dionysus [Bacchus], who, pilgrimaging through the world, dispenses gentle manners, peace, and cheerfulness to the nations with a lavish hand.

[ca. 2500 B.C.]

It was under Sankh-ka-Ra that the first Ophir-voyage to Punt and Ophir was accomplished. According to the words of the inscription, everything which might be serviceable to the expedition was wisely arranged before-hand, and Pharaoh selected as its leader and guide the noble Hannu, who gives the following account of it:


“I was despatched to conduct the ships toward the land of Punt, to fetch Pharaoh sweet-smelling spices, which the princes of the red country collect with the fear and anxiety which he inspires in all peoples. And I started from the city of Coptos.”—“And his majesty gave the order that the armed men who were to accompany me should come from the southern land of the Thebaïd.”

After a defaced portion in the inscription, which was fairly long, and of which enough had been preserved to show that in the course of the story there was some account of how the armed force was provided for offence and defence against the enemy, and how the king’s officers, with stone-cutters and other work-people, accompanied the train, Hannu continues:

“And I journeyed thence with a host of three thousand men, and came through the place of the red hamlet, and through a cultivated land. I had skins prepared and barrows to convey the water-jars to the number of twenty. And every one of my people carried a burden daily … and another adjusted the load. And I had a reservoir dug twelve rods in length in a wood, and two basins at a place called Atahet, one of them a rod and twenty cubits, and the other a rod and thirty cubits. And I made another in Ateb, ten cubits by ten each way, that it might hold water a cubit deep. Thereafter I came to the harbour town of Seba (?), and I had cargo vessels built to bring commodities of every kind. And I made a great sacrifice of oxen, cows, and goats. And when I returned from Seba (?) I had fulfilled the king’s command, for I brought him all kinds of commodities, which I had found in the harbours of the sacred country. And I descended into the street of Uak and Rohan, and took with me valuable stones for the statues of the houses of God. The like has never been since there were kings, and such things were never done by any blood relations of the king who were sent to those places since the time (the rule) of the sun-god Ra. And I did thus for the king on account of the great favour he cherished for me.”

M. Chabas, who first rendered this important inscription and its contents intelligible, has joined to his translation some valuable remarks concerning the direction of the desert road from Coptos to the Red Sea. By this means we may satisfy ourselves that already in those remote times, the ancient Egyptians had opened a road by which to establish communication with the land of Punt, and to transport its products—rare and costly commodities—to the valley of the Nile.

In his description of the journey, Hannu speaks of five principal camps, at which the wanderers rested, and men and animals (then only donkeys, the only beast of burden referred to, at least at this period) fortified themselves for the toilsome journey in the enjoyment of the fresh drinking-water. It is, moreover, this same road which, even in the time of the Ptolemies and Romans, led from Coptos in the direction of the sunrise, to the harbour of Leukos Limen (now Kosseir), on the Red Sea, the great highway and commercial route of the merchants of all countries, who carried on a trade in the wondrous products of Arabia and India, the bridge of nations which once connected Asia and Europe.

Although, in view of the most recent discoveries, we must no longer regard Punt and the oft referred to “sacred country” as the exclusive designation of the southern and western coasts of Arabia itself, still nothing is more probable than that, already in the reign of King Sankh-ka-Ra, five and twenty centuries before the beginning of our era, the Egyptians had some knowledge of the coasts of Yemen and of the Hadramaut on the opposite side of the sea, which lay in sight of the incense-bearing mountains of Punt and of[110] the sacred country. Here, in these regions, should, as it seems to us, that mysterious place be sought which, in remotely prehistoric times, sent forth the restless Cushite nations oversea from Arabia, like swarms of locusts, to plant themselves on the highly favoured coasts of Punt and the “sacred country,” and to extend their wanderings further inland in a westerly and northerly direction.b


It is hard to keep in mind the long sweep of these meagre Egyptian chronicles, but it must not be forgotten that we are handling dynasties of long duration and not single reigns.

Drawing water from a river
[ca. 2466 B.C.]

It was not without a struggle that the XIIth Dynasty was established, and the first years of the reign of the Theban king Amenemhat were harassed by the conspiracies and plots of those who contested his claim to the throne.

In the Instructions to his son, Usertsen I, the king says: “When night came I took an hour of ease. I stretched myself on the soft couch in my palace and sought repose, my spirit had nearly succumbed to sleep, when lo! they gathered themselves together in arms against me, and I became as weak as a serpent of the field. Then I arose to fight with my own hands, and I found I had but to strike to conquer. If I attacked an armed foe, he fled before me, and I had no reverse of fortune.” And it was to this force of character that the king owed his success. “Never in my life have I given way,” he continues, “either in a grasshopper plague or in conspiracies set afoot in the palace, or when, taking advantage of my youth, they banded together against me.”

The south of Memphis was the final scene of struggle against the new dynasty, but after the surrender of the fortified town of Titui, the whole of Egypt surrendered to the sway of Amenemhat, who now devoted himself to the reparation of the evils of war and to expeditions against the Libyans, Nubians, and Asiatics, whose invasions were so ruinous to the country. “I caused the mourner,” says the king in the same Instructions, “to mourn no longer, and his lamentation was no longer heard. Perpetual fighting was no more seen, whereas, before my coming, they fought together as bulls who think not of the past, whilst the welfare of the wise and unwise was equally ignored. I have had the land tilled as far as Abu [Elephantine]. I have spread joy as far as Adhu [the Delta]. I am the creator of the three kinds of grain, I am the friend of Nopu [the god of grain]. In answer to my prayer the Nile has inundated the fields; nobody hungers or thirsts under my sway, for my orders have been obeyed. All that I said was a fresh[111] source of love; I have overthrown the lion and killed the crocodile. I have conquered the Uauat, I have taken the Mazau captive, and I have forced the Sati [Asiatics] to follow me like harriers.”

[ca. 2466-2370 B.C.]

In Nubia the king had the gold mines reopened which had been abandoned since the time of Pepi.

As Amenemhat was not young when he ascended the throne, he began to feel the effects of age after reigning nineteen years, and this led to his making his son, Usertsen I, co-regent with himself with all the titles and prerogatives of royalty. “I raised thee from a subject,” he writes in the Instructions, “I granted thee the free use of thy arms that thou mightest be feared on that account. As for me, I arrayed myself in the fine stuffs of my palace so as to look like one of the flowers of my garden. I perfumed myself as freely as if the essences were drawn like water from the cisterns.”

At the end of some years the king took so little active part in the government, that his name was often omitted in the monuments beside that of his son; but he still gave wise counsels from the palace where he lived in retirement. To the wisdom of his advice much of the prosperity of Egypt was due, and such a reputation for ruling did the old king acquire, that in a treatise, composed by a contemporary, on the art of governing, the writer represents him rising like a god and addressing his son: “Thou reignest over two worlds, thou dost govern three regions. Act better than thy predecessors, maintain harmony between thy subjects and thyself lest they succumb to fear; sit not by thyself in their midst, do not take to thy heart and treat as thy brother only him that is rich and of high degree, neither accord thy friendship to newcomers whose devotion is not proved.”

Amenemhat worshipped as a God by a Subjugated Prince

In support of his Instructions the old king gives a résumé of his life, of which some extracts have been already given. Although only three pages long, this little work became quite a classic, and kept its place a thousand years, for at the time of the XIXth Dynasty, it was still copied in the schools and studied as an exercise of style by young scribes.

Nothing is more illustrative of the state of Egypt and the neighbouring countries at this period than certain passages from the memoirs of an adventurer named Sineh. Arrived at the court of a little Asiatic chief, who asks for an account of the power of the Egyptian sovereign, and who was surprised[112] at hearing that a death had taken place in the palace of Amenemhat without his knowledge, the traveller gives a poetical panegyric of the king and his son: “My exile into that country was arranged by God, for Egypt is under the control of a master, who is called ‘the benevolent god’; and the terror of him extends to all the surrounding nations, as the power of the goddess Sekhet extends over the earth in the season of sickness. I told him my thoughts and he replied, ‘We grant thee immunity.’ His son, Usertsen, entered the palace, for he manages his father’s business; he is an incomparable god, he has never had his equal, he is a counsellor wise in his designs, benevolent in his decrees, who goes and comes at his will. He conquers foreign states and reports his conquests to his father, who remains in the palace. He is a brave man, who rules by the sword, his courage is unequalled; when he sees barbarians, he rushes forward and scatters the predatory hordes. He is the hurler of javelins who makes the hand of the enemy feeble, those whom he strikes never more lift the lance. He is formidable in shattering skulls, and has never been overcome. He is a swift runner who kills the fugitive, and no one can overtake him. He is alert and ready. He is a lion who strikes with his claws, nor ever lets go from his grip; he is a heart girded in armour at the sight of the hosts, and leaves nothing standing behind him; he is a valiant man rushing forward at the sight of battle. He seizes his buckler, he bounds forward and kills without a second blow. Nobody can withstand his arrow; before he bends his bow, the barbarians flee in front of him like hares, for the great goddess has commanded him to slay those who ignore her name, and when he attacks, he spares not. All are laid low. He is a wonderful friend, who knows how to win love; his country loves him more than herself, and rejoices in him more than in a god; and both men and women are prompt to render him homage. He is king; he has commanded ever since he was born; the nation has multiplied under him, the unique being of a divine essence by whom this land rejoices to be governed. He has enlarged the frontiers of the South, whilst not coveting the region of the North. He has subjugated the Asiatics and conquered the Nemashatu.”

Usertsen I

(From a statue)

[ca. 2370-2250 B.C.]

The co-regency of Usertsen I with Amenemhat I, instituted ten years before the king’s death, led to Usertsen’s being accepted as successor to his father without any opposition. And following his parent’s example, this king (after forty-two years) appointed his son, Amenemhat II, to be co-regent with himself; and he, thirty-two years later, did the same with Usertsen II; Amenemhat III and Amenemhat IV also reigned a long time together. The only reigns in which there is no proof of co-regency are those of Usertsen III and Queen Sebek-neferu-Ra (the Schemiophris of Manetho), who was the last of the dynasty, which had lasted 213 years, 1 month, and 27 days.


The history of the XIIth Egyptian dynasty is certainly given with greater accuracy and completeness than that of any of the others. In spite of the deficiencies in the biographies of the eight monarchs, and the accounts of their wars, we have an uninterrupted survey of the development of their policy, and even after the lapse of four thousand years and more, we can form a fair idea of the Egypt of the period. As engineers, soldiers, friends of art, and patrons of agriculture, they were indefatigable in their work of aggrandising the country. With the enlargement of the boundaries of the kingdom, the hordes of barbarians on the frontiers were dispersed, Nubia was conquered; the valley of the Middle Nile, from the First Cataract to the Fourth, was colonised; the supply of water was more equalised by the creation of Lake Mœris and a system of canals; and towns like Heliopolis, Thebes, Tanis, and a hundred others of less repute, were adorned with fine buildings. Egypt, in fact, at this time, was in a most prosperous state, and if later she obtained more renown by her Asiatic wars and distant conquests, the period of this dynasty, when each generation of Pharaohs followed in the other’s steps of good administration, was the most happy and peaceful of all.

The two scenes of warfare of the Pharaohs at this period were Syria on the east of the Delta, and Nubia, properly so called, on the south of Elephantine. One would have thought that the large tracts of sand, separating the Syrians from Egypt, would have prevented any incursions from that quarter. But the nomadic tribes made such inroads on that district that a series of fortresses had to be built from the Red Sea to the Nile, to protect the entrance of the Wady Tumilat from the hordes; and this wall, begun by Amenemhat and continued by his successors, marked the extreme limit, at that time, of the empire of the Pharaohs in this direction. Beyond stretched the desert, a world almost unknown to the Egyptians at that time.

Of the people of Syria and Palestine they had only vague ideas brought thither by the caravans or brought to the ports in the Mediterranean by sailors who had been there. Sometimes, however, a party of emigrants, or even whole tribes, driven from their country by misery or revolutions, would arrive and settle in Egypt. One of the bas-reliefs of the tomb of Khnumhotep depicts the arrival of such a party. It represents thirty-seven men, women, and children, brought before the governor of the nome of Mah, to whom they present a sort of greenish paint, called moszmit, and two boxes. They are armed like Egyptians with bows, javelins, axes, and clubs; one of them plays, as he walks, on an instrument resembling an old Greek lyre in shape. The cut of their dress, the brilliancy and good taste of the fringed and patterned materials, the elegance of most of the things they have with them, testify to an advanced stage of civilisation, albeit inferior to that of Egypt. Asia already supplied Egypt with slaves, perfumes, cedar wood, and cedar essences, enamelled precious stones, lapis-lazuli, and the embroidered and dyed stuffs of which Chaldea retained the monopoly until the time of the Romans.c

The monuments of this great period provoked wonder among the ancients, and the old traveller and historian Herodotus thus describes the marvels of Egypt:a


It was the resolution of all the princes to leave behind them a common monument of their fame:—With this view, beyond the Lake Mœris, near the City of Crocodiles, they constructed a labyrinth, which exceeds, I can[114] truly say, all that has been said of it; whoever will take the trouble to compare them, will find all the works of Greece much inferior to this, both in regard to the workmanship and expense. The temples of Ephesus and Samos may justly claim admiration, and the Pyramids may individually be compared to many of the magnificent structures of Greece, but even these are inferior to the Labyrinth. It is composed of twelve courts, all of which are covered; their entrances are opposite to each other, six to the north and six to the south; one wall encloses the whole; the apartments are of two kinds, there are fifteen hundred above the surface of the ground, and as many beneath, in all three thousand. Of the former I speak from my own knowledge and observation; of the latter, from the information I received.

The Egyptians who had the care of the subterraneous apartments would not suffer me to see them, and the reason they alleged was, that in these were preserved the sacred crocodiles, and the bodies of the kings who constructed the labyrinth: of these therefore I presume not to speak; but the upper apartments I myself examined, and I pronounce them among the greatest efforts of human industry and art.

The almost infinite number of winding passages through the different courts, excited my warmest admiration: from spacious halls I passed through smaller apartments, and from them again to large and magnificent courts, almost without end. The ceilings and walls are all of marble, the latter richly adorned with the finest sculpture; around each court are pillars of the whitest and most polished marble: at the point where the labyrinth terminates, stands a pyramid one hundred and sixty cubits high, having large figures of animals engraved on its outside, and the entrance to it is by a subterraneous path.

Wonderful as this labyrinth is, the Lake Mœris, near which it stands, is still more extraordinary: the circumference of this is three thousand six hundred stadia, or sixty schæni, which is the length of Egypt about the coast. This lake stretches itself from north to south, and in its deepest parts is two hundred cubits; it is entirely the produce of human industry, which indeed the work itself testifies, for in its centre may be seen two pyramids, each of which is two hundred cubits above and as many beneath the water: upon the summit of each is a colossal statue of marble, in a sitting attitude. The precise altitude of these pyramids is consequently four hundred cubits; these four hundred cubits, or one hundred orgyiæ, are adapted to a stadium of six hundred feet; an orgyia is six feet, or four cubits, for a foot is four palms, and a cubit six.

The waters of the lake are not supplied by springs; the ground which it occupies is of itself remarkably dry, but it communicates by a secret channel with the Nile; for six months the lake empties itself into the Nile, and the remaining six the Nile supplies the lake. During the six months in which the waters of the lake ebb, the fishery which is here carried on furnishes the royal treasury with a talent of silver every day; but as soon as the Nile begins to pour its waters into the lake, it produces no more than twenty minæ.

[The silver which the fishery of this lake produced was, says Larcher, appropriated to find the queen with clothes and perfume.]

The inhabitants affirm of this lake, that it has a subterraneous passage inclining inland towards the west, to the mountains above Memphis, where it discharges itself into the Libyan sands. I was anxious to know what became of the earth, which must somewhere have necessarily been heaped up in digging this lake; as my search after it was fruitless, I made inquiries concerning it of those who lived nearer the lake. I was the more willing to believe[115] them, when they told me where it was carried, as I had before heard of a similar expedient used at Nineveh, an Assyrian city. Some robbers, who were solicitous to get possession of the immense treasures of Sardanapalus, King of Nineveh, which were deposited in subterraneous apartments, began from the place where they lived to dig under ground, in a direction towards them. Having taken the most accurate measurement, they continued their mine to the palace of the king; as night approached they regularly emptied the earth into the Tigris, which flows near Nineveh, and at length accomplished their purpose. A plan entirely similar was executed in Egypt, except that the work was here carried on not by night but by day; the Egyptians threw the earth into the Nile, as they dug it from the trench; thus it was regularly dispersed, and this, as they told me, was the process of the lake’s formation.d

Thus Herodotus explains what he but faintly understood; his translator William Beloe has added the following commentary:a

Herodotus, Diodorus, and Pomponius Mela differ but little in opinion concerning its extent. The design of it was probably to hinder the Nile from overflowing the country too much, which was effected by drawing off such a quantity of water, when it was apprehended that there might be an inundation sufficient to hurt the land. [The regulation of the Nile floods has been accomplished in the latter part of the nineteenth century, by dams elsewhere described.] The water, Pococke observes, is of a disagreeable muddy taste, and almost as salt as the sea, which quality it probably contracts from the nitre that is in the earth, and the salt which is every year left in the mud. The circumference of the lake at present is no more than fifty leagues. Larcher says we must distinguish betwixt the lake itself, and the canal of communication from the Nile; that the former was the work of nature, the latter of art. This canal, a most stupendous effort of art, is still entire; it is called Bahr Yusuf, the canal of Joseph. According to Savary it is forty leagues in length.

There were two other canals with sluices at their mouths, from the lake to the river, which were alternately shut and opened when the Nile increased or decreased. This work united every advantage, and supplied the deficiencies of a low inundation, by retaining water which would uselessly have been expended in the sea. It was still more beneficial when the increase of the Nile was too great, by receiving that superfluity which would have prevented seed-time. Were the canal of Joseph cleansed, the ancient mounds repaired, and the sluices restored, this lake might again serve the same purposes. The pyramids described by Herodotus no longer exist, neither are they mentioned by Strabo.

When it is considered that this was the work of an individual, and that its object was the advantage and comfort of a numerous people, it must be agreed, with M. Savary, that the king who constructed it performed a far more glorious work than either the Pyramids or the Labyrinth.e

The Sphinx itself is hardly more distinctly Egyptian than the ruins of Karnak, a solemn memorial of Old Thebes. The famed Egyptologist, Lepsius, visited the region and described the impression the ruins made on him as follows:a


The river here divides the broad valley into two unequal parts. On the west side it approaches close to the precipitous Libyan range, which there projects; on the eastern side it bounds a wide fruitful plain, extending[116] as far as Medamut, a spot situated on the border of the Arabian Desert, several hours distant. On this side stood the actual town of Thebes, which seems to have been chiefly grouped round the two great temples of Karnak and Luxor, situated above half an hour apart. Karnak lies more to the north, and farther removed from the Nile; Luxor is now actually washed by the waves of the river, and may even formerly have been the harbour of the city. The west side of the river contained the necropolis of Thebes, and all the temples which stood here referred more or less to the worship of the dead; indeed, all the inhabitants of this part, which was afterwards comprehended by the Greeks under the name of Memnonia, seem to have been principally occupied with the care of the dead and their tombs. The former extent of the Memnonia may be now distinguished by Gurnah and Medinet Habu, places situated at the northern and southern extremities.

A survey of the Theban monuments naturally begins with the ruins of Karnak. Here stood the great royal temple of the hundred-gated Thebes, which was dedicated to Amen-Ra, the King of the Gods, and to the peculiar local god of the city of Amen, so called after him (No-Amen, Diospolis). Ap, along with the feminine article Tap, from which the Greeks made Thebe, was the name of one particular sanctuary of Amen. It is also often employed in hieroglyphics in the singular, or still more frequently in plural (Napu), as the name of the town; for which reason the Greeks naturally, without changing the article along with it, generally used the plural θῆβαι. The whole history of the Egyptian monarchy, after the city of Amen was raised to be one of the two royal residences in the land, is connected with this temple. All dynasties emulated in the glory of having contributed their share to the enlargement, embellishment, or restoration of this national sanctuary.

It was founded by their first king, the mighty Usertsen I, under the Old Theban Royal Dynasty (XIIth of Manetho), between 2400 and 2300 B.C., and even now exhibits some ruins in the centre of the building from that period bearing the name of this king. During the dynasties immediately succeeding, which for several centuries groaned under the yoke of the victorious hereditary enemy, this sanctuary no doubt was also deserted, and nothing has been preserved which belonged to that period. But after the first king of the XVIIIth Dynasty, Aahmes, in the seventeenth century B.C., had succeeded in his first war against the Hyksos, his two successors, Amenhotep I and Tehutimes I, built round the remains of the most ancient sanctuary a magnificent temple, with a great many chambers round the cella, and with a broad court, and pylons appertaining to it, in front of which Tehutimes I erected two obelisks. Two other pylons, with contiguous court walls, were built by the same king, at a right angle with the temple in the direction of Luxor.

Tehutimes III and his sister enlarged this temple to the back by a hall resting on fifty-six columns, besides many other chambers, which surrounded it on three sides, and were encircled by one common outer wall. The succeeding kings partly closed the temple more perfectly in front, partly built new independent temples near it, and also placed two more large pylons towards the southwest, in front of those erected by Tehutimes I, so that now four lofty pylons formed the magnificent entrance to the principal temple on this side.

But a far more splendid enlargement of the temple was executed in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. by the great Pharaohs of the XIXth[117] Dynasty; for Seti I, the father of Ramses Meri-Amen, added in the original axis of the temple the most magnificent hall of pillars that was ever seen in Egypt or elsewhere. The stone roof, supported by 134 columns, covers a space of 164 feet in depth, and 320 feet in breadth. Each of the twelve central columns is 36 feet in circumference, and 66 feet high beneath the architrave; the other columns, 40 feet high, are 27 feet in circumference.

It is impossible to describe the overwhelming impression which is experienced upon entering for the first time into this forest of columns, and wandering from one range into the other, between the lofty figures of gods and kings on every side represented on them, projecting sometimes entirely, sometimes only in part. Every surface is covered with various sculptures, now in relief, now sunk, which were, however, only completed under the successors of the builder; most of them, indeed, by his son Ramses Meri-Amen. In front of this hypostyle hall was placed, at a later period, a great hypæthral court, 270 by 320 feet in extent, decorated on the sides only with colonnades, and entered by a magnificent pylon.

The principal part of the temple terminated here, comprising a length of 1170 feet, not including the row of sphinxes in front of its external pylon, nor the peculiar sanctuary which was placed by Ramses Meri-Amen directly beside the wall farthest back in the temple, and with the same axis, but turned in such a manner that its entrance was on the opposite side. Including these enlargements, the entire length must have amounted to nearly 2000 feet, reckoning to the most southern gate of the external wall, which surrounded the whole space, which was of nearly equal breadth. The later dynasties, who now found the principal temples completed on all sides, but who also were desirous of contributing their share to the embellishment of this centre of the Theban worship, began partly to erect separate small temples on the large level space which was surrounded by the above-mentioned enclosure-wall, partly to extend these temples also externally.f

In almost unfailing sequence decline follows glory; and now, having seen the ruined monuments of the Theban Kingdom, we may turn to consider the ruin of her power.a


[ca. 2250-1635 B.C.]

The new family (XIIIth Dynasty) which ascended the throne with Sebekhotep I, seems, from numerous similarities of name, to have been connected with the previous dynasty; for instance, two of its rulers took the prename of Amenemhat I, and their surname, generally supposed to have been derived from the god’s name Sebek, is linked to the name of the last queen, Sebek-neferu-Ra.

Sebekhotep I appears only once in the monuments, in a measurement of the height of the Nile at Kummeh in the first year of his reign; besides him only the sixth of his successors, with the remarkable name of Amenie-Antef-Amenemhat are on the two altar tablets of the Theban Amen.

Evidently none of these reigns was of long duration; usurpations and probably also revolts of the nomarchs shook the kingdom, as at the end of the VIth dynasty.

The Turin papyrus has an incision at Ranseneb, the eleventh or twelfth successor of Sebekhotep I. Most of the rulers of the next family (about fifteen in number) are known to us only by single monuments, and we see that they still rule the united kingdoms of Usertsen III, from Tanis to Semneh, albeit in a stormy fashion. Certainly one must not estimate the[118] accounts of their power and brilliancy too highly, as has been the case lately. They have left us only short inscriptions and statues, some of which are masterpieces of work, and albeit the former are of short reigns and very circumscribed, they are full of significance. The fact that the sixth king bore the name of Mermesha (i.e. General) shows that he was an usurper. We have two colossal statues of this ruler, found in Tanis. The tenth king, Neferhotep, was the son of a private person, brought perhaps by marriage near to the throne, and we find the name of this ruler here and there on temple buildings at Karnak and Abydos; and finally the five reigns, of which we know the duration are only very short; all these are points which cast a clear light on the condition of Egypt at the time.

The above-named Neferhotep, who reigned eleven years, seems to have been the most powerful ruler of the period; this great ruler appears with his family in inscriptions in the district of the First Cataract (Assuan, Konosso, Sehel) and in the temple of Karnak, also in a large and very interesting inscription at Abydos, and the museum of Bologna has a statue of him, as well as of his second son, Sebekhotep V (Kha-nefer-Ra). The elder, Sehathor, died after a reign of a few months. There was a colossal granite statue of Sebekhotep V found at Tanis, another far in the Nubian country on the island of Arqo, far above the Second Cataract, and the Louvre has two more. There is frequent mention of him at Karnak. The three last rulers of this house are of no great importance. Far less is known of the next rulers than of the above. Their names, probably about a hundred, are divided into dynasties and fill nearly five divisions of the Turin papyrus. Where we have dates, there are, on the whole, about twenty-two, more or less recognisable; they show that the reigns were of short duration, a few months, one or two years, and, far more rarely, three or four years. There is only one case of a longer reign, and that was in the case of the first ruler of the new house, Mer-nefer-Ra Ai, who reigned thirteen years, eight months, and eighteen days.

It follows that only a very few of these kings are known to us through the monuments, and the majority only by insignificant memorials. Their names appear only occasionally in the stone quarries at Hammamat, or in Karnak and Abydos, or they have statues, which are far inferior to those of the preceding epoch.

And yet we have from this, as well as from the preceding epoch, a line of graves and tomb steles in Abydos, as well as numerous rock tombs in El-Kab (Eleithyia), and probably also the great rock graves of Assiut (Lycopolis), which attest the position and power of the high priests of Anubis and the governors of the nome. They are as important for this period as the graves of Beni-Hasan are for the XIIth Dynasty, but unfortunately they are in a much worse condition, and much poorer in historical information.


The facts above mentioned clearly show that the Egypt of this period was governed under conditions similar to those existing in the Roman Empire in the third century after Christ.

In fact, as a fuller light is thrown upon Egyptian history, there seems to have been a whole line of dynasties, evidently local, coexistent with the chief king at Thebes. If Neferhotep and Sebekhotep V still reigned over Egypt from Nubia to Tanis, the Delta was lost under their successors. It is not an improbable theory of Stern’s that Manetho’s XIVth Dynasty of seventy-six[119] kings from Xoïs (Sakha), in the western Delta, included Libyan foreign rulers who occupied the Delta.

But the chief invaders of this time were an Asiatic race who made a violent attack on the power of the Pharaohs at Thebes. They were the Mentu, or, as they are now called, the Mentu of Satet, that is “the barbarous Asiatic country.” They were called the Shepherds or Hyksos by their contemporaries and by Manetho.

Of what race the Hyksos were, is not known. Some points in the account show that we have here to do with an invasion of Bedouin races, one of those frequent raids upon cultivated land by nomads of the desert.

Among the latest opinions on the subject is one that ascribes to the Hyksos a partly Semitic and partly Turanian origin, and accounts for their settling in Egypt by their being crowded out of western Asia in the numerous race conflicts of which that part of the world was the arena. The expelled people could find no resting-place among the wild hordes of Syria, and moved on to the peaceful and fertile valley of the Nile.

It is certain that Semitic and Canaanitish, not Arabic, elements penetrated to Egypt under the Hyksos. The Egyptian language was subsequently sprinkled with Canaanitish words; the specifically Canaanitish divinities Baal Astarte (in the feminine form), Anit, Reshpu, etc., were afterwards extensively worshipped in the eastern Delta, and in the whole of Egypt. In the next centuries we find Canaanitish proper names everywhere.

More accurate information on the invasion of the Hyksos is wanting. It is certain that they settled in Lower Egypt, where they founded a state which they ruled according to the Egyptian fashion. Their chief seats were Avaris (Ha-Uar), the border fortress built or enlarged by them, which is Pelusium, or a place a little to the south; and Tanis, the powerful capital of the eastern Delta, ornamented by numerous buildings of the XIIth Dynasty and the real residence of the Hyksos kings.

It seems, moreover, certain that Memphis, and even the Fayum, remained in their hands; but Upper Egypt was at most conquered only temporarily. Here ruled, during this epoch, the kings mentioned in the five divisions of the Turin papyrus, and their successors, perhaps as tributary vassals, since they occasionally bear the title of Haq, that is, Prince.

King Meneptah, the son of the great Ramses, speaks of this time as “the epoch of the kings of Lower Egypt, since this land Qem was in their (power), and the accursed foe (Aad, the Plague) ruled at the time when the kings of Upper Egypt (were powerless).”

It is very possible that the Hyksos pillaged Egypt in their conquests, but Manetho’s assertion that they systematically destroyed the temples and monuments is contradicted by the following facts. The chief god they worshipped was Sutekh, or Set with the surname of “the Golden,” by which the Sun-Baal is understood. They built him a great temple in Tanis, and his cult was followed in the eastern Delta until later times. He was also called “Lord of Avaris” at this time.

The Egyptian gods were, however, retained; the kings called themselves “sons of Ra” and, like the Egyptian rulers, they chiefly begin their throne names with “Ra.” Egyptian culture was generally adopted by the foreigners.

The fact that we have a mathematical handbook under the rule of a Hyksos king, written “according to old copies,” and that we have a scribe’s palette, presented by the same king to the scribe Atu, shows that writing was in vogue under their rule. The monuments ascribed to them, particularly the sphinxes with kings’ heads, found at Tanis, a group of[120] two men before an altar with fish, the piece of a statue from Mit-Fares in the Fayum, differ widely from the Egyptian type in features and apparel, but the work is evidently that of Egyptian artists, and most carefully executed.

The length of the rule of the Hyksos is as unknown to us as the number of their kings. Manetho makes two dynasties (Dynasties XV and XVI) rule, which, according to Josephus, reigned 511 years altogether over the whole of Egypt, whilst the tables of Africanus give 284 to the XVth (an evident misquotation of Josephus 260) and 518 to the XVIth. For the XVIIth Dynasty, according to Africanus, 43 Shepherds and 43 Theban kings ruled for 151 years; and this is the era of the struggle for freedom, which ended with the expulsion of the Hyksos. It is impossible for these figures to be correct, but there is no means of getting at the historical truth, even approximately. It can be said, however, that according to the monuments there is no gap of five hundred or more years between the end of the XIIIth Dynasty and the beginning of the New Kingdom. The pedigrees of the nomarchs and nobles of El-Kab (Eileithyia) give names after a few generations, which are undoubtedly contemporaneous with the XIIIth and XIVth Dynasties.

The monuments of the first rulers of the New Kingdom in Thebes show the closest connection with the more ancient Theban, and strikingly so with those of the XIth Dynasty. There is, certainly between the time of Amenemhat and Sebekhotep and the New Kingdom, no distinctive break in culture and art similar to that between the Old Kingdom of Memphis and the XIIth Dynasty.

Manetho’s figures have evidently to be very considerably reduced. Some of the short-lived rulers of the Egyptian dynasties must be regarded as contemporaneous with the Hyksos kings and connected directly with the first rulers of the New Kingdom who undertook the struggle for emancipation.

If we allow 150 years for the first kings of the XIII Dynasty,—and dates are inevitable,—about four hundred years would be reckoned from the end of the XIIth Dynasty to the expulsion of the Hyksos under Aahmes. Moreover, we also know that a Hyksos king, Nub, reigned four hundred years before Ramses II.g

It will be clear to the reader, from the account just given, that the period of the XIIIth-XVIIth Dynasties is one of which we have very little knowledge. Not only is the Turin papyrus here much broken, but the intrusion of the Hyksos has greatly confused the knowledge we have indirectly from Manetho through Josephus, Africanus, Eusebius, and others. Petrie has made a careful study of the subject, and his conclusions are, in brief, as follows:

1. The Hyksos were not contemporaneous with the 453 years of the XIIIth Dynasty.

2. There is a period of about 100 years during the XIVth Egyptian Dynasty during which the Hyksos gradually came into power, and

3. The XVth Dynasty mentioned by Africanus and Eusebius represents the 260 years of the great Hyksos kings, while Africanus has included this period again in his XVIth Dynasty of 518 years. On the other hand, the XVIth Dynasty mentioned by Eusebius is the Egyptian XVIth of 190 years, in which the native rulers persisted, but were ruled and almost eclipsed by the invaders.

4. The XVIIth Dynasty of both Africanus and Eusebius (it will be remembered that Josephus dealt only with the Hyksos and neglected the contemporary[121] Egyptian sovereigns) is a joint dynasty of Hyksos and Egyptians. The number of its kings is quite unknown, and its period witnessed the struggle of the two races which culminated in the triumph of Aahmes I (XVIIIth Dynasty) and the restoration of the old race.

The following table, compiled from Petrie,h and keeping his dates, will show the situation as viewed by this eminent authority:

Date B.C. Egyptian Dynasty Years Date B.C. Hyksos Dynasty Years
2565XIII, (60 kings)
2112453211214 years before Hyksos came to power.
XIV, (76 kings)184 }Unknown period of 100 years during which Hyksos harried Egyptians.}511
1928}XV, (6 great Hyksos) 260 years.}
XVI, (8 kings)190 }}
XVII, (? kings)151 }XVII, (? kings) 151 years.}


[ca. 2000-1635 B.C.]

It has been most fortunate for our study of antiquity that Josephus’i account of the early history of his people was received by the Greeks with doubt and denial. In an impassioned answer to his critics the great Jewish historian has preserved the only account we possess of the appearance and fortunes of the Hyksos in Egypt, although of course he is wrong in his theory that these people were Hebrews.

He quotes from Manethoj: “There was a king of ours whose name was Timæus.” (The identity of this king has never been determined with certainty. It may have been Amenemhat IV (XIIth Dynasty) or Ra Amenemhat, the third king of the XIIIth.) “Under him it came to pass, I know not how, that God was averse to us, and there came, after a surprising manner, men of ignoble birth out of the eastern parts, and had boldness enough to make an expedition into our country, and with ease subdued it by force, yet without our hazarding a battle with them.”

It is possible that this campaign of unresisted conquest was accomplished with the aid of factors hitherto unknown on the African continent: the war chariot and the horse.a

“So when they had gotten those that governed us under their power, they afterwards burnt down our cities and demolished the temples of the gods, and used all the inhabitants after a most barbarous manner. At length they made one of themselves king, whose name was Salatis; he lived also at Memphis and made both the upper and lower regions pay tribute, and left garrisons in places that were the most proper for them. He chiefly aimed to secure the eastern parts, as foreseeing that the Assyrians, who had then the greatest power, would be desirous of that kingdom and invade them; and as he found in the Saïte [Sethroite] nome, a city very proper for his purpose, and which lay upon the Bubastic channel, called Avaris; this he[122] rebuilt and made very strong by walls, and by a most numerous garrison of two hundred and forty thousand armed men to keep it. Thither Salatis came in summer-time, partly to gather his corn, and pay his soldiers their wages, and partly to exercise his armed men and thereby to terrify foreigners. When this man had reigned thirteen years, after him reigned another, whose name was Beon [or Bnon], for forty-four years, and after him reigned another, called Apachnas, thirty-six years and seven months; after him Apophis reigned sixty-one years, and then Ianias fifty years and one month, after all these reigned Assis forty-nine years and two months. And these six were the first rulers among them, who were all along making war with the Egyptians, and were very desirous gradually to destroy them to the very roots. This whole nation was called Hyksos, i.e. Shepherd kings. These people and their descendants kept possession of Egypt 511 years.

“And after this the kings of the Thebaïd and of the other parts of Egypt made an insurrection against the Shepherds, and a terrible and long war was made between them.

“Under a king whose name was Alisphragmuthosis, the Shepherds were subdued, and were indeed driven out of other parts of Egypt, but were shut up in a place that contained ten thousand acres; this place was named Avaris.

“The Shepherds built a wall around all this place, which was a large and strong wall, and this in order to keep all their possessions and their prey within a place of strength, but that Thummosis, the son of Alisphragmuthosis made an attempt to take them by force and by siege, with four hundred and eighty thousand men to lie round about them; but that upon his despair of taking the place by that siege, they came to an agreement with them, that they should leave Egypt and go without any harm to be done them, whithersoever they would; and after this agreement was made, they went away with their whole families and effects, not fewer in number than two hundred and forty thousand, and took their journey from Egypt, through the wilderness, for Syria; but as they were in fear of the Assyrians, who had then the dominion over Asia, they built a city in that country[123] which is now called Judah, and that large enough to contain this great number of men, and called it Hierosolyma (Jerusalem).”i

Captives before the Pharaoh

The modern historian is brought face to face with the fact that for the period of the XIIIth to the XVIIIth Dynasties there is even less material and information than for that other “dark age” extending from the VIIth to the XIth. The main facts of our knowledge concerning the XIIIth Dynasty have been given in the preceding chapter. The Hyksos were settled in the land but had not yet come to power. The Pharaohs were still in full possession of Upper and Lower Egypt.

This cannot have been the case with the XIVth, which Manetho tells us had its capital at Xoïs (Sakha, a town on the western side of the central Delta), from which it would seem probable that the invaders drove the ruling house to the west instead of southward, up the Nile, perhaps because the broad river and its wide marsh-land were found to be the best means of defence against a people acquainted hitherto with only small and insignificant streams. The Turin papyrus gives eighty-five names for this dynasty; Manetho’s figure is seventy-six, and of only two of them are there even the slightest remains. For the 184 years this dynasty is said to have ruled, the average length of reign is therefore only 2½ years. How may we explain this? There seems to be little doubt that the untrammelled rule of this dynasty lasted but a few years, perhaps less than twenty. By degrees the Hyksos chiefs attained influence and power, until, as Professor Petrie says, the native kings “were merely the puppets of the Hyksos power, the heads of the native administration which was maintained for taxing purposes; like the last emperors of Rome, whose reigns also average two years and a half, or like the Coptic administration of Egypt, maintained during the supremacy of Islam in Egypt as being the only practical way of working the country. Later on, when the Hyksos had established a firm hold on all the land and had a strong rule of their own, these native viceroys were permitted a longer tenure of power, and formed the XVIth Dynasty contemporary with the great Hyksos kings.”

Costume of a Soldier of Pharaoh

The first Hyksos kings seem, from the very beginning, to have appreciated fully that it was better to exploit the country than to devastate it, and to this end they retained the temple scribes and other officials of the native rulers. The influence of the organised government soon bore effect.

All the pomp and circumstance of Pharaoh’s court were revived; the new sovereigns had become civilised, and they managed, by adopting the titles of the Amenemhats and Usertsens, to legitimise themselves as descendants of Horus and “sons of Ra.” The local religions were not interfered with, but the chief object of their worship was Baal, “the lord of all, a cruel and savage warrior,” and from his great similarity to Set, “the brother and enemy of Osiris,” Baal and Set soon became identified, and Set was now called Sutekh, “the Great Set.”

The six great Hyksos kings—those mentioned in the Josephus-Manetho account—may be considered as composing the XVth Dynasty. Their rule[124] of nearly 260 years marked the zenith of Hyksos power. There was as yet no sign of rebellion amongst the conquered people.

But when we come to the so-called XVIIth Dynasty the years are no longer tranquil and authority undisputed. As stated in the preceding chapter, it is the better plan to regard this dynasty as a joint one of Shepherds and Egyptians, for its rise is wholly lost to sight under the Hyksos power. We know that the Hyksos Apophis (Apepa I) ruled the whole land, for his name is found far in the south; but in the days of his namesake Apophis (Apepa II), some three hundred years later, Thebes was practically independent. The compilers of the lists make mention of unsuccessful attempts at rebellion on the part of the Theban vassals, for some time before Apepa II, but this ruler had to meet a decisive revolt under Seqenen-Ra-Taa I, who was haq (prince or regent) over the South. There is no information as to the cause of the outbreak or its consequences, but the tale of “Apepa and Seqenen-Ra,” so popular with readers five hundred years later, asserts that the cause of the quarrel was a religious one, since Thebes refused to worship no other gods but Sutekh. Seqenen-Ra would seem to have been the descendant of a branch of the royal Egyptian line, settled in the far south to escape the Hyksos oppression, and which, intermarrying with Ethiopian blood, had become possessed of the characteristics of the dark Berber race. With the decay of the Hyksos power, these people gradually worked their way northward from Nubia, and began the re-winning of the land for the ancient line of Pharaohs. For eighty years after the death of Assis we have no names of these Berbers, but finally Seqenen-Ra I, in the days of Apepa II, declared himself “Son of the Sun and King of the Two Egypts,” and the princes of the Saïd made common cause with him. Now the native rulers of the XVIIth Dynasty free themselves from any confusion with the Hyksos, and the strife has become a serious one. A second Seqenen-Ra, bearing the same family name Taa, followed the first, and then a third, whose wife Aah-hotep is one of the great queens of Egyptian history, further celebrated as the mother of the honoured Nefert-ari. Aah-hotep in all probability was married before, to an Egyptian and not a Berber husband, and by him was the mother of an elder Aahmes, who died prematurely, and his three brothers, Kames, Sekhent-neb-Ra, and a second Aahmes, the Amasis of the Greeks, who founded the XVIIIth Dynasty.

Egyptian Gymnasts

(From the monuments)

Professor Maspero, one of the greatest authorities for this period of Egyptian history, holds to the belief that Seqenen-Ra-Taa III was the sole husband of Aah-hotep, and consequently the father of Aahmes, his brothers, and Nefert-ari. Dr. Petrie, however, one of the most recent of investigators, says: “Aahmes is always (except once) shown of the same colour as other Egyptians, while Nefert-ari is almost always coloured black. And[125] any symbolic reason invented to account for such colouring applies equally to her brother, who is nevertheless not black. As Nefert-ari was especially venerated as the ancestress of the dynasty, we must suppose that she was in the unbroken female line of descent, in which the royal succession appears to have been reckoned, and hence her black colour is more likely to have come through her father. The only conclusion, if these points should be established, is that the Queen Aah-hotep had two husbands; the one black (the father of Nefert-ari), the celebrated Seqenen-Ra, who was of Berber type; the other an Egyptian, the father of Aahmes and his elder brothers.”

There is little known of Aah-hotep’s origin beyond that she was of pure royal descent, but there are documents which attest to her very long and eventful life. In the tenth year of Amenhotep I she was still active and must have been nearly ninety years old; and if a stele found at Iufi is to be credited, she was alive, and about a hundred, under her great-grandson Tehutimes I.

Aah-hotep would have had every right to rule as sovereign, but she willingly gave over the power to her sons. When she died her body was embalmed with special care, and a beautifully gilded mummy-case was made for her. Within this coffin was placed the jewelry, presents from husband and sons, which until recently has been the most famous find of its kind. Most of the trinkets are for feminine use: bracelets, solid and hollow gold ankle rings, others of gold beads, lapis lazuli, cornelian, and green feldspar, a fan with a gold inlaid handle, a mirror of gilt bronze with handle of ebony, etc.

This wonderful woman in the course of her long life must have witnessed the whole drama of the restoration. Born when the heel of the Hyksos was still felt in the land, she closed her eyes, not only with her country free and her family firmly seated on the throne, but with the Syrian fatherland of the hated usurpers under heavy tribute, the fruits of the conquests of her own descendants to the third generation.

Kames and Sekhnet-neb-Ra quickly succeeded Seqenen-Ra III. The struggle against the Shepherd kings was kept up, and when Aahmes found himself Pharaoh, nearly the whole of the country was free, and only the provinces about Ha-Uar (Avaris) remained to the Hyksos; but here they were prepared to make a desperate stand.a





[XVIIIth Dynasty: ca. 1635-1365 B.C.]

Walled towns, stored arsenals and armories, goodly races of horse, chariots of war, elephants, ordnance, artillery, and the like—all this is but a sheep in a lion’s skin, except the breed and disposition of the people be stout and warlike.—Bacon.

It has just been shown that the leading dynasties of the Theban kingdom, before the invasion of the Hyksos, had essentially a pacific character. Their epoch was a period of social, literary and artistic activity, such as usually comes to a nation only at the apex of its career, or as it is passing into its decline. It was so here. Egypt as a nation was soon overthrown; an outside people invaded the sacred precincts, so jealously guarded hitherto from even peaceful intrusion, usurped the power, and for some centuries dominated the original inhabitants. These invaders, as we have seen, were of a more primitive type of civilisation than the Egyptians. Their reign was a time of apparently retrograde evolution, marked to after generations by no lasting monuments such as made earlier generations famous.

Yet it may be questioned whether, on the whole, the influence of these semi-barbarians upon the cultured but somewhat degenerate stock of the ancient civilisation, may not have been in the highest degree beneficial.

Everywhere in history we shall see that the virile stock is the stock which is not weakened by too many generations of that luxury which seems to be the necessary associate of higher culture. We shall see also that a mixed race is always at a premium. A nation which shuts itself off from contact with other nations is in the condition of a finely inbred race of domesticated animals. The racial peculiarities may be greatly developed, certain finer traits of mind and body may be highly intensified. But in the full rounding out of aggregate powers of mind and body, there is a deviation that amounts to degeneration. And when this weakened stock comes into competition with some cruder but sturdier race, the issue is not in doubt; the fate awaits it that befel the Egyptians at the hands of the “barbaric” Hyksos invaders.

But a degenerate or perverted stock often shows marvellous powers of recuperation under influence of changed conditions, and an infusion of fresh blood grafted on such a stock can work wonders. It is said that the highly developed greyhound was useless as a hunting dog till crossed with a strain of bulldog—an infusion of blood which, while not marring the distinctive physical peculiarities of the hound, yet quite sufficed to supply the lacking stamina and courage. It may be questioned whether precisely such a vitalising influence as this may not have come to the Egyptians through the[127] Hyksos invasion. It is hardly to be supposed that the invaders remained for centuries in Egypt in sufficient numbers to maintain absolute political control without having some ethnic influence; and if this be admitted, it is hardly in doubt, physiologically speaking, that such influence, in this closely inbred race, would be beneficial. It might graft the bulldog spirit of the Hyksos upon the greyhound-spirited Egyptian nation. But whether or not this be the explanation of the change that now came over the national spirit, it was surely a bulldog nation that now emerged from the Hyksos thraldom and started out upon a world-conquest. In tracing the course of events in this new epoch we see Egypt approaching the apex of its power.


[ca. 1635-1610 B.C.]

Aahmes must have been between twenty-five and thirty years of age when, as survivor of his elder brothers, he came to the throne. He had married Nefert-ari, his sister or half-sister, as the case may be, who may previously have been an inmate of his brothers’ harems as well; and her own royal rights, joined to his own, established a legal claim for Aahmes to the kingdom such as few Pharaohs have possessed.

His mummy shows him to have been of medium height, with well-developed neck and chest. The head is small, the forehead low and narrow, the cheek bones project, and the hair is thick and wavy. He was undoubtedly a strong, active, warlike man, which qualities won him success in his wars.

From what we know now of the condition of the struggle against the Hyksos, at the time of the accession of Aahmes,—that their rule had been limited to the district around Avaris,—no doubt the credit due to this king for finally expelling them has been greatly exaggerated. Yet, concentrated and strongly intrenched as they were in the fortress of Ha-Uar, they were by no means insignificant adversaries. From their position, made the more inaccessible by the marsh-lands and rivers of the Delta, and by the neighbouring desert, there was always danger of an attempt upon Memphis, and Aahmes is the one who removed this last menace to the re-established kingdom, and made his dominion over the whole country secure. Therefore the official chroniclers had every reason to begin a new dynasty with the accession of this great king.

For the actual expulsion of the Hyksos we have two accounts: that of Manetho transcribed by Josephus and quoted in the preceding chapter, and that of the doughty namesake of the king, Aahmes-si-Abana (son of Abana), as recorded on his tomb at El-Kab.

The Manetho version runs that Aahmes (Alisphragmuthosis) shut the Shepherds up in Avaris, whence they were finally ejected and driven into Syria by his grandson, Tehutimes I. This, however, is a mistake, and the Egyptian historian has undoubtedly confused the taking of Avaris with the Syrian wars of Tehutimes. Aahmes-si-Abana makes no mention of Tehutimes taking Avaris.a

His account, therefore, is the more accurate and complete. This is the tale on his tomb:

“The dead Admiral Aahmes, son of Abana. He speaks thus:[128] ‘I say to you, all men; and I make known to you the rewards and honours that have fallen to my lot. I was presented with golden gifts eight times before the whole land, and with many slaves, male and female; likewise I was given much land. The title of “the Brave” which I gained shall never perish in this land.’

“He speaks further: ‘I saw the light in the city of Nekheb [El-Kab]. My father was a captain of King Seqenen-Ra; Baba son of Roant was his name. Then I took his place on the ship called The Calf, in the days of King Neb-pehthet-Ra [Aahmes]. I was young and had no wife and I wore the semt cloth and the shennu [garments of youth]. But as soon as I had taken a house, I was placed on the ship The North because of my valour, and I had to attend the sovereign—life, health, strength be his—on foot when he rode forth in his chariot.

“‘The town of Ha-Uar [Avaris] was besieged, and I showed my worth in the presence of his Majesty. I was promoted to the ship Kha-em-men-nefer [Accession in Memphis]. They fought in the Pazekthu canal, near Avaris. I fought hand to hand, and I carried off a hand. The king’s herald saw this, and the golden collar of bravery was given me. They fought a second time at this place and again I captured a hand; a second golden gift was given me.

“‘They fought at Ta-kemt, south of the city. There I took a living prisoner. I plunged into the water—I led him through the water so as to keep away from the road to the town. This was made known to the herald of the king; I received the golden gift once more.

“‘They took Ha-Uar; I carried away from thence one man and three women; his Majesty gave them to me as slaves.’”b

Egyptian Infantry

In the time of the Ptolemies, tradition had it that King Aahmes appeared before Avaris with an army of four hundred and eighty thousand men, that there was a long siege, which was finally ended by the king treating with the besieged and permitting them to depart peacefully, with their wives, children, and possessions, into Syria. But the truth is, that Aahmes had a well organised and equipped army of fifteen to twenty thousand men, and that the town was taken on the second attack. The enemy left their last strongholds in haste and retreated into the bordering provinces of Syria. For some reason—they may have threatened him from some new vantage point, or he may have wished to deal a final crushing blow—Aahmes determined to cross the frontier, which he did in the fifth year of his reign. It was the first time in centuries that the king of Egypt had set foot in Asia, and even now he barely crossed the threshold.a

Admiral Aahmes continues his narrative:

“They besieged the town of Sharhana [Sherohan], in the year V, and his Majesty took it. I carried off from thence two women and one hand, and the golden collar of valour was given me. And my captives were given me for slaves.”


After the capture of Sherohan, Aahmes went on to the border provinces of Zahi (Phœnicia) and then turned back. The fall of the Palestine town crushed the Hyksos’ last hope of recovering their Egyptian domain. The majority of their race had not fled with the army, but had remained with other tribes that had followed them into Egypt—the Israelites among them—to accept whatever lot was meted out by the new conquerors. The yoke was not imposed equally throughout the land. Those living in the Delta regions were reduced to slavery, and all that part of the country was well fortified to resist the Bedouin.

Aahmes returned to Africa only to find his presence needed in the South. The land of Nubia, tributary to the lords of Thebes, had been somewhat neglected during the long struggle which the Pharaoh had just successfully terminated. The southern races had failed to assimilate the gift of culture and civilisation thrust upon them by the rulers of the XIIth and XIIIth Dynasties, and kept to their own customs while the temples erected by Usertsen and Amenemhat crumbled and vanished. From out this disordered state developed a serious invasion from the Sudan. Hostile tribes—which ones, we know not—descended the Nile, outraging the people and desecrating the sanctuaries. Aahmes hastened to meet them.

“His Majesty went south,” runs the record of Aahmes the admiral, “to Khent-en-nefer to destroy the Anu Khenti, and his Majesty made great havoc among them. I captured two live men and three hands; once more I was given the gold of valour, and my two captives were given to me for slaves. Then his Majesty came down the river; his heart swelled with his brave and victorious deeds; he had conquered the people of the South and of the North.”

The triumph of the return was dimmed by disquieting news from the North. The remains of the Hyksos race had taken advantage of Aahmes’ absence in the South to break out in rebellion. There seem to have been two outbursts. One by the Aata, probably a branch of the Hyksos, which marched southward and was destroyed by Aahmes at Tentoa, the other by a powerful faction under a certain Teta-an. Aahmes-si-Abana tells of his fate:

“Then came that enemy named Teta-an; he had brought wicked rebels together. But his Majesty slaughtered him and his slaves even to extinction.”b

Thus was stamped out the last spark of Asiatic resistance. There are no more records of expeditions undertaken in this Pharaoh’s reign—at least none in which he took part.

From the crushing of Teta-an, about the sixth year, to the twenty-second, the monuments are silent; and when again they speak we find a peaceful and not a warlike monarch. It is a law of human progress that an age of military success is followed by a revival of art and building activity. At the end of Aahmes’ reign—he ruled about twenty-five years—this condition prevailed throughout the kingdom. The principal temples of the land were restored or rebuilt. The reward of the gods for their divine aid in the deliverance of Egypt was thus bestowed. A tenth of all the booty of victory was devoted to the needs of the religious cult. Sculptors and painters, for whom there had been centuries of little or no employment, recovered their skill in the revived demand for their services, and, indeed, a new school, with new ideas and methods, came into existence under the great impetus to culture. In the twenty-second year the quarries of Turah were reopened that building stone might be obtained for the temples of Ptah at Memphis and Amen at Thebes, although nothing was done to the latter until a later reign.


[ca. 1610-1590 B.C.]

Aahmes died when he was between fifty and sixty. They buried the great Pharaoh in a modest place he had prepared for himself in the necropolis of Drah-abu’l-Neggah. His worship continued for nearly a thousand years, and of him—and still more of Queen Nefert-ari—there exist more instances of adoration than of any other ruler.

Aahmes left a numerous progeny, and six or seven of his children had Nefert-ari for mother. The eldest seems to have been named Sapair, but he died when young, and it is probable that a Se-Amen was the second son and that he too never reached maturity. But whether Amenhotep I was the second or third of Aahmes’ male issue, the kingship devolved upon him. As he was still in his minority, the queen mother assumed the reins of government. Nefert-ari had been no idle inmate of her husband’s harem, and she now asserted her many titles to authority, some of which had precedence over those of her husband and son. There is nothing known of her joint rule with Amenhotep, but it was undoubtedly a prosperous one. She was worshipped after death as a divinity, on a plane, indeed, with the great Theban triad, Amen, Khonsu, and Mut, for all the rights of the royal line descended through her. Her sons, Sapair and Amenhotep, her daughters, Set-amen, Set-kames, and Merit-amen, also shared in the worship.

War Chariot of the Pharaoh

Amenhotep does not seem to have been ambitious for foreign conquest. His campaigns were confined to Africa. The chief chronicle of his reign is again that tomb at El-Kab whereon Aahmes, son of Abana, recorded his exploits. The brave admiral was now nearly fifty years of age.

“It fell to me,” he relates, “to carry King Zeser-ka-Ra [Amenhotep I] on his voyage to Cush, where he went to extend the frontiers of Egypt. His majesty smote these Anu Khenti [Nubians] from the midst of his troops.


“Behold, I led our soldiers and I fought with all my strength. The king saw my bravery, as I captured two hands and brought them to his Majesty. In two days I bore his Majesty back to Egypt from the upper land. And I was given the golden gift and two female slaves, and I was raised to the dignity of ‘Warrior of the King.’”

The Nubian campaign was a short and unimportant one. A more important one was directed against the Amukehaka, who apparently were a portion of the Libyan race of the Tuhennu. These people had for centuries been restless and given trouble to the Pharaohs, but the strength of the New Kingdom was now entirely able to cope with them. Notwithstanding these few campaigns, the reign of Amenhotep I is to be characterised as one of peace and internal prosperity. He merely attained in the South and West that security his father had brought about in the North. Commerce, agriculture, and town life flourished, and indeed he well deserved the veneration which for centuries was accorded him in the Theban capital and where he is represented as Osiris. The coffin and mummy of this king were among Professor Maspero’s wonderful find at Deir-el-Bahari. He thus tells of it: “Long garlands of faded flowers deck the mummy from head to foot. A wasp attracted by their scent must have settled upon them at the moment of burial, and become imprisoned by the lid; the insect has been completely preserved from corruption by the balsams of the embalmer, and its gauzy wings have passed uncrumpled through the long centuries.”

[ca. 1590-1565 B.C.]

Amenhotep married his own sister, Aah-hotep II, and among their children was a princess, Aahmes. The Pharaoh had also, by a concubine, Sensenb, a son, Tehutimes, who was married to his half-sister Aahmes. Tehutimes was probably a little younger than his wife. Aahmes, from her pure royal descent, had far more claim to the throne than her husband and brother, but for some reason she yielded her rights, and Tehutimes was crowned at Thebes the 21st of Phamenoth, the third month. If he had been co-regent with his father, it must have been for a short time only. The new king was a tall, broad-shouldered, well-knit man, possessed of great powers of endurance. His full round face is marked with a long nose and square chin, and his thick lips wear a smiling but firm expression.

The beginnings of a new spirit, which was destined to break up the isolation of the kingdoms of antiquity, were stirring in this monarch’s soul. With his own country in practical subjection, there came that inevitable desire to intrude into other lands. We have seen how the Pharaohs had always shown a certain timidity about passing the Isthmus of Suez, and how Aahmes, well equipped for foreign conquest as he was, had hastened home after he had once driven the fleeing Hyksos across the border. His was no spirit of world conquest; but with Tehutimes the case was different, although certain domestic troubles kept him for the time at home. The neighbouring land of Syria, with its large and wealthy towns, growing richer every day through a well-organised commerce on land and sea, had previously been invaded by the Chaldeans and was now under their undisputed sway; and when this same spirit was once aroused in the fresh and vigorous kingdom of the restoration, what was more natural than that its cupidity should turn in this same direction? But some difficulties at home for the time being prevented, Tehutimes I had to repress outbreaks in the vicinity of the Second and Third Cataracts.

The story of Aahmes, now nearly seventy years of age, relates:

“It fell to me to carry the king Aa-kheper-ka-Ra [Tehutimes I] on his voyage to Khent-en-nefer for the purpose of punishing the rebels among the[132] tribes and of quelling the marauders from the hills. On his ships I showed valour, and I was raised to be an admiral of the marines. Their people were carried off alive and captives. His Majesty returned down the river; all the lands were now under his rule. That vile king of the Anu of Khenti was held head down when the king landed at Thebes.”

It would be valuable and interesting to know what impression the strange land of Syria, with its wide, irregular plains, its high, snow-topped mountains, its walled towns perched in difficult positions in inaccessible places, its people different in customs and with a civilisation not below their own, made upon the Theban legions when at last they found themselves in Palestine. But of what they thought and felt, they have left no word. The lines with which Aahmes of El-Kab closes the record of this long life—he must have been over ninety when he died—goes no more into detail than the rest of his account.

“After this, his Majesty—life, health, and strength be his—went to Ruthen to take satisfaction upon the countries. His Majesty arrived at Naharain [Upper Mesopotamia]; he found the enemy that conspired against him. His Majesty made great destruction among them; an immense number of live captives was carried off from the victories.

“Behold, I was at the head of our soldiers. His Majesty saw my bravery as I captured a chariot, its horses and those who were in it. I took them to his Majesty and was once more given the collar of gold for valour. I have grown up and reached old age; my honours are many. I shall rest in my tomb which I myself have made.”

Tehutimes in his first campaign went far beyond his grandfather, and his route—Gaza to Megiddo, to Kadesh, to Carchemish—became in later times that followed by the Egyptians whenever they descended upon the Euphrates. Of the fortunes of his progress we have not the slightest information, except as Aahmes tells us, he met the enemy in Naharain. The opposing army was under the command of the king of Mitanni, or perhaps one of the captains of the Kossæan king of Babylon, and all the petty princes of the northern provinces served in it with their troops to repel the new invader. But the victory was Tehutimes’. No doubt his army was superior to that of his opponents. Its organisation and training had steadily improved since the days of Aahmes, for it was constantly called into service against the tribes of Ethiopia and Libya. The Syrians were wanting neither in efficiency nor bravery, but their country was much disorganised and their number of fighting men by no means so great as their enemy’s. Therefore they could not command such a force as the Egyptians mustered against them.

Tehutimes erected a stele on the Euphrates to mark the limits of his dominion, and then turned back, richly laden, to Thebes. The later Pharaohs, whenever they invaded Asia, pursued similar methods—a sudden advance diagonally to the northeast, routing and dispersing any opposing force, spreading destruction on every hand, then a quick return to the fatherland, before the approaching winter would put an end to all action.

But Tehutimes’ success in his first expedition was so decisive, so overwhelming, that he never found it necessary again to cross the Isthmus. Southern Syria made no murmur against the burden laid upon it, although the North, it is true, soon slipped from the Pharaoh’s grasp, if indeed he ever had his grip upon it. A strong garrison was left at Gaza, and the king returned to his still rebellious subjects in Ethiopia and Nubia. Two or three rebellions were easily silenced. On these expeditions Tehutimes passed through the old canal built by Usertsen III, and on the rocks that[133] border it have been found many interesting inscriptions relating to the trip. One at Assuan reads, “Year III, Pakhons 20, his Majesty passed this canal in force and power in his campaign to crush Ethiopia, the vile”; on another there is cut, “His Majesty came to Cush to crush the vile”; and on a third, “His Majesty commanded to clear this canal, after he found it filled with stones so that no boat could pass up it. He passed up it, his heart filled with joy.” The king now placed the affairs of his southern lands in the hands of a viceroy, who is called “Royal Son of Cush,” and must, therefore, have had the blood of Ra in his veins. Likewise the king made extensive provisions for fortifications. He restored the fortresses of Semneh and Kummeh to the efficiency they possessed in the great days of the XIIth Dynasty, and he built a brickwork citadel to command the Nile on the island of Tombos, near the Third Cataract. All these precautions enabled Tehutimes I to live out the remainder of a reign of about twenty-five years in complete peace. The strange circumstance of his later years and the problems of his successor are well recounted in Maspero’s monumental work on “The Struggle of the Nations” and his history of the ancient oriental peoples.a

The position of Tehutimes I was, indeed, a curious one; although de facto absolute in power, his children by Queen Aahmes took precedence of him, for by her mother’s descent she had a better right to the crown than her husband, and legally the king should have retired in favour of his sons as soon as they were old enough to reign. [According to Petrie, these two were children of Amenhotep I by Queen Aah-hotep and consequently brothers of Queen Aahmes.] The eldest of them, Uazmes, died early. The second, Amenmes, lived at least to attain adolescence: he was allowed to share the crown with his father from the fourth year of the latter’s reign, and he also held a military command in the Delta, but before long he also died, and Tehutimes I was left with only one son—a Tehutimes like himself—to succeed him. The mother of this prince was a certain Mut-nefert, half-sister to the king on his father’s side, who enjoyed such a high rank in the royal family that her husband allowed her to be portrayed in royal dress; her pedigree on the mother’s side, however, was not so distinguished, and precluded her son from being recognised as heir-apparent; hence the occupation of the “seat of Horus” reverted once more to a woman, Hatshepsitu, the eldest daughter of Aahmes.


[ca. 1565-1530 B.C.]

Hatshepsitu herself was not, however, of purely divine descent. Her paternal ancestor, Sensenb, had not been a scion of the royal house, and this flaw in her pedigree threatened to mar, in her case, the sanctity of the solar blood. According to Egyptian belief, this defect of birth could be remedied only by a miracle, and the ancestral god, becoming incarnate in the earthly father at the moment of conception had to condescend to infuse fresh virtue into his race in this manner. The inscriptions with which Hatshepsitu decorated her chapel relate how, on that fateful night, Amen descended upon Aahmes in a flood of perfume and light. The queen received him favourably, and the divine spouse on leaving her announced to her the approaching birth of a daughter, in whom his valour and strength should be manifested once more here below.

The sequel of the story is displayed in a series of pictures. The protecting divinities who preside over the birth of children conduct the queen[134] to her couch, and the sorrowful resignation depicted on her face, together with the languid grace of her whole figure, display in this portrait of her a finished work of art. The child enters the world amid shouts of joy, and the propitious genii who nourish both her and her double, constitute themselves her nurses. At the appointed time, her earthly father summons the great nobles to a solemn festival, and presents to them his daughter, who is to reign with him over Egypt and the world.

From henceforth Hatshepsitu adopts every possible device to conceal her sex. She changes the termination of her name, and calls herself Hatshepsu, the “Chief of the Nobles,” in lieu of Hatshepsitu, the “Chief of the Favourites.” She becomes the King Maat-ka-Ra, and on the occasion of all public ceremonies she appears in male costume.

Head-dress of an Egyptian Queen

We see her represented on Theban monuments with uncovered shoulders, devoid of breasts, wearing the short loin-cloth and the keffieh, while the diadem rests on her closely cut hair, and the false beard depends from her chin. She retained, however, the feminine pronoun in speaking of herself, and also an epithet, inserted in her cartouche, which declared her to be the betrothed of Amen—Khnem Amen. Her father united her while still young to her brother Tehutimes, who appears to have been her junior, and this fact doubtless explains the very subordinate part which he plays beside the queen. When Tehutimes I died, Egyptian etiquette demanded that a man should be at the head of affairs, and this youth succeeded his father in office: but Hatshepsu, while relinquishing the semblance of power and the externals of pomp to her husband, kept the direction of the state entirely in her own hands. The portraits of her which have been preserved represent her as having refined features, with a proud and energetic expression. The oval of the face is elongated, the cheeks a little hollow, and the eyes deep set under the arch of the brow, while the lips are thin and tightly closed. She governed with so firm a hand that neither Egypt nor its foreign vassals dared to make any serious attempt to withdraw themselves from her authority. One raid, in which several prisoners were taken, punished a rising of the Shasu in central Syria, while the usual expeditions maintained order among the peoples of Ethiopia, and quenched any attempt which they might make to revolt. When in the second year of his reign the news was brought to Tehutimes II that the inhabitants of the Upper Nile had ceased to observe the conditions which his father had imposed upon them, he “became furious as a panther,” and assembling his troops, set out for war without further delay. The presence of the king with the army filled the rebels with dismay, and a campaign of a few weeks put an end to their attempt at rebelling. Tehutimes II carried on the works begun by his father, but did not long survive him. The mask on his coffin represents him with a smiling and amiable countenance, and with the fine pathetic eyes which show his descent from the Pharaohs of the XIIth Dynasty. By his marriage[135] with Hatshepsu, Tehutimes left daughters only, but he had one son, also a Tehutimes,[3] by a woman of low birth, perhaps merely a slave, whose name was Aset. Hatshepsu proclaimed this child her successor, for his youth and humble parentage could not excite her jealousy. She betrothed him to her one surviving daughter, Hatshepsitu II, and having thus settled the succession in the main line, she continued to rule alone in the name of her nephew who was still a minor, as she had done formerly in the case of her half-brother.

Her reign was a prosperous one, but whether the flourishing condition of things was owing to the ability of her political administration or to her fortunate choice of ministers, we are unable to tell. She pressed forward the work of building with great activity, under the direction of her architect Senmut, not only at Deir-el-Bahari, but at Karnak, and indeed everywhere in Thebes. The plans of the building had been arranged under Tehutimes I, and their execution had been carried out so quickly that in many cases the queen had merely to see to the sculptural ornamentation on the all-but-completed walls. This work, however, afforded her sufficient excuse, according to Egyptian custom, to attribute the whole structure to herself, and the opinion she had of her own powers is exhibited with great naïveté in her inscriptions. [A famous incident of her reign was the sending out of an expedition across the Red Sea in quest of incense.]

Tehutimes II

[ca. 1530-1520 B.C.]

When Tehutimes III approached manhood, his aunt, the queen, instead of abdicating in his favour, associated him with herself more frequently in the external acts of government. She was forced to yield him precedence in those religious ceremonies which could be performed by a man only, such as the dedication of one of the city gates of Ombos, and the foundation and marking out of a temple at Medinet Habu; but for the most part she obliged him to remain in the background and take a secondary place beside her. We are unable to determine the precise moment when this dual sovereignty came to an end. It was still existent in the XVIth year of the reign, but it had ceased before the XXIInd year. Death alone could take the sceptre from the hands that held it, and Tehutimes had to curb his impatience for many a long day before becoming the real master of Egypt. He was about twenty-five years of age[4] when this event took place, and he[136] immediately revenged himself for the long repression he had undergone, by endeavouring to destroy the very remembrance of her whom he regarded as a usurper. Every portrait of her that he could deface without exposing himself to being accused of sacrilege, was cut away, and he substituted for her name either that of Tehutimes I or of Tehutimes II. A complete political change was effected both at home and abroad from the first day of his accession to power. Hatshepsu had been averse to war. During the whole of her reign there had not been a single campaign undertaken beyond the Isthmus of Suez, and by the end of her life she had lost nearly all that her father had gained in Syria; the people of Kharu [Phœnicia] had shaken off the yoke, probably at the instigation of the king of the Amorites, and nothing remained to Egypt of the Asiatic province but Gaza, Sharhana, and the neighbouring villages.c

One of the first acts of Tehutimes III as sole king, was to lead an expedition against Syria, where the constant revolts had weakened the power of Egypt. He arrived at Gaza on the 3rd (or 4th) of the month of Pakhons. There he celebrated the anniversary of his coronation, and the twenty-third year of his reign. He then proceeded by gentle marches to Ihem, twenty miles to the north of Gaza, where he learned from his envoys, that the king of Kadesh had intrenched himself at Megiddo, with a contingent of the rebels.


Fear of the danger of the mountain defiles near Aluna made some of the officers wish to turn back and go by the Ziftha road. But Tehutimes indignantly rejected their counsel, saying:

“By my life, by the love that Ra has for me, by the favour bestowed on me by my father Amen, my Majesty will take this road of Aluna, whether it please you to take any of the other routes suggested, or whether it please you to follow me. For would not these vile enemies, detested by Ra, say: ‘If Pharaoh is going by another route, he is going for fear of us’?”

Then the Pharaoh’s generals replied: “Thy father Amen protects thee; we will follow whithersoever thou leadest, as servants follow their lord.”

Three days’ rapid march brought the army, without any mishap, to the town of Aluna, close to a torrent called the Qina, a little to the south of Megiddo, and there it encamped for the night in the face of the enemy with the watchwords:

“Keep a good heart: courage! watch well! Be alert in the camp!”

Dawn found the Egyptian army ranged for battle; the right wing was directed towards the River Qina, while the left extended into the plain towards the northwest of Megiddo. After a sharp encounter, the Syrians were seized by a panic, and abandoning their horses and chariots on the battle-field, they fled back to Megiddo; but fear of the enemy kept the gates closed, and among those drawn up to the ramparts, by ropes let down by the townspeople, was the lord of Kadesh himself.

“If it had pleased God not to let the soldiers of his Majesty be employed in carrying off the spoils of his vile enemies, they could then have taken Megiddo,”—it says in the account of the campaign. The cupidity of the conquerors saved the lives of the vanquished, for, although they took possession on the field of battle of 2132 horses, 994 chariots, and all the booty left behind by the Asiatics, they took only 140 prisoners and killed only 83.


In the evening, when the victorious army marched by Tehutimes III with the spoils, the king exclaimed:

“Had you taken Megiddo, it would have been a very great favour granted me by my father this day; for as all the chiefs of the country are within the walls, it would be like taking a thousand cities to take Megiddo.”

However, the place, being soon besieged, capitulated in a few days. With its fall, the campaign ended; and the chiefs of Syria and Mesopotamia hastened to take the oath of allegiance and to pay tribute to Egypt.

Three successive campaigns, from the year XXIV to the year XXVIII of this reign, completed the subjugation of Syria and southern Phœnicia.

[ca. 1520-1503 B.C.]

In the year XXIX, Tehutimes proceeded to Naharain, the territory between the rivers Orontes and Euphrates, and the districts on the west of Khilibu were sacked to the glory of the god of Thebes, whose coffers were soon filled with the gold, silver, and treasures of the Hittite princes.

As the king was returning to Egypt with “a joyful heart,” he suddenly bethought him that the Zahi, rich in wine, oil and corn, and beyond the line of military routes, would be a wealthy and easy prey. So he turned to the east, and made a raid on the district of Aradus, which the Egyptians robbed of cattle and produce.

The following year the Thebans returned again, and the towns of Kadesh, Semyra, Aradus, and Arathu, on the shores of Lake Nisrana, fell one after the other. The sons of their chiefs were kept as hostages. The campaign lasted till XXXI; and the king celebrated his victory by putting up two steles near Carchemish, one on the east of the river, and the other near the stele erected by his father, or grandfather, Tehutimes I, nearly half a century before.

Then he conquered Ni[5] and received tribute from its prince. The sojourn of Tehutimes III in this town was signalised by the performance of the royal duty of killing wild beasts; and the king is reported to have hunted and killed more than one hundred and twenty elephants.

All the tribes of Syria had to submit to the powerful yoke of the Egyptians, and the chiefs of the Libanu, the Kheta [Hittites] and the king of Singara took the oath of allegiance.

Nevertheless there was a revolt under the king of Naharain in XXXVII, which was quelled by a great battle not far from Aluna. In XLI the seat of war was in Cœle-Syria; and the king of Kadesh refusing to do homage to Pharaoh, a deadly struggle took place under the ramparts of the city. The besieged tried the ruse of letting a mare loose among the chariots of Tehutimes; but Amenemheb, an officer of the guard, leaped to the ground, disembowelled the animal with a thrust of his sword, and cutting off its tail, presented it to the king; and the same brave officer, at the head of a picked body of men, succeeded in making a breach and forcing an entrance into the town.

Hardly a year passed without a skirmish with the Uauatu in Ethiopia. But the tribes, having trembled so long before the Pharaohs, fled at the first sign of attack. The Egyptians had only to take possession of the flocks and herds, or any booty left in the deserted villages, and the campaign of the commander was a series of easy victories, which were celebrated with triumph on their return home.

The success of Tehutimes III in his campaigns increased the size and wealth of the kingdom and gave ground for his being accorded the name of[138] “the Great”; and it is not surprising to see that his deeds formed the subject of poetic panegyrics of the period, inscribed on the Temple of Karnak:

“I am come,” said the god Amen to him, “to permit thee to crush the princes of Zahi; I cast them at thy feet in their districts; I make them see thy Majesty as a lord of light, when thou shinest before them in my likeness.

“I am come to let thee crush the barbarians of Asia, to take captive the chiefs of Ruthen. I will make them see thy Majesty decked with warlike apparel, when thou wieldest thy arms upon the chariot.

“I am come to let thee crush the land of the East; Kefa (Phœnicia) and Asebi (Cyprus) are in fear of thee; I make them see thy Majesty like a young bull, firm of heart and irresistible with thy horns.

“I am come to let thee crush the people who reside in their ports. And the regions of Mathen tremble before thee. I make them see thy Majesty like the hippopotamus, lord of terror and unapproachable upon the waters.

“I am come to let thee crush the people who reside in their islands. Those who live on the bosom of the sea are within reach of thy roaring. I make them see thy Majesty as an avenger on the back of his victim.

“I am come to let thee crush the Tuhennu. The isles of the Uthent are at thy disposal. I make them see thy Majesty like that of a furious lion, that strews the valley with corpses.

“I am come to let thee crush the maritime countries, so that the girdle of the oceans is in thy hand. I make them see that thy Majesty, as the king of birds, sees everything with one glance.

“I am come to let thee crush the lords of the sands who live in the lagunes; to let thee lead the dwellers upon the sand into captivity. I make them see thy Majesty like a jackal of the South, a king of runners, a scourer of the two regions.

“I am come to let thee crush the barbarians of Nubia. As far as the land of Shat, all is in thy hand. I make them see thy Majesty like unto thy two brothers, Hor and Set, whose arms I have united to secure thy power.”

So much success appealed to the imagination of the people, and Tehutimes III was soon regarded as a hero of romance, as were Khufu and Usertsen I. Only one of the legends circulated for centuries after his death is still extant.

The prince of Joppa revolted and took the field against the Egyptians. The Pharaoh, unable at that time to leave his country, sent Thutii, one of his bravest generals, to quell the insurrection. The town was soon taken.

Tehutimes died on the last day of Phamenoth in the year LIV of his reign, and was buried at Thebes.

[ca. 1503-1455 B.C.]

Amenhotep II succeeded his father Tehutimes III.

The Syrians thought that the coming of a new king of Egypt meant a time for casting off the yoke of the Pharaohs. But they soon saw their mistake. Amenhotep laid waste the districts of the upper Jordan, and “like a terrible lion which puts a country to flight,” on Tybi 26th he crossed the Arseth to reconnoitre the passes of Anato. When “some Asiatics appeared on horseback to bar his approach, he seized their weapons of war, and his prowess equalled the mysterious power of Set, for the barbarians fled the glance.”

On the 10th Epiphi he took Ni without striking a blow. The inhabitants, men and women, were on the walls to do honour to his Majesty. Other places, like Akerith, underwent long siege, before surrendering. But the insurrection was entirely quelled by the year III, and in the course of the campaign the Pharaoh captured seven chiefs of the country of Thakhis. Six[139] of them were solemnly sacrificed to Amen, their hands and heads being exposed on the walls of the temple of Karnak. The seventh was treated in the same way at Napata, as an example to the Ethiopian princes and to make them respect the authority of Pharaoh.

An insurrection of the tribes in the desert, and the oases on the east of Egypt, was quelled by Amenemheb, who had the same post under Amenhotep as he had under Tehutimes III.

Tehutimes IV, son of Amenhotep, was the next king of Egypt, and his successful campaigns confirmed his power in Syria and Ethiopia.

[ca. 1455-1400 B.C.]

Under Amenhotep III, who succeeded Tehutimes IV, the boundaries of Egyptian domination were fixed at the Euphrates on the north, and on the south by the land of the Gallas.

The Syrians were now completely under the Egyptian yoke, and willingly sent their daughters to the royal harem; the old-time wars had developed into occasional raids for the acquisition of slaves or workmen for the building operations in the valley of the Nile.

The last kings of the XVIIIth Dynasty were distinguished by the name of “heretic kings,” for as they resented the increasing sacerdotal power of the cult of Amen they established opposition cults. Tehutimes IV discarded the Great Sphinx and restored the old cult of Horemkhu (“The Sun in the Two Horizons”). Amenhotep III brought to Thebes the religion of Aten, the solar disk, and in the year X of his reign inaugurated a festival at Karnak in honour of the new religion. And Amenhotep IV, to free himself from the power of the high priest at Thebes, determined to have a new capital for his kingdom, in which Aten should be the supreme god. The religion of Aten was probably the most ancient form of the religions of Ra. The disk, before which protestations were made, was not only the shining and visible form of the divinity, it was the god himself.

[ca. 1420-1365 B.C.]

Amenhotep III married a wife of foreign origin and religion, Thi. He had by her a son who succeeded him under the name of Amenhotep IV. The figure of Amenhotep IV, as made known to us by the monuments, exhibits those peculiar and strange characteristics which mutilation impresses upon the face, chest, and abdomen of eunuchs. On the other hand, we know that at an early age he married Queen Nefert-Thi and had by her seven daughters. It is therefore probable that if he really did experience the misfortune of which his features seem to bear the evidence, it happened during the wars of Amenhotep III and among the black people of the South. The custom of mutilating prisoners and wounded is, among these people, as old as the world. Amenhotep IV doubtless imbibed religious ideas from his mother, for he manifested a great horror of the cult of Amen and gave his homage to the solar divinities, chiefly to the disk itself.

But the fear of arousing his subjects to revolt restrained him at first from too openly avowing his heresy. He contented himself with changing his name, which contained that of Amen, for that of Khun-aten, “Splendour of the Sun’s disk,” and continued to worship his father Amenhotep and the god Amen himself. Later, his religious fanaticism got the better of his prudence. The cult of Amen was forbidden and his name erased wherever it could be reached. The pure-blooded Egyptians came under suspicion on account of their religion and disappeared from the king’s entourage, giving place to Asiatic personages who resembled Pharaoh and were deprived like him of their virility.

Thebes, so full of monuments consecrated to the fallen god, lost its rank of capital.


Khun-aten built a new capital at a place in Middle Egypt which to-day bears the name of Tel-el-Amarna, and which he called Khut-aten, where there was nothing to recall the old religion.

The sun was the principal god of the old religion; all the ancient solar divinities, Ra-Horemkhu, Hor, were recognised and respected. Monuments show us the god in the form of a disk whose rays descend toward the earth, each ray terminating in a hand holding the ansated cross—the emblem of life. The disk is called Aten. Wherever the king goes, the solar disk accompanies him and sheds its benediction upon him.

But with all the attention he paid to religion, Khun-aten was, like his ancestors, a great builder and conqueror. Ethiopia, Thebes, and Memphis were fields of his activity, and he continued to exercise sovereign authority in Syria as well as in Africa.

At his death the crown passed to Prince Ai, his foster-brother, and husband of his eldest daughter Tai. The new king, without renouncing the religion of sun-worship, suspended the persecutions which had the cult of Amen for their object and restored the religion of the ancient national divinities. For successors he had his brothers-in-law Tut-ankh-Amen, and later Saa-nekht, whose reign, although short, seems to have been prosperous. Tut-ankh-Amen, at least, is represented as an all-powerful Pharaoh, to whom foreign peoples give trembling homage. [According to Brugsch and Wiedemann and Petrie the order of these kings is Saa-nekht, Tut-ankh-Amen, and Ai—the reverse of the order here given.]

But after them civil and religious wars desolated Egypt; the throne was occupied by ephemeral kings whose names even are unknown to us. [The kings formerly reputed to belong to the end of this dynasty are now, as Professor Petrie remarks, “not of historical substance, but only linguistic questions.” It has been well established that the names in question are either errors or “Ptolemaic bungles,” and they are now assigned to monarchs of this and other dynasties.]

King Hor-em-heb re-established peace, suppressed the solar religion, destroyed Khun-aten’s monuments, and everywhere restored the ancient cult. Outside the country he reconquered Ethiopia, which for the time being had been lost, and made the land of Punt tributary, but risked no expeditions into Syria. The conquests of the Tehutimes and the Amenhoteps, so dearly obtained in this direction, had been lost during the religious wars. The petty local princes had ceased to pay tribute: and to reduce them anew, a whole generation of conquerors was necessary.a


[3] [Whether Tehutimes I or Tehutimes II was the father of Tehutimes III is still in doubt, but Maspero and Petrie incline to the belief that it was Tehutimes II.]

[4] [Petrie says he was about thirty-one years old.]

[5] [A town in the land of Naharain that sometimes has been confounded with Nineveh.]





[ca. 1365-1225 B.C.]

Ye men of Egypt, ye have heard your king!
I go, and I return not. But the will
Of the great Gods is plain: and ye must bring
Ill deeds, ill passions, zealous to fulfil
Their pleasure, to their feet; and reap their praise,
The praise of Gods, rich boon! and length of days.—Matthew Arnold.

We come now to the period when Egypt reached the apex of its power; when a series of great conquering monarchs made the name of Egypt known and feared far beyond the confines of the Nile. Of these great monarchs the name of one in particular was stamped upon the traditions of Asiatic peoples and has passed into popular knowledge. This was Ramses II, known to the Hebrews, and through them to the western world, as the Pharaoh of the Oppression. Great as this monarch was, little was known of him beyond the prejudiced recitals of the Hebrews, until our own time, when the decipherment of the monuments has brought to light the record of many of his warlike deeds. These records, like all such narratives, are highly coloured and told from the standpoint of the conqueror himself; but, with due allowance for exaggeration, they may no doubt be accepted as accounts of actual events.

A peculiar interest attaches to the name of Ramses II in addition to the never failing fascination of the great conqueror. We shall therefore have occasion to review his deeds in detail as told by the poet laureate of the day, and to consider various authoritative estimates, both ancient and modern, that have been passed upon this greatest hero of Egyptian history.a First Maspero:

Hor-em-heb, whose origin is unknown [there seems no reason to deny that he was the famous general whose tomb has been discovered at Saqqarah], nullified the efforts of Amenhotep and the other heretic kings to lessen the power of Thebes and its god, for he re-established the cult of Amen in all its splendour, had the temple of Aten pulled down, and the materials used to erect one of the triumphal entries, leading into the sanctuary of Karnak; the names of the heretic kings were effaced, and their monuments utterly destroyed. The new king had much to do to repair the disasters of the preceding years; at home all the governmental machinery was out of order, and abroad, the countries under the Egyptian yoke had ceased to pay tribute. Hor-em-heb put down brigandage, he punished untrustworthy employers by death, and he restored to the temples the properties which had been taken from them. He imposed a tribute on the distant country of Punt, he made raids on the tribes of the Upper Nile, and boasted of having subjugated the same countries as Tehutimes III. We have no exact account of his conquests except from his monuments, but they were numerous, and his reign seems to have been glorious, prosperous, and long.


[ca. 1365-1355 B.C.]

It is not known when the sceptre passed into the hand of Ramses I nor how he was related to his predecessor. [Whether he were the son, son-in-law, or brother of Hor-em-heb, has never been determined.] He had, however, been in the service of Ai, one of the last of the heretic kings, and also of Hor-em-heb, so it was at a somewhat advanced age that he ascended the throne of the Pharaohs. An expedition in the year II against Ethiopia, a short campaign against the Kheta [Hittites], were the chief events of his reign. He died six or seven years after his accession and left his son Seti (the Sethosis of Greek tradition), as his successor.


[ca. 1355-1345 B.C.]

Seti at once announced himself abroad as a conqueror in the following words:

“His Majesty has just heard that the vile tribes of Shasu have rebelled. The chiefs of their tribes, assembled at one spot, have been filled with blindness of heart and violence so that each one destroys his neighbour.”

Seti pushed right away toward the East across the desert, watered here and there with ponds or springs, each protected by a fortress or at least a tower—“The fortress of the Lion,” “The tower of Seti I,” “The well of Seti I,” etc. Wherever the enemy appeared he was easily routed, his trees destroyed; his harvests pitilessly cut. Going on from station to station, the Egyptians arrived at the two forts of Ribatha [the Rehoboth of the Bible] and Canaan. The latter, favourably situated by a little lake upon one of the last of the Amorite hills, commanded the entrance of one of the richest ports of southern Syria. It submitted at the first onslaught, so the whole of the rich valley was pillaged by the Egyptians.

This first success entailed greater ones; and Seti, going northward, arrived at the port of Lebanon, where he obliged the people to cut down their trees and send them to Egypt for the buildings he had commenced in honour of Amen. From thence he repaired to the valley of the Orontes, there to attack the Kheta [Hittites]; and a victory gained over these traditional enemies of Egypt, formed a happy conclusion to the campaign.[6]

The Pharaoh’s return was one perpetual triumph from the time he appeared on the frontier, where he was welcomed by the priests, until he arrived at Thebes and offered his prisoners to Amen. And Egypt thought that the great days of Tehutimes and Amenhotep had returned.

Unfortunately, however, these triumphs were not so real as they appeared. Southern Syria, crushed by the passage of armies, had abandoned all ideas of any native resistance and surrendered almost without a blow. The Phœnicians considered that a voluntary tribute was less expensive than a war against the Pharaohs, and they amply consoled themselves for the diminution of their liberty by getting hold of the maritime commerce of the Delta.

But on the north the Kheta [Hittites] were more formidable than ever. Free, during the time of the heretic kings, from the perpetual fear of an Egyptian invasion, they not only extended their supremacy over the whole of Naharain, from Carchemish to Kadesh, but they crossed the Taurus, and penetrated into Asia Minor. It is not known how far they carried their dominion, but it seems it did not extend beyond the plain of Cilicia and Catania. Anyhow they entered into direct relations with the people of the southern and eastern parts of the peninsula, the Lycians, the Masu, the[143] Dardanians, and the dwellers of Ilion and Pidasa. Supported by such allies, and sometimes aided by companies of their soldiers, the Kheta were a military power, quite equal to withstanding the Egyptians and waging war against them. Seti saw the position of affairs as soon as he attacked them, and although doubtless he took Kadesh, and the greater number of the Amorite towns on the Orontes without much trouble, the tenacity of the Kheta, always ready to fly to arms in spite of defeats, finally exhausted his patience.

Tired of war, he concluded an alliance with King Maro-sar, son of Shapalul, which lasted until his death. The dominion of the Pharaohs did not extend beyond the Orontes. So, being limited to southern Syria and Phœnicia, it gained in solidarity what it lost in extent. It seems that Seti I instead of simply exacting a tribute, imposed Egyptian governors on some of the conquered peoples, and in some places, like Gaza and Megiddo, stationed permanent garrisons.

The reign of Seti I undeniably marked a brilliant epoch in the history of Egypt. The treasure looted in Syria contributed to some of the most perfect Egyptian monuments, such as the mausoleum at Abydos and the hypostyle hall at Karnak, the tomb of the king. Seti was assisted in these works by his son Ramses. During his father’s lifetime Seti had married the princess Tui of the old royal family, probably the daughter of Hor-em-heb, and granddaughter of Amenhotep III, so that his son Ramses was, from the hour of his birth, considered by the loyalist Egyptians as the only legitimate king. His father, therefore, to prevent a rebellion, was obliged to make him co-regent when he was quite a little boy, although he was not at first taken much into account by either Seti or his ministers.

At ten years of age Ramses is said to have made war in Syria, and, according to Greek tradition, in Arabia. And it was on his return from these campaigns, that, ripened by age and experience, he began to take an active part in the internal government of the kingdom and to claim his royal prerogative. And henceforth we see his increasing personal valour transform him from an obscure prince into a king, a “master of the two worlds.”

Seti, now old, and worn out with the exploits of his youth, gradually conceded all power to his son, and lived in retirement in his palace for the rest of his days, the object of divine honours.

Certain pictures of the temple of Abydos show him seated on a throne amid the gods. He holds the club in one hand and in the other a complex sceptre, combining the different symbols of life and death. Isis is at his side, and the lesser gods sit behind the all-powerful couple, to whom Ramses addresses his prayer. It is a premature apotheosis of which the conception does honour to the regent, but it leaves no doubt of the real state of the kings in their old age. They were worshipped as gods, but they did not reign. Seti was no exception to this common rule; he was worshipped, but he did not reign.

Peace was threatened by an unforeseen danger. The people of Asia Minor had hitherto been beyond the sphere of action of Egypt; but now several races, such as the Shardana and Tyrseni, whose names were new to the ears of the Egyptians, landed on the coast of Africa, and joined with the Libyans. Ramses II defeated them, and the prisoners that he took were incorporated in the Royal Guard; and the others returned to Asia Minor, with such a recollection of their defeat, that Egypt was secure from their invasion for nearly a century. Peace assured in the North, Ramses repaired to Ethiopia, where he spent the last years of his father’s reign in making raids on the nomadic tribes on the banks of the Upper Nile.


On the news of the death of his father, Ramses left Ethiopia and entered on his duties as sole king at Thebes. He was then at the height of his fortune, and had several sons old enough to fight under his banner. The first years of his reign were not disturbed by any war of importance: in the year II there was a short expedition against the Amorites, and in the year IV there was one to the banks of the Nahr-el-Kelb near Beyrut. The Kheta [Hittites], faithful to the alliance made with Seti, did not try to excite a rebellion; and the people of Canaan, kept in check by the Egyptian garrisons, remained quiet.


[ca. 1340 B.C.]

So all went well till the year IV, when a terrible rebellion broke out. The king of the Kheta (Mau-than-ar, son of Maro-sar) was assassinated and succeeded by his brother, Kheta-sar, who convoked his vassals and allies, and broke with Egypt. Naharain, and its capital Carchemish, Arathu and southern Phœnicia, Kadesh and the country of Amaour, Kati and the Lycians, joined the coalition, and the hope of pillaging the Egyptian provinces of Syria, if not Egypt herself, made Ilion, Pidasa, Kerkesh, the Masu, and Dardanians also join the Kheta against Sesostris [Ramses].

Bust of Ramses II

(Now in the British Museum)

Trojan bands crossed the whole length of the peninsula and encamped in the valley of the Orontes, three hundred miles from their country. The army brought into the field by Ramses shows how easily nations were displaced at that time, for it was composed of Libyans, Mashauasha of Libya, Masu and Shardana, the fruit of the victorious repulsion of the invasion a few years before.

The Pharaoh established the basis of his operations on the frontier of Egypt and the Arabian Desert in the town he had recently founded under the name of Pa-Ramessu-Anekhtu (“the city of Ramses, the Conqueror”). He traversed Canaan, still under his sway, and quickly bore down upon the southern countries, only stopping at Shabatun, a Syrian village, rather to the southwest of Kadesh, and in view of the town. During a halt of some days he surveyed the district, and tried to discover the position of the enemy, having only vague ideas on the subject. But the allies, on the contrary, fully informed by their scouts, who mostly belonged to the nomadic tribes of Shasu, were conversant with all their movements; and the king of the Kheta, their chief, conceived and carried out a clever manœuvre, which would have completely destroyed the Egyptian army, had it not been for the personal bravery of the Pharaoh.


One day when Ramses had advanced a little to the south of Shabatun, two Bedouins came and said to him:

“Our brothers who are the chiefs of the tribes, allied with the vile chief of the Kheta, send us to tell your Majesty that we wish to serve your Majesty; we are leaving the vile chief of the Kheta, and know that he is in the district of Khilibu at the north of the town of Tunep, where he has retreated from fear of the Pharaoh.”

The king was deceived by this report, which bore the trace of truth, and feeling safe from a surprise by the supposed distance of the enemy (Khilibu being forty miles to the north of Kadesh), he advanced without misgiving, at the head of his household chariotry, whilst the bulk of the army, including the legions of Amen, Ra, Ptah, and Sutekh, followed him from a distance.

Whilst he was thus dividing his forces, the allies, represented by the traitors as far off, were secretly assembling on the northeast of Kadesh and preparing to attack the flank of the Egyptian army on its march to Khilibu. Their number was considerable to judge from the fact that, on the day of the battle, the king of Khilibu alone commanded eighteen thousand picked men; and, besides a well-trained infantry, they had two thousand five hundred chariots, each carrying three men.

During these operations the scouts brought into the general’s camp two other spies they had taken; and the king seems then to have had his suspicions aroused, for he ordered them to be well beaten, so as to make them confess. They then confessed that they had been sent to watch the manœuvres of the Egyptian army, and stated that the allies, assembled at Kadesh, were only waiting for a favourable opportunity to appear. Ramses then called a council of war, and explained their critical position. The officers excused themselves on the plea of the imprudence of the governors of the provinces, who had neglected to reconnoitre every day the position of the enemy, and they despatched an express messenger to bring up the body of the army to the aid of its chief.

Whilst the council was still sitting, the enemy approached, and when the king of the Kheta brought his forces to the south of Kadesh, he attacked the Ra legion, and so cut the Egyptian army in two.

The Pharaoh then in person charged at the head of his household chariotry, and eight times he broke the ranks of the encircling army, rallied his troops, and sustained the shock the rest of the day. Toward evening the Kheta, losing the advantage they had gained in the morning, beat a retreat before the Egyptian army, now in line; and at the approach of night the battle was suspended until the following day, when the allies were completely routed.

The equerry of the Kheta prince, Garbatusa, the general of his infantry and chariots, the chief of the eunuchs, and Khalupsaru, the writer of the annals of the sovereign for posterity, perished on the battle-field. Many corps of the Syrian army cast themselves into the Orontes to try to swim across it. Mazraima, the brother of the (Khetan) king, succeeded in reaching the other bank, but the lord of the country of Nison was drowned. The king of Khilibu was dragged half dead from the water; and pictures of the battle represent him being held head downward to disgorge the water he had swallowed. The conquered army would no doubt have been utterly destroyed, had not a sortie of the garrison of Kadesh arrested the progress of the Egyptians and allowed the fugitives to return to the town. The following day the Khetan king asked for and obtained peace.

[ca. 1340-1324 B.C.]

But all hopes that this brilliant victory would terminate the war were[146] disappointed. For the country of Canaan and the neighbouring provinces attacked the rear-guard of the victorious army, and the king of the Kheta, profiting by this diversion, broke the peace. The whole of Syria, from the banks of the Euphrates to the Nile, rose in arms. And although there were no more great battles, the next fifteen years were filled with a series of sieges and attacks; and hostilities broke out in one place as fast as peace was concluded in another.

The year VIII saw the Egyptian army in Galilee, under the walls of Merom. In the year XI Askalon was taken in spite of the heroic resistance of the Canaanites. In another campaign the king penetrated as far north as the environs of Tunep, and took two towns of the Kheta. So the war went on from year to year, until the enemies of Ramses were quite exhausted with their useless efforts, and the king of the Kheta once more prayed for peace from the Egyptian sovereign, and it was granted and sealed in the year XXI.

The treaty was originally drawn up in the language of the Kheta, and it was engraved on a sheet of silver which was solemnly offered to the Pharaoh in his city. The articles of the treaty were essentially the same as those drawn up between the kings of Kheta and Ramses I and Seti I. It was stipulated that the peace between the two countries was to be eternal:

“If an enemy march into the countries under the sway of the great king of Egypt and if he send to the king of the Kheta, saying: ‘Come, take arms against them,’ the great king of Kheta will do as he is asked by the great king of Egypt: the great king of Kheta will destroy his enemies. And if the great king of Kheta does not wish to come himself, he will send the archers and chariots of the country of Kheta to the great king of Egypt to destroy his enemies.”

And an analogous clause also assures the king of Kheta of the support of the Egyptian arms. Then come special articles to protect the commerce and industry of the united nations and to render surer the course of justice. Every criminal trying to evade these laws by taking refuge in the neighbouring country will be handed over to the officers of his nation: every fugitive not a criminal, every subject taken away by force, every workman who removes from one territory to another to there take up his abode, will be sent back to his country, without his expatriation being regarded as a crime. He who is thus expelled is not to be punished by the destruction of his house, wife, or children, he is not to be struck in the eyes or on the mouth, or on the feet, as there is no criminal accusation against him.

Equality and perfect reciprocity between the two countries, extradition of criminals and refugees, are the principal conditions of this treaty, which can be considered the most ancient monument of diplomatic science.

The wars of Ramses II terminate with this alliance, but Greek historians have made the Pharaoh, under the name of Sesostris, penetrate and subdue the countries of Media, Persia, Bactriana, and India, as far as the ocean, and even say he penetrated Europe as far as Thrace, where his course was only checked by want of supplies.

[ca. 1307-1285 B.C.]

From the year XXI to that of Ramses’ death the peace of the country was not disturbed. The conditions were loyally observed, and the alliance between the two sovereigns was soon cemented by a family bond, as Ramses married the eldest daughter of the king of Kheta, and a few years later invited his father-in-law to visit the valley of the Nile. The lord of Kheta acquaints the king of Kati with this approaching journey in these words:

“Be prepared for we are going to Egypt, the word of the king has been spoken; let us obey Sesostris [Ramses]. He gives the breath of life to[147] those he loves, so all the world loves him, and Kheta is in future one with him.”

In the year XXXIII the Syrian prince visited the city of Ramses, probably Thebes; and he is represented on a stele, engraven for the occasion, with his daughter and son-in-law.

So Egypt at last found her most bitter enemies transformed into faithful allies, and “the people of Kamit were henceforth one in heart with those of Kheta, which had not been the case since the time of the god Ra.”

As this alliance was concluded, the king could now devote himself to building monuments. According to the Greek historians, “he had a temple built in each town to the principal god of the place.”

Ramses was indeed a king of builders. During his long sixty-seven years’ reign, he had time to complete the work of several generations, and one can safely say that there is not a ruin in Egypt or Nubia which does not bear his name. The great “speos” [cave-temple] of Isambul perpetuated the memory of his campaigns against the negroes and Syrians, and four colossal monoliths, twenty metres high, adorn the entrance. At Thebes there was added to the temple of Amenhotep (Luxor) a court with two pylons and two obelisks of granite, the finest of which is on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The temple of Gurnah, founded by Seti in honour of Ramses I, was finished and consecrated. The Ramesseum, known to the ancients by the name of Tomb of Osymandias, gives a sculptured account of the campaign of the year V; and the hand of Ramses II is seen in the necropolis of Abydos, as well as at Memphis and Bubastis and in the quarries of Silsilis, as well as in the mines of Sinai.

The temple of Tanis, neglected by the sovereigns of the XVIIIth Dynasty, was restored and enlarged; and the town which was in ruins, was rebuilt. In many places the architects effaced on the statues and temples the names of their royal builders, and substituted the cartouches of Ramses II. The decoration of the hypostyle hall of Karnak is certainly due to this king: Ramses I conceived the plan, Seti commenced it, and Ramses II decorated it entirely. From the year III, Ramses was also greatly interested in the working of the gold mines in Nubia, and established a line of stations with cisterns and wells along the road leading from the Nile to Gebel Ollaqi. Then he had the network of canals, which water Lower Egypt, cleared, including the one between the Nile and the Red Sea on the borders of the desert. He repaired the walls and fortifications which protected Egypt from the Bedouins; and as political necessity led him to reside on the west of the Delta, he founded several towns on the frontier, the most important of which was Ramses Anekhtu.

The poets of the period have left us pompous descriptions of this city: “It is situated,” they say, “between Syria and Egypt; it is full of delicious provisions; it is like unto Hermonthis. Its length is that of Memphis, the sun rises and sets there. All men leave their towns and settle on its territory; the rivers of the sea pay homage in eels and fish, and bring the fruit of their tides. The dwellers in the town are in holiday attire every day; perfumed oil anoints their heads on new wigs. They stand at their doors, their hands filled with bouquets, with green boughs from the town of Pa-Hathor, with garlands from Pahir, at the entrance gate of Pharaoh. Joy increases and dwells there without end.”

Poetry, we see, flourished at the time of Ramses, and the manuscripts of the works have been preserved, but the names of the authors were not added.



Statue of Ramses II

(British Museum)

[ca. 1340 B.C.]

The most often quoted and the best-inspired poem is the Poem of Pentaur, which describes the exploits of Ramses in the year V at the battle of Kadesh. [Pentaur, or rather Pentauirit, is not the author, but merely the transcriber of the copy now in the British Museum. The author is not known.] We know the subject of the poem: the king, surprised by the prince of the Kheta, is obliged to lead the charge at the head of his household troops:

“His Majesty now rises like his father Mentu. He seizes his arms, and buckles on his cuirass like Baal in his time. Great horses bear on his Majesty—‘Victory to Thebes’ was their name as they left the stables of King Ramses, beloved of Amen. The king, having started, broke the ranks of the vile Kheta. He was alone, nobody with him. Having advanced in sight of those behind him, he was surrounded by two thousand five hundred chariots; cut off from retreat by all the warriors of the vile Kheta and by the numerous people with him from Arathu, Masa, and Pidasa. Each of their chariots carried three men, and they were all massed together. “‘No prince with me, no general, no officer of the archers, no archers, or chariots. My soldiers have forsaken me, my horsemen have fled, and not one remains to fight with me.’ Then his Majesty said:

“‘Where art thou, my father Amen? Does a father forget his son? Have I done anything without thee? Have I not marched and halted according to thy word? I have in no way disobeyed thy orders. He is very great, the lord of Egypt who overthrows the barbarians on his way! What are these Asiatics to thee? Amen enervates the impious. Have I not presented thee with numberless gifts? I have filled thy sacred dwelling with prisoners; I have built thee a temple which will last a million years; I have given all my goods for thy stores; I have offered thee the entire world to enrich thy domains. Truly a miserable fate is reserved to those who oppose thy designs, and happiness to him who knows thee, for thy acts come from a heart full of love. I invoke thee, my father Amen! Here I am in the midst of a great and strange company, all the nations are leagued against me, and I am alone, with no other but thee. My numerous soldiers have abandoned me, none of my horsemen regarded me when I called to them, they did not hearken to my voice. But I believe that Amen is more to me than a million horsemen, than a myriad brothers, or young sons all assembled together. The work of men is naught. Amen will overrule them. I have accomplished these things by the counsel of thy mouth, O Amen! and I have not transgressed thy counsels: here I have given glory to thee to the ends of the earth.’”


The king is here represented alone, surrounded by the enemy and in great danger, but his first impulse is to God; and before rushing into the mêlée, he makes this long address to Amen, and help came to him:

“The voice resounded to Hermonthis. Amen answers my cry; he gives me his hand, I utter a cry of joy, he speaks behind me:


“‘I hasten to thee, to thee Ramses Meri-Amen, I am with thee. It is I, thy father; my hand is with thee and I am of more avail than hundreds of thousands. I am the lord of strength, a lover of courage, I have recognised a courageous heart and am satisfied my will will be done.’

“Like Mentu, I then cast my arrows to the right, I overthrew my enemies. I am like Baal before them. The two thousand five hundred chariots which surround me are dashed to pieces by my horsemen. Not one of them has a hand to fight with, their hearts fail them, and fear enfeebles their members. They cannot draw their arrows, nor have they strength to wield their lances. I precipitate them into the water as you would a crocodile, they are cast down on the top of each other. I do not wish one to look behind nor to turn back. He who falls will never regain his feet.”

The effect produced by this outburst about God was very great, especially on the Kheta, who seemed arrested by an invisible power when on the point of victory, and hesitated in terror. Then they commanded the chiefs in their cars, and the men versed in war to advance, so that the company of the kings of Arathu, of Ilion, of Lycia, Dardania, Carchemish, Kerkesh, Khilibu, numbering three thousand chariots, proceed forward.

“But all their efforts are useless. I dashed on them like Mentu, my hands destroyed them in the space of an instant, I cut and I killed amongst them, so that they said one to another:

“‘This is not a man amongst us, it is Sutekh, the great warrior. It is Baal in person. These are not the actions of a man that he does. Alone, all alone, he repulses hundreds of thousands without chiefs, and without soldiers. Let us hasten to fly before him, let us save our lives, let us breathe again.’

“All who came to fight found their hands weakened, they could no longer hold bows, or lance. Seeing that he had arrived at cross-roads the king pursued them like a griffin.”

It was only when the enemy is in retreat that he summons his soldiers, not so much for their aid as to let them witness his valour:

“Be firm, keep up your heart, O my soldiers! You see my victory and I was alone. It is Amen who gave me strength; his hand is with me.”

He encourages his shield-bearer Menna who is full of fear at the number of the enemy, and rushes into the mêlée.

“Six times I charged the enemy!”

At last his army arrives toward evening and helps him. He assembles his generals and overwhelms them with reproaches.

“What will the whole world say, when it learns that you left me quite alone? That not a charioteer nor any archers joined with me? I have fought, I have repulsed millions of people alone. ‘Victory of Thebes,’ and ‘Mut is satisfied’ were my glorious horses. It was with them that I was alone amid terrifying enemies. I will see them fed myself every day, when I am in my palace, for I had them when I was in the midst of my enemies with the chief Menna, my shield bearer, and with the officers of my horse who accompanied me, and are witnesses of the battle; they were with me. I have returned after a victorious battle and I have struck the assembled multitudes with my blade.”

The skirmish of the first day was only the preliminary to a more important engagement, and with what success to the Egyptians, and what loss to the Asiatics, has already been told. The poet does not give any details of this second affair. He describes it in a few lines dedicated entirely to praise of the king. The subject, in fact, is not the victory at Kadesh and the defeat[150] of the Syrian armies, important as these may be to the historian; but the poet sings the indomitable courage of Ramses, his faith in the aid of the gods, the irresistible strength of his arm. He wished to portray him surprised, abandoned, and compensating for the faults of the generals by his bravery. All the facts which could lessen the general impression or diminish the glory of the royal bravery are put in the background. The household troops are mentioned only once; of the second day of the battle there is but an insufficient description. The king of the Kheta implores peace, Ramses grants it, and returns in triumph to Thebes.

“Come, our beloved son, O Ramses Meri-Amen! The gods have given him infinite periods of eternity upon the double throne of his father Tmu, and all the nations are put under his feet.”b


[ca. 1345-1285 B.C.]

After the preceding eulogy by Maspero, it is well to read Eduard Meyer’s more cynical account of the reign of the great Ramses. It will enable us the better to preserve a mental balance. It should not, however, lead us to forget that we are in the presence of one of the great epochs of civilisation; for all such great epochs have had their iconoclasts as well as their adulators.a

Ramses II exaggerated his own praises in inscriptions, saying that, already in the womb, he had been acknowledged king and that his father had handed him over the government when he was yet a child. This is correct in so far as he was solemnly proclaimed successor to the throne in his early youth, and probably raised to be co-regent by Seti toward the end of his reign; as crown-prince he accompanied his father in the wars against the Libyans.

In the fifth year the king directed his second campaign against the Kheta. The king of Kheta had summoned all his allies and tribes dependent on him, and a formidable army was gathered together in the neighbourhood of Kadesh. He almost succeeded in destroying, in an ambush, the advance-guard, in which Ramses was present. The mass of the army which had been called together in haste did not reach the battle-field in time, and it was only the personal courage of the king, who boasts of having fought against thousands alone when all deserted him, that gained the victory for the Egyptians. The enemy were driven into the Orontes, and suffered heavy losses; the king of Khilibu was almost drowned. Ramses II boasts again and again of this victory; he had the fight represented and poetically extolled in Luxor, in Karnak, in the Ramesseum built in the west town for the worship of the dead, and in Nubia in the temple of Abu Simbel. Nevertheless, it was only a brave personal feat and no great military success.

We hear nothing of the conquest of Kadesh, and when Ramses asserts “that the king of Kheta turned his hands to worship him,” this refers to passing negotiations or to an armistice, for we see that the war continued uninterruptedly.

We have only very incomplete information concerning the continuance of the war. Only once more do we find the king penetrating far toward the north: in the province of Tunep in the land of Naharain he personally fought against the Kheta. How he arrived so far north, we do not know.

It is clear that the Egyptians were being more and more driven back, and finally completely lamed. Doubtless the king of Kheta could boast of numerous victories. On the other hand, it was only boasting when Ramses gave long lists of conquered people and towns in his temple inscriptions,[151] in which, so as to equal Tehutimes III, he had to include the names of Asshur and Sangara, Mannus and Karak (Cilicia), with which the king scarcely came into contact. It can at once be seen that it is no historical document.

When and on what conditions peace was concluded is not known, and tradition does not relate what part of Syria the Egyptians maintained. At any rate Palestine remained essentially Egyptian. It would appear that it was agreed that South Syria should be relinquished to Egypt, and that the Kheta should retain a free hand in the North.

Bringing Tribute to Ramses II

By this agreement, there was maintained between the two states a lasting peace which soon ripened into a close union. In the twenty-first year of Ramses II King Kheta-sar proposed one of those everlasting treaties to the Pharaoh, in which both states guaranteed their own integrity, formed an alliance for protection against every outside enemy, and mutually bound themselves to watch over all exiles who might seek refuge with them, and to surrender all deserters and emigrants. The treaty held good for a long time; thirteen years later Kheta-sar visited the ruler of Egypt and gave him his daughter to wife. Then took place what, as the god Ptah says to Ramses, “was unheard of even from the days of Ra until thine own.” It is evident that under such circumstances the relations of culture between Egypt and Syria must have been active and manifold.

The powerful influence which Egypt had exercised over the East has already been depicted in connection with this; and, for example, when we find that the characteristics of an Egyptian legend recorded under the successor of Ramses are taken up by the Hebrews and transferred to the hero of their race, Joseph, this is only one feature more added to the many we know.

But in Egypt we also find the worship of Syrian divinities spreading more and more—at the same time Set-Sutekh, the powerful patron god of the stranger who gave the enemy victory, was greatly respected.

Syrian names are considerably met with, and, above all, the language is most strikingly influenced by the Canaanite. In many documents Semitic words were almost used to the same extent as French in German literature of the eighteenth century.

After having concluded the treaty with Kheta-sar, Ramses II ruled over Egypt for forty-six years more in peace.


This epoch, the time of Seti I and Ramses II, has rightly been called the prime of the New Theban Kingdom. The martial successes in its first half, the peaceful and well-ordered relations of the ensuing time, made the universal development of the land’s resources feasible to the government, and assured the subjects a comfortable enjoyment of life, such as the Egyptians of old loved.

Of no other period of Egypt do we possess so many monuments—temples, tombs, dedications, and inscriptions concerning victories—and so many literary remains. But nowhere does the typical character which adheres to the new Egyptian appear more prominently than here.

The type is supreme over all, and there is no question of individuality anywhere. It is in vain that we seek for a new thought or an original turn in the temple inscriptions, in the hymns on the king written on the face of the rocks or on papyrus, and in the appeals to the divinities. Frequently all tangible import is wanting. Everything is a copy and is carefully worked out from a fixed model; it has often been remarked how greatly the historical value of the reports has suffered through this. In value they are far below those of the time of Tehutimes III.

The administration of the land in the new kingdom does not differ much from that of the former one. The king appears to us surrounded by the entire fulness of divine glory; in the official reports his counsellors are only assembled so as to marvel at his superhuman wisdom, or else to be reproached for their want of foresight.

The further we advance into the history of Egypt, the more does the self-conceit and absurdity of the glorification of the king increase; under the reign of Ramses II one often gets the impression that he considered himself a superhuman being standing in direct communication with the gods. Like Amenhotep III, we often find him in the Nubian temples too, worshipping his own person, which is seated between Amen and Mut, or Khnem and Anuqat. The intention may have been to raise the reigning king—as formerly Usertsen III—to be territorial god of the subjected Cushites.

The residence of Ramses II was generally at Tanis, which he had newly constructed and adorned with numerous monuments, and which now received the name of “the town of Ramses.” The writers of the time are never tired of praising the glories of this city, which was a seaport as well as an important emporium. On account of its numerous relations with Syria, it is only natural that the centre of gravity of the kingdom should have been transferred here, and that many new foundations should have originated on the eastern frontier of Egypt. The frontier defences of Egypt proper against the tribes of the desert, were always kept up and sharply watched. As formerly, Thebes remained the real capital of the land; next to it, Memphis asserted its long-inherited right as the oldest residence and as dwelling-place of Ptah, the Father of the Divinities. The numerous private monuments bear witness to the well-being of the land more than the buildings, as also, to a certain degree, do the rhetorical descriptions of the writers.

Numerous admirable experiments in sculpture have come down to us, above all the likeness of Ramses II preserved in Turin. The marvellous and careful work of the relief in the temple of Seti I at Abydos has already been mentioned; a certain grandeur must not be denied to the composition of the great war picture which represents the events of the Kheta war in the year V of Ramses II,—the mustering of the troops, the life in camp, the advance of the enemy, and the battle of Kadesh. The king had the picture[153] carried out in coloured relief three times, in the Ramesseum, in Luxor, and in Abu Simbel. Besides these, there are also numerous examples of every kind of art-work, even to the simplest steles, often very roughly worked.

Some things have come to us of the literature of the times; chiefly the poem which Ramses II had composed and written on the walls of the temples to commemorate his battle with the Kheta. It is a work which, in spite of its official character, is not wanting in life and poetry.

There are also many narratives, such as the celebrated tale of the two brothers, written under Meneptah. Above all, there are the numerous epistles, rhetorical studies, descriptions of the power of the king and his works, the praise of learning, hymns, moral exhortations, also unmeaning letters which evidently served as models for real letters and reports. Besides these collections, we have also many authentic letters, reports, acts, etc., which give us much information concerning the life and doings of the Egyptians in the thirteenth century B.C.

If we cast an eye on the religious life, we clearly recognise that we are here dealing with an epoch in which heretic endeavours are completely suppressed, and orthodoxy asserts its unconditional sway. The religious literature of the time became characterised fairly early. At every turn we meet with the formulas of the victorious esoteric doctrine. The numerous temples show the increase of the power of the priests. All natural relations were restrained and stifled by religion. War was carried on by order, and in the name of, Amen, so as to increase his subjects and to bring him in rich booty. The inscriptions relate very little concerning the actions of the kings, but a great deal concerning the conversations which they had with the deities, and how they “cast all lands at their feet.” The eldest son of Ramses II, Khamuas, became high priest of Ptah in Memphis, and carefully looked after the worship of the sacred Apis: he caused the celebrated tombs of Apis, the Serapeum of Memphis, to be built. By those who came after, he was looked on as a great philosopher and magician.

It is known to us that, as a long established custom, the officials as a rule held one or more priesthoods besides their state office; naturally, higher education and, above all, instruction in writing and learning, were entirely in the hands of the priests. We meet with the enervating effects of these conditions throughout the whole course of Egyptian history.

When the intellectual life becomes torpid, physical strength also disappears. Since everything that constitutes nationality is converted into outer forms, a nation loses even the vitality and power necessary to maintain an independent existence.c


Thus, somewhat frigidly, Eduard Meyer has summed up the achievements of the great Ramses. The words of Brugsch make a good epilogue.

[ca. 1285 B.C.]

Ramses II enjoyed a long reign. The monuments expressly testify to a reign of sixty-seven years’ duration, of which, apparently, more than half should be reckoned to his rule conjointly with his father. The jubilee celebration of his thirtieth year as (sole?) Pharaoh gave occasion for great festivities throughout the country, of which the inscriptions in Silsilis, El-Kab, Biggeh, Sehel, and even on several scarabs, make frequent mention. The prince and high priest of Memphis, Khamuas, journeyed through the chief cities of the country in this connection, that he might have the great and joyful festival in honour of his father prepared in a worthy fashion by[154] the different governors. The anniversary of the festival was calculated according to a fixed cycle, and apparently fell when the lunar and solar years coincided at short intervals of three or four years. It was observed as a solemn feast.

Great in the field, active in works of peace, Ramses appears to have also tasted heaven’s richest blessings in his family life. The outer surface of the front of the temple of Abydos reveals to us the portraits and the names, now only partially preserved, of 119 children (59 sons and 60 daughters), which besides the lawful consorts known to us, the favourite wife Isinefer, mother of Khamaus, the queens Nefert-ari, Meri-mut, and the daughter of the king of Kheta, implies a large number of inferior wives.

It is scarcely probable that the great Ramses departed this life leaving his earthly kingdom in a peaceful condition. Already in his old age a numerous progeny of sons and grandsons were disputing over their father’s inheritance. The seed of periods of storm and unrest was laid. According to historical tradition these bearings were confirmed in the most striking manner by subsequent events.

The body of Pharaoh was consigned to its death chamber in the rocky valley of Biban-el-Moluk. In spite of the large number of his children, Seti’s grateful son had left no offspring behind him who would have prepared a tomb for his father worthy of his deeds and of his name; a tomb which might if only in some degree have approached the dignity of Seti’s noble funeral vaults. The tomb of Ramses is an insignificant, rather tasteless erection, seldom visited by travellers to the Nile Valley, who probably scarcely suspect that the great Sesostris of Greek story has found his last resting-place in this modest place. This Pharaoh might have repeated of himself at his death, as formerly in his struggle against the Kheta he said, “I stood alone; none other was with me.”d


[6] [The Hittites, now identified with the Kheta, are treated more fully in a special chapter in Vol. II.]





Nothing in modern discovery has more vividly and suddenly brought the ancient world home to the world of to-day than the finding of the actual bodies, the very flesh and blood of the Pharaohs marvellously preserved to us by the embalmer’s venerable art. The discovery has bridged the chasm between the Ancient and the New as a midnight flash of lightning from the clouds to the earth.

As so often happens, what had foiled the eager search of the patient scholar, had not eluded the cupidity of the thief. The appearance of royal mummies and priceless manuscripts on the open market filled the explorers with both chagrin and zeal. M. Maspero tells of the various wiles by which influential politicians of the Orient concealed their rich treasure-sources, and of the almost endless difficulties overcome by the European explorers before the thieves could be first deprived of their influence with the authorities, and then of their discoveries. These latter the scholars wished to examine and study where found, and then distribute them among museums for the benefit of other scholars and for public enlightenment. The real discoverers, the Arabs, were after loot alone, and mingled ruthlessness, lies, misrepresentations, and all manner of duplicity with their thrift. It is not here fitting to tell the story of the fight between scholarship and commerce; but the account of the revelation of the treasure-chamber itself is as appropriate as it is thrilling.a

Mummy and Inner Case

On Wednesday, the 6th of July, 1879, Messrs. Emil Brugsch and Ahmad Effendi Kamal were conducted by Muhammed Ahmed Abd-er-Rassul to the entrance of the funeral vault itself.

The Egyptian engineer who long ago hollowed out the secret chamber had made his arrangements in the most ingenious fashion. Never was secret chamber better disguised. The chain of hills which at the spot divides the Biban-el-Moluk from the Theban plain, forms, between the Assassif and the Valley of the Queens, a series of natural amphitheatres, of which the best known was, up to the[156] present, that on which stands the monument of Deir-el-Bahari. In the wall of rocks which separates Deir-el-Bahari from the succeeding amphitheatres, just behind the knoll of Sheikh Abd-el-Gurnah, about two hundred feet above the level of the cultivated lands, a pit was dug forty feet in depth by six in breadth. At the bottom of the pit, in the western side, was cut the entrance of a corridor four and a half feet wide by nearly three in height. After running a length of about twenty-five feet, it turns abruptly to the north, and extends to a distance of two hundred feet, not always keeping to the same dimensions; in certain parts it is about six and a half feet wide, in others little more than four. Near the centre five or six roughly hewn steps indicate a sensible change in the level, and on the right hand a sort of unfinished niche shows that there had been an idea of once more changing the direction of the gallery. The latter at last emerges into a kind of irregular, oblong chamber, about twenty-five feet in length.

The first object which struck the eye of Herr Brugsch, when he reached the bottom of the pit, was a white and yellow coffin, with the name of Nesi-Khonsu. It was in the corridor, about two feet from the entrance; a little further was a coffin whose form recalled the style of the XVIIth Dynasty; then Queen TiuHathor Hont-tui, then Seti I. Alongside the coffins and strewing the ground, were boxes of funeral statuettes, canopic vases,[7] bronze libation vases, and right at the back, in the angle formed by the corridor as it turns north, the funeral canopy of Queen Isiem-kheb, folded and crumpled like a worthless object which some priest in a hurry to get away had thrown carelessly in a corner. All along the great corridor was the same confusion and disorder; it was necessary to crawl along without knowing where hands and knees were being placed.

Mummy in its Wrappings

The coffins and mummies, hastily scanned by the light of a candle, bore historic names—Amenhotep I, Tehutimes II, in the niche near the staircase, Aahmes I, and his son Se-Amen, Seqenen-Ra, Queens Aah-hotep, Aahmes, Nefert-ari, and others. In the chamber at the end, the confusion was at its height, but the predominance of the style proper to the XXth Dynasty was recognised at a glance. The report of Muhammed Ahmad Abd-er-Rassul, which had at first appeared exaggerated, was scarcely more than the attenuated expression of the truth: where I had expected to come on one or two obscure, petty kings, the Arabs had unearthed a whole hypogee of Pharaohs.

And what Pharaohs! perhaps the most illustrious in the history of Egypt—Tehutimes III and Seti I, Aahmes the liberator and Ramses II the conqueror!

Two hours sufficed for this first examination, and then the work of removal began. Three hundred Arabs were speedily collected by the efforts of the mudir’s people, and set about the work. The museum’s boat, hastily summoned,[157] had not yet arrived; but reis Muhammed, one of the pilots on whom reliance could be placed, was on the spot. He descended to the bottom of the pit and undertook to extract its contents. Messrs. Brugsch and Ahmad Effendi Kamal received the objects as they were brought above ground, carried them to the foot of the hill, and ranged them side by side without relaxing their vigilance for a moment. Forty-eight hours of energetic labour sufficed to exhume everything; but the task was only half finished.

The convoy had to be conducted across the plain of Thebes and beyond the river as far as Luxor; several of the coffins, raised with great difficulty by twelve or sixteen men, took seven or eight hours to go from the mountain to the bank, and it will be easily imagined what this journey must have been like in the dust and heat of July.

At last, on the evening of the 11th, mummies and coffins were all at Luxor, duly enveloped in mats and canvases. Three days after, the museum’s steamer arrived; it only remained to load it, and it immediately started again for Bulaq with its freight of kings.

Then a singular thing happened, for from Luxor to Kuft, along either bank of the Nile, the fellah women followed the boat with dishevelled hair and uttering loud cries, and the men fired rifle-shots as they do at funerals.


And now a question arises. The greater number of the kings and princes of the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties, had each his tomb, which exists to-day or whose site we learn from ancient documents; Amenhotep I at Drah-abu’l-Neggah, Seti I and Ramses II at the Biban-el-Moluk, and others elsewhere. How is it that their corpses were hidden away between Deir-el-Bahari and Sheikh Abd-el-Gurnah, huddled together with the corpses of the high priests of Amen? The Egyptians themselves have taken pains to furnish us with the materials for the answer. Several of the mummies or coffins which we possess, bear, written in ink by the hand of contemporary scribes, the date, the circumstances, and sometimes the reason of the transfer. These are veritable official reports, whose testimony on the subject is unimpeachable.

The three mummies of the XIXth Dynasty had a common fate. The coffins of Seti I and Ramses II bear three inscriptions, which are identical, or nearly so, and which date from three different periods: what is left of the coffin of Ramses II bears the remains of a hieratic text[8] analogous to the second inscription of the text of Seti I.

The two most ancient of these inscriptions mention Her-Hor. The first is conceived in these terms: “The year VI, of the 2nd month of Shaït the VII, the day of the expedition made by Her-Hor the … of the first Prophet of Amen Ra, king of the gods, to restore the funeral pomp of King Men-maat-Ra L. H. S. [life, health, strength] Son of the Sun, Seti Meneptah, through the inspector,” a name which is not very legible, as is also the case with those of his companions. The inscription which had been placed on the coffin of Ramses II has been rubbed out, and then written over. As it now reads, it suffices to show that it, like the preceding, was of the year VI and of the 2nd month of the season of Shaït, the VII; that the expedition had been undertaken by order of Her-Hor, and that its object was to ascertain the condition of the body of Ramses II. This interpretation of the date does not fail, however, to involve some difficulties. The name of[158] Her-Hor is not surrounded with the cartouche; and we may, if we choose, conclude from this fact that the mention of the year VI refers to the reign of the Ramesside whom Her-Hor succeeded on the throne. On the other hand, the comparison of this inscription with the following ones appears to me to prove that the date, year VI, should probably be placed to the count of the priest-king.

Indeed, no hesitation is possible in regard to the second inscription. It presents itself under two forms, of which one is found only on the coffin of Seti I, whilst the other is afforded us by the two coffins of Ramses I and Ramses II. The inscription of Seti I is conceived in these terms: “In the year XVI, of the 4th month of the season Pirt, the VII, under King Se-Amen, the day of the exhuming of the King Men-maat-Ra Seti Meri-en-Ptah L. H. S., from his tomb to bring him into the tomb of the lady An … of the great dwelling, by the prophet of Amen-Ra, king of the gods, the third prophet of Khonsumois Neferhotep, chief scribe of the monument of the temple of Amen-Ra, king of the gods, servant of the temple of Ramses II in the temple of Amen, Nesipkhashuti, son of Beken-Khonsu. The superior of the funeral hall had said in the presence (of the king) what was the condition (of the mummies) and that they had suffered no damage in being taken from the tomb where they were, and transported to the tomb of the lady An … of the great dwelling where King Amenhotep rests in peace.”

The inscription of Ramses II differs from the preceding only in the opening words: “In the year XVI, of the 4th month of Pirt, the VII, the day of the exhuming of King User-maat-Ra-sotep-en-Ra, the great god of the tomb of King Men-maat-Ra, Seti Miptah.” The rest is similar in every point to the text of Seti I.

The inscription of Ramses I is much mutilated; but what has been preserved permits us to restore a formula at the commencement, which is intermediary between the formula of Seti I and that of Ramses II. “(The year XVI, of the 4th month of Pirt, the VII, under) King Se-Amen, (day of) the exhuming of (the King Men-pehtet-Ra L. H. S.) from the (tomb of King Men-maat-Ra) Seti Miptah (to bring it into this tomb) of the lady An … of the (great) dwelling (where the King Amen) hotep (rests) in peace, etc.”

The three bodies, carried at different periods to Seti’s hypogee, were taken thence all three in one day. This identity in time explains why, in the second part of each inscription, the scribe has always made use of the plural number to express the condition of the mummy: he placed on each of the coffins the formula which applied to all three.

The other coffins of the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties bear no inscriptions, but I have no doubt that at about the same time they were the object of frequent visits. One certain fact seems to me to result from the reports: by the close of the XXth Dynasty the bodies of Seti I, Ramses I, Ramses II, and Tehutimes I were no longer in their own tombs, and not yet in the hidden chamber where they were discovered: they were carried from place to place and their funerary appointments restored at fairly short intervals. What was the motive for so often taking the trouble to verify this condition?

The documents which have come down to us from the last kings of the XXth Dynasty give us some idea of an epoch of decadence. Egypt, exhausted by six centuries of conquest, no longer possessed the strength necessary to retain her dominion over the provinces in Syria, and was losing with them the best part of her revenue. The great towns of the Delta—Memphis,[159] Tanis, Saïs—standing on the natural highway of Asiatic commerce, did not suffer greatly from this political diminution of the country; but Thebes, which was situated in the interior, at a distance from the great commercial routes, and had owed the prosperity she enjoyed to conquest alone, grew poorer and rapidly declined. Constructive works were for the most part suspended for want of supplies; and the labouring population, ill-paid from the royal treasure, began to feel the pangs of hunger. Hence proceeded strikes and daily disorders, which the overseers of the workshops recorded in their note-books; and then pillage and theft.

Queen Nubkhas

Bands were organised, in which civil employees, officers, workmen, even women, figure indiscriminately, and these set to work to exploit the necropolis. They forced the doors of the tombs, that they might carry off the objects of value, the jewels, furniture, and gorgeous arms which the piety of relatives had deposited with the corpses.

Soon, not content with attacking private individuals, they ventured to lay their hands upon the kings. The government of Ramses made vain attempts to stop their depredations. An inquiry, opened in the XVIth year of Ramses IX, informs us that the king’s commissioners found one royal tomb violated for every ten that they were authorised to visit. It is curious that one of the hypogees examined belonged to a prince whose mummy we found in the secret chamber of Deir-el-Bahari, namely Amenhotep I; it was still intact.

The report of the opening of the tomb of Sebekhotep [VI] tells us in what the booty of the thieves consisted: “We opened the coffins of the king and his wife, Queen Nubkhas, as well as the funeral caskets in which they lay. We found the august mummy of the king, and beside it his sword, as well as a considerable number of talismans, and ornaments of gold about his neck. The head was covered with gold, and gold was scattered all over the mummy: the coffins were plated with gold and silver within and without, and incrusted with all kinds of stones. We took the gold which we found on the mummy, as well as the talisman and the ornaments of the neck and the gold of the coffins. We likewise took all we could find on the royal spouse, then we burned their funeral caskets and we robbed them of their furniture, which consisted of vases of gold or silver and of bronze, and we divided them among us in eight portions.” One might fancy he was reading the description of that mummy of Queen Aah-hop, whose jewels now form an ornament of the museum at Bulaq.

Let us now examine the condition of the coffins and mummies found at Deir-el-Bahari. Seqenen-Ra, Aahmes and his son Se-Amen, Nefert-ari, and Aah-hotep are certainly in their original coffins, as is proved by the style and the absence of inscriptions indicating a restoration. Amenhotep I and[160] Tehutimes II appear to have retained only the covers of their original coffins; the case is of wood, very roughly shaped, and in order to introduce the mummy of Tehutimes II, it has been found necessary to reduce the thickness of the sides at the level of the shoulders. The inscriptions assert that the wrappings have been renewed: this may have been as much because they were worn out in the natural course of things as because of the violence of human hands, and the restoration does not in itself prove that the mummy has suffered by thieves. But do not the two false mummies of Princess Meshent-themhu and the Princess Set-Amen furnish us with proof of a violation analogous to that to which King Sebekhotep and his wife Nubkhas were subjected?

The robbers, after breaking open Sebekhotep’s coffin, had dispersed the bones of the king, and the tomb was empty. Something similar must certainly have occurred in the case of the Princess Meshent-themhu. The coffin was broken open, and the inscription which it bore, inlaid with blue enamel, partly disappeared; for it was necessary, as I have shown above, to restore it roughly in ink. As for the bones, they had disappeared: probably the thieves, fearing they might be disturbed in their sacrilegious work, made haste to carry off the mummy with them; then abandoned it, once it had been despoiled, in some place where no one thought of looking for it. On the other hand, religion did not allow that the disembodied soul could enjoy a full existence in the other world if the body it had owned during its earthly life should completely disappear.

In default of the real body, the commissioners charged to inspect and restore the tombs adopted the plan of manufacturing the semblances of bodies for Seti and Meshent-themhu. A fragment of broken coffin simulated the bust of Meshent-themhu, a bundle of rags the head, another bundle of rags the feet, and the whole, duly encased in wrappings, was deposited in the coffin, which was more or less carefully restored. Was the soul satisfied at recognising the counterfeit body?

For my part I am very glad to have discovered, thanks to that pious fraud, the principal, if not the only, reason for the collection of so many royal mummies in one place.

It was to save the dead Pharaohs from thieves that it was decided to hide them away. It was hoped that a pit, thirty-eight yards deep, followed by a narrow corridor of two hundred and fifty feet, would protect them from profanation; and experience has proved that the reckoning was not so far out, since centuries rolled away from the day that they were deposited there, before that on which the Arabs of Sheikh Abd-el-Gurnah discovered the hiding-place.

Some Egyptologists will, at first sight, be amazed at the rude character of this supposed tomb, and will object that it is a far cry from a chamber without ornament and roughly hollowed out of the rock, to the magnificent hypogees of Biban-el-Moluk. I answer that the difference between the tombs is not greater than the difference between the kings. Amenhotep III, Ramses II, even Ramses V and Her-Hor, reigned over all Egypt, over Ethiopia, over at least a part of Syria, and had command of the men and money needful to hew out and decorate immense syringes.[9]

Painet´-em II and the people of his family possessed only the poorest region of Egypt and Nubia: it was as much as they could do to secure their mummies the same burial as that of the wealthier men of their time. No more special monuments for each of the dead, but one common vault for[161] all; no more immense sarcophagi in hard stone, but mere coffins in polished wood, sometimes stolen from earlier kings or private persons. There is nothing which more clearly marks the decadence of Thebes than this increasing poverty of the last Theban kings.b

Female Head-dress, Ancient Egypt


[7] [Vases with tops of human forms or divinities, used to hold the entrails of embalmed bodies.]

[8] [Hieratic writing is a modified form of hieroglyphics.]

[9] [Syringes (plural of syrinx) are narrow and deep rock tunnel-tombs.]



[XIXth-XXVth Dynasties: ca. 1285-655 B.C.]

And the Lord shall smite Egypt; he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the Lord, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them.

In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.—Isaiah xix. 22, 23.

So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.—Isaiah xx. 4.

After the summit, the inevitable decline. The first of world powers under the Ramessides, Egypt again becomes degenerate, and, after some five hundred years of reanimation, passes into the power of the priests, who in turn are supplanted by invading hosts, this time from Ethiopia. Then the Assyrian conquerors, taking their turn at world-domination, invade Egypt along the route which Tehutimes and Ramses had followed of old in invading Assyria. Dismembered Egypt falls an easy prey to Esarhaddon. It revolts under Asshurbanapal again and again, and is as often reconquered. But a mixed population of Ethiopians and Assyrians again gives a certain measure of new vitality to the old body, and, the destruction of the Assyrian empire having rid the Egyptians of one of their enemies, they were presently able, under Psamthek I (Psammetichus), to overthrow the Ethiopian “usurpers,” and establish once more a “native” dynasty.

For about three-quarters of a century Egypt retained autonomy, and even struggled back to a shadow of its old-time power, illustrating once again the vitality that resides in an old stock. Then the final coup was given by Cambyses the Persian; and the last contest was over. Taken by themselves, these long-drawn-out struggles of a dying nation—extending over half a thousand years—are full of interest; but in the comparative scale they are unimportant. We have seen the great nation at its flood-tide of power, and we need not dwell at very great length upon the time of its ebbing fortunes; for other nations, off to the east, have now taken the place of Egypt as the world-centres, and are beckoning attention.a


[ca. 1285-1250 B.C.]

The disappearance of the old hero, Ramses II, did not produce many changes in the condition of affairs in Egypt. Meneptah from this time forth possessed as Pharaoh the power which he had previously wielded[163] as regent. He was now no longer young. Born somewhere about the beginning of the reign of Ramses II, he was now sixty, possibly seventy, years old; thus an old man succeeded another old man at a moment when Egypt must have needed more than ever an active and vigorous ruler. The danger to the country did not on this occasion rise from the side of Asia, for the relations of the Pharaoh with his Kharu [Phœnician] subjects continued friendly, and, during a famine which desolated Syria, he sent wheat to his Hittite allies.

The nations, however, to the north and east, in Libya and in the Mediterranean islands, had for some time past been in a restless condition, which boded little good to the empires of the Old World. The Tamahu, some of them tributaries from the XIIth, and others from the first years of the XVIIIth Dynasty, had always been troublesome, but never really dangerous neighbours. From time to time it was necessary to send light troops against them, who, sailing along the coast or following the caravan routes, would enter their territory, force them from their retreats, destroy their palm groves, carry off their cattle, and place garrisons in the principal oases—even in Siwa itself. For more than a century, however, it would seem that more active and numerically stronger populations had entered upon the stage. A current of invasion, having its origin in the region of the Atlas, or possibly even in Europe, was setting toward the Nile, forcing before it the scattered tribes of the Sudan.

Temple on the Island of Philæ

Who were these invaders? Were they connected with the race which had planted its dolmens over the plains of the Maghreb? Whatever the answer to this question may be, we know that a certain number of Berber tribes—the Libu and Mashauasha—who had occupied a middle position between Egypt and the people behind them, and who had only irregular communications with the Nile Valley, were now pushed to the front and forced to descend upon it.

The Libu might very well have gained the mastery over the other inhabitants of the desert at this period, who had become enfeebled by the frequent defeats which they had sustained at the hands of the Egyptians. At the moment when Meneptah ascended the throne, their king, Marajui, son of Did, ruled over immense territory.


A great kingdom had risen capable of disturbing Egyptian control. The danger was serious. The Hittites, separated from the Nile by the broad breadth of Phœnicia, could not directly threaten any of the Egyptian cities: but the Libyans, lords of the desert, were in contact with the Delta, and could in a few days fall upon any point in the valley they chose. Meneptah, therefore, hastened to resist the assault of the Westerners, as his father had formerly done that of the Easterners; and, strange as it may seem, he found among the troops of his new enemies some of the adversaries with whom the Egyptians had fought under the walls of Kadesh sixty years before. The Shardana, Lycians, and others, having left the coasts of the Delta and the Phœnician seaports, owing to the vigilant watch kept by the Egyptians over their waters, had betaken themselves to the Libyan littoral, where they met with a favourable reception. Whether they had settled in some places, and formed there those colonies of which a Greek tradition of a more recent age speaks, we cannot say. They certainly followed the occupation of mercenary soldiers, and many of them hired out their services to the native princes, while others were enrolled among the troops of the king of Kheta or of the Pharaoh himself. Marajui brought with him Achæans, [Aqauasha], Shardana, Turisha, Shakalisha, and Lycians in considerable numbers when he resolved to begin the strife.

This was not one of those conventional little wars which aimed at nothing further than the imposition of the payment of a tribute upon the conquered, or the conquest of one of their provinces. Marajui had nothing less in view than the transport of his whole people into the Nile Valley, to settle permanently there as the Hyksos had done before him. He set out on his march toward the end of the fourth year of the Pharaoh’s reign, or the beginning of his fifth, surrounded by the élite of his troops, “the first choice from among all the soldiers and all the heroes in each land.” The announcement of their approach spread terror among the Egyptians. The peace which they enjoyed for fifty years had cooled their warlike ardour, and the machinery of their military organisation had become somewhat rusty. The standing army had almost melted away; the regiments of archers and charioteers were no longer effective, and the neglected fortresses were not strong enough to protect the frontier.

As a consequence, the oases of Farafrah and of the Natron lakes fell into the hands of the enemy at the first attack, and the western provinces of the Delta became the possession of the invader before any steps could be taken for their defence. Memphis, which realised the imminent danger, broke out into open murmurs against the negligent rulers who had given no heed to the country’s ramparts, and had allowed the garrisons of its fortresses to dwindle away. Fortunately Syria remained quiet. The Kheta, in return for the aid afforded them by Meneptah during the famine, observed a friendly attitude, and the Pharaoh was thus enabled to withdraw the troops from his Asiatic provinces. He could with perfect security take the necessary measures for insuring “Heliopolis, the city of Tmu,” against surprise, “for arming Memphis, the citadel of Ptah-Tanen, and for restoring all things which were in disorder; he fortified Pa-Bailos (Bilbeis), in the neighbourhood of the Shakana canal, on a branch of that of Heliopolis;” and he rapidly concentrated his forces behind these quickly organised lines. Marajui, however, continued to advance; in the early months of the summer he had crossed the Canopic branch of the Nile, and was now about to encamp not far from the town of Pa-Arshop (Proposis).


The Pharaoh did not stir from his position. Marajui had, in the meantime, arranged his attack for the 1st of Epiphi, at the rising of the sun: it did not take place however until the 3rd. “The archers of his Majesty made havoc of the barbarians for six hours; they were cut off by the edge of the sword.”

When Marajui saw the carnage, “his heart failed him; he betook himself to flight as fast as his feet could bear him to save his life, so successfully that his bow and arrows remained behind him in his precipitation, as well as everything else he had upon him.” His treasure, his arms, his wife, together with the cattle which he had brought with him for his use, became the prey of the conqueror; “he tore out the feathers from his head-dress, and took flight with such of those wretched Libyans as escaped the massacre, but the officers who had the care of his Majesty’s team of horses followed in their steps” and put most of them to the sword. Marajui succeeded, however, in escaping in the darkness, and regained his own country without water or provisions, and almost without escort. The conquering troops returned to the camp laden with booty, and driving before them asses carrying, as bloody tokens of victory, quantities of hands and phalli cut from the dead bodies of the slain. The bodies of six generals and of 6359 Libyan soldiers were found upon the field of battle, together with 222 Shakalisha, 724 Turisha, and some hundreds of Shardana and Aqauasha [Achæans]; several thousands of prisoners passed in procession before the Pharaoh, and were distributed among such of his soldiers as had distinguished themselves.

Egyptian Soldier with Captured Hand

Meneptah lived for some time after this memorable year V, and the number of monuments which belong to this period shows that he reigned in peace. We can see that he carried out works in the same places as his father before him—at Tanis as well as Thebes, in Nubia as well as in the Delta. He worked the sandstone quarries for his building materials, and continued the custom of celebrating the feasts of the Inundation, at Silsilis. One at least of the steles which he set up on the occasion of these feasts is really a chapel, with its architraves and columns, and still excites the admiration of the traveller on account both of its form and of its picturesque appearance. The last years of his life were troubled by the intrigues of princes who aspired to the throne, and by the ambition of the ministers to whom he was obliged to delegate his authority. One of the latter, a man of Semite origin, named Ben-Azana, of Zor-bisana, who had assumed the appellation of his first patron Ramses-uparna-Ra, appears to have acted for him as regent. [Chronological reasons demand that we place the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt in the reign of this Pharaoh.]


[ca. 1250-1235 B.C.]

Meneptah was succeeded, apparently, by one of his sons, called Seti, after his great-grandfather. Seti II had doubtless reached middle age at the time of his accession, but his portraits represent him, nevertheless, with the face and figure of a young man. The expression in these is gentle, refined, haughty, and somewhat melancholy. It is the type of Seti I and Ramses II, but enfeebled and, as it were, saddened. An inscription of his second year attributes to him victories in Asia, but others of the same period indicate the existence of disturbances similar to those which had troubled the last years of his father. Seti died, it would seem, without having time to finish his tomb. We do not know whether he left any legitimate children, but two sovereigns succeeded him who were not directly connected with him, but were probably the grandsons of the Amenmes and the Siptah, whom we meet with among the children of Ramses.

The first of these was also called Amenmes, and he held sway for several years over the whole of Egypt, and over its foreign possessions. The second, who was named Siptah-Meneptah, ascended “the throne of his father,” thanks to the devotion of his minister, Bi, but in a greater degree to his marriage with a certain princess called Ta-user. He maintained himself in this position for at least six years, during which he made an expedition into Ethiopia, and received in audience at Thebes messengers from all foreign nations. He kept up so zealously the appearance of universal dominion that to judge from his inscriptions he must have been the equal of the most powerful of his predecessors at Thebes. Egypt, nevertheless, was proceeding at a quick pace toward its downfall. No sooner had this monarch disappeared than it began to break up.

As in the case of the Egyptians of the Greek period, we can see only through a fog what took place after the deaths of Meneptah and Seti II. We know only for certain that the chiefs of the nomes were in perpetual strife with each other, and that a foreign power was dominant in the country as in the time of Apophis. The days of the kingdom would have been numbered if a deliverer had not promptly made his appearance. The direct line of Ramses II was extinct, but his innumerable sons by innumerable concubines had left a posterity out of which some at least might have the requisite ability and zeal, if not to save the empire, at least to lengthen its duration, and once more give to Thebes days of glorious prosperity.

Egypt had set out some five centuries before this for the conquest of the world, and fortune had at first smiled upon her enterprise. Tehutimes I, Tehutimes III, and the several Pharaohs bearing the name of Amenhotep, had marched with their armies from the upper waters of the Nile to the banks of the Euphrates, and no power had been able to withstand them. New nations, however, soon rose up to oppose her, and the Hittites in Asia and the Libyans of the Sudan together curbed her ambition. Neither the triumphs of Ramses II nor the victory of Meneptah had been able to restore her prestige, or the lands of which her rivals had robbed her beyond her ancient frontier. Now her own territory itself was threatened, and her own well-being was in question; she was compelled to consider, not how to rule other tribes, great or small, but how to keep her own possessions intact and independent; in short, her very existence was at stake.b


[ca. 1230-1220 B.C.]

In the midst of the unsettled state of affairs a new dynasty arose under the leadership of Setnekht, a descendant of Ramses II and governor of[167] Thebes, who with some difficulty succeeded in quelling the rebels and subjugating the Syrian Arisu. “He was like the gods Kheper and Sutekh in his energy, repairing the state of disorder of the whole country, killing the barbarians who were in the Delta, and purifying the great realm of Egypt. He was regent of the two countries on the throne of Tmu (the chief god of Heliopolis) devoting himself so well to the reorganisation of what had been upset, that each one found a brother in every one of those from whom they had been so long separated; and re-establishing the temples and sacrifices so well that the traditional homage was rendered to the divine cycles.”

His son, Ramses III, who had been his co-regent, was the last of the great sovereigns of Egypt. His ambition during the thirty-two years of his reign was to follow in the steps of his namesake, Ramses the Great, in re-establishing the integrity of the empire abroad, and the prosperity of the country at home. But in spite of his father’s successful warfare, the Syrian provinces were lost, and the frontiers encroached upon. On the east, the Bedouins attacked the fortified ports of the Delta, and the mining colonies of Sinai; on the west, the nations of Libya had invaded the Nile. Led by their chiefs Did (probably the son of Marajui, the contemporary of Meneptah), Mashaknu, Zamar, and Zautmar, the Tuhennu, the Tamahu, the Kahaka, and their neighbours, left the sandy plains of the desert and conquered the Mareotic nome or district of the Saïd, at the mouth of the Nile, as far as the great arm of the river, in short all the western part of the Delta from the town of Karbria on the west to the outskirts of Memphis on the south.

[ca. 1220-1195 B.C.]

After repulsing the Bedouins, Ramses III turned his arms against the Libyans in the year V and completely conquered them. “They were as terrified as goats attacked by a bull, that tramples with his foot, strikes with his horns, and makes the mountains tremble in his rush upon those that approach him.” The raids of the barbarians had exasperated the Egyptians, they gave no quarter; the Libyans fled in disorder, and some of their tribes, lingering in the Delta, were taken off and incorporated in the auxiliary army.

Mummy of Ramses III

Scarcely was this trouble over when Ramses attacked Syria. Whilst Egypt was being ruined with civil wars, her old enemy, the Kheta, made[168] her lose the rest of her empire. The nations of Asia Minor, continually pushed forward by the arrival of new races, had left their homes and penetrated into the distant regions of Syria and Egypt, attracted by reports of the riches of those countries; the Danau, the Tyrians, the Shakalisha, the Teucrians, who had succeeded the Dardani in the hegemony of the Trojan nations, and the Lycians and the Philistines joined the confederation. Those on the ships attacked the coasts, and the others crossed Syria and laid siege to the fortresses of the isthmus. With forces increased by the people they subjugated on the way, they penetrated Cilicia, forced the Kati and Kheta [Hittites] to follow them, picked up the contingent of Carchemish, Arathu, and Kadesh, and after staying some time in the environs of this town in the country of the Amorites, pushed straight on to Egypt.

But prompt as this action had been, Ramses was quite prepared to meet it. After having armed the mouth of the Nile and the places of the Delta, he started to oppose the enemy. The encounter of the two armies and the two fleets took place in the year VIII between Raphia and Pelusium under the walls of the castle, called the Tower of Ramses III.

“The mouth of the river was like a mighty wall of ships and vessels of every kind, filled from prow to poop with brave armed men. The infantry soldiers, the picked men of the army of Egypt, were there like roaring lions on the mountains; the charioteers, chosen from the swiftest of heroes, were led by every kind of experienced officers; the horses trembled in every limb and longed to trample nations under foot.

“As for me,” says Ramses, “I was like Mentu, the warlike. I rose before them and they saw the work of my hands. I, the King Ramses, I have acted like a hero, who knows his valour and who stretches his arm over his people in the day of the struggle. Those who have violated frontiers will no longer cultivate the land, the time for their souls to pass into eternity is fixed. Those who were upon the shore were prostrated on the banks of the water, massacred as in a charnel house. I destroyed their vessels, and their goods were swallowed up by the waters.”

Prompt as this victory was, it did not conclude the wars of Ramses III. The Libyans, the old allies of the maritime races, would gladly have joined against Egypt in the year VIII; and if they did not do so, it was doubtless because they had not had time to repair their losses. As soon as they were ready, they reappeared upon the scene, and in the year XI the chief Kapur and his son Mashashal led the Mashauasha [Maxyes], the Sabita, the Kaikasha and other less important tribes, aided by the people of Tyre and Lycia, to the invasion of the Delta.

“For the second time their hearts told them that they would pass their lives in the nomes of Egypt, and that they would till the valleys and plains like their own land.”

But the attempt did not meet with success. “Death came upon them in Egypt for they had run with their own feet to the furnace, which consumes corruption, to the fire of the bravery of the king which descends like Baal from the heights of the skies! All his members are imbued with victorious strength. With his right hand he seizes multitudes; his left extends like arrows over those before him to destroy them; his sword-blade is as sharp as that of his father, Mentu. Kapur, who had come to demand homage, blinded by fear, cast his arms from him and his troops did likewise: he raised a supplicating cry to Heaven and his son supported his arms. But lo, there stood by him the god, who knew his most secret thoughts.


“His Majesty fell upon their heads like a mountain of granite, he crushed them and watered the earth with their blood, their army and their soldiers were massacred … they were taken, they were struck, their arms were tied, and like birds, imprisoned in the hold of a ship, they were in the power of his Majesty. The king was like Mentu, his victorious feet trampled on the heads of the enemy; the chiefs who opposed him were struck and held by the wrists.”

So the Libyans were careful henceforth not to disturb the peace of Egypt.

The victories of these twelve years healed the wounds of the preceding period. A voyage of the fleet along the coasts made the ancient Syrian provinces return to their allegiance and the allied nations of the Kheta [Hittites], of Carchemish and of the Kati, seeing the subjugation of the maritime people, soon followed suit. A second maritime expedition was directed against Arabia.

“I equipped vessels and galleys, armed with numerous sailors and workmen. The captains of the maritime auxiliary forces were there with overseers and managers to provision the ships with the countless products of Egypt. There were tens of thousands of every kind passing through the great sea of Kati. They arrived at the country of the Punt without any misadventure, and prepared to load the galleys and vessels with the products of Tonutir, with all the mysterious wonders of the country, and with considerable quantities of the perfumes of Punt. Their sons, the chiefs of the Tonutir came themselves to Egypt bringing tribute; they came safe and sound to the country of Coptos and landed in the country with their riches. They brought them in caravans of asses and men, and embarked them on the river at the port of Coptos.”

Other expeditions to the peninsula of Sinai restored the mining districts to the possession of Pharaoh. So the Egyptian empire was reconstituted as it was in the preceding century in the time of Ramses II. The Shardana, Tyrians, Lycians, and Trojans no longer landed en masse on the coasts of Africa.

The tide of Asiatic emigration now turned from the valley of the Nile, which had been its direction for the last one hundred and fifty years, towards the west, and inundated Italy, at the same time that the Phœnician colonists arrived there. The Tyrians took the land at the north of the mouth of the Tiber, the Shardana occupied the large island, which later was called Sardinia, and soon nothing remained of them in Egypt but the recollection of their raids and the legendary recital of their migrations from the shores of the Archipelago to the coasts of the western Mediterranean.

The Philistines were the only people of the confederation allowed to settle in Syria, and they took root along the southern coast between Joppa and the river of Egypt, in the districts hitherto peopled by the Canaanites, and there they primarily lived under the yoke of Pharaoh. On the other frontier of the Delta, a Libyan tribe, called Mashauasha, likewise obtained a concession of territory, and the Mashauasha soldiers raised in Libya, from that portion of the tribe encamped on the bank of the Nile, formed a picked corps, the Ma, the leaders of which played a great part in the internal history of Egypt.

Herodotus relates that on the return of Sesostris (the name given by that historian to Ramses II) he was nearly killed by treachery. His brother, to whom he had intrusted the government during his absence, invited him and his children to a great feast; then he surrounded the house with wood and gave orders for it to be set alight. The king, learning this, immediately consulted[170] with his wife, who was with him, and she advised him to take two of their six children and lay them on the burning wood, so that they could use their bodies as a bridge by which to pass over. Sesostris did this, and thus burned two of his children, and the others were saved with the parents.

The monuments have proved that the Sesostris of this legend of Herodotus is not Ramses II but his namesake, Ramses III. One of the brothers of the king mentioned in official documents under the pseudonym of Pen-ta-ur conspired against him with a large number of courtiers and ladies of the harem, with the object of killing Pharaoh and putting his brother in his place. The plot was discovered, the conspirators cited before the tribunals and condemned, some to death and others to perpetual imprisonment.

The last years of the reign of Ramses III were passed in peace. He built at Thebes, in memory of his wars, the great palace of Medinet Habu; he enlarged Karnak and restored Luxor. The details of these pious works in the Delta have been preserved in a manuscript at the library of Heliopolis, the great Harris papyrus.

One sees by this document that Egypt not only regained her foreign empire, but her commercial and industrial activity. The prosperous days of Tehutimes III and Ramses II seemed to have returned.

Nevertheless, the decadence was at hand. Egypt, exhausted by four centuries of perpetual warfare, became more and more incapable of serious effort. The population decimated by recruiting, inefficiently replaced by the incessant introduction of foreign elements, had lost the patience and enthusiasm of early times. The upper classes, accustomed to comfort and riches, now only cared for the civil professions, and thought lightly of what was military.


“Why do you say that an infantry officer is happier than a scribe?” asked a scribe of his pupil. “Let me describe to you the lot of an infantry officer, and the extent of his miseries. He is taken when quite a child and shut up in a barrack; a cutting sore forms on his stomach; a wearing pain is in his eye; an open wound is on his two eyebrows; his head is split and covered with matter. In short, he is beaten like a roll of papyrus, he is bruised by the pressure of arms. Come and let me tell you of his marches towards Syria and his campaigns in distant countries. His bread and his water are on his shoulder like an ass’s burden, and make the nape of his neck like that of an ass. The joints of his spine are broken; he drinks putrid water, then returns to his watch. If he reaches the enemy, he trembles like a goose, for he has no valour. If he end by returning to Egypt, he is like a tick consumed by the worm. If he be ill, what alleviation does he have? He is taken away on an ass; his clothes are carried off by robbers; his domestics flee from him. That is the foot-soldier, and the cavalry one is not much better treated. The scribe Amenonopit says to the scribe Penbisit: ‘When this written communication reaches thee, apply yourself to becoming a scribe, and you will rise in the world. Come, let me tell you of the fatiguing duties of a chariot officer:


“‘When he is placed at school by his father and mother, he has to give away two of his slaves. After he dons his uniform, he goes to choose his horses in the stable. In the presence of his Majesty, he takes the good steeds and with shouts of joy wishes to bring them to the town at a gallop. But the horses will not go without a stick. Then, as he does not know what fate awaits him, he bequeaths all his goods to his father and mother. He goes off then with a chariot, but its pole weighs more than twice the weight of the chariot. So when he wishes to gallop with this chariot, he is forced to get down and pull it. He does so, falls on to a reptile, slips into the brushwood, his legs are bitten by the reptile, his heel is pierced by the bite, his misery is extreme. He lies on the ground and receives a hundred blows.’”

And these lines were written in the reign of Ramses II to the sound of songs of triumph, when the populace were full of enthusiasm for victory, and followed the triumphal chariot of Pharaoh with acclamations of delight. The first intoxication over, the lower classes, exhausted by centuries of incessant warfare, crushed under the weight of tributes and taxes, lapsed into their normal depression, the literature turned the sufferings of the soldiers into ridicule. This weariness of success, this disgust for the bloody, dearly bought victories, explains some obscure points in the history of Egypt, and casts great light on the rapid fall of the edifice so laboriously raised by the princes of the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties. The Egypt of Tehutimes III wished for war; the Egypt of Ramses III wished for peace at any price.

[ca. 1195-945 B.C.]

This was especially seen to be the case in the course of the XXth Dynasty. In the year XXXII, Ramses, tired of government, called his son Ramses IV to share it. He died two years later, and Ramses IV, after a reign of not more than three or four years, was followed by a distant relation who was Ramses V. Then came the four sons of Ramses III: Ramses VI, Ramses VII, Ramses VIII, and Meri-Amen Meri-Tmu, who succeeded each other rapidly on the throne. These Ramses made some expeditions here and there, but never great wars. They passed their days in peace abroad, and peace at home, and if it be true that people are happy who have no history, Egypt was very happy under their rule.

No more constant struggles, no more distant marches to the mountains of Cilicia and to the plains of the Upper Nile. Syria continued to pay tribute for some time; for if Egypt, exhausted by victory, had scarcely the strength to enforce obedience, Syria was exhausted with defeat, and had no more strength to revolt. But there was this difference between the two countries, the one bordered on old age and never revived, while the other soon rallied from its reverses. The kingdom of Egypt died of exhaustion in full prosperity.c


The first sign of weakness in an empire seems to be scented. Egypt, decaying within, attracted speedy attention from the ambitious, who turned greedy eyes towards her hoarded wealth.

After the death of Ramses III, Egypt had ceased to exercise any influence upon Syria. A time of increasing inaction and stagnation had set in for Egypt, which at last led to Her-Hor, the Theban high priest, being placed upon the throne. How long Her-Hor ruled over Egypt, we know not, but we see that his son Piankhi and his grandson Painet´em I did not have royal power but only succeeded their father as high priests, and, as such, had uncontrolled power in Thebes and its environs.

[ca. 1000 B.C.]

Another ruling house of foreign (Libyan) origin arose at this time in Tanis. King Se-Amen (according to Manetho, Smendes) was its chief. His name is seen on the walls of a temple at Tanis, and upon an obelisk of Heliopolis. He also reigned over Thebes. In the sixteenth year of his reign he had the mummies of Ramses I, Seti I, and Ramses II examined and put in another tomb. He evidently overthrew the dominion of the Theban high priests and forced them to recognise his power.


Thereupon Painet´em I added the title of provost (of Thebes) and commander-in-chief of the South and North, to his dignity of high priest, evidently taking, with the Tanitic kings, a position similar to that of Her-Hor with Ramses XII. Se-Amen’s son, Pasebkhanu (Greek, Psousennes), seems to have gone a step farther; he overcame the party of the Theban priests, and gave the office of chief priest to one of his sons, who, like the grandson of Her-Hor, had, or took, the name of Painet´em II. A few short reigns, among which were those of the Amenemapt, also recognised in Thebes, seem to have followed that of Pasebkhanu I; and then Painet´em ascended the throne.

As “high priest of Amen” at Thebes, and commander-in-chief, he invested his sons Masaherta and Men-kheper-Ra and then Painet´em (III), the son of the latter, with power; and Hor-Pasebkhanu II seems to have succeeded him in Tanis. The rule of the Tanites seems to have lasted about 120 years (from about 1060 to 943 B.C.).

The kingdom, or at all events the part of the country governed by the priests of Amen, was certainly not well organised, for we have several accounts of embezzlements of the properties of the temple of Amen by the stewards and scribes, of the robbing of graves, etc. The constant necessity of removing the mummies of the early kings in the west part of Thebes from their magnificent tombs into secret caves, shows the weakness of the government.

Moreover, the great state trials were conducted on a very simple system. The question Guilty or Not Guilty was put to the statue of Amen, which gave its verdict by the mouth of an oracle.

One sees how perfectly realised is the idea of God’s rule in practice. Doubtless the theory was at this time evolved in Thebes, later in Ethiopia, that the king was not only obliged to consult the oracle in all his acts, but also that he was appointed and could be deposed by the oracle.

An Egyptian Priest

(From a statue in the Louvre)

The title of commander-in-chief borne by the Theban priests, seems to distinguish them as commanders of the soldiers taken from the Egyptian peasants in contradistinction to the mercenaries which, since Seti I, composed the chief part of the army. This force was partially furnished by those domiciled in the country, and partially by fresh supplies from Libya.

There was thus formed in the country an exclusive set similar to the Mamelukes, which held the fate of the country in its hand, and which bequeathed the martial profession from father to son.

These mercenaries were classed together under the name of Ma, derived from the contraction of the Libyan name Mashauasha. We soon see from the surnames of the warriors that the Libyans attained ascendance over them; and although the repeated attacks of the Libyans on Egypt were successfully repulsed, they were now in fact rulers of the country.

It is noteworthy that the corps of the Shardana, so often mentioned in more ancient times, is no more spoken of; it must have been absorbed in the mass of the other soldiers. But the name of Mashau has been retained, and in Coptic matoei is still a common name for soldier. One can easily understand that they had frequent opportunities of gaining wealth and land; and the kings granted them exemption from the land tax. At their head stood[173] the “dukes of the Ma,” the grand-duke of the Ma having the chief command. But many of such generalissimi may have had equal rank.

[ca. 945-800 B.C.]

Buiu-uaua, a Libyan, came to Egypt about Her-Hor’s time. His family attained great importance; his fifth descendant, Naromath [Nimrod] was made “grand-duke of the Ma and Generalissimo” sometime under King Painet´em. After his death his son Shashanq succeeded him as commander of the army. An inscription at Abydos shows in what honour he was held, how the king looked after his father’s grave, questioned the oracle at Thebes on his behalf, and prayed God for the victory of the general. It is conceivable that Shashanq ended by trying to gain the crown for himself, 943 (?) B.C.

By peaceable or violent means he was the successor of Hor-Pasebkhanu II, the last Tanite, whose daughter Ka-Ra-maat he married to his son Uasarken, to give support to his dynasty. According to the ruling custom of the Tanites he made Auputh, another of his sons, high priest of Amen and commander-in-chief of all the military forces. By the inscriptions he seems to have been co-regent with his father.

Under the subsequent rulers it remained a custom for one of the king’s sons to be endowed with the highest priestly power in Thebes, and also the priesthood of Ptah at Memphis was given to a branch of the royal family, and the other princes were priests as well as generals.

Moreover, Shashanq seems to have brought forward the descendants of the Ramses, for we find a Ramses prince occupying a high military post under him.

The history of the Hebrews shows that the Pharaohs of the XXIst Dynasty were not in a condition to take part in Asiatic affairs. It was early in Solomon’s reign that the king of the period, probably Pasebkhanu II, entered into relations with the Israelitish state, took Gaza for Solomon and gave it to his daughter as a dowry, and also gave refuge to political fugitives like Jeroboam and Hadad of Edom to leave a loophole for intervention.

The separation of Judah from Israel and the subsequent long civil war offered an opportunity to renew the expeditions into Syria. So Shashanq repaired to Syria in the fifth year of the reign of Rehoboam. The scanty remains of the annals of the Hebrew kings only report that he carried off the treasures of the temple and palace at Jerusalem; that is, the golden shields which Solomon had hung up there. The long list of the conquered places upon a wall of the temple of Karnak shows that Israelitish strongholds were likewise conquered and plundered.

The Pharaoh hardly met with any great resistance anywhere. The inscription of his victory contains, according to the fashion of the time, only religious phrases instead of an account of the war. The expedition was nothing more than a predatory raid for booty; it had no political consequences, and it is quite a mistake to think it was undertaken in the interest of Jeroboam against the king of Judah.

The increase of the Egyptian power, consequent on the accession to the throne of the new dynasty, was of short duration. The successors of Shashanq I—Uasarken I, Takeleth I, Uasarken II, Shashanq II, Takeleth II—are only mentioned by name on the monuments. In Thebes they enlarged the entrance hall of the temple of Amen, begun by Shashanq I. We find further traces of them at Bubastis, the cradle of the dynasty, at Memphis, and elsewhere.

[ca. 800-735 B.C.]

The state gradually fell into complete decay under them. The chief generals of the Ma, perhaps partially belonging to the branch lines of the[174] house, founded their own princedoms and shook off the Bubastites. Shashanq III, the successor of Takeleth II, is the last whose name we find in Thebes, where a long and very mutilated inscription of the twenty-ninth year of his reign speaks of gifts which he brought to Amen. Then it seems as if the southern portion of the country was taken by the Ethiopians.

Shashanq III reigned fifty-two years altogether. Then came his son Pamai, who reigned at least two years, and his grandson Shashanq IV, who reigned at least thirty-seven years, until about 735 B.C. We only know of these kings by their being mentioned on several of the monuments to the honour of the Apis bulls which died in their reigns. So their supremacy must at least have been recognised for a time in Memphis. But their dominion must have been limited to the province of Busiris. King Piankhi of Ethiopia mentions in his great inscription a grand-duke of the Ma, Shashanq of Busiris, and his successor Pamai, who, presumably, were identical with Shashanq III and Pamai. At the time of this conqueror, about 775 B.C., we find near them a king Nimrod of Hermopolis, a ruler Peftotbast of Heracleopolis Magna, who bore the king’s ring, a king Auputh of the Delta cities Tentremu and Ta-an, and a king Uasarken (III) of Bubastis. The latter probably belongs to the Manethan XXIIIrd Dynasty which came from Tanis, and, according to Africanus, ascended the throne about 823 B.C. Manetho mentions Petasebast as its founder, and he was succeeded by Uasarken, who is presumably the aforementioned Uasarken III. Manetho evidently did not regard the last rulers of the XXIInd Dynasty as legitimate, so, although they are mentioned, they are not included in the chronology.

By the side of these “kings” there are, moreover, numerous princes (Ur) of the Ma, designated in other cases as lords (rpa) or nomarchs (ha). Independent rulers in the few provinces of the Delta, in Athribis, Mendes, Sebennytus, Saïs, etc., and the provost of Letopolis bore the title of high priest.

These leading men came mostly from the leaders of the mercenaries, and their possessions and power constantly tottered. It is very possible that the single states formed a slack political confederation, and it is probable that the descendants of the old ruling house were recognised as the chief feudal lords, while those rulers who usurped the title of king laid claim to complete independence.


[ca. 1000-775 B.C.]

At the time when a great conquering kingdom was forming itself on the upper Tigris and began to lay hold on all sides around it, the power of the Pharaohs in the Nile Valley completely went down. The kingdom of Tehutimes III had been divided into a succession of small independent principalities and was ruled by dynasties which had arisen from the leaders of the mercenaries. On the other hand, in the upper valley of the Nile, in the lands first joined to Egypt in the time of Usertsen III and afterwards for five centuries by Tehutimes I, there arose the powerful kingdom of Cush (Greek Æthiopia, now Nubia). Its capital was Napata in the Gebel Barhal, “the sacred mountain,” at the foot of which Amenhotep III had already founded a great sanctuary to the Theban Amen. By its long connection with Egypt, Egyptian culture was completely naturalised in Ethiopia. Egyptian was the official language, the writing was in hieroglyphics, the styling of the kings was after that of the Pharaohs. Above all, the Egyptian, and especially the Theban, religion of Amen gained complete dominion in Cush. In the name of Amen the kings went to battle; they were fully[175] dependent on his instructions and oracles; they carefully observed the laws on outer cleanliness and on the food forbidden by religion. What had remained theory in Egypt, became practice in Ethiopia; a long inscription describes to us how the god himself immediately elects the king through his oracle, and strikingly confirms the accounts of the Greeks. Whence it followed that the priests could command the king in the name of the god to put an end to his life, a prerogative which Ergamenes abolished in the third century B.C. By these circumstances it can be seen why the Egyptian priests described Ethiopia to the Greeks as the Promised Land. From these circumstances it can also be supposed that the rise of the kingdom of Napata was connected with the usurpation of the priests of the Theban Amen at the time of the XXIst Dynasty, an assumption which is confirmed by many of the kings having borne the name of Piankhi, prominent in the family of Her-Hor. After that time there was no question of the rule of the Pharaohs over Cush; so perhaps relatives of the priests of Amen may have founded the Ethiopian town circa 1000 B.C.

Head of Uasarken III

(Now in the British Museum)

When the power of the XXIInd Dynasty became lamed, the kings of Napata could extend their dominion to Upper Egypt. Probably about the end of the reign of Shashanq III, 800 B.C., Thebes may have fallen into their hands; in the first half of the eighth century the valley of the Nile to the vicinity of Hermopolis was under the rule of the Ethiopian king Piankhi. In his time the Prince Tefnekht of Saïs succeeded in subjecting the west part of the Delta in Lower Egypt, in winning Memphis, and in making all the numerous princes, kings, and small lords of the middle and east Delta, “all princes of Lower Egypt who wear the feather” (the sign of the warrior casts of the Ma), acknowledge his supremacy. He did not adopt the title of king, probably because he wished to violate as little as possible the relations of rank which existed amongst the mercenary princes. From Memphis he went south, subjected Crocodilopolis, Oxyrhynchus and others, besieged Heracleopolis, the royal residence of Peftotbast, and compelled King Nimrod of Hermopolis to submit. Then Piankhi stepped forward, called to help by the adversaries of Tefnekht. His army conquered a hostile fleet on the Nile, drove Tefnekht back at Heracleopolis, besieged Nimrod in Hermopolis, and seized a number of small places. Then the king himself appeared at the seat of war; he compelled Nimrod to capitulate, and received rich presents from him. After the fall of Hermopolis, all the small places subjected themselves, only Memphis had to be taken by storm, after a plan of Tefnekht to relieve it had failed. Then Piankhi advanced to the Delta; small princes hastened together before him to swear allegiance and bring him rich gifts. Thus Tefnekht was no longer strong enough to assert his position; Piankhi may also have had misgivings as to waging a dangerous war in the west Delta. He contented himself with Tefnekht’s taking the oath of allegiance in the presence of the ambassador of the Ethiopian king and sending him presents after being promised safety.


[ca. 775-704 B.C.]

The campaigns of Piankhi, which fell in the year XXI of his reign (circa 775 B.C.), do not seem to have resulted in a lasting subjection of Egypt. If the vassal king Uasarken (III) of Bubastis was the second ruler of the XXIIIrd Dynasty, the Ethiopians must by that time have been expelled from Upper Egypt; for we meet with the third ruler of this house, Psamus, in two small inscriptions in the temple of Karnak. In the monuments Manetho lets him be succeeded by an unauthenticated king, Zet. Then follows the XXIVth Dynasty, which, according to him, only consists of the Saïte Bakenranf (probably 733-729 B.C.), who, according to the reliable Greek reports, was a son of Tnephachthus, that is to say, of Tefnekht, Piankhi’s adversary. In tradition he is praised as a wise prince and great legislator; from the monuments we only know that in his sixth year, an Apis was placed in the same sepulchral chamber with one that died under Shashanq IV; according to this he probably succeeded the last title-bearing king of the XXIInd Dynasty, but must already have reigned for some time previously in Saïs.

In Ethiopia, Piankhi (it is not known whether after one or more interregnums) was followed by Kashta, who was married to Shepenapet, a daughter of King Uasarken, probably Uasarken III of Bubastis. His son Shabak repeated the expedition to Egypt, conquered Bakenranf,—according to Manetho he burnt him alive,—and compelled the local dynasties to acknowledge his supremacy (728 B.C.). He took the title of a king of Egypt, but as real rulers of the land he established his sister Ameniritis and her husband, Piankhi (II?). We often meet with Shabak and his sister in the temples of Thebes, likewise in Hammamat and elsewhere; an exquisite alabaster statue of the queen has been found in Karnak. Greek tradition asserts that the Ethiopian king reigned very mildly over Egypt, executions never took place, criminals were made to build canals and dams. But a fixed and uniform dominion was never practised by the Ethiopians over Egypt. As in the time of Piankhi, the local dynasties remained in possession of their dominions, and amongst them in all probability also the successors of Tefnekht and Bakenranf in Saïs, the ancestors of the XXVIth Dynasty.

Although in the year 725 (II Kings xvii. 4) and in 720 (Annals of Sargon), Shabak is called “King of Egypt,” yet in 715 Sargon speaks of the tribute of “Pharaoh, King of Egypt”; in 711 he mentions the same together with the King of Melukhkha (i.e. Cush), and in Sennacherib’s time the “Kings of Egypt” appear together with “the troops of the King of Melukhkha.”

Numerous battles for the possession of the Lower Nile occupied the reigns of Shabak and his successors; it made it impossible for them to take part in the affairs of Asia, no matter how much they desired done.

[ca. 704-672 B.C.]

Shabak of Cush and Egypt was succeeded in the year 716 (?) by Shabatakh who, according to Manetho, was his son, and of whom only scattered monuments have been preserved in Karnak and Memphis. But in the year 704 he was succeeded by a younger, more vigorous prince, Tirhaqa. The latter appears not to have belonged to the royal family, but to have acquired the throne by marriage with the wife of Shabak and to have seized the government in the name of the latter’s son, Tanut-Amen; in Karnak the two conjointly raised a temple to Osiris Ptah, and are here both called kings in exactly the same terms. Tirhaqa was twenty years old when he obtained the double crown. The numerous princes of the Egyptian cities acknowledged his supremacy, and he was able to turn his attention to renewing Shabak’s interference in Syria. A number of[177] Syrian princes were ready to join the liberator from the Assyrian yoke, especially Elulæus of Tyre, Hezekiah of Judah, who, in the year 714, had succeeded Ahaz, and Zidqa of Askalon. King Padi of Ekron remained faithful to the Assyrians, but his magnates revolted against him and delivered him up to Hezekiah. It might have been hoped that Sennacherib would be detained for a long time in Babylonia. We learn that Merodach-baladan had opened negotiations with Hezekiah, so that a great coalition against Assyria seems to have been planned.

Yet this time also the Assyrians were able to forestall their adversaries. Before their preparations were completed, in the beginning of 701, Sennacherib appeared in Syria and turned first against Elulæus. Sidon, Sarepta, Akko, and the other towns subject to him submitted, and he himself fled to Cyprus. From Phœnicia, Sennacherib marched to Philistia, having received in every way the homage of those vassals who had remained loyal. Zidqa of Askalon was captured, his towns reduced, and a new king set up. Then, the Great King further informs us, he marched against Ekron, when the army of the King of Cush (Assyrian, Melukhkha) and the princes of Egypt came to its assistance. At Altaku he defeated this force, took that city and Timnath, reduced Ekron where he punished the instigator of the rebellion, and restored King Padi, who had been taken as a prisoner to Jerusalem.

Trusting in Pharaoh and in Jehovah, Hezekiah persisted in resisting. Meantime the army of Tirhaqa, King of Cush, marched up. Sennacherib advanced against him and again demanded the surrender of Jerusalem. But Hezekiah, trusting in Jehovah’s word as announced to him by the prophet Isaiah, once more refused. In the night the Mal’ak-Yahveh (the angel of the Lord) smites the Assyrian army, so that 185,000 men die, and Sennacherib had to return to Nineveh.

[ca. 672-663 B.C.]

The Egyptians gave Herodotus a similar account: after the Ethiopian Sabaco [Shabak], a former priest of Ptah, Sethos, who had been at enmity with the warrior caste, ruled over Egypt. Now when Sennacherib, “King of the Arabians and Assyrians,” made an expedition against Egypt, the warriors refused to fight, and Sethos was in great distress. But the gods sent field-mice against the hostile army which was encamped at Pelusium, and the mice gnawed the bows and all the leather trappings of the enemy, so that on the following day they could easily be defeated by the Egyptian artisans and merchants that had been impressed into service.

We can never be completely clear as to what did happen, especially so long as the position of the places mentioned is not positively ascertained. This much is established, that although Sennacherib may have exaggerated the importance of the victory at Altaku, he did not suffer defeat at the hands of the Egyptians. For in that case Tirhaqa would have followed up his victory—while, as a matter of fact, he did not again interfere in Syria for the space of thirty years—and the Egyptians would have spoken of a victory and not of a miracle. It is much more likely that it was some natural visitation, presumably a pestilence, which compelled Sennacherib to give up the invasion of Egypt and raise the siege of Jerusalem. There was, however, no further hope of aid from Egypt, so Hezekiah made his peace with the Great King and sent to his capital the heavy contribution which could, only with great difficulty, be raised by the little city. In spite of the half compulsory retreat, the supremacy over Syria was secured; during the next decades none of the petty states ventured to dream of a revolt from the Assyrian. It was not till towards the end of his reign,[178] after 672 B.C., that Esarhaddon undertook a great campaign. Again had rebellion broken out in Syria in reliance on Ethiopian support: King Baal of Tyre had renounced his allegiance. Esarhaddon determined to find some means of putting an end to the ever-recurring danger. Tyre was blockaded anew, but the main army marched straight on Egypt. The prince of the desert Arabs furnished camels, and the toilsome march from Raphia to Pelusium was successfully accomplished. We do not know whether Tirhaqa was in a position to offer resistance; at all events Memphis was taken, and the Assyrian army penetrated as far as Thebes. Tirhaqa had to retreat to Ethiopia, and the numerous provincial princes of Egypt submitted, and were confirmed in possession as tributary vassals. No less than twenty of them are mentioned as being summoned to Thebes from the Delta and the towns of Upper Egypt. The most powerful amongst them was Neku, the lord of Saïs and Memphis (according to Manetho 671-664 B.C.), whose forefathers, Stephinates and Nechepsos, had already risen in power in Saïs, and were probably the direct successors of Tefnekht and Bocchoris (Bakenranf). At the bidding of the Assyrian king, Neku had to change the name of Saïs into Karbilmatati, “garden of the lord of the countries”; in the same way his son Psamthek received the Assyrian name of Nabu-shezib-anni. From this time Esarhaddon styles himself “King of the Kings of Misir (Lower Egypt), Patoris (Upper Egypt), and Cush.” On the 12th of Airu (April), 668 B.C., Esarhaddon laid down the government. He set his illegitimate son Shamash-shum-ukin over the Babylonian provinces as vice-king, while Asshurbanapal inherited the crown of the Assyrian empire. The change of rulers encouraged Tirhaqa to attempt to win back Egypt. Mentu-em-ha, the governor of Thebes, hailed him as a deliverer. Memphis was also won, and in Thebes restoration works were even taken in hand. But the success was not a lasting one; an army despatched by Asshurbanapal beat the Ethiopian troops, and Tirhaqa had to fly to Thebes but did not manage to hold it (about 667 B.C.). It is true that several Egyptian princes, Neku, Pakruru of Pisept, and Sharludari of Tanis (Pelusium), now attempted to overthrow the rule of the foreigner and bring back Tirhaqa: but the Assyrian generals anticipated them; Neku and Sharludari were taken and the rebel towns severely punished. In Neku, Asshurbanapal hoped to be able to win a firm support for his rule, and presumably on information of warlike preparations in Ethiopia, he released him from his captivity with rich presents and reinstated him in his principality.

[663-655 B.C.]

In the year 664-663 Tirhaqa died; he was succeeded by his stepson Tanut-Amen, who was already advanced in years. A dream which promised him the double crown, induced him, so he states in an inscription, to lead his army from Napata against Egypt in the very beginning of his reign. At Thebes he encountered no resistance; before Memphis the enemy’s troops were beaten and the town taken. In one of these engagements Neku, the most powerful of the Assyrian vassals, probably met his death: Herodotus relates that he was slain by the Ethiopian king, and according to Manetho he died 663 B.C. On the other hand, the attempt to conquer the towns of the Delta was unsuccessful: but some of the vassals, including Pakruru of Pisept, presented themselves at the court at Memphis. Tanut-Amen’s inscription tells only of the long theological discourses which the king held before them, and how, after having been well entertained, each returned to his own town. Silence is preserved as to the sequel; from Asshurbanapal’s annals we learn that the feeble prince, who was completely[179] under the dominion of theological fancies, evacuated the country before the Assyrian army, without striking a blow, and returned to his own land. This terminated the Ethiopian rule for all time (about 662 B.C.): Thebes fell again into the hands of the Assyrians and rich booty was carried to Nineveh. The memory of the retreat of the Ethiopians was preserved down to a late period; the priests told Herodotus that Shabak, the representative of the Ethiopian rule, had voluntarily evacuated Egypt after a reign of fifty years, in consequence of a dream. It is true that they omitted to mention that as a result of this the country fell into the hands of the Assyrians.

The following table will assist the reader in straightening out the dynasties of this much confused period.


Dates XXIInd Dynasty XXIIIrd Dynasty XXIVth Dynasty XXVth Dynasty
B.C. Bubastites
(From monuments at Memphis)
(From Manetho)
Saïtes Ethiopians
800 1. Shashanq III (52 years)
(Perhaps S— of Busiris, of Piankhi Stele)
775 2. Pamai (at least 2 years)
(Perhaps P— of Busiris, of Piankhi Stele)
Uasarken III
(King of Bubastis according to Piankhi Stele)
(Prince of Saïs according to Piankhi Stele)
Piankhi I
3. Shashanq IV (at least 37 years)
(About 771-735).
(According to Theban monuments)
(Husband of Shepenapet, daughter of King Uasarken [III?])
750 Predecessor of Bocchoris (Bakenranf) 4. Bocchoris
(of Manetho, or Bakenranf, from the Memphis monuments) ruled, according to Africanus, 6 years, 734-726; according to Eusebius, 44 years, 772-729 [?])
(Total duration of this dynasty according to Africanus, 89 years. 823-735 B.C.)
5. Shabak
(728-717 [Manetho]; brother of Ameniritis, wife of Piankhi II)
6. Shabatakh
(716-705 [Manetho])
700 XXVIth Dynasty. 7. Tirhaqa
(704-664; only to 685 [Manetho])
(Figures according to Manetho)
675 Stephinates, 684-687
Nechepsos, 677-672
Neku I, 671-664
(664-663; reigned 12 years [Manetho])
8. Psamthek I, 663-610
(Psamthek I became king of all Egypt about 655)

The numbers 1, 2, etc., show the direct succession of the recognised legitimate Pharaohs.d




[Dynasties XXVI-XXXI: 655-332 B.C.]

And the sword shall come upon Egypt, and great pain shall be in Ethiopia, when the slain shall fall in Egypt, and they shall take away her multitude, and her foundations shall be broken down. They also that uphold Egypt shall fall; and the pride of her power shall come down: from the tower of Syene shall they fall in it by the sword, saith the Lord God. And they shall be desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities shall be in the midst of the cities that are wasted.—Ezekiel XXX. 4, 6, 7.

A great nation in its time of decline does not sink into utter insignificance without making spasmodic efforts at recuperation. Such efforts were made by Egypt in the XXVIth Dynasty, when there sat upon the throne of Egypt several monarchs who recalled something of the days of yore. Notable among these were Psamthek I (Psammetichus) and Aahmes II, under whose beneficent rule Egypt was voluntarily opened up to commerce with the outside world. These rulers built no lasting monuments comparable to the Pyramids or the Labyrinth, and attempted no conquests like those of Tehutimes and Ramses. But their reigns were marked by a period of national prosperity such as had not been known in Egypt for several centuries; and they were also notable because at this time the first recorded observations that have come down to us were made by foreigners regarding Egyptian history and the Egyptian people. We shall, therefore, consider some details of this dynasty before passing on to a brief consideration of the reign of the Persians in Egypt and an even briefer analysis of the remaining dynasties. In this sweeping view more than three hundred years are covered. During this period the centres of world-historic influence are shifted from Assyria to Babylonia; from Babylonia to Persia; and thence to Greece; but never again does Egypt occupy her old position. Her reminiscent glory only serves to make her the more coveted as a conqueror’s prize. But first there is the bright spot of Psamthek’s reign.a


[655-612 B.C.]

It was no longer the time of Tehutimes and Ramses. It was the turn of Egypt to be enslaved, now by the “vile race of the Cushites,” now by the[181] “vile race of the Kheta.” The Egyptian monuments, which register only victories, would not have sufficed to make known to us the history of this troubled epoch; it is only since the Assyrian inscriptions have been deciphered that we have been able to learn of the double conquest of Egypt by Kings Esarhaddon and Asshurbanapal.

The princes of the Delta received investiture from these Asiatic conquerors, for whom they had perhaps less aversion than for the Ethiopian kings. Twice, however, was Egypt reconquered by Tirhaqa and by his successor, Tanut-Amen. But all these successive invasions had broken the bond which attached the nomes to the national unity; all that remained was an Egypt parcelled out like feudal Europe after the invasion of the Northmen.

The princes of the South continued to recognise the authority of the Ethiopian Dynasty; those of the Delta, to the number of twelve, formed a sort of federation which the Greek authors call the Dodecarchy. But at the end of fifteen years, the prince of Saïs, Psamthek, became an object of suspicion to his colleagues. Herodotus tells us the occasion.

“At the very commencement of their reign, an oracle had foretold to them that he amongst them who should make libations in the temple of Hephaistos (Ptah) with a brazen cup, would have the empire of all Egypt. Some time later, as they were on the point of making libations, after having offered sacrifices in the temple, the high priest presented them with cups of gold; but he made a mistake in the number, and instead of twelve cups, he only brought eleven for the twelve kings. Then Psammetichus [Psamthek], who happened to be in the first rank, took his helmet, which was of bronze, and used it for the libations. The other kings, reflecting on his action and on the oracle, and recognising that he had not acted from premeditated design, thought that it would be unjust to put him to death; but they despoiled him of the greater part of his power, and relegated him to the marshes, forbidding him to leave them or to keep up any correspondence with the rest of Egypt.

“Smarting under this outrage, and resolved to avenge himself on the authors of his exile, he sent to Buto to consult the oracle of Leto, the most veracious of the Egyptian oracles. Answer was returned that he would be avenged by men of bronze, coming from the sea. At first he could not persuade himself that men of bronze could come to his aid; but a short time after, some Ionian and Carian pirates, being obliged to put into Egypt, came on shore clothed in bronze armour. An Egyptian ran to carry the news to Psammetichus, and as this Egyptian had never seen men armed in such a manner, he told them that men of bronze, coming from the sea, were pillaging the countryside. The king, perceiving that the oracle was accomplished, made alliance with the Ionians and Carians, and engaged them by large promises to take his part. With these auxiliary troops and the Egyptians who had remained faithful to him, he dethroned the eleven kings.”

Upper Egypt submitted without resistance, and the names of the Ethiopian kings were struck off the Theban monuments. They seem, however, to have retained some partisans, for Psamthek espoused a wife of their race, the means employed by each dynasty to legitimatise its usurpation. He recompensed his auxiliaries by giving them territories near the Pelusiac mouth of the Nile, and made them his guard of honour. This was not an innovation; for a long time the kings of Egypt had been wont to take foreigners into their pay, and there is no doubt that there were in the native army many soldiers of Libyan or Ethiopian race; but they were annoyed at the favour shown the newcomers, and emigrated into Ethiopia to the number of two[182] hundred thousand men. Psamthek tried to detain them by appealing to their patriotism, but they struck their lances on their shields and answered that so long as they had arms they would find their own country wherever they chose to establish themselves.

This wholesale desertion was a benefit to Egypt, which it thus relieved from military rule. Conquests lead to inevitable reprisals. Armies, like all privileged classes, end by becoming corrupted, and then, useless in the face of the enemy, they become a heavy burden and an instrument of civil war. Psamthek had no reason to regret these soldiers, who had been unable to repel foreign invasion.

The labours of peace repaired the recent disasters; the temples were rebuilt; the arts shone with a new brilliancy; the whole activity of the nation was turned towards commerce and industry. Psamthek inaugurated a new policy by opening the country to foreigners.

“He received those who visited Egypt with hospitality,” says Diodorus; “he was the first of the Egyptian kings to open markets to other nations, and to give great security to navigators.”

The Greeks, who had helped to conquer the throne, were particularly favoured. Encouraged by the example of the Ionian and Carian adventurers whose services he had paid so well, some Milesian colonists anchored thirty ships at the entrance of the Bolbitinic mouth of the Nile, and there founded a fortified trading establishment. To facilitate commercial relations for the future, Psamthek confided some Egyptian children to the Greeks established in Egypt, that they might learn Greek, and thus arose those interpreters who formed a distinct class in the towns of the Delta. It even appears, according to Diodorus, that Psamthek had his own children taught Greek. The intercourse of the Greeks with the Egyptians became from that time so constant that from the reign of Psammetichus, says Herodotus, we know with certainty all that passed in that country.

The accession of Psamthek and the XXVIth Dynasty is fixed at the year 655 before the Christian era, and it is only from this period that we have certain dates for the history of Egypt. The complete chronology of the XXVIth Dynasty has been recovered in the monuments of the tomb of Apis, discovered by Mariette Bey, in the excavation of the Serapeum of Memphis, and now in the Louvre. This chronology differs somewhat sensibly from that which it had been possible to draw up from Manetho’s lists, so that we are, says De Rougé, obliged to distrust figures preserved in those lists, which a few years ago were regarded as an infallible criterion. An attempt has been made to restore to them the credit they had lost as an instrument of chronology, by attaching to them an undisputed synchronism. According to the calculation of M. Biot, a rising of the star Sothis (Sirius), indicated at Thebes under Ramses III, towards the commencement of the XXth Dynasty, would fall at the beginning of the thirteenth century B.C.

Psamthek had his reign dated from the death of Tirhaqa (664), without taking the Dodecarchy into account, and this is doubtless the reason why Herodotus gives him fifty-four years’ reign, although in reality he reigned only forty-four. He had built the southern pylon of the temple of Ptah at Memphis, and a peristyle court where the Apis bull was fed. The walls were covered with bas-reliefs, and colossi, twelve ells high, took the place of columns; these were probably caryatides like those which are seen at Thebes and Abu Simbel. These structures have disappeared, like all the other buildings of Memphis. The only monuments of the reign of Psamthek which still exist are the twelve columns, twenty-one metres (about sixty-nine feet)[183] high, whose ruins are seen in the first court of the temple of Karnak, where they formed a double rank. One only of these columns is still upright. It is not known whether they were raised to form the centre avenue of a hypostyle hall like that of Seti, or whether they were intended to bear symbolic images which served the Egyptians as military ensigns, such as the ram, the ibis, the sparrow-hawk, the jackal, etc.

Psamthek and his successors, though not residing at Thebes, restored its monuments and repaired the disasters of the Assyrian invasion. In the Louvre and the British Museum there are numerous sculptures of the Saïtic epoch, which is one of the grand epochs of Egyptian art.

In the reign of Psamthek, the Scythians, driving the Cimmerians before them, had invaded Asia and were threatening Egypt. Psamthek preferred to buy their retreat by a money payment, rather than expose the country to the danger of invasion, and the barbarians retraced their steps northward. But in order to protect Egypt on the northeast, it was necessary to have a foothold in Palestine, and Psamthek therefore laid siege to the town of Ashdod.

Egyptian Birds

(From the monuments)

[612-594 B.C.]

This siege, says Herodotus, lasted twenty-nine years, but perhaps, as M. Maspero thinks, Herodotus’ interpreters meant to say that the taking of Ashdod took place in the twenty-ninth year of Psamthek’s reign. His son, Neku II, who succeeded him in 612, desiring to profit by the changes which had supervened in Asia, and to re-establish the dominion of Egypt, gave battle to the Jews and Syrians near Megiddo. Josiah, king of Judah, was killed, his son Jehoahaz, whom the Jews had proclaimed king, was dethroned by Neku, who put in his place Eliakim, another son of Josiah, and remained master of all Syria. But he soon found a redoubtable adversary in front of him, for the kingdom of Babylon had succeeded to that of Nineveh. Beaten by Nebuchadrezzar at Carchemish on the banks of the Euphrates, Neku lost all his conquests and returned precipitately to Egypt.

His name remains connected with an enterprise more important than his military expeditions. Two kings of the XIXth Dynasty, Seti I and Ramses II, had had a canal of communication dug between the eastern branch of the Nile and the Red Sea. But whether it was that this canal had not been finished, or that it was blocked up by the sands, Neku desired to restore it. The canal began a little above Bubastis. According to Herodotus, a hundred and twenty thousand workmen perished in digging it, and Neku had it discontinued in consequence of an oracle, which warned him that he was labouring for the barbarians; an oracle which was accomplished, for the canal was finished by the Persians. In our own day, when it was desired to open direct communication between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, the operations were begun with the restoration of Neku’s canal, to supply fresh water for the workmen who were digging the maritime canal.


After abandoning his project, Neku conceived another which might have had still more important consequences. He sent some Phœnician sailors to make a voyage of circumnavigation round Africa.b

“The Phœnicians,” says Herodotus,e “having embarked on the Erythræan Sea, sailed into the Southern Sea. As the autumn was come they landed on that part of Libya at which they found themselves, and sowed corn. They then awaited the time of the harvest, and having gathered it again took to the sea. Having voyaged thus for two years, in the third year they doubled the pillars of Heracles and, returning to Egypt, related what I do not believe, but which others may perhaps credit; that whilst sailing round Libya they had the sun on their right.”

Psamthek was well known to classic writers under the name Psammetichus. The old historian Diodorus picturesquely tells of his accession. We prefer to quote the old translation of Booth, 1700.


[728-612 B.C.]

“After a long time, one Sabach an Ethiopian came to the Throne, going beyond all his Predecessors in his Worship of the Gods, and kindness to his Subjects. Any Man may judge and have a clear Evidence of his gentle Disposition in this, that when the Laws pronounced the severest Judgment (I mean Sentence of Death) he chang’d the Punishment, and made an Edict that the Condemn’d Persons should be kept to work in the Towns in Chains, by whose Labour he rais’d many Mounts, and made many Commodious Canals; conceiving by this means he should not only moderate the severity of the Punishment, but instead of that which was unprofitable, advance the publick Good, by the Service and Labours of the Condemn’d.

“A Man may likewise judge of his extraordinary Piety from his Dream, and his Abdication of the Government; for the Tutelar God of Thebes, seem’d to speak to him in his Sleep, and told him that he could not long reign happily and prosperously in Egypt, except he cut all the Priests in Pieces, when he pass’d through the midst of them with his Guards and Servants; which Advice being often repeated, he at length sent for the Priests from all parts, and told them that if he staid in Egypt any longer, he found that he should displease God, who never at any time before by Dreams or Visions commanded any such thing. And that he would rather be gone and lose his Life, being pure and innocent, than displease God, or enjoy the Crown of Egypt, by staining his Life with the horrid Murder of the Innocent.

“And so at length giving up the Kingdom into the Hands of the People, he return’d into Ethiopia. Upon this there was an Anarchy for the space of Two Years; but the People falling into Tumults and intestine Broyls and Slaughters one of another, Twelve of the chief Nobility of the Kingdom joyn’d in a Solemn Oath, and then calling a Senate at Memphis, and making some Laws for the better directing and cementing of them in mutual peace and fidelity, they took upon them the Regal Power and Authority.

“After they had govern’d the Kingdom very amicably for the space of Fifteen Years, (according to the Agreement which they had mutually sworn to observe) they apply’d themselves to the building of a Sepulcher, where they might all lye together; that as in their Life-time they had been equal in their Power and Authority, and had always carried it with love and respect one towards another; so after Death (being all bury’d together in one Place) they might continue the Glory of their Names in one and the same Monument.


“To this end they made it their business to excel all their Predecessors in the greatness of their Works: For near the Lake of Myris in Lybia, they built a Four-square Monument of Polish’d Marble, every square a Furlong in length, for curious Carvings and other pieces of Art, not to be equall’d by any that should come after them. When you are enter’d within the Wall, there’s presented a stately Fabrick, supported round with Pillars, Forty on every side: The Roof was of one intire Stone, whereon was curiously carv’d Racks and Mangers for Horses, and other excellent pieces of Workmanship, and painted and adorn’d with divers sorts of Pictures and Images; where likewise were portray’d the Resemblances of the Kings, the Temples, and the Sacrifices in most beautiful Colours. And such was the Cost and Stateliness of this Sepulcher, begun by these Kings, that (if they had not been dethron’d before it was perfected) none ever after could have exceeded them in the state and magnificence of their Works. But after they had reign’d over Egypt Fifteen Years, all of them but one lost their Sovereignty in the manner following.

[655-612 B.C.]

“Psammeticus Saïtes [Psamthek I], one of the Kings, whose Province was upon the Sea Coasts, traffickt with all sorts of Merchants, and especially with the Phenicians and Grecians; by this means inriching his Province, by vending his own Commodities, and the importation of those that came from Greece, he not only grew very wealthy, but gain’d an interest in the Nations and Princes abroad; upon which account he was envy’d by the rest of the Kings, who for that reason made War upon him. Some antient Historians tell a Story, That these Princes were told by the Oracle, That which of them should first pour Wine out of a brazen Viol to the God ador’d at Memphis, should be sole Lord of all Egypt. Whereupon Psammeticus when the Priest brought out of the Temple Twelve Golden Viols, pluckt off his Helmet, and pour’d out a Wine Offering from thence; which when his Collegues took notice of, they forbore putting him to death, but depos’d him, and banish’d him into the Fenns, bordering upon the Sea-Coasts.[10]

“Whether therefore it were this, or Envy as is said before, that gave Birth to this Dissention and Difference amongst them, it’s certain Psammeticus hir’d Souldiers out of Arabia, Caria and Ionia, and in a Field-Fight near the City Moniemphis, he got the day. Some of the Kings of the other side were slain, and the rest fled into Africa, and were not able further to contend for the Kingdom.

“Psammeticus having now gain’d possession of the whole, built a Portico to the East Gate of the Temple at Memphis, in honour of that God, and incompass’d the Temple with a Wall, supporting it with Colosses of Twelve Cubits high in the room of Pillars. He bestow’d likewise upon his Mercenary Souldiers many large Rewards over and above their Pay promis’d them.”c

To return to later and less credulous historians, it will be well to note a more authoritative account of this period.


[655-612 B.C.]

When Asshurbanapal again subjected the petty princes of Egypt, he had favoured none so much as Neku I of Saïs. The latter had fallen in battle against Tanut-Amen; his son Psamthek had sought refuge with the Assyrians and had been brought back to his dominions by them. As soon as[186] circumstances allowed, he threw off the Assyrian yoke, as his father had done before him. At the same time he took up the task begun by Tefnekht, his predecessor and courageous ancestor, of suppressing the petty princes and uniting Egypt. King Gyges of Lydia sent him auxiliaries; they were the Carian and Ionian troops, which, according to Herodotus, landed in Egypt one day and were employed by Psamthek against his rivals. Soon the first mercenaries were followed by others; they formed the backbone of the king’s army.

Egyptian Mummy-case

What took place in the individual fights is not known; that is, we have no knowledge of the battles with the Assyrians. But about the year 655 the object was obtained, Egypt freed and united. So as to establish his rule safely, the king married Shepenapet, daughter of Queen Ameniritis.

The chief opponents of the new ruler were doubtless the mercenaries organised as a warrior caste, the Ma, who had shared the land under the Ethiopian and Assyrian supremacy. Herodotus relates that 240,000 warriors “who stood to the left of the king” had wandered to Ethiopia, under Psamthek, since for three years they were not relieved in the garrisons; the king, who hastened after them, could not persuade them to return. Although the recital is legendary with regard to the immense number, the fact fits in clearly with the history of the times that a considerable number of the warrior caste, who would not submit to the new circumstances, should have left the land, been taken up by the king of Napata and colonised the valley of the Upper Nile.

It has already been mentioned that Psamthek, so as to protect himself against the renewed invasion of the Assyrians, also turned to Asia. As Aahmes I, after the expulsion of the Hyksos, invested Sherohan in Palestine, so for twenty-nine years Psamthek took the field against Ashdod, until he conquered the town. His power does not seem to have extended farther south than the First Cataract. His grandson, Psamthek II, first took the field against Ethiopia. To his time probably belong the inscriptions which Greek, Carian, and Phœnician soldiers have inscribed on the colossi of the temples of Abu Simbel in their mother tongues. Southern Nubia did not remain long conquered. The three strong border fortresses of Elephantine in the south, Daphne in the east, and Marea in the west, essentially determine the limits of Egyptian power.

The new state, in which, after some two hundred years of anarchy, the kingdom of the Pharaohs was again established, was only partly national. The dynasty was, as the name teaches, not of Egyptian origin, but in all probability Libyan. The troops which the princes of Saïs could raise were doubtless for the greater part Libyans, and the particular characteristic was[187] due to the mercenaries who had come across the sea. In future days the Ionians and Carians who were colonised in the “camps” between Bubastis and Pelusium, on that most dangerous east border of the land, were the chief support of the throne; under Uah-ab-Ra [Apries] their number increased to thirty thousand men.

[612-596 B.C.]

Thus from the beginning the kings of the restoration, like the Ptolemies, held a much freer position, which raised them far above their predecessors. They, manifestly with intention, held Saïs as residence, although Memphis was honoured as the oldest capital, and structures were built on the ruins of ancient Thebes. With full knowledge they carried on a considerable commerce. Psamthek’s son, Neku II (612-596), began to build a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea; he sent out a Phœnician fleet to circumnavigate Africa, which returned to the Mediterranean three years after its departure from Suez. A fleet was maintained on the Arabian as well as in the Mediterranean Sea.

With the Greeks, who in earlier times came to Egypt only as pirates or were driven there by storm, but now sought to draw all the coasts of the Mediterranean into their commerce, active negotiations were taken up. From trading with them arose the numerous caste of the interpreters. Neku II sends oblations to Brandichæ; to his son, Psamthek II, there came an embassy from Elis; the Egyptian divinities begin to become known to the Greeks: whilst amongst Asiatics closely related to the culture and customs of the Egyptians there reigned active negotiation and a reciprocal influence, the Hellenes, of quite other disposition and more active in commerce, remained strangers to the Egyptians. They were met with suspicion, and restrictions were laid upon them. Aahmes was the first to assign them a place in Naucratis, south of Saïs, where they gained influence and property and could organise themselves as an independent community, but the Greek merchants were forbidden to navigate in any other branch of the Nile.

Internally the XXVIth Dynasty in every sense bears the stamp of restoration. The end of a formidable crisis had come, and the endeavour was made to re-establish conditions as they were conceived to have been of old—that is to say—to introduce the abstract ideal.

Therefore the Egyptians held themselves more aloof from the strangers, most carefully observing all laws as to cleanliness; the god of the strangers and hostile powers, the till-now-honoured Set, was cast out of the Pantheon, his name and image effaced everywhere: also the divinities taken up from the Syrian neighbours, such as Astarte and Anata, completely disappeared. In religion they turned back to the oldest laws; the dead formulas of the tombs of the Pyramids were revived, the worship of the early kings of Memphis, Sneferu, Khufu, Sahu-Ra, was again taken up.

The art of this period is throughout archaic, constituting a period of efflorescence distinguished by excellence and neatness of the forms, but wanting in all originality. In writing, the endeavour is made as far as possible to imitate the old models. Naturally in this manner the relative simplicity and naturalness of the olden times was not reached; the heritage of a thousand years’ development, the endless magic and formal ritual with its wearying system and its dead phrases, is carefully preserved and ever increased. If, according to Greek reports, the Egyptians believed in the transmigration of souls after death into the body of another being, and that, after having gone through all the animals of land and sea and air, they returned to human form after three thousand years, this doctrine, which is nowhere to be found in manuscripts left to us, may have arisen at this time[188] from their view of conditions after death and the consubstantiality of all life. That Egypt which the Greeks learnt to know was a well-preserved mummy of primitive times and served to impress them by its uniqueness and its age, and individually to stimulate, but was no more in a position to awaken a new life.

In the social domain, if we can believe the reports of the Greeks, the separation of classes was brought about. The priesthood was an exclusive caste, and their dignity was hereditary; next to them come the completely exclusive warrior class, consisting of the successors of the Ma, divided into the Calasirians and Hermotybians. Priests as well as warriors are exempt from taxes and in possession of a great part of the agricultural land, which they hire out to peasants for large sums of money. The remaining part of the soil is royal dominion. Far below the privileged classes stands the mass of the people, the labourers, manufacturers, merchants, finally the shepherds of the Delta, of Semitic descent, and the inhabitants of the Delta living on fisheries of the swamps, both of which are considered unclean in Egypt. In theory the principle may also be set down here that every class forms a decided caste; that this was not practically carried through is taught us by the report of Herodotus, II, 147, that the Shepherd race, being unclean, could marry only within itself. From which we may infer that other castes were permitted to intermarry.d


[596-572 B.C.]

With the XXVIth Dynasty the curtain was practically drawn for all time on Egyptian autonomy. The recurrent struggle between Asia and Africa was renewed with disastrous consequences to the people of the Nile. We have here to do with the Persian conquest, and in particular with the deeds of Cambyses.

Neku reigned six years according to Manetho, sixteen according to Herodotus, and this latter figure is confirmed by two steles at Florence and Leyden. His son, Psamthek II, whom Herodotus calls Psammis (596), reigned six years and died on his return from an expedition into Ethiopia. It was probably during this expedition that some Greek and Phœnician soldiers carved their names on the leg of one of the colossi of Abu-Simbel.

In the reign of Uah-ab-Ra, the Apries of the Greeks (591), Syria and Palestine were the theatre of important events. The petty people of these countries, threatened by the Chaldean power, tried to save their independence by the help of Egypt.

Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, first turned his forces against the kingdom of Judah, which succumbed in spite of Egypt’s tardy and inefficient intervention. Jerusalem was taken, and the people led away to captivity. The Jewish prophets, in their anger against Egypt, announced for it the fate of Judah, and, if we are to believe Josephus, these predictions were accomplished; for Nebuchadrezzar is said to have defeated and killed Uah-ab-Ra and subdued Egypt. But Herodotus and Diodorus say nothing of this defeat, and speak, on the contrary, of a naval victory of Apries over the Phœnicians and Cypriotes. M. Renan’s explorations have brought to light the ruins of a temple raised by the Egyptians at Gebel, a fact which seems to indicate that they remained masters of the country.

Uah-ab-Ra undertook to subdue the Greek colony of Cyrene, and, as it would not have been prudent to oppose his Greek auxiliaries to a people of the same race, he employed only native troops on this expedition, which was[189] an unfortunate one. The Egyptian soldiers, believing he had undertaken it solely in order to get rid of them, revolted. To appease them, Uah-ab-Ra sent an officer named Aahmes, whose good nature pleased the soldiers. As he was speaking to them, one of them put a helmet on his head, and there was a cry that they ought to make him their king. He did not wait to be persuaded, and immediately put himself at the head of the rebels.

Uah-ab-Ra, learning this, gave orders to one of those who remained faithful to him to bring Aahmes to him, dead or alive. The envoy received only a very coarse answer, and when he returned, the king had his nose and ears cut off. The indignant Egyptians instantly went over to Aahmes. Uah-ab-Ra at the head of his Carian and Ionian mercenaries, to the number of thirty thousand, marched against the rebels, who were far more numerous. He was beaten and led back, a prisoner, into the palace which had been his. Aahmes at first treated him with consideration, but the Egyptians insisted that he should be delivered up to them, and strangled. He had reigned twenty years. Aahmes had him buried in the tomb of his ancestors, and espoused a daughter of Psamthek II in order to graft himself on the Saïtic Dynasty.

[572-525 B.C.]

Aahmes II, though he had become king by a reaction of the national party against the foreigner, nevertheless showed himself still more favourable to the Greeks than his predecessors had been. He permitted them to establish themselves at Naucratis, on the Canopic branch of the Nile, and to raise temples to their gods. One of these temples, the Hellenion, was built at the public expense by the principal Greek towns in Asia. Particular temples were consecrated to Apollo by the Milesians, to Hera by the Samians, and to Zeus by the Æginians. Aahmes sent his statue to several towns in Greece, and when the temple of Delphi was destroyed by fire, he desired to contribute to the subscription opened for its reconstruction, and offered a talent of alum from Egypt. He entered into an alliance with the Cyrenæans, and married one of the daughters of the country; he also allied himself with Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, and with Crœsus, king of the Lydians. He made no war except against the Cypriotes, whom he subjected to a tribute. He chiefly occupied himself, as Psamthek had done, in developing the trade of Egypt. Like him he erected monuments at Saïs and Memphis, which are no longer in existence, but of which Herodotus speaks with admiration. There is at the Louvre a monolithic chapel in pink granite, which dates from the reign of Aahmes, and the British Museum possesses the sarcophagus of one of his wives, Queen Ankhnes, who long resided at Thebes. It is believed that the hypogees of Assassif, near Gurnah, belong to the Saïtic epoch. There is one of them which, in extent and richness, yields to none of the tombs of Biban-el-Moluk. This is the tomb of a high priest who was at the same time a royal functionary.

Aahmes was nothing more than a soldier of fortune, and it appears that the ceremonious etiquette of the ancient kings of Egypt wearied him. When he had employed his morning in administering justice, he passed the rest of the time at table with his friends. Certain courtiers represented to him that he was compromising his dignity. He answered that a bow-string could not always be stretched. At the beginning of his reign the obscurity of his birth made him despised. Perceiving this, he had melted a gold basin, in which he used to wash his feet, made from it the golden statue of a god and offered it to the public veneration.

“Thus it was with me,” he said; “I was a plebeian, now I am your king; render me, then, the honour and respect which are due me.” The people understood the allegory, and ended by becoming attached to this sensible[190] man, who took his trade of king seriously. It was from him, according to Herodotus, that the Athenians borrowed their famous law against idleness.

“He ordered each Egyptian to declare to the nomarch, every year, what were his means of subsistence. He who did not comply with the law, or could not prove that he lived by honest means, was punished with death. Solon, the Athenian, borrowed this law from Egypt, and established it in Athens, where it is still in force, because it is a wise one and no fault can be found with it.”

Herodotus says that Egypt was never happier or more flourishing than in the reign of Aahmes, and that there were then in that country twenty thousand well-peopled towns or villages.

All this prosperity was to disappear in one day, for Egypt was about to founder like Nineveh and Jerusalem and Sardis and Babylon, without previous decay, in one of those sudden and overwhelming storms which sweep monarchies away.

A new empire had just arisen in Asia. Persia had absorbed Media and subdued Chaldea and Asia Minor. Lydia had succumbed so quickly that Aahmes had not been able to succour his ally, Crœsus. Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, left Egypt in peace, and she took good care not to stir; but his son Cambyses felt the need of aggrandising his states, and as in default of reasons wars never lack pretexts, here is the one he gave, or which was perhaps invented as an afterthought.

It was said that Cyrus had asked Aahmes to send him the best physician for diseases of the eye, to be found in his dominion. This physician wished to avenge himself on the king of Egypt, who had torn him from the arms of his wife and children to send him into Persia. He persuaded Cambyses to demand the daughter of Aahmes, counting on a refusal, which would not fail to be considered as an insult. Aahmes knew well that Cambyses would not make his daughter a queen, but a slave of the harem; he sent a daughter of Uah-ab-Ra. The latter disclosed the ruse to the king of Persia, and demanded of him to avenge her father, whose murderer Aahmes had been. Cambyses flew into a violent rage and resolved to carry war into Egypt.

A desert that an army could not cross in less than three days’ march protected Egypt on the side of Asia. Following the advice of Phanes, a Greek officer and deserter from the Egyptian army, Cambyses secured for himself the alliance of the Arab king, who stationed camels laden with skins full of water, all along the route the Persians were to follow. The town of Pelusium, which was the key of Egypt, was besieged by Cambyses. Polyænus relates that he caused dogs, cats, and ibises to be collected, and placed them in front of his army; the Egyptians dared not fly their arrows for fear of hitting the sacred animals, and the town was taken without resistance. Aahmes had just died, after a reign of forty-four years (528). His son, Psamthek III, the Psammenitus of Herodotus, came to meet the enemy. The Greek and Carian mercenaries in the pay of the king of Egypt, learning the treason of Phanes, their former chief, revenged themselves on his children.

“They led them into the camp,” says Herodotus, “and, having placed a mixing bowl between the two armies, they cut their throats under the eyes of their father, mingled their blood with wine and water in the bowl, and, when all the auxiliaries had drunk, rushed into battle.”

It was fierce and bloody; many perished on either side; but at last the Egyptians had the worst of it and fled in disorder to Memphis. Cambyses summoned the town to surrender; the crowd destroyed the Mytilenean[191] vessel which carried the ambassadors, massacred those who manned it, and dragged their limbs through the citadel. The town was taken, and Psamthek brought before the conqueror. He had reigned only six months.


[525 B.C.]

Cambyses treated him with the utmost severity, and had him led before the town, together with some other Egyptians.

“The king’s daughter,” says Herodotus, “was clad as a slave and sent, pitcher in hand, in search of water, with several other young girls of rank. They passed, weeping, in front of their captive fathers, who groaned at their humiliation. Psammenitus [Psamthek III] saw them and lowered his eyes towards the earth. Then Cambyses caused his son and two thousand young men of the same age to pass before him, with cords round their necks and bridles in their mouths. They were being led to death to avenge the Mytileneans slain at Memphis, for the royal judges had ordained that, for every man killed on that occasion, ten Egyptians of the first families should be put to death. Psammenitus saw them pass and recognised his son; but while the other Egyptians round him wept and lamented themselves, he preserved the same countenance as at the sight of his daughter. When the young men had passed, he perceived an old man who generally ate at his table. This man, despoiled of his goods, and reduced to live on charity, was imploring pity from the soldiers and even from Psammenitus and the Egyptian captives brought into the outskirts of the town. Psammenitus could not restrain his tears; he beat himself on the head and called to his friend. Three guards, deputed to watch him, made this known to Cambyses. He was astonished and sent a messenger to Psammenitus, who questioned him thus:

“‘Cambyses, thy master, demands wherefore, having neither wept or groaned when thou sawest thy daughter treated as a slave and thy son marching to execution, thou shouldst interest thyself in the lot of this beggar who, from what we learn, is neither thy relative nor ally.’

“He answered, ‘Son of Cyrus, the misfortunes of my house are too great to be wept; but the fate of a friend, once happy, and reduced to begging in his old age, has seemed to me to deserve tears.’

“This answer was reported, and appeared a just one. The Egyptians say that Crœsus, who had come into Egypt in the train of Cambyses, wept, and the Persians who were present wept also. Even Cambyses felt some pity. He ordered Psammenitus brought before him and his son to be withdrawn from the number of those about to die.

“Those sent to seek the child did not find him alive; he had been the first struck. They made Psammenitus rise and conducted him into the presence of Cambyses. He remained in the retinue and suffered no violence. The government of Egypt would even have been restored to him if he had not been suspected of exciting disturbances; for the Persians are wont to honour the children of kings and to replace them on the thrones lost by their fathers. But Psammenitus, having conspired, received his reward. Convicted by Cambyses of having urged the Egyptians to revolt, he drank bull’s blood and died of it on the spot.

“From Memphis, Cambyses went on to Saïs, and as soon as he had reached the tomb of Amasis [Aahmes] he ordered the corpse to be exhumed, to be beaten with rods, to have the hair and beard torn out, to be pricked with goads—in short, to be subjected to all sorts of outrages. The executioners soon grew tired of maltreating a lifeless body, from which they could break[192] off nothing, as it was embalmed. Then Cambyses had it burnt without any respect of holy things. Indeed the Persians believe that fire is a god, and it is not permitted, either by their law or by that of the Egyptians, to burn the dead. Thus Cambyses performed on this occasion an act equally condemned by the laws of both peoples.”

In violating the tomb of the man who had usurped the throne of Egypt, Cambyses perhaps counted on rallying the legitimists, for he thus presented himself as the avenger and heir of Uah-ab-Ra. From the inscriptions on a statuette in the Vatican, it appears that, in the early days of his conquest, he avoided giving offence to the religion of the vanquished. He caused the great temple of Nit, where some Persian troops had installed themselves, to be evacuated, and had it repaired at his own expense. He even carried his zeal so far as to be initiated into the mysteries of Osiris. But this apparent and wholly political deference could not last long.

Death of Psammenitus [Psamthek III]

The religious symbols of the Egyptians, the external forms of their worship, inspired profound aversion in the Persians, whose religion greatly resembled the strict monotheism of the Semitic peoples. This antipathy, which was only awaiting an opportunity to manifest itself, blazed out after an unfortunate expedition of Cambyses against Ethiopia. Instead of ascending the Nile as far as Napata, he had taken the shorter route of the desert.

The provisions gave out, and his soldiers were reduced to devouring each other. He returned, having lost many men, and then learnt the complete destruction of another army which he had sent against the Ammonians and which had been entombed under whirlwinds of sand. He was exasperated at this disaster, and, as the Egyptians naturally attributed it to the vengeance of the gods, his fury turned against the Egyptian religion.


“From Assuan to Thebes and from Thebes to Memphis,” says Mariette, “he marked his route by ruin: the temples were devastated, the tombs of the kings were opened and pillaged.” The mummy of Queen Ankhnes, wife of Aahmes, was torn from its sarcophagus in the depths of a funeral vault behind the Ramesseum, and burned as that of Aahmes himself had been. When this sarcophagus, which is now in London, was discovered by a French officer, remains of charred bones were found in it, according to Champollion Figéac, some of them preserving traces of gilding.

“Cambyses having returned to Memphis,” says Herodotus, “the god Apis, whom the Greeks call Epaphos, manifested himself to the Egyptians. As soon as he had shown himself, they donned their richest clothing and made great rejoicings. Cambyses, believing that they were rejoicing at the ill-success of his arms, called the magistrates of Memphis before him, and asked them why, having exhibited no joy the first time that they saw him in their town, they were exhibiting so much of it since his return and after he had lost part of his army. They told him that their god, who was generally very long in appearing, had just manifested himself, and that the Egyptians were accustomed to celebrate this epiphany by public festivities. Cambyses, hearing this, said that they lied, and punished them with death for liars. When they had been killed he sent for the priests to come into his presence, and, having received the same answer from them, he told them that if any god showed himself familiarly to the Egyptians, he would not hide himself from him, and he ordered them to bring Apis to him. The priests immediately went in search of him.

“This Apis, who is the same as Epaphos, is born of a cow which can bear no further offspring. The Egyptians say that this cow conceives Apis by lightning, which descends from heaven. These are the distinguishing signs of the calf they call Apis: it is black, and bears a white square on its forehead; it has the figure of an eagle on its back, on its tongue that of a beetle, and the hairs of its tail are double.

“As soon as the priest had brought Apis, Cambyses, like a maniac, drew his sword to pierce its belly, but only struck its thigh. Then, beginning to laugh, he said to the priests:

“‘O blockheads, are there such gods, made of flesh and blood and susceptible to the stroke of steel? This god is well worthy of the Egyptians, but you shall have no cause to rejoice for having attempted to laugh at our expense.’

“Thereupon he had them whipped by those deputed for that purpose, and ordered such Egyptians as were found celebrating a festival to be slain. Thus the festivities ceased and the priests were punished. Apis, wounded in the thigh, languished, lying in the temple, and when he was dead the priests buried him, unknown to Cambyses. As to him, who was already wanting in good sense, he was from that time smitten with madness, the Egyptians say, in punishment of his crime.”

Among the funeral steles of the Apis, found by Mariette in the excavations of the Serapeum at Memphis, and which are now in the Egyptian Museum at the Louvre, are two connected with the facts recounted by Herodotus: one, whose inscription is almost illegible, contained the epitaph of the Apis who died in the reign of Cambyses, and was born, as it seems, in the twenty-fifth year of Aahmes. We possess, the catalogue says, his sarcophagus, sculptured by order of Cambyses. The other is the epitaph of the bull who died in the fourth year of Darius.

“We think,” says M. de Rougé, “that this is the same Apis whom Cambyses, in his fury, wounded when, on his return from the unfortunate Ethiopian[194] expedition, he found the Egyptians abandoning themselves to the rejoicings which accompanied the festivities of the theophany of a new Apis (in 518 B.C.).” If this be so, this Apis must have survived his wound nearly five years.

[522-332 B.C.]

Darius wished to repair the mistakes of his predecessor, and tried to conciliate the Egyptians. He put to death the satrap Aryandes, whose tyranny was already provoking revolts, and, learning that the Apis had just died, he joined in the public mourning and promised one hundred talents of gold to whoever should find a new Apis. He visited the great temple of Ptah and would have placed his statue there beside that of Sesostris [Ramses II]. The priests told him that he had not yet equalled the exploits of Sesostris, since he had not subdued the Scythians. Darius was not offended at this exhibition of national pride; he answered simply that if he lived as long as Sesostris he would endeavour to equal him. He had a great temple of Amen, whose ruins still exist, built in the oasis of Thebes. Finally, he finished the canal of communication which Seti I and Neku II had wished to establish between the Nile and the Red Sea. According to Diodorus, his memory was venerated by the Egyptians, who placed him in the number of their great legislators.

The kings of Persia who form the XXVIIth Dynasty did not, however, succeed in making themselves accepted by Egypt. They had not, like the Shepherd kings, adopted her religion, her language, her writing, and her manners, and therefore they were always foreigners to her. Their dominion was rarely oppressive, and yet it was interrupted by insurrections which always found a support in the Greek republics.

After one hundred and twenty years, Egypt recovered her independence under three native dynasties, the XXVIIIth, the XXIXth, and the XXXth. But she lost it sixty-four years after, through the cowardice of her king, who fled into Ethiopia without fighting, as Meneptah had fled before the Unclean. Egypt was a second time conquered by the Persians, and Ochus renewed the follies and pillaging of Cambyses (340 B.C.).b

The XXVIIIth Dynasty is regarded as consisting of one king only, since at his death the rule passed to the princes of Mendes. This king was Amen-rut (Amyrtæus), 405-399 B.C., son of Pausiris and grandson of that Amyrtæus who was the ally of Inarus of Libya. Amen-rut revolted against Persia, and became independent on the death of Darius II.

Nia-faa-rut I, prince of Mendes (399-393), succeeded Amen-rut. He and his successors—Haker (393-380), Psamut (380), and Nia-faa-rut II (379)—form the XXIXth Dynasty, and continued, by the alliances with Persia’s enemies, to maintain the native rule of Egypt.

This state of affairs continued under the XXXth Dynasty, which ruled at Sebennytus. Under the first king, Nekht-Hor-heb (Nectanebo I), the Persians, two hundred thousand strong, made a desperate attempt, with the help of the Greek general Iphicrates and twenty thousand of his countrymen, to invade the Delta, but Nectanebo defeated them near Mendes. This victory secured peace and independence to Egypt for a term of years, during which art and commerce revived.

Tachus’ reign was short (364-361), and he had internal as well as external troubles to deal with. He died an exile at the court of Artaxerxes. Nekht-neb-ef (Nectanebo II), 361-340, brought his dynasty and the empire of the Pharoahs, after a duration of over four thousand years, to an end by succumbing to the Persians under Ochus (Artaxerxes III).a

[ca. 322 B.C.]

It is not surprising that, after the eight years during which this second Persian dynasty lasted, Alexander should have been received as a liberator[195] and proclaimed son of Amen, that is to say, legitimate successor of the ancient kings of Egypt. The most able of his generals, Ptolemy, son of Lagus, founded a dynasty which may, in spite of its foreign origin, be considered as national as that of the Ramessides or of the Saïtic kings. Greek influence did not make itself felt outside Alexandria. The Lagides respected the religions and customs of Egypt, which became the most important of the Greek kingdoms, while still preserving her original civilisation. She even preserved it under the Roman dominion; and if we did not read the inscriptions, we could never guess that the temples of Esneh, of Edfu, of Denderah, and of Philæ belong to the time of the Lagides, the Cæsars, and the Antonines. Enfolded in the great Roman unity, Egypt did not regret her independence. Alexandria was the second town of the world, the capital of the East. The philosophic movement of which it was the seat entered as an important factor into the elaboration of Christian dogma. But the establishment of the new religion was the death-blow of old Egypt, for a people is dead when it has denied its gods. The edicts of the Christian emperors, ordering the destruction of the temples, dealt the last blow to Egyptian art. Those monuments which were not entirely destroyed were distorted to meet the needs of the new worship.

Then came the Mussulman conquest, which waged further war against the ruins. Finally, in our days, the introduction of Western civilisation into Egypt has done the monuments more harm than all the rest. When the viceroy wishes to build a barrack or a sugar factory, he takes stones from the temples; it saves expense.

Thus is accomplished the sad prediction of the Egyptian philosopher whose works bear the name of Hermes Trismegistus:

“O Egypt, Egypt, there shall remain of thy religion but vague stories which posterity will refuse to believe, and words graven in stone recounting thy piety. The Scythian, the Indian, or some other barbarous neighbour shall dwell in Egypt. The Divinity shall reascend into the heaven. And Egypt shall be a desert, widowed of men and gods.”b


[10] [Herodotus tells the story somewhat differently.]





If I wished to characterise in one word the peculiar bearing and ruling element of the Egyptian mind—however unsatisfactory in other respects such general designations may be—I should say that the intellectual eminence of that people was in its scientific profundity—in an understanding that penetrated or sought to penetrate by magic into all the depths and mysteries of nature, even into their most hidden abyss. So thoroughly scientific was the whole leaning and character of the Egyptian mind, that even the architecture of this people had an astronomical import, even far more than that of the other nations of early antiquity. I have already had occasion to speak of the deep and mysterious signification of their treatment of the dead. In all the natural sciences, in mathematics, astronomy, and even in medicine, they were the masters of the Greeks; and even the profoundest thinkers among the latter, the Pythagoreans, and afterwards the great Plato himself, derived from them the first elements of their doctrines, or, caught at least the first outline of their mighty speculations. Here, too, in the birthplace of hieroglyphics, was the chief seat of the mysteries; and Egypt has at all times been the native country of many true, as well as of many false, secrets.—Schlegel.

Customs that differ from our own always seem strange customs. So the Egyptians, viewed from a latter-day European or American standpoint, seem a very strange people. And it being easy to generalise from insufficient data, many notions regarding the Egyptians have become current which appear not to represent that people as they really were. The more the monuments are studied, and the closer we get to the real life of the peoples of antiquity, the less strange these peoples appear.

Indeed, when we come to appreciate their life as it really was, it is surprising how “natural” and human it all appears. Certain peculiarities there were, to be sure, with each people and with each successive age; but in the broad view the peoples of the most remote antiquity are best understood if we think of them as very similar to ourselves in the general sweep of their feelings, desires, and thoughts. Thus, for example, we have seen that the modern Egyptologist has quite dispelled the notion, once prevalent, that the Egyptians were a solemn, morose people, thinking only of the life to come. The truer view, on the other hand, appears to be that they were a peculiarly social, pleasure-loving people. The observance of certain religious rites, which make such an impression upon us because they differ from our own[197] customs in this regard, doubtless did not appear to them to have at all the significance we ascribe to them.

Even in matters which seem to be most strikingly borne out by the records of the monuments, it is easy to entertain a misconception if one presses too closely the idea that the traits thus discovered belong exclusively to a particular people. Thus in the matter of that conservatism which is commonly spoken of as the predominant trait of the national character of the Egyptians. Conservative they surely were. But so is every other living creature that remains long in a single unvarying habitat. The basis of civilisation is the conservatism which leads each generation to cling fast to the customs it had inherited. The history of customs, of language, of religions, in short of all culture, shows how tenaciously every people, after a certain stage, has held to the traditions of its past.

It seems as if a people, like an individual species of animal, reaches sooner or later a state of equilibrium in regard to its environment, and will change no further, except as the environment changes. Now in Egypt the physical environment appears to have changed but little within historic times, and the geographical conditions were such that the people there were afforded a high degree of isolation from outside influences. Hence the observed slowness of change in the customs of this “strange” people.

Yet, even admitting all this, one must not, as we have suggested, press the point of Egyptian conservatism too far. The most casual glance along the line of their history shows many notable changes in their radical customs from age to age, even in the relatively short period open to our inspection. There were times when great pyramids and temples were all the vogue; other times when they were quite ignored.

Even the custom of embalming the dead, so striking a peculiarity, was more or less subject to fluctuating fashions.

One must bear in mind that the period of Egyptian history open to our inspection, from the beginning of secure records till the final overthrow and disappearance of old Egypt as a nation, was, according to an average chronology, only about twenty-five hundred, or three thousand years. Now it is an open question whether, for every Egyptian idea or custom that remained even relatively fixed throughout this period, one could not find current to-day among the most progressive nations of the world an analogous idea or custom, that could prove at least as long a pedigree. To cite but a single illustration, every civilised nation on the globe to-day has its whole being as closely bound up with religious observances as was the being of the Egyptian commonwealth. And with a single exception the religious systems in question have held sway over their subjects, substantially unchanged, for a period as long as the entire sweep of Egyptian history under consideration. Confucianism, Brahminism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism,—each is hoary with the weight of something like thirty centuries; each had its origin in an age of superstition which we are prone to think far inferior to our own “enlightened” time; yet each holds its millions of devotees as rigidly and as inexorably as ever Egyptian was held by the cult of Osiris. Bearing this single illustration in mind, we shall be able to view the Egyptian “conservatism” more truly, as an example of a universal human trait, rather than as the peculiarity of a “strange” people.

Although we have emphasised the view that the Egyptians were very much like other peoples in their fundamental traits of character and habits, it must not be overlooked that there is a pretty sharp line of demarcation[198] to be drawn between the customs of Oriental and Western nations, and that the Egyptians were essentially Orientals.


One of the most typical characteristics of the Oriental mind is a deference to authority signalised in the ready acceptance of an autocratic government. Doubtless it never occurred to any Egyptian that he might do away with kings altogether. The conception of the king as the head of the state was so deeply impressed on the mind of the people, that the very possibility of a state without an autocratic head could scarcely be conceived.

But in reading of the extreme deference shown to the kings of Egypt, one is likely to gain a misconception of their actual status. We have been taught traditionally to regard the Egyptians as a meek, peace-loving people, profoundly imbued with religious sentiments, and accustomed to look upon their king as almost a god, and to pay him divine honours. Such indeed was doubtless the fact as regards external and tangible conditions, and no doubt the average Egyptian conceived the kingly authority as something altogether sacred. But beneath the surface of court life everywhere there is a counter current which the monarch himself can never disregard, however little its existence is recognised by the generality of his subjects. Professor Erman has emphasised with great astuteness the effect of these hidden influences upon the real life of the Egyptian monarch. He contends that the conditions surrounding the Egyptian court were not different from those about the thrones of other Oriental monarchs, and he points out with great vividness the distinction between the theoretical and the real position of the sovereign. Theoretically, the king is absolutely supreme; his will is law, all the property is his; even the lives of his subjects are at his mercy. But practically, the situation is quite different. Old counsellors of the king’s father are at hand whose bidding is obeyed by the clerks and officials; old rich families must be pandered to; the generals of the troops have a real power that must be respected; and the priests are an ever present restriction upon royal authority. Then there are always relatives who aspire to the throne. Among the large families of Oriental despots it is always something of a lottery as to which child succeeds to power, and there are sure to be mothers who feel that their offspring have been slighted. The familiar stories of the mothers of Solomon and of Cyrus the Younger illustrate the point.

“Even the very potent rulers,” says Professor Erman, “were constantly in dread of their own relatives, as was shown by the protocol of a trial for high treason. The reign of Ramses III was certainly brilliant; the country finally at peace, and the priesthood had been won over by enormous gifts and by temple-building. The aspect of his reign was as bright as could be. And yet there reigned also under him the fearful powers that wrecked each of these dynasties, and it was perhaps due only to a happy chance that he himself escaped. In his own harem treason rose, headed by a distinguished woman of the name of Thi, who was undoubtedly of royal blood, if indeed she were not either his mother or his stepmother. Which prince had been chosen as pretender for the crown, we do not know (a pseudonym is given in the papyrus), but we see how far the matter had gone before discovery; twice the women of the harem wrote to their mothers and brothers, ‘Arouse the people, and bestir the hostile spirits to begin hostilities against the king.’ One of the women wrote then to her brother, who commanded the troops in Ethiopia, and definitely bade him come and fight the king. When one sees[199] how many high officials shared in the treason or knew of it, one appreciates the danger overhanging such an oriental kingdom.”

It will be well to bear this corrective view in mind in considering the position of the Egyptian king as suggested by the monumental inscriptions and pictures. But this view does not at all alter the fact that the people at large were absolutely subservient to the idea of kingship. Certain individuals might strive to overthrow any particular monarch, but it was only that they might set up another. The idea of doing away with monarchy itself never entered their heads. That idea was born upon European soil, long after the power of ancient Egypt had departed.

It is an easy step from monarchs to armies and war methods, although in Egypt the relationship was not so close and intimate as in the case of many other nations. We have seen all along that the Egyptians were not pre-eminently a warlike people, yet, first and last, war entered very largely into their life history as with every other nation, and there was one period under the New Kingdom when, as we have seen, the Egyptians became a conquering people. As the chief monarch of this epoch, Ramses II was greatly given to recording his own deeds in monumental fashion, very full data are at hand for interpreting the war methods of the people during this epoch. There is nothing particularly unique about these methods. The Egyptian army consisted principally of militia armed with bows and javelins. The cavalry, consisting of companies of charioteers, was led by the king himself. Equestrianship had not yet entered into warfare. In sieges, scaling-ladders and battering-rams were used. The monuments show us that the soldiers were drilled to the sound of bugles quite in the modern fashion. In a word, there was nothing particularly to distinguish the war customs of the Egyptians of the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties from those of other nations of their time, and these methods, as we shall have occasion to see, were not greatly improved upon until about a thousand years later, when the Macedonian phalanx, as trained by Philip and Alexander along lines first laid out by the great Theban Epaminondas, introduced a new element into warfare.a

The king was the representative of the deity, and his royal authority was directly derived from the gods. He was the head of the religion and of the state; he was the judge and law-giver; and he commanded the army and led it to war. It was his right and his office to preside over the sacrifices, and pour out libations to the gods; and, whenever he was present, he had the privilege of being the officiating high priest.

The sceptre was hereditary; but, in the event of a direct heir failing, the claims for succession were determined by proximity of parentage, or by right of marriage. The king was always either of the military or priestly class, and the princes also belonged to one of them.

The army or the priesthood were the two professions followed by all men of rank, the navy not being an exclusive service; and the “long ships of Sesostris” and other kings were commanded by generals and officers taken from the army, as was the custom of the Turks, and some others in modern Europe to a very recent time. The law, too, was in the hands of the priests; so that there were only two professions. Most of the kings, as might be expected, were of the military class, and during the glorious days of Egyptian history, the younger princes generally adopted the same profession. Many held offices also in the royal household, some of the most honourable of which were fan-bearers on the right of their father, royal scribes, superintendents of the granaries, or of the land, and treasurers of the king; and they were generals of the cavalry, archers, and other corps, or admirals of the fleet.


Princes were distinguished by a badge hanging from the side of the head, which inclosed, or represented, the lock of hair emblematic of a “son”; in imitation of the youthful god “Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris,” who was held forth as the model for all princes, and the type of royal virtue. For though the Egyptians shaved the head, and wore wigs or other coverings to the head, children were permitted to leave certain locks of hair; and if the sons of kings, long before they arrived at the age of manhood, had abandoned this youthful custom, the badge was attached to their head-dress as a mark of their rank as princes; or to show that they had not, during the lifetime of their father, arrived at kinghood; on the same principle that a Spanish prince, of whatever age, continues to be styled an “infant.”

And it is a curious fact that this ancient people had already adopted the principle, that the king “could do no wrong”: and while he was exonerated from blame, every curse and evil were denounced against his ministers, and those advisers who had given him injurious counsel. The idea, too, of the king “never dying” was contained in their common formula of “life having been given him forever.”

Love and respect were not merely shown to the sovereign during his lifetime, but were continued to his memory after his death; and the manner in which his funeral obsequies were celebrated tended to show, that, though their benefactor was no more, they retained a grateful sense of his goodness, and admiration for his virtues.

The Egyptians are said to have been divided into castes, similar to those of India; but though a marked line of distinction was maintained between the different ranks of society, they appear rather to have been classes than castes, and a man did not necessarily follow the precise occupation of his father. Sons, it is true, usually adopted the same profession or trade as their parent, and the rank of each depended on his occupation; but the children of a priest frequently chose the army for their profession, and those of a military man could belong to the priesthood.

The priests and military men held the highest position in the country after the family of the king, and from them were chosen his ministers and confidential advisers, “the wise counsellors of Pharaoh,” and all the principal officers of state.

The priests consisted of various grades—as the chief priests, or pontiffs; the prophets; judges; sacred scribes; the sphragistæ, who examined the victims for sacrifice; the stolistæ, dressers, or keepers of the sacred robes; the bearers of the shrines, banners, and other holy emblems; the sacred sculptors, draughtsmen, and masons; the embalmers; the keepers of sacred animals; and various officers employed in the processions and other religious ceremonies; under whom were the beadles, and inferior functionaries of the temple. There was also the king’s own priest; and the royal scribes were chosen either from the sacerdotal or the military class. Women were not excluded from certain offices in the temple; they were priestesses of the gods, of the kings and queens, and they had many employments connected with religion.

The long duration of their system, and the feeling with which it was regarded by the people, may also plead some excuse for it; and while the function of judges and the administration of the laws gave them unusual power, they had an apparent claim to those offices, from having been the framers of the codes of morality, and of the laws they superintended. Instead of setting themselves above the king, and making him succumb to their power, like the unprincipled Ethiopian pontiffs, they acknowledged him as the head of the[201] religion and the state; nor were they above the law; no one of them, nor even the king himself, could govern according to his own arbitrary will; his conduct was amenable to an ordeal of his subjects at his death, the people being allowed to accuse him of misgovernment, and to prevent his being buried in his tomb on the day of his funeral.

But though the regulations of the priesthood may have suited the Egyptians in early times, certain institutions being adapted to men in particular states of society, they erred in encouraging a belief in legends they knew to be untrue, instead of purifying and elevating the religious views of the people, and committed the fault of considering their unbending system perfect, and suited to all times. Abuses therefore crept in; credulity, already shamefully encouraged, increased to such an extent that it enslaved the mind, and paralysed men’s reasoning powers; and the result was that the Egyptians gave way to the grossest superstitions, which at length excited universal ridicule and contempt.

Next in rank to the priests were the military. To them was assigned one of the three portions into which the land of Egypt was divided by an edict of Sesostris [Ramses II], in order, says Diodorus, “that those who exposed themselves to danger in the field might be more ready to undergo the hazards of war, from the interest they felt in the country as occupiers of the soil; for it would be absurd to commit the safety of the community to those who possessed nothing which they were interested in preserving.” Each soldier, whether on duty or no, was allowed twelve aruræ of land (a little more than eight English acres), free from all charge; and another important privilege was, that no soldier could be cast into prison for debt; Bocchoris [Bakenranf] the framer of this law, considering that it would be dangerous to allow the civil power the right of arresting those who were the chief defence of the state. They were instructed from their youth in the duties and requirements of soldiers, and trained in all the exercises that fitted them for an active career; and a sort of military school appears to have been established for the purpose.

Each man was obliged to provide himself with the necessary arms, offensive and defensive, and everything requisite for a campaign; and he was expected to hold himself in readiness for taking the field when required, or for garrison duty. The principal garrisons were posted in the fortified towns of Pelusium, Marea, Eileithyia, Heracleopolis, Syene, Elephantine, and other intermediate places; and a large portion of the army was frequently called upon, by the warlike monarchs, to invade a foreign country, or to suppress those rebellions which occasionally broke out in the conquered provinces.

The whole military force, consisting of 410,000, was divided into two corps, the Calasiries and Hermotybies. They furnished a body of men to do the duty of royal guards, 1000 of each being annually selected for that purpose; and each soldier had an additional allowance of “five minæ of bread, with two of beef, and four arusters of wine,” as daily rations, during the period of his service.

The Calasiries (Klashr) were the most numerous, and amounted to 250,000 men, at the time that Egypt was most populous. They inhabited the nomes of Thebes, Bubastis, Aphthis, Tanis, Mendes, Sebennytus, Athribis, Pharbæthus, Thmuis, Onuphis, Anysis, and the Isle of Myecphoris, which was opposite Bubastis; and the Hermotybies, who lived in those of Busiris, Saïs, Chemmis, Papremis, the Isle of Prosopitis, and the half of Natho, made up the remaining 160,000. It was here that they abode[202] while retired from military service, and in these nomes their farms or portions of land were situated, which tended to encourage habits of industry, and keep up a taste for active employment.

Besides the native corps they had mercenary troops, who were enrolled either from the nations in alliance with the Egyptians, or from those who had been conquered by them. They were divided into regiments, sometimes disciplined in the same manner as the Egyptians, though allowed to retain their arms and costume; but they were not on the same footing as the native troops; they had no land, and merely received pay, like other hire soldiers. Strabo speaks of them as mercenaries; and the million of men he mentions must have included these foreign auxiliaries. When formally enrolled in the army, they were considered a part of it, and accompanied the victorious legions on their return from foreign conquest; and they sometimes assisted in performing garrison duty in Egypt, in the place of those Egyptian troops which were left to guard the conquered provinces.

The strength of the army consisted in archers, whose skill contributed mainly to the success of the Egyptians, as of our own ancestors; and their importance is shown by the Egyptian “soldier” being represented as an archer kneeling, often preceded by the word Klashr, converted by Herodotus into Calasiris. They fought either on foot or in chariots, and may therefore be classed under the separate heads of a mounted and unmounted corps; and they constituted a great part of both wings. Several bodies of heavy infantry, divided into regiments, each distinguished by its peculiar arms, formed the centre; and the cavalry [in the later periods] covered and supported the foot.


The offensive weapons of the Egyptians were the bow, spear, two species of javelin, sling, a short and straight sword, dagger, knife, falchion or ensis falcatus, axe or hatchet, battle-axe, pole-axe, mace or club, and the lisan—a curved stick similar to that still in use among the modern Ethiopians. Their defensive arms consisted of a helmet of metal or a quilted head-piece; a cuirass, or coat of armour, made of metal plates, or quilted with metal bands, and an ample shield. The soldier’s chief defence was his shield, which, in length, was equal to about half his height, and generally double its own breadth. It was most commonly covered with bull’s hide having the hair outward, sometimes strengthened by one or more rims of metal, and studded with nails or metal pins, the inner part being a wooden frame.

The Egyptian bow was a round piece of wood, from five to five and a half feet in length, tapering to a point at both ends. Their arrows varied from twenty-two to thirty-four inches in length; some were of wood, others of reed; frequently tipped with a metal head; and winged with three feathers, glued longitudinally, and at equal distances, upon the other end of the shaft, as on our own arrows. Sometimes, instead of the metal head, a piece of hard wood was inserted into the reed, which terminated in a long tapering point.

The spear, or pike, was of wood, between five and six feet in length, with a metal head, into which the shaft was inserted and fixed with nails. The head was of bronze or iron, often very large, and with a double edge. The javelin, lighter and shorter than the spear, was also of wood, and[203] similarly armed with a strong two-edged metal head, of an elongated diamond, or leaf shape, either flat or increasing in thickness at the centre, and sometimes tapering to a very long point.

The sling was a thong of leather, or string plaited; broad in the middle, and having a loop at one end, by which it was fixed upon and firmly held with the hand; the other extremity terminating in a lash, which escaped from the finger as the stone was thrown. The Egyptian sword was straight and short, from two and a half to three feet in length, having generally a double edge, and tapering to a sharp point. It was used for cut and thrust. They had also a dagger.

The axe, or hatchet, was small and simple, seldom exceeding two, or two and a half feet, in length: it had a single blade, and no instance is met with of a double axe resembling the bipennis of the Romans. The blade of the battle-axe was, in form, not unlike the Parthian shield; a segment of a circle, divided at the back into two smaller segments, whose three points were fastened to the handle with metal pins. It was of bronze, and sometimes (as the colour of those in the paintings shows) of steel; and the length of the handle was equal to, or more than double that of, the blade. The pole-axe was about three feet in length, but apparently more difficult to wield than the preceding, owing to the great weight of a metal ball to which the blade was fixed; and required, like the mace, a powerful as well as a skilful arm.

The mace was very similar to the pole-axe, without a blade. It was of wood, bound with bronze, about two feet and a half in length, and furnished with an angular piece of metal, projecting from the handle, which may have been intended as a guard, though in many instances they represent the hand placed above it, while the blow was given. In ancient times, when the fate of a battle was frequently decided by personal valour, the dexterous management of such arms was of great importance; and a band of resolute veterans, headed by a gallant chief, spread dismay among the ranks of an enemy. The curved stick, or club (called lisan, “tongue”), was used by heavy and light-armed troops as well as by archers; and if it does not appear a formidable arm, yet the experience of modern times bears ample testimony to its efficacy in close combat.

The helmet was usually quilted; and though bronze helmets are said to have been worn by the Egyptians, they generally adopted the former, which being thick, and well padded, served as an excellent protection to the head, without the inconvenience of metal in so hot a climate. Some of them descended to the shoulder, others only a short distance below the level of the ear, and the summit, terminating in an obtuse point, was ornamented with two tassels. They were of a green, red, or black colour; and a longer one, which fitted less closely to the back of the head, was fringed at the lower edge with a broad border, and in some instances consisted of two parts, or an upper and under fold. Another, worn by the spearmen, and many corps of infantry and charioteers, was also quilted, and descended to the shoulder with a fringe; but it had no tassels, and, fitting close to the top of the head, it widened towards the base, the front, which covered the forehead, being made of a separate piece, attached to the other part. There is no representation of an Egyptian helmet with a crest, but that of the Shardana, once enemies and afterwards allies of the Pharaohs, shows they were used long before the Trojan war.

The outer surface of the corselet of mail, or coat of scale-armour, consisted of about eleven horizontal rows of metal plates, well secured by[204] bronze pins; and at the hollow of the throat a narrower range of plates was introduced, above which were two more, completing the collar or covering of the neck. The breadth of each plate or scale was little more than an inch, eleven or twelve of them sufficing to cover the front of the body; and the sleeves, which were sometimes so short as to extend less than halfway to the elbow, consisted of two rows of similar plates. Many, indeed most, of the corselets were without collars; in some the sleeves were rather longer, reaching nearly to the elbow, and they were worn both by heavy infantry and bowmen. The ordinary corselet may have been little less than two feet and a half in length; it sometimes covered the thighs nearly to the knee; and in order to prevent its pressing heavily upon the shoulder, they bound their girdle over it, and tightened it at the waist. But the thighs, and that part of the body below the girdle, were usually covered by a kilt, or other robe, detached from the corselet; and many of the light and heavy infantry were clad in a quilted vest of the same form as the coat of armour, for which it was a substitute; and some wore corselets, reaching only from the waist to the upper part of the breast, and supported by straps over the shoulder, which were faced with bronze plates.

An Egyptian Soldier

Heavy-armed troops were furnished with a shield and spear; some with a shield and mace; and others, though rarely, with a battle-axe, or a pole-axe, and shield. They also carried a sword, falchion, curved stick or lisan, simple mace, or hatchet; which may be looked upon as their side-arms. The light troops had nearly the same weapons, but their defensive armour was lighter; and the slingers and some others fought, like the archers, without shields.

The chariot corps constituted a very large and effective portion of the Egyptian army. Each car contained two persons, like the diphros (δίφρος) of the Greeks. On some occasions it carried three, the charioteer or driver and two chiefs; but this was rarely the case, except in triumphal processions, when two of the princes accompanied the king in their chariot, bearing the regal sceptre, or the flabella, and required a third person to manage the reins. In the field each had his own car, with a charioteer; and the insignia of his office being attached behind him by a broad belt, his hands were free for the use of the bow and other arms. The driver generally stood on the off-side, in order to have the whip-hand free; and this interfered less with the use of the bow than the Greek custom of driving on the near-side; which last was adopted in Greece as being more convenient for throwing the spear. When on an excursion for pleasure, or on a visit to a friend, an Egyptian gentleman mounted alone, and drove himself, footmen and other[205] attendants running before and behind the car; and sometimes an archer used his bow and acted as his own charioteer.

In the battle scenes of the Egyptian temples, the king is represented alone in his car, unattended by any charioteer; with the reins fastened round his body, while engaged in bending his bow against the enemy; though it is possible that the driver was omitted, in order not to interfere with the principal figure. The king had always a “second chariot,” in order to provide against accidents; as Josiah is stated to have had when defeated by Neku; and the same was in attendance on state occasions. The cars of the whole chariot corps contained each two warriors, comrades of equal rank; and the charioteer who accompanied a chief was a person of confidence, as we see from the familiar manner in which one of them is represented conversing with a son of the great Ramses.

In driving, the Egyptians used a whip, like the heroes and charioteers of Homer; and this, or a short stick, was generally employed even for beasts of burden, and for oxen at the plough, in preference to the goad. The whip consisted of a smooth, round wooden handle, and a single or double thong: it sometimes had a lash of leather, or string, about two feet in length, either twisted or plaited; and a loop being attached to the lower end, the archer was enabled to use the bow, while it hung suspended from his wrist.

When a hero encountered a hostile chief, he sometimes dismounted from his car, and substituting for his bow and quiver the spear, battle-axe, or falchion, he closed with him hand to hand, like the Greeks and Trojans described by Homer; and the lifeless body of the foe being left upon the field, was stripped of its arms by his companions. Sometimes a wounded adversary, incapable of further resistance, having claimed and obtained the mercy of the victor, was carried from the field in his chariot; and the ordinary captives, who laid down their arms and yielded to the Egyptians, were treated as prisoners of war, and were sent bound to the rear under an escort, to be presented to the monarch, and to grace his triumph, after the termination of the conflict. The hands of the slain were then counted before him; and this return of the enemy’s killed was duly registered, to commemorate his success, and the glories of his reign.

The Egyptian chariots had no seat; but the bottom part consisted of a frame interlaced with thongs or rope, forming a species of network, in order, by its elasticity, to render the motion of the carriage without springs more easy: and this was also provided for by placing the wheels as far back as possible, and resting much of the weight on the horses, which supported the pole. That the chariot was of wood is sufficiently proved by the sculptures, wherever workmen are seen employed in making it; and the fact of their having more than three thousand years ago already invented and commonly used a form of pole, only introduced into our own country in the nineteenth century, is an instance of the truth of Solomon’s assertion, “there is no new thing under the sun,” and shows the skill of their workmen at that remote time.


When an expedition was resolved upon against a foreign nation, each province furnished its quotum of men. The troops were generally commanded by the king in person; but in some instances a general was appointed to that post, and intrusted with the sole conduct of the war. A place of rendezvous was fixed, in early times generally at Thebes, Memphis, or Pelusium; and the troops having assembled in the vicinity, remained[206] encamped there, awaiting the leader of the expedition. As soon as he arrived, the necessary preparations were made; a sacrifice was performed to the gods whose assistance was invoked in the approaching conflict; and orders having been issued for their march, a signal was given by sound of trumpet; the troops fell in, and with a profound bow each soldier in the ranks saluted the royal general, and prepared to follow him to the field. The march then commenced, as Clemens and the sculptures inform us, to the sound of the drum; the chariots led the van; and the king, mounted in his car of war, and attended by his chief officers carrying flabella, took his post in the centre, preceded and followed by bodies of infantry armed with bows, spears, or other weapons, according to their respective corps.

On commencing the attack in the open field, a signal was again made by sound of trumpet. The archers drawn up in line first discharged a shower of arrows on the enemy’s front, and a considerable mass of chariots advanced to the charge; the heavy infantry, armed with spears or clubs, and covered with their shields, moved forward at the same time in close array, flanked by chariots and cavalry, and pressed upon the centre and wings of the enemy, the archers still galling the hostile columns with their arrows, and endeavouring to create disorder in their ranks.

Their mode of warfare was not like that of nations in their infancy, or in a state of barbarism; and it is evident, from the number of prisoners they took, that they spared the prostrate who asked for quarter: and the representations of persons slaughtered by the Egyptians, who have overtaken them, are intended to allude to what happened in the heat of action, and not to any wanton cruelty on the part of the victors. Indeed, in the naval fight of Ramses III, the Egyptians, both in the ships and on the shore, are seen rescuing the enemy, whose galley has been sunk, from a watery grave; and the humanity of that people is strongly argued, whose artists deem it a virtue worthy of being recorded among the glorious actions of their countrymen.

Those who sued for mercy and laid down their arms, were spared and sent bound from the field; and the hands of the slain being cut off, and placed in heaps before the king, immediately after the action, were counted by the military secretaries in his presence, who thus ascertained and reported to him the account of the enemy’s slain. Sometimes their tongues, and occasionally other members, were laid before him in the same manner; in all instances being intended as authentic returns of the loss of the foe: for which the soldiers received a proportionate reward, divided among the whole army, the capture of prisoners probably claiming a higher premium, exclusively enjoyed by the captor.

The arms, horses, chariots, and booty, taken in the field or in camp, were also collected, and the same officers wrote an account of them, and presented it to the monarch. The booty was sometimes collected in an open space, surrounded by a temporary wall, indicated in the sculptures by the representation of shields placed erect, with a wicker gate, on the inner and outer face of which a strong guard was posted, the sentries walking to and fro with drawn swords. It was forbidden to the Spartan soldier, when on guard, to have his shield, in order that, being deprived of this defence, he might be more cautious not to fall asleep; and the same appears to have been a custom of the Egyptians, as the watch here on duty at the camp-gates are only armed with swords and maces, though belonging to the heavy-armed corps, who, on other occasions, were in the habit of carrying a shield.

A system of regular fortification was adopted in the earliest times. The form of the fortresses was quadrangular; the walls of crude brick fifteen feet[207] thick, and often fifty feet high, with square towers at intervals along each face. But though some were kept up after the accession of the XVIIIth Dynasty, the practice of fortifying towns seems to have been discontinued, and fortresses or walled towns were not then used, except on the edge of the desert, and on the frontiers where large garrisons were required. To supply their place, the temples were provided with lofty pyramidal stone towers, which, projecting beyond the walls, enabled the besieged to command and rake them, while the parapet-wall over the gateway shielded the soldiers who defended the entrance; and the whole plan of an outer wall of circumvallation was carried out by the large crude brick enclosure of the temenos, within which the temple stood. Each temple was thus a detached fort, and was thought as sufficient a protection for itself and for the town as a continuous wall, which required a large garrison to defend it; and neither Thebes nor Memphis, the two capitals, were walled cities.

An Egyptian Bowman

The field encampment was either a square, or a parallelogram, with a principal entrance in one of the faces; and near the centre were the general’s tent, and those of the principal officers. The general’s tent was sometimes surrounded by a double rampart or fosse, enclosing two distinct areas, the outer one containing three tents, probably of the next in command, or of the officers on the staff; and the guards slept or watched in the open air. Other tents were pitched outside these enclosures; and near the external circuit, a space was set apart for feeding horses and beasts of burden, and another for ranging the chariots and baggage. It was near the general’s tent, and within the same area, that the altars of the gods, or whatever related to religious matters, the standards, and the military chest, were kept; and the sacred emblems were deposited beneath a canopy, with an enclosure similar to that of the general’s tent.

In attacking a fortified town, they advanced under cover of the arrows of the bowmen; and either instantly applied the scaling-ladder to the ramparts, or undertook the routine of a regular siege: in which case, having advanced to the walls, they posted themselves under cover of testudos, and shook and dislodged the stones of the parapet with a species of battering-ram, directed and impelled by a body of men expressly chosen for this service: but when the place held out against these attacks, and neither a coup de main, the ladder, nor the ram, was found to succeed, they used the testudo for concealing and protecting the sappers, while they mined the place; and certainly, of all people, the Egyptians were the most[208] likely to have recourse to this stratagem of war, from the great practice they had in underground excavations, and in directing shafts through the solid rock.b


The subject of manners and customs of the Egyptians has had a peculiar fascination for almost all students of Egyptian history. It is difficult to get away from the feeling that there is something mysterious and occult about Egyptian life, and thousands of people have gazed with mingled admiration and awe upon the monumental remains of this people without caring in the least for the strange-sounding names of the monarchs or for the details of their political history.

From the time of the explorations of the French under Napoleon, which led to the monumental publication edited by Champollionc and his associates, some inklings of the Egyptian life passed into common knowledge. Additional light was thrown upon the subject by the publication of the elaborate “Denkmäler” of Lepsius.h But the first full exposition of the social conditions of ancient Egypt was due to the investigations of Wilkinson, who devoted the best years of his life to the subject, and whose publications are still standard authority. Wilkinson’s elaborate investigation of the monuments and his astute inferences drawn from what he saw enabled him to produce a picture of Egyptian life which the work of more recent investigators has seldom supplanted as to essentials.

Of the more recent Egyptologists few have failed to show an interest in this phase of Egyptian history. Birch,i Maspero,m Mariette,n Chabas,f Budge,g Petrie,o Renoufd—all have dealt with various phases of Egyptian life. Amelia B. Edwardse popularised the knowledge of the specialists in widely read publications, and Georg Ebers,k himself a specialist of the highest standing, gave even wider currency to the most interesting phases of the subject through the medium of his novels. In recent years the field that Wilkinson made his own has been invaded with great success by Professor Adolf Erman of the Berlin University, the worthy successor of Lepsius. Professor Erman has profited by the widest and most critical studies of the Egyptian writings, and through this means he has been enabled to supplement the work of Wilkinson in certain important directions, notably in reference to questions of judicial procedure and the details of governmental administration—subjects into which, unfortunately, a lack of space does not permit us to enter fully here. In his work, Aegypten und Aegyptisches Leben im Altertum, Professor Erman has summarised the sources to which the Egyptologist must go for information as to the life of this people. The writings of the Hebrews, he tells us, have come down to us so much re-edited in later times that they must be accepted with caution as representing Egyptian life of an early period.

The writings of the Greeks, chief among whom in this field is Herodotus, are important as to certain features of the later Egyptian life. Such things as a tourist sees who, “ignorant of the language, travels for a few months in a foreign country,” Herodotus tells us; but very naturally he is unable to supply us with adequate or reliable information regarding those earlier periods of Egyptian history, which have chief interest now because they represent the Egyptian in his time of might and prosperity.

For what we can hope to learn of these earlier times we must turn to the Egyptian monuments themselves. These monumental remains are of four types, namely:


(1) The inscriptions on temple walls and on monuments.

(2) The royal tombs.

(3) Inscribed papyri representing the literature of the country, and

(4) Papyri of another class representing letters, deeds, and other business documents.

As to the inscriptions, which form numerically so large a proportion of the Egyptian mementos, and which, naturally enough, were first attractive to the investigator, it may be said that as a whole they are most disappointing since their “inscriptions and representations refer almost solely to the worship of the gods, to sacrifices and processions, or they give us bombastic hymns to the gods, or they may perhaps contain the information that such and such a king built this sanctuary of eternal stones for his father the god, who rewarded him for this pious act by granting him a life of millions of years. If, as an exception, we find an inscription telling us of the warlike feats of a ruler, these are related in such official style and stereotyped formula, that little can be gained towards the knowledge of Egyptian life.”

The tombs are much more satisfactory for the present purpose since they contain representations of events in the home life of the deceased, and also various implements, utensils, and trinkets such as he might have used while living. But, unfortunately, it is only the early period of Egyptian life that is depicted in this manner. Moreover, the relics found in the tombs are sometimes misleading, since it apparently became the custom to supply articles ready made for this purpose, rather than to utilise objects of actual utility such as the deceased might really have employed while living.

The papyri which represent the literary remains of ancient Egypt are much less illuminative than might be expected; the greater number of them are magical or religious in character, the most conspicuous example being the Book of the Dead, numberless recensions of which are extant in whole or in part. These supply valuable glimpses of the moral nature of the Egyptians and are of high value to the student of religion and philosophy, but they naturally tell us little of the everyday life of the people.

Of the secular manuscripts the chief portion are school books, intended to incite youthful students at once to virtue and to knowledge, quite after the manner of the modern books, particularly of the last generation. These also fail to give more than incidental glimpses into the real life of the people. As to the value for this purpose of the romances which make up so important a part of the literary remains of the Egyptians, scarcely more can be said. They are romances in the modern acceptance of the term. No school of realists had come to urge the writer to go to contemporary nature for his models; hence, as Erman aptly says, the country described in these writings “is not Egypt, but Fairyland.”

It is always surprising in studying the literature of a past time, to note the facility with which the details of everyday life are omitted. Such a writer as Herodotus tells many interesting things about the manners and customs of Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Scythians even, but he scarcely tells us a word except inferentially, or by way of pointing a contrast, of the everyday life of his own people, the Greeks themselves. Similarly the Egyptian writers, had they visited Greece, would doubtless have had much to say of the strange customs of that “barbaric people”; but it never occurs to them to enter into any details as to the everyday life of their own race.

The reason for this is sufficiently obvious. One writes chiefly for a contemporary audience, and it would be tedious and absurd to fill one’s pages with details regarding things that constitute part of the most elementary[210] knowledge of every reader. What Greek would have cared to listen to Herodotus, had he chosen to fill his pages with prosy dissertations upon the way in which his hearers and readers built their houses, attired themselves, ate their meals, and pursued their everyday vocations? Every line of such a disquisition would have been filled with fascinating interest for posterity, but posterity was but little in the mind of the writer himself. It is precisely the same with the writings of to-day.

If one will consider in this light the first novel that comes to hand, he will be astonished to note how much is taken for granted, and how little even the most realistic story would tell to a person utterly ignorant of our manners and customs about the precise details of our everyday life. Even the newspapers, which seem to thresh out the veriest chaff of life, are mostly guiltless of specific reference to any of those everyday commonplaces, the lack of which in ancient writings fills us with such regret. It is not surprising then, though none the less to be deplored, that the relatively abundant stores of Egyptian literature give after all only an incomplete and imperfect picture of the manners and customs of the people.

To the remaining source of information—the papyri inscribed with letters and business documents—the investigator is able to turn with greater confidence. Here we see the people no longer posing consciously for inspection, but acting their real life and expressing their true sentiments. Just as the modern biographer feels that he is giving the most intimate insight into the character of his subject when he quotes from his personal letters, so these letters and allied documents of the old Egyptians give us perhaps the clearest insight obtainable into the true character of the people, and it is those who have studied these documents most closely who have been most strongly impressed with the similarity between the true characteristics of ancient and modern peoples. What, for example, could seem more modern than the account of the police investigation into the alleged robbery of the tombs of the kings at Memphis, which was held in the time of Ramses IX, of the XXth Dynasty, about the year 1100 B.C.?

Professor Erman’s account, transcribed from the papyri, telling of this investigation, reads for all the world like the police columns of a modern newspaper. It appears that bands of thieves, tempted by the rich spoils always buried with ancient kings, had attempted to force their way into various pyramids where the bodies of these monarchs reposed, and that in some cases they had been successful. Rumours of this sacrilege coming to the attention of the governor of the city, the investigation in question was set on foot, and the divergent opinions expressed by the various authorities, the bickerings and jealousies that are evidenced, and the net result in a verdict which leaves us somewhat in doubt as to the real facts of the case,—all these features have an aspect of modernity that is positively startling. As an interesting sequel to this investigation it may be added that the police were finally obliged to admit themselves no match for the thieves, and that the authorities, despairing of being able to protect the tombs of their ancestors, resorted finally to the strange expedient of removing the royal effigies to a secret cave in the distant mountain of Deir-el-Bahari. In this cave were placed the mummies of a distinguished line of monarchs, including Amenhotep I, Tehutimes II, Tehutimes III, and Seti I, and lastly the great Ramses II himself.

The humiliating step was taken so secretly, and the hiding-place was so carefully guarded from the knowledge of all but a few, that apparently when these died the secret died with them. At any rate, the resting-place[211] of the greatest sovereigns of Egypt was quite unknown for about three thousand years, and it was revealed by accident in our own time. In the year 1881, as described in a preceding section, the authorities entered the crypt which a company of fellahs had discovered about ten years before, but the knowledge of which they had kept secret. Perhaps only once before in the history of archæological discovery had so startling a find been made, or one that aroused such enthusiastic interest in the minds both of specialists and of the general public as when these effigies of the great monarchs were dragged from their tomb. It is only the recent dead to whom sacredness attaches, and the archæologist has no scruples about making a museum exhibit of forms that had once ruled a great people, and which their immediate successors had reverenced as gods.

It will appear from this brief analysis that the remains of Egyptian writings give us in many ways an insight into the life of the people, but that nevertheless our knowledge of that life is much more restricted than could be wished. After the last line of extant writing has been scrutinised and analysed, it still remains true that the chief source of our information regarding the manners and customs of the Egyptians is not to be found in written words but in graphic pictures. Just as the illustrations of a modern magazine would tell posterity, if preserved, far more about our everyday life, than could be gleaned from the pages of text which they supplement, so the delineations of which the Egyptians were so fond, perform a like service. It was chiefly through study of these that Wilkinson was able to reconstruct the life of the people, and it is still to these that the modern investigator must turn.

Egyptian Figures

(From the Monuments)

The manuscripts give us important hints and suggestions, and throw here and there a ray of light into some dark corner, but the chief story is told, not by hieroglyphic or hieratic scrolls, but by actual pictures. These, as has been said, show us the people for a limited period, pursuing the ordinary vocations of life. They show us that the Egyptian gave heed to much the same manner of things that interest the modern. With the aid of these pictures we are able to go with the Egyptian, not merely into the fields and vineyards where he labours, but also into the private dwellings, where we may attend him as he feasts, plays upon musical instruments, dances, and indulges in various sports and games.

We shall be forced to believe that he was very human; very like ourselves in his aspirations and desires, even in his method of their attempted realisation; and yet so strangely do the archaic forms of those delineations impress themselves upon the mind, that we shall never quite free ourselves of the impression that here we have to do with the beings of another and very different world.


Something of mystery, something of the occult, clings to the Egyptian, however we may try to dispel the illusion. This power the residents of contemporary Egypt had over the old Greek, and this power they still retain. They work a spell upon the mind of whoever contemplates them, which no reasoning can quite exorcise. We know and we believe that these were ordinary mortals like ourselves; and yet, in spite of this knowledge, we feel that there was something quite different about them. And this superstitious feeling perhaps lies at the foundation of the mysterious charm that the Egyptians have exercised upon all succeeding generations.a


How the classical world regarded the Egyptians is made clear to us through the pages of Herodotus, who speaks as an eye-witness. It is the Egyptians of the later epoch of whom he speaks, to be sure; but his comments would probably apply with little change to the customs of much earlier periods.

Those Egyptians who live in the cultivated parts of the country, are of all whom I have seen the most ingenious, being attentive to the improvement of the memory beyond the rest of mankind. To give some idea of their mode of life: for three days successively in every month they use purges, vomits, and clysters; this they do out of attention to their health, being persuaded that the diseases of the body are occasioned by the different elements received as food. Besides this, we may venture to assert, that after the Africans there is no people in health and constitution to be compared with the Egyptians. To this advantage the climate, which is here subject to no variation, may essentially contribute: changes of all kinds, and those in particular of the seasons, promote and occasion the maladies of the body. To their bread, which they make with spelt, they give the name of cyllestis; they have no vines in the country, but they drink a liquor fermented from barley; they live principally upon fish, either salted or dried in the sun; they eat also quails, ducks, and some smaller birds, without other preparation than first salting them; but they roast and boil such other birds and fishes as they have, excepting those which are preserved for sacred purposes.

At the entertainments of the rich, just as the company is about to rise from the repast, a small coffin is carried round, containing a perfect representation of a dead body: it is in size sometimes of one but never of more than two cubits, and as it is shown to the guests in rotation, the bearer exclaims, “Cast your eyes on this figure, after death you yourself will resemble it; drink then, and be happy.” Such are the customs they observe at entertainments.

They contentedly adhere to the customs of their ancestors, and are averse to foreign manners. Among other things which claim our approbation, they have a song, which is also used in Phœnicia, Cyprus, and other places, where it is differently named. Of all the things which astonished me in Egypt, nothing more perplexed me than my curiosity to know whence the Egyptians learned this song, so entirely resembling the Linus of the Greeks: it is of the remotest antiquity among them, and they call it Maneros. They have a tradition that Maneros was the only son of their first monarch; and that having prematurely died, they instituted these melancholy strains in his honour, constituting their first, and in earlier times, their only song.

The Egyptians surpass all the Greeks, the Lacedæmonians excepted, in the reverence which they pay to age: if a young person meet his senior, he instantly aside to make way for him; if a senior enter an apartment, the youth[213] always rise from their seats; this ceremony is observed by no other of the Greeks. When the Egyptians meet they do not speak, but make a profound reverence, bowing with the hand down to the knee.

Their habit, which they call calasiris, is made of linen, and fringed at the bottom; over this they throw a kind of shawl made of white wool, but in these vests of wool they are forbidden by their religion either to be buried or to enter any sacred edifice; this is a peculiarity of those ceremonies which are called Orphic and Pythagorean: whoever has been initiated in these mysteries can never be interred in a vest of wool, for which a sacred reason is assigned.

Of the Egyptians it is further memorable that they first imagined what month or day was to be consecrated to each deity; they also, from observing the days of nativity, venture to predict the particular circumstances of a man’s life and death: this is done by the poets of Greece, but the Egyptians have certainly discovered more things that are wonderful than all the rest of mankind. Whenever any prodigy occurs, they commit the particulars to writing and mark the events which follow it: if they afterward observe any similar incident, they conclude that the result will be similar also. The art of divination in Egypt is confined to certain of their deities. There are in this country oracles of Hercules, of Apollo, of Minerva and Diana, of Mars, and of Jupiter; but the oracle of Latona at Buto is held in greater estimation than any of the rest: the oracular communication is regulated by no fixed system, but is differently obtained in different places.

Head-rests for the Dead

(Now in the British Museum)

The art of medicine in Egypt is thus exercised: one physician is confined to one disease; there are of course a great number who practise this art; some attend to disorders of the eyes; others to those of the head; some take care of the teeth, others are conversant with all diseases of the bowels; whilst many attend to the cure of maladies which are less conspicuous.

With respect to their funerals and ceremonies of mourning; whenever a man of any importance dies, the females of his family, disfiguring their heads and faces with dirt, leave the corpse in the house and run publicly about, accompanied by their female relations, with their garments in disorder, their breasts exposed, and beating themselves severely: the men on their parts do the same, after which the body is carried to the embalmers.

If an Egyptian or a foreigner be found, either destroyed by a crocodile or drowned in the water, the city nearest which the body is discovered, is obliged to embalm and pay it every respectful attention, and afterward deposit it in some consecrated place: no friend or relation is suffered to interfere; the whole process is conducted by the priests of the Nile, who bury it themselves with a respect to which a lifeless corpse would hardly seem entitled.

To the customs of Greece they express aversion, and, to say the truth, to those of all other nations. This remark applies, with only one exception,[214] to every part of Egypt. Chemmis is a place of considerable note in the Thebaid, it is near Neapolis, and remarkable for a temple of Perseus the son of Danæ. This temple is of a square figure, and surrounded with palm trees. The vestibule, which is very spacious, is constructed of stone, and on the summit are placed two large marble statues. Within the consecrated enclosure stand the shrine and statue of Perseus, who, as the inhabitants affirm, often appears in the country and the temple. They sometimes find one of his sandals, which are of the length of two cubits, and whenever this happens, fertility reigns throughout Egypt. Public games, after the manner of the Greeks, are celebrated in his honour. Upon this occasion they have every variety of gymnastic exercise. The rewards of the conquerors are cattle, vests, and skins. I was once induced to inquire why Perseus made his appearance to them alone, and why they were distinguished from the rest of Egypt by the celebration of gymnastic exercises. They informed me in return, that Perseus was a native of their country, as were also Danaus and Lynceus, who made a voyage into Greece, and from whom, in regular succession, they related that Perseus was descended. This hero visited Egypt for the purpose, as the Greeks also affirm, of carrying from Africa the Gorgon’s head. Happening to come among them, he saw and was known to his relations. The name of Chemmis he had previously known from his mother, and he himself instituted the games which they continued to celebrate.

These which I have described are the manners of those Egyptians who live in the higher parts of the country. They who inhabit the marshy grounds differ in no material instance.

Like the Greeks, they confine themselves to one wife. To procure themselves the means of sustenance more easily, they make use of the following expedient: when the waters have risen to their extremest height, and all their fields are overflowed, there appears above the surface an immense quantity of plants of the lily species, which the Egyptians call the lotus: having cut down these, they dry them in the sun. The seed of the flower, which resembles that of the poppy, they bake and make into a kind of bread; they also eat the root of this plant, which is round, of an agreeable flavour, and about the size of an apple. There is a second species of the lotus, which grows in the Nile, and which is not unlike a rose. The fruit, which grows from the bottom of the root, is like a wasp’s nest: it is found to contain a number of kernels of the size of an olive-stone, which are very grateful, either fresh or dried. Of the byblus, which is an annual plant, after taking it from a marshy place, where it grows, they cut off the tops, and apply them to various uses. They eat or sell what remains, which is nearly a cubit in length. To make this a still greater delicacy, there are many who previously roast it. With a considerable part of this people fish constitutes the principal article of food; they dry it in the sun, and eat it without other preparation.

The inhabitants in the marshy grounds make use of an oil, which they term the kiki, expressed from the Sillicyprian plant. In Greece this plant springs spontaneously without any cultivation, but the Egyptians sow it on the banks of the river, and of the canals; it there produces fruit in great abundance, but of a very strong odour: when gathered, they obtain from it, either by friction or pressure, an unctuous liquid, which diffuses an offensive smell, but for burning it is equal in quality to the oil of olives.

The Egyptians are provided with a remedy against gnats, of which there are a surprising number. As the wind will not suffer these insects to rise[215] far from the ground, the inhabitants of the higher part of the country usually sleep in turrets. They who live in the marshy grounds use this substitute: each person has a net, with which they fish by day, and which they render useful by night. They cover their beds with their nets, and sleep securely beneath them. If they slept in their common habits, or under linen, the gnats would not fail to torment them, which they do not even attempt through a net.

Fowlers catching Geese; and Poulterers


Their vessels of burden are constructed of a species of thorn, which resembles the lotos of Cyrene, and which distils a gum. From this thorn they cut planks, about two cubits square: after disposing these in the form of bricks, and securing them strongly together, they place from side to side benches for the rowers. They do not use timber artificially carved, but bend the planks together with the bark of the byblus made into ropes. They have one rudder, which goes through the keel of the vessel; their mast is made of the same thorn, and the sails are formed from the byblus. These vessels are haled along by land, for unless the wind be very favourable they can make no way against the stream. When they go with the current, they throw from the head of the vessel a hurdle made of tamarisk, fastened together with reeds; they have also a perforated stone of the weight of two talents; this is let fall at the stern, secured by a rope. The name of this kind of bark is baris, which the above hurdle, impelled by the tide, draws swiftly along. The stone at the stern regulates its motion. They have immense numbers of these vessels, and some of them of the burden of many thousand talents.

During the inundation of the Nile, the cities only are left conspicuous, appearing above the waters like the islands of the Ægean Sea. As long as the flood continues, vessels do not confine themselves to the channel of the[216] river, but traverse the fields and the plains. They who then go from Naucratis to Memphis, pass by the pyramids; this, however, is not the usual course, which lies through the point of the Delta, and the city of Cercasorus. If from the sea and the town of Canopus, the traveller desires to go by the plains to Naucratis, he must pass by Anthilla and Archandros.

Of these places Anthilla is the most considerable: whoever may be sovereign of Egypt, it is assigned perpetually as part of the revenues of the queen, and appropriated to the particular purpose of providing her with sandals; this has been observed ever since Egypt was tributary to Persia. I should suppose that the other city derives its name from Archander, the son of Pthius, son-in-law of Danaus, and grandson of Achæus. There may probably have been some other Archander, for the name is certainly not Egyptian.j

Persons coming to be Registered


So much for the customs of the Egyptians as Herodotus saw them. Abandoning now the contemporary point of view, let us seek a modern interpretation.


Of the various institutions of the ancient Egyptians, says the greatest interpreter of Egyptian customs, none are more interesting than those which relate to their social life; and when we consider the condition of other countries in the early ages when they flourished, from the tenth to the twentieth century before our era, we may look with respect on the advancement they had then made in civilisation, and acknowledge the benefits they conferred upon mankind during their career. For, like other people, they have had their part in the great scheme of the world’s development, and their share of usefulness in the destined progress of the human race; for countries, like individuals, have certain qualities given them, which, differing from those of their predecessors and contemporaries, are intended in due season to perform their requisite duties. The interest felt in the Egyptians is from their having led the way, or having been the first people we know of who made any great progress, in the arts and manners of civilisation; which, for the period when they lived, was very creditable, and far beyond that of other kingdoms of the world. Nor can we fail to remark the difference between them and their Asiatic rivals, the Assyrians, who, even at a much[217] later period, had the great defects of Asiatic cruelty—flaying alive, impaling, and torturing their prisoners; as the Persians, Turks, and other Orientals have done to the present century; the reproach of which cannot be extended to the ancient Egyptians. Being the dominant race of that age, they necessarily had an influence on others with whom they came in contact; and it is by these means that civilisation is advanced through its various stages; each people striving to improve on the lessons derived from a neighbour whose institutions they appreciate, or consider beneficial to themselves. It was thus that the active mind of the talented Greeks sought and improved on the lessons derived from other countries, especially from Egypt; and though the latter, at the late period of the seventh century B.C., had lost its greatness and the prestige of superiority among the nations of the world, it was still the seat of learning and the resort of studious philosophers; and the abuses consequent on the fall of an empire had not yet brought about the demoralisation of after times.

In the treatment of women they seem to have been very far advanced beyond other wealthy communities of the same era, having usages very similar to those of modern Europe; and such was the respect shown to women that precedence was given to them over men, and the wives and daughters of kings succeeded to the throne like the male branches of the royal family. Nor was this privilege rescinded, even though it had more than once entailed upon them the troubles of a contested succession: foreign kings often having claimed a right to the throne through marriage with an Egyptian princess. It was not a mere influence that they possessed, which women often acquire in the most arbitrary Eastern communities; nor a political importance accorded to a particular individual, like that of the Sultana Valideh, the Queen Mother, at Constantinople; it was a right acknowledged by law, both in private and public life.

As in all warm climates, the poorer classes of Egyptians lived much in the open air; and the houses of the rich were constructed to be cool throughout the summer; currents of refreshing air being made to circulate freely through them by the judicious arrangement of the passages and courts.

Ancient Egyptian Combs

(Now in the British Museum)

The houses were built of crude brick, stuccoed and painted with all the combination of bright colour, in which the Egyptians delighted; and a highly decorated mansion had numerous courts, and architectural details derived from the temples. Poor people were satisfied with very simple tenements; their wants being easily supplied, both as to lodging and food; and their house consisted of four walls, with a flat roof of palm branches laid across a split date tree as a beam, and covered with mats plastered over with a thick coating of mud. It had one door, and a few small windows closed by wooden shutters. As it scarcely ever rained, the mud roof was not washed into the sitting-room; and this cottage rather answered as a shelter from the sun, and as a closet for their goods, than for the ordinary purpose of a house in other countries. Indeed, at night the owners slept on the roof, during the greater part of the year; and as most of their work was done out of doors, they[218] might easily be persuaded that a house was far less necessary for them than a tomb.

In their plans the houses of towns, like the villas in the country, varied according to the caprice of the builders. The ground plan, in some of the former, consisted of a number of chambers on three sides of a court, which was often planted with trees. Others consisted of two rows of rooms on either side of a long passage, with an entrance court from the street; and others were laid out in chambers round a central area, similar to the Roman impluvium, and paved with stone, or containing a few trees, a tank, or a fountain, in its centre. Sometimes, though rarely, a flight of steps led to the front door from the street.

Houses of small size were often connected together, and formed the continuous sides of streets; and a courtyard was common to several dwellings. Others of a humbler kind consisted merely of rooms opening on a narrow passage, or directly on the street. These had only a basement story, or ground floor; and few houses exceeded two stories above it. They mostly consisted of one upper floor; and though Diodorus speaks of the lofty houses in Thebes four and five stories high, the paintings show that few had three, and the largest seldom four, including as he does the basement story.b

Servant presenting a Lotus Flower to a Guest


Cat Mummies

(Now in the British Museum)


This country is so thickly peopled with divinities that it is easier to find a god than a man.—Petronius.

Few things are so hard to understand as the religion of an alien race. Indeed, we have but too many illustrations before us constantly that even among the same people, and where ideas are based upon the same authorities, a great divergence of opinion is possible. It is little to be expected, then, that any people should fully understand the religious faith of another people. To add to the difficulty, all the great religions are of Oriental origin and date from a pre-scientific era. Now the essential characteristic both of Oriental and of non-scientific thinking is its vagueness. The Arabic historian, even of the present day, loves to indulge in absurd flights of rhetoric. He sprinkles his pages with grotesque metaphors; he uses the most hyperbolic exaggerations; nor is he particular to avoid the most glaring contradictions; and over it all he throws the veil of hazy mysticism.

If this be true of the Oriental style of composition when applied to staid matter-of-fact recitals, certainly one could expect nothing more definite when the theme is religion. It is no matter for surprise, then, that the sacred books of all great religions are couched in phraseology well calculated to befog the mind of any one who approaches them in any other spirit than that of preconceived faith. This applies no more and no less to the Egyptian than to all other Oriental religions. On the other hand, the data supplied us for the interpretation of the Egyptian faith are far more abundant than are accessible in the case of most other of the great religions of antiquity.

Despite the confusion and vagueness and seeming contradiction that pertain to the Egyptian records, it is probably true that a reasonably correct idea may be formed, at least in general terms, of the evolution and development, no less than of the final status, of the faith which was dominant with the people of the Nile for at least three thousand years. Certainly at least a rough outline of the development of that faith is accessible, and it is the more worthy of presentation because it may be taken at the same time as illustrative of the probable evolution of the faith of other peoples.

The most obvious and striking fact that appeals to the investigator of the Egyptian religion is that enormous numbers of gods hold sway: Ra, Horus, Osiris, Isis, Tmu, Amen, Set,—the list extends itself almost endlessly. Moreover, there is no little confusion as to the precise status of the various gods thus named. To casual inspection it would seem as if the Egyptian of the later time had no very clear idea himself as to how many gods were really included in the hierarchy, or as to the precise identity of the more important ones. And, indeed, such was probably the fact.

The only rational explanation of this confusion appears to be the alleged fact that in an early prehistoric day the various communities of Egypt, not[220] yet consolidated under a single government, had each its own special deity. This local deity, presiding jealously over the interests of its own people, came naturally to have greater or less importance in proportion to the growth or decay of the community over which it presided. Moreover, there must have been a constant tendency, through a shifting of portions of the population from one community to another, to confuse the attributes of the various gods even from the earliest time; since the person who removed from one village to another could not well be expected quite to forget the local god who had formerly been the chief object of his worship. Then as one community or another became dominant after the government was centralised, there must have been a tendency in successive ages to emphasise the importance of one local god or another.

Thus it is clear that in the time of the New Kingdom, when Thebes became the capital and chief centre of the empire, Amen, the local god of Thebes, came to assume an importance hitherto denied him. At last it was even customary to identify Amen with Ra, the greatest god of all, or king of the gods, and the compound name, Amen-Ra, came into use. Various other names were compounded through a similar confusion of attributes, chiefly perhaps through the natural tendency to identify one’s local god with a god of more widely recognised authority. A moment’s reflection makes it clear that the tendency of all this was towards the recognition of a most important central god, who, to a certain extent, ruled over and controlled the hierarchy of the lesser deities. But indeed, it seems clear that from the earliest times the existence of such a supremely powerful god had been everywhere recognised.

It may be doubted even whether it is possible for any religion worthy of the name to fail of an analysis leading to this result. The human mind naturally reaches back from effect to cause, and while it cannot quite clearly grasp the idea of an ultimate single cause, yet neither can it escape the analysis that leads to that idea.

In this view it might be contended that the Egyptian religion, and indeed, every other religion, is monotheistic; certainly its trend was towards monotheism, and certainly this conception best accords with the natural cast of the Oriental mind. It is natural to attempt to visualise, in the spiritual world, a state of things not widely different from the conditions of the actual world, and a people who had no higher conception of the body politic than the thought of an autocracy presided over by a single supreme monarch, would have been strangely untrue to their psychological prejudices had they failed to conceive a like state of things existing in the hierarchy of the gods.

Side by side with this tendency towards monotheism, however, exists always the counter tendency towards a multiplication of deities. The founding of a new city or colony would imply, sooner or later, the creation of a god to preside over the new community. If at first an old god were transplanted for the purpose, local jealousy would be sure to demand a deity whose sole interests in the local community could be expected. Again, the deification of kings and perhaps the other departed notables must of necessity lead to a perpetual enhancement of the list of gods. But this multiplicity of minor deities must not be supposed to be necessarily antagonistic to the essential monotheistic idea in the case of the Egyptian, any more than the multiplication of saints affects the status of the Christian religion.

Over and above all other gods, from first to last, there seems always to have been a conception of Ra, the Uncreated, the autocrat of the heavens.[221] Horus the sun-god, who fought each day in the interest of mankind against the malicious demon Set, or Sutekh, and who was overcome each night only to revive again and renew the combat with each succeeding morning, was a god of great and widely recognised power. Yet it appears that he was not quite identified, as has sometimes been supposed, with the supreme god Ra. To the latter attached a certain intangibility, a certain vagueness inconsistent with the obvious visual reality of the sun-god, or with the being of any other god whose qualities could be explicitly defined. In the very nature of the case the conception of Ra was vague. He represented the last analysis of thought, from which the mind recoils dazed and acknowledging itself baffled.

While we can hardly doubt that this must have been the status of the supreme god Ra in the minds of the most philosophical thinkers of Egypt, yet it is no less certain that there was a constant tendency to associate the qualities of various other gods with the qualities of the supreme deity; in other words, to elevate a lesser deity to the kingship of the gods, somewhat as an important subject might now and again be elevated to the earthly kingship.

The most tangible effort in this direction was made late in the XVIIIth Dynasty by Amenhotep IV, who came afterwards to be known as Khun-aten, “the splendour of the sun-disk,” and whom later generations characterised as the heretic king. This monarch strove to subordinate, if not indeed to eliminate, all the hosts of minor gods by instituting the kingship of the sun-god alone as the supreme, perhaps as the only, deity. The effort was not successful, and the reaction that followed left the old religion more firmly fixed than ever, in its previous beliefs and observances. None the less, the attempt has great historic interest, partly because it shows that the idea of essential monotheism underlying a superficial plurality of gods was current in Egypt, and even attained official recognition at just about the time of the Egyptian captivity of the Children of Israel. It is aside from the present purpose to inquire to what extent the ideas of the latter may have been influenced by this strong current of Egyptian thought.

It has just been said that the reaction against the sun-worship heresy left the old faith more firmly established than before. Never again was a prominent and conspicuous effort made to depart from the ancient faith. Whatever details of variation may have been introduced, the religion as a whole remained unchanged throughout the remaining course of Egyptian history. But this fixity again, far from being peculiar to the Egyptians, is but the history of every great theological system. The very fulcrum of such a system is the reliance upon the authority of the past. The abiding support of a traditional faith is that conservatism which lies at the foundation of all civilisation, and indeed, paradoxical though it seems, of all progress. The conservative, his eye fixed on the past, plants himself firmly in the path of progress, crying “Halt!” to every innovation. Yet during the time of a nation’s vitality this attempted damming up of the stream of progress results in, at most, a temporary stasis, since now and again the stress of new ideas suffices to burst the bonds. But there may come a time when the vitality of a nation is sapped, and when the power of conservatism may avail against all progressive movements.

Such a time came in Egypt at just about the era when the nations of Persia and of Greece were preparing to take hand in the world combat, and from that time on traditional theology, as represented by the priestcraft, was dominant in Egypt, and the once potent civilisation of the Nile Valley[222] ceased to hold its own. The records that outside nations have given us of Egyptian conditions date solely from this later period, and must therefore always be taken with certain reservations. Nevertheless, as regards the more tangible things which they describe, they perhaps are not greatly different from what they would have been if written a thousand years earlier. They tell us of great pyramids that were the tombs of kings, of strange customs of mummifying the dead, and of the worship of animals, so crass in character as to be almost inconceivable to the modern mind. The pyramids, to be sure, dated from an ancient epoch; moreover, they still stand, defiant of time, to testify to the truth of the Greek recitals. The mummies have been preserved in countless numbers, and if animal worship died out with the incoming of a new religion after the Macedonian invasion, there is no reason to doubt the substantial accuracy, as regards mere externals, of the accounts of it which the Greeks preserve to us.

We shall do well, then, to turn to the pages of Herodotus and Diodorus for a description of the external observances practised by the Egyptians, remembering always that this is the testimony of alien, even though sympathetic, witnesses, but scarcely doubting that it is testimony at least as unprejudiced as any that a modern would-be interpreter can draw from the monumental records.

The aggregate impression which one gathers, from even a casual consideration of the subject, is that the religion of the Egyptians, despite its very striking peculiarities of external observances, differed singularly little from the other great religions in its essentials. It was polytheistic, but with an underlying conception of monotheism. Its chief observances implied an abiding faith in the immortality of the soul. Its fundamental teachings were essentially moral according to the best light of the time. And if, as viewed by an outsider, it seemed to develop a grotesque ritual and a jumble of vague theistic conceptions, in these regards, also, it can hardly claim to be unique among Oriental religions.a


Herodotus gives an interesting description of certain religious observances as practised in his day. He says:

The priests of the gods, who in other places wear their hair long, in Egypt wear it short. It is elsewhere customary, in cases of death, for those who are most nearly related, to cut off their hair in testimony of sorrow; but the Egyptians, who at other times have their heads closely shorn, suffer the hair on this occasion to grow. Other nations will not suffer animals to approach the place of their repast; but in Egypt they live promiscuously with the people. Wheat and barley are common articles of food in other countries; but in Egypt they are thought mean and disgraceful; the diet here consists principally of spelt, a kind of corn which some call zea. Their dough they knead with their feet; whilst in the removal of mud and dung, they do not scruple to use their hands. Male children, except in those places which have borrowed the custom from hence, are left in other nations as nature formed them; in Egypt they are circumcised. The men have two vests, the women only one. In opposition to the customs of other nations, the Egyptians fix the ropes to their sails on the inside. The Greeks, when they write or reckon with counters, go from the left to the right, the Egyptians from right to left; notwithstanding which they persist in affirming that the Greeks write to the left, but they themselves always to the right. They have two[223] sorts of letters, one of which is appropriated to sacred subjects, the other used on common occasions [the hieroglyphic and hieratic characters].

Their veneration of their deities is superstitious to an extreme: one of their customs is to drink out of brazen goblets, which it is the universal practice among them to cleanse every day. They are so regardful of neatness, that they wear only linen, and that always newly washed; and it is from the idea of cleanliness, which they regard much beyond comeliness, that they use circumcision. Their priests every third day shave every part of their bodies, to prevent vermin or any species of impurity from adhering to those who are engaged in the service of the gods: the priesthood is also confined to one particular mode of dress; they have one vest of linen and their shoes are made of the byblus [papyrus]; they wash themselves in cold water twice in the course of the day, and as often in the night; it would indeed be difficult to enumerate their religious ceremonies, all of which they practise with superstitious exactness. The sacred ministers possess in return many and great advantages: they are not obliged to consume any part of their domestic property; each has a portion of the sacred viands ready dressed, assigned him, besides a large and daily allowance of beef and of geese; they have also wine, but are not permitted to feed on fish.

Beans are sown in no part of Egypt, neither will the inhabitants eat them, either boiled or raw; the priests will not even look at this pulse, esteeming it exceedingly unclean. Every god has several attendant priests, and one of superior dignity, who presides over the rest; when any one dies he is succeeded by his son.

They esteem bulls as sacred to Epaphus, which previously to sacrifice, are thus carefully examined: if they can but discover a single black hair in his body, he is deemed impure; for this purpose a priest is particularly appointed, who examines the animal as it stands, and as reclined on its back: its tongue is also drawn out, and he observes whether it be free from those blemishes which are specified in their sacred books, and of which I shall speak hereafter. The tail also undergoes examination, every hair of which must grow in its natural and proper form: if in all these instances the bull appears to be unblemished, the priest fastens the byblus round his horns; he then applies a preparation of earth, which receives the impression of his seal, and the animal is led away; this seal is of so great importance, that to sacrifice a beast which has it not, is deemed a capital offence.

I proceed to describe their mode of sacrifice: Having led the animal destined and marked for the purpose, to the altar, they kindle a fire; a libation of wine is poured upon the altar; the god is solemnly invoked, and the victim then is killed; they afterwards cut off his head, and take the skin from the carcass; upon the head they heap many imprecations: such as have a market-place at hand carry it there, and sell it to the Grecian traders; if they have not this opportunity, they throw it into the river. They devote the head, by wishing that whatever evil menaces those who sacrifice, or Egypt in general, it may fall upon that head.[11] This ceremony respecting the head of the animal, and this mode of pouring a libation of wine upon the altar, is indiscriminately observed by all the Egyptians: in consequence of the above, no Egyptian will on any account eat of the head of a beast. As to the examination of the victims, and their ceremony of burning them, they have different methods, as their different occasions of sacrifice require.


Of that goddess whom they esteem the first of their deities, and in whose honour their greatest festival is celebrated, I shall now make more particular mention. After the previous ceremony of prayers, they sacrifice an ox; they then strip off the skin, and take out the intestines, leaving the fat and the paunch; they afterwards cut off the legs, the shoulders, the neck, and the extremities of the loin; the rest of the body is stuffed with fine bread, honey, raisins, figs, frankincense, and various aromatics; after this process they burn it, pouring upon the flame a large quantity of oil: whilst the victim is burning, the spectators flagellate themselves, having fasted before the ceremony; the whole is completed by their feasting on the residue of the sacrifice. All the Egyptians sacrifice bulls without blemish, and calves; the females are sacred to Isis, and may not be used for this purpose. This divinity is represented under the form of a woman, and, as the Greeks paint Io, with horns upon her head; for this reason the Egyptians venerate cows far beyond all other cattle. Neither will any man or woman among them kiss a Grecian, nor use a knife, or spit, or any domestic utensil belonging to a Greek, nor will they eat even the flesh of such beasts as by their law are pure, if it has been cut with a Grecian knife. If any of these cattle die, they thus dispose of their carcasses: the females are thrown into the river, the males they bury in the vicinity of the city, and by way of mark, one and sometimes both of the horns are left projecting from the ground: they remain thus a stated time, and till they begin to putrefy, when a vessel appointed for this particular purpose is dispatched from Prosopitis, an island of the Delta, nine schæni in extent, and containing several cities. Atarbechis, one of these cities, in which is a temple of Venus, provides the vessels for this purpose, which are sent to the different parts of Egypt: these collect and transport the bones of the animals, which are all buried in one appointed place. This law and custom extends to whatever cattle may happen to die, as the Egyptians themselves put none to death.

Those who worship in the temple of the Theban Jupiter, or belong to the district of Thebes, abstain from sheep, and sacrifice goats. The same deities receive in Egypt different forms of worship; the ceremonies of Isis and of Osiris, who they say is no other than the Grecian Bacchus, are alone unvaried; in the temple of Mendes, and in the whole Mendesian district, goats are preserved and sheep sacrificed. The veneration of the Mendesians for these animals, and for the males in particular, is equally great and universal: this is also extended to goat-herds. There is one he-goat more particularly honoured than the rest, whose death is seriously lamented by the whole district of the Mendesians. In the Egyptian language the word Mendes is used in common for Pan and for a goat.

The Egyptians regard the hog as an unclean animal, and if they casually touch one they immediately plunge themselves, clothes and all, into the water. This prejudice operates to the exclusion of all swine-herds, although natives of Egypt, from the temples: with people of this description, a connection by marriage is studiously avoided, and they are reduced to the necessity of intermarrying among those of their own profession. The only deities to whom the Egyptians offer swine, are Bacchus and Luna; to these they sacrifice them when the moon is at the full, after which they eat the flesh. Why they offer swine at this particular time, and at no other, the Egyptians have a tradition among themselves, which delicacy forbids me to explain. The following is the mode in which they sacrifice this animal to Luna: as soon as it is killed, they cut off the extremity of the tail, which, with the[225] spleen and the fat, they enclose in the caul, and burn; upon the remainder, which at any other time they would disdain, they feast at the full moon, when the sacrifice is performed. They who are poor make figures of swine with meal, which having first baked, they offer on the altar.

On the day of the feast of Bacchus, at the hour of supper, every person, before the door of his house, offers a hog in sacrifice. The swine-herd of whom they purchased it, is afterwards at liberty to take it away. Except this sacrifice of the swine, the Egyptians celebrate the feast of Bacchus in the same manner as the Greeks.b


There are certain very practical features of the administration of the temples which Herodotus quite overlooked, but which have come to light through the efforts of modern scholarship. Some of these are admirably pointed out by Professor Erman:

Not the least of the circumstances which lent the priesthood of the New Kingdom that power which finally triumphed over royalty itself, was their wealth. For this they were indebted to gifts, and, indeed, so far as we can see, chiefly to gifts from the kings; it is only now and then that we find a private person making an endowment. From the earliest times all the rulers are busy in this fatal direction (some, like the pious kings of the Vth dynasty, were more so than others); even under the old kingdom many temples had attained such prosperity that they even possessed military forces of their own.

The golden age for the temples began with the Asiatic campaigns of the XVIIIth Dynasty. An approximate idea of the gifts which Tehutimes III made to Amen may be obtained from the remains of an inscription at Karnak; fields and gardens of the choicest of the South and North, landed property on high ground, with sweet trees growing on it, milch cows, and bullocks, and quantities of gold, silver, and lapis lazuli; then captive Asiatics and negroes,—there were at least 878 souls—men, women, and children,—who had to fill the god’s granaries, spin and weave, and till his fields for him. Finally he settled upon Amen three of the towns conquered by him, En-heugsa, Yenu-amu, and Hurenkhara, which had to pay an annual tribute to the god. Since almost every sovereign of the New Kingdom boasts in nearly the same words of having exhibited his piety in a practical fashion, one is first inclined to take this constant self-glorification of the Pharaohs, as so much in the Egyptian text has to be taken, for a conventional empty phrase. But in that case, our doubt would go too far, since at least some of the kings did make to the temples gifts which surpass all that might be considered probable. The lucky chance which has preserved for us the great Harris papyrus places us in a position to bring forward the evidence of figures. King Ramses III left behind after his death a comprehensive manifesto, in which he enumerates in detail all that he had done for the sanctuaries of his country during the thirty-one years of his reign. The numbers of these lists are evidently taken from the accounts of the state and of the different temples, and are consequently deserving of credit.

This great record, which fills a papyrus roll 1333 feet long, with seventy-nine pages of a large size, is divided into five sections, according to the recipients of the gifts. The first contains the gifts to the Theban temples, then follows the gifts to Heliopolis, those to Memphis, and those to the[226] smaller sanctuaries of the country; finally, the fifth section contains the total of all the donations.

Taking together the similar items amongst the donations, tributes, and sacrificial offerings, we have then the chief items of the sum of the income of the Egyptian temples during one and thirty years, somewhat as follows: about 1 ton (1015 kg. 336. g.) of gold; about 3 tons (2993 kg. 964 g.) silver and the value of silver; 940 kg. 3 g. of black bronze; about 13 tons (13,059 kg. 865 g.) bronze; about 14 lbs. (7 kg. 124 g.) precious stones; 1,093,803 pieces of valuable stone; 169 towns, 1,071,780 plots of arable land; 514 vineyards and orchards; 178 ships; 133,433 slaves; 514,968 head of cattle (especially oxen); 680,714 geese; 494,800 fish; 2,382,605 fruits: 5,740,352 sacks of corn; 6,744,428 loaves of bread; 256,460 jars of wine; 466,303 jars of beer; 368,461 jars of incense, honey, oil, etc., 1,933,766 items.

In order to give the reader some idea of the large sums here dealt with, I may remark that even in our own time, when the value of the metals has so greatly decreased, the quantity of precious metals in question would be worth about four million marks (about $1,000,000, or £200,000). And it must not be forgotten that on those same six or seven millions of Egyptians who, in addition to the state taxes, had to produce these treasures “ad majorem dei gloriam,” there devolved at the same time the building of the temples of Medinet Habu, Karnak, Tel-el-Tehudeh, and others. Truly the forces of the little country were unduly strained for the unproductive purposes of worship.

But what made these conditions so completely unsound was the disproportionate division of the treasure expended. If the many temples of the country had participated equally in these gifts, no one of them would have attained to an extreme height of power and wealth. But, probably on political grounds, which we can now no longer determine, Ramses III favoured one temple in the most partial manner, and that the very one to which his predecessors had already conferred the richest endowments. This was the sanctuary of the Theban Amen, which carried off the lion’s share of all the gifts of the generous sovereign.

Thus, for example, of the total 113,433 slaves which Ramses gave away, no fewer than 86,486 fell to Amen; of the 493,386 head of cattle, 421,362; of the 1,071,780 divisions of land, 898,168; of the 514 vineyards, 433; and so on: the 2756 gold and silver images of the gods were destined exclusively for him, and so were the nine foreign towns; it must even here be regarded as an exceptionally mean gift, when he received only 56 of the 160 Egyptian towns. On the whole, it will scarcely be wrong to assume that of the total of the gifts, three-fourths found their way into Amen’s treasuries; of the 86,486 slaves, the god Khonsu and the goddess Mut received in all only 3908.

Since, then, the earlier sovereigns of the New Kingdom had also laboured to fill the treasury of their favourite god Amen, this god ended by possessing resources, beside which those of all the other gods shrank to nothing, and again it is the document of Ramses III which enables us to estimate it in figures.

If we compare these figures with one another, we cannot doubt that under the XXth Dynasty the Amen of Thebes possessed at least five times as much property as the sun-god of Heliopolis, and ten times (if not far more) as much as Ptah of Memphis. And yet these latter were the two gods who had formerly been the most distinguished, and certainly also the[227] richest, in the whole country. The enormous magnitude of temple property like this, of course, demanded a much more complicated machinery for its administration than had been required for the modest possessions of the ancient sanctuaries. Even one of the larger temples of the middle kingdom could have its treasure, its granaries, and its affairs of writing carried on by certain members of its priestly college, for the labours which they entailed could be executed side by side; beyond the inferior servants there had been scarcely any regular officials in these temples. It is quite otherwise in the New Kingdom; the priests can no longer manage the administration unaided, and call in a host of officials to help. This is true of all the temples, but, of course, especially so of that of the Theban Amen. This god possessed a general administration of the house, i.e. the temple furniture; he has special departments for the treasure, for the lands, for the barns, for the oxen, and for the peasants, and every one of these departments has its overseer of princely rank, and its scribe. There is also a superior chief scribe for Amen, who keeps the roll of the sanctuary’s possessions. And since in a great temple of the New Kingdom the erection of new buildings and the works of restoration are never interrupted, he has also his own administration of construction, to which all works are subordinated; of course, provision is also made for the required number of labourers and craftsmen of all kinds, from the painter down to the stone-mason. To secure order in the temple and on the estates, the god keeps his own military forces with superior and inferior officers, and since amongst his dependents very secular proceedings often take place, he has also his own prison. Of the large staff of subordinate officials, who must have existed in such an administration, we, of course, know very little, as this class keeps out of sight. Still such people as the overseer of the sacrificial storehouses, doorkeepers of every description, and barbers have left us monuments, and must consequently have enjoyed a certain prosperity.

What we have here stated respecting the temple administration would be of still greater interest if we knew the mutual relations of all these offices, and how it came to pass that we find, now these, now those, united in the same hands. That the high priest arrogated to himself, at least nominally, now one, now another, especially important office, is comprehensible enough; but it remains unexplained how, for instance, the management of the constructions can be at one time handed over as a secondary function to the chief scribe, and another time to the superintendent of barns, the more since the former presided in addition over the god’s bulls, and the latter has the treasury under his protection, and “seals all contracts in Amen’s temple.” It is, moreover, a characteristic circumstance that these high temple officials are frequently also state functionaries; the gradual transformation of the old kingdom into the priestly state of the XXIst Dynasty, which is ruled by the high priests of Amen, already distinctly reveals itself in such dual officers. Still, the kingly power did not submit to the spiritual without resistance, and it may be that both the reformation of Khun-aten and the disturbances at the end of the XIXth Dynasty, when no sacrifices were brought into the temples, were in good part called forth by the effort to oppose a barrier to the individual and increasing power of the Amen priesthood. It must be owned that the latter issued from both trials stronger than ever.c

The opulence of the Egyptian temples is the more amazing for being lavished upon mere beasts. This animal-worship deeply impressed classical authors. The account of Diodorus is particularly full and vivid.



The Adoration and Worshipping of Beasts among the Egyptians seems justly to many a most strange and unaccountable thing, and worthy Enquiry; for they worship some Creatures even above measure, when they are dead as well as when they are living; as Cats, Ichneumons, Dogs, Kites, the Bird Ibis, Wolves and Crocodiles, and many other such like. The Cause of which I shall endeavour to give, having first premis’d something briefly concerning them. And first of all, they dedicate a piece of Land to every kind of Creature they adore, assigning the Profits for feeding and taking care of them. To some of these Deities the Egyptians give Thanks for recovering their Children from Sickness, as by shaving their Heads, and weighing the Hair, with the like Weight of Gold or Silver, and then giving that Mony to them that have the Care of the Beasts. To the Kites, while they are flying they cry out with a loud Voice, and throw pieces of Flesh for them upon the Ground till such time as they take it. To the Cats and Ichneumons they give Bread soakt in Milk, stroaking and making much of them, or feed them with pieces of Fish taken in the River Nile. In the same manner they provide for the other Beasts Food according to their several kinds.

They are so far from not paying this Homage to their Creatures, or being asham’d of them, that on the contrary they glory in them, as in the highest Adoration of the Gods, and carry about special Marks and Ensigns of Honour for them through City and Country; upon which Account those that have the Care of the Beasts (being seen afar off) are honour’d and worshipp’d by all by falling down upon their Knees. When any one of them dye they wrap it in fine Linen, and with Howling beat upon their Breasts, and so carry it forth to be salted, and then after they have anointed it with the Oyl of Cedar and other things, which both give the Body a fragrant Smell and preserve it a long time from Putrefaction, they bury it in a secret place. He that wilfully kills any of these Beasts, is to suffer Death; but if any kill a Cat or the Bird Ibis, whether wilfully or otherwise, he’s certainly drag’d away to Death by the Multitude, and sometimes most cruelly without any formal Tryal or Judgment of Law. For fear of this, if any by chance find any of these Creatures dead, they stand aloof, and with lamentable Cries and Protestations tell every body that they found it dead.

And such is the religious Veneration imprest upon the Hearts of Men towards these Creatures, and so obstinately is every one bent to adore and worship them, that even at the time when the Romans were about making a League with Ptolemy, and all the People made it their great Business to caress and shew all Civility and Kindness imaginable to them that came out of Italy, and through Fear strove all they could that no Occasion might in the least be given to disoblige them or be the Cause of a War, yet it so happ’ned that upon a Cat being kill’d by a Roman, the People in a Tumult ran to his Lodging, and neither the Princes sent by the King to dissuade them, nor the Fear of the Romans could deliver the Person from the Rage of the People, tho’ he did it against his Will; and this I relate not by Hear-say, but was myself an Eye-witness of it at the time of my Travels into Egypt. If these things seem incredible and like to Fables, those that we shall hereafter relate will look more strange. For it’s reported, that at a time when there was a Famine in Egypt, many were driven to that strait, that by turns they fed one upon another; but not a Man was accused to have in the least tasted of any of these sacred Creatures. Nay, if a Dog be found dead in a House, the whole Family shave their Bodies all over, and make great[229] Lamentation; and that which is most wonderful, is, That if any Wine, Bread or any other Victuals be in the House where any of these Creatures die, it’s a part of their Superstition, not to make use of any of them for any purpose whatsoever. And when they have been abroad in the Wars in foreign Countries, they have with great Lamentation brought with them dead Cats and Kites into Egypt, when in the mean time they have been ready to starve for want of Provision.

Moreover what Acts of Religious Worship they perform’d towards Apis in Memphis, Mnevis in Heliopolis, the Goat in Mendes, the Crocodile in the Lake of Mœris, and the Lyon kept in Leontopolis, and many other such like, is easie to describe, but very difficult to believe, except a Man saw it. For these Creatures are kept and fed in consecrated Ground inclos’d, and many great Men provide Food for them at great Cost and Charge; for they constantly give them fine Wheat-Flower, Frumenty, Sweet-meats of all sorts made up with Honey, and Geese sometimes rosted, and sometimes boyl’d; and for such as fed upon raw Flesh, they provide Birds. To say no more, they are excessive in their Costs and Charges in feeding of these Creatures; and forbear not to wash them in hot Baths, to anoint them with the most precious Unguents, and perfume them with the sweetest Odours. They provide likewise for them most rich Beds to lye upon, with decent Furniture, and are extraordinary careful about their generating one with another, according to the Law of Nature. They breed up for every one of the Males (according to their Kinds) the most beautiful She-mate, and call them their Concubines or Sweet-hearts, and are at great Costs in looking to them.

When any of them dye, they are as much concern’d as at the Deaths of their own Children, and lay out in Burying of them as much as all their Goods are worth, and far more. For when Apis through Old Age dy’d at Memphis after the Death of Alexander, and in the Reign of Ptolemy Lagus, his Keeper not only spent all that vast Provision he had made, in burying of him, but borrow’d of Ptolemy Fifty Talents of Silver for the same purpose. And in our time some of the Keepers of these Creatures have lavisht away no less than a Hundred Talents in the maintaining of them. To this may be further added, what is in use among them concerning the sacred Ox, which they call Apis. After the splendid Funeral of Apis is over, those Priests that have the Charge of the Business, seek out another Calf, as like the former as possibly they can find; and when they have found one, an end is put to all further Mourning and Lamentation; and such Priests as are appointed for that purpose, lead the young Ox [or Bull] through the City of Nile, and feed him Forty Days. Then they put him into a Barge, wherein is a Golden Cabbin, and so transport him as a God to Memphis, and place him in Vulcan’s Grove. During the Forty Days before mention’d, none but Women are admitted to see him, who being plac’d full in his view, pluck up their Coats. After, they are forbad to come into Sight of this New God. For the Adoration of this Ox, they give this Reason. They say that the Soul of Osiris pass’d into an Ox; and therefore whenever the Ox is Dedicated, to this very Day the Spirit of Osiris is infus’d into one Ox after another to Posterity. But some say, that the Members of Osiris (who was kill’d by Typhon) were thrown by Isis into an Ox made of Wood, cover’d with Ox-Hides, and from thence the City Busiris was so call’d. Many other things they fabulously report of Apis, which would be too tedious particularly to relate. But in as much as all that relate to this Adoration of Beasts are wonderful and indeed incredible, it’s very difficult to find out the true Causes and Grounds of this Superstition.


We have before related, that the Priests have a private and secret account of these things in the History of the Gods; but the Common People give these Three Reasons for what they do. The First of which is altogether Fabulous, and agrees with the old Dotage: For they say, that the First Gods were so very few, and Men so many above them in number, and so wicked and impious, that they were too weak for them, and therefore transform’d themselves into Beasts, and by that means avoided their Assaults and Cruelty. But afterwards they say that the Kings and Princes of the Earth (in gratitude to them that were the first Authors of their well-being) directed how carefully those Creatures whose shapes they had assum’d should be fed while they were alive, and how they were to be Buried when they were dead.

Another Reason they give is this: The antient Egyptians, they say, being often defeated by the Neighbouring Nations, by reason of the disorder and confusion that was among them in drawing up of their Battalions, found out at last the way of Carrying Standards or Ensigns before their Several Regiments; and therefore they painted the Images of these Beasts, which now they adore, and fixt ’em at the end of a Spear, which the Officers carry’d before them, and by this means every Man perfectly knew the Regiment he belong’d unto; and being that by the Observation of this good Order and Discipline, they were often Victorious, they ascrib’d their Deliverance to these Creatures; and to make to them a grateful Return, it was ordain’d for a Law, that none of these Creatures, whose Representations were formerly thus carry’d, should be kill’d, but religiously and carefully ador’d, as is before related.

The Third Reason alledg’d by them, is the Profit and Advantage these Creatures bring to the common support and maintenance of Humane Life. For the Cow is both serviceable to the Plow, and for breeding others for the same use. The Sheep yeans twice a Year, and yields Wool for Cloathing and Ornament, and of her Milk and Cream are made large and pleasant Cheeses. The Dog is useful both for the Guard of the House, and the pleasure of Hunting in the Field, and therefore their God whom they call Anubis, they represent with a Dog’s Head, signifying thereby that a Dog was the Guard both to Osiris and Isis. Others say, that when they fought for Osiris, Dogs guided Isis, and by their barking and yelling (as kind and faithful Associates with the Inquisitors) drove away the wild Beasts, and diverted others that were in their way; and therefore in celebrating the Feast of Isis, Dogs lead the way in the Procession. Those that first instituted this Custom, signifying thereby the ancient kindness and good Service of this Creature. The Cat likewise is very serviceable against the Venemous Stings of Serpents, and the deadly Bite of the Asp.

The Ichneumon secretly watches where the Crocodile lays her Eggs, and breaks them in pieces, and that he does with a great deal of eagerness, by natural instinct, without any necessity for his own support; and if this Creature were not thus serviceable, Crocodiles would abound to that degree, that there were no Sailing in Nile: Yea, the Crocodiles themselves are destroy’d by this Creature in a wonderful and incredible manner. For the Ichneumon rouls himself in the Mud, and then observing the Crocodile sleeping upon the Bank of the River with his Mouth wide open, suddenly whips down through his Throat into his very Bowels, and presently gnaws his way through his Belly, and so escapes himself, with the Death of his Enemy.

Among the Birds, the Ibis is serviceable for the destroying of Snakes, Locusts and the Palmer Worm. The Kite is an Enemy to the Scorpions,[231] horn’d Serpents, and other little Creatures, that both bite and sting Men to Death. Others say, that this Bird is Deify’d, because the Augurs make use of the swift flight of these Birds in their Divinations. Others say, that in ancient Time, a Book bound about with a Scarlet Thred (wherein were written all the Rites and Customs of Worshipping of the Gods) was carry’d by a Kite, and brought to the Priests at Thebes: For which Reason the Sacred Scribes wore a red Cap with a Kite’s Feather in it. The Thebans worship the Eagle, because she seems to be a Royal Bird, and to deserve the Adoration due to Jupiter himself. They say, the Goat was accounted amongst the number of the Gods as Priapus is honour’d among the Grecians: For this Creature is exceeding Lustful, and therefore is to be highly honour’d. By this Representation they would signify their Gratitude to the Gods, for the Populousness of their Country.

The Sacred Bulls Apis and Mnevis (they say) they honour as Gods by the Command of Osiris, both for their Usefulness in Husbandry, and likewise to keep up an honourable and lasting Memory of those that first found out Bread-corn and other Fruits of the Earth. But however, it’s lawful to sacrifice red Oxen, because Typhon seem’d to be of that Colour, who treacherously murder’d Osiris, and was himself put to Death by Isis for the Murther of her Husband. They report likewise, that anciently Men that had red Hair, like Typhon, were sacrifis’d by the Kings at the Sepulcher of Osiris. And indeed, there are very few Egyptians that are red, but many that are Strangers: And hence arose the Fable of Busiris his Cruelty towards Strangers amongst the Greeks, not that there ever was any King call’d Busiris; but Osiris his Sepulcher was so call’d in the Egyptian Language. They say they pay divine Honour to Wolves, because they come so near in their Nature to Dogs, for they are very little different, and mutually ingender and bring forth Whelps.

They give likewise another reason for their Adoration, but most fabulous of all other; for they say, that when Isis and her Son Orus were ready to joyn Battle with Typhon, Osiris came up from the Shades below in the form of a Wolf, and assisted them, and therefore when Typhon was kill’d the Conquerors commanded that Beast to be worshipp’d, because the Day was won presently upon his Appearing. Some affirm, that at the time of the Irruption of the Ethiopians into Egypt, a great Number of Wolves flockt together, and drove the invading Enemy beyond the City Elaphantina, and therefore that Province is call’d Lycopolitana; and for these Reasons came these Beasts before mention’d, to be thus ador’d and worshipped.

Now it remains, that we speak of Deifying the Crocodile, of which many have inquir’d what might be the Reason; being that these Beasts devour Men, and yet are ador’d as Gods, who in the mean time are pernicious Instruments of many cruel Accidents. To this they answer, that their Country is not only defended by the River, but much more by the Crocodiles; and therefore the Theeves out of Arabia and Africa being affraid of the great number of these Creatures, dare not pass over the River Nile, which protection they should be depriv’d of, if the Beasts should be fallen upon, and utterly destroy’d by the Hunters.

But there’s another Account given of these Things: For one of the Ancient Kings, called Menes, being set upon and pursu’d by his own Dogs, was forc’d into the Lake of Mœris, where a Crocodile (a Wonder to be told) took him up and carri’d him over to the other side, where in Gratitude to the Beast he built a City, and call’d it Crocodile; and commanded Crocodiles to be Ador’d as Gods, and Dedicated the Lake to them for a[232] place to Feed and Breed in. Where he built a Sepulcher for himself with a foursquare Pyramid, and a Labyrinth greatly admir’d by every Body. In the same manner they relate Stories of other Things, which would be too tedious here to recite. For some conceive it to be very clear and evident (by several of them not Eating many of the Fruits of the Earth) that Gain and Profit by sparing has infected them with this Superstition: for some never Taste Lentils, nor other Beans; and some never eat either Cheese or Onions or such like Food, although Egypt abounds with these Things. Thereby signifying that all should learn to be temperate; and whatsoever any feed upon, they should not give themselves to Gluttony. But others give another Reason; for they say that in the Time of the Ancient Kings, the People being Prone to Sedition, and Plotting to Rebel, one of their wise and prudent Princes divided Egypt into several Parts, and appointed the Worship of some Beast or other in every Part, or forbad some sort of Food, that by that means everyone Adoring their own Creature, and slighting that which was worshipped in another Province, the Egyptians might never agree among themselves.

But some give this Reason for Deifying of these Creatures: They say, that in the beginning, Men that were of a fierce and beastly Nature herded together and devoured one another; and being in perpetual War and Discord, the stronger always destroy’d the weaker. In process of time, those that were too weak for the other (taught at length by Experience) got in Bodies together, and had the Representation of those Beasts (which they afterwards worshipped) in their Standards, to which they ran together when they were in a Fright, upon every occasion, and so make up a considerable Force against them that attempted to assault them. This was imitated by the rest, and so the whole Multitude got into a Body; and hence it was that that Creature, which everyone suppos’d was the cause of his Safety, was honour’d as a God, as justly deserving that Adoration. And therefore at this day the People of Egypt differ in their Religion, everyone Worshipping that Beast which their Ancestors did in the beginning.d


Among the ceremonies connected with Osiris, the fête of Apis holds a conspicuous place.

For Osiris was also worshipped under the form of Apis, the Sacred Bull of Memphis, or as a human figure with a bull’s head, accompanied by the name “Apis-Osiris.” According to Plutarch, “Apis was a fair and beautiful image of the Soul of Osiris;” and the same author tells us that “Mnevis, the Sacred Ox of Heliopolis, was also dedicated to Osiris, and honoured by the Egyptians with a reverence next to that paid to Apis, whose sire some pretend him to be.” This agrees with the statement of Diodorus, who says, Apis and Mnevis were both sacred to Osiris, and worshipped as gods throughout the whole of Egypt; and Plutarch suggests that, from these well-known presentations of Osiris, the people of Elis and Argos derived the idea of Bacchus with an ox’s head; Bacchus being reputed to be the same as Osiris. Herodotus, in describing him, says, “Apis, also called Epaphus, is a young bull, whose mother can have no other offspring, and who is reported by the Egyptians to conceive from lightning sent from heaven, and thus to produce the god Apis. He is known by certain marks: his hair is black; on his forehead is a white triangular spot, on his back an eagle, and a beetle under his tongue and the hair of his tail is double.” Ovid represents[233] him of various colours. Strabo says his forehead and some parts of his body are of a white colour, the rest being black; “by which signs they fix upon a new one to succeed the other, when he dies;” and Plutarch thinks that, “on account of the great resemblance they imagine between Osiris and the Moon, his more bright and shining parts being shadowed and obscured by those that are of a darker hue, they call the Apis the living image of Osiris, and suppose him begotten by a ray of generative light, flowing from the moon, and fixing upon his mother, at a time when she was strongly disposed for it.”

Pliny speaks of Apis “having a white spot in the form of a crescent upon his right side, and a lump under his tongue in the form of a beetle.” Ammianus Marcellinus says the white crescent on his right side was the principal sign, and Ælianus mentions twenty-nine marks, by which he was recognised, each referable to some mystic signification. But he pretends that the Egyptians did not allow those given by Herodotus and Aristagoras. Some suppose him entirely black; and others contend that certain marks, as the predominating black colour, and the beetle on his tongue, show him to be consecrated to the sun, as the crescent to the moon. Ammianus and others say that “Apis was sacred to the Moon, Mnevis to the Sun”; and most authors describe the latter of a black colour.

It is difficult to decide if Herodotus is correct respecting the peculiar marks of Apis. There is, however, evidence from the bronzes, found in Egypt, that the vulture (not eagle) on his back was one of his characteristics, supplied, no doubt, like many others, by the priests themselves; who probably put him to much inconvenience, and pain too, to make the marks and hairs conform to his description.

To Apis belonged all the clean oxen, chosen for sacrifice; the necessary requisite for which, according to Herodotus, was, that they should be entirely free from black spots, or even a single black hair; though, as I shall have occasion to remark in treating of the sacrifices, this statement of the historian is far from accurate. It may also be doubted if the name Epaphus, by which he says Apis was called by the Greeks in their language, was of Greek origin.

He is called in the hieroglyphic legends Hapi; and the bull, the demonstrative and figurative sign following his name, is accompanied by the crux ansata, or emblem of life. It has seldom any ornament on its head; but the figure of Apis- (or Hapi-) Osiris generally wears the globe of the sun, and the Asp, the symbol of divine majesty; which are also given to the bronze figures of this bull.

Memphis was the place where Apis was kept, and where his worship was particularly observed. He was not merely looked upon as an emblem, but, as Pliny and Cicero say, was deemed “a god by the Egyptians”: and Strabo calls “Apis the same as Osiris.” Psamthek I there erected a grand court (ornamented with figures in lieu of columns twelve cubits in height, forming an inner peristyle), in which he was kept when exhibited in public. Attached to it were the two stables (delubra, or thalami), mentioned by Pliny: and Strabo says “Before the enclosure where Apis is kept, is a vestibule, in which also the mother of the sacred bull is fed; and into this vestibule Apis is introduced, in order to be shown to strangers. After being brought out for a little while, he is again taken back; at other times he is only seen through a window.” “The temple of Apis is close to that of Vulcan; which last is remarkable for its architectural beauty, its extent, and the richness of its decoration.”


Festivals and Ceremonials of Apis Worship

The festival in honour of Apis lasted seven days; on which occasion a large concourse of people assembled at Memphis. The priests then led the sacred bull in solemn procession, all people coming forward from their houses to welcome him as he passed.

When the Apis died, certain priests, chosen for this duty, went in quest of another, who was known from the signs mentioned in the sacred books. As soon as he was found, they took him to the city of the Nile, preparatory to his removal to Memphis, where he was kept forty days; during which period women alone were permitted to see him. These forty days being completed, he was placed in a boat, with a golden cabin prepared to receive him, and he was conducted in state upon the Nile to Memphis.

Pliny and Ammianus, however, declare that they led the bull Apis to the fountain of the priests, and drowned him with much ceremony, as soon as the time prescribed in the sacred books was fulfilled. This Plutarch limits to twenty-five years (“the square of five, and the same number as the letters of the Egyptian alphabet”), beyond which it was forbidden that he should live; and having put him to death, they sought another to succeed him. His body was embalmed, and a grand funeral procession took place at Memphis, when his coffin, “placed on a sledge, was followed by the priests,” “dressed in the spotted skins of fawns (leopards), bearing the thyrsus in their hands, uttering the same cries, and making the same gesticulations as the votaries of Bacchus during the ceremonies in honour of that god.”

When the Apis died a natural death, his obsequies were celebrated on the most magnificent scale; and to such extravagance was this carried, that those who had the office of taking charge of him were often ruined by the heavy expenses entailed upon them. On one occasion, during the reign of the first Ptolemy, upwards of fifty talents were borrowed to defray the necessary cost of his funeral; “and in our time,” says Diodorus, “the curators of other sacred animals have expended a hundred talents in their burial.”

The Egyptians not only paid divine honours to the bull Apis, but, considering him the living image and representative of Osiris, they consulted him as an oracle, and drew from his actions good or bad omens. They were in the habit of offering him any kind of food with the hand: if he took it, the answer was considered favourable; if he refused, it was thought to be a sinister omen. Pliny and Ammianus observe that he refused what the unfortunate Germanicus presented to him; and the death of that prince, which happened shortly after, was thought to confirm most unequivocally the truth of those presages. The Egyptians also drew omens respecting the welfare of their country, according to the stable in which he happened to be. To these two stables he had free access; and when he spontaneously entered one, it foreboded benefits to Egypt, as the other the reverse; and many other tokens were derived from accidental circumstances connected with this sacred animal.

Pausanias says that those who wished to consult Apis first burnt incense on an altar, filling the lamps with oil which were lighted there, and depositing a piece of money on the altar to the right of the statue of the god. Then placing their mouth near his ear, in order to consult him, they asked whatever questions they wished. This done, they withdrew, covering their two ears until they were outside the sacred precincts of the temple; and there listening to the first expression any one uttered, they drew from it the desired omen.


Children, also, according to Pliny and Solinus, who attended in great numbers during the processions in honour of the divine bull, received the gift of foretelling future events; and the same authors mention a superstitious belief at Memphis, of the influence of Apis upon the Crocodile, during the seven days when his birth was celebrated. On this occasion, a gold and silver patera was annually thrown into the Nile, at a spot called from its form the “Bottle”; and while this festival was held, no one was in danger of being attacked by crocodiles, though bathing carelessly in the river. But it could no longer be done with impunity after the sixth hour of the eighth day. The hostility of that animal to man was then observed invariably to return, as if permitted by the deity to resume its habits.

Apis was usually kept in one or other of the two stables—seldom going out, except into the court attached to them, where strangers came to visit him. But on certain occasions he was conducted through the town with great pomp. He was then escorted by numerous guards, who made a way amidst the crowd, and prevented the approach of the profane; and a chorus of children singing hymns in his honour headed the procession.

The greatest attention was paid to the health of Apis; they took care to obtain for him the most wholesome food; and they rejoiced if they could preserve his life to the full extent prescribed by law. Plutarch also notices his being forbidden to drink the water of the Nile, in consequence of its having a peculiarly fattening property. “For,” he adds, “they endeavour to prevent fatness, as well in Apis, as in themselves: always studious that their bodies may sit as light about their souls as possible, in order that their mortal part may not oppress and weigh down the more divine and immortal.”

Many fêtes were held at different seasons of the year; for, as Herodotus observes, far from being contented with one festival, the Egyptians celebrate annually a very great number: of which that of Diana (Pakht), kept at the city of Bubastis, holds the first rank, and is performed with the greatest pomp. Next to it is that of Isis, at Busiris, a city situated in the middle of the Delta, with a very large temple, consecrated to that Goddess, the Ceres of the Greeks. The third in importance is the fête of Minerva (Nit), held at Saïs; the fourth, of the Sun, at Heliopolis; the fifth, of Latona, in the city of Buto; and the sixth is that performed at Papreims, in honour of Mars.e

Strabo, the famous geographer of antiquity, visited Egypt in 24 B.C., and ascended the Nile. Among other records of his trip, he has left us a picturesque account of his peep at the sacred bull.

At Heliopolis, he says, we saw large buildings in which the priests lived. For it is said that anciently this was the principal residence of the priests, who studied philosophy and astronomy. But there are no longer either such a body of persons or such pursuits. No one was pointed out to us on the spot, as presiding over these studies, but only persons who perform sacred rites, and who explained to strangers (the peculiarities of) the temples.


In sailing up the river we meet with Babylon, a strong fortress, built by some Babylonians who had taken refuge there, and had obtained permission from the kings to establish a settlement in that place. At present it is an encampment for one of the three legions which garrison Egypt. There is a mountainous ridge, which extends from the encampment[236] as far as the Nile. At this ridge are wheels and screws, by which water is raised from the river, and one hundred and fifty prisoners are (thus) employed.

The pyramids on the other side (of the river) at Memphis may be clearly discerned from this place, for they are not far off.

Memphis itself also, the residence of the kings of Egypt, is near, being only three schœni distant from the Delta. It contains temples, among which is that of Apis, who is the same as Osiris. Here the ox Apis is kept in a sort of sanctuary, and is held, as I have said, to be a god. The forehead and some other small parts of the body are white; the other parts are black. By these marks the fitness of the successor is always determined, when the animal to which they pay these honours dies. In front of the sanctuary is a court, in which there is another sanctuary for the dam of Apis. Into this court the Apis is let loose at times, particularly for the purpose of exhibiting him to strangers. He is seen through a door in the sanctuary, and he is permitted to be seen also out of it. After he has frisked about a little in the court, he is taken back to his own stall. The temple of Apis is near the Hephæsteum (or temple of Vulcan); the Hephæsteum itself is very sumptuously constructed, both as regards the size of the naos and in other respects. In front of the Dromos is a colossal figure consisting of a single stone. It is usual to celebrate bull-fights in this Dromos; the bulls are bred expressly for this purpose, like horses. They are let loose, and fight with one another, the conqueror receiving a prize.f


Even more striking than the worship of Apis was the custom of embalming the dead, which was in vogue uninterruptedly for some thousands of years. Herodotus tells us of the exact method of procedure:

There are certain persons appointed by law to the exercise of the profession of embalming. When a dead body is brought to them, they exhibit to the friends of the deceased, different models highly finished in wood. The most perfect of these they say resembles one whom I do not think it religious to name in such a matter; the second is of less price, and inferior in point of execution; another is still more mean; they then inquire after which model the deceased shall be represented: when the price is determined, the relations retire, and the embalmers thus proceed: In the most perfect specimens of their art, they draw the brain through the nostrils, partly with a piece of crooked iron, and partly by the infusion of drugs; they then with an Ethiopian stone make an incision in the side, through which they extract the intestines; these they cleanse thoroughly, washing them with palm-wine, and afterwards covering them with pounded aromatics: they then fill the body with powder of pure myrrh, cassia, and all other perfumes, except frankincense. Having sown up the body, it is covered with nitre for the space of seventy days, which time they may not exceed; at the end of this period it is washed, closely wrapped in bandages of cotton, dipped in a gum which the Egyptians use as glue: it is then returned to the relations, who enclose the body in a case of wood, made to resemble a human figure, and place it against the wall in the repository of their dead. The above is the most costly mode of embalming. They who wish to be less expensive, adopt the following method: they neither draw out the intestines, nor make any incision in the dead body, but inject an unguent made from the cedar; after taking proper means to secure the[237] injected oil within the body, it is covered with nitre for the time above specified: on the last day they withdraw the liquor before introduced, which brings with it all the bowels and intestines; the nitre eats away the flesh, and the skin and bones only remain: the body is returned in this state, and no further care taken concerning it. There is a third mode of embalming appropriated to the poor. A particular kind of ablution is made to pass through the body, which is afterwards left in nitre for the above seventy days, and then returned. The wives of men of rank, and such females as have been distinguished by their beauty or importance, are not immediately on their decease delivered to the embalmers: they are usually kept for three or four days, which is done to prevent any indignity being offered to their persons. An instance of this once occurred.b

Diodorus gives a slightly different account of the methods of the embalmer, adding certain most instructive details as to burial customs:

“Now tho’ we have said perhaps more than is needful of their sacred Creatures, yet with this we have set forth the Laws of the Egyptians, which are very remarkable. But when a Man comes to understand their Rites and Ceremonies in Burying their Dead, he’ll be struck with much greater Admiration.

“For after the Death of any of them, all the Friends and Kindred of the deceased throw Dirt upon their Heads, and run about through the City; mourning and lamenting till such time as the Body be interr’d, and abstain from Baths, Wine and all pleasants Meats in the mean time; and forbear to cloath themselves with any rich Attire. They have three sorts of Funerals: The Stately and Magnificent, the Moderate, and the Meanest. In the first they spend a Talent of Silver, in the second twenty Minas [about £62 10s. or $300], in the last they are at very small Charges. They that have the Charge of wrapping up and burying the Body, are such as have been taught the Art by their Ancestors. These give in a Writing to the Family of every thing that is to be laid out in the Funeral, and inquire of them after what Manner they would have the Body interr’d. When every thing is agreed upon, they take up the Body and deliver it to them whose Office it is to take Care of it. Then the Chief among them (who is call’d the Scribe) having the Body laid upon the Ground, marks out how much of the left Side towards the Bowels is to be incis’d and open’d, upon which the Paraschistes (so by them call’d) with an Ethiopian Stone dissects so much of the Flesh as by the Law is justifiable, and having done it, he forthwith runs away might and main, and all there present pursue him with Execrations, and pelt him with Stones, as if he were guilty of some horrid Offence, for they look upon him as an hateful Person, who wounds and offers Violence to the Body in that kind, or does it any Predjudice whatsoever.

Golden Ewers and Basins from the Tomb of Ramses III


“But as for those whom they call the Taricheutæ [the Embalmers], they highly honour them, for they are the Priests Companions, and as Sacred Persons are admitted into the Temple. As soon as they come to the dissected Body, one of the Taricheutæ thrusts up his Hand through the Wound, into the Breast of the Dead, and draws out all the Intestins, but the Reins and the Heart. Another cleanses all the Bowels, and washes them in Phœnician Wine mixt with diverse Aromatick Spices. Having at last wash’d the Body, they first anoint it all over with the Oyl of Cedar and other precious Ointments for the space of forty days together; that done, they rub it well with Myrrhe, Cinnamon, and such like things, not only apt and effectual for long Preservation, but for sweet scenting of the Body also, and so deliver it to the Kindred of the Dead, with every Member so whole and intire, that no Part of the Body seems to be alter’d till it come to the very Hairs of the Eyelids and the Eye-brows, insomuch as the Beauty and Shape of the Face seems just as it was before. By which Means many of the Egyptians laying up the Bodies of their Ancestors in stately Monuments, perfectly see the true Visage and Countenance of those that were buried, many Ages before they themselves were born. So that in viewing the Proportion of every one of their Bodies and the Lineaments of their Faces, they take exceeding great Delight, even as much as if they were still living among them.

“Moreover, the Friends and nearest Relations of the Dead acquaint the Judges and the rest of their Friends with the Time prefixt for the Funeral of such an one by Name, declaring that such a day he is to pass the Lake. At which Time forty Judges appear and sit together in a Semicircle, in a Place beyond the Lake; where a Ship (before provided by such as have the Care of the Business) is hal’d up to the Shoar, govern’d by a Pilot, whom the Egyptians call Charon. And therefore they say, that Orpheus seeing this Ceremony when he was in Egypt, invented the Fable of Hell, partly imitating them in Egypt, and partly adding something of his own; of which we shall speak particularly hereafter.

Implements used in Embalming

(Now in the British Museum)

“The Ship being now in the Lake, every one is at Liberty by the Law to accuse the Dead before the Coffin be put aboard; and if any Accuser appears and makes good his Accusation, that he liv’d an ill Life, then the Judges give Sentence, and the Body is debarr’d from being buried after the usual Manner; but if the Informer be convicted of a scandalous and malicious Accusation, he’s very severely punish’d. If no Informer appear, or that the Information prove false, all the Kindred of the Deceased leave off Mourning, and begin to set forth his Praises; but say nothing of his Birth (as is the Custom among the Greeks) because they account all in Egypt to be equally noble. But they recount how the deceased was educated from a Child, his Breeding till he came to Man’s Estate, his Piety towards the Gods and his Justice towards Men, his Chastity and other Virtues, wherein[239] he excell’d; and they pray and call upon the infernal Deities to receive the deceas’d into the Society of the Just. The common People take it from the other, and approve of all that is said in his Praise with a loud Shout, and set forth likewise his Vertues with the highest Praises and Strains of Commendation, as he that is to live for ever with the just in the Kingdom of Jove.

“Then they (that have Tombs of their own) interr the Corps in Places appointed for that Purpose; they that have none of their own, build a small Apartment in their own Houses, and rear up the Coffin to the Sides of the strongest Wall of the Building. Such as are deny’d common Burial, either because they are in Debt, or convicted of some horrid Crime, they bury in their own Houses; and in After-times it often happens that some of their Kindred growing rich, pay off the Debts of the deceas’d, or get him absolv’d, and then bury their Ancestor with State and Splendour. For amongst the Egyptians it’s a Sacred Constitution, that they should at their greatest Costs honour their Parents and Ancestors who are translated to an Eternal Habitation.

“It’s a Custom likewise among them to give the Bodies of their Parents in Pawn to their Creditors, and they that do not presently redeem them, fall under the greatest Disgrace imaginable, and are deny’d Burial after their Deaths. One may justly wonder at the Authors of this excellent Constitution, who both by what we see practis’d among the living, and by the decent Burial of the dead, did (as much as possibly lay within the Power of Men) endeavour to promote Honesty and faithful Dealing one with another. For the Greeks (as to what concern’d the Rewards of the Just and the Punishment of the Impious) had nothing amongst them but invented Fables and Poetical Fictions, which never wrought upon Men for the Amendment of their Lives, but on the contrary, were despis’d and laught at by the lewder Sort.

“But among the Egyptians, the Punishment of the bad and the Rewards of the good being not told as idle Tales, but every day seen with their own Eyes, all Sorts were warn’d of their Duties, and by this Means was wrought and continu’d a most exact Reformation of Manners and orderly Conversation among them. For those certainly are the best Laws that advance Virtue and Honesty, and instruct Men in a prudent Converse in the World, rather than those that tend only to the heaping up of Wealth, and teach Men to be rich.”d


[11] See Leviticus, chap. xvi. 21. “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat.”—Translator.





Egypt remains a light-house in the profound darkness of remote antiquity.—Renan.

By far the greater number of the remains of Egyptian civilisation that have come down to us, are monuments that may be classed as works of art. Indeed, when one speaks of ancient Egypt, one thinks instinctively of her art remains; her pyramids, temples, and sphinxes, her obelisks and colossal sculptures. As one wanders through the halls of such great collections as those of the British Museum, or of the Louvre, it seems to him as if art must have been the very life of Egypt, and as if a considerable proportion of her people must have been engaged in producing the multitude of monuments that are here preserved. But there is, of course, a certain illusion in this thought.

The number of art monuments preserved in Egypt is, indeed, very large in the aggregate, but it must be remembered that they represent the accumulated treasures of many centuries. Thanks to the climate of Egypt, a vastly larger proportion of her monuments have been preserved than have come down to us from any other people of antiquity, and this fact should be borne constantly in mind when one endeavours to estimate the real status of art in that country. Now that the results of many centuries of labour are gathered into a comparatively few collections, the impression made upon the observer is naturally somewhat different from what it would have been could he have seen the same monuments in their original locations scattered throughout the kingdom.

Nevertheless, after making all deductions for the perverted historical perspective thus induced, the fact remains that we are quite justified in speaking of the Egyptians as a singularly artistic race. Indeed, it would be absurd to deny this position to the people who, first of any on the earth so far as known, created a truly great and truly individual art.

It has been held a matter for surprise that the Greeks, who so fully appreciated, and, indeed, so greatly overestimated, the learning and the occult wisdom of the Egyptians, should have failed to be impressed by their works of art. But, rightly considered, there is nothing at all remarkable in this. It must be remembered that Herodotus, who gives us our earliest glimpses of Egypt through Grecian eyes, lived in the age of Pericles, when the masterpieces of Phidias and his contemporaries were constantly before the eyes of the Greek traveller as the criterion by which other works of art were to be judged. It can hardly be wondered at that, judged by this test, the Egyptian sculptures did not seem remarkable. Herodotus had not the spirit of the antiquarian nor of the modern scientific historian, and he therefore made no allowance for the fact that the major part of the sculptures[241] visible had been made almost a thousand years before the age of Phidias; but it is that fact which the modern investigator should bear constantly in mind.

It would be absurd to claim for the Egyptian statues that they compare for a moment as finished works of art with the Grecian productions of the Golden Age. But when one reflects that it was the Egyptians who led the way and first pointed out the possibility of modelling in stone; when one reflects that, so far as extant remains can give us any clew, there were no forerunners of the Egyptians who even remotely approached their standard; when, in a word, one remembers that this art was an indigenous product, as nearly independent of outside influences as any human creations ever can be—then, and then only, is one prepared to appreciate the real merit of the Egyptian sculptor.

To one who approaches this work merely in the cold spirit of the modern critic, untouched by the enthusiasm of the antiquarian, the sculpture of the Egyptians may well be characterised as crude in the extreme. In the first instance it is cold, rigid, immobile, lacking utterly the plasticity and action of the Greek product. Secondly, it is but crudely modelled. No Egyptian artist ever learned to draw in the modern acceptance of that word, or to model in more than the most elementary fashion. These, indeed, taken by themselves, are radical defects, and at first sight they render the Egyptian monuments grotesque, rather than pleasing, to the trained artistic eye. But when one has lived long enough among these statues to enter more fully into their spirit, when one has learned to put away the classical traditions and to relax somewhat his standards of technique, he will see this work in quite another light. He will recognise it as the titanic effort of a constructive genius in that earlier and more truly creative period when technique has not been mastered, but when a true artistic impulse is impelling the aspirant towards new and beautiful ideals which he himself will never quite attain, but to which his work points the way. It is large work in the fullest sense of the word, this art of the Egyptians, and he who can get no farther than to note its often faulty drawing, its imperfect modelling, is forever shut out from a true appreciation of its merits. But, on the other hand, the dreamer who sees, as some antiquarians are wont to do, matchless perfections in its very crudities, and intentional artistic effects in the mere faults of its technique—this enthusiast misses the true lessons of Egyptian art as widely as the overcritical and unsympathetic carper.

However much the various schools of critics may differ in their estimates, the task of the historian at least is clear. He must think of Egyptian art in its relations of time and place. To him it is important because of its position in the scale of the evolution of art in the world. And in this view, putting aside at once hypercriticism and overfervid enthusiasm, Egyptian art can hardly fail to impress the observer as one of the most marvellous of human creations.a

While Greece was still in its infancy, Egypt had long been the leading nation of the world; she was noted for her magnificence, her wealth, and power, and all acknowledged her pre-eminence in wisdom and civilisation. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Greeks should have admitted into their early art some of the forms then most in vogue; and though the wonderful taste of that gifted people speedily raised them to a point of excellence never attained by the Egyptians or any others, the rise and first germs of art and architecture must be sought in the valley of the[242] Nile. In the oldest monuments of Greece, the sloping or pyramidal line constantly predominates; the columns in the oldest Greek order are almost purely Egyptian, in the proportions of the shaft, and in the form of its shallow flutes without fillets; and it is a remarkable fact that the oldest Egyptian columns are those which bear the closest resemblance to the Greek Doric.

Temple on the Island of Philæ

Though great variety was permitted in objects of luxury, as furniture, vases, and other things depending on caprice, the Egyptians were forbidden to introduce any material innovations into the human figure, such as would alter its general character; and all subjects connected with religion retained to the last the same conventional type. A god in the latest temple was of the same form as when represented on monuments of the earliest date; and King Menes would have recognised Amen, or Osiris, in a Ptolemaic or a Roman sanctuary. In sacred subjects the law was inflexible; and religion, which has frequently done so much for the development and direction of taste in sculpture, had the effect of fettering the genius of Egyptian artists. No improvements, resulting from experience and observation, were admitted in the mode of drawing the human figure; to copy nature was not allowed; it was therefore useless to study it, and no attempt was made to give the proper action to the limbs. Certain rules, certain models, had been established by the priesthood; and the faulty conceptions of ignorant times were copied and perpetuated by every successive artist. For, as Plato and Synesius say, the Egyptian sculptors were not suffered to attempt anything contrary to the regulations laid down regarding the figures of the gods; they were forbidden to introduce any change, or to invent new subjects and habits; and thus the art, and the rules which bound it, always remained the same.

Egyptian bas-relief appears to have been, in its origin, a mere copy of painting, its predecessor. The first attempt to represent the figures of gods, sacred emblems, and other subjects consisted in drawing, or painting, simple outlines of them on a flat surface, the details being afterwards put in with colour; but in process of time these forms were traced on stone with a tool, and the intermediate space between the various figures being afterwards cut away, the once level surface assumed the appearance of a bas-relief. It was, in fact, a pictorial representation on stone, which is evidently the character of all the bas-reliefs on Egyptian monuments; and which readily accounts for the imperfect arrangement of their figures.

Deficient in conception, and above all in a proper knowledge of grouping, they were unable to form those combinations which give true expression;[243] every picture was made up of isolated parts, put together according to some general notions, but without harmony, or preconceived effect. The human face, the whole body, and everything they introduced, were composed in the same manner of separate members placed together one by one according to their relative situations: the eye, the nose, and other features composed a face, but the expression of feelings and passions was entirely wanting; and the countenance of the king, whether charging an enemy’s phalanx in the heat of battle, or peaceably offering incense in a sombre temple, presented the same outline and the same inanimate look. The peculiarity of the front view of an eye, introduced in a profile, is thus accounted for: it was the ordinary representation of that feature added to a profile, and no allowance was made for any change in the position of the head.

It was the same with drapery: the figure was first drawn, and the drapery then added, not as part of the whole, but as an accessory; they had no general conception, no previous idea of the effect required to distinguish the warrior or the priest, beyond the impressions received from costume, or from the subject of which they formed a part; and the same figure was dressed according to the character it was intended to perform. Every portion of a picture was conceived by itself, and inserted as it was wanted to complete the scene; and when the walls of the building, where a subject was to be drawn, had been accurately ruled with squares, the figures were introduced, and fitted to this mechanical arrangement. The members were appended to the body, and these squares regulated their form and distribution, in whatever posture they might be placed.

Bas-relief of a winged figure

The proportions of the human figure did not continue always the same. During the IVth and other early dynasties it differed from that of the Augustan age of the XVIIIth and XIXth; and another change took place under the Ptolemies. The chief alteration was in the height of the knee from the ground, which was higher during the XVIIIth and XIXth than in the ancient and later periods. The whole height of the figure in bas-reliefs and paintings was then divided into nineteen parts; and the wall having been ruled in squares, according to its intended size, all the parts of it were put in according to their established positions; the knee, for instance, falling on the sixth line. But the length of the foot was not, as in Greece, the standard from which they reckoned; for being equal to 3 spaces, it could not be taken as the base of 19; though the height of the foot being 1 might answer for the unit.

In the paintings of the tombs greater license was allowed in the representation of subjects relating to private life, the trades, or the manners and occupations of the people; and some indication of perspective in the position of the figures may occasionally be observed: but the attempt was imperfect, and, probably, to an Egyptian eye, unpleasing; for such is the force of habit, that even where nature is copied, a conventional style is sometimes preferred to a more accurate representation.

In the representation of animals, they appear not to have been restricted to the same rigid style; but genius once cramped can scarcely be expected[244] to make any great effort to rise, or to succeed in the attempt; and the same union of parts into a whole, the same preference for profile, and the same stiff action, are observable in these as in the human figure. Seldom did they attempt to draw the face in front, either of men or animals; and when this was done, it fell far short of the profile, and was composed of the same juxtaposition of parts. It must, however, be allowed, that in general the character and form of animals were admirably portrayed; the parts were put together with greater truth; and the same conventionality was not maintained, as in the shoulders and other portions of the human body.

The mode of representing men and animals in profile is primitive, and characteristic of the commencement of art: the first attempts made by an uncivilised people are confined to it; and until the genius of artists bursts forth, this style continues to hold its ground. From its simplicity it is readily understood; the most inexperienced perceive the object intended to be represented, and no effort is required to comprehend it. Hence it is that, though few combinations can be made under such restrictions, those few are perfectly intelligible.

As the wish to record events gave the first, religion gave the second, impulse to sculpture. The simple pillar of wood or stone, which was originally chosen to represent the deity, afterwards assumed the human form, the noblest image of the power that created it; though the Hermæ of Greece were not, as some have thought, the origin of statues, but were borrowed from the mummy-shaped gods of Egypt.

Pausanias thinks that “all statues were in ancient times of wood, particularly those made in Egypt”; but this must have been at a period so remote as to be far beyond the known history of that country; though it is probable that when the arts were in their infancy, the Egyptians were confined to statues of that kind; and they occasionally erected wooden figures in their temples, even till the times of the latter Pharaohs.


(Now in the British Museum)

Long after men had attempted to make out the parts of the figure, statues continued to be very rude; the arms were placed directly down the sides to the thighs, and the legs were united together; nor did they pass beyond this imperfect state in Greece until the age of Dædalus. Fortunately for themselves and for the world, the Greeks were allowed to free themselves from old habits; while the Egyptians, at the latest periods, continued to follow the imperfect models of their early artists, and were forever prevented from arriving at excellence in sculpture: and though they made great progress in other branches of art, though they evinced considerable taste in the forms of their vases, their furniture, and even in some architectural[245] details, they were forever deficient in ideal beauty, and in the mode of representing the natural positions of the human figure.

In Egypt, the prescribed automaton character of the figures effectually prevented all advancement in the statuary’s art, the limbs being straight, without any attempt at action, or, indeed, any indication of life: they were really statues of the person they represented, not the person “living in marble”; in which they differed entirely from those of Greece. No statue of a warrior was sculptured in the varied attitudes of attack and defence; no wrestler, no discobolus, no pugilist exhibited the grace, the vigour, or the muscular action of a man; nor were the beauties, the feeling, and the elegance of female forms displayed in stone: all was made to conform to the same invariable model, which confined the human figure to a few conventional postures.

A sitting statue, whether of a man or woman, was represented with the hands placed upon the knees, or held across the breast; a kneeling figure sometimes supported a small shrine or sacred emblem; and when standing, the arms were placed directly down the sides of the thighs, one foot (and that always the left) being advanced beyond the other, as if in the attitude of walking, but without any attempt to separate the legs.

Statuette of Figure with Hawk’s Head

(After Bardon)

The oldest Egyptian sculptures on all large monuments were in low relief, and, as usual at every period, painted (obelisks and everything carved in hard stone, some funereal tablets, and other small objects, being in intaglio); and this style continued in vogue until the time of Ramses II, who introduced intaglio very generally on large monuments; and even his battle scenes at Karnak and the Memnonium are executed in this manner. The reliefs were little raised above the level of the wall; they had generally a flat surface with the edges softly rounded off, far surpassing the intaglio in effect; and it is to be regretted that the best epoch of art, when design and execution were in their zenith, should have abandoned a style so superior; which, too, would have improved in proportion to the advancement of that period.

Intaglio continued to be generally employed, until the accession of the XXVIth Dynasty, when the low relief was again introduced; and in the monuments of Psamthek and Aahmes are numerous instances of the revival of the ancient style. This was afterwards universally adopted, and a return to intaglio on large monuments was only occasionally attempted, in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

After the accession of the XXVIth Dynasty some attempt was made to revive the arts, which had been long neglected; and independent of the patronage of government, the wealth of private individuals was liberally employed in their encouragement. Public buildings were erected in many parts of Egypt, and beautified with rich sculpture; the city of Saïs, the royal residence of the Pharaohs of that dynasty, was adorned with the utmost magnificence; and extensive additions were made to the temples of Memphis, and even to those of the distant Thebes.


The fresh impulse thus given to art was not without effect; the sculptures of that period exhibit an elegance and beauty which might even induce some to consider them equal to the productions of an earlier age; and in the tombs of Assassif, at Thebes, are many admirable specimens of Egyptian art. To those, however, who understand the true feeling of this peculiar school, it is evident that though in minuteness and finish they are deserving of the highest commendation, yet in grandeur of conception and in boldness of execution, they fall far short of the sculptures of Seti and the second Ramses.

Fishing with a Drag Net


The skill of the Egyptian artists in drawing bold and clear outlines is, perhaps, more worthy of admiration than anything connected with this branch of art; and in no place is the freedom of their drawing more conspicuous than in the figures in the unfinished part of Belzoni’s tomb at Thebes. It was in the drawing alone that they excelled, being totally ignorant of the correct mode of colouring a figure; and their painting was not an imitation of nature, but merely the harmonious combination of certain hues, which they well understood. Indeed, to this day, the harmony of positive colours is thoroughly felt in Egypt and the East; and it is strange to find the little perception of it in northern Europe, where theories take upon themselves to explain to the mind what the eye has not yet learned, as if a grammar could be written before the language is understood.

Egyptian architecture evidently derived much from the imitation of different natural productions, as palm trees and various plants of the country; but Egyptian columns were not borrowed from the wooden supports of the earliest buildings. Columns were not introduced into the interior of their houses until architecture had made very great progress; the small original temple and the primitive dwelling consisted merely of four walls; and neither the column nor its architrave were borrowed from wooden constructions nor from the house. And though the architrave was derived in Egypt, as elsewhere, from constructed buildings, that member originated in the stone beam, reaching from pillar to pillar in the temples. And if the square stone pillar was used in the quarry, the stone architrave was unknown to the Egyptians until they found reason to increase the size of, and add a portico to, their temples. And that the portico was neither a necessary nor an original part of their[247] temples is plainly shown by the smaller sanctuaries being built, even at the latest times, without it. Some members of Egyptian architecture, it is true, were derived from the woodwork of the primitive house or temple, as the overhanging cornice and the torus that runs up the ends of the walls, which it separates from the cornice, the former being the projecting roof of palm branches, and the other the framework of reeds bound together, which secured the mud (or bricks) composing the walls.

As painted decoration preceded sculpture, the ornaments (in later times carved in stone) were at first represented in colour, and the mouldings of Egyptian monuments were then merely painted on the flat surfaces of the walls and pillars. The next step was to chisel them in relief. The lotus blossom, the papyrus head, water-plants, the palm tree, and the head of a goddess, were among the usual ornaments of a cornice, or a pillar; and these favourite devices of ancient days continued in after times to be repeated in relief, when an improved style of art had substituted sculpture for the mere painted representation. But when the square pillar had been gradually converted into a polygonal shape, the ornamental devices not having room enough upon its narrow facettes, led to the want and invention of another form of column; and from that time a round shaft was surmounted by the palm-tree capital, or by the blossom or the bud of the papyrus, which had hitherto only been painted, or represented in relief, upon the flat surfaces of a square pillar. Hence the origin of new orders differing so widely from the polygonal column.

For the capitals the Egyptians frequently selected objects which were favourites with them, as the lotus and other flowers, and these, as well as various animals or their heads, were adopted, to form a cornice, particularly in their houses and tombs, or to ornament fancy articles of furniture and of dress.

In this they committed an error, which the Greeks, with a finer perception of taste and adaptability, rightly avoided. These refined people knew that in architecture conventional devices had a much more pleasing effect than objects merely copied from nature; for, besides the incongruity of an actual representation of flowers to compose mouldings and other decorative parts of architecture, the imperfect imitation in an unsuitable material has a bad effect.

Carved Egyptian Chairs

(Now in the British Museum)

The ceilings of Egyptian temples were painted blue and studded with stars, to represent the firmament (as in early European churches); and on the part over the central passage, through which the king and the religious processions passed, were vultures and other emblems; the winged globe[248] always having its place over the doorways. The whole building, as well as its sphinxes and other accessories, were richly painted; and though a person unaccustomed to see the walls of a large building so decorated, might suppose the effect to be far from pleasing, no one who understands the harmony of colours will fail to admit that they perfectly understood their distribution and proper combinations, and that an Egyptian temple was greatly improved by the addition of painted sculptures.

Gilding was employed in the decoration of some of the ornamental details of the building; and was laid on a purple ground, to give it greater richness; an instance of which may be seen in the larger temple at Kalabshi, in Nubia. It was sparingly employed, and not allowed to interfere, by an undue quantity, with the effect of the other colours; which they knew well how to introduce in their proper proportions; and such discords as light green and strawberry-and-cream were carefully avoided.

The Egyptians showed considerable taste in the judicious arrangement of colours for decorative purposes; they occasionally succeeded in form, as in the shapes of many of their vases, their furniture, and their ornaments; and they had still greater knowledge of proportion, so necessary for their gigantic monuments; but though they knew well how to give to their buildings the effect of grandeur, vastness, and durability, they had little idea of the beautiful; and were far behind the Greeks in the appreciation of form. It is, however, rare to find any people who combine colour, form, and proportion; and even the Greeks occasionally failed to attain perfection in their beautiful vases, some of which are faulty in the handles and the foot.

Ruins of an Egyptian Temple

Among the peculiarities of Egyptian architecture, one of the most important is the studied avoidance of uniformity in the arrangement of the columns, and many of the details. Of these some are evident to the eye, others are only intended to have an influence on the general effect, and are not perceptible without careful examination. Thus the capitals of the columns in the great hall at Karnak are at different heights, some extending lower down the shaft than others; evidently with a view to correct the sameness of symmetrical repetition, and to avoid fatiguing the sight with too much regularity. This is not to be perceived until the eye is brought on a level with the lower part of the capitals; and its object was only effect, like that of many curved lines introduced in a Greek temple, as at the Parthenon.


But the Egyptians often carried their dislike of uniformity to an extreme, beyond even what is justified by the study of variety. Where they avoided that extreme their motive was legitimate; and it is remarkable that they were the first people whose monuments offer instances of that diversity so characteristic of Saracenic and Gothic architecture.

The arch was employed in Egypt at a very early period; and crude brick arches were in common use in roofing tombs at least as early as Amenhotep I, in the sixteenth century before our era. And since one was discovered at Thebes bearing his name, others have been found of the age of Tehutimes III (his fourth successor) and of Ramses V. It even seems to have been known in the time of the XIIth Dynasty, judging from what appear to be vaulted granaries at Beni-Hasan.b

Egyptian architecture was long a marvel to the later world, since it was so thoroughly overscrolled with strange designs of animals, and gods, and symbols that provoked a helpless curiosity. These figures, graceful as they were, were not of merely decorative import. They were less art than literature; less literature than chronicle: in a word, they were the characters of a strange system of writing.


It is extremely difficult to give in brief space, or, indeed, to give at all, a clear idea of the exact character of this Egyptian writing, which for so many centuries fascinated, while puzzling, the observers, utterly baffling all their efforts to decipher it. The Egyptians were the aristocrats of antiquity. It is true that the Greeks described all non-Hellenic nations as barbarians, but it should not be inferred from this that the Greeks applied to this term the exact significance it has come to have in more recent times. What the Greek really seems to have implied was that the speech of all other nations was barbarous or unintelligible; but he by no means regarded all other nations as less civilised than himself. To be sure, he did hold this attitude towards Romans, Persians, Scythians and various other contemporary nations, but he made an exception in the case of the Babylonians, and particularly in the case of the Egyptians. The latter people, indeed, he regarded with something akin to reverence, as a people who could claim an antiquity of civilisation to which Greece could not at all pretend.

The wise men of Greece, as we have seen, travelled in Egypt and sat at the feet of the Egyptian priests. There is nothing to show that they were not received courteously, but there are many evidences that they were given no more than a half-hearted welcome, and that what they gained of Egyptian lore was but a surface knowledge; for the Egyptians, like the Greeks, regarded all other nations as barbarians, and it would seem that they applied this term with the full weight of its modern meaning. To them the Greeks, no less than their other neighbours, were uninteresting parvenus, unworthy of the serious regard of an aristocratic people. It is believed that in the early days all commerce of outside nations with Egypt was as fully interdicted as could be done by Egyptian laws. At a later period the outsiders made forcible intrusion, and, in time, apparently the Egyptians became partially reconciled to this new order of things. But it was long before any scholars from the outer world were permitted to penetrate the Egyptian mysteries. In particular, we have no evidence that any Greek or Roman of the early day ever had the slightest comprehension of the true character of Egyptian writing.


Listen for example to the strange theories of Claudius Ælianus, the Roman historian of the third century, who solemnly explained the hieroglyphics as follows—to quote the quaint diction of a sixteenth century translation:a


“When they would signifie wrathe and fury, they set downe the image of a Lyon. When they would signifie talke, they set downe the figure of a toung. When they would signifie fleshly pleasure, they set down the number of XVI. When they would signifie lerning, they set down the picture of Dew dropping from the clowdes. By a Kat they meane destruction. By a Flye, they meane shamelesnes. By the Ant running into the Corne, they meane provision. By a man walking in water without a hed, they meane a thing unpossible. By a swarme of Bees following the maister Bee, they signifie obedient subjects. By a man hiding his privy members with his hands, they meane Temperance. By the floures of Poppy, they signifie sicknes. By an armed man shooting in a Bowe of steele, they meane Rebellion. By an Eagle flying against the Sun, they meane windy weather. By an Owle standing uppon a tree, they signifie death. By a Lace tyed in many knots, they meane mutual Love. By Bookes and Scrowles, they meane Auncientnes. By a Ladder set against a Castle wall, they meane a seedge about a Town or a Fortresse. By a Mule, they signifie a Woman with a barrain wombe. By a Mole, they meane blindnesse. By a Lapwing sitting uppon a Cluster of Grapes, they meane a plentiful Vintage. By a Sceptre and an eye on the top thereof looking downwarde, they meane power and polisie. By a Spindle ful of thred broken of from the Distaf, they mean the shortnes of mans life.”e

This is very absurd, yet nothing more rational was known of the subject in classical times. The very name which the Greeks supplied to the strange Egyptian script shows their ignorance of it. They called it hieroglyphics, from ἱερός, sacred, γλύφειν, to carve, implying their belief that this writing was purely of a sacred character, which, it is now well known, is by no means the case. It would seem as if in the later day, when, after the death of Alexander, Egypt came under the rule of the Macedonian Ptolemies, there must have been Greeks who acquired a knowledge of the Egyptian writing, just as there were undoubtedly Egyptians who learned Greek. Yet the number of these was probably more limited than one might suppose, for the Greeks were the Frenchmen of antiquity; imbued with a reverential love of their own language, they were little given to acquiring any other. Even so, it would seem that there must have been, here and there, an inquiring mind, which would take up the study of the hieroglyphics and ferret out their secrets under the guidance of Egyptian tutors; but if such there were, few records of their accomplishments have come down to us, and none at all that can serve to give the slightest clew to the true character of the strange inscriptions.

About the beginning of our era, Egypt having become a Roman province, all its personal life was stamped out. The hieroglyphic language was no longer written or read. Long before that, the language of the people had been greatly modified from its ancient purity, and in the day of Egypt’s greatness it was only the scholarly few, chiefly the priests, who could read and write the language. Now the speech became still further modified, until[251] finally, through the slow mutations of time, modern Coptic has developed as its lineal descendant. In the early days, however,—probably before the time of the oldest extant records,—the original picture writing, or hieroglyphics proper, had been modified into a sort of running script, which the Greeks called hieratic; and this again had undergone another modification some four or five centuries before our era, in the development of a script, called enchorial or demotic, which in the day of the Ptolemies represented the language of the Egyptian people. But after the complete disruption of Egypt under the Romans, the hieratic and demotic forms of the writing, as well as the hieroglyphics proper, ceased to be employed; and presently, as has been said, all three forms became quite unintelligible to any person living. From that time on, until the early days of the nineteenth century, the records of Egypt, preserved so numerously on their monuments, on the papyrus rolls and mummy-cases, were a closed book. No man lived, during this period, in Egypt or out of Egypt, who did more than effect the crudest guess at the meaning of this strange writing.

For something like two thousand years the Egyptian language was a dead language in the fullest sense of the term, and the records, locked imperishably in the hieroglyphics, seemed likely to hold their mysterious secret from the prying minds of all generations of men. But then, in the early days of the nineteenth century, the key was unexpectedly found, and, to the delight of the scholarly world, the Egyptian Pandora box was opened.a


This came about through a study of the famous Rosetta stone, an Egyptian monument now preserved in the British Museum. On this stone three sets of inscriptions are recorded. The upper one, occupying about a fourth of the surface, is a pictured scroll, made up of chains of those strange outlines of serpents, hawks, lions, and so on, which are recognised, even by the least initiated, as hieroglyphics. The middle inscription, made up of lines, angles, and half-pictures, one might suppose to be a sort of abbreviated or shorthand hieroglyphic. It is called the enchorial or demotic character. The third, or lower, inscription is manifestly Greek. It is now known that these three inscriptions are renderings of the same message, and that this message is a “decree of the Priests of Memphis conferring divine honours on Ptolemy V, Epiphanes, King of Egypt, B.C. 195.”

“This stone was found by the French in 1798 among the ruins of Fort St. Julian, near the Rosetta mouth of the Nile. It passed into the hands of the British by the treaty of Alexandria, and was deposited in the British Museum in the year 1801.”

The value of the Rosetta stone depended on the fact that it gave promise, even when originally inspected, of furnishing a key to the centuries-old mystery of the hieroglyphics. For two thousand years the secret of these strange markings had been forgotten. Nowhere in the world—quite as little in Egypt as elsewhere—had any man the slightest clew to their meaning; there were even those who doubted whether these droll picturings really had any specific meaning, questioning whether they were not merely vague symbols of esoteric religious import and nothing more. And it was the Rosetta stone that gave the answer to these doubters, and restored to the world a lost language and a forgotten literature.

The trustees of the British Museum recognised that the problem of the[252] Rosetta stone was one on which the scientists of the world might well exhaust their ingenuity, and they promptly published to the world a carefully lithographed copy of the entire inscription, so that foreign scholarship had equal opportunity with British to try to solve the riddle. How difficult a riddle it was, even with this key in hand, is illustrated by the fact that, though scholars of all nations brought their ingenuity to bear upon it, nothing more was accomplished for a dozen years than to give authority to three or four guesses regarding the nature of the upper inscriptions, which, as it afterwards proved, were quite incorrect and altogether misleading. This in itself is sufficient to show that ordinary scholarship might have studied the Rosetta stone till the end of time without getting far on the track of its secrets. The key was there, but to apply it required the inspired insight—that is to say, the shrewd guessing power—of genius.

The man who undertook the task had perhaps the keenest scientific imagination and the most versatile profundity of knowledge of his generation—one is tempted to say, of all generations. For he was none other than the extraordinary Dr. Thomas Young, the demonstrator of the vibratory nature of light.

Young had his attention called to the Rosetta stone by accident, and his usual rapacity for knowledge at once led him to speculate as to the possible aid this trilingual inscription might give in the solution of Egyptian problems. Resolving at once to attempt the solution himself, he set to work to learn Coptic, which was rightly believed to represent the nearest existing approach to the ancient Egyptian language. His amazing facility in the acquisition of languages stood him in such good stead that within a year of his first efforts he had mastered Coptic, had assured himself that the ancient Egyptian language was really similar to it, and had even made a tentative attempt at the translation of the Egyptian scroll. His results were only tentative, to be sure. Yet they constituted the very beginnings of our knowledge regarding the meaning of hieroglyphics. Just how far they carried, has been a subject of ardent controversy ever since. Not that there is any doubt about the specific facts; what is questioned is the exact importance of these facts. For it is undeniable that Young did not complete and perfect the discovery, and, as always in such matters, there is opportunity for difference of opinion as to the share of credit due to each of the workers who entered into the discovery.

Young’s specific discoveries were these: (1) that many of the pictures of the hieroglyphics stand for the names of the objects actually delineated; (2) that other pictures are sometimes only symbolic; (3) that plural numbers are represented by repetition; (4) that numerals are represented by dashes; (5) that hieroglyphics may read either from the right or from the left, but always from the direction in which the animals and human figures face; (6) that proper names are surrounded by a graven oval ring, making what he called a cartouche; (7) that the cartouches of the preserved portion of the Rosetta stone stand for the name of Ptolemy alone; (8) that the presence of a female figure after such cartouches, in other inscriptions, always denotes the female sex; (9) that within the cartouches the hieroglyphic symbols have a positively phonetic value, either alphabetic or syllabic, and (10) that several different characters may have the same phonetic value.


(Original in British Museum, London)

Just what these phonetic values are, Dr. Young pointed out in the case of fourteen characters, representing nine sounds, six of which are accepted[253] to-day as correctly representing the letters to which he ascribed them, and the three others as being correct regarding their essential or consonantal element. It is clear, therefore, that he was on the right track thus far, and on the very verge of complete discovery. But, unfortunately, he failed to take the next step, which would have been to realise that the phonetic values given to the characters within the cartouches were often ascribed to them also when used in the general text of an inscription; in other words, that the use of an alphabet was not confined to proper names. This was the great secret which Young missed, but which his French successor, Jean François Champollion, working on the foundation that Young had laid, was enabled to ferret out.

Young’s initial studies of the Rosetta stone were made in 1814; his later publications bore date of 1819. Champollion’s first announcement of results came in 1822; his second and more important one in 1824. By this time, through study of the cartouches of other inscriptions, he had made out almost the complete alphabet, and the “Riddle of the Sphinx” was practically solved. He proved that the Egyptians had developed a relatively complete alphabet (mostly neglecting the vowels, as early Semitic alphabets did also) centuries before the Phœnicians were heard of in history. What relation this alphabet bore to the Phœnician, we shall have occasion to ask in another connection; for the moment it suffices to know that these strange pictures of the Egyptian scroll are really letters.

Even this statement, however, must in a measure be modified. These pictures are letters and something more. Some of them are purely alphabetical in character, and some are symbolic in another way. Some characters represent syllables. Others stand sometimes as mere representatives of sounds, and again, in a more extended sense, as representatives of things, such as all hieroglyphics doubtless were in the beginning. In a word, this is an alphabet, but not a perfected alphabet such as modern nations are accustomed to; hence the enormous difficulties and complications it presented to the early investigators.

Champollion did not live to clear up all the mysteries of the hieroglyphics. His work was taken up and extended by his pupil Rosellini, and in particular by Richard Lepsius in Germany; followed by M. Renouf, and by Samuel Birch, of the British Museum, and more recently by such well-known Egyptologists as MM. Maspero, Mariette, and Chabas, in France; Drs. Brugsch, Meyer, and Erman in Germany; Dr. E. A. Wallis Budge, the present head of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, and Professor W. M. Flinders Petrie. But the work of later investigators has been largely one of exhumation and translation of records, rather than of finding methods.

Let us now turn more specifically to the writing itself. A glance shows that the objects delineated are, as might be expected, those which were familiar to the people that originated the writing. Here we see Egyptian hawks, serpents, ibises, and the like, and the human figure, depicted in the crude yet graphic way characteristic of Egyptian art. But in addition to these familiar figures there are numerous conventionalised designs. These also, there is reason to believe, were originally representations of familiar objects, but, for convenience of rendering, the pictures have been supplanted by conventionalised designs. It is now known that this writing of the Egyptians was of a most extraordinary compound character. Part of its pictures are used as direct representations of the objects presented. But let us examine some examples:


mat eye. maui eyes. pau birds.

But, again, the picture of an object may stand for some idea symbolised by that object, thus becoming an ideograph, as in the following instances:

net honey. ba soul. pet to see.

Here the sacred ibis or the sacred bull symbolises the soul. The bee stands for honey, the eyes for the verb “to see.”

Yet again the Egyptian pictures may stand neither as pictures of things, nor as ideographs, but as having the phonetic value of a syllable.

pa the. meh to fill. pet the sky or heaven. χu to protect. t´a male.

Such syllabic signs may be used either singly, as above, or in combination, as we shall see illustrated in a moment.

But one other stage of evolution is possible; namely, the use of signs with a purely alphabetical significance. The Egyptians made this step also, and their strangely conglomerate writing makes use of the following alphabet:

a ȧ ạ̄ i u b p f m n r and l h χ (kḥ) s ś (sh) k q t θ (th) t´ (tch)

In a word, then, the Egyptian writing has passed through all the stages of development, from the purely pictorial to the alphabetical, but with this strange qualification—that while advancing to the later stages it retains the use of the crude earlier forms. As Canon Taylor has graphically phrased it, the Egyptian writing is a completed structure, but one from which the scaffolding has not been removed.

The next step would have been to remove the now useless scaffolding, leaving a purely alphabetical writing as the completed structure. Looking at the matter from the modern standpoint, it seems almost incredible that so intelligent a people as the Egyptians should have failed to make this advance.[255] Yet the facts stand, that as early as the time of the Pyramid Builders, say 4000 years B.C., the Egyptians had made the wonderful analysis of sounds without which the invention of an alphabet would be impossible. They had set aside certain of their hieroglyphic symbols and given them alphabetical significance. They had learned to write their words with the use of this alphabet; and it would seem as if, in the course of a few generations, they must come to see how unnecessary was the cruder form of picture writing which this alphabet would naturally supplant; but in point of fact they never did come to a realisation of this seemingly simple proposition. Generation after generation, and century after century, they continued to use their same cumbersome, complex writing, and it remained for an outside nation to prove that an alphabet pure and simple was capable of fulfilling all the conditions of a written language.

Thus in practice there is found in the hieroglyphics the strangest combination of ideographs, syllabic signs, and alphabetical signs or true letters, used together indiscriminately.

It was, for example, not at all unusual after spelling a word syllabically or alphabetically to introduce a figure giving the idea of the thing intended, and then even to supplement this with a so-called determinative sign or figure:

qeften monkey. qenu cavalry. temati wings. t´ātu quadrupeds.

Here qeften, monkey, is spelled out in full, but the picture of a monkey is added as a determinative; second, qenu, cavalry, after being spelled is made unequivocal by the introduction of a picture of a horse; third, temati, wings, though spelled elaborately, has pictures of wings added; and fourth, tatu, quadrupeds, after being spelled, has a picture of a quadruped, and then the picture of a hide, which is the usual determinative of a quadruped, followed by three dashes to indicate the plural number.

These determinatives are in themselves so interesting, as illustrations of the association of ideas, that it is worth while to add a few more examples. The word pet, which signifies “heaven,” and which has also the meaning “up” or “even,” is represented primarily by what may be supposed to be a conventionalised picture of the covering to the earth. But this picture used as a determinative is curiously modified in the expression of other ideas, as it symbolises “evening” when a closed flower is added, and “night” when a star hangs in the sky, and “rain or tempest” when a series of zigzag lines, which by themselves represent water, are appended.

māśer evening. kekiu darkness. ḳerḥ night. ḥai rain. śenār tempest.


As aids to memory such pictures are obviously of advantage, but this advantage, in the modern view, is outweighed by the cumbrousness of the system of writing as a whole.

Why was such a complex system retained? Chiefly, no doubt, because the Egyptians, like all other highly developed peoples, were conservatives. They held to their old method after a better one had been invented, just as half the Western world to-day holds to an antiquated system of weights and measures after a far simpler system of decimals has been introduced. But this inherent conservatism was enormously aided, no doubt, by the fact that the Egyptian language, like the Chinese, has many words that have a varied significance, making it seem necessary, or at least highly desirable, either to spell such words with different signs, or, having spelled them in the same way, to introduce the varied determinatives.

Here are some examples of discrimination between words of the same sound by the use of different signs:

pa the. paut nine. pa house. paut stuff, matter. paut company. paut good. paut cycle.

Here, it will be observed, exactly the same expedient is adopted which we still retain when we discriminate between words of the same sound by different spelling, as, to, two, too; whole, hole; through, threw, etc.

But the more usual Egyptian method was to resort to determinatives; the results seem to us most extraordinary. After what has been said, the following examples will explain themselves:

un to be. un to open. un shrine. un appearance. un lightness. un shaved. un to pull out hair.

pet the sky. pet heaven & earth. pet heaven earth & hell. pet to see. pet to open out, to extend. pet a kind of unguent.


It goes without saying that the great mass of people in Egypt were never able to write at all. Had they been accustomed to do so, the Egyptians would have been a nation of artists. Even as the case stands, a remarkable number of men must have had their artistic sense considerably developed, for the birds, animals, and human figures constantly presented on their hieroglyphic scrolls are drawn with a degree of fidelity which the average European of to-day would certainly find far beyond his skill.d


The literary remains of Egypt have come to us through two channels, one of these being the inscriptions on walls and monuments, to which reference has just been made, and the other the papyrus rolls that constituted books proper. Of course the main body of the monumental inscriptions can only by courtesy be said to belong to the literature of the country. For the most part they are records of political and religious affairs such as hardly come within the domain of literature. On the other hand, there are certain examples of a more distinctly literary character.

One of the most important illustrations of this class of inscription is a poem which recounts certain of the deeds of Ramses the Great, in particular the great fight which this monarch made against the Kheta or Hittites. We have quoted it in the chapter devoted to Ramses II. There are other monumental inscriptions that have a purely historical character, inasmuch as they give lists of names of the kings of the various dynasties. Unfortunately, no one of these chronological inscriptions is complete. The same is true of the most important historical document on papyrus—a document known as the Turin papyrus because it is preserved in the museum in that city. It is worth noting, however, that these chronological lists, as far as they go, tend to support the list of Manetho, to which reference has previously been made. These lists of Manetho, it will be recalled, have come down to us only through certain excerpts made by Josephus and others, the original work having been lost in its entirety. But a comparison of these lists at second-hand with the original Egyptian documents has shown, as Professor Petrie remarks, what a real history the work of Manetho must have been, and how great a deprivation its loss is to the modern historian.

The papyrus rolls on which most of the literary remains of Egypt are inscribed are true books. The book of folded leaves is a comparatively modern invention. Throughout antiquity, including the classical times, the roll constituted the only form of book in use, unless, indeed, we include waxen tablets, which are hardly to be considered books in the proper sense of the word; at least it is not known that they were ever used for the transcription of lengthy works to be placed on sale, though it is probable that authors used them, at least for the rough drafts of their compositions. It is well known that in later classical times the parchment roll came to be substituted for the roll of papyrus, though the latter held its own for a long time, and was still employed exceptionally in the Middle Ages; but the old Egyptian parchment was unknown, and though inscriptions were sometimes made on pieces of linen, the regular material for book-making was papyrus.

The papyrus sheet was made by gluing together pieces of the outer rind or bark of the stem of the papyrus plant, these pieces being placed in two layers and dried under pressure. The sheets of papyrus were from six or[258] eight to about fourteen inches in width, and were often many feet in length. The inscription, made with a reed pen, not altogether unlike a modern quill, was written in columns at right angles to the length of the papyrus sheet, these columns being of varying width, but usually of a size convenient for the scribe in writing and for the reader. If we may judge from a statue that has been preserved, the scribe at work sat with his feet crossed like a modern tailor. Papyrus is, of course, a very fragile and perishable substance; therefore it is only in the dry climate of Egypt that documents of this nature are likely to be preserved. Thanks to the unusual atmosphere of Egypt, however, large numbers of these documents have come down to us, some of them dating from the third millennium B.C. These documents represent various classes of literature. Of historical writings, the most important is the Turin papyrus, already referred to. A still more ancient document is known as the Prisse papyrus, being named after its discoverer, Prisse d’Avenne. Is is virtually a series of essays containing moral precepts and dissertations on the art of right living. Aside from its contents, this particular papyrus roll has unusual interest because it shows us the hieratic writing of the Egyptians in its oldest known form, the hieratic character being a much modified cursive form of hieroglyphic simplified in the interest of rapid writing. It was believed by the French philologist, De Rougé, that this hieratic character formed the basis of the Phœnician alphabet, and a large number of scholars have accepted this conclusion, which, however, is now seemingly about to be abandoned. Other essays of the Egyptians, on medical and mathematical subjects, have been preserved in considerable numbers.

Statue of a Scribe (Fifth Dynasty)

(Now in the Louvre)

There is yet another form of literary production that is abundantly represented among the papyrus documents. This is the religious work known as the Book of the Dead, a book that was substantially the Bible of the Egyptians, numerous copies of which in whole or in part are still in existence. An additional interest attaches to many copies of the Book of the Dead in the fact that pictures are introduced to illustrate the narrative. One is prone to think of book illustration as a relatively modern art; but in point of fact, as these documents prove, it is an art that was practised by[259] the ancient Egyptians more than two thousand years before the Christian era.

From a purely literary standpoint, the most important remains preserved on papyrus are the various more or less perfect copies of romances and of poems. The romances are somewhat of the character of what we should call fairy tales, though elements of realism are not lacking in some of them; and the poems include love songs and other lyrics. It is extremely difficult to judge the artistic merits of productions in so alien a tongue, and it has been noted by Egyptologists that certain recitals were apparently very popular in Egypt, the merits of which are lost upon the modern interpreter, because even the greatest of modern students can hardly claim a degree of proficiency in the language that suffices for the appreciation of the niceties of usage. There are certain of the tales and poems, however, which in point of conception, thought, and construction must be admitted to have conspicuous merit, even when judged by modern standards.

As soon as the tales of ancient Egypt had been recovered in sufficient number to allow some idea of its popular literature, it was seen that stories of travel and adventure formed a considerable portion. But for a long time no tale of the sea came to light. In fact, it seemed doubtful that such a one existed. The Greek and Latin writings constantly reiterate the statement that the Egyptians regarded the sea as impure, and that none would venture on it of his own will, and upon this authority modern investigators had a well-formed theory that Egypt never had a navy or native sailors.

To them Queen Hatshepsu’s voyages of exploration and the naval victories of Ramses III were the deeds of hired Phœnicians. But the discovery of a tale at St. Petersburg—a tale which takes us far back to the XIIth Dynasty, before any Phœnicians had yet appeared on the shores of the Mediterranean, or Egypt had any thought of Syrian conquest—tends to upset these old ideas, and lead us to the belief that the sailors whom Pharaoh sent for the perfumes and goods of Arabia were native born Egyptians.

The tale of The Castaway was discovered in the Imperial Hermitage Museum at St. Petersburg by M. Golenischeff in 1880. No one knows where the papyrus was found, or how it got in Russia, or even came to be in the Hermitage Museum. It has taken its place as a classic of the XIIth Dynasty, as that of the Two Brothers is of the XIXth.

On reading it, one immediately thinks of Sindbad the Sailor, except that the serpents it was Sindbad’s fortune to meet were far from being the amiable creatures described by the Egyptian sailor. There is, indeed, no very good reason to consider the famous tale of the Thousand and One Nights as a modern version of the Egyptian narrative. The sailors’ love for the recital of marvellous adventure is too natural, too far-spread, for us to fasten the one upon the other.

The tale of The Castaway seems clearly to be a theological idea dressed up in romance form. The mysterious island is the Isle of the Double, i.e. the home of dead souls, and the serpent is its guardian. The voyage describes the long journey to the other world—that trip on the mysterious western sea, and the final reaching of the home of the soul. The basic conception of the whole thing is typically Egyptian. Perhaps our estimate of Egyptian literature cannot be completed better than by the presentation of the actual text of this romance. Our version is from G. Maspero’s rendering of M. Golenischeff’s translation of the original papyrus in the Imperial Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.a



The learned attendant said: “Rejoice thy heart, O my chief, for we have just reached the fatherland; after having manned the prow of the ship and worked the oars, the prow has grazed the sand. All our men are rejoicing and embracing each other, for if others beside ourselves have come safely home, not a man among us is missing, and, moreover, we have gone to the farthest limits of Uauat, and have crossed the regions of Senmut. Here we are returned in peace, and here we are back in our fatherland. Listen, O my chief, for if thou dost not uphold me, I have no support. Wash thee, pour water over thy hands, then go, address thyself to Pharaoh, and may thy heart preserve thy speech from confusion, for if a man’s mouth may save him, on the other hand, his words may cause his face to be covered over;[12] act according to the impulse of thy heart, and anything thou mayest say will put me at ease.

“Now I shall relate to thee what happened to me personally. I set out for the mines of Honhem, and went to sea in a ship one hundred and fifty cubits long and forty wide, with one hundred and fifty of the best sailors in the land of Egypt, men who had seen heaven and earth, and whose hearts were stouter than those of lions. They had foretold that the wind would not be unfavourable, or that we would have none at all; but a gust of wind sprang up as soon as we were on the deep, and as we approached the shore, the breeze freshened and stirred the waves to a height of eight cubits. As for myself, I seized a plank, but the rest perished, without one remaining. A wave of the sea threw me upon an island after I had spent three days with no other companion than my own heart. I lay down to rest in a thicket, and darkness enveloped me; then I employed my legs in search of something for my mouth. I found figs and grapes and many kinds of fine vegetables, berries, nuts, melons of all kinds, fish, birds,—nothing was lacking. I satisfied my hunger, and threw away the surplus of what I had gathered. I dug a ditch, lit a fire, and prepared a sacrifice to the gods.

“Suddenly I heard a voice like thunder, caused, as I believed, by a wave of the sea. The trees trembled, the earth shook; I uncovered my face, and saw that a serpent was approaching. He was thirty cubits long, with a beard that hung down for over two cubits; his body was as if incrusted with gold on a colour of lapis lazuli. He planted himself before me, opened his mouth, and while I remained dumbfounded before him, he said:

“‘What has brought thee, what has brought thee, little one, what has brought thee? If thou delayest to tell me what has brought thee to this isle, I will make thee know what thou art; either thou shalt disappear like a flame, or thou shalt tell me something I never before have heard, and which I knew not before.’ Then he seized me in his mouth, carried me to his lair, and laid me down unharmed; I was safe and sound and whole.

“Then he opened his mouth, and while I remained speechless before him, he said, ‘What has brought thee, what has brought thee, little one, to this isle which is in the sea and whose shores are in the midst of the waves?’

“I replied with arms hanging low before him.[13] I said:[261] ‘I embarked for the mines, by Pharaoh’s order, in a ship one hundred and fifty cubits long and forty wide. It was manned by one hundred and fifty of the best sailors of the land of Egypt, who had seen heaven and earth, and whose hearts were stouter than those of the gods. They had declared that the wind would not be unfavourable, or even that there would be none at all, for each one of them surpassed his companions in the prudence of his heart and the strength of his arms, and I, I yielded to them in nothing; but a storm arose while we were on the deep, and as we approached the shore the gale still freshened and threw up the waves to a height of eight cubits. As for myself, I seized a plank, but the rest on the ship perished and not one remained with me during three days. And now here I am with thee, for I was cast on this isle by a wave of the sea.’

“Thereupon he said to me: ‘Fear not, fear not, little one, let not thy face show sorrow. If thou art here with me, it is because God has let thee live. ’Tis he who has brought thee to the Isle of the Double, where nothing is lacking, and which is filled with all good things. Behold; thou shalt pass month after month here until thou hast stayed four months in this isle, then a ship shall come from thy country with sailors; thou mayest then depart with them to thy country and thou shalt die in thy native city. Let us talk and be happy; whosoever enjoys chatting can support misfortune; let me tell thee what there is on this island. I am here surrounded by my brothers and children, together we are seventy-five serpents, children and retainers, without including a young girl whom Fortune sent me, on whom the fire of heaven fell and burnt to ashes. As for thee, if thou art strong and thy heart is patient thou shalt yet press thy children to thy heart and embrace thy wife; thou shalt again behold thy house, and best of all thou shalt reach thy country and be among thy people.’ Then he bowed to me and I touched the ground before him. ‘Now this is what I have to tell thee on this subject, I shall describe thee to Pharaoh and make thy greatness known to him. I shall send thee paint and offertory perfumes,[14] pomades, cinnamon, and incense employed in the temples, the kind that is offered to the gods. I shall also tell all that, thanks to thee, I was enabled to see, and the whole nation together shall give thee thanks. For thee I shall slay asses in sacrifice. I shall pluck birds for thee, and send ships to thee filled with all the marvels of Egypt, as if to a god, friend of men in a distant country which men know not.’

“He smiled at what I said on account of what was on his heart, and said: ‘Thou art not rich in essences, for all that thou hast enumerated unto me is naught after all but incense, while I, I am lord of the land of Punt, and there have I plenty of essences. But the offertory perfume of which thou speakest of sending me is not plentiful in this isle; but when once thou leavest it, never shalt thou see it again, for it shall be changed into waves.’

“And behold the ship appeared as he had predicted. I perched myself upon a high tree to try to distinguish who were on it. I hastened to tell him the news, but found that he knew it already; and he said to me, ‘Good journey, good journey home, little one, let thine eyes rest upon thy children, and may thy name remain fair in thy city—these are my wishes for thee.’ Then I bent before him with low-hanging arms, and he gave me presents of essences, offertory perfume, pomade, cinnamon, thuya, sapan wood, powdered antimony, cypress, ordinary incense in great quantity,[262] elephants’ teeth, greyhounds, baboons, green monkeys, and all kinds of good and precious things. I put all on board the ship that had come, and prostrating myself, I offered him worship. He said to me, ‘Behold, thou shalt arrive in thy country after two months, thou shalt press thy children to thy heart and thou shalt lie in thy tomb.’ And after that I went down to the shore towards the ship and called to the sailors on board. I gave thanks on the shores to the lord of the isle as well as to those who lived upon it.

“When we had come, the second month, to the city of Pharaoh, just as the other had predicted, we drew near the palace. I entered unto Pharaoh, and gave him all the presents I had brought into the country from that island, and he thanked me before the assembled people. That is why he made an attendant of me, and let me join the king’s courtiers. Look upon me, now that I have reached the shore once more, and having seen and undergone so much. Hear my prayer, for it is good to listen to people. Some one said to me, ‘Become a learned man, my friend, thou wilt arrive at honours,’ and behold I have arrived.”

This is taken from beginning to end as it is found in the book. Who has written it is the scribe with nimble fingers. Ameni-Amen-aa, Life, Health, Strength.c

Costume of a Queen of Ancient Egypt


[12] Possibly an allusion to the custom of covering the faces of criminals while they were being led to the scaffold. The order, “Cover his face,” was equivalent to a condemnation.—M. Maspero.

[13] This is the attitude in which the monuments represent suppliants or inferiors before their masters.—Maspero.

[14] Hakonu was one of the seven canonical oils which were offered to the gods and departed spirits during sacrifice.—Maspero.[263]



In thus following the course of Egyptian history as outlined in the pages of such ancient authorities as Herodotus, Manetho, and Diodorus, and such recent students as Brugsch Pasha, Mariette Pasha, and Professors Erman, Maspero, and Petrie, we have been enabled to gain a tolerably clear picture of the life of the most celebrated nation of antiquity.

There is one feature of that life, however, which this story leaves quite in the dark; namely, its beginnings. The ancients, beyond vaguely hinting at an Ethiopian origin of the Egyptians, confessed themselves in the main totally ignorant of the subject. And it must be confessed that the patient researches of modern workers have not sufficed fully to lift the veil of this ignorance. Theories have been propounded, to be sure. It was broadly suggested by Heeren that one might probably look to India as the original cradle of the Egyptian race. Hebrew scholars, however, naturally were disposed to find that cradle in Mesopotamia, and some later archæologists, among them so great an authority as Maspero, believe that the real beginnings of Egyptian history should be traced to equatorial Africa. But there are no sure data at hand to enable one to judge with any degree of certainty as to which of these hypotheses, if any one of them, is true.

The whole point of view of modern thought regarding this subject has been strangely shifted during the last half century. Up to that time it was the firm conviction of the greater number of scholars that, in dealing with the races of antiquity, we had but to cover a period of some four thousand years before the Christian era. Any hypothesis that could hope to gain credence in that day must be consistent with this supposition. But the anthropologists of the past two generations have quite dispelled that long current illusion, and we now think of the history of man as stretching back tens, or perhaps hundreds, of thousands of years into the past.

Applying a common-sense view to the history of ancient nations from this modified standpoint, it becomes at once apparent how very easy it may be to follow up false clews and arrive at false conclusions. Let us suppose, for example, that, as Heeren believed and as some more modern investigators have contended, the skulls of the Egyptians and those of the Indian races of antiquity, as preserved in the tombs of the respective countries, bear a close resemblance to one another. What, after all, does this prove? Presumably it implies that these two widely separated nations have perhaps had a common[264] origin. But it might mean that the Egyptians had one day been emigrants from India, or conversely, that the Indians had migrated from Egypt, or yet again, that the forbears of both nations had, at a remoter epoch, occupied some other region, perhaps in an utterly different part of the globe from either India or Egypt. And even such a conclusion as this would have to be accepted with a large element of doubt. For, up to the present, it must freely be admitted that the studies of the anthropologists have by no means fixed the physical characters of the different races with sufficient clearness to enable us to predicate actual unity of race or unity of origin from a seeming similarity of skulls alone, or even through more comprehensive comparison of physical traits, were these available.

More than this, any such comparison as that which attempts to link the Egyptians with Indians or Hebrews or Ethiopians is, after all, only a narrow view of the subject extending over a comparatively limited period of time. If it were shown that the first members of that race which came to be known as the Egyptians came to the valley of the Nile from India or Mesopotamia or Ethiopia, the fact would have undoubted historic interest, but it would after all only take us one step farther back along the course of the evolution of that ancient civilisation, and the question would still remain an open one as to what was the real cradle of the race. For in the modern view, as has just been said, when one speaks of the evolution of civilisation, his mind must grasp the idea of tens of thousands of years, during which, the most casual reflection will make it clear, races may have migrated this way and that, northward, eastward, westward, southward, and may have reversed their course of migration over and over again, leaving few traces through which the historian of a later time could follow them in imagination.

There is indeed a tradition, which Diodorus has preserved to us, that the Egyptian of an early day made a great conquering tour through Greece and all of western Asia to India, and back again to the region of the Nile. We have already pointed out that such vague traditions as this probably represent a racial memory of actual historical events, distorted of course as to all details. But all this, it must be repeated over and over again, is only conjecture.

Anthropology is the newest of sciences, and it will scarcely in our day attain a knowledge that will enable the historian to solve the problem of the origin of any one of the remoter races of antiquity. The history of such relatively newer races as the Hebrews, the Greeks, and the Romans may indeed be, at least conjecturally, made out at no distant day; but we must expect that the probably far remoter civilisation of China, India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt will long continue to baffle the investigator.

But even present knowledge suffices to change utterly the point of view with which the modern historian regards these so-called ancient races. So long as one regarded the history of the world as comprising only some four thousand years before the Christian era, it was quite clear that in speaking of the earliest historical ages of Egypt, one was dealing with time that might properly be called the childhood of our race. One came to speak trippingly of the “Dawn of Civilisation” as illustrated by the events of the time of the Pyramid Builders. But now all that has changed, and it has become clear that we know nothing of the dawn of civilisation.

The earliest records of Egypt that have come down to us, as illustrated, for example, in the document known as the Prisse papyrus, which is sometimes spoken of as the oldest book in the world, show that, at a time which probably preceded the building of the Pyramids, namely, as early as the[265] IInd Dynasty, the Egyptians regarded the civilisation of their day as already past its prime. Men of that time were already tiring of the degenerate epoch in which they lived, and looking back to the good old days when, as it seemed to them, the Egyptians were a great people. As Dr. Taylor has remarked, it was a curious irony of fate that should have preserved to us such thoughts as these in the oldest written document which has been spared for our inspection. But the moral is quite clear. Professor Mahaffy has well outlined it when he says that one is perhaps justified in feeling that, in point of fact, the old Egyptian who traced the words of the Prisse papyrus was right, and that that ancient time was really not the spring-time of humanity, but the veritable autumn of civilisation. Such a thought as this would have been incomprehensible to the student of any generation before our own, but the long vistas of time that have been opened up to our eyes through the investigations of the last half century make such a strange estimate seem more than plausible. For, after all, what is the sweep of, say, six or eight thousand years which is opened to us as the truly historic period of man’s existence, compared to the tens of thousands of years that preceded?

Almost at the beginning of Egyptian history, as we have seen, a race was in the field which constructed the most gigantic monuments that human ingenuity has even yet conceived. Surely it was no dawn of civilisation that could achieve such works as these. In the broadest view, then, there is no such thing as ancient history open to the observation of the modern historian. All history that we can know from the time of the Pyramid Builders to our own day is in this view properly but recent history, and, as has just been suggested, perhaps only the history of an oscillating decline through the period of the senility of our race. But, however fascinating such a view as this may be, for practical purposes one must look a little more narrowly. Still, the broad view which regards the ancient Egyptian as a brother in blood to the modern European will be the surest ground on which to build a record of universal history.

Professor Mahaffy has pointed out, in the same connection just quoted, that, not merely in practical civilisation, but in the appreciation of all the moral bearings of an advanced life, the Egyptian of two or three, or perhaps five, thousand years before the Christian era, was on a plane differing in no essential from the plane of modern Christendom; and this thought is the one that should perhaps be the most prominently borne in mind by any one who will gain the truest lesson from the study of the sweep of universal history.

So long as the ancient Egyptian is regarded as playing the part of a weird strange member of a civilisation utterly alien to the modern, so long the modern is shut out from the best lessons of that ancient history. But when, on the other hand, one considers the ancient resident of the valley of the Nile as a human being, with desires, emotions, and aspirations almost precisely like our own; a man struggling to solve the same problems of practical socialism that we are struggling for to-day,—then, and then only, can the lessons of ancient Egyptian history be brought home to us in their true meaning and with their true significance. And clearest of all will this significance be, perhaps, if we constantly bear in mind the possibility that the whole sweep of Egyptian history, during the three or four thousand years that separated the Pyramid Builders from the contemporaries of Alexander, was a time of national decay—a dark age, if you will, in Egyptian history.


It is probably because such a view as this is justified that the current conception has arisen which regards the Egyptian as a mystic, a religion-haunted person; for, in point of fact, it is true that, during the greater part of the period of this Egyptian history, their race was a priest-ridden one. To turn once more to a phrase of Professor Mahaffy’s, “The priesthood of Egypt perhaps embalmed the civilisation of the Nile, but they surely killed it.” Yet there must have been a time when the nation was young and aspiring, when its mixed population—no matter whence derived—had that vigour which is only known to mixed races. There were giants in these days, not in stature, but in ideas; the great Pyramids, the mighty Sphinx, attest their existence. Then there came that development of culture, accompanied of course by a degree of weakened virility, which made the great literature of the XIIth Dynasty possible, and then priestcraft throttled the nation with a grip which, despite severe and heroic struggles, was never altogether shaken off. Just what it means when the clammy hand of a fixed theology clutches at the throat of progressive civilisation, we have a near-at-hand illustration in the European Dark Ages, out of which we, at the beginning of the twentieth century, are only just striving to emerge, after some fourteen or fifteen centuries of combat. Our own experience, then, prepares us well to understand the Egyptian history.

It will doubtless be at least another century, perhaps two or three centuries, before the inhabitants of Christendom can look out upon the world with as rational a view as that which Plato attained in the fifth century B.C., or Cicero in the first, or Marcus Aurelius some two or three centuries later, just as the storm-cloud of Oriental superstition was thickening. So it need not surprise us that Egypt should have suffered in a like manner for a like period.

In the last analysis, then, it would seem that it is the likeness of Egyptian history to our own history, rather than its mysterious differences, that gives it the greatest charm. The differences are the surface details; the resemblances are as deep as human nature itself. In obtaining this conviction, we curiously reversed the old estimate of the strange weird people of the Nile, but in so doing we prepare ourselves far better than we otherwise could to grasp the import of universal history.a





Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of facts. No anchor, no cable, no fences, avail to keep a fact. Babylon, Troy, Tyre, Palestine, and even early Rome are passing already into fiction. The Garden of Eden, the sun standing still in Gibeon, is poetry thenceforward to all nations. Who cares what the fact was, when we have made a constellation of it to hang in heaven an immortal sign?—Emerson.

Such is the land which, viewed with the eyes of later epochs, seems a theatre of marvels; such the people whose fortune it was to step first, or among the first, from the ranks of barbarians into the phalanx of civilisation. How and when and where they took this step—or rather made this long slow climb—we do not know. But they themselves had traditions regarding their origin and early history, some of which have come down to us, chiefly through the medium of Greek historians.

These traditions are not, of course, to be weighed in the same scale with the concrete findings of the modern historical investigators. But neither, on the other hand, should they be altogether set aside. We live in a world curiously woven full of paradox and illusion. Often it chances that the records, even of recent times, which bear the fullest stamp of authenticity, are really nothing more than fables—a mixture of prejudice, and falsehood, and myth, and fetich. And, on the other hand, it may chance that a purely fabulous record contains the very essence of history. Indeed, always, where the tradition is of long standing and widely accepted among a people at some stage of its evolution, such tradition must be redolent of the Zeitgeist of its epoch.

It may be, as such fables commonly are, an impossible tale of gods and godlike heroes, of superhuman feats and supernatural revelations; yet none the less it is in one sense historically true. If nothing more, it is the epitomised history of the psychology of an epoch. But generally it is more than that: it is the idealised expression of a racial memory of actual events—idealised, glorified, transfigured, yet perhaps never actually created save upon a substratum of facts. And how infinitely expressive this idealised record becomes. It condenses the events of centuries, sometimes into a phrase; it embodies the essence of the civilisation of an epoch in a parable.


Who would give up the Homeric legends, with their records of gods and supernatural heroes, for the realistic recitals of a Thucydides? Who would give up the myths of Greece for a record of actual wars and conquests? Fortunately we have not to make the choice; we may retain the one record to supplement and complete the other. So the historian should do with the early records of every people, wherever accessible.

Apart from the monuments of the Egyptians themselves, the oldest account of this people which has come down to us in profane literature is that given by Herodotus. This account has peculiar interest because it is given by an eye-witness. Herodotus travelled in Egypt some time about the beginning of the fifth century B.C., when Egypt was just being opened up to the foreigner. It does not appear that Herodotus knew the language of the country, and he was, therefore, necessarily debarred from attaining as intimate a knowledge of the people as might otherwise have been possible. It has been suspected also that the Egyptian priests amused themselves not a little in filling the mind of Herodotus with tales of very doubtful authenticity. But be that as it may, Herodotus had a keen eye, and he has left us vivid and interesting descriptions of the many marvels that he saw, some of which are here presented. In making these citations we shall not for the moment attempt the rôle of the critic, accepting rather the entertaining narrative just as it is given.

It will be obvious that in many points this narrative partakes of the ludicrous; yet even these portions of the tale have their value. What Herodotus tells us of the causes of the rises of the Nile, for example, is important as showing the attitude of Greek thought towards this singular phenomenon. The naïve recital in which Herodotus tells how the wind blows the sun from his course, serves in itself to give a clew, not to the mind of Herodotus alone, but to the minds of his contemporaries,—a clew which will be of the utmost value in aiding one to estimate the status of various historical reports that come to us from antiquity. But, on the other hand, what Herodotus has to tell us of his actual observations as to the land and the manners and customs of its people, is of the utmost importance as the contemporary record of a keen observer, and may be accepted, so far as it relates to the actual observations of the author, as historically accurate in the fullest modern sense of the word.

Next to the works of Herodotus, the amplest description of Egypt that has come down to us from antiquity is that of Diodorus the Sicilian. This author was a contemporary of Cæsar and Augustus. He wrote a very famous history of the world under the title of The Historical Library, in forty books, of which only about eleven have reached us intact.

It is not clear whether Diodorus, like Herodotus, visited Egypt in person, but he at least was familiar with all the knowledge and tradition of his time relating to that country. He lived several centuries later than Herodotus, when Egypt had long been the field of foreign invasion. Whatever the Greek and the Roman had been able to learn of Egyptian history was therefore accessible to him, and what he has to tell us of Egypt has the peculiar merit of epitomising practically all classical knowledge of the people of the Nile. Practically nothing more was added to the stock of Western knowledge regarding Egyptian history from his day till the nineteenth century. Certain statements which Diodorus accepted were indeed such as latter-day scepticism would instinctively reject, but, that qualification aside, the history of Egypt as Diodorus relates it was practically her history as known to the Western world until nineteenth century enterprise found the key to[269] the Egyptian monuments. For this reason, if for no other, the story of Diodorus will have peculiar and lasting interest; but in addition to this, the narrative has intrinsic merits that render it well worthy of preservation.

It will be of the utmost interest here, at the very beginning, to compare and contrast his account of Egypt with that of Herodotus. If we shall find in it certain things, such as his account of the spontaneous generation of mice from the mud of the Nile, which seem to justify what has been quoted from the critics as to his credulity, we shall find, on the other hand, in his critical analysis of the different stories as to the origin of the Nile, and, in his finally correct choosing of a true explanation of the annual rise of that river, clear proof that he did possess and did sometimes utilise a keen critical judgment. Meantime it will be equally clear that he possessed, in no small degree, a capacity to write interesting history very different from the more arid records which make up some of his later annals.a

Let us turn, then, to the pages of Herodotus and listen to a classical account of the Nile.

In its more extensive inundations, the Nile does not overflow the Delta only, but part of that territory which is called Libyan, and sometimes the Arabian frontier, and extends about the space of two days’ journey on each side, speaking on an average. Of the nature of this river I could obtain no certain information, from the priests or from others. It was nevertheless my particular desire to know why the Nile, beginning at the summer solstice, continues gradually to rise for the space of one hundred days, after which for the same space it as gradually recedes, remaining throughout the winter, and till the return of the summer solstice, in its former low and quiescent state: but all my inquiries of the inhabitants proved ineffectual, and I was unable to learn why the Nile was thus distinguished in its properties from other streams. I was equally unsuccessful in my wishes to be informed why this river alone wafted no breeze from its surface.

Head-dress of a Queen of Ancient Egypt

From a desire of gaining a reputation for sagacity, this subject has employed the attention of many among the Greeks. There have been three different modes of explaining it, two of which merit no further attention than barely to be mentioned; one of them affirms the increase of the Nile to be owing to the Etesian winds, which by blowing in an opposite direction, impede the river’s entrance to the sea. But it has often happened that no winds have blown from this quarter, and the phenomenon of the Nile has still been the same. It may also be remarked, that were this the real cause, the same events would happen to other rivers, whose currents are opposed to the Etesian winds, which, indeed, as having a less body of waters, and[270] a weaker current, would be capable of still less resistance: but there are many streams, both in Syria and Libya, none of which exhibit the same appearances with the Nile.

The second opinion is still less agreeable to reason, though more calculated to excite wonder. This affirms, that the Nile has these qualities, as flowing from the Ocean, which entirely surrounds the earth.

The third opinion, though more plausible in appearance, is still more false in reality. It simply intimates that the body of the Nile is formed from the dissolution of snow, which coming from Libya through the regions of Ethiopia, discharges itself upon Egypt. But how can this river, descending from a very warm to a much colder climate, be possibly composed of melted snow? There are many other reasons concurring to satisfy any person of good understanding, that this opinion is contrary to fact. The first and the strongest argument may be drawn from the winds, which are in these regions invariably hot: it may also be observed that rain and ice are here entirely unknown. Now if in five days after a fall of snow it must necessarily rain, which is indisputably the case, it follows that if there were snow in those countries, there would certainly be rain. The third proof is taken from the colour of the natives, who from excessive heat are universally black; moreover, the kites and the swallows are never known to migrate from this country: the cranes also, flying from the severity of a Scythian winter, pass that cold season here. If, therefore, it snowed although but little in those places through which the Nile passes, or in those where it takes its rise, reason demonstrates that none of the above-mentioned circumstances could possibly happen.

The argument which attributes to the ocean these phenomena of the Nile, seems rather to partake of fable than of truth or sense. For my own part, I know no river of the name of Oceanus; and am inclined to believe that Homer, or some other poet of former times, first invented and afterwards introduced it in his compositions.

But as I have mentioned the preceding opinions only to censure and confute them, I may be expected perhaps to give my own sentiments on this subject. It is my opinion that the Nile overflows in the summer season, because in the winter the sun, driven by the storms from his usual course, ascends into the higher regions of the air above Libya. My reason may be explained without difficulty; for it may be easily supposed, that to whatever region this power more nearly approaches, the rivers and streams of that country will be proportionably dried up and diminished.

If I were to go more at length into the argument, I should say that the whole is occasioned by the sun’s passage through the higher parts of Libya. For as the air is invariably serene, and the heat always tempered by cooling breezes, the sun acts there as it does in the summer season, when his place is in the centre of the heavens. The solar rays absorb the aqueous particles, which their influence forcibly elevates into the higher regions; here they are received, separated, and dispersed by the winds. And it may be observed, that the south and southwest, which are the most common winds in this quarter, are of all others most frequently attended with rain: it does not, however, appear to me that the sun remits all the water which he every year absorbs from the Nile; some is probably withheld. As winter disappears, he returns to the middle place of the heavens, and again by evaporation draws to him the waters of the rivers, all of which are then found considerably increased by the rains, and rising to their extreme heights. But in summer, from the want of rain, and from the attractive power of the sun, they are[271] again reduced; but the Nile is differently circumstanced, it never has the benefit of rains, whilst it is constantly acted upon by the sun,—a sufficient reason why it should in the winter season be proportionably lower than in summer. In winter the Nile alone is diminished by the influence of the sun, which in summer attracts the water of the rivers indiscriminately; I impute, therefore, to the sun the remarkable properties of the Nile.

To the same cause is to be ascribed, as I suppose, the state of the air in that country, which from the effect of the sun is always extremely rarefied, so that in the higher parts of Libya there prevails an eternal summer. If it were possible to produce a change in the seasons, and to place the regions of the north in those of the south, and those of the south in the north, the sun, driven from his place by the storms of the north, would doubtless affect the higher parts of Europe, as it now does those of Libya. It would also, I imagine, then act upon the waters of the Ister, as it now does on those of the Nile.

That no breeze blows from the surface of the river, may, I think, be thus accounted for: Where the air is in a very warm and rarefied state, wind can hardly be expected, this generally rising in places which are cold. Upon this subject I shall attempt no further illustration, but leave it in the state in which it has so long remained.

A Water-carrier on the Nile

In all my intercourse with Egyptians, Libyans, and Greeks, I have only met with one person who pretended to have any knowledge of the sources of the Nile. This was the priest who had the care of the sacred treasures in the temple of Minerva, at Saïs. He assured me, that on this subject he possessed the most unquestionable intelligence, though his assertions never obtained my serious confidence. He informed me, that betwixt Syene, a city of the Thebaïd, and Elephantine, there were two mountains, respectively terminating in an acute summit: the name of the one was Crophi, of the other Mophi. He affirmed, that the sources of the Nile, which were fountains of unfathomable depth, flowed from the centres of these mountains; that one of these streams divided Egypt, and directed its course to the north; the other in like manner flowed towards the south, through Ethiopia. To confirm his assertion, that those springs were unfathomable, he told me, that Psammetichus [Psamthek I], sovereign of the country, had ascertained it by experiment; he let down a rope of the length of several thousand orgyiæ, but could find no bottom. This was the priest’s information, on the truth of which I presume not to determine. If such an experiment was really made, there might perhaps in these springs be certain vortices, occasioned by the reverberation of the water from the mountains, of force sufficient to buoy up the sounding line, and prevent its reaching the bottom.


I was not able to procure any other intelligence than the above, though I so far carried my enquiry, that, with the view of making observation, I proceeded myself to Elephantine: of the parts which lie beyond that city, I can only speak from the information of others. Beyond Elephantine this country becomes rugged; in advancing up the stream it will be necessary to hale the vessel on each side by a rope, such as is used for oxen. If this should give way, the impetuosity of the stream forces the vessel violently back again. To this place from Elephantine is a four days’ voyage.

Thus, without computing that part of it which flows through Egypt, the course of the Nile is known to the extent of four months’ journey, partly by land and partly by water; for it will be found on experience, that no one can go in a less time from Elephantine to the Automoli. It is certain that the Nile rises in the west, but beyond the Automoli all is uncertainty, this part of the country being, from the excessive heat, a rude and uncultivated desert.

It may not be improper to relate an account which I received from certain Cyrenæans. On an expedition which they made to the oracle of Ammon, they said they had an opportunity of conversing with Etearchus, the sovereign of the country: among other topics the Nile was mentioned, and it was observed, that the particulars of its source were hitherto entirely unknown. Etearchus informed them, that some Nassamonians once visited his court; (these are a people of Africa who inhabit the Syrtes, and a tract of land which from thence extends towards the east) on his making enquiry of them concerning the deserts of Libya, they related the following incident: some young men, who were sons of persons of distinction, had on their coming to man’s estate signalised themselves by some extravagance of conduct. Among other things, they deputed by lot five of their companions to explore the solitudes of Libya, and to endeavour at extending their discoveries beyond all preceding adventurers.

All that part of Libya towards the Northern Ocean, from Egypt to the promontory of Soloëis, which terminates the third division of the earth, is inhabited by the different nations of the Libyans, that district alone excepted, in possession of the Greeks and Phœnicians. The remoter parts of Libya beyond the seacoast, and the people who inhabit its borders, are infested by various beasts of prey; the country yet more distant is a parched and immeasurable desert. The young men left their companions, being well provided with water and with food, and first proceeded through the region which was inhabited; they next came to that which was infested by wild beasts, leaving which, they directed their course westward, through the desert.

After a journey of many days, over a barren and sandy soil, they at length discerned some trees growing in a plain; these they approached, and seeing fruit upon them, they gathered it. Whilst they were thus employed, some men of dwarfish stature came where they were, seized their persons, and carried them away. They were mutually ignorant of each other’s language, but the Nassamonians were conducted over many marshy grounds to a city, in which all the inhabitants were of the same diminutive appearance, and of a black colour. This city was washed by a great river, which flowed from west to east, and abounded in crocodiles.

Such was the conversation of Etearchus, as it was related to me; he added, as the Cyrenæans further told me, that the Nassamonians returned to their own country, and reported the men whom they had met to be all of them magicians. The river which washed their city, according to the conjecture of Etearchus, which probability confirms, was the Nile. The Nile[273] certainly rises in Libya, which it divides; and if it be allowable to draw conclusions from things which are well known, concerning those which are uncertain and obscure, it takes a similar course with the Ister. This river, commencing at the city of Pyrene, among the Celtæ, flows through the centre of Europe. These Celtæ are found beyond the Columns of Hercules; they border on the Cynesians, the most remote of all the nations who inhabit the western parts of Europe. At that point which is possessed by the Istrians, a Milesian colony, the Ister empties itself into the Euxine.

The sources of the Ister, as it passes through countries well inhabited, are sufficiently notorious; but of the fountains of the Nile, washing as it does the rude and uninhabitable deserts of Libya, no one can speak with precision. All the knowledge which I have been able to procure from the most diligent and extensive enquiries, I have before communicated. Through Egypt it directs its course towards the sea. Opposite to Egypt are the mountains of Cilicia, from whence to Sinope, on the Euxine, a good traveller may pass in five days: on the side immediately opposite to Sinope, the Ister is poured into the sea. Thus the Nile, as it traverses Libya, may properly enough be compared to the Ister. But on this subject I have said all that I think necessary.b


The River Nile, says Diodorus, breeds many Creatures of several Forms and Shapes, amongst which, Two are especially remarkable, the Crocodile and the Horse as it’s call’d: Amongst these the Crocodile of the least Creature becomes the greatest; for it lays an Egg much of the bigness of that of a Goose, and after the young is hatcht, it grows to the length of Sixteen Cubits, and lives to the Age of a Man: It wants a Tongue, but has a Body naturally arm’d in a wonderful manner. For its Skin is cover’d all over with Scales of an extraordinary hardness; many sharp Teeth are rang’d on both sides its Jaws, and Two of them are much bigger than the rest. This Monster does not only devour Men, but other Creatures that come near the River. His Bites are sharp and destructive, and with his Claws he tears his Prey cruelly in Pieces, and what Wounds he makes, no Medicine or Application can heal. The Egyptians formerly catcht these Monsters with Hooks, baited with raw Flesh; but of later times, they have us’d to take ’em with strong Nets like Fishes; sometimes they strike them on the Head with Forks of Iron, and so kill them. There’s an infinite Multitude of these Creatures in the River and the Neighbouring Pools, in regard they are great Breeders, and are seldom kill’d. For the Crocodile is ador’d as a God by some of the Inhabitants; and for Strangers to hunt and destroy them is to no purpose, for their Flesh is not eatable. But Nature has provided relief against the increase of this destructive Monster; for the Ichneumon, as it’s call’d (of the Bigness of a little Dog) running up and down near the Waterside, breaks all the Eggs laid by this Beast, wherever he finds them; and that which is most to be admir’d, is, that he does this not for Food or any other Advantage, but out of a natural Instinct for the meer Benefit of Mankind.

The Beast call’d the River Horse, is Five Cubits long, Four Footed, and cloven Hoof’d like to an Ox. He has Three Teeth or Tushes on either side his Jaw, appearing outwards larger than those of a Wild-Boar; as to his Ears, Tayl and his Neighing, he’s like to a Horse. The whole Bulk of his Body is not much unlike an Elephant; his Skin is firmer and thicker almost[274] than any other beast. He lives both on Land and Water; in the Day time he lies at the Bottom of the River, and in the Night time comes forth to Land, and feeds upon the Grass and Corn. If this Beast were so fruitful as to bring forth Young every Year, he would undo the Husbandman, and destroy a great part of the Corn of Egypt. He’s likewise by the help of many Hands often caught, being struck with Instruments of Iron; for when he is found, they hem him round with their Boats, and those on Board wound him with forked Instruments of Iron, cast at him as so many Darts; and having strong Ropes to the Irons, they fix in him, they let him go till he loses his Blood, and so dies: His Flesh is extraordinary hard, and of ill digestion. There’s nothing in his inner Parts that can be eaten, neither his Bowels, nor any other of his Intrails.

Besides these before mention’d, Nile abounds with multitudes of all sorts of Fish; not only such as are fresh taken to supply the Inhabitants at hand, but an innumerable Number likewise which they salt up to send Abroad. To conclude, no River in the World is more Beneficial and Serviceable to Mankind, than Nile.

Ancient Egyptian Boat, showing the Method of using Rudder, Sail, and Oars

Its Inundation begins at the Summer Solstice, and increases till the Equinoctial in Autumn; during which time he brings in along with him new Soyl, and waters as well the Till’d and Improv’d Ground as that which lies waste and untill’d, as long as it pleases the Husbandman; for the Water flowing gently and by degrees, they easily divert its Course, by casting up small Banks of Earth; and then by opening a Passage for it, as easily turn it over their Land again, if they see it needful. It’s so very advantageous to the Inhabitants, and done with so little pains, that most of the Country People turn in their Cattel into the sow’d Ground to eat, and tread down the Corn, and Four or Five Months after they reap it. Some lightly run over the Surface of the Earth with a Plow, after the Water is fallen, and gain a mighty Crop without any great Cost or Pains: But Husbandry amongst all other Nations is very laborious and chargable, only the Egyptians gather their Fruits with little Cost or Labour. That part of the Country likewise where Vines are planted after this watering by the Nile, yields a most plentiful Vintage. The Fields that after the Inundation are pastur’d by their Flocks, yield them this advantage, that the Sheep Yean twice in a[275] Year, and are shorn as often. This Increase of the Nile is wonderful to Beholders, and altogether incredible to them that only hear the Report; for when other Rivers about the Solstice fall and grow lower all Summer long, this begins to increase, and continues to rise every day, till it comes to that height that it overflows almost all Egypt; and on the contrary in the same manner in the Winter Solstice, it falls by degrees till it wholly returns into its proper Channel. And in regard the Land of Egypt lies low and Champain, the Towns, Cities and Country Villages that are built upon rising-ground (cast up by Art) look like the Islands of the Cyclades: Many of the Cattel sometimes are by the River intercepted, and so are drown’d; but those that fly to the higher Grounds are preserv’d. During the time of the Inundation, the Cattel are kept in the Country Towns and small Cottages, where they have Food and Fodder before laid up and prepar’d for them. But the common People now at liberty from all Imployments in the Field, indulge themselves in Idleness, feasting every day, and giving themselves up to all sorts of Sports and Pleasures. Yet out of fear of the Inundation, a Watch Tower is built in Memphis, by the Kings of Egypt, where those that are imploy’d to take care of this concern, observing to what height the River rises, send Letters from one City to another, acquainting them how many Cubits and Fingers the River rises, and when it begins to decrease; and so the People coming to understand the Fall of the Waters, are freed from their fears, and all presently have a foresight what plenty of Corn they are like to have; and this Observation has been Registred from time to time by the Egyptians for many Generations.

There are great Controversies concerning the Reasons of the overflowing of Nile, and many both Philosophers and Historians have endeavour’d to declare the Causes of it. Some who have attempted to give their Reasons, have been very wide from the Mark. For as for Hellanicus, Cadmus, Hecatæus, and such like ancient Authors, they have told little but frothy Stories, and meer Fables. Herodotus, above all other Writers very industrious, and well acquainted with General History, made it his Business to find out the Causes of these things, but what he says is notwithstanding very doubtful, and some things seem to be repugnant