Rameses the Great. — Meneptah. — The Libyan Invasion. — The Revolt.
The reign of Rameses lasted about seventy years. He had at first shared the throne with his father, in consideration of his descent on the mother's side from the royal lineage of Ra, the eponymous ancestor of the kings who were recognized as legitimate and of divine authority. When the death of Sethi left him with undivided power, he continued to pursue the former course of action. Egypt was then the umpire of the nations, and the conquests of Rameses enabled him to add the title of "Victorious" to his official designations. He had extended his dominion into the territory of the Khitans, in the north, chastized the Libyans and their auxiliaries in the west, and subjugated numerous Ethiopian tribes in the south. Multitudes of captives had been brought home in the various campaigns and placed in laborious employments in different parts of the country. They had been carefully distributed in groups widely separated from one another, thus obliterating their national identity and preventing dangerous combinations. The extensive public works, the temples, quarries and mines, were provided with laborers, and every department of administration conducted with energy.
Yet, despite the "hard bondage" which was imputed to the Egyptian servitude, there was great care to provide for the physical wants of the laborers. They were held strictly to their work under the truncheons of vigorous overseers; they were not bought and sold as chattels; and they enjoyed many privileges like those of the peasantry. Multitudes of them preferred the "flesh-pots" and the abundance of food that they enjoyed in Egypt more than the blessings and attractions of an ideal liberty. It would seem that with all the drawbacks of their servile condition, the captives in Egypt were treated with a mildness that was not often found in other countries.
It is not to be supposed, however, that all ranks and classes of prisoners were consigned to like conditions of servitude. They were often placed according to their ability and mental qualities in positions of responsibility. Indeed, it has always been possible for men in the East to rise from humble, and even from servile, employments to become officials of rank, counsellors of state, commanders of troops, and there are examples in which they actually seized imperial power.
With these additions to the population, it has been estimated that more than a third of the families of Egypt were descendants of Asiatic colonists. In the eastern canton of the Lowlands they were most numerous. Language, manners, and even religion, the hardest of all to change its forms, were modified, and the Egyptian vernacular gave place more or less distinctly to Semitic terms and forms of speech. Even the members of the literary class, the priests and scribes, conformed to the new fashions of the time. Many were eager to forsake the temples for service in the armies and civil employments. Pen-ta-ur, the private secretary of Amun-em-ant, the Royal Librarian, was an example. He was perhaps the most brilliant, but he was only one among a multitude of others.
In vain did the old teachers endeavor to arrest the progress of the tide that was now sweeping away the former customs and notions. The new modes of pronunciation of words, and the interlarding of speech with foreign expressions, and such as were in use among the alien and mongrel population of Northern Egypt, gave them abundant opportunity for sharp criticism, which they freely bestowed. An example of this appears in a letter from a preceptor to his former pupil. "Thy piece of writing is a cargo of high-flown phrases," he declares. "Their meaning may serve as a reward for those who seek to ascertain what it is." "I know thee," the veteran instructor continues; "it matters little what utterances flow over thy tongue, for thy compositions are very confused. Thou comest to me with a covering of ill-uttered representations, a cargo of blunders. Thou tearest the words to tatters; thou dost not take pains to find their force."
He concludes his diatribe with equal severity "I have struck out the end of thy composition, and I return thy description. What thy words contain has remained on my lips. It is a confused medley when one hears it. An uneducated person would not understand it. Your utterance is like that of a man from the Lowlands, speaking with a man from the Elephantina. But as a Scribe of the King thou art like the water employed to fertilize the land."
In ancient times, the glory of the parent consisted in a multitude of children. In this respect Rameses II. was truly great among kings. It may also be added that he was a tender and affectionate father. The temple of Abydos has preserved the names and effigies of sixty sons and fifty-nine daughters; other records enumerate a hundred and ten sons. He had three wives; the first, Isi-nefer, the favorite, called also Nefer-ari-Amun, Mien-Mut, and the daughter of the Khitan king, who became the Queen in his later years. By them he had twenty-three sons and eleven daughters.
Six sons accompanied him in the war against the king of Khita, and took part in the battle of Kadesh. Khamus, the son of Queen Isi-nefer, was the best beloved, and was associated with him in the government for many years. He took great pains to revive the religious observances in the northern cities, which had fallen into abeyance under the Hyksos and Theban rule. The worship of Apis had almost ceased, but he restored it to its former activity. He held the positions of High Priest of Ptah at Memphis, Governor of Thebes and General Superintendent of Public Worship. In these capacities he made the preparations and regulations for the Festival of the Thirtieth Year. His zeal for religion and the Sacred learning won for him great praise, but his indifference to political matters was distasteful to his father, who foresaw the eminent peril awaiting the Dynasty. Khamus died in the fifty-fifth year of the reign of Rameses, and Meneptah, his oldest surviving brother, became the colleague of his father. The monuments have also preserved the names of the royal princesses Benat-Anat, Meriamen, Neb-taui and Meri. It has been conjectured that Benat-Anat, who was the favorite daughter, was the daughter of the Khitan wife; she was afterward herself a queen, but no more is known.
The astronomic knowledge indicated by some of the inscriptions of this reign was quite considerable. On the ceiling of the Rameseum at Gurnah was an astronomical projection of the heavens, perhaps representing the horoscope of the king. In the accompanying description the dog-star is mentioned as rising in the morning just before sunrise at the beginning of the year. This indicated that the true length of the year was known, and it is certain that the priests of Egypt reckoned it almost exactly the same as modern scientists.
A cloud often comes over the heart as the individual passes from the activities of mature life into the shadow of advanced age. Many who had been loved are no more among the living, and what is more sorrowful, those for whom we have cared and labored repay with cold ingratitude. For it is not that which has been bestowed that promotes warmth of sentiment in the many, but rather what is expected.
Such was the final experience of Rameses the Great. His active life had been employed to sustain his dynasty and maintain the prosperity of Egypt. He was domestic and even uxorious, and he was warmly devoted to his children. But those of them who had, by reason of their superior age, been his most familiar companions, had died, and the others harassed him by their bickerings and jealousies. His was a cheerless old age.
The records do not treat of this, but the evidences at our hand have a speech of their own. Rameses at the death of his father had been eloquent in word and act to display his filial piety. With him it was religion, and the Tomb of Sethi in the valley of Bab-el Molokh was a gorgeous palace hewn out of the rock and painted with all the decorations that could have been seen in the actual abodes of kings. It was a monument of splendor and affection.
No such manifestation was exhibited in regard to Rameses himself. "The tomb of Rameses is an insignificant structure," Brugsch-Bey remarks, "and it is seldom visited by travelers in the Nile Valley, who scarcely imagine that the great Sesostris of Greek legend can have found a resting place in these mean chambers."
Of such a character was the last memorial of the Grand Monarque of Egypt, whose glory had shone over the countries and whose honorary statues that were set up during his lifetime had reached the dimensions of a colossus — so huge that modern mechanical skill has shrunk from the attempt to remove them. Can it have been indifference or the bitter feeling of a disappointed expectation that occasioned this conspicuous neglect? Perhaps the priests of Amun-Ra had held over his body the Grand Assize of the Dead, and declared him not deserving of funeral honors. For Rameses had not heeded their pretensions of superior right to kings, but, like Jeroboam of Israel, had set up a distinct priesthood of his own.
The god Thoth and Sufekh (goddess of History) writing the name of Rameses II. on the fruit of the Persea (Relief from the Rameseum) at Thebes.
More likely, however, a crisis had occurred in the affairs of Egypt that required the new monarch's attention in other directions. The Nineteenth Dynasty, itself an offshoot from the lineage of King Nub and Apapi, had never been regarded with favor, but the prodigious energy and statecraft of Sethi and Rameses had defeated any effort for its overthrow. Each of them had forestalled it further by placing the Crown-Prince upon the throne as a royal colleague, leaving no opportunity for dispute in the succession.
Mene-Ptah, or Ptah-Men was the thirteenth son of Rameses II. His elder brothers had died during the lifetime of their father — nobler and braver men whom he had survived. He inherited the false and objectionable characteristics of his predecessors, but not their genius or virtues. "He was neither a soldier nor administrator," says Lenormant, contrasting him with Sethi and Rameses II., "but a man whose whole mind turned on sorcery and magic." This, however, is a misconception arising from an improper rendering of a term in the Bible. (1) He was pusillanimous and vacillating, and like cowardly persons generally, an oppressor and treacherous.
He came to the throne at an inauspicious period. Egypt was no longer an arbiter of the nations. The vassal and tributary countries had cast off the yoke imposed by Thothmes III. and Sethi. The Khitans, a "Turanian" people had, after a long contest with Rameses II. with indefinite results, induced him to consent to a friendly alliance in place of suzerainty. In the severe famines which about this time scourged the countries of the Levant the necessity to buy grain in Egypt for sustenance operated to preserve friendly relations. Wheat was shipped in abundance to the Khitans and peaceful intercourse was maintained with the principalities of Syria and Palestine.
At the west, however, there was a state of affairs widely different. There were frequent incursions from Libya and the northern sea-coast into the fertile lowlands of Egypt till the inhabitants feared to cultivate the land. One might sow and another reap. The weakness of the court of Tanis gave rise to general dissatisfaction, and the native princes were at strife with one another.
Advantage was taken of these conditions to form a confederacy of several nations with the purpose of conquering new homes in Northern Egypt. This alliance is described in the inscription as consisting of peoples from "all the countries north of the great sea," The whole number of invaders has been estimated at not less than forty thousand, and they brought their wives and children with them with the purpose of settling in Egypt. The chiefs had their thrones and the other paraphernalia of their rank; and the troops were armed with bows and arrows and with swords of bronze and copper. There were also a number of war-cars and a large force of cavalry.
They advanced as far as Heliopolis, sweeping over the Delta like a swarm of locusts. The frontier towns were destroyed and the whole country was ravaged. "The like had never been seen, even in the times of the kings of Lower Egypt, when the pestilence (meaning the Hyksos rulers) was in the land and the kings of Upper Egypt were not able to drive it out." The whole region was desolated, the fields were overrun and wasted, the cities pillaged, and even harbors were destroyed. The invading force was finally concentrated in the nome or canton of Prosopis, threatening both the ancient capitals, Memphis and Heliopolis.
The terror which was created was abject. "All the kings of Upper Egypt sat in their entrenchments, and the kings of Lower Egypt were confined inside their cities, shut in by earthworks and wholly cut off by the warriors from communication outside; for they had no hired soldiers."
At this point the Libyan king offered terms. He demanded a treaty as liberal in its conditions as the one between Egypt and the Khitans, and likewise wheat for his people and a cession of land to colonize. It was plain that not only the realm of Lower Egypt was in peril, but the fate of the Nineteenth Dynasty was itself in the balance.
Perhaps such a proposition to King Sethi would have been answered by an attack without further parley. But another Meneptah was on the throne of Egypt, and had not an army at his command. The princes of Upper Egypt refused their assistance, the king temporized and acted on the defensive, meanwhile he sent recruiting agents into Asia to collect an army of mercenaries. When all had been made ready, he assembled his princes and generals, and gave them their orders to prepare for battle, declaring his purpose to lead in the fray.
His courage, however, failed him. When the time for action drew on, he excused himself on the pretext of a dream or vision in which Ptah had commanded him to remain in Memphis, and let his troops march out against the enemy. The battle took place on the third day of Epiphi, the eighteenth of May. The enemy hesitated to begin the charge, and the Egyptian forces attacked them with the war-cars and infantry. "Amun-Ra was with them, and Nubti (Seth or Typhon) extended his hand to help them." The battle lasted six hours, when the Libyans were routed and fled. "Not a man of them was left remaining," is the boastful language of the inscription. "The hired soldiers of his Holiness were employed for six hours in the slaughter."
The Libyan king, when all was lost, turned and fled away, leaving his queen and family to the mercy of the conquerors. Meneptah in the inscription declares that "the miserable king of the Libyans stood full of fear and fled like a woman." Yet he had commanded his men till the fortune of the day had turned against them, while the bragging Egyptian was cowering inside the walls of Memphis.
The victorious soldiers hurried to the plunder of the forsaken camp, and then set fire to the tents of skin and furniture. The catalogue of the battle enumerated among the killed 6,365 that were uncircumcised, and 2,370 circumcised; also 9,376 prisoners.
The generals did not follow up the enemy and the king hastened to disband the foreign troops. They might, if retained in service, become as dangerous to him as the Libyans themselves.
Such was the great battle of Prosopis. Once more Lower Egypt rejoiced at a deliverance from invaders, which enabled the inhabitants to follow their pursuits in peace. The officials of the royal court vied with each other in fulsome praises of the king, and the inscription afterward placed on the inner walls of the Great Temple of Thebes, (2) sets forth the invasion and victory with the exaggeration so common in oriental verbiage. "I made Egypt once more safe for the traveler," the king is made to say; "I gave breath to those in the cities."
The subsequent history of the reign of Meneptah does not exempt it from imputation of being inglorious. The principal redeeming feature was the brilliant array of writers continuing from the time of Rameses that adorned the royal court. The monuments preserve no record worthy of mention, It appears, however, that Meneptah sought to follow the example of Horemhebi, the successor of Khuenaten, and make friends with the priests of Thebes. The absence of the royal court in Northern Egypt for so many years had enabled them to enlarge their power to actual rivalship with the throne itself, as the power of the Bishops of Rome in later times became overpowering, by the removal of the imperial capital to Constantinople. The account is given by Manetho, and preserved in a treatise imputed to Flavius Josephus.
"This king (3) desired to become a beholder of the gods like Horus, one of those who had reigned before him. (4) The meaning of this statement is that Meneptah, copying the example of Horemhebi of the Eighteenth Dynasty, sought initiation into the Secret Rites, thus to become a theates, epoptes or ephoros, a witness and student of the higher knowledge. This would bring him into close fraternal relations with the priest of Thebes. He applied accordingly to Amenophis, the prophet of the Temple, who imposed the condition that he should "clear the country of lepers and the other impure population." He evidently meant the alien colonists and their descendants, whom the kings had introduced into Egypt as captives in their military expeditions and dispersed over the country. It was the practice, we notice in the inscriptions of the monuments, to designate all persons of other nations "vile."
Manetho states that the king accordingly collected eighty thousand of these persons and set them at work in the quarries in the region east of the Nile. Some of them were priests, probably those who belonged to the temples of Rameses II. The prophet who had counselled this measure foresaw the result of the harsh treatment, that it would bring calamity upon Egypt, and committed suicide. This filled the king with consternation, and he resolved upon a change of policy toward his unfortunate subjects. He set apart the city of Avaris or Pelusium, which had been evacuated by the Hyksos kings, a city which had been from the first sacred to the god Seth. Here they were permitted to make their residence. After they had been there for a sufficient time they determined to set up for themselves, and placed a priest from Heliopolis named Osar-siph in command. He changed his name to Moses or Mo-u-ses. He promulgated an enactment forbidding them any longer to worship the gods of Egypt, or to pay regard to the sacred animals, but to use them for food and in sacrificing. He likewise directed them to build again the walls around the city and put them in readiness for war. He also sent ambassadors to Jerusalem, to the Hyksos princes, asking their help, and promising to yield up to them the city of Avaris, and aid them to recover their former dominion. They accepted his invitation and invaded Egypt with a force of two hundred thousand men.
Meneptah was filled with dismay. He hastened to assemble the Egyptian troops, and removed the sacred animals to the royal residence. His son Sethi, a lad of five years old, was sent to a place of safety, and he took his place at the head of his army of three hundred thousand warriors. He did not venture to fight when the enemy advanced to meet him, but retreated to Memphis. Then, taking the Apis and other sacred animals, he retreated with his army and the multitude of Egyptians into Ethiopia. Here he became the guest of the under-king and lived there in exile thirteen years. An army of Ethiopians was sent to guard the frontier. The usual account is given of misrule, oppression and flagrant impiety on the part of the invaders from Palestine. They are described as making themselves more obnoxious than the former Hyksos rulers. They burned cities and villages, it is affirmed, and likewise destroyed the statues of the gods, killed the sacred animals for food that were revered by the Egyptians, and compelled the priests and prophets to do this, after which they were expelled from the country. At the end of the thirteen years predicted by the prophet, the Ethiopian army entered Egypt, bringing the king and crown-prince, and drove the invaders into Palestine.
The later years of the reign of Meneptah afford us little interest. He designated his son Sethi as Crown Prince of Egypt, and there were no further military achievements. Nevertheless there was much dissatisfaction, and other aspirers to the throne were watching their opportunity. A period of confusion was approaching, when the throne should become a shuttlecock for ambitious chieftains to play with, till the man should arise to bring order from the chaos, establish anew the sovereign power, and give Egypt another term of greatness.
1. The Hebrew word translated "magicians" in the Pentateuch is hartumi, which the Greek text in Genesis renders exegetes, or interpreter. Parkhurst supposes them to be hierogram-mateis or Scribes of the temple and court. The priests of Tanis seem to have been called hartots or Khartots. But the term "magic" anciently implied all manner of learning, and nothing objectionable. (return to text)
2. The high priest of this temple was named Loi, or Levi. This name and several others of this period have a striking Semitic flavor. Benat-Anat, the princess, has already been noticed; her sister was Meriamen, or Miriam, and in the quarry at Silsilis is a record of Phineas, a man of superior rank. Other examples may be cited. (return to text)
3. Josephus gives the name of the monarch as Amunophis. In the Chronicle of Manetho it is rendered Amunenephthes, which, though read sometimes as Amunophis, is Meneptah. (return to text)
4. This sentence is quoted from a little work entitled, "Josephus Against Apion." The writer affects to deny the existence of the kings Horus and Meneptah, whom he calls Amunophis, and rails at the conceit of "beholding the gods," whom he sets forth as being simply the ox, goat, crocodile and baboon. So gross ignoring of religious matters and historic persons indicates either a reprehensible disregard of truth, or else that the work thus ascribed to Josephus is not a genuine production, but only an irresponsible forgery. (return to text)