SETHI II. USURPATION — SETNAKHT RESTORING ORDER — XXTH DYNASTY — RAMESES III. — VICTORIES OVER INVADING HORDES — CAMPAIGN IN ASIA —
CONSPIRACY TO DESTROY HIM — BUILDINGS
SETHI II., also designated Meneptah III., it would seem on first view, to have begun his reign under conditions by no means unfavorable. The Dynasty had become acceptable to the Hierarchy, and the Crown Prince enjoyed the warm regard of the literary men at the court of his royal father. The remarkable tale of "The Two Brothers," which in some particulars bears a striking resemblance to the story of Joseph in the house of Potiphar, was composed for him. The High Priest Levi and his son and successor, Roma, were cordial and constant in their attachment.
For two years the authority of Sethi was loyally acknowledged in Egypt and the dependencies. He generally resided in Tanis, and his orders are extant in relation to the management of the Egyptian posts in Palestine and Syria. His inscriptions are also found in different places and as far south as the family shrine at Abu Simbel. We have no account of his death, nor of the duration of his reign, but his tomb at Biban-el-Molokh exhibits a magnificence which indicates his rank among the "Justified," in the Grand Assize of Souls.
Yet at this time the double crown of Egypt was a veritable crown of thorns. There arose an aspirant, the Prince Amunmeses, to dispute the title to the throne. He brought to his support a formidable party in Southern Egypt and Nubia; and at his death his tomb was duly excavated in the mountain at Biban-el-Molok, with the recognized Diospolite kings.
He was succeeded by his son, Meneptah Siptah. This prince was the husband of the royal princess Ta-Osiri or Thuoris, a daughter of Rameses II. The alliance added a certain support to his pretensions, and her name, instead of his, was recorded by Manetho in his list of royal personages that actually reigned. Siptah, her husband, was supported by a strong party in Thebes, under the leadership of Bai, the keeper of the Great Seal, and his reign extended for several years.
About this time the siege and destruction of Troy or Ilion, in Asia Minor, are said to have taken place. (1) Herodotus had recorded the statement made to him by the priests of Lower Egypt that the Trojan prince Alexander, better known by the designation of Paris, came to the court of "King Proteos" (2) with the abducted Queen Helena; and that while she was detained there the destruction of Ilion took place.
The history of Egypt now became a chaos of misrule and lawlessness. The northern districts were depopulated. The princes of the nomes and cities disclaimed other authority, and carried on war incessantly against one another. Murder and robbery were everywhere a common occurrence. The inhabitants that were able to do so, fled from the country, and there were not enough left to cultivate the land. There was scarcity of food, almost approaching to actual famine.
Presently, an adventurer named Aarsu, a Khar or Phoenician, gained the upper hand of the princes, one by one, and became master over the greater part of the country. The enormities imputed to the Hyksos invaders of former centuries were now repeated. Life and property were no longer secure. When a man gained anything, it was forcibly wrested from him. The Egyptians were compelled to pay tribute to their alien lord, the temples fell into decay, and worship was interrupted. The gods were regarded as no more than ordinary human beings, and disorder reigned for long years in Egypt.
Finally there arose a deliverer. The Harris Papyrus describes him in the fulsome oriental style as brought forward by the gods, or as would be a more literal expression, by the priests of Amun-Ra. "They established their Son who had come forth from their body upon their lofty throne as king of the whole country. This was King Set-nakht Merer Meri-amun. He was like the god Sethi (Typhon) in his rage. The whole country that was in revolt he reduced to order and submission. The men who were evilly disposed, who incited violence in the land of Ta-mera (Northern Egypt) he put to death. He purified the throne of Egypt and thus, while he raised the inhabitants from their abject condition, he became their ruler on the throne of the Sun-God Turn."
It has been supposed that this king Set-nakht or "Sethi the Victorious" was a son of Sethi II. The evidence, however, is doubtful. Perhaps he was descended from Rameses the Great, or from Sethi I., but his exaltation to supreme power in Egypt was due to his own valour and prowess rather than to any title derived from royal lineage. He "purified the throne," as the inscription declares. This was accomplished by driving the usurper Aarsu from power, and destroying the records and memorials of the kings whom he superseded. His reign was too short, however, to afford him opportunity to excavate a sepluchre for himself, and when he died possession was taken of the tomb of Siptah for his interment. The name of that king was left at the entrance, but the designations of Queen Ta-Osiri were overlaid by the royal shields of Set-nakht; the feminine form of the descriptive terms were not changed. By this preposterous occurrence the names of the two sovereigns Siptah and the Queen Ta-Osiri have been preserved from oblivion.
Rameses III. has been not inaptly compared to the Hebrew King Solomon, from his riches and powers, and for the luxurious appointments of his household. He seems, however, to have more closely resembled Dareios Hystaspis of Persia. His first care on coming to the supreme power was to arrange anew and classify more distinctly the civil service and the military departments. No mention is made of the other population of Egypt that was engaged in all the different avocations of peaceful industry. Indeed, in the dynasties of the Later Empire, the Court and the people were distinct bodies, as they were not in the earlier days.
Egypt was thus again placed upon a military footing. Rameses, the "last of the great kings" of Egypt, was threatened with war on every side. Every province and tributary state had thrown off the Egyptian yoke and united with the hostile parties. The Shasu or Bedouins ravaged Egypt on the East, and Libyan tribes had entered on the northwest and driven back the former possesors of the soil to establish colonies of their own. "The hostile Asiatics and Tuhennu robbers showed themselves only to injure Egypt. The land lay before them in weakness since the time of the earlier kings. They did evil to gods as well as to men. No one had an arm strong enough to resist them in their hostile movements."
Thus beset on all sides, Rameses had prepared himself for conflict He first made a campaign against the invaders from Arabia, the Sahir or Senites of Idumaea. (See Genesis xiv., 6, and xxvi., 20-30.) He defeated them utterly, destroying their tents and cabins, taking their cattle and massacring those that resisted. He carried a vast number of them into captivity and delivered them to the several temples for servants.
He next turned his arms against the Libyans. They had undertaken to establish a permanent settlement in the Delta and become masters of Lower Egypt. Their forces were massed in the district lying between the Kanopic and the Sebennytic branches of the Nile. Rameses was attended by the Council of Thirty. The battle is described rather as a massacre than as a conflict. Probably it was analogous in some degree to the destruction of the Cimbri by Caius Marius, or of the Nervii by Julius Caesar. The Egyptian troops gave no quarter, but slaughtered till they became weary. Twelve thousand and five hundred Libyans were left dead on the field, besides an unknown number that had been driven into the water to drown. Only when the Egyptians had exhausted their fury did they consent to accept the surrender of those who survived.
The sculptures at the great temple of Medinet Abu are memorials of this battle. The mutilated parts of the slain are depicted piled up in heaps to show the number, while thousands of captives stand ready to be branded, and assigned to servitude. The men were placed on the ships as mariners; the chiefs were imprisoned within fortresses, and the women and children taken for servants. The all-powerful hierarchy of Amun-Ra received as their booty the cattle that were captured a multitude "too numerous to count."
There was rejoicing all through Lower Egypt. The land was now rescued from the invaders and restored to the former inhabitants. Three years were passed in further adjusting the affairs of the kingdom, and then Rameses was called to encounter other adversaries. A storm had gathered in Asia and now precipitated itself upon Egypt. Tribes and hordes from the unknown regions of the Asiatic Continent had driven the Karians and Kolkhians from their homes in Armenia to seek new abodes and to subsist for the time as freebooters and pirates. They infested Asia Minor, the countries of the Levant and the eastern waters of the Mediterranean. The Khitans, Cypriotes and Philistines co-operated with them. They had arrived so far as the region at the southwest of the Dead Sea. Their attention was now directed to Egypt. They determined to obtain a foothold and new abode in the fertile lowlands. The state of affairs long disorganized and the lost hold on the tributary nations of Asia were to them as an indication and an opportunity. They were ready now to seize the advantage. "These nations had leagued together; they laid their hand on the double land of Egypt to encircle the land."
Rameses foresaw and anticipated their movements. He placed an army of soldiers from subject peoples at Zaha on the Philistine frontier and assembled a fleet at the mouth of the Nile. The two forces of the invaders, the one by land and the other by sea, reached Egypt at the same time, in buoyant anticipation of an easy victory. Rameses, however, had been quietly awaiting their approach. Four of his sons were with him. He had fixed the place of meeting midway between Raphia and Pelusium. The Pelusata, "Pelasgians," advanced first with a long train of bullock-carts, loaded with their wives and children. They came into the midst of an ambush and more than twelve thousand were slain. Their camp was taken and the survivors consigned to servitude. The fleet came into the lagoons at Pelusium, where they were met by the Egyptian flotilla. The whole scene is depicted in a sculpture at Medinet Abu. Rameses had no sooner vanquished the Pelusata than he hastened to Pelusium for the new engagement. His best troops lined the shore, and when the invaders attempted to land they were driven back.
The sculpture depicts some of the Egyptians attempting to rescue the sinking crews of an enemy's ship, an act of humanity unparalleled among the other nations of the ancient world. Never again did any of the nations thus overcome appear in arms against Egypt. Rameses followed up his victory by a campaign of vengeance, and the record covers one side of the pillar at Medinet Abu. He set out with both an army and a fleet, traversing Palestine and Syria, lion-hunting in the Lebanon, and in short establishing anew the Egyptian authority over the countries that had been conquered before by Thothmes, Sethi and Rameses II. The kings and rulers of the Khitans, Amorites and Idumaeans were made prisoners; and among the places of note that fell into his hands were Patara, Tarsus, Salamis in Cyprus, Idalium, Soli, Larissa, Kolossae, Karkhmos.
In the record are also descriptions of further successful wars against the Libyans, and against the negro tribes of the Sudan.
Manetho has related the story of a king "Sethosis, who is called Rameses," that may refer to this monarch. Going on a military expedition into Palestine and Phoenicia, he left the supreme authority in the hands of his brother Armais. While he was absent the brother took possession of the government, made the queen his consort, and exercised royal functions. The king, hearing this, returned to Pelusium and soon recovered his kingdom.
Professor Ebers supposed that this occurrence took place in the reign of Rameses III., and not, as his romance describes, in that of his great namesake.
The history of the event as given in the Papyrus of Turin is somewhat different but more explicit. There was a conspiracy against the king, which had been plotted by Queen Thi and other women of the royal household, together with Boka-kaman, the Steward; Mestersuror of the royal council, and numerous other members of the council and other officers. It is described as a project to destroy the mind or more probably the life of the king by magic arts. As Pen-ta-ur, the Queen's son, was a participant, it was evidently the purpose to place him on the throne.
The plot was divulged to the king, who immediately appointed a Commission of Twelve to adjudicate the matter. They were instructed to institute an inquiry, to bring all accused persons to trial, and to see whether they deserved death. The individuals who were convicted were immediately thrown to the ground and required "to put themselves to death with their own hands."
In the later years of his reign Rameses married a foreign princess from Asia. Her name, Hemalozatha, and that of her father, Hebuanrozanath, may suggest their nationality. (3) The king gave her the title of Isis and placed her with him on the throne. A picture in a monument which exhibited him when engaged with her in a game of dice became the foundation of a story which is related by Herodotus that he actually went while alive into the world of the dead (4) and played at dice with the Great Goddess Isis, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.
When he had established peace through his dominions, Rameses found opportunity for promoting the welfare of his subjects. He built a great wall over fifty feet high with strong defenses in the country of Ayan near the Gulf of Suez which the Aperiu inhabited. He also equipped a fleet in the harbor of Suez to sail to Punt and the "holy land," and bring thence incense and other precious wares. A caravan trade was also opened and direct intercourse by land and sea was maintained with all the countries of the Indian Ocean. Greater attention was also given to mining. Wells were driven where wanted to facilitate working, and copper, which was procured in the peninsula of Sinai, was smelted and transported in bricks by mules from the furnaces into Egypt.
Rameses acquired an immense treasure from the booty taken in war, and he now employed it like a king. The temples were generously endowed, and he was diligent in his endeavors to be on good terms with the hierarchy of Thebes. He was ambitious also of distinction among the kings of Egypt, and built numerous "Ramessea," or sacred structures bearing his name, in the sacred cities. One of these was erected in Philistia, in the city of Khana to Amun-Ra. But the Ramesseum at Medinet-Abu was most lavishly treated of them all, and to the profusion of its inscriptions, sculptures and ornamentations, we are indebted for what is known of court-life and the customs of Egypt under the Later Empire. It is probably the treasure-house concerning which the story of the thieves is recorded by Herodotus. He began the work in the fifth year of his reign, employing three thousand men. The God Amun-Ra had no reason to complain of his munificence. "Thou hast received gold and silver like sand on the seashore," says Rameses, "what thou hast created in the river and in the mountain, that I dedicate to thee by heaps upon the earth. I offer to thee blue and green precious stones, and all kinds of jewels in chest of bright copper. I have made for thee numerous talismans out of all kinds of precious stones."
This temple contains not only inscriptions describing victories over the Libyans, Ethiopians, nomadic tribes, Arabians, Philistines, Amorites, and the Nations of Asia Minor and the islands, but also the various festivals and holidays for which Egypt was celebrated. Herodotus said truly that the Egyptians were religious to excess, far beyond any other race of men. Indeed, the religious titles and dogmas, and even the customs and titles now largely accepted and employed in Christendom, many of them bear the unmistakable evidence of having been derived from Egypt.
It was not the policy of Rameses III. to bestow honor and wealth upon one divinity and to slight another. He, of course, recognized the Mystic Sun-God Amun-Ra as having made him a king of kings, before whom the people of Asia were "prostrated for all times even to eternity." Yet he built a temple of Sutekh at Ombos, a temple of Khonsu at Karnak, a temple of Khem with Horos and Isis at Koptos, a special sanctuary of Osiris and his associate divinities at Abydos, a sanctuary of Anhur at Thinis, a sanctuary of Sebek at Ptolemais, also in the Island of Mosa, likewise temples of Num, Thoth, Hathor, Anubis, Bast, at other places where they were the tutelaries. Most of his buildings in Lower Egypt were sanctuaries on the eastern side of the Delta in the very region that was most exposed to the incursions of enemies from the East. Though the Egyptians were not warlike, their tenacity in religious matters would make them resentful of acts of impiety. Besides, the non-Egyptian population of Delta would be sensitive to any sacrilege toward the divinities whom the king had so liberally honored.
Rameses was truly a father of his people. He had expelled the Libyans and Arabs, who had seized the districts of greatest fertility, and after reducing them to subjugation had enrolled them in the army and placed them in his fleets. Their tribes now remained quietly in their cities, and the warlike peoples of Ethiopia and Palestine were at peace. He had restored safety and tranquillity. "But," Mr. Birch (5) remarks, "the people are described as receiving their daily sustenance from the Pharaoh in return for their labor, as if the land entirely belonged to the monarch."
In his provident care, Rameses had planted trees and shrubs everywhere to give rest and shade to all, — a boon which in that torrid climate can easily be appreciated. Not only could it be said in the poetic terms of the Hebrew writer, that every one sat under his own vine and fig-tree with none to make him afraid, but it was the boast of the monarch that the weakest woman could travel unmolested on the highways. "The land is like a birth without pains," says an inscription; "the woman may go forth where she likes, she may adorn herself according to her taste, and boldly walk where she chooses."
Finally, in the thirty-second year of his reign, the king made his son Rameses IV. joint king with himself and appealed to his subjects to acknowledge and obey him. The prince had already commended himself by his courage and sagacity as a military officer, and his disposition was such as to promise a fortunate period to Egypt.
Like the kings before him, Rameses had prepared for himself a tomb, an "orbit of light," in the valley of royal sepulchres. It was a long tunnel in the rock, divided into rooms and halls. It was less imposing in style than the famous sepulchres of former monarchs. Indeed, he was less showy in the proportions of his buildings, while he strenuously adhered to his claims. There was an array of side-chambers in which were colored pictures as fresh as when first painted, of his weapons, household furniture and other possessions.
The scientific research of modern times has invaded the precincts of this "eternal abode." The lid of the granite coffin has been carried to a museum at the University of Cambridge, and the papyrus-roll, declaring the endowments of the numerous temples, is in the British Museum.
Such was the career, such the end of the last great king of Egypt. "Till his death," the priests said, "Egypt was excellently governed, and flourished greatly, but after this all was changed." Historians do not condescend to say much about those who succeeded. Manetho describes the Dynasty as consisting of twelve Diospolite kings, but does not name them, evidently considering them unworthy. They, all bore the title of "Rameses," as desiring to embellish their rule by the glories of their predecessor; but they neither maintained the prosperity of Egypt nor arrested the approaching calamity.
In an absolute monarchy, everything depends on the energy and ability of the ruler; and when these fail, except a new force is introduced or an upheaval takes place, the nation is likely to disintegrate and perish. A new era came to Egypt.
1. This is Manetho's statement. Even now, however, the legend of Troig, as Homer styled it, is not eliminated from its place among the myths of archaic Greece. (return to text)
2. Herodotus II., 112-120. Diodorus calls the Egyptian king Ketes, which may be a Greek form of the name Sekhi, but this is improbable, as is the whole story. (return to text)
3. It is hazardous to attempt a guess, yet the name of the princess suggests the Norse term, Amal, denoting a royal descendant of the gods. In such case we should suppose the designation Ise or Isis which Rameses gave her was its Egyptian equivalent. The name of her father contains the term Anath, which belonged to the Great Mother in Skythia, Persia, and Armenia. (return to text)
4. The fact of the picture being in a tomb was probably the occasion of the historian's undertaking that he went while living into Amenti, the Egyptian Sheol, or Hades. (return to text)
5. This seems to have been an archaic arrangement, as it still is in some countries. It came, perhaps, from some conquest. See Genesis xlvii., 20,21: "And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptian sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them; so the land became Pharaoh's. And for the people he removed them to the cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end." (return to text)