XVI — Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, Continued. — Suez Canal Again Attempted — Africa Circumnavigated. — Conquests in Asia — Expulsion. — Nebukhad-nezzar and His Conquests. — Apries. — Egypt Subjugated. — Aahmes II.
Nekho II. came to the throne of Egypt at a critical period. He was bold and far-seeing, and he cherished ambitions which were abundantly worthy of a descendant of Tafnekht. The future of Western Asia was in suspense. Whether Media or Babylon should be its master was the issue in question. Nekho set himself accordingly to carry into effect the purpose which his father had entertained, to seize the prize once more for Egypt. It was his aim to realise for his country also all that the Ptolemaic dynasty afterward accomplished for Alexandreia.
He contemplated accordingly a plan for the combining of the two fleets — the one that navigated the Red Sea, and the other that sailed in the Mediterranean. To effect this he attempted to open again the Suez Canal, which Sethi I. and Rameses the Great had constructed from Bubastis to the Great Bitter Lake at the head of the Gulf. In vain the priests, adhering to the exclusiveness characteristic of their order in Egypt, protested that he was working to promote the ascendancy of alien peoples. Nekho, however, found the task itself too difficult to be easily performed. A sand-bank had accumulated between the lake and the head of the gulf, which his workmen failed to remove. The death of a hundred and twenty thousand laborers from epidemics finally compelled him to abandon the project.
He next prepared to carry out his purpose by bringing his fleet around Africa into the Mediterranean. The continent had not been circumnavigated for unknown centuries, but Nekho was confident that it was surrounded on all sides by the ocean. Accordingly he sent a fleet manned by Phoenicians from a port of the Red Sea with instructions to follow the coast of Africa around to the Pillars of Herakles and the mouth of the Nile. The feat was accomplished, but the necessity to stop each year and sow a crop of grain for subsistence required such delays that three years were employed to complete the voyage. The extraordinary fact was reported, and generally disbelieved, that the mariners always had the sun at their right hand.
Nekho had determined upon the recovery of the countries which had been subjected by his predecessors. Having found it impracticable to combine his fleet in the Red Sea with the other, and that only the ships navigating the Levant could be of use in his operations, he increased their number and employed them as transports for his soldiers. He had landed them in Northern Palestine, when his progress was disputed by the King of Judah. In vain he protested that he was not seeking to invade the realm of Josiah, but was only marching against Assyria. The former kings, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh, had been tributary to the Eastern monarchs, and Josiah had not repudiated this suzerainty. An engagement took place at Megiddo in the very field where Egyptian kings had won so many victories. Nekho placed the Karian archers in the front of his army, and the Hebrew King was mortally wounded by their arrows. This ended the battle. In gratitude for the service of the Karians, Nekho presented the armor which he wore at Megiddo to the oracle-temple of Apollo at Brankhidse.
He continued his march through Phoenicia and Hamath, winning a battle at Kadesh on the Orontes, and finally routing the Assyrians at Karkhemosh. He had now become master of the countries which had been conquered so many times and held tributary by Egyptian kings of the former dynasties.
Nekho was able to retain his conquests no more than three years. The Crown Prince of Assyria, Nebukhadnezzar, was sent by his father to recover the lost provinces. Nekho came from Egypt to arrest his progress, but was overwhelmingly defeated at Karkhemosh. He retreated, and was followed to his own frontier by the conqueror. News came of the death of Nabopulasap, and Nebukhadnezzar, apprehending contention in regard to the succession, made a truce with Nekho and hurried back to Babylon. Several of the tributary countries revolted, Judea with the others, but Nekho gave them no encouragement. "The King of Egypt came no more out of his land, for the King of Babylonia had taken from the river of Egypt (the Sihor) to the river Euphrates all that pertained to the King of Egypt."
The war between Egypt and Babylonia was not renewed. The new monarch of Babylonia was too much engaged with refractory vassals to attack other countries. Nekho, meanwhile, devoted his remaining years to the promoting of the prosperity of Egypt. The temples were embellished, and the country rejoiced in peace. The Sacred Bull having died in the sixteenth year of his reign, was embalmed and buried with unparalleled magnificence. Nekho himself died in the same year, and was buried at Sais. His mummy with the scarabseus over the heart inscribed with his official name, Va-em-ab-Ra, was carried to Paris and placed in a convent, where it was destroyed about the middle of the seventeenth century.
Intercolumnal Plinth, with the names and titles of Psametikh II: "The Hor", the living Sun the great heart of the world, the gracious god. lord of the two worlds, the Sun, . . . the heart, the son of the Sun, lord of diadems; — Psametikh, giver of mercy, like the Sun, forever". The kneeling figures represent the King.
The reign of Psametikh II., or Psammis, the son of Nekho, was brief and uneventful. It was recorded that he received an embassy from Elis, which had been sent to ask whether the Egyptian priests, who were then regarded as the wisest among the nations, could suggest any improvement in the regulations of the Olympic Games. (1) The King assembled the Egyptian savants accordingly, who gave their judgment that as the Eleans were the umpires in the contests, no inhabitant of Elis ought to participate in the contests. The umpires would be disposed to favor their own countrymen and deal unfairly with the other Greeks.
A revolt took place in Ethiopia, and Psametikh led an expedition into the country, accompanied by the generals Aahmes and Apollonios. His death took place, however, before the insurrection was suppressed.
Apries, or Vah-ab-Ra, the Pharaoh-Hephra of the Book of Jeremiah, displayed the energy and ambition which had characterized his family. Herodotus describes him as the most fortunate monarch that had ruled Egypt since Psametikh I. He brought the Ethiopian war to an immediate conclusion, and then set himself to regain the countries in Asia that had been formerly tributary to Egypt. The native princes of Palestine and Perea had formed an alliance with Zedekiah, the vassal-king at Jerusalem, and he sent an embassy to Apries to obtain his support.
Apries accordingly set his forces in motion by land and sea. An expedition against the Assyrians in Cyprus succeeded in driving them from the island, and the Syrian fleet was defeated with great loss. Sidon was taken, and all Phoenicia was now in his possession. He also captured Gaza, and received the submission of the other Philistine cities. The Chaldean army immediately raised the siege of Jerusalem.
Apries was elated beyond bounds at his success, and boasted that no foe, not even a god, could stand against him. The King of Judah, and more especially his princes and the priests who had urged him to the revolt, set no bounds to their exultation. The thousands of exiles at Babylon began to expect deliverance, and the prediction was confidently made that the captive King Jekhoniah would come back to his own. The God of Israel would not forsake the temple where sacrifices were daily presented.
The Prophet Jeremiah, himself a priest, at the peril of his life, opposed the general voice. Placing himself at the entrance of the temple, he declared that it would be destroyed like the temple at Shiloh; and that God did not command or desire sacrifices. But it did not avail; the hour was ruled by besotted madness; and now, not only Judea, but Ammon, Moab and Idumea, participated in the revolt.
The King of Babylonia came with a new army to subdue his rebellious vassals and punish their abettors. At "the parting of the ways" at the north, he cast lots to decide whether to attack first the city of Jerusalem or the capital of Ammon. The augury directed him against the Hebrew metropolis. Remaining at Riblah in Hamath, he sent his chief officers to besiege Jerusalem. It proved as Jeremiah had declared: Apries was too busy with troubles in Egypt to come again to the aid of his ally, and Jerusalem was taken and destroyed.
The destruction of Jerusalem and the removal of the Hebrew population had no effect to end the war. Thirteen years were required to complete it and make ready for the invading of Egypt. Meanwhile Apries had made Aahmes, or Ammasis, his associate upon the throne. The new prince was a native of the province of Sais, and a veritable adventurer of loose principle. He gained the favor of Apries by pandering to his inordinate vanity. On the birthday of the King he sent him a garland in which the flowers were entwined in the manner of the garlands that were placed on statues of the gods. Apries at once invited him to the court, where he so far ingratiated himself into the royal favor as to be permitted to marry the Princess Ankh-nes Nefert, a sister of the late king, Nekho II. This alliance removed all question of legitimacy, and he was made the colleague of Apries.
The priests of Sais told another story to explain or rather disguise the matter. They related that the King of Libya offered the crown of that country to Apries on condition that he would dislodge the Dorian colonists from the Kyrenaika. He accordingly sent his Egyptian troops for the purpose, keeping his Greek-speaking soldiers at home. The expedition was unsuccessful, and the Egyptians mutinied. Aahmes was sent to pacify them, but like Jehu of Israel, became himself leader of the revolt. Apries was dethroned and was afterward murdered. In fact, however, the two Princes ruled conjointly.
The storm burst finally upon Egypt. Nebukhadnezzar came into the Delta with his army. He did not march directly against Sais, but proceeded by Bubastis and Heliopolis to Memphis, and thence up the Nile toward Ethiopia. This was in fact his objective point. Apries remained at Sais, while Aahmes marched against the invaders. It was impossible, however, to arrest their progress. Not till the Assyrian army had reached Elephantina at the frontier of Nubia did it meet with impediment. There it encountered Hes-Hor, the "Governor of the South", who opposed it with such energy that Nebukhadnezzar abandoned the purpose to invade Ethiopia, and returned to complete the subjugation of Lower Egypt. He remained at Daphne for a long period, to "deliver to death those who were adjudged to die, to captivity those who were allotted to captivity, and to the sword those who were for the sword". Of the former number was Apries the King, who had been his inveterate enemy, contending with him in open war and fostering the revolts of his vassals. He was accordingly put to death, and Aahmes invested with the kingdom. The hostile Egyptians were executed or carried into captivity, and the temples in the principal cities were stripped of their treasures and images. He then returned to Babylon. In the retinue there appears to have been a Princess Neita-kar, or Neitokris, who afterward figured conspicuously in the warlike operations of the Babylonian kings; but whether as the bride of Nebukhadnezzar himself, or of an officer, no record has been found. Henceforth the prediction of the Hebrew prophet was realised, that Egypt would be a subject kingdom and not become again superior over other nations.
It is not probable, however, that Aahmes II. was long held in any strict subjection to the Babylonian overlord. The death of Nebukhadnezzar had been followed by the disorganization of his empire, leaving distant princes in comparative independence. Aahmes devoted himself to the strengthening of his position at home and abroad, and he had few of those religious scruples which barred the Egyptians from intimate relations with other peoples. Unlike his predecessor, Apries, he exhibited none of the arrogance of a pretender to divinity, but cultivated familiarity with his associates and subjects as one of themselves. He gave his mornings scrupulously to the transaction of business, but after that was over he indulged freely in joking and mirthful sports. He compared men to bows; those who gave themselves to serious work and did not indulge in pastime were sure to lose their senses and become insane or moody.
He did not abate diligence, however, in matters of religion. When he was crowned, he adopted the official name of Si-Neith, "the son of Neith". He was sedulous in attention to the temples and worship of the patron divinity of Sais. Her temple was included in half a square mile of land, and was the largest in all Northern Egypt. It was surrounded by a wall of brick, and lavishly adorned with obelisks, colossal statues and sphinxes. On one side were the tombs of the Saitic kings, and on the other the sacred lake and shrine where the mysteries of Isis and Osiris were celebrated. Sais was one of the places where was a tomb of the murdered divinity. The Thesmophoria, or festival of the Institution of Laws, were also observed there, and the priests affirmed that the daughters of Danaos carried them thence to the Peloponnesus and taught them to the Pelasgic women. (2)
Aahmes also caused a stone to be quarried near Elephantina, and a chamber cut out in it twelve cubits by nineteen in dimension, and brought to the temple at Sais. It required two thousand boatmen three years to bring it down the Nile, but it was not taken beyond the temple-enclosure. Upon the wall of this temple was the famous inscription: "I am the All, the Past and Present and Future, and no mortal has ever unveiled me." (3)
A colossal statue of prodigious dimensions was also brought to the temple of Ptah at Memphis, but never set up. It is probable that the severity of these labors produced exasperation among the people, for Aahmes found it necessary to leave the work uncompleted, and the Karian troops were brought from Busiris and placed near Memphis.
Aahmes, as has been remarked, pursued the policy which had been adopted by the Saitic kings before him, and set aside in a still greater degree the barrier of exclusiveness which the Egyptians sedulously maintained toward the people. He contributed a thousand talents of alum to aid in rebuilding the temple at Delphi, which had been burned, and also made liberal presents to other temples of Hera and Athena in Greece and Asia. He likewise gave a charter to the city of Naukratis. ten miles from Sais, making it the sole port for foreign shipping, and in addition permitted the inhabitants to elect their own magistrates and officers, and to build temples to their own divinities, Zeus, Hera and Apollo. They reciprocated by taking part in the Egyptian worship, the Karians cutting themselves, after the Asiatic fashion, at the commemoration of the death of Osiris. (4) Whatever was the form of the legend of the drama in more remote periods, it was now analogous to the Great Dionysiak Myth of Asian and Grecian countries.
The prosperity of Egypt during the reign of Aahmes II. exceeded that of any former period on record. He encouraged enterprise and industry in every department, and summarily punished idleness and unthrift. It was a law of his reign that every Egyptian should appear once every year before the governor of his canton and show his means and manner of living. If he failed of doing this and did not prove that he was obtaining an honest livelihood, he was put to death. The result of this strictness was that the land was more productive than ever, the period of this reign was more prosperous than any former time that had been witnessed and the population increased till there were not less than twenty thousand towns.
The Wise Men of Greece and Ionia availed themselves of the opportunity to visit the country and receive instruction from the priests of Northern Egypt. Thales had already ventured upon the journey. Solon came to Naukratis as a merchant, and was received by Aahmes with distinguished attention. He copied here the law requiring honest employment from every individual, and learned from Si-ankh, the priest of Neith, the account of the lost Atlantis which his illustrious descendant had preserved. Kleobulas repaired hither to study philosophy, and Hekataeos of Miletus sailed as far as Thebes to learn of Egyptian antiquity. Pythagoras, tradition informs us, came also to Heliopolis to make himself acquainted with the occult knowledge and mystic rites of the Egyptians and Phoenicians. He was there, it was said, when the Persians conquered the country, and was carried a captive to Babylon, where he was instructed in the religion and philosophy of the Zoroasters. Xenophanes also came, and was bold to dispute with his teachers, God, he affirmed, is spirit, infinite and of eternity. He was puzzled at the lament for Osiris, for a god, he insisted, could not suffer and die. Nor could he have two natures: if he was a man it was wrong to worship him; and if a god, they had no need to commemorate his sufferings.
Aahmes II. was a warrior as well as a statesman. He made complete the conquest of the Cyprians, and for the first time united all their cities and governments under a single administration. He also prosecuted a war in the Kyrenaika, extinguishing all the parties there that were contending for the mastery of affairs. Then the king, Battus the Lame, sent his mother and grandmother to sue for peace. Aahmes, afterward, upon the death of his queen, married Ladike, a lady of that country.
Polykrates was at that time the Tyrant of Samos, and held his dominion accordingly by a tenure analogous to that of Aahmes in Egypt. (5) He had made a treaty of amity and alliance with the Egyptian monarch, but Aahmes protested against his unjust treatment of subjects, and when there appeared an impending storm in the East, it was dissolved.
With Lydia, the former amicable relations were preserved. Soldiers from Karia had placed Psametikh I. upon the throne of Northern Egypt, and from that time had been an important contingent of the Egyptian army. When, therefore, Kroesus was engaged in war against the Eastern powers, Aahmes was summoned to assist with his troops.
When the Assyrian dominion was partitioned after the overthrow of Nineveh, the king of the various tribes that were afterward classified with the Medes (6) had received the award of suzerainty over the countries of Asia Minor. Gyges, who formerly superseded the Amazon and Khitan dynasty in Lydia, had, when in peril from the Kimmerians, pledged allegiance to Sardanapolos to obtain his help. He afterward declared independence, but this was not recognised. There was for many years an incessant war between Lydia and the Medes. During a battle in July, in the year 585 before the present era, there occurred a total eclipse of the sun, and both parties accepted it as a warning from heaven.
Nabu-Anahid, the King of Babylon, who was present as an ally with the Median forces, now mediated for peace. The Crown Prince Astyages, or Istavega, (7) accordingly married the daughter of the King of Lydia, and his father acknowledged the authority of Alyattes over Asia Minor west of the river Halys. Kroesus, who succeeded the latter, was able by the conquest of the Ionian cities to extend his dominion to the Archipelago. Sardis, his capital, was the meeting-place of the commercial caravans, and the most opulent of cities. The wealth of Kroesus has been a proverb till the present time.
There came, however, another change of masters in the East. Aryan colonists under leaders of the Akhaemenian tribe had established themselves in the kingdom of Anzan, or Western Elam. Their chieftain, Cyrus, or Kuru, was ambitious for greater honor. He made war with Astyages and dethroned him. It has also been stated that he followed the ancient custom and took the wife of the conquered king. Kroesus had supported the cause of his brother-in-law, and became the next object of attack. Cyrus marched against him, and a campaign was fought without definite result. Winter came, and Kroesus withdrew his forces, expecting no further conflict till the next season. He then summoned his allies, the Lacedaemonians of Greece, Napuanahid of Babylonia and Aahmes II. of Egypt, to bring their armies to his aid. (8)
He then proceeded to subjugate Lydia, Ionia and other countries, and afterward besieged Babylon. Neitokris, the Queen-Mother, had put the great city in a state of defense that baffled the ingenuity of the assailants, but enemies inside of the walls enabled the invaders to get within. Cyrus captured the city, and after participating in the worship of the Babylonian divinities, Bel-Merodakh and Nebo, he installed his son Kambyses, or Kambuzhaya, as King of Babylonia, and assumed for himself the title of "King of the World". He died two years afterward, leaving to Kambyses the task of punishing Egypt as the ally of Lydia.
Kambyses began his reign in oriental fashion by marrying his sisters, the assassination of his possible competitor, his brother Bardya, (9) and the suppression of several uprisings. He then prepared for the invasion of Egypt. There was a story told by Persians that he had demanded that Aahmes should send him his daughter, as was often required of vassal and conquered kings, and that Aahmes had deceived him by sending only a daughter of the dethroned king Apries. As, however, that king had been dead for forty years, the story carries improbability on its face. There were other causes of war sufficiently valid for an unscrupulous politician; such as lust for extended dominion and cupidity excited by the great wealth of Egypt under the beneficent rule of Aahmes, besides the relations of that monarch with Kroesus. Xenophon states that Aahmes sent a hundred and twenty thousand men to aid that king against Cyrus.
Before Kambyses could complete his preparations, Psametikh III. had succeeded to the throne of Egypt. He lacked the ability of his father, as well as his foresight and sagacity. It was of this prince that Strabo has related the legend of Rhodope and her slipper. She was bathing, it was said, and an eagle snatched the slipper and bore it to Memphis, dropping it at the feet of Psametikh. He was deeply impressed at its smallness, and, having caused her to be sought out and brought to him, married her. It is probably a form of the world-old tale of Cinderella.
Phanes, the commander of the foreign troops employed in Egypt, deserted to Kambyses and aided him in the conducting of his army through Palestine and the Arabian desert. A battle was fought at Pelusiunx, and the Egyptians were defeated. Kambyses followed the fugitive enemy to Memphis and captured the city. He reinstated Psametikh as his vassal, and confirmed the subordinate officials in their several positions. He strove further to conciliate his new subjects, and, repairing to Sais, he was initiated into the Mysteries of the Goddess Neith, and also visited the tomb of Osiris, receiving the two sacred names of Sam Taui, or "uniter of two worlds", and Mastu-Ra. He also expelled foreign intruders who lived in the inclosure. It does not seem that he or his father, Cyrus, were strict Zoroastrians, or had scruples like later kings against participating in religious rites of other nations.
Kambyses also received the submission of the kings of Libya and the Kyrenaika, and gave orders for the sailing of an expedition against Carthage. He then marched with the Persian forces southward to conquer the King of Napata, and on arriving at Thebes dispatched fifty thousand men to reduce the Oases. Ill fortune attended all the expeditions. The marines, who were all Phoenicians, refused to attack their countrymen, and the men who had been sent to the Oases never returned. Kambyses himself marched into Nubia, but soon found it impossible to supply his army with provisions, and was compelled to turn back.
The accounts of his return journey, though conflicting, ascribe to him a cruelty almost insane. His route from Assuan to Thebes and thence to Memphis was a line of ruin. He destroyed the temples, broke the images of the gods, robbed the tombs of the kings, heaped indignities on the bodies of the dead, and broke in two the colossal statue of Amunoph III., known as the Vocal Statue of Memnon.
An insurrection in Lower Egypt speedily required his attention. Psame-tikh III. was found guilty of countenancing and conniving at it, and was put to death. Kambyses then took the administration of affairs into his own hands.
The Sacred Bull Apis died about this time, and he participated in the funeral rites, defraying the expenses of preparing the tomb. M. Brugsch Bey found a sculpture representing him in the act of kneeling and adoring the sacred animal. His official names, Sam-Taui and Mastu-Ra, were inscribed upon the tablet.
After having spent several years in Egypt, he made Aryandes Satrap and left for home. A revolt had taken place, and the Magian prince, Gaumata, had seized the throne. He was supported by the nobility and leading men of Media and Persia. "When Kambyses had gone to Egypt, the state became apostate", says the Inscription of Behistun. "Then the lie became abounding in the land, both in Persia and Media and in the other provinces. * * * There was not a man, neither Persian nor Median, nor any one of our family, who would dispossess Gaumata, the Magus, of the crown."
Kambyses, while on the way home, learned of the defection, and in despair that all was lost committed suicide.
And so the land of the gods, the country of Senefru, of Pepi, of Amenemha, of Thothmes and Rameses, had become a dependency of Persia.
1. The origin of the games at Olympia belongs to the period antedating "ancient history." They were instituted in honor of the Olympian Zeus, as distinguished from the Pelasgian divinity of that name, and so indicate a religious revolution in the Peloponnesus. Olympia was the religious and political centre of the Peloponnesian states, where their Amphik-tyony or Federation held its meetings. The festivals occurred every fifth year in the month of June, and from them dates were made, beginning at the year 776 before the present era. What is called "ancient history" began at that time. (return to text)
2. These rites, which were celebrated exclusively by women, would seem to imply that the sacred customs actually originated with women. They were widely observed, and even appear in Hebrew time — Exodus, xxxviii., and Samuel, I., ii., 22. Their profanation by men was esteemed sacrilege. The worship of the Bona Dea, the Amma or Mother at Rome, was probably of the same category. (return to text)
3. Neith at Sais was regarded as essentially the same with Isis. (return to text)
4. Herodotus, ii., 61; Kings, I., xviii., 28, and also Jeremiah, xvi., 6, and xii., 5. (return to text)
5. A tyrannos, or despotes, was not so denominated because he exercised arbitrary authority in disregard of justice, but because he was neither a priest nor a ruler consecrated by a priest. On the other hand, a rex, or basileus, was a sacred or sacerdotal person, to kill whom was sacrilege which "had never forgiveness". When bold chiefs or "commons kings" obtained supreme power, as at Rome and Athens, these sacred personages retained simply their rank and functions as priests. (return to text)
6. Kyaxeres was styled "King of the Tribes", and the designation of "King of the Medes" was not acquired till afterward. (return to text)
7. This name, which was written Aj-dahaka in the Avesta, has been supposed to be the same as that of Zahak, the Serpent-King of Persian literature. History was veiled in the myths and sacred dramas. (return to text)
8. They were about to comply, but Cyrus anticipated them. He marched upon Sardis, captured it, and made Kroesus a prisoner. (return to text)
9. See Judges, ix., 5, and Chronicles, II., xxi, 4 (return to text)