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3 kingdoms and 34 dynasties

3 kingdoms and 34 dynasties - 20 The Egyptians were by no...

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Unformatted text preview: 20 The Egyptians were by no means the first people to acquire the prerequisites of civilization — the arts of farming and urban living — but once these had become established, the land of the Nile developed a culture of extraordinary durability. For most of its ancient history, Egypt was under the sway of the pharaohs, albpowerful monarchs of divine status. For three thousand years, the name of Pharaoh commanded awe not only among Egyptians but also throughout the civiiized lands of Africa and the Near East. A “Most Ancient Egypt” 20 The First Nation-State 22 The Zenith of the Unitary State 24 The First Challenge to Linity 26 The Glorious Twelfth Dynasty 28 A Second Unravelling 30 From Recovery to Empire 32 Disunity and Foreign Rule 36 A Conquered Kingdom 38 ABOVE: Part of a roll—toil of the names of the royal predetessors of Ramesses H, from his colt temple at Ahydos. S ash ”hing—lists” are an important Sflttt'tefilt' our knowledge ofancient Egyptian chronology, although. some phamohs, such as the ”heretir” Ahhenoten (see pp.12879) and his immediate successors, are reguim‘t')! omitted. 0 CHAPTER 2 THREE KINGDOMS AND THIRTY—FOUR DYNASTIES “MOST ANCIENT EGYPT” Egypt began its march to civilization rather late compared with some regions of the Near East. Yet once it had taken root, the great civilization of the Nile preved to be the most durable of all, spanning more than three thousand years from the appearance of the first unified kingdom to the final eclipse of ancient Egyptian culture in the early Christian era. For most of its ancient history, Egypt was ruled by kings, or pharaohs, who in ancient times were grouped into thirty—one dynasties (see sidebar, opposite). Egyptologists now tend to count the Macedonian and Ptolee maic dynasties as numbers thirty—two and thirty—three, and they have also added a thirty—fourth, the so—called Dynasty “0”, to account for a handful of very early kings. The dynasties in turn are subdivided into several peri— ods, three of which are regarded as the peaks of Egyptian civilization: the “Old Kingdom” (the earliest pyramid age); the “Middle Kingdom” (vir— tually synonymous with a single great dynasty, the Twelfth) and the “New Kingdom” (the age of the great warrior—pharaohs, such as Thutmose III and Ramesses II). Features of civilized life, such as agriculture and towns, only appear in Egypt in the sixth millennium BCE, some two thousand years later than in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Syria—Palestine. This may be owing to Egypt’s rich natural resources rather than any cultural retardedness: the savannas adjoining the Nile Valley remained home to an abundance of plants and animals until these areas became desert, by ca. 200013013. The seeds of Egyptian civilization lie in a number of late Neolithic cultures that emerged ca. SGDOBCE and, over the next thousand years or 50, developed into dis— tinctive regional cultures in Upper and Lower Egypt. In the late fourth millennium BCE, the autonomy of the northern culture was eroded by the rise of an aggressive rival in Upper Egypt. The development of this south— ern culture is traced through a number of stages named after archaeologi— cal sites: Badarian, Naqada I (or Amratian), Naqada II (or Gerzean) and Naqada III (or Dynasty “0”). Collectively these make up the “Predynastic” and “Protodynastic” periods (see timechart). The Naqada II period saw the growth of a prosperous and unified cul— ture in Upper Egypt, with political power consolidated in towns such as Hierakonpolis (see p.69), Naqada and rThis. Classic Egyptian concepts of divine authority began to evolve, including the ruler’s identification with the sky god Horus. By the later Predynastic Period, the southern king— dom’s cultural penetration of Lower Egypt would be followed, gradually but inevitably, by a political takeover of the north. (See also pp.106—7.) “MOST ANCIENT EGYPT” . 21 One oftwo pairs of colossal statues of the phamoh anesses I] {see p.35) that flank the entrance to the temple of Aha Simhel in Lower Nnhia. Ramesses’ reign (to. 127%1213365) — the longest of Egypt’s imperial age — is one of the best— documented periods ongyption history. Like many of his surviving monuments, the temple of Aha S imhel incorporates accounts of the events ofhis reign. WRITING EGYPTIAN HISTORY The framework used today to describe Egypt’s ancient history is not entirely a construct of modern scholarship, but is based on sources from antiquity. The original division into dynasties derives from a history of Egypt by Manetho, an Egyptian priest who wrote in Greek in the 7 third century BCE, perhaps for King Ptolemy I. The history, which identified thirty—one dynasties before the Ptolemies, is mostly lost, but other ancient authors occasionally cite it and a précis of its contents is preserved by early Christian writers. Manetho’shistory clearly depends upon authentic materials, such as king-lists (see illustration, opposite), historical monuments and literary texts based on actual events. However, the work poses other problems apart from the abbreviated form in which it survives. Manetho uses his sources uncritically and there are mistakes in the text as it has been transmitted. For the most part, scholars now use Manetho only to supplement the more substantial and reliable archaeological records. The broader division of Egyptian history into three “kingdoms” (see main text) is also ancient in origin. It is implied in a list of royal ancestors in the mortuary temple of Ramesses II (ca. 1279—1213BCE) in Western Thebes, at the head of which are three great kings who unified Egypt — Menes (Dynasty “0” or First Dynasty; sec p.23), Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II (Eleventh Dynasty) and Ahmose (the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty). THE BATTLES 0F HORUS AND SETH King Peribsen’s apparent abandonment of Horus in favour of Seth (see main text) was once interpreted as a historical prototype for the antagonism between Horus and Seth in Egyptian religious thinking. The theologians of Heliopolis developed a pantheon in I which the ancient sky god, Horus (“He who is on high”), with whom every pharaoh was identified, became the son of the god Osiris and his sister and consort, Isis. Osiris was king of Egypt during “the period of the god”, a primeval era when divinities were said to have ruled on earth. But Seth murdered Osiris and took the throne; Horus grew to manhood and eventually defeated the usurper: their struggle, known as T he Contendings of Harmr and Seth and first described in the Pyramid Texts (see p.188), became one of the epic themes in Egyptian literature (see also pp.134-5). 22 . THREE KINGDOMS AND THIRTYaFOUR DYNASTIES THE FIRST NATION —STATE The consolidation of the Egyptian state occurred gradually over a period spanning the later Predynastic Period and the early First Dynasty. A late tradition claims that the first two dynasties were based at This, or Thinis, in Upper Egypt, and it is true that, from Dynasty “0” to the end of the Second Dynasty, the Upper Egyptian kings who conquered the north were buried at Abydos, not far from This. These early rulers are known as “Horus—kings” because their names are written in a frame, or serekh, incorporating an image of a palace facade (fi) surmounted by a falcon (h) identified with the god Horus. The name in a serekli is called the “Horus—name”. The most conspicuous steps toward Egyptian unity were taken around the beginning of the First Dynasty under the Horusmkings Narmer (“Baleful Catfish”) and Aha (“Fighter”). Aha transferred the centre of government to the vicinity of Memphis. (See also pp. 106—7.) Arguably the greatest achievement of Egypt’s early rulers was to forge, not only a powerful state, but also a national consciousness across widely separated regions with strong local customs. The main instrument of this nation—building was the royal government, which reserved the highest offices for members of the king’s family, while it also became increasingly dependent on a bureaucracy of able commoners. The tombs of Early Dynastic officials reveal both the rewards of royal service and a civiliza— tion becoming ever more culturally unified. ' Many of the classic institutions of Egyptian government and society were evolving during this Early Dynastic Period, but it is difficult to get a complete picture of developments. Surviving annals of the late Old King— dom are fragmentary and say nothing at all of the ideological adjustments which, other evidence suggests, the regime was forced to make from time to time. For example, late in the Second Dynasty, King Peribsen (ruled ca. 2700BCE) took on the identity of the god Seth in addition to, or in place of, that of Horus. Peribsen’s move may simply have been an attempt to appeal to worshippers of Seth in Upper Egypt and does not seem to have provoked any enduring hostility, because Peribsen’s cult survived into the cessors reverted to the Horus falcon alone. of the king’s status as “Lord of the Two Lands”. n Egyptian tradition, the unification Iof the “Two Lands” is credited to a legendary ruler called Meni (“Min” and “Menes” in Greek sources), who is said to have founded the cap— ital city of Memphis on the border between Upper and Lower Egypt. In the fifth century BCE, Egyptian priests had assured the Greek historian Herodotus (Histories, Book Two) that Min was the first king of Egypt, and had reclaimed the land around the city that he founded, Memphis. When Manetho wrote his history two centuries later (see p.21), he confidently identified Memes as the first. human king of Egypt, adding that “he made a foreign expedition and won renown, but was killed by a hippopotamus”. But the tradition of Menes as the first king of all Egypt goes back only to the fifteenth century BCE, when Eighteenth-Dynasty monuments call the legendary unifier “Meni”. He is commonly identified with the early king Narmer, who appears on a ceremonial slate palette trium— phing over a people of the Delta and wearing the traditional crowns of the two Egyptian kingdoms (see illustration). However, the name or title Meni is recorded neither for THE FIRST NATION—STATE . 23 Fourth Dynasty. In any case, a compromise was clearly reached under Khasekhemwy, or Khasekhem, the last king of the dynasty, who pro— claimed that “the two gods who are in [the king} are at peace”. His sereeh is unique in having the image of Seth alongside that of Horus; his suc— At the start of the Third Dynasty, the royal cemetery was transferred from Abydos to Memphis, perhaps partly to enhance the latter city’s sta— tus as the national capital. Certainly, the Step Pyramid complex of King Djoser (ca. 2650BCE) at Saqqara (see pp.l78—9) is not only the grandest monument to divine monarchy to date but, with its stone models of Upper and Lower Egyptian shrines, it is also the most explicit reflection MENES, THE LEGENDARY UNIFIER OF EGYPT The [are Pramdymstic "Narmer Palette” depirts King Narmer, 127120 is ofien identified with Mener, wearing the crown Qf Upper Egypt, crushing a people of the Delta. 011 the other side ofrhe slate he is shown wearing the Lower Egyptian crown. Narmer nor any other “Horus—king” of early Egypt, although the name Men is attested for other individuals of the period. It may be a king’s personal name, as opposed to the official “Horus name”, like Narmer or Aha (see main text). Another royal title was the “Two Ladies” name. An ivory label of Aha shows him before a structure inscribed with the name “Two Ladies Men”. Even if Men does not refer to Aha, as the king who historically made Memphis the capital of Egypt he already has quite a strong claim to be identified with the Memes of legend. It has been suggested that Menes might have been purely a historical construct: the Egyptian Adele:~ can mean “So— and~so—who—once~came”. According to yet another theory; the name might represent a deliberate reversal of the sylla— bles of the god Amun, or Amen, who in Egypt’s imperial age came to be seen as the divine “father” of every pharaoh. 24 . THREE KINGDOMS AND THIRTY—FOUR DYNASTIES By the 4th Dynasty, Egyptian sculptors had achieved a level of mastery ofstome that they were never to surpass. Prohaih’y the finest Old Kingdom sculpture yet discovered is this superbly modelled diorite statue of Khafre, or Cheplzren, who built the second oftlie Giza pyramids (seepp.]84—5). THE ZENITH OF THE UNITARY STATE Early Egyptian civilization reached a peak of efficiency and splendour during the Old Kingdom (the Fourth to Eighth dynasties). Royal power, reflected in the great pyramid complexes (see pp. 168_9l), would never be greater than it was in this period, and Egypt’s international prestige, proudly vaunted in official records, is also reflected in archaeological finds in Asia, Nubia and the deserts flanking the Nile Valley. I Under King Sneferu (ca. 2625m2585BCE), the founder of the Fourth Dynasty, the royal tomb became a true pyramid, perhaps symbolizing a ramp of sunbeams which would lead the pharaoh to his ultimate divine destiny in the heavens. The sovereign now embodied not only Horus, but also the sun god, Re, and the formal royal title Sac—Re, “Son of Re”, was in use by the middle of the Fourth Dynasty. A vogue for temples to the sun can be seen in the royal cemeteries of the Fifth Dynasty (see p.188), while the “Pyramid Texts”, an anthology of spells carved on the inner walls of pyramids from the late Fifth Dynasty onward, repeatedly state that -“the king belongs to the sky”. Royal power, centred on the royal residence near each king’s pyramid complex, was implemented by a government that increasingly came to be in the hands of trusted commoners. The highest offices became closed to royal relatives during the Fourth Dynasty and were filled by lower—born individuals who sometimes bore the honorific title “King’s Son”. At the head of the administration was a chief minister (or sometimes two minisa ters) who presided over the departments of government: the granary and treasury, public works, the judiciary and the civil service. Officials were rotated in different jobs around the country, as dictated by necessity, abil— ity and the royal will. Instead of a standing army, local militias were put into the field when required. Temples were endowed by royal charter, but in times of need they were liable to have property or manpower requisi~ tioned by other official departments unless specifically exempted. THE ZENITH OF THE UNITARY STATE . 25 KHUFU: THE MAKING OF A LEGEND he person of King Khufu (known to the Greeks as Cheops) is virtually eclipsed by his monumental resting place, the Great Pyramid at Giza. He is hardly a shadowy figure, even in the shattered records of his own time, but most of what we know about his reign (nearly all of it through records of his family and offi— cials) comes from tombs in the vicinity of that colossal monument. However, little in the way of hard historical fact emerges from these sources. It was once believed that some intrigue surrounded the reburial of Khufu’s mother at Giza after her tomb was robbed — it was thought that courtiers conspired to keep the full truth from the king. But this story is no longer beyond dispute. An alleged feud within the royal family, involving fre and Khafre (or Chephren), is also doubted today. Even the king’s fea— tures would escape us, were it not for a single tiny statuette discovered in two pieces in the temple of Osiris at Abydos in Upper Egypt (see illustration). Khufu’s commanding monument has thrown its shadow ‘ This ivory statuette — shown actual size m is Khufu’s sons and successors, Daede— the 0,1,5, image mfg“, dfimmfid flthufil: Great Pyramid. The priests told the the builder oft/26 Great Pyramid. over the king’s historical reputation. Later Egyptian literature presents him as a grim, authoritarian figure, most notably in a popular tale recounted in the West— car Papyrus. In this story, a magician, Djedi, who can reputedly bring the dead back to life, is pre— sented to the king: “His Person [Khufu] said: ‘Bring me a prisoner from prison, that his pun— ishment may be inflicted [that is, the prisoner would be killed and brought back to life].’ ” Djedi protests: “ ‘0 my sovereign lord — live, prosper, be healthy! It is'not ordained that such things be done to [humankind].’ ” Khufu relents and Diedi demonstrates his magic on a goose and an ox. By the fifth century BCE, native tradition claimed that Khufu became a tyrant owing to his obsession with finishing the Greek historian Herodotus that to raise money for the project, Khufu seized temple property throughout Egypt and even forced his own daughter to work in a brothel. The idea of a tyran— nical Khufu continues to resonate today, when tourists are still entertained with a composite of such ancient stories. As with the Early Dynastic Period, few concrete events of the Old Kingdom can be gleaned from contemporary records. It is now doubted that there was a quarrel among the sons of Khufu (see box), as was once believed. Similarly, a popular tradition of a rivalry between the last kings of the Fourth Dynasty and their successors in the Fifth is also now disi counted. The autobiographies in the tombs of SixthaDynasty officials provide few hard facts but a more coherent sense of developments. In Upper Egypt, certain families became entrenched in office as hereditary “nomarchs”, rulers of the “nomes” (provinces; see p.27). Two members of one such family even became queens of Pepy l (ca. 2338—2298BCE) and the mothers of his two successors, Merenre and Pepy II. Further chal— lenges to the pharaohs arose with the formation of small states in Nubia, which led to growing friction between Egypt and its southern neighbour during the long reign of Pepy II. 26 . THREE KINGDOMS AND THIRTY-FOUR DYNASTIES THE FIRST CHALLENGE TO UNITY By the later years of the Old Kingdom, Egypt had become engulfed in a crisis that had been developing for a long time. After the extravagance of pyramid~building at the height of the Fourth Dynasty, there was a decrease both in the size of royal tombs and in the care with which they were built. The financing of mortuary monuments for royal and private patrons must have strained the resources of a centralized economy, and documents from pyramid cities in the Fifth Dynasty show endowments being reduced and redistributed. Such ec0nomic problems were probably linked to a progressive drying—out of the climate which had been taking place all over the Near East in the later third millennium BCE. The need to cope with the effects of lower inundations of the Nile may be one rea— son for the decentralization of power that occurred in the Sixth Dynasty, when dynasties of “nomarchs” become entrenched in the provinces (see box, opposite). Their descendants, a few generations later, would speak of water shortages and having to protect their people from famine. The crisis probably came to a head ca. ZZOOBCE, during the long reign of Neferkare Pepy H (see pp.24—5), the last significant ruler of the Old Kingdom. For some time after his death, kings continued to reign in Memphis (the last rulers of the Sixth Dynasty, followed by the Seventh and Eighth dynasties). Most of them are very obscure, and on the rare occasions when they emerge into the light, they are clearly overshadowed by the powerful southern nomarchs, who effectively governed Upper Egypt. With the passing of the last kings in Memphis (ca. 213OBCE), the nornarch of Herakleopolis, in the twentieth Upper Egyptian nome (see map, opposite), claimed royal power as Akhtoy I. His descendants in the Ninth and Tenth dynasties were supported by Lower Egypt and the other nomarchs of Middle Egypt, but within one or two generations they were challenged by the rise (ca. 20811303) of the Eleventh Dynasty, based at Thebes. A prolonged contest between these two regimes ensued, with the A statue frem Thebes oftbe pharaoh Nebhepetre Mentuiiotep II, the greatest ruler ofthe 11th Dynasty, who reunited Egypt and ruledfor knife century (at. 2008—1957BCE...
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