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JH Breadsted





TOWARD the close of the thirteenth century BC, the conditions of power in the eastern Mediterranean world, in which Egypt had so long played the leading role, suffered profound change resulting from the first historic intrusion of hostile European forces into the arena of the Near East. The southward shift of the Hellenic peoples in the Balkan Peninsula, which had probably been going on since about the close of the third millenium BC, had disturbed and was beginning partially to displace the Aegean population, as the Greeks gradually took possession of the regions which were to form the later Greek world. Thus driven out by the Greek migration to the Mediterranean, the leaders of the disturbed maritime communities of the northern Mediterranean, chiefly Aegeans, creeping along the coasts, sought plunder or places of permanent settlement for their dependents, and together with the Libyans on the one hand and the peoples of Asia Minor on the other, they broke in wave on wave on the borders of the Pharaoh's empire. Egypt's power in Asia, like that of the Ptolemaic kings of later times, rested essentially upon her naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. The maritime leadership of the Pharaohs thus threatened, was shaken and finally gave way. With it an indispensable support of Egyptian imperial power collapsed. Inevitably thrown on the defensive by these developments, Egypt's day of conquest and aggression had passed. If this was the effect of the external situation just described, it was also no less the result of the serious internal conditions which had arisen in the later years of Ramses II's reign. For, as we have already seen, the nation had lost its expansive power; and he impulse which had resulted from the expulsion of the Hyksos three hundred and fifty years before, was no longer felt. The spirit which had stirred the heroes of the first Asiatic conquests had now vanished. For six hundred years no serious effort to extend the borders of Egypt was made; and for the next sixty years after the death of Ramses II we find the Pharaohs struggling merely to preserve the empire, which it had been the ambition of their great ancestors rather to extend.

At this crisis in the fortunes of Egypt, after it had been under the rule of an aged man for twenty years and much needed the vigorous hand of a young and active monarch, the enfeebled Ramses was succeeded by his thirteenth son, Merneptah, now far advanced in years. Thus one old man succeeded another on the throne. The result was what might have been expected. To check the bold incursions of the Libyans and their maritime allies on the west, nothing was done.


The death of Ramses was not followed by any disturbance in the Asiatic dominions in so far as we can see. The northern border in Syria was as far north as the upper Orontes valley, including at least part of the Amorite country in which Merneptah had a royal city bearing his name, probably inherited from his father and renamed. With the Hittite kingdom he enjoyed undisturbed peace, doubtless under the terms of the old treaty, negotiated by his father forty-six years before. Indeed, Merneptah sent shiploads of grain to the Hittites to relieve them in time of famine. By the end of his second year, however, he had reason to rue the good-will shown his father's ancient enemy. Among the allies of the Hittites at the battle of Kadesh there were already maritime peoples like the Lycians and Dardanians. In some way Merneptah discovered that the Hittites were now involved in the incursions of these people in the western Delta in alliance with the Libyans. In the year three (about 1223 BC) the Pharaoh found widespread revolt against him in Asia: Askalon at the very gates of Egypt, the powerful city of Gezer at the lower end of the valley of Aijalon, leading up from the sea-plain to Jerusalem; Yenoam, given by Thutmose III to Amon two hundred and sixty years before; some of the tribes of Israel and all western Syria-Palestine as far as it was controlled by the Pharaoh all these rose against their Egyptian overlord. We have nothing but a song of triumph to tell us of the ensuing war; but it is evident that Merneptah appeared in Asia in his third year, and in spite of his advanced years carried the campaign to a successful issue. It is probable, indeed, that even the Hittites did not escape his wrath, though we cannot suppose that the aged Merneptah could have done more than plunder a border town or two. The revolting cities were severely punished, and all Palestine was again humiliated and brought completely under the yoke. Among the revolters who suffered was Israel, which here makes its first appearance in history as the name of a people. Gezer must have caused Merneptah some trouble and perhaps withstood a siege; in any case he thereafter styled himself in his titulary 'Binder of Gezer', as if its subjugation were a notable achievement. Such a siege would explain why Merneptah was unable to move against the invaders of the western Delta until his fifth year, as the investment of such a stronghold as Gezer might have occupied him another year.

The chronic situation in the western Delta, which was always overrun by Libyan intruders whenever the central government weakened or relaxed its vigilance, had now become very serious. Hordes of Tehenu-Libyans were pushing farther into the Delta from their settlements along the northern coast of Africa west of Egypt. It is possible that some of their vanguard had even reached the canal of Heliopolis. Little is known of the Libyans at this time. Immediately upon the Egyptian border seems to have been the territory of the Tehenu; farther west came the tribes known to the Egyptians as Lebu or Rebu, the Libyans of the Greeks, by which name also the Egyptians designated these western peoples as a whole. On the extreme west, and extending far into then unknown regions, lived the Meshwesh, or Maxyes, of Herodotus. They were all doubtless the ancestors of the Berber tribes of north Africa. They were far from being totally uncivilized barbarians, but were skilled in war, well armed and capable of serious enterprises against the Pharaoh. Just at this time they were rapidly consolidating, and under good leadership gave promise of becoming an aggressive and formidable state, with its frontier not ten days' march from the Pharaoh's residence in the eastern Delta. The whole western Delta was strongly tinctured with Libyan blood, and Libyan families were now constantly crossing the western border of the Delta as far as the 'great river', as the western or Canopic mouth of the Nile was called. Others had penetrated to the two northern oases which lie southwest of the Fayyum. "They spend their time going about the land fighting to fill their bellies daily" says Merneptah's record, "they come to the land of Egypt to seek the necessities of their mouths".


Emboldened by their long immunity, the Libyans assumed an organized offensive, and what had been but a scattered immigration now became a compact invasion. Meryey, king of the Libyans, forced the Tehenu to join him and, supported by roving bands of maritime adventurers from the coast, he invaded Egypt. He brought his wife and children with him, as did also his allies, and the movement was clearly an immigration as well as an invasion. Judging from the numbers who were afterward slain or captured, the Libyan king must have commanded at least some twenty thousand men or more. The allies were the now familiar Sherden; the Shekelesh (possibly the Sikel natives of Sicily, or of Sagalassus); Ekwesh (probably Achaeans); the Lycians, who had preyed on Egypt since the days of Amenhotep III; and the Teresh (supposed by some to be Tyrsenians or Etruscans). It is with these wandering marauders that the peoples of Europe emerged for the first time upon the arena of history with the older oriental peoples, although we have seen them in their material documents since the Middle Kingdom.

When the news of the danger reached him late in March of his fifth year, Merneptah, fully aroused to the situation, was fortifying Heliopolis and Memphis. Instantly summoning his officials, he ordered them to muster the troops and have the army ready to move in fourteen days. The aged king had a reassuring dream in which Ptah appeared in gigantic stature beside him and extended him a sword, telling him to banish all fear. By the middle of April the Egyptian force was in the western Delta, and on the evening of the same day came within striking distance of the enemy. Somewhere on the main road leading westward out of the Delta into the Libyan country, a few miles inward from the frontier fort and station guarding the road at the point where it entered the Delta, was a place called Perire. In its vicinity, among the opulent vineyards of the region, there was a château of the Pharaoh, and thence eastward extended the broad prospect of nodding grain fields where the rich Delta harvest was now fast ripening for the sickle. Upon such a prospect of smiling plenty the barbarian host looked down as they pushed past the western frontier forts. By the Pharaoh's Perire château, on the morning of April 15, 1221 BC, battle was joined. The contest had lasted six hours when the Egyptian archers drove the allies from the field with immense loss. In accordance with the use of cavalry at this point in a battle in modern times, Merneptah now immediately threw in his chariotry in pursuit of the flying enemy, who were harried and decimated till they reached the 'Mount of the Horns of the Earth', as the Egyptians called the edge of the plateau on the west of the Delta into which they escaped. King Meryey had fled from the field as soon as he saw the action going against him. He made good his escape, but all his household furniture and his family fell into the hands of the Egyptians. The energetic pursuit resulted in a great slaughter and many prisoners. No less than nine thousand of the invaders fell, of whom at least one-third were among the maritime allies of the Libyans; and probably as many more were taken prisoner. Among the dead were six sons of the Libyan king. When the camp had been thoroughly looted its leathern tents were fired and the whole went up in smoke and flame. The booty was enormous : some nine thousand copper swords, and of weapons of all sorts and similar equipment no less than over one hundred and twenty thousand pieces. Besides these there were the fine weapons and vessels in precious metal taken from the camp of the Libyan king's household and chiefs, comprising over three thousand pieces.

Returning in triumph, the army then marched to the royal residence bearing, laden upon asses, the hands and other trophies cut from the bodies of the slain. The booty and the trophies were brought beneath the palace balcony, where the king inspected them and showed himself to the rejoicing multitude. He then assembled the nobles in the great hall of the palace where he harangued them. What was more important, there now came to him a letter from the commandant of one of the fortresses on the frontier of the western Delta, stating that the Libyan king had escaped past the Egyptian cordon in the darkness of the night, and adding information to the effect that the Libyans had repudiated and dethroned their discomfited king and chosen another in his place who was hostile to him and would fight him. It was evident therefore that the aggressive party in Libya had fallen and that no further trouble from that quarter, at least during the reign of Merneptah, need be apprehended.


The intense relief evident in the exuberant triumph which followed this deliverance is significant of Egypt's completely altered situation. No longer launching armies on distant campaigns of conquest, the Pharaohs were now engaged in a desperate struggle to maintain the home frontiers of the ancient kingdom. The constant plundering at the hands of Libyan hordes, which the people of the western Delta had endured for nearly a generation, was now ended, and an intolerable situation was relieved. The people sang: "Great joy has come in Egypt, rejoicing comes forth from the towns of Tomeri (Egypt)... Sit happily down and talk or walk far out upon the way for there is no fear in the heart of the people. The strongholds are left to themselves, the wells are opened again. The messengers skirt the battlements of the walls, shaded from the sun, until their watchmen wake. The soldiers lie sleeping and the border-scouts are in the field (or not) as they desire. The herds of the field are left as cattle sent forth without a herdman, crossing at will the fullness of the stream. There is no uplifting of a shout in the night: "Stop! Behold one comes, one comes with the speech of strangers!" One comes and goes with singing, and there is no lamentation of mourning people. The towns are settled again anew; and as for one that ploweth his harvest, he shall eat of it. Re has turned himself to Egypt; he was born destined to be her protector, even the king Merneptah"


The kings are overthrown, saying, Salam!

Not one holds up his head among the Nine Nations of the Bow.

Wasted is Tehenu,

The Hittite land is pacified,

Plundered is the Canaan, with every evil,

Carried off is Askalon,

Seized upon is Gezer,

Yenoam is made as a thing not existing.

Israel is desolated, her seed is not,

Palestine has become a (defenceless) widow for Egypt.

All lands are united, they are pacified;

Every one that is turbulent is bound by king Merneptah.


Merneptah reigned at least five years longer, apparently enjoying profound peace in the north. He strengthened his Asiatic frontier witha fortress bearing his name, and in the south he quelled a rebellion in Nubia, The commonly accepted statement that toward the end of his reign a Syrian at court gained control of Merneptah and became regent is entirely without foundation and due to misunderstanding of the titles of Ben-Ozen, the Syrian marshal of his court, to whom we have already referred. The long reign of Ramses II, with its prodigality in buildings, left Merneptah little means to gratify his own desires in this respect. Moreover, his days were numbered, and there was not time to hew from the quarries and transport the materials for such a temple as it had now become customary for each Pharaoh to erect at Thebes for his own mortuary service. Under these circumstances, Merneptah had no hesitation in resorting to the most brutal destruction of the monuments of his ancestors. To obtain materials for his mortuary temple he made a quarry of the noble sanctuary of Amenhotep III on the western plain, barbarously tore down its walls and split up its superb statues to serve as blocks in his own building. Among other things thus appropriated was a magnificent black granite stela over ten feet high containing a record of the buildings of Amenhotep III. Merneptah's scribes cut upon the back a hymn of victory over the Libyans, of which we have quoted the conclusion above, and with its face to the wall, he then erected it in his new building, where Petrie found it. It has become notable because it contains the earliest known reference to Israel. Merneptah's desecration of the great works of the earlier Pharaohs did not even spare those of his own father who, it will be remembered, had set him a notorious example in this respect. Ramses II had the effrontery, after a lifetime of such vandalism, to record in his Abydos temple a long appeal to his descendants to respect his foundations and his monuments; but not even his own son showed them the respect which he craved. We find Merneptah's name constantly on the monuments of his father.

Merneptah passed away (1215 BC) after a reign of at least ten years and was buried at Thebes in the valley with his ancestors. His body has been found there a discovery somewhat disconcerting to those who held that, as the Pharaoh of the Israelite exodus, he must have been drowned in the Red Sea. However much we may despise him for his desecration and shameful destruction of the greatest works of his ancestors, it must be admitted at the same time that, at an advanced age, when such responsibility must have sat heavily, he manfully met a grave crisis in the history of his country, which might have thrown it into the hands of a foreign dynasty.


The death of Merneptah was the beginning of a conflict for the throne which lasted for many years. The laxity which had accompanied the long-continued rule of two old men gave ample opportunity for intrigue, conspiracy and the machinations of rival factions. Two pretenders were at first successful : Arnenmeses and Merneptah-Siptah. The former was but an ephemeral usurper, who through some collateral line of the royal house perhaps possessed a distant claim to the throne. He was hostile to the memory of Merneptah; and his successor, Merneptah-Siptah, who quickly supplanted him, took possession of his monuments in turn, and destroyed his tomb in the western valley of Thebes.

Nubia was now a fruitful source of hostility to the royal house. Like the Roman provinces in the days of that empire, Nubia offered a field, at a safe distance from the seat of power, where a sentiment against the ruling house and in favor of some pretender might be secretly encouraged without great danger of detection. It was perhaps in Nubia that Siptah gained the ascendancy. However this may be, we find him in his first year installing his viceroy there in person, and sending one of his adherents about distributing rewards there. By such methods and by marrying Tewosret, probably a princess of the old Pharaonic line, he succeeded in maintaining himself for at least six years, during which the tribute from Nubia seems to have been regularly delivered, and the customary intercourse with the Syrian provinces maintained.

The viceroy whom he appointed in Nubia was one Seti, who was now also, as already observed, 'Governor of the Gold Country of Amon'. This brought him into intimate relations with the powerful priesthood of Amon at Thebes, and it is not impossible that he improved the opportunity of this intercourse and of his influential position to do what Siptah had himself done in Nubia. In any case, when Siptah disappeared, a Seti succeeded him as second of that name. He was later regarded as the sole legitimate king of the three who followed Merneptah. He seems to have ruled with some success, for he built a small temple at Karnak and another at Eshmunen-Hermopolis. He took possession of the tomb of Siptah and his queen, Tewosret, although he was afterward able to excavate one of his own. But his lease of power was brief; the long uncurbed nobility, the hosts of mercenaries in the armies, the powerful priesthoods, the numerous foreigners in positions of rank at court, ambitious pretenders and their adherents all these aggressive and conflicting influences demanded for their control a strong hand and unusual qualities of statesmanship in the ruler. These qualities Seti II did not possess, and he fell a victim to conditions of almost insuperable difficulty.

With the fall of Seti II, complete anarchy ensued. The whole country fell into the hands of the local nobles, chiefs and rulers of towns, and remained so for many years. The nation must have been well on toward dissolution into the petty kingdoms and principalities out of which it was consolidated at the dawn of history. Then came famine, with all the misery which the Arab historians later depict in their annals of similar periods under the Mameluk sultans in Egypt. Indeed, the record of this period left us by Ramses III in the great Papyrus Harris, in spite of its brevity, reads like a chapter from the rule of some Mameluk sultan of the fourteenth century. Profiting by the helplessness of the people and the preoccupation of the native rulers, one of those
Syrians, who had held an official position at the court, seized the crown or at least the power, and ruled in tyranny and violence. "He set the whole land tributary before him together; he united his companions and plundered their possessions. They made the gods like men and no offerings were presented in the temples". Property-rights were therefore no longer respected and even the revenues of the temples were diverted.

As in the later years of Ramses II the Libyans were not long in perceiving the helplessness of Egypt. Immigration across the western frontier of the Delta began again; plundering bands wandered among the towns from the vicinity of Memphis to the Mediterranean, or took possession of the fields and settled on both shores of the Canopic branch. At this juncture, about 1200 BC, there arose one Setnakht, a strong man of uncertain origin, but probably a descendant of the old line of Seti I and Ramses II; and although the land was beset with foes within and without, he possessed the qualities of organization and the statesmanship first to make good his claims against the innumerable local aspirants to the crown; and having subdued these, to restore power and organize the almost vanished state of the old Pharaohs.

We shall readily understand that Setnakht's arduous achievement left him little time for monuments which might have perpetuated his memory. Indeed, he could not even find opportunity to excavate for himself a tomb at Thebes; but seized that of Siptah and his queen, Tewosret, which had already been appropriated, but eventually not used, by Seti II. His reign must have been brief, for his highest date is his first year, scratched on the back of a leaf of papyrus by a scribe in trying his pen. Before he died (1198 BC) he named as his successor his son, Ramses, the third of the name, who had already been of assistance to him in the government.


Although the old line was evidently already interrupted after Merneptah, Manetho begins a new dynasty, the XXth, with the Ramessid line now headed by Ramses III. The new Pharaoh inherited a situation precisely like that which confronted Merneptah at his accession; but being a young and vigorous man, he was better able successfully to cope with it. He immediately perfected the organization for military service, dividing all the people into classes successively liable for such service. Since the native contingent was constantly shifting, as class after class passed through the army, the Pharaoh came more and more to depend upon the mercenaries as the permanent element in his army. A large proportion of the standing army, therefore, consisted of Sherden mercenaries as in the days of Ramses II, while a contingent of the Kehek, a Libyan tribe, was also in the ranks, In the west more serious developments had taken place since Merneptah's Libyan war. The restless and turbulent peoples of the northern Mediterranean, whom the Egyptians designated 'the Peoples of the Sea' and whom we know as the Aegeans, were showing themselves in ever-increasing numbers in the south. Among these, two in particular whom we have not met before, the Thekel and the Peleset, were prominently aggressive. The Peleset (Pulesati), better known as the Philistines of Hebrew history, were no doubt one of the early tribes of Crete, but the identity of the Thekel is much more uncertain. They were accompanied by contingents of Denyen (possibly Danai), Sherden, Weshesh and Shekelesh. Moving gradually southward in Syria, some of these immigrants had advanced perhaps as far as the upper waters of the Orontes and the kingdom of Amor; while the more venturesome of their ships were coasting along the Delta and stealing into the mouths of the rivers on plundering expeditions. They readily fell in with the plans of the Libyan leaders to invade and plunder the rich and fertile Delta. By land and water they advanced into the western Delta where Ramses promptly met them and gave them battle near a town called "Usermare-Meriamon (Ramses III) is chastiser of Temeh (Libya)". This was in 1194 BC. Their ships were destroyed or captured and their army beaten back with enormous loss. Over twelve thousand five hundred were slain upon the field and at least a thousand captives were taken. Of the killed a large proportion were from the ranks of the sea-rovers. There was the usual triumph at the royal residence, when the king viewed the captives and the trophies from the balcony of the palace, while his nobles rejoiced below. Amon, who had granted the great victory, did not fail to receive his accustomed sacrifice of living victims, and all Egypt rejoiced in restored security, such that, as Ramses boasted, a woman might walk abroad as far as she wished with her veil raised without fear of molestation. To strengthen his frontier against the Libyans Ramses now built a town and stronghold named after himself upon the western road where it left the Delta and passed westward into the desert plateau. It stood upon an elevated point known as the 'Mount of the Horns of the Earth' already mentioned by Merneptah in his war records.

The advanced galleys and the land-forces of the northern maritime peoples which supported the Libyans against Ramses III in the year five were but the premonitory skirmish line of a far more serious advance, to which we have already adverted. It was now in full motion southward through Syria. Its hosts were approaching both ly land, with their families in curious, heavy, two-wheeled ox-carts, and by sea in a numerous fleet that skirted the Syrian coast. Well armed and skilled in warfare as the invaders were, the Syrian city-states were unable to withstand their onset. They overran all the Hittite country of northern Syria as far as Carchemish on the Euphrates, past Arvad on the Phoenician coast, and up the Orontes valley to the kingdom of Amor, which they devastated. The Syrian dominions of the Hittites must have been lost and the Hittite power in Syria completely broken. The fleet visited Alasa, and nowhere was an effective resistance offered them. "They came with fire, prepared before them, forward to Egypt. Their main support was Peleset, Thekel, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh. These lands were united and they laid their hands upon the land as far as the circle of the earth". "The countries, which came from their isles in the midst of the sea, they advanced to Egypt, their hearts relying upon their arms". In Amor they established a central camp and apparently halted for a time. Like a rising tide from the north, this great migration was threatening to overwhelm the Egyptian empire. We have seen its outermost waves breaking on the shores of the Delta, the heralds of the most formidable danger that had ever confronted the empire of the Pharaohs.


With the greatest energy Ramses III fortified his Syrian frontier and rapidly gathered a fleet, which he distributed in the northern harbours. From his palace balcony he personally superintended the equipment of the infantry, and when all was in readiness he set out for Syria to lead the campaign himself. Where the land-battle took place we are unable to determine, but as the northerners had advanced to Amor, it was at most not farther north than that region. We learn nothing from the king's records concerning it beyond vague and general statements of the defeat of the enemy, although in his reliefs we see his Sherden mercenaries breaking through the scattered lines of the enemy and plundering their ox-carts bearing their women and children and belongings. As there were Sherden among the invaders, the mercenaries were thus called upon to fight their own countrymen. The Pharaoh was also able to reach the scene of the naval battle, probably in one of the northern harbours on the coast of Phoenicia, early enough to participate in the action from the neighbouring shore. He had manned his fleet with masses of the dreaded Egyptian archers, whose archery volleys were so effective that the ranks of the heavy-armed northerners were completely decimated before they could approach within boarding distance. These volleys of arrows from the Egyptian fleet were augmented by those of Egyptian archers whom Ramses stationed along the shore, he himself personally drawing his bow against the hostile fleet. As the Egyptians then advanced to board, the enemy's ships were thrown into confusion. "Capsized and perishing in their places, their hearts are taken, their souls fly away, and their weapons are cast out upon the sea. His arrows pierce whomsoever he will among them, and he who is hit falls into the water". "They were dragged, overturned and laid low upon the beach; slain and made heaps from stern to bow of their galleys, while all their things were cast upon the waters, for a remembrance of Egypt". Those who escaped the fleet and swam ashore were captured by the waiting Egyptians on the beach. In these two engagements the Pharaoh decisively broke the power of the northern invasion, and his suzerainty, at least as far north as Amor, could not be questioned by the invaders. To be sure they continued to arrive in Syria, but the double victory of Ramses III made these new settlers and their new settlements vassals of Egypt, paying tribute into the treasury of the Pharaoh.

The Egyptian empire in Asia had again been saved and Ramses returned to his Delta residence to enjoy a well-earned triumph. The respite which his victory brought him, however, was very short; for another migration of the peoples in the far west caused an overflow which again threatened the Delta. The Meshwesh, a tribe living behind the Libyans, that is, on the west of them, were the cause of the trouble. The first victory over the Libyans in the year five was quite enough to quench any further desire on their part to repeat their attempt upon the Delta. But unfortunately the Meshwesh invaded the Libyan country and laid it waste, thus forcing the unfortunate Libyans into an alliance against Egypt. The leader of the movement was Meshesher, son of Keper, king of the Meshwesh, whose firm purpose was to migrate and settle in the Delta. "The hostile foe had taken counsel again to spend their lives in the confines of Egypt, that they might take the hills and plains as their own districts". "We will settle in Egypt", so spoke they with one accord, and they continuously entered the boundaries of Egypt. By the twelfth month in the king's eleventh year they had begun the invasion, entering along the western road as in the time of Merneptah and investing the fortress of Hatsho, some eleven miles from the edge of the desert plateau. Ramses attacked them under the walls of Hatsho, from the ramparts of which the Egyptian garrison poured volleys of arrows into the ranks of the Meshwesh, already discomfited by the Pharaoh's onset. The invaders were thus thrown into a disordered rout and received the volleys of another neighboring stronghold as they fled. Ramses pressed the pursuit for eleven miles along the western road to the margin of the plateau, thus fairly driving the invaders out of the country. Meshesher, the chief of the Meshwesh, was slain and his father Keper was captured; two thousand one hundred and seventy-five of their followers fell, while two hundred and fifty-two, of whom over a fourth were females, were taken captive

Ramses tells of the disposition which he made of these captives: "I settled their leaders in strongholds in my name. I gave to them captains of archers and chief men of the tribes, branded and made into slaves, impressed with my name; their wives and their children likewise". Nearly a thousand of the Meshwesh were assigned to the care of a temple-herd called 'Ramses III is the Conqueror of the Meshwesh'. Similarly he established in celebration of his victory an annual feast which he called in his temple calendar, 'Slaying of the Meshwesh'; and he assumed in his elaborate titulary after his name the epithets, 'Protector of Egypt, Guardian of the Countries, Conqueror of the Meshwesh, Spoiler of the Land of Temeh'. The western tribes had thus been hurled back from the borders of the Delta for the third successive time, and Ramses had no occasion to apprehend any further aggressions from that quarter. The expansive power of the Libyan peoples, although by no means exhausted, now no longer appeared in united national action; but, as they had done from prehistoric times, and like the northern barbarians who crossed the frontiers of the Roman empire, they continued to sift gradually into the Delta in scattered and desultory migration, not regarded by the Pharaoh as a source of danger.


Ramses soon found it necessary to appear again in Syria with his army. The limits and the course of the campaign are but obscurely hinted at in the meagre records now surviving. He stormed at least five strong cities, one of which was in Amor; another depicted in his reliefs as surrounded by water was perhaps Kadesh; a third, rising upon a hill, cannot be identified; and both of the remaining two, one of which was called Ereth, were defended by Hittites. He probably did not penetrate far into the Hittite territory, although its cities were rapidly falling away from the Hittite king and much weakened by the attacks of the sea-peoples. It was the last hostile passage between the Pharaoh and the Hittites; both empires were swiftly declining to their fall, and in the annals of Egypt we never again hear of the Hittites in Syria. Ramses places in his lists of conquered regions the cities of northern Syria to the Euphrates, including all that the empire had ever ruled in its greatest days. These lists however are largely copied from those of his great predecessors, and we can place no confidence in them. He now organized the Asiatic possessions of Egypt as stably as possible, the boundary very evidently not being any farther north than that of Merneptah, that is, just including the Amorite kingdom on the upper Orontes. To ensure the necessary stability he built new fortresses wherever advisable in Syria and Palestine. Somewhere in Syria he also erected a temple of Amon, containing a great image of the state god, before which the Asiatic dynasts were obliged to declare their fealty to Ramses by depositing their tribute in its presence every year. Communication with Syria was facilitated by the excavation of a great well in the desert of Ayan, east of the Delta, supplementing the watering-stations there established by Seti I. Only a revolt of the Bedouins of Seir interrupted the peaceful government of the Pharaoh in Asia from this time forth




The suppression of occasional disorders in Nubia caused no disturbance of the profound peace which now settled down upon the empire. Ramses himself depicts it thus : "I made the woman of Egypt to go with uncovered ears to the place she desired, for no stranger, nor any one upon the road molested her. I made the infantry and chariotry to dwell at home in my time; the Sherden and the Kehek (mercenaries) were in their towns lying the length of their backs; they had no fear, for there was no enemy from Kush, nor foe from Syria. Their bows and their weapons reposed in their magazines, while they were satisfied and drunk with joy. Their wives were with them, their children at their side; they looked not behind them, but their hearts were confident, for I was with them as the defence and protection of their limbs. I sustained alive the whole land, whether foreigners, common folk, citizens or people male or female. I took a man out of his misfortune and I gave him breath. I rescued him from the oppressor who was of more account than he. I set each man in his security in their towns; I sustained alive others in the hall of petition. I settled the land in the place where it was laid waste. The land was well satisfied in my reign". The chief function of an oriental despotism, the collection of tribute and taxes, proceeded with the greatest regularity. "I taxed them for their impost every year" says Ramses III, "every town by its name gathered together bearing their tribute"

As in the great days of the empire, intercourse and commerce with the outside world were now fostered by the Pharaohs. The temples of Amon, Re and Ptah had each its own fleet upon the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, transporting to the god's treasury the products of Phoenicia, Syria and Punt. Ramses exploited the copper mines of Atika, a region somewhere in the Peninsula of Sinai, sending a special expedition thither in galleys from some Red Sea port. They returned with great quantities of the metal which the Pharaoh had displayed under the palace balcony that all the people might see it. To the malachite workings of the peninsula he likewise sent his messenger, who brought back plentiful returns of the costly mineral for the king's splendid gifts to the gods. A more important expedition consisting of a fleet of large ships was sent on the long voyage to Punt. It would seem that the canal from the Nile through the Wadi Tumllat to the Red Sea was now stopped up and in disuse, for Ramses' ships, after a successful voyage, returned to some harbor opposite Coptos, where the entire cargo of the fleet was disembarked, loaded on donkeys and brought overland to Coptos. Here it was re-embarked upon the river and floated down stream to Per-Ramses, the royal residence in the eastern Delta. Navigation was now perhaps on a larger and more elaborate scale even than under the great Pharaohs of the XVIIIth Dynasty. Ramses tells of a sacred barge of Amon at Thebes, which was two hundred and twenty-four feet long, built in his yards, of enormous timbers of cedar of Lebanon.

Works of public utility and improvement were also included in the Pharaoh's enterprises. Throughout the kingdom, and especially in Thebes and the royal residence, he planted numerous trees, which under a sky so prevailingly cloudless as that of Egypt, offered the people grateful shade in a land devoid of natural forests. He also resumed building, which had been at a standstill since the death of Ramses II. On the western plain of Thebes, at the point now called Medinet Habu, he built a large and splendid temple to Amon which he began early in his reign. As the temple was extended and enlarged from rear to front, the annals of his campaigns found place on the walls through successive years following the growth of the building, until the whole edifice became a vast record of the king's achievements in war which the modern visitor may read, tracing it from year to year as he passes from the earliest halls in the rear to the latest courts and pylon at the front. Here he may see the hordes of the north in battle with Ramses' Sherden mercenaries, who break through and plunder the heavy ox-carts of the invaders; and here the first naval battle on salt-water, of which we know anything, is depicted. In these reliefs we may study the armor, clothing, weapons, war-ships and equipment of these northern peoples with whose advent Europe for the first time emerges upon the stage of the early world

Before the temple there was a sacred lake with an elaborate garden, extensive out-buildings and magazines, a palace of the king with massive stone towers in connection with the temple structure, and a wall around the whole forming a great complex which dominated the whole southern end of the western plain of Thebes, whence from the summit of its tall pylons one might look northward along the stately line of mortuary temples, built by the emperors. It thus formed, as it still does, the southern terminus and the last of that imposing array of buildings, and suggests to the thoughtful visitor the end of the long line of imperial Pharaohs, of whom Ramses III was indeed the last. Other buildings of his have for the most part perished. A temple of Amon at Karnak which Ramses, quite sensible of the hopelessness of any attempt to rival the vast Karnak halls, limited to very modest proportions, was placed awkwardly enough across the axis of the main temple there. In the residence city he laid out a magnificent quarter for Amon : "it was furnished with large gardens and places for walking about, with all sorts of date-groves bearing their fruits, and a sacred avenue brightened with the flowers of every land". The quarter possessed nearly eight thousand slaves for its service. He also erected in the city a temple of Sutekh in the temenos of the temple of Ramses II. The art displayed by these buildings, in so far as they have survived, is clearly in a decadent stage. The lines are heavy and indolent, the colonnades have none of the old time soaring vigour, springing from the pavement and carrying the beholder's eyes involuntarily aloft; but they visibly labour under the burden imposed upon them and clearly express the sluggish spirit of the decadent architect who designed them. The work also is careless and slovenly in execution. The reliefs which cover the vast surfaces of the Medinet Habu temple are with few exceptions but weak imitations of the fine sculptures of Seti I at Karnak, badly drawn and executed without feeling. Only here and there do we find a flash of the old time power, as in the representation of Ramses hunting the wild bull on the walls of this same temple, a relief which, in spite of some bad faults in the drawing, is a composition of much strength and feeling, with a notable sense of landscape.

The imitation so evident in the art of the time of Ramses III is characteristic of the time in all respects. The records of the reign are but weak repetitions of the earlier royal encomiums, embellished with figures so extremely far-fetched as to be often unintelligible. Taking up any given war, one finds that after working through difficult inscriptions covering several thousand square feet of wall surface at Medinet Habu, the net result is but a meagre and bald account of a great campaign the facts of which are scattered here and there and buried so deeply beneath scores of meaningless conventional phrases that they can be discovered only with the greatest industry. The inspiring figure of a young and active Pharaoh hurrying his armies from frontier to frontier of his empire and repeatedly hurling back the most formidable invasions Egypt had ever suffered, awoke no response in the conventional soul of the priestly scribe, whose lot it was to write the record of these things for the temple wall. He possessed only the worn and long-spent currency of the older dynasties from which he drew hymns, songs and lists to be furbished up and made to do service again in perpetuating the glory of a really able and heroic ruler. Perhaps we should not complain of the scribe, for the king himself considered it his highest purpose to restore and reproduce the times of Ramses II. His own name was made up of the first half of the throne-name of Ramses II and the second half of his personal name; he named his children and his horses after those of Ramses II, and like him, he was followed on his campaigns by a tame lion which trotted beside his chariot on the march.


All immediate danger from without had now apparently disappeared, but the nation was slowly declining as a result of decay from within. While Ramses III had shown himself fully able to cope with the assaults from the outside, he was entirely unable to offer any effective opposition to the prevailing tendencies of the time within the state. This was especially evident in his attitude toward the religious conditions inherited from the XVIIIth Dynasty, but, especially noticeable in the XIXth. Setnakht, his father, gained the throne by conciliating the priesthoods, as so many of his successful predecessors had done. We are unable to discern that Ramses III made any effort to shake off the priestly influences with which the crown was thus encumbered. The temples were fast becoming a grave political and economic menace. In the face of this fact Ramses continued the policy of his ancestors, and with the most lavish liberality poured the wealth of the royal house into the sacred coffers. He himself says: "I did mighty deeds and benefactions, a numerous multitude, for the gods and goddesses of South and North. I wrought upon their images in the gold-houses, I built that which had fallen to ruin in their temples. I made houses and temples in their courts; I planted for them groves; I dug for them lakes; I founded for them divine offerings of barley and wheat, wine, incense, fruit, cattle and fowl; I built the (chapels called) 'Shadows of Re' for their districts, abiding, with divine offerings for every day". He is here speaking of the smaller temples of the country, while for the three great gods of the land, Amon, Re and Ptah, he did vastly more.

The opulent splendor with which the rituals of these gods were daily observed beggars description. "I made for thee", says Ramses to Amon, "a great sacrificial tablet of silver in hammered work, mounted with fine gold, the inlay figures being of Ketem-gold, bearing statues of the king of gold in hammered work, even an offering tablet bearing thy divine offerings, offered before thee. I made for thee a great vase-stand for thy forecourt, mounted with fine gold, with inlay of stone; its vases were of gold, containing wine and beer in order to present them to thee every morning....I made for thee great tablets of gold, in beaten work, engraved with the great name of thy majesty, bearing my prayers. I made for thee other tablets of silver, in beaten work, engraved with the great name of thy majesty, with the decrees of thy house". All that the god used was of the same richness; Ramses says of his sacred barge : "I hewed for thee thy august ship 'Userhet', of one hundred and thirty cubits [nearly two hundred and twenty-four feet long] upon the river, of great cedars of the royal domain of remarkable size, overlaid with fine gold to the water line, like a barque of the Sun, when he comes from the east, and every one lives at the sight of him. A great shrine was in the midst of it, of fine gold, with inlay of every costly stone like a palace; ram's heads of gold from front to rear, fitted with uraeus-serpents wearing crowns". In making the great temple-balances for weighing the offerings to Re at Heliopolis nearly two hundred and twelve pounds of gold and four hundred and sixty-one pounds of silver were consumed. The reader may peruse pages of such descriptions in the great Papyrus Harris, of which we shall later give some account. Such magnificence, while it might frequently be due to incidental gifts of the king, must nevertheless be supported by an enormous income, derived from a vast fortune in lands, slaves and revenues. Thus, to the god Khnum at Elephantine, Ramses confirmed the possession of both sides of the river from that city to Takompso, a strip over seventy miles in length, known to the Greeks as the 'Dodekaschoinos' or Twelve Schoeni (roods).

The records of Ramses III, for the first and only time in the course of Egyptian history, enable us to determine the total amount of property owned and controlled by the temples. An inventory in the Papyrus Harris covering almost all the temples of the country shows that they possessed over one hundred and seven thousand slaves; that is, one person in every fifty to eighty of the population was temple property. The first figure is the more probable, so that in all likelihood one person in every fifty was a slave of some temple. The temples thus owned two per cent of the population. In lands we find the sacred endowments amounting to nearly three-quarters of a million acres, that is, nearly one-seventh, or over fourteen-and-a-half per cent, of the cultivable land of the country; and as some of the smaller temples, like that of Khnum just mentioned, are omitted in the inventory, it is safe to say that the total holdings of the temples amounted to fifteen per cent, of the available land of the country. These are the only items in the temple-estates which can be safely compared with the total national wealth and resources; but they by no means complete the list of property held by the temples. They owned nearly half-a-million head of large and small cattle; their combined fleets numbered eighty-eight vessels, some fifty-three workshops and shipyards consumed a portion of the raw materials, which they received as income; while in Syria, Kush and Egypt they owned in all one hundred and sixty-nine towns. In a land of less than ten thousand square miles and some five or six million inhabitants, all this vast property was entirely exempt from taxation; and this fact made the wealth of the priesthoods an economic menace.


This unhealthy situation was aggravated by the fact that no proper proportion had been observed in the distribution of gifts to the gods. The lion's share of them had fallen to the lot of Amon, whose insatiable priesthood had so gained the ascendancy that their claims on the royal treasury far exceeded those of all other temples put together. Besides the great group of temples at Thebes, the god possessed numerous other sanctuaries, chapels and statues, with their endowments scattered throughout the land. He had a temple in Syria, as we have already noticed, and a new one in Nubia, besides those built there by Ramses II. In his twelfth year, after the victorious conclusion of all his wars, the finally-completed temple which he had erected for Amon at Medinet Habu (Thebes) was inaugurated with a new and elaborate calendar offcasts, the record of which filled all one wall of the temple for almost its entire length. The feast of Opet, the greatest of Amon's feasts, which in the days of Thutmose III was eleven days long, is credited in this calendar with twenty-four days; and summarizing the calendar as far as preserved, we find that there was an annual feast day of Amon on an average every three days, not counting the monthly feasts. Yet Ramses III later lengthened even the feasts of this calendar, so that the feast of Opet became twenty-seven days long and the feast of his own coronation, which lasted but one day as prescribed by the calendar, finally continued for twenty days each year. Little wonder that the records of a band of workmen in the Theban necropolis under one of his successors shows almost as many holidays as working days. All these lengthened feasts of course meant increased endowment and revenue for the service of Amon. The treasure rooms of this Medinet Habu temple still stand, and their walls bear testimony to the lavish wealth with which they were filled. Ramses himself in another record says : "I filled its treasury with the products of the land of Egypt: gold, silver, every costly stone by the hundred-thousand. Its granary was overflowing with barley and wheat; its lands, its herds, their multitudes were like the sand of the shore, I taxed for it the Southland as well as the Northland; Nubia and Syria came to it, bearing their impost. It was filled with captives, which thou gavest me among the Nine Bows, and with classes (successive enforced levies), which I created by the ten-thousand....I multiplied the divine offerings presented before thee, of bread, wine, beer and fat geese; numerous oxen, bullocks, calves, cows, white oryxes and gazelles offered in his slaughter yard". As in the days of the XVIIIth Dynasty conquerors, the bulk of the spoil from his wars went into the treasury of Amon.

The result of this long-continued policy was inevitable. Of the nearly three-quarters of a million acres of land held by the temples, Amon owned over five hundred and eighty-three thousand, over five times as much as his nearest competitor, Re of Heliopolis, who had only one hundred and eight thousand; and over nine times the landed estate of Ptah of Memphis. Of the fifteen per cent, of the lands of the entire country held by all the temples, Amon thus owned over two-thirds. While, as we have stated, the combined temples owned in slaves not more than two per cent, of the whole population, Amon held probably one-and-a-half per cent., in number over eighty-six thousand five hundred, which exceeded by seven times the number owned by Re. In other items of wealth, like herds, gardens and groves, towns, ships, workshops and income in gold and silver, the same proportion is observable. Amon's estate and revenues, second only to those of the king, now assumed an important economic role in the state, and the political power, wielded by a community of priests who controlled such vast wealth, threatened to rival that of the Pharaoh. Without compromising with it and continually conciliating it, no Pharaoh could have ruled long, although the current conclusion that the gradual usurpation of power and final assumption of the throne by the High Priest of Amon was due solely to the wealth of Amon is not supported by our results. Other forces contributed largely to this result, as we shall see. Among these was the gradual extension of Amon's influence to the other temples and their fortunes. His high priest had in the XVIIIth Dynasty become head of all the priesthoods of Egypt; in the XIXth Dynasty he had gained hereditary hold upon his office; his Theban temple now became the sacerdotal capital, where the records of the other temples were kept; his priesthood was given more or less supervision over their administration, and the combined economic power of organized religion in this great state was finally controlled by the High Priest of Amon alone.


That Ramses III was solely or even chiefly responsible for these conditions is a common, but a mistaken, conclusion. However lavish his contributions to the sacerdotal wealth, they never could have raised it to the proportions which we have indicated This is as true of the fortune of Amon in particular as of the temple wealth in general. The gift of over seventy miles of Nubian Nile shores (the Dodecaschoenus) to Khnum by the king was but the confirmation by him of an old title; and the enormous endowments enumerated in the great Papyrus Harris, long supposed to be the gifts of Ramses, are but inventories of the old sacerdotal estates, in the possession of which the temples are merely confirmed by him. The situation in which Ramses found himself was an inherited situation, created by the prodigal gifts of the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties, beginning at least as far back as Thutmose III, who presented three towns in Syria to Amon.

It was generations of this policy, with its resulting vast accumulations of temple-wealth, which made even an able ruler like Ramses unable to oppose the insatiable priesthoods long accustomed to the gratification of unlimited exactions. Yet his treasury must have sorely felt the drain upon it, with its income gradually shrinking, while the demands upon it nowise relaxed. Although we know that payments from the government treasury were as slow in ancient, as they have been until recently in modern Egypt, yet, making all due allowance for this fact, it can hardly be an accident that in the reign of Ramses we can follow the painful struggles of a band of necropolis workmen in their endeavours to secure the monthly fifty sacks of grain due them. Month after month they are obliged to resort to the extremest measures, climbing the necropolis wall and, driven by hunger, threatening to storm the very granary itself if food is not given them. Told by the vizier himself that there was nothing in the treasury, or deceived by the glib promises of some intermediate scribe, they would return to their daily task only to find starvation forcing them to throw down their work and to gather with cries and tumult at the office of their superior, demanding their monthly rations. Thus, while the store-houses of the gods were groaning with plenty, the poor in the employ of the state were starving at the door of an empty treasury.

At this dangerous crisis the Pharaoh's power lay exclusively in his army and great bodies of foreign slaves of the crown. Against the powerful priestly coteries these foreign slaves were the only forces which Ramses III and his contemporaries could bring into play. Branded with the name of the king, these foreigners were poured into the ranks of the army in large numbers, augmenting the voluntary service of the foreign mercenaries already there. The armies with which Ramses beat off the assailants of his empire were, as we have already remarked, largely made up of foreigners; and their numbers constantly increased as the Pharaoh found himself less and less able to maintain the mastery in a situation of ever-increasing difficulty and complication. He was soon forced also to surround his own person with numbers of these foreign slaves. A class of personal attendants, already known in the Middle Kingdom by a term which we may best translate as 'butler' originally rendered service to the table and larder of the nobles or the king. These slaves in Ramses' service were largely natives of Syria, Asia Minor and Libya, especially Syria, and as the king found them more and more useful, they gradually, although only slaves, gained high office in the state and at the court. It was a situation precisely like that at the court of the Egyptian sultans of the Middle Ages. Of eleven such 'butlers' known to us in the royal service five were foreigners in places of power and influence, and we shall soon have occasion to observe the prominent role they played at a fatal crisis in his reign. While all was outwardly splendor and tranquillity, and the whole nation was celebrating the king who had saved the empire, the forces of decay which had for generations been slowly gathering in the state were rapidly reaching the acute stage. An insatiable and insidious priesthood commanding enormous wealth, a foreign army ready to serve the master who paid the most liberally, and a personal following of alien slaves whose fidelity likewise depended entirely upon the immediate gain in view these were the factors which Ramses was constantly forced to manipulate and employ, each against the others. Add to these the host of royal relatives and dependents, who were perhaps of all the most dangerous element in the situation, and we shall not wonder at the outcome.

The first discernible illustration of the danger inherent in the unhealthy situation is the revolt of Ramses' vizier, who shut himself up in the Delta city of Athribis. But he had miscalculated the power at his command; the place was taken by Ramses and the revolt suppressed. Peace and outward tranquillity were again restored. As the time for the celebration of the king's thirty-year jubilee approached, elaborate preparations were made for its commemoration. He sent the new vizier, Ta, southward in the year twenty-nine to collect the processional images of all the gods who participated in a celebration of the usual splendour at Memphis,


Something over a year after this stately commemoration a more serious crisis developed. The harem, the source of so many attempts against the throne, was the origin of the trouble. A queen in the royal harem, named Tiy, began furtive efforts to secure for her son, Pentewere, the crown, which had been promised to another prince. A plot against the old king's life was rapidly formed, and Tiy enlisted as her chief coadjutors a number of important personages whose service at court brought them near the Pharaoh's person. Six wives of the officers of the harem gate were also won to the enterprise, and they proved very useful in the transmission of messages from inmates of the harem to their relatives and friends outside. Among these inmates was the sister of the commander of archers in Nubia, who smuggled out a letter to her brother and thus gained his support. All was ripe for a revolt outside the palace, intended to accompany the murder of the king and enable the conspirators the more easily to seize the government and place their pretender, Pentewere, on the throne. At this juncture the king's party gained full information of the conspiracy, the attempt on his life was foiled, the plans for revolt were checkmated, and the people involved in the treason were all seized. The old Pharaoh, sorely shaken by the ordeal, and possibly suffering bodily injury from the attempted assassination, immediately appointed a special court for the trial of the conspirators. The very words of the commission empowering this court indicate his probable consciousness that he would not long survive the shock, while at the same time they lay upon the judges a responsibility for impartial justice on the merits of the case, with a judicial-mindedness which is remarkable in an oriental despot who held the lives of the accused in his unchallenged power and who had himself just been the victim of a murderous assault at their hands.

Of the fourteen officials of the court thus commissioned, seven were royal 'butlers' and among these were a Libyan, a Lycian, a Syrian named Mahar-baal ('Baal hastens'), and another foreigner, probably from Asia Minor. We see how largely the Pharaoh depended in his extremity upon the purchased fidelity of these foreign slaves. The flaccid character of the judges and the dangerous persistence of the accused is shown by a remarkable incident which followed the appointment of the court. Some of the women conspirators, led by a general compromised in the plot, gained such influence over the two bailiffs in charge of the prisoners, that the bailiffs were prevailed upon to go with the general and the women to the houses of two of the judges, who, with amazing indiscretion, received and caroused with them.

These two indiscreet judges, with one of their colleagues, who was really innocent, and the two bailiffs, were immediately put on trial. The innocence of the third judge was made evident and he was acquitted, but the others were found guilty, and were sentenced to have their ears and noses cut off. Immediately following the execution of the sentence, one of the unfortunate judges committed suicide. Thereupon the trials of the conspirators continued with regularity, and from the records of three different prosecutions we are able to trace the conviction of thirty-two officials of all ranks including the unhappy young pretender himself, who was doubtless only an unfortunate tool, and the audacious general who had compromised the two judges. The records of the trial of queen Tiy herself are not preserved, so that we cannot determine her fate, but we have no reason to suppose that it was better than that of all the others who, as ordered by the king, were allowed to take their own lives. The old king survived but a short time after this unhappy experience, and having celebrated a second jubilee, while the prosecution of his would-be assassins was still going on, he passed away (1167 BC), having ruled thirty-one years and forty days.




The death of Ramses III was the beginning of the final catastrophe in the slow decline of the Egyptian empire. It introduced a long line of nine weaklings all of whom bore the great name of Ramses, and under them the world power of the Pharaohs rapidly disappeared. We see Ramses IV, the son of Ramses III, struggling feebly with the hopeless situation which he had inherited. Immediately on his accession the new king prepared, in his own behalf and that of his father, one of the most remarkable documents which has reached us from the civilization of ancient Egypt. In order that his father might prosper among the gods and that he himself might gain the benefit of his father's favour among them, the young king compiled for burial with the departed Pharaoh a list of the deceased king's good works. It contained an enormous inventory of the gifts of Ramses III to the chief divinities of the nation, besides a statement of his achievements in war and of his benefactions toward the people of his empire. All this recorded on papyrus formed a huge roll one hundred and thirty feet long containing one hundred and seventeen columns about twelve inches high. It is now called Papyrus Harris, and is the largest document which has descended to us from the early Orient. Accompanied by this extraordinary statement of his benefactions toward gods and men, Ramses III was laid in his tomb, in the lonely Valley of the Kings. Of its efficacy in securing him unlimited favor with the gods there could be no doubt; and it contained so many prayers uttered by Ramses III on behalf of his son and successor that the gods, unable to resist the appeals of the favourite to whom they owed so much, would certainly grant his son a long reign. Indeed it is clear that this motive was the leading one in the production of the document. It was characteristic of this decadent age that the Pharaoh should be more dependent upon such means for the maintenance of his power than upon his own strong arm, and the huge papyrus thus becomes a significant sign of the times. With fair promises of a long reign the priesthoods were extorting from the impotent Pharaoh all that they demanded, while he was satisfied with the assured favor of the gods. The sources of that virile political life that had sprung up with the expulsion of the Hyksos were now exhausted. Indeed, as we have before indicated, the state was rapidly moving toward a condition in which its chief function would be religious and sacerdotal, and the assumption of royal power by the High Priest of Amon but a very natural and easy transition. Naturally the only notable work of Ramses IV, of which we know, is a quarry enterprise for the benefit of the gods. After an inglorious reign of six years he was succeeded in 1161 BC by the fifth Ramses, probably his son. The exploitation of the mines of Sinai now ceased, and the last Pharaonic name found there is that of Rarnses IV. In quick succession these feeble Ramessids now followed each other; after a few years a collateral line of the family gained the throne in the person of a usurper, probably a grandson of Ramses III, who became Ramses VI, having succeeded in supplanting the son of Ramses V. The seventh and eighth Ramses quickly followed. They all excavated tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but we know nothing of their deeds. Now and again the obscurity lifts, and we catch fleeting glimpses of a great state tottering to its fall.

From the close of the reign of Ramses III to the first years of Ramses IX (1142 BC), only some twenty-five or thirty years elapsed, and the same High Priest at el-Kab who had assisted in the celebration of the jubilee of Ramses III was still in office under Ramses IX. Likewise the High Priest of Amon at Thebes under Ramses IX, Amenhotep, was the son of the high priest Ramsesnakht, who held the office under Ramses III and IV. The high priesthood of Amon, which had at least once descended from father to son in the XIXth Dynasty, had now become permanently hereditary, and while it was passing from the hands of Ramsesnakht to his son Amenhotep, with a single uninterrupted transmission of authority, six feeble Ramessids had succeeded each other, with ever-lessening power and prestige, as each struggled for a brief time to maintain himself upon a precarious throne.

Meanwhile, Amenhotep, the High Priest of Amon, flourished. He sumptuously restored the refectory and kitchen of the priests in the temple of his god at Karnak, built about ten centuries before by Senusret I. We see the crafty priest manipulating the pliant Pharaoh as he pleases, and obtaining every honour at his hands. In his tenth year Ramses IX summoned Amenhotep to the great forecourt of the Amon-temple, where, in the presence of the highpriest's political associates and supporters, the king presented him with a gorgeous array of gold and silver vessels, with costly decorations, and precious ointments. The days when such distinctions were the reward of valour on the battle-field of Syria were long passed; and skill in priestcraft was the surest guarantee of preferment. As the king delivered the rich gifts to the highpriest he accompanied them with words of praise such that one is in doubt whether they are delivered by the sovereign to the subject or by the subject to his lord. At the same time he informs Amenhotep that certain revenues formerly paid to the Pharaoh shall now be rendered to the treasury of Amon; and, although the king's words are not entirely clear, it would seem that all revenues levied by the king's treasury but later intended for the treasury of the god, shall now be collected directly by the scribes of the temple, thus putting the temple to a certain extent in the place of the state.

All these honours were twice recorded by Amenhotep, together with a record of his buildings on the walls of the Karnak temple. Both the records of his gifts and honours are accompanied each by a large relief showing Amenhotep receiving his gifts from the king, and displaying his figure in the same heroic stature as that of the king an unprecedented liberty, to which no official had ever before in the history of Egypt dared to presume. In all such scenes from time immemorial the official appearing before the king had been represented as a pigmy before the towering figure of the Pharaoh; but the High Priest of Amon was now rapidly growing to measure his stature with that of the Pharaoh himself, both on the temple wall and in the affairs of government. He had a body of temple-troops at his command, and as he gathered the sinews of the state into his fingers, gradually gaining control of the treasury, as we have seen, he did not hesitate to measure his strength with the Pharaoh.

Thebes was now rapidly declining; it had been forsaken as a royal residence by the Pharaohs two hundred years before, but it continued to be the burial-place of all the royal dead. There had thus been gathered in its necropolis a great mass of wealth in the form of splendid regalia adorning the royal bodies. In the lonely Valley of the Kings' Tombs, deep in the heart of the cliffs, slept the great emperors, decked in all the magnificence which the wealth of Asia had brought them; and now again, as at the close of the XVIIIth Dynasty, their degenerate descendants, far from maintaining the empire which they had won, were not even able to protect their bodies from destruction. In the sixteenth year of Ramses IX the royal tombs of the plain before the western cliffs were found to have been attacked; one of them, that of Sebekemsaf, of the XIIIth Dynasty, had been robbed of all its mortuary furniture and his royal body and that of his queen violated for the sake of their costly ornaments. Although the authors of this deed were captured and prosecuted, the investigation shows sinister traces that the officials engaged in it were not altogether disinterested. Three years later, when Ramses IX had made his son, Ramses X, co-regent with himself, six men were convicted of robbing the tombs of Seti I and Ramses II, showing that the emboldened robbers had now left the plain and entered the cliff-tombs of the valley behind. Ramses II, who had himself despoiled the pyramid of Sesostris II at Illahun, was now receiving similar treatment at the hands of his descendants. The tomb of one of Seti I's queens followed next, and then that of the great Amenhotep III. Within a generation, as the work of plunder continued, all the bodies of Egypt's kings and emperors buried at Thebes were despoiled, and of the whole line of Pharaohs beginning from the XVIIIth to the end of the XXth Dynasty, only one body, that of Amenhotep II, has been found still lying in its own sarcophagus; although it had by no means escaped spoliation.


Thus, while the tombs of the Egyptian emperors at Thebes were being ransacked, and their bodies rifled and dishonored, the empire which they conquered had crumbled to ruin. At the accession of the last Ramses (1118 BC)we can discern the culmination of the tendencies which we have been endeavoring to trace. Before he had been reigning five years a local noble at Tanis named Nesubenebded, the Smendes of the Greeks, had absorbed the entire Delta and made himself king of the north.

No longer commanding the undivided resources of Upper Egypt, which he might otherwise have employed against Nesubenebded, there was now nothing for the impotent Pharaoh to do but to retire to Thebes if this transfer had not indeed already occurred before this where he still maintained his precarious throne. Thebes was thus cut off from the sea and the commerce of Asia and Europe by a hostile kingdom in the Delta, and its wealth and power still more rapidly declined. The High Priest of Amon was now virtually at the head of a Theban principality, which was gradually becoming more and more a distinct political unit. Together with this powerful priestly rival, the Pharaoh continued to hold Nubia.

Long before the revolution which resulted in the independence of the Delta, the impotence of the Ramessids was discerned and understood in Syria. The Thekel and Peleset-Philistines, whose invasion Ramses III had for a time halted, had continued to arrive in Syria, as we have stated . Seventy-five years after Ramses III had beaten them into submission, the Thekel were already established as an independent kingdom at Dor, just south of the seaward end of Carmel. As we do not find them mentioned in the surviving records of the Israelites, we may assume that they were merged with the Philistines. Continually replenished with new arrivals by sea, these hardy and warlike wanderers from the far north could not have paid tribute to the Pharaoh very long after the death of Ramses III (1167 BC).

In the reign of Ramses IX (1142-1123 BC), or about that time, a body of Egyptian envoys were detained at Byblus by the local dynast for seventeen years; and, unable to return, they at last died there. The Syrian princes, among whom Ramses III had built a temple to Amon, to which they brought their yearly tribute, were thus indifferent to the power of Egypt within twenty or twenty-five years after his death.

Under Ramses XII (or rather, XI), these same conditions in Syria are vividly portrayed in the report of an Egyptian envoy thither. In response to an oracle, Wenamor, the envoy in question, was dispatched to Byblus, at the foot of Lebanon, to procure cedar for the sacred barque of Amon. To pay for the timber, Hrihor, the High Priest of Amon, was able to give him only a pitiful sum in gold and silver. As Wenamon was obliged to pass through the territory of Nesubenebded, who now ruled the Delta, Hrihor supplied him with letters to the Delta prince, and in this way secured for him passage in a ship commanded by a Syrian captain.


Nothing more unmistakably betrays the decadent condition of Egypt than the humiliating state of this unhappy envoy, dispatched without ships, with no credentials, with but a beggarly pittance to offer for the timber desired, and only the memory of Egypt's former greatness with which to impress the prince of Byblus. Stopping at Dor on the voyage out, Wenamon was robbed of the little money he had, and was unable to secure any satisfaction from Bedel, the Thekel prince of that city. After waiting in despair for nine days, he departed for Byblus by way of Tyre, having on the way somehow succeeded in seizing from certain Thekel people a bag of silver as security for his loss at Dor. He finally arrived in safety at Byblus, where Zakar-baal, the prince of the city, would not even receive him, but ordered him to leave. Such was the state of an Egyptian envoy in Phoenicia, within fifty or sixty years of the death of Ramses III. Finally, as the despairing Wenamon was about to take passage back to Egyp one or the noble youths in attendance upon Zakar-baal was seized with a divine frenzy, and in prophetic ecstasy demanded that Wenamon be summoned, honorably treated and dismissed. This, the oldest known example of Palestinian prophecy in its earlier form, thus secured for Wenamon an interview with Zakarbaal. The unhappy Egyptian's extraordinary report says: "I found him sitting in his upper chamber, leaning his back against a window, while the waves of the great Syrian sea were beating against the shore behind him". In the remarkable negotiations which followed, the Phoenician prince quite readily admitted the debt of culture which his land owed Egypt as a source of civilization, saying: "(I admit that) Amon equips all lands; he equips them, having first equipped the land of Egypt, whence thou comest. For artisanship came forth from it to reach my place of abode; and teaching came forth from it to reach my place of abode". At the same time he contemptuously repudiated all political responsibility to the ruler of Egypt, whom he never called Pharaoh, except in referring to a former sovereign. To make good his case his secretaries brought out their books to show that for generations the Pharaohs had liberally paid for the timber furnished them. The situation is clear. A burst of military enthusiasm and a line of able rulers had enabled Egypt to assume for several centuries an imperial position, which her unwarlike people were not by nature adapted to occupy; and their impotent descendants, no longer equal to their imperial rôle, were now appealing to the days of splendour with an almost pathetic futility. It is characteristic of the time that this appeal should assume a religious or even theological form, as Wenamon boldly proclaims Amon's dominion over Lebanon, where the Phoenician princes had, only two generations before, worshipped and paid tribute at the temple of Amon, erected by Ramses III. With oracles and an image of Amon that conferred 'life and health', the Egyptian envoy sought to make his bargain with the contemptuous Phoenician for timber which a Thutmose III or a Seti I had demanded with his legions behind him. It was only when Wenamon's messenger, whom he had meantime dispatched to Egypt, returned with a few vessels of silver and gold, some fine linen, papyrus rolls, ox-hides, coils of cordage, and the like, that the Phoenician ruler ordered his men to cut the desired logs; although he had sent some of the heavier timbers for the hull of the barge in advance, as an evidence of his good faith.

As Wenamon was about to depart with his timber, some eight months after he had left Thebes, Zakar-baal told him of the fate of the Egyptian envoys of a former reign who had been detained seventeen years and had ultimately died in Byblus. With grim humour he even offered to have Wenamon taken and shown their tombs a privilege which the frightened envoy declined. Promising the prince the payment of the balance due him, Wenamon at last proceeded to embark. Escaping with the Phoenician prince's aid from a fleet of Thekel pirates hovering in the offing, he was cast by a storm on the shores of Alasa (? Cyprus). At this point his report breaks off, and the conclusion is lost; but here again, in Alashiya, whose king was practically his vassal, whom the Pharaoh had been wont to call to account for piracy in the old days of splendor, we find the representative of Egypt barely able to save his life. This unique and instructive report of Wenamon, therefore, reveals to us the complete collapse of Egyptian prestige abroad and shows with what appalling swiftness the dominant state in the Mediterranean basin had declined under the weak successors of Ramses III. When Tiglath-pileser I appeared in the west about 1100 BC, a Pharaoh, who was probably Nesubenebded, feeling his exposed position in the Delta, deemed it wise to propitiate the Assyrian with a gift, and sent him a crocodile. Thus all Egyptian power in Syria had utterly vanished, while in Palestine a fiction of traditional sovereignty, totally without practical political significance, was maintained at the Pharaoh's court.


For the conditions at Thebes there was meanwhile but one possible issue. The messenger who procured the timber for the sacred barge of Amon was no longer dispatched by the Pharaoh, but as we have seen, by the High Priest of Amon, Hrihor. The next year he had gained sufficient control of the royal necropolis at Thebes to send his people thither to re-wrap and properly re-inter the bodies of Seti I and Ramses II, which had been violated and robbed in the first year of Ramses X. The temple of Khonsu, left with only the holy of holies and the rear chambers finished since the time of Ramses III, was now completed with a colonnaded hall preceded by a court and pylon. The walls of these new additions bear significant evidence of the transition which was now going on in the Egyptian state. In the new hall the official dedications on the architraves, attributing the building to Ramses XI, are strictly in accordance with the conventional form, customary since the Old Kingdom. But around the base of the walls are words which have never been found in a Pharaonic temple before; we read: "High Priest of Amon-Re, king of gods, commander in chief of the armies of the South and North, the leader, Hrihor, triumphant; he made it as his monument for 'Khonsu in Thebes, Beautiful Rest'; making for him a temple for the first time, in the likeness of the horizon of heaven"

That the commander-in-chief of the armies of the south and north was the real builder of the hall we can hardly doubt. Like the shadowy caliph, whom the Egyptian sultans brought from Baghdad to Cairo, and maintained for a time there, so the unfortunate Ramses XI had been brought from his Delta residence to Thebes, that the conventionalities of the old Pharaonic tradition might still be continued. Already at the close of the XIXth Dynasty we recall that Amon had gained possession of the Nubian gold-country; the high priest had now gone a step further and seized the whole of the great province of the Upper Nile, making himself "viceroy of Kush". He had likewise become "overseer of the double granary" who, as grain was always Egypt's chief source of wealth, was the most important fiscal officer in the state, next to the chief treasurer himself. There was now nothing left in the way of authority and power for the high priest to absorb; he was commander of all the armies, viceroy of Kush, held the treasury in his hands, and executed the buildings of the gods. When the fiction of the last Ramessid's official existence had been maintained for at least twenty-seven years the final assumption of the high priest's supreme position seems to have been confirmed by an oracle of Khonsu, followed by the approval of Amon. It was recorded in an inscription, very fragmentary and obscure, engraved on the door through which the modern visitor passes from the inner hall bearing the name of both Hrihor and Ramses XI, to the outer court, built by Hrihor, where the shadowy Pharaoh vanishes, and the high priest's name, preceded by the Pharaonic titles and enclosed in the royal cartouche, at last appears alone.

The military leadership of the ancient oriental world, which had normally been held by Asia, especially as we see it in the rule of the Hyksos, had as a result of their overthrow, passed to Egypt, which maintained it vigorously for nearly two centuries. With the death of Amenhotep III military supremacy was passing rapidly back to Asia, whence it had come. In the course of the XIIIth century, especially after che wars of Ramses II, the leadership of the ancient nations, as expressed in terms ofpower, had finally and decisively shifted to Asia. On the other hand, as expressed in terms of culture and civilisation, the leadership which Egypt had gained and held from the rise of the earliest civilization in the fourth millennium before Christ, she continued to hold, and maintained her civilized supremacy until the leadership ofthe early world passed finally to Greece in the sixth century BC.