UNIVERSAL BIOGRAPHY LIBRARY

 

 

 

PIANKHI, KING OF NUBIA

(B.C 741-712)

 

The text describing the invasion and conquest of Egypt by Piankhi, King of Nubia, is cut in hieroglyphs upon a massive stone stele which was found among the ruins of Piankhi's temple at Gebel Barkal, near the foot of the Fourth Cataract, and which is now preserved in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Although this composition does not belong to the best period of Egyptian Literature, it is a very fine work. The narrative is vivid, and the aim of the writer was rather to state the facts of this splendid expedition than to heap up empty compliments on the king ; both the subject- matter and the dress in which it appears are well worthy of reproduction in an English form. The inscription is dated in the twenty-first year of Piankhi's reign, and the king says :

"Hearken ye to [the account of] what I have done more than my ancestors. I am a king, the emanation of the god, the living offspring of the god Tem, who at birth was ordained the Governor whom princes were to fear". His mother knew before his birth that he was to be the Governor, he the beneficent god, the beloved of the gods, the son of Ra who was made by his (the god's) hands, Piankhi-meri-Amen. One came and reported to His Majesty that the great prince Tafnekht had taken possession of all the country on the west bank of the Nile in the Delta, from the swamps even to Athi-taui (a fortress a few miles south of Memphis), that he had sailed up the river with a large force, that all the people on both sides of the river had attached themselves to him, and that all the princes and governors and heads of temple-towns had flocked to him, and that they were "about his feet like dogs". No city had shut its gates before him, on the contrary, Mer-Tem, Per-sekhem- kheper-Ra, Het-neter-Sebek, Per-Metchet, Thekansh, and all the towns in the west had opened their gates to him. In the east Het-benu, Taiutchait, Het-suten, and Pernebtepahet had opened to him, and he had besieged Hensu (Herakleopolis) and closely invested it. He had enclosed it like a serpent with its tail in its mouth. "Those who would come out he will not allow to come out, and those who would go in he will not allow to go in, by reason of the fighting that taketh place every day. He hath thrown soldiers round about it everywhere". Piankhi listened to the report undismayed, and he smiled, for his heart was glad. Presently further reports of the uprising came, and the king learned that Nemart, another great prince, had joined his forces to those of Tafnekht. Nemart had thrown down the fortifications of Nefrus, he had laid waste his own town, and had thrown off his allegiance to Piankhi completely.

Then Piankhi sent orders to Puarma and Las(?)-mer-sekni, the Nubian generals stationed in Egypt, and told them to assemble the troops, to seize the territory of Hermopolis, to besiege the city itself, to seize all the people, and cattle, and the boats on the river, and to stop all the agricultural operations that were going on; these orders were obeyed. At the same time he despatched a body of troops to Egypt, with careful instructions as to the way in which they were to fight, and he bade them remember that they were fighting under the protection of Amen. He added, "When ye arrive at Thebes, opposite the Apts (i.e. the temples of Karnak and Luxor), go into the waters of the river and wash yourselves, then array yourselves in your finest apparel, unstring your bows, and lay down your spears. Let no chief imagine that he is as strong as the Lord of strength (i.e. Amen), for without him there is no strength. The weak of arm he maketh strong of arm. Though the enemy be many they shall turn their backs in flight before the weak man, and one shall take captive a thousand. Wet yourselves with the water of his altars, smell the earth before him, and say : O make a way for us! Let us fight under the shadow of thy sword, for a child, if he be but sent forth by thee, shall vanquish multitudes when he attacketh". Then the soldiers threw themselves flat on their faces before His Majesty, saying, "Behold, thy name breedeth strength in us. Thy counsel guideth thy soldiers into port (i.e. to success). Thy bread is in our bodies on every road, thy beer quencheth our thirst. Behold, thy bravery hath given us strength, and at the mere mention of thy name there shall be victory. The soldiers who are led by a coward cannot stand firm. Who is like unto thee? Thou art the mighty king who workest with thy hands, thou art a master of the operations of war."

"Then the soldiers set out on their journey, and they sailed down the river and arrived at Thebes, and they did everything according to His Majesty's commands. And again they set out, and they sailed down the river, and they met many large boats sailing up the river, and they were full of soldiers and sailors, and mighty captains from the North land, every one fully armed to fight, and the soldiers of His Majesty inflicted a great defeat on them; they killed a very large but unknown number, they captured the boats, made the soldiers prisoners, whom they brought alive to the place where His Majesty was". This done they proceeded on their way to the region opposite Herakleopolis, to continue the battle. Again the soldiers of Piankhi attacked the troops of the allies, and defeated and routed them utterly, and captured their boats on the river. A large number of the enemy succeeded in escaping, and landed on the west bank of the river at Per-pek. At dawn these were attacked by Piankhi's troops, who slew large numbers of them, and [captured] many horses; the remainder, utterly terror-stricken, fled northwards, carrying with them the news of the worst defeat which they had ever experienced.

Nemart, one of the rebel princes, fled up the river in a boat, and landed near the town of Un (Hermopolis), wherein he took refuge. The Nubians promptly beleaguered the town with such rigour that no one could go out of it or come in. Then they reported their action to Piankhi, and when he had read their report, he growled like a panther, and said, "Is it possible that they have permitted any of the Northmen to live and escape to tell the tale of his flight, and have not killed them to the very last man? I swear by my life, and by my love for Ra, and by the grace which Father Amen hath bestowed upon me, that I will myself sail down the river, and destroy what the enemy hath done, and I will make him to retreat from the fight for ever". Piankhi also declared his intention of stopping at Thebes on his way down the river, so that he might assist at the Festival of the New Year, and might look upon the face of the god Amen in his shrine at Karnak and, said he, "After that I will make the Lands of the North to taste my fingers". When the soldiers in Egypt heard of their lord's wrath, they attacked Per-Metchet (Oxyrrhynchus), and they "overran it like a water-flood"; a report of the success was sent to Piankhi, but he was not satisfied. Then they attacked Ta-tehen (Tehnah?), which was filled with northern soldiers. The Nubians built a tower with a battering ram and breached the walls, and they poured into the town and slew every one they found. Among the dead was the son of the rebel prince Tafnekht. This success was also reported to Piankhi, but still he was not satisfied. Het-Benu was also captured, and still he was not satisfied.

In the middle of the summer Piankhi left Napata (Gebel Barkal) and sailed down to Thebes, where he celebrated the New Year Festival. From there he went down the river to Un (Hermopolis), where he landed and mounted his war chariot; he was furiously angry because his troops had not destroyed the enemy utterly, and he growled at them like a panther. Having pitched his camp to the south-west of the city, he began to besiege it. He threw up a mound round about the city, he built wooden stages on it which he filled with archers and slingers, and these succeeded in killing the people of the city daily. After three days "the city stank", and envoys came bearing rich gifts to sue for peace. With the envoys came the wife of Nemart and her ladies, who cast themselves flat on their faces before the ladies of Piankhi's palace, saying, "We come to you, O ye royal wives, ye royal daughters, and royal sisters. Pacify ye for us Horus (i.e. the King), the Lord of the Palace, whose Souls are mighty, and whose word of truth is great". A break of fifteen lines occurs in the text here, and the words that immediately follow the break indicate that Piankhi is upbraiding Nemart for his folly and wickedness in destroying his country, wherein "not a full-grown son is seen with his father, all the districts round about being filled with children". Nemart acknowledged his folly, and then swore fealty to Piankhi, promising to give him more gifts than any other prince in the country. Gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, copper, and precious stones of all kinds were then presented, and Nemart himself led a horse with his right hand, and held a sistrum made of gold and lapis-lazuli in his left.

Piankhi then arose and went into the temple of Thoth, and offered up oxen, and calves, and geese to the god, and to the Eight Gods of the city. After this he went through Nemart's palace, and then visited the stables where the horses were, and the stalls of the young horses, and he perceived that they had been suffering from hunger. And he said, "I swear by my own life, and by the love which I have for Ra, who reneweth the breath of life in my nostrils, that, in my opinion, to have allowed my horses to suffer hunger is the worst of all the evil things which thou hast done in the perversity of thy heart". A list was made of the goods that were handed over to Piankhi, and a portion of them was reserved for the temple of Amen at Thebes.

The next prince to submit was the Governor of Herakleopolis, and when he had laid before Piankhi his gifts he said : "Homage to thee, Horus, mighty king, Bull, conqueror of bulls. I was in a pit in hell. I was sunk deep in the depths of darkness, but now light shineth on me. I had no friend in the evil day, and none to support me in the day of battle. Thou only, O mighty king, who hast rolled away the darkness that was on me [art my friend]. Henceforward I am thy servant, and all my possessions are thine. The city of Hensu shall pay tribute to thee. Thou art the image of Ra, and art the master of the imperishable stars. He was a king, and thou art a king; he perished not, and thou shalt not perish". From Hensu Piankhi went down to the canal leading to the Fayyum and to Illahun and found the town gates shut in his face. The inhabitants, however, speedily changed their minds, and opened the gates to Piankhi, who entered with his troops, and received tribute, and slew no one. Town after town submitted as Piankhi advanced northwards, and none barred his progress until he reached Memphis, the gates of which were shut fast. When Piankhi saw this he sent a message to the Memphites, saying: " Shut not your gates, and fight not in the city that hath belonged to Shu (son of Khepera, or Tem, or Nebertcher) for ever. He who wisheth to enter may do so, he who wisheth to come out may do so, and he who wisheth to travel about may do so. I will make an offering to Ptah and the gods of White Wall (Memphis). I will perform the ceremonies of Seker in the Hidden Shrine. I will look upon the god of his South Wall (i.e. Ptah), and I will sail down the river in peace. No man of Memphis shall be harmed, not a child shall cry out in distress. Look at the homes of the South! None hath been slain except those who blasphemed the face of the god, and only the rebels have suffered at the block". These pacific words of Piankhi were not believed, and the people of Memphis not only kept their gates shut, but manned the city walls with soldiers, and they were foolish enough to slay a small company of Nubian artisans and boat­men whom they found on the quay of Memphis. Tafnekht, the rebel prince of Sais, entered Memphis by night, and addressed eight thousand of his troops who were there, and encouraged them to resist Piankhi. He said to them: "Memphis is filled with the bravest men of war in all the Northland, and its granaries are filled with wheat, barley, and grain of all kinds. The arsenal is full of weapons. A wall goeth round the city, and the great fort is as strong as the mason could make it. The river floweth along the east side, and no attack can be made there. The byres are full of cattle, and the treasury is well filled with gold, silver, copper, apparel, incense, honey, and unguents. . . . Defend ye the city till I return". Tafnekht mounted a horse and rode away to the north.

At daybreak Piankhi went forth to reconnoitre, and he found that the waters of the Nile were lapping the city walls on the north side of the city, where the sailing craft were tied up. He also saw that the city was extremely well fortified, and that there was no means whereby he could effect an entrance into the city through the walls. Some of his officers advised him to throw up a mound of earth about the city, but this counsel was rejected angrily by Piankhi, for he had thought out a simpler plan. He ordered all his boats and barges to be taken to the quay of Memphis, with their bows towards the city wall; as the water lapped the foot of the wall, the boats were able to come quite close to it, and their bows were nearly on a level with the top of the wall. Then Piankhi's men crowded into the boats, and, when the word of command was given, they jumped from the bows of the boats on to the wall, entered the houses built near it, and then poured into the city. They rushed through the city like a waterflood, and large numbers of the natives were slain, and large numbers taken prisoners. Next morning Piankhi set guards over the temples to protect the property of the gods, then he went into the great temple of Ptah and reinstated the priests, and they purified the holy place with natron and incense, and offered up many offerings. When the report of the capture of Memphis spread abroad, numerous local chiefs came to Piankhi, and did homage, and gave him tribute.

From Memphis he passed over to the east bank of the Nile to make an offering to Temu of Heliopolis. He bathed his face in the water of the famous "Fountain of the Sun", he offered white bulls to Ra at Shaiqaem-Anu, and he went into the great temple of the Sun-god. The chief priest welcomed him and blessed him; he performed the ceremonies of the Tuat chamber, he girded on the seteb garment, he censed himself, he was sprinkled with holy water, and he offered (?) flowers in the chamber in which the stone, wherein the spirit of the Sun-god abode at certain times, was preserved. He went up the step leading to the shrine to look upon Ra, and stood there. He broke the seal, unbolted and opened the doors of the shrine, and looked upon Father Ra in Het-benben. He paid adoration to the two Boats of Ra (Matet and Sektet), and then closed the doors of the shrine and sealed them with his own seal." Piankhi returned to the west bank of the Nile, and pitched his camp at Kaheni, whither came a number of princes to tender their submission and offer gifts to him. After a time it was reported to Piankhi that Tafnekht, the head of the rebellion, had laid waste his town, burnt his treasury and his boats, and had entrenched himself at Mest with the remainder of his army. Thereupon Piankhi sent troops to Mest, and they slew all its inhabitants. Then Tafnekht sent an envoy to Piankhi asking for peace, and he said, "Be at peace [with me]. I have not seen thy face during the days of shame. I cannot resist thy fire, the terror of thee hath conquered me. Behold, thou art Nubti, the Governor of the South, and Menth, the Bull with strong arms. Thou didst not find thy servant in any town towards which thou hast turned thy face. I went as far as the swamps of the Great Green (i.e. the Mediterranean), because I was afraid of thy Souls, and because thy word is a fire that worketh evil for me. Is not the heart of Thy Majesty cooled by reason of what thou hast done unto me? Behold, I am indeed a most wretched man. Punish me not according to my abominable deeds, weigh them not in a balance as against weights; thy punishment of me is already threefold. Leave the seed, and thou shalt find it again in due season. Dig not up the young root which is about to put forth shoots. Thy Ka and the terror of thee are in my body, and the fear of thee is in my bones. I have not sat in the house of drinking beer, and no one hath brought to me the harp. I have only eaten the bread which hunger demanded, and I have only drunk the water needed [to slake] my thirst. From the day in which thou didst hear my name misery hath been in my bones, and my head hath lost its hair. My apparel shall be rags until Neith is at peace with me. Thou hast brought on me the full weight of misery; O turn thou thy face towards me, for, behold, this year hath separated my Ka from me. Purge thy servant of his rebellion. Let my goods be received into thy treasury, gold, precious stones of all kinds, and the finest of my horses, and let these be my indemnity to thee for everything. I beseech thee to send an envoy to me quickly, so that he may make an end of the fear that is in my heart. Verily I will go into the temple, and in his presence I will purge myself, and swear an oath of allegiance to thee by the God." And Piankhi sent to him General Puarma and General Petamen-nebnesttaui, and Tafnekht loaded them with gold, and silver, and raiment, and precious stones, and he went into the temple and took an oath by the God that he would never again disobey the king, or make war on a neighbour, or invade his territory without Piankhi's knowledge. So Piankhi was satisfied and forgave him. After this the town of Crocodilopolis tendered its submission, and Piankhi was master of all Egypt. Then two Governors of the South and two Governors of the North came and smelt the ground before Piankhi, and these were followed by all the kings and princes of the North, "and their legs were [weak] like those of women", As they were uncircumcised and were eaters of fish they could not enter the king's palace; only one, Nemart, who was ceremonially pure, entered the palace. Piankhi was now tired of conquests, and he had all the loot which he had collected loaded on his barges, together with goods from Syria and the Land of the God, and he sailed up the river towards Nubia. The people on both banks rejoiced at the sight of His Majesty, and they sang hymns of praise to him as he journeyed southwards, and acclaimed him as the Conqueror of Egypt. They also invoked blessings on his father and mother, and wished him long life. When he returned to Gebel Barkal (Napata) he had the account of his invasion and conquest of Egypt cut upon a large grey granite stele about 6 feet high and 4 feet 8 inches wide, and set up in his temple, among the ruins of which it was discovered accidentally by an Egyptian officer who was serving in the Egyptian Sudan in 1862.