Index of Egyptian History

Egyptian history constitutes an awesome period of time. Including the Ptolemies, it covers at least three thousand years (c.3100-30 BC). By contrast, the Roman Emperor Augustus
was living just two thousand years ago. Only China, with a continuous history since the Shang (c.1500 BC), has at least equalled this, but just barely if we bring Egyptian history down to the last hieroglyphic inscription (394 AD).

To the Egyptians, Egypt was , the "Black Land." Some people think that this referred to the skin color of the Egyptians. However, the Egyptians contrasted themselves with the black skinned people to the south of them. The "Black Land" refers to the color of the earth brought by the Nile and is contrasted with the "Red Land," , i.e. the desert that surrounds Egypt. So, unless Sitting Bull was out in the desert, skin color was not the issue.

The Egyptian name for Egypt is still preserved in Coptic, written in its version of the Greek alphabet:  Ⲕⲏⲙⲉ, Kēme, or Ⲭⲏⲙⲉ, Khēme -- this is reflected in Greek itself as Χημία -- from which we get the word "chemistry." The "t" is a feminine ending which, as in Hebrew and Arabic, is usually not pronounced. In Egyptian, the name was proably Kīma or Kīmǝ [note].

People have been using "Kemet" as a given name and to refer to Egypt, apparently without knowing about its origin, its version in Coptic, or the proper absence of the feminine "t." This bespeaks the sort of half-baked knowledge of Egypt that is common in public discourse. Nevertheless, Egyptologists who don't want to get into the linguistic reconstruction business use conventions, such as just adding "e's" to the written consonsants of Egyptian, or "a's" for glottal stops and the equivalent of Arabic ʿayn. So this gives "Kemet" some legitimacy.

"Egypt" itself is from Greek Αἴγυπτος, which looks like it is from Egyptian , the "Soul House of Ptah," i.e. the temple of the god Ptah -- one of the names of the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis, whose patron god was Ptah. Note, again, how the "t" of ḥwt has dropped out.

The name "Memphis" that we use, from Greek Μέμφις, Coptic Ⲙⲛϥ, derives from the Egyptian name , "Enduring Beauty," which has a pyramid determinative in it because it was originally the name of the pyramid of Pepi I, which was built at Saqqara, immediately adjacent to Memphis. It thus postdates most of the Old Kingdom.

The original, or at least a very early, name of Memphis seems to have been , which means the "White Wall," a vivid image for such a city, and fixed in the name of the 1st Nome of Lower Egypt. Memphis was also , "Life of the Two Lands," using another name for Egypt itself, , the "Two Lands," i.e. Upper and Lower Egypt.

Basic knowledge of Egyptian history largely comes from Egyptian sources, i.e. in the early days nobody else was telling us about what was going on. Details come from monumental inscriptions, which really only become common in the New Kingdom (there are really none, for instance, from the III or IV Dynasties), but the fundamental structure is from king lists like the "Turin Canon" hieratic papyrus (which dates from the time of Ramesses II), so called because it ended up in Turin, the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia, having been found in Egypt by the consul Drovetti.

There are also sources like the "Table of Abydos" or "Abydos King List," carved on the Temple of Osiris at Abydos (begun by Seti I and finished by Ramesses II), and the "Table of Saqqara" -- from the reign of Ramesses II again. A slightly earlier list is the "Table of Karnak," from the reign of Thutmose III. Earlier still, is the fragment of Old Kingdom chronicles on the "Palermo Stone," undoubtedly authentic but whose provenance has been loss. All these epigraphic Egyptian texts, however, when discovered, could be compared with an already existing list from ancient literature, from the history of Egypt written by the priest Manethō of Sebennytus in the Hellenistic Period.

Manethō certainly had access to the old king lists like the Turin Canon. With such vast numbers of names to deal with, he divided all of Egyptian history, down to Alexander the Great, into thirty dynasties. This is still a useful and reasonably accurate system, and only really confused with periods that we know were disordered. Some extra dynasties have been suggested by ancient and modern writers, and the whole has, in modern history, been divided into the classic "Old," "Middle," and "New" Kingdoms, with various "Intermediate" Periods and other flourishes.

There are some drawbacks to Manethō, however. (1) He was writing in Greek and thus produces versions of the Egyptian names that are sometimes hard to match up with Egyptian originals. (2) His historiography was uncritical and so, among other things, assumes that all dynasties are successive, when at times they appear to be contemporaneous. And (3) the original text of Manethō's history is lost, and we are dependent on fragments that appear in later writers, e.g. the Jewish historian Josephus (c.70 AD) and Christians like Sextus Julius Africanus (early 3rd century AD), Eusebius (early 4th century AD), and George "the Monk" Syncellus (c.800 AD). Each of these introduces his own errors into the text, apart from the kind of errors that creep into any Mediaeval manuscripts that must be periodically recopied.

The fragments of Manethō, in both Greek and translation (by W.G. Waddell), are available in the Loeb Classical Library, No. 350, Manetho [Harvard University Press, 1940, 1980]. A good discussion of all these sources is in Sir Alan Gardiner's Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford, 1961, 1966]. As the greatest expert on Egyptian in his age, present, for instance, to read inscriptions as Tutankhamon's tomb was opened, Gardiner had to deal with all the king lists and other evidence first hand.

Actual Greek and Roman writers are almost worthless as sources on Egyptian history. For instance, the Greek historian Herodotus does no more than repeat popular stories, in which the sequence of Ramesses II and the pyramid builders is actually reversed. The king lists were apparently not public knowledge at the time, especially for foreign tourists.

Similarly, writers from the Roman period introduced the idea that Egyptian hieroglyphics represented allegorical and mystical meanings rather than the plain Egyptian language. This is the view of Plutarch (c.46-c.120 AD), who must have known nothing about Egyptian, in his Isis and Osiris. Other writers, like Clement of Alexandria (c.200 AD, in Stromateis) were at least aware that some hieroglyphics were phonetic and mundane. A more sensible account might have been expected in the Hieroglyphica of the Egyptian Horapollo (late 5th century AD), but, unfortunately, this was not a systematic grammar book or lexicon. Accurate meanings are combined with allegorical explanations, in a period when use of hieroglyphics themselves had already lapsed.

Surviving ancient literature, then, did not contain accounts of facts that must have been familar to many Greeks and Romans, i.e. that hieroglyphics wrote the Egyptian language and could simply translate, for instance, a Greek text -- as on the Rosetta Stone. This confused picture could then produce grotesque speculations, like the "translation" by Athanasius Kircher (in his Prodromus Coptus sive Aegyptiacus of 1636) of the name of the king Apriēs, of the XXVI Dynasty, as "the benefits of the divine Osiris are to be produced by means of sacred ceremonies and of the chain of the Genii, in order that the benefits of the Nile may be obtained." On the other hand, Kircher already had good information about Coptic, the surviving Egyptian language written in the Greek alphabet, which in the fullness of time would be one of the keys for the true decipherment of hieroglyphics.

The timeline of Egyptian history gives some perspective on the proportion of time for each dynasty and each period. In the troubled "Intermediate" Periods, we see overlapping dynasties and foreign rule. The tentative dates for the I and II Dynasties are disproportionately long in comparison to other dynasties, especially of the following Old Kingdom -- raising suspicions. Of the dynasties that lasted more than 200 years with some certainty, including the XII and the XVIII, the prize for duration actually belongs to the foreign Ptolemies, who adapted Hellenism to Egypt and were at some pains to seem Egyptian, to an extent, to the Egyptians -- who nevertheless revolted against them a number of times.

The timeline of Egyptian history can be compared with that of the Roman Empire, shown at left from Augustus all the way to the Fall of Constantinople. For analysis of this structure, see the "Rome and Romania" topic elsewhere. After 30 BC, the history of Egypt of course continues as part of Roman history, until the Islāmic conquest of Egypt in 640 AD. Afterwards, the gradual Arabicization of Egypt produced the most profound break with the Ancient land of the Nile. The Copts, besieged and murdered, and their girls kidnapped, in modern Egypt, represent the last connection to the ancient nation. The modern name of Egypt in Arabic, , Miṣr, is a Semitic word unrelated to anything in Ancient Egyptian. It is, however, familiar from Hebrew, , and Assyrian, -- where the Assyrians were the first foreign conquerors of Egypt to have no respect for Egypt, its institutions, or its gods, who looted the Temple of Amon at Karnak, and for whom Manethō provided no numbered Dynasty. So they did not make a good impression, and earned even less respect than the Persians. But they would not be the last such conquerors.

With similar attitudes in the Arab Conquest, it is enough to break the heart of any Egyptophile. Curiously, the root of the Arabic name , Miṣr, could mean "to colonize." And miṣr could simply mean "big city, metropolis, capital" or, as it happens, one of the garrison towns estabished in the early days of the Islamic Conquest, the (plural) , ʾamṣār. These were ʾal-Baṣrah (founded 636), ʾal-Kūfah (639), ʾal-Fusṭāṭ (641), and ʾal-Qayrawān (670). ʾAl-Fusṭāṭ, , in Egypt, was founded next to a Roman fortress called Βαβυλών. The Fatimids later founded Cairo on the same site, including the older city, which is now "Old" or "Coptic" Cairo. The amṣār, however, were created to be exclusively Arab cities, and might be called the "Fetters" of Islām, since they helped a relatively small number of Arabs concentrate their force to hold a large empire. Local women, however, freely admitted to the towns, soon altered their purely Arab character.

Index of Egyptian History

Egyptian History Begun

The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian

The Egyptian Soul

The Earliest Civilizations

Philosophy of History

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The Nomes of Upper and Lower Egypt

The provinces of Ancient Egypt are called "Nomes," Νομαί, Nomai (singular Νομή, Nomē). This is apparently an artifact of when the Ptolemies ruled Egypt and the administrative language was, not Egyptian, but Greek. The Romans didn't use Egyptian either, so the term stuck. But the word for an Egyptian province was in Egyptian. There were twenty Nomes in Lower Egypt and twenty-two in Upper Egypt, both numbered from South to North, with the flow of the Nile, like the designations "Upper" and "Lower" Egypt themselves. Click on the maps for larger sized pop-ups.

While Νομή is related to the familiar Greek word for "law," νομός, nomos (plural νομοί), the meaning of "Nome" is more clearly derived from the verb νέμω, némō, which can mean "to hold, possess," or "to be inhabited." Nomes are definitely inhabited, and they would be "held" by their governor, who, in Greek, was a νομάρχης, "Nomarch."

The list of Nomes is from the English to Middle Egyptian Dictionary, by Bill Petty [Museum Tours Press, 2016, pp.270-276]. The maps are based on Petty's maps [pp.271 & 275] and on The Penguin Atlas of Ancient Egypt, by Bill Manley [Penguin Books, 1996, pp.94-95].

There are some significant differences between these two sources, especially for the courses of the branches of the Nile in Lower Egypt and for the boundaries of the Nomes, especially in Lower Egypt. The difficulty here is mainly with the fact that all but two of the branches of the Nile have silted up and disappeared over the centuries. Canals make up for the loss of waterways, but it is hard to know how the canals duplicate the old channels, if at all. Modern techniques can identify old riverbeds, but I have no sense of how extensively this has been done for the ancient branches of the Nile.

What I have labelled "Tanitic A" is the branch of the Tanitic Nile shown in the Penguin Atlas. This is entirely missing from the map in Petty's Dictionary, which shows the Tanitic Nile flowing from what I have labelled "Tanitic B." If Tanitic A was the proper Tanitic Nile, then Tanitic B was instead the main channel of the Mendesian Nile. This shouldn't make any difference for the location of Bubastis, but the Penguin Atlas also shows that city on the south side of the Pelusiac Nile in the 18th Nome, rather than on the north side in the 11th Nome.

Perhaps more serious is the area, north-east of Bubastis, that the Atlas shows in the 19th Nome, while Petty's Dictionary shows it in the 11th Nome. A similar ambiguity occurs down stream, where the Penguin Atlas shows the 19th Nome across the river from the city of Pelusium, in an area that Petty's Dictionary actually leaves unlabelled and ambiguous.

I have translated few of the names of the Nomes. It is not always obvious what they were supposed to mean. For instance, Wikipedia translates the names of the 4th and 5th Nomes as "Southern shield land" and "Northern shield land," respectively. However, the "shield" is the glyph , which is actually a cult emblem or symbol of the goddess Neith of Sais. So both Nomes are named after Neith, not after some shield. In fact, it is not at all clear that this is a shield, but whether it is or not, it is bundled up with the bows that are themselves symbolic of the goddess -- as we also see crossed arrows used for Neith, here in the name of Queens of the I Dynasty.

A correpondent has suggested that, since Neith is identified by the Greeks with the goddess Athena, and Athena is a patron goddess of weaving, Neith could have also been a patroness of weaving. This could mean that the "shield" is not a shield at all, but perhaps an artifact of the craft of weaving. The lines across the "shield" could be thread, and the whole item could be the shuttle that is passed back and forth through a loom. I don't quite see it, and what seem like the bows goes unexplained. However, this may be no less believable than the identification of this as a shield, which is certainly associated with the cult of the goddess. It is a matter that merits some consideration. See further discussion of Neith under the I Dynasty.

Otherwise, I might note the location of the Wadi Natrun, , which held the evaporite salts used in mummification and which supplied names that still cling to modern chemistry.

In Upper Egypt there are fewer problems with the sources; but, for one thing, the Penguin Atlas shows the 1st Nome of Lower Egypt extending up the Nile and including the site of Lisht. This means a large part of it is across the river from the 22nd Nome of Upper Egypt. Petty's Dictionary, on the other hand, shows the left bank, with Lisht, as part of the 22nd Nome. This makes a lot more sense. The craziest things are possible, but we really would not expect one bank of the Nile to be in Lower Egypt and the other in Upper Egypt.

We also have the problem in Upper Egypt that while Petty's Dictionary shows the Faiyum in the 21st Nome, the Penguin Atlas draws the boundaries so that it isn't in any Nome. But Petty's Dictionary goes further than boundaries. It lists a city of the Faiyum, Crocodilopolis, , in the 21st Nome. Other sources say that Crocodilopolis was the capital of the 21st Nome.

In their Giza and the Pyramids, The Definite History [2017], Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass show the Lisht area in the 22nd Nome of Upper Egypt [p.38]. So we don't have Upper and Lower Egypt on opposite sides of the river. However, they also draw the Nome boundaries like the Penguin Atlas, which cuts off the Faiyum from either the 21st or 20 Nomes. Since the Faiyum must have been governed by someone, this leaves us without an answer.

Again, the craziest things are possible, but it seems more likely that the Faiyum was part of a Nome, namely the 21st. Also, this name, Κροκοδειλόπολις in Greek (also named Ἀρσινόη by the Ptolemies), was given because of the patron god, Sobek, , a crocodile god. After a long association of the family with the Faiyum, and at least one temple erected by Amenemhat III, Queen Sobekneferu, the last ruler of the XII Dynasty, was then named after Sobek, and such names become common in the XIII Dynasty.

As political power moved around in Upper Egypt, it left a trail of gods. The oldest capitals, at Nekhen and Nekheb, contributed the Cobra goddess Nekhbet to the identity of Upper Egypt. Then we see the god Osiris at Abydos as the heritage of the home of the I Dynasty at nearby . Curiously, the name of this city in Greek is a bit of a puzzle. Manethō only uses the term Θινίτης, the "Thinite," for the Kings of the I and II Dynasty and does not name the city directly. Thus, since the Greek name is not attested elsewhere, we are left guessing whether the city was Θίς or Θίνις. Since the "n" is clearly in the Egyptian name, and in Manethō's term, Θίνις seems more likely -- although Θίς is possible if the "n" vanishes in the nominative.

As it happens, Θίς is cited as the Greek form in the Coptic Etymological Dictionary, edited by Jaroslav Černý [Cambridge, 1976, 2010, p.355], where we also learn that Thinis in Coptic is Ⲧⲓⲛ, Tin. Here and there, I have retained Θίνις, since it matches the name we use in English.

Menkaure's Triads

We have surviving from the reign of King Menkaure examples of a series of statues that he evidently commissioned showing him with the goddess Hathor and titularity deities of the Nomes of Egypt. The first impression is that there must be one of these "Triads" for each of the Nomes; but that would mean at least 42 of them, and why should Hathor be in each of the ones we have? Thinking now is that perhaps there are only Triads for those Nomes particularly assoicated with a cult of Hathor. That is especially striking for the Hare Nome, where Hathor is seated, the central figure, and so perhaps larger in scale than the figure of the King. That is unusual in Egyptian art, where other figures may be smaller, but the King is usually the same size as the gods.
"Triad" of Hathor, Menkaure, and the goddess of the 7th Nome of Upper Egypt, Bat, , in greywacke; Cairo Museum

Here, at right, we have the Triad for the 7th Nome of Upper Egypt, Bat, Sheshesh (Sistrum), or Hu (incorporating the "Nome" glyph, as ). The titulary deity, Bat, is rather obscure, being a cow goddess who tends to be assimilated to Hathor herself, whose own cult center is next door in the 6th Nome, at Dendera. The capital of the Nome is, from Greek, Diospolis Parva, and in Egyptian "Hu" (هُو), short for , which looks like it means "Powerful Temple." The Greek name, of the "Lesser God," corresponds to the name of Thebes, of the "Greater God," referring to the great god Amon. Exactly how Diospolis Parva got this association is unclear. Thus, between Hathor and Amon, this Nome and its deity seem to derive their identity mainly from two other gods. And the symbol of the Nome, a sistrum, could be an instrument used for many gods, but also particularly for Hathor.
"Triad" of Hathor, Menkaure, and the personified goddess of the 15th Nome of Upper Egypt, which may be Wenet, , in greywacke; Fine Arts Museum, Boston.

Bat as such seems to be a very archaic goddess, perhaps even derived from Sumeria, with little detail about her, before her identity is really subsumed by Hathor. Part of the difficulty I have found is the absence of examples of her name in hieroglyphs, in both print, old and new, and on-line sources (like Wikipedia). The most I've seen is simply the statement that her name is the feminine of the "Ba" soul, which could be written like this, . I've written that with a phonetic glyph, rather than the dedicated ideogram for the Ba, because the latter has a male head (with a beard), which seems inappropriate for the case. I've added a goddess determinative usually used for Hathor. But the sources are no help in this.

At left we have the Triad for the 15th Nome of Upper Egypt, Wen, Wenet, or the Hare Nome, (or ). The capital of the Nome is Hermopolis Magna, Ἑρμούπολις Μεγάλη. The Egyptian name of the city, , comes out as Ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ, Šmun, in Coptic and as أَلْأَشْمُونِين, ʾal-ʾAšmūnīn in Arabic.

The name here is curious. The Egyptian name means "Eight Town," after a group of eight gods that are worshiped there, the rather obscure, primordial "Ogdoad." However, the Greek name is based on the god Hermes, Ἑρμῆς, seen as the Greek counterpart to Egyptian Thoth, who was also worshiped there. At the same time, the name of the Nome refers to yet another god, the goddess Wenet, or Unut, , who was an acient snake goddess, curiously written with a hare, as in the name of the Nome. So the Nome and its capital are dense with divine associations. The Triad itself has the curious feature that Hathor, not the King, is the central figure, and she is seated. Apparently, there were other Nome sculptures like this, but only a fragment of one other survives.

In the confused Third Intermediate Period, Hermopolis was the seat of a King, Nimlot, contemporaneous with the XXIII and XXIV Dynasties but not otherwise counted in the Dynastic succession of the Kings of Egypt.

Below, in a treatment of Menkaure's pyramid, is a Triad with the goddess Anput of the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt. This Nome, Inpu, is named for the god Anubis, , who can be found on its standard, (also seen with the incorporation of the "Nome" glyph, as ). The capital of the Nome is remembered, from Greek, as "Cynopolis," i.e. "Dog City." In the Triad, however, we do not see Anubis, but instead his consort, the goddess Anput, .

The Triads of Menkaure are remarkable objects. Considering that there is barely one image of Khufu surviving, we sure get a good look at Menkaure; and this adds to the paradox of his reign, where many persist in seeing his smaller pyramid at Giza as a symbol of decline, despite its massive, impressive use of granite, and despite the pinnacle in the history of art represented by these very sculpures.


Next let me consider Amon at Thebes, , the dynastic god of the XII and XVIII Dynasties, whose status increased in the XIX and XX Dynasties, even though those families may have had other personal preferences. While we see the name of the god now rendered as "Amon," "Amen," or "Amun," we can see from the evidence of Kushite, which wrote vowels, that it was actually prounounced "Amana."
"Triad" of Hathor, Menkaure, and the personified god of the 4th Nome of Upper Egypt, that of Thebes, , in greywacke; Thebes was relatively unimportant in Menkaure's time, and we can't even say that the god of the Nome here is even Amon. The original titulary god may have been Montu, as we see in the name of Kings in the XI Dynasty; Cairo Museum.
Nevertheless, the uncertainties involved here motivate me to use "Amon" because this is how the name was rendered in Hebrew -- .

Thebes would seem to be a city that we unaccountably know by an unrelated Greek name, Θῆβαι. However, the Greek name may not be based on the name of the city, but on the name of the great temple at Karnak, which in full is , but which we can restate as , "the Opet," with the article used in Late Egyptian and without the second, honorific element of the name. If we also make the "t" of the feminine ending silent, as it certainly was in independent forms, the initial "t" and the "p" may give us enough to suggest the Greek Θῆβαι. To distinguish this city from the Thebes in Boeotia, which only had seven gates, the Egyptian city is οἱ Θῆβαι ἑκατόμπυλοι, "Thebes of a Hundred Gates."

Before Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832) succeeded in deciphering the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone, he had worked on a project of using Coptic to derive the meaning of place names in Egypt. This did not always work very well, as we will see below. With Thebes, he had a clever suggestion. He said that in the Theban dialect of Coptic the word ⲧⲁⲡⲉ meant "tēte, chef," which then got used for the "capital" of Egypt [Jed Z. Buchwald & Diane Greco Josefowicz, The Riddle of the Rosetta, How an English Polymath and a French Polyglot Discovered the Meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Princeton, 2020, p.201]. While Champollion's word is not in Jaroslav Černý's Coptic Etymological Dictionary [Cambridge, 1976], if it did exist in the Theban dialect, Champollion's suggestion seems reasonable enough. Meanwhile, we do have Coptic ⲡⲁⲡⲉ for Luxor, where the feminine article has been replaced by the masculine , Coptic ⲡⲁ. When the Greeks arrived in Egypt, at least as early as the XXVI Dynasty, it is hard to know whether that change had taken place yet. Coptic itself, of course, is not attested until many centuries later.

We also see a different name for Thebes, , whereby Thebes is called the "Southern Heliopolis." This may be the result of a later association of the god Amon with the sun got Rē, whose cult center was in the North at Heliopolis, Ἡλιόπολις, -- rendered Ὤν in Greek and in Hebrew, both Ōn. The city is Ⲟⲛ, On, or Ⲱⲛ, Ōn, in Coptic.

At the same time, Manethō, writing in Greek, called the city Διόσπολις, the "City of God [or Zeus]." But there are two cities with this name. Thebes is Diospolis Magna -- μεγάλη Διόσπολις -- while Diospolis Parva is a city sacred to the goddess Hathor in the 7th Nome. Nevertheless, these are names little seen now.

Noteworthy in Upper Egypt is the location of Nag Hammadi, , in the 7th Nome, where extensive texts of the Gnostic Gospels were found. This has set off many years of efforts to revise Christianity, often by people who seem uncomfortable with religion that posits miracles, the supernatural, and immortal existence -- whose effect is generally to render religion pointless altogether. Not quite what even the Gnostics had in mind.

Elephantine & Aswan

Ancient Egypt ended at Elephantine, Ἐλεφαντίνη. This was , in Egyptian, Ⲓⲏⲃ in Coptic. It was an island in the Nile at the First Cataract, a barrier that inhibited free traffic up and down the River and that makes for the natural southern boundary of Egypt.
Elephantine Island at Aswan; the form of the rock may have suggested the body of an elephant; 1969
The Island contained the "Nilometer," where the height of the Flood was measured every year, from which the area of Egypt covered by the Flood could be calculated.

South of this was Nubia, and the people there looked different from the Egyptians, as we see on a cane handle from Tutankhamon's Tomb -- a device implying that the Nubians were subjects of Egypt. This is an awkward fact for "Afro-Centric" views of Egypt. Even today, Nubians still look like Nubians, and Egyptians (generally) like Egyptians.

The city opposite Elephantine Island is today Aswan, , in Arabic. This was Syēnē, Συήνη, in Greek and Swan, Ⲥⲟⲩⲁⲛ, in Coptic. The Greek, Coptic, and Arabic names all derive from Egyptian (or ). Part of the interest of this name is that it looks like it may derive from , "trade, barter, exchange, sell." Being on the border of Egypt, we can imagine that there was a great deal of this sort of activity here, trading with the Nubians, perhaps even after the border was pushed South in the Middle Kingdom. This is a problem for the thesis of John Romer, below, that trade could not occur before the invention of money. Instead, this name looks like the Egyptian equivalent of the Greek Ἐμπόριον, Latin Emporium, meaning a market, trading station, or trading colony (even the name of a colony), related to words for merchandise, commerce, or just a traveler. This is all off the map for Romer's conception of Ancient Egypt.

As we have seen, before Champollion succeeded in deciphering the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone, he had worked on a project of using Coptic to derive the meaning of place names in Egypt. With Ⲥⲟⲩⲁⲛ, he decided this had come from ⲟⲩⲉⲛ, ⲟⲩⲏⲛ, or ⲟⲩⲱⲛ, all of which Champollion thought were forms of the root and the verb "to open" [Buchwald & Josefowicz, op.cit., pp.199-200]. The "s" he thought was a prefix "indicating the attribution of ability or power to do something" [p.200]. He thought this all fit the location of Syene as the "key" to the opening, i.e. the entrance, of Egypt. As a flight of imagination this is impressive, but it has nothing to do with the meaning of the Egyptian name, about which Champollion knew nothing at the time. Also, I cannot find any of these forms of a root or a verb "to open" in Černý's Coptic Etymological Dictionary. This leaves me a little perplexed.

Meanwhile, if Champollion's "s" is supposed to be from a causative prefix, which is what his long gloss seems to amount to, the actual causative prefix in Egyptian was , "give, cause." In Coptic, this often survives simply as a prefixed "t" [cf. Černý, pp.182,190,200,etc.].

Immediately south of Aswan is the island of Philae, Greek Φιλαί or Φιλή, Egyptian . In Coptic this was Ⲡⲓⲗⲁⲕ or Ⲡⲓⲗⲁⲕϩ, with the mysterious "l" that we also see at Illahun. Černý analyzes the meaning as "the island of (the) corner, extremity," although by his own definitions it could just be "the island of (the) bend," as in the River [op.cit., pp.71, 348].

Philae was occupied by a temple to Isis whose first structures seem to have been from the XXV, XXVI, and XXX Dynasties. Most of the features of the extensive temple were built by the Ptolemies, with Roman additions. Indeed, the temple features the latest known hieroglyphic inscription, in 394 AD, at the time when the Emperor Theodosius I was closing pagan temples. Thus, Philae seems to have been just about the last redoubt of Ancient Egyptian religion -- followed by its conversion into a church.

The modern history of Philae is equally remarkable. The Aswan Low Dam, down river, completed in 1902, left the temple partially submerged for much of the year. The water line can still be discerned on many of the walls. As the construction of the Aswan High Dam was planned up river, the decision was made to rescue the temple permanently, along with many of the monuments of Nubia that would have been lost completely. Between 1977 and 1980 the entire temple was moved to the nearby Agilkia Island. It is now hard to tell that the temple had not always been there, while little is left of the original Philae Island, except as a navigation hazzard.

Index of Egyptian History

A History of Ancient Egypt, by John Romer

Egyptian History Begun

Leontopolis, Hermopolis, Sebennytus

Philosophy of History

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

A History of Ancient Egypt, Volume II,
From the Great Pyramid to the Fall of the Middle Kingdom
by John Romer, 2016, Penguin Books, 2017

John Romer is writing a history of Egypt. I say "writing" because only two out of three (or more) volumes are out so far, and what we have just goes down to the end of the Middle Kingdom. Romer is the appealing creator of the extraordinary video series Ancient Lives [1984, 1994, 2009], which examines the history of the village of Deir al-Medina, where the craftsmen of the New Kingdom royal tombs lived, and he has written several other books on Egypt and other things, and even produced a video series on Byzantium. His documentary style, unfortunately, shares certain evils common to modern documentaries, where we are frequently shown images but not told what they are. Thus, Romer rarely identifies the royal tombs whose features and decorations we see, often with Romer himself present.

Romer's approach to Egyptian history is not just to recount the history itself, but to include the background and processes by which Egyptian history was constructed in the first place, textually, epigraphically, and archaeologically, among modern scholars. This is a valuable and fascinating supplement to Egyptian history, whose fragmentary nature increases the value of an examination of the manner of its construction. But Romer worries about some of this background, and he is alert to ahistorical biases and disturbing ideology that have become part of it:

...for although their [the nineteenth-century historians'] traditional tales lend pharaoh's alien relics an illusion of familiarity, they have deeply sinister undertones.

For modern-day 'ancient Egypt' is a direct offspring of the nineteenth century's intense study of race and ancient language; those same studies whose terms and concepts later served to ratify the underlying character of Hitler's Third Reich. [p.xiv]

Since the "Berlin School" of Egyptology contributed so much to the character of the discipline, Romer is properly alarmed that current and popular German ideology, leading to the Nazi regime, became subtly incorporated into the history of "ancient Egypt":

Georg Steindorff, for example, a one-time rector of Leipzig University and the most renowned egyptological victim of Nazi persecution, regarded himself as a full member of the nation whose high conservative values he had upheld all his life. In the years before the First World War, Steindorff had written a popular and influential history, Die Blütezeit des Pharaonenreichs -- literally, 'the heyday -- the flowering -- of the pharaonic empire [literally, "realm of pharaohs"]', which describes ancient Egypt admiringly as an imperial power. A decade earlier, Adolf Erman, the founder of modern egyptology and Steindorff's professor at Berlin, had observed that the ancient Egyptians had 'never experienced the invigorating influence of a great national war'. Though differing in expression, their phantasmagorical preoccupation with empire building as a moral force is the same and was a product of their times. Along with several other academic colleagues, however, Walter Grapow, Erman's co-editor of the standard dictionary of the ancient Egyptian language was, indeed, an ardent Nazi, a person for whom great histories were forged by mighty individuals, and such dictionary entries as 'kingdom', 'blood' and 'soil' -- 'Reich,' 'Blut' and 'Boden' -- held immediate contemporary resonance...

Several current university course books, also, were written by egyptologists who had enthusiastically greeted Hitler's rise to power or who were later banned outright from teaching in post-war Germany because of their disreputable activities druing the 1930s. [pp.xiv-xv]

Biases along these lines certainly need to be purged from treatments of Egyptian history. However, it is not clear that John Romer actually understands the nature of such biases, or their origin. Thus, incredibly, he favorably invokes Friedrich Nietzsche as a critic of the "deeply sinister," proto-Nazi tradition:

Commentators were complaining about the inadequacies of such narrow visions of ancient history even as they were being created. Nietzsche was probably the most prescient and certainly the most vituperative; such histories, such visions of the past, he held, had nothing of the grace, the ecstatic joy of life, the ruthless precisions and perfections, the creative engagement with words and materials that he detected in so many ancient things. [p.xvi]

While many people have naive ideas about Nietzsche's philosophy, and others have fallen victim to the industry of Nietzsche apologetics, in this philosopher Romer has picked a singularly bad person to present as ostensibly criticizing the Reich, Blut, und Boden ideology that led to the Nazis.

Romer perhaps has not read Nietzsche's treatment of die Eroberer- und Herren Rasse, die der Arier, "the conquering race of masters, that of the Aryans."
Leiden-sehn thut wohl, Leiden-machen noch wohler.
To behold suffering gives pleasure, but to cause suffering gives more pleasure.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Moral, Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1988, p.30-31
Erman's lament, if we can call it that, that the Egyptians "never experienced the invigorating influence of a great national war," is something that could easily have been shared by Nietzsche,
But the philosophy that killed off truth proclaims unlimited tolerance for the [Wittgensteinian] 'language games' (i.e., opinions, beliefs and doctrines) that people find useful. The outcome is expressed in the words of Karl Kraus:  'Alles ist wahr und auch das Gegenteil.' 'Everything is true, and also its opposite.'
Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), "Our Merry Apocalypse," 1997, Is God Happy? Selected Essays, Basic Books, 2013, p.318
for whom the "noble races" are the warlike Aryans, Vikings, Arabs, and Japanese -- where "empire building as a moral force" was essential to all of them, according to Nietzsche's system of value.

Romer can accurately quote Nietzsche's appreciation of the "ecstatic joy of life" without, perhaps, understanding the elements of (he does say "ruthless") violence, cruelty, and domination in that. But Nietzsche, who began as a philologist, precisely fits Romer's characterization of the "intense study of race and ancient language" in the period. And if Romer is going to out the Nazis in Egyptology, he should pay attention to their well founded belief that Nietzsche was their guy.

Having thus unintentionally endorsed one of the founding philosophers of modern fascism and nihilism, Romer follows it with a reference to Wittgenstein, who managed to provide a different foundation (of linguistic relativism) for much the same kind of thing [p.xviii]. Romer certainly knows who are popular philosophers -- we also get Michel Foucault, another nihilhist (and Nietzschean), favorably quoted [p.87] -- but Romer's failure to understand them damages his credibility as a critic of the ideology he otherwise disowns and wishes to dissociate from Egyptology. We begin to wonder to what extent he actually uses some of that ideology himself, clueless about its origins and implications. As it happens, we already know the popular but incoherent appeal of moralistic relativism.

Fast Alles, was wir »höhere Cultur« nennen, beruht auf der Vergeistigung und Vertiefung der Grausamkeit -- dies ist mein Satz; jenes »wilde Thier« ist gar nicht abgetödtet worden, es lebt, es blüht, es hat sich nur -- vergöttlicht.

Practically everything that we called "superior culture" rests on the intellectualization and deepening of cruelty: this is my proposition. This is the wild beast that was not slaughtered at all; it lives; it flourishes; it has only been -- deified.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Marianne Cowan [Henry Regnery Company, 1955, p.156]; Jenseits von Gut und Böse [Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1988, p.145; emphasis in German; Graus, "horror"; grausam, "cruel, inhuman, fierce, horrible, terrible, gruesome"; Grausamkeit, "cruelty, ferocity"].

The use of Nietzsche, etc. is not the only odd thing in Romer's approach to Egypt. Thus, in his "Note on the Text," he says:

The forms of the names of ancient people and places which I have employed are those in common usage and have been adopted from such works as the recent catalogues of the Metropolitan Museum, New York. All royal names are given in a single form: Sneferu rather than Snofru; Khufu and not Cheops; Khafre and not Chephren; Isesi and not Djedkare-Izozi or the like; Wenis and not Unas; Intef rather than Inyotef; Montuhotep and not Menthotpe; Amenemhet and not Amenemes; Senwosret and not Senusret, nor Senwosre nor, certainly, Sesostris! [p.xxii]

Why does Romer single out "Sesostris" for some special alarm and rejection? Is there some particular illegitimacy to this form of the name? That can hardly be, as it happens, since Σέσωστρις is a name that is attested and used by an actual Egyptian historian of Egyptian history, namely Manethō of Sebennytus, whom we have encountered above. We also find that exact form of the name used a century or more earlier by Herodotus, who has heard it from Egyptians, in the course of his tour of Egypt and encounters with Egyptian priests. Neither John Romer nor any other modern Egyptologist has had any such advantages. The priests have been gone for centuries.

What we see Romer doing in this passage is systematically rejecting names that are actually attested in Greek, derived from what was at the time still the living language of Ancient Egyptian, in favor of names that are really no more than guesses made up by modern Egyptologists. Thus, Romer rejects "Cheops," i.e. Χέοψ, "Chephren," i.e. Χεφρῆν, "Amenemes," i.e. Ἀμμανέμης, and Sesostris. His practice in this manner would then be to avoid Μυκερῖνος for Mekaure, Ἀμώς or Ἄμωσις for Ahmose, Ἀμενωφίς for Amenhotep, Τούθμωσις for Thutmose, Σέθως for Seti, etc. But Romer himself uses "Ramesses," i.e. Ῥαμεσσῆς, for . Since the modern practices are all idiosyncratic, Romer's inconsistency here is not surprising.

Earlier Egyptologists had often used the Greek names, instead of linguistic speculation, but the trend now has been -- and I follow it myself in these pages -- to try and give something like what the contemporary Egyptian forms would have been, or at least something with a connection to the ancient living language. Alan Gardiner tried to use Coptic as a guide, which he also knew involved a distortion, since the pronunciation of Coptic had clearly changed from the older language. Anyone using "Thutmose" continues this practice, since the "o" is a late development and the "th" Coptic or Greek. All of this involves a dilemma; and for Romer not even to discuss the issue, and to act like names such as "Sesostris" are somehow illegitimate or absurd, is a kind of confusion, if not a deception.

The Greek names themselves pose a dilemma, since different forms turn up in different writers, or even in the same writer. Thus, the memorable names of the builders of the pyramids at Giza -- Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus -- are attested by Herodotus but do not occur in Manethō, a matter noted, perhaps with some puzzlement, by later commentators. We might continue to be puzzled, since the name in Herodotus, Χέοψ, looks more likely to be derived from the name we see in Egyptian, namely , while Manetho's name, Σοῦφις, doesn't. It seems remarkable that Herodotus should have done better from no more than hearsay, while Manethō, who obviously is looking at primary records, has something we cannot otherwise identify. But Romer skates right over these intriguing complexities, without bothering to clue us in.

Another oddity in Romer is this:

The term 'Memphis' does not refer to the ancient city of that name, which did not exist during the period of history covered in this volume, but to the region that was the centre of the Old Kingdom state. It is defined today by the thirty-mile-long line of monuments that extend along the west bank of the Nile opposite modern Cairo from Abu Roash in the north to Maidum in the south... [p.xxiii]

This curious claim is magnified when he subsequently says, "no ancient Egyptian towns or cities in the modern sense of those two words are known to have existed" [ibid.].

Of course, the "modern sense" is irrelevant. When the Greeks arrived in Egypt, long before there was a "modern sense" of anything, they had no difficulty identifying "towns or cities," which often bore names, like Sais, , that had been used since the earliest days of Egyptian history, and whose names feature the generic determinative for a "town or city." If Sais was not a town or city in the "period of history covered in this volume," what in the world was it?

With Memphis, there are some different issues. One is that the city seems to have early born a name, , that meant "White Wall," whose reference to its fortification would preclude it from embracing an area extending for thirty miles up and down the Nile. Despite other names for Memphis, "White Wall" stuck as the name of the 1st Nome of Lower Egypt, which includes the immediate area of the city, but not the long range claimed by Romer. The aspect of its walls, long vanished in their original plastered mud brick, can nevertheless be examined in the enclosure wall of the pyramid of Djoser, which is rightfully assumed to reproduce that of the nearby capital. It could hardly be anything else.

We might wonder if Romer is confused by something else apparently true, and relied upon by himself, that the Court for each King was seated in a palace adjacent to the construction site of his tomb. For the Old Kingdom and the XII Dynasty, this would fall in the area specified by Romer. That is probably how Memphis ended up acquiring the name , "Enduring Beauty," derived, as we have seen, from the pyramid of Pepi I. As it happens, this pyramid was built at Saqqara, very nearly as close as possible to the site of the city of Memphis. So the Court and the center of government were no more than a convenient walk (a couple of miles) from the metropolis of the nation. If business and residence grew up along the way, as is to be expected, the King's palace and the city might end up in appearance and fact as part of the same metropolitan complex. Hence the application of the name. Similarly, although pyramid sites are scattered, Saqqara ended up containing the largest number of them, a good dozen.

If Romer makes his claims about Memphis without any real evidence, he does at least have an argument, a very strange one. His idea is that "towns and cities" proper did not exist before the existence of money and a cash economy, because cities require markets, and markets cannot exist without buying and selling with money. He cites a character from Aristophanes (more than once) who misses his native village, because it lacked buying and selling and, apparently money [p.137].

Thus, Romer says that Egyptian lacks words "for buying and selling" [ibid.], although we have and , which do look like the words for buying and selling. We might also wonder why the Eloquent Peasant is taking his goods to market if he is not going to sell them, and markets didn't exist. But the peasant certainly was looking for a good price, , Coptic ⲥⲟⲩⲉⲛ, swen [Coptic Etymological Dictionary, edited by Jaroslav Černý, Cambridge, 1976, 2010, p.168]. Indeed, the Egyptian name for Aswan indicates that it is a place for trade, buying, and selling.

Romer doesn't like the word "taxes," , because, of course taxes involve money [p.136], except that Romer has forgotten his Mediaeval history, where under feudalism money had characteristically disappeared and taxes were paid "in kind." Egyptian taxes were obviously of the same sort. Romer using "tithe" for "tax" is just silly.

And we even get a hint that the Egyptians didn't really have slavery, because it "assumes the existence of modern concepts of personal ownership, of individual freedom and abstract independent wealth" [p.137]. This is someone who has written about the Bible, yet he seems to have missed all the laws and discussion about slavery therein, from times before the Lydians and Greeks spread the use of money.

We should also note here that Romer uses the word "modern" a lot for things that certainly are familiar from Ancient, Mediaeval, or, for that matter, Asian and other societies.

Let me pause another moment, since Romer again has produced an argument that proves too much. If Romer wants to say that slavery did not really exist in Egypt because it requires money, then he could certainly allow the treatment of slavery in Roman and Islāmic law, both of which existed in contexts of buying and selling (slaves) for money. However, Romer goes much further. Too much further. If slavery "assumes the existence of modern [sic] concepts of personal ownership, of individual freedom and abstract independent wealth," then Roman and Islāmic slave law, which did not include any "modern concepts" of anything, let alone "personal ownership" or "individual freedom," obviously cannot be about real slavery. So Spartacus wasn't a slave; and the great Zanj revolt against the Abbasids wasn't by African slaves. But this is the kind of nonsense Romer has gotten himself into.

We get the full business about the city of Memphis here:

Where, then, in this mix of text and ruin is Memphis, the legendary City of the White Walls celebrated by classical histories, and long-since regarded by traditional historians as the capital city of ancient Egypt? Obviously, there is no place in pharaoh's Egypt for a city in the modern [sic] sense of that word; such cities, just as Aristophanes' character bemoans, were dependent on the survival for monetary exchanges in the market place. To that extent, at least, there were no 'urban populations' in pharaoh's Egypt. Nothing beyond the pyramid builders' settlements and a network of institutions up and down the river involved in their supply. Old Kingdom Memphis, therefore, was composed of various gatherings of courtly settlements, of warehouses, studios and shipyards that shifted over the twenty-mile region on the west bank of the river in concert with the various locations chosen for the pyramid of the living king. The Memphis of today, the ruins visited by tourists, was a product of later ages. Early Memphis was not a city, but a region. [p.144]

These bizarre claims rest on the argument that cities, "in the modern sense," cannot exist without a cash economy. But Romer's argument here isn't even coherent. If the city of Memphis, such as could be contained in a "White Wall," only existed from "later ages," why is the name attested quite early in Egyptian, and not just "celebrated by classical histories," attaching itself to the 1st Nome of Lower Egypt? Romer makes it sound like the "classical histories" made this all up, or got it from much later ages of Egyptian history. But if there was a wall, in the Old Kingdom, then there must have been such a settlement as to warrant and accommodate one. Nor would this be unusual. Ancient cities had walls, in the Middle East pretty much all of them did.

And where did the (non-existent) "classical histories" and "traditional historians" get these goofy ideas that cities existed, including Memphis as one? Romer exhibits an extraordinary level of perversity to cite the actual evidence for a city, the White Wall, and then dismiss it with vague, improbable, and irrelevant accusations. Did the "classical histories" and "traditional historians" just make up the "White Wall" name and fraudulently insert it into texts prior to c.640 BC, when the Lydians invented coins? If a proper city could only exist in "later ages," then Memphis with its White Wall cannot have existed before the XXVI Dynasty. Which seems late indeed.

Of course, we've gotten the idea about the status of Memphis, identified by "traditional historians as the capital city of ancient Egypt," because Manethō -- not a "traditional historian" as Romer seems to mean it -- regards all the Old Kingdom dynasties as seated or originated there. But perhaps Romer can argue that Manethō is too late to appreciate the genuine status of Memphis. But Manethō has this strange idea about about all the towns and cities of Egypt, that they were towns and cities, where to none of the others can the argument be applied that their extent was spread out by the peripatetic Court of the King, which moved the whole city, such as it was, from one building site to another. Romer can confuse the location of the Court with the non-existence of the city, but this argument won't work with the any other "towns and cities" of Egypt.

Romer has some advantage in his arguments concerning the ancient cities of Egypt because there is little left of them. The Flood of the Nile continually dissolved the mud bricks from which secular buildings were made, and the alluvium of the Flood covered over what was left, or more recent cities have themselves covered the ancient sites. But since the basis of Romer's argument is quite general and universal, that "towns and cities" cannot exist before a cash economy, we don't need to worry about the specific difficulties of Egyptian archaeology. When Hernan Cortés entered the Valley of Mexico, there lay out before him a great city, Tenochtitlán, a center of trade and civilization that was as innocent of money as Khufu and Khafre. Similarly, Pizzaro found another center of civilization in Cuzco, many of whose modern streets are still lined with the remarkable Cyclopean stonework of the Incas [note].

The case of the Aztecs and Incas is of particular interest because it is so recent, and so well described by the Spanish. But we also must reflect that the very term "civilization" itself refers to cities, often in circumstances that not only antedate money, but even writing. The Incas are an example of that themselves; but the ancient Asian Middle East and India provide abundant counterexamples to Romer's arguments. The Indus Valley Civilization has stunned archaeologists and the public with the level of its urban culture. Written documents are non-existent, but we know that writing was there. But money certainly was not. And then we move on to Mesopotamia and the Levant. Here are some pre-literate cities, but most important and conspicuous is the urban culture of Sumerian and later Babylonian and Assyrian civilization. Only the Neo-Assyrian period is at all contemporaneous with Lydian and Greek cash economies, in fact not before the late reign of Ashurbanipal, who looted a city in Egypt, Thebes, that, according to John Romer, cannot yet have existed "in the modern sense" [note].

But the joy of archaeology in the Fertile Crescent are the mounds built by ancient cities, the "tells," , tilāl (singular, , tall). From Ur to Babylon to Nineveh, trash was not hauled away but tossed in the street, and the dead went under the floor of a home's courtyard. So, over time, houses were knocked down to bring them up to the level of the street -- or a conqueror demolished the whole city -- and each city became a mountain; and archaeologists can slice them open like birthday cakes, revealing houses, temples, palaces, walls, the dead, and everything else of the urban environment. All developing without money. And business existed, with all the familiar difficulties of disputes and frauds that had to be addressed by the rulings of kings, such as we see in the Code of Hammurabi. And how could Hammurabi rule about slave law and property when, according to John Romer, this would assume "the existence of modern concepts of personal ownership, of individual freedom and abstract independent wealth"?

282. If a slave say to his master: "You are not my master," if they convict him, his master shall cut off his ear. [The Code of Hammurabi, translated by L.W. King, Hammurabi, 2015, p.56]

And if you want to know what was used in payment for fines or in the marketplace, read the Code of Hammurabi:

114. If a man have no claim on another for corn and money, and try to demand it by force, he shall pay one-third of a mina of silver in every case. [ibid., p.38, boldface added]

All that coinage accomplished was to place the device or image of an authority on a standard weight of precious metal. The metal, of course, and its value antedated any coinage.

So John Romer has developed some very idiosyncratic ideas about Egyptian history and society, ideas that do not stand up to logic, the evidence of Egyptian or world civilization, or often of things cited or mentioned by Romer himself.

From all these peculiarities in Romer's treatment, we move on to statements that must be judged as actual and overt falsehoods:

None of the texts that have survived from ancient Egypt are written histories...

Nor is there reason to imagine that an ancient Gibbon or Macaulay lies buried in the sand. [p.11]

Here Romer has overlooked something that he certainly knows, that there is in fact a surviving written history from ancient Egypt, written by an actual ancient Egyptian, namely Manethō of Sebennytus, a Gibbon or Macaulay who is likely buried in the sand himself, but about whom we know nevertheless. The text of Manetho's history does not survive independently in one piece, but it was quoted by several authors over the centuries, in enough detail that it can be largely reassembled, as the Loeb Classical Library has done. What's more, Manethō's history introduced the system of XXX dynasties around which Egyptian history is still structured -- as Romer eventually gets around to admitting on page 37 of his book, without having previously mentioned the man, or explaining much about him, apart from the epithet "scholar priest."

So why would Romer say something so obviously false that a reader could detect the error from Romer's own later statements? Well, Manethō wrote in Greek. This seems to have thrown Romer for a loop. Greeks wrote in Greek. Which would seem to make Manethō one of Romer's "Classical authors," even though he wasn't. The confusion and muddle just get worse:

Many of the cartouches on the Turin sculptures named monarchs of Mantheo's Eighteenth and Nineteenth royal dynasties -- names that Greek historians had long since given classical forms such as Amenhotep, Tuthmosis and Ramesses, along with typical classical histories. [p.41]

But "Greek historians" did not give the names of Egyptian Kings "classical forms," since those are mostly due to Manethō himself, with a few already mentioned by Herodotus, who got them from (Greek speaking) Egyptian priests, among which "Amenhotep" does not occur, since this is one of the modern speculative names, unknown to the Egyptians or Greeks, who used Ἀμενωφίς, etc. -- a muddle within a muddle for Romer. And Romer himself, as we have seen, still uses "Ramesses," Ῥαμεσσῆς. What's more, there are no "typical classical histories" of Egypt.

Greek and Roman authors wrote a lot about Egypt, but they didn't write histories of Egypt, since they already had Manethō for that, and they had no access to Egyptian historical sources, which were in Egyptian, which no Greek or Roman author that we know of actually knew or could read. Herodotus mentions a priest showing him a scroll with the list of the Kings of Egypt, but no later historian that I know of ever mentioned such a thing again, let alone recounts how he was able to consult anything of the sort. Almost all Greek and Roman writers had only the most confused, erroneous, and even absurd ideas about the nature of Egyptian writing, which later inhibited the decipherment of hieroglyphics, since the most absurd ideas were perpetuated.

John Romer clearly knows about Manethō of Sebennytus but has not come to terms with who he was or what he did. Manethō was not an Egyptian writing in Egyptian, but he was also not a Greek writing in Greek. This seems to defeat the categories of Romer's understanding. Was Manethō a "classical author"? Well, yes and no. He wrote in Greek but was, in every other identifiable way, an Egyptian. Unable to sort this out, it leads Romer into confused or fallacious statements, or unwarranted disdain for names like "Sesostris."

The peculiarities of Romer's treatment continue. Thus, he says:

Perhaps it was a combination of those colossal pyramids and judgements such as that which describe the royal statuary as possessing a 'remote and divine perfection' that first promoted the now-common notion that, like Hernan Cortés and Captain Cook, pharaohs such as Khafre had been regarded as living gods. Yet the notion of pharaonic divinity is as unsubstantiated as the modern myths that have come to surround Cortés and Cook, and all are products of their proponents regarding alien cultures with a patronizing eye. [p.73]

Unfortunately, the Egyptians don't seem to have gotten the memo from John Romer, since they called the King , the "good god." I don't think there was anything "patronizing" about their usage. And there's more. The King is , the "flesh of the god." And we also get , the "god's wife," for a queen or consort. In light of this, no historian, or anyone, can be faulted for thinking that the Egyptians regarded their King as a god. They called him one. Maybe we get the message. The pyramids, as the largest tombs ever built, whose construction remains mysterious and would be a challenge even for modern technology (it would certainly take a thousand years to build the Great Pyramid at the rate with which public works are done in New York City), do no more than reinforce the impression we would get from the Egyptian terminology. Romer, dismissing the pyramids, does not mention or discuss the linguistic evidence.

This all should make us suspicious of Romer. He would rather blame the "patronizing eye" of the West, full of "Orientalists" (and perhaps Nazis), belittling "alien cultures," than acknowledge the obvious about the Egyptians.
the Shōwa Emperor, 1926-1989,
Coronation Robes
Romer may be the one with difficulty understanding "alien cultures." Perhaps it might help if he noticed that the Emperor of Japan was also a god, , until 1945. This was an issue, understood by all, which delayed the surrender of Japan in World War II. Now there are pointless scholarly quibbles about whether really means "god" or whether the Japanese Emperor should even be called in "emperor," which are indeed beside the point.

The ali'i or nobility that ruled Hawai'i encompassed a range of sacred status. The most sacred ali'i could not be viewed by commoners, on pain of death. A herald announced the coming of such an ali'i so that everyone could be warned, and avoid looking. An actual death would have been administred by attendants or guards. This did not necessarily make these nobles or kings gods, but we also see this same custom in the case of the Japanese Emperors, who were not supposed to be directly viewed by commoners -- although we don't hear of death as a penalty for doing so. Emperor Hirohito never intentionally addressed the Japanese public until his surrender message, which many had trouble understanding, since it was expressed in a unique and unfamliar Court language. The Hawaiian feature of death, however, does occur in Egypt, where an accidental touch of the King's person was thought to be fatal, without an immediate counter-blessing.

And with Egypt there is more. The pyramids, and all later royal tombs, were part of a building project that always included a memorial temple for the King. This was adjacent to the King's pyramid; but in later centuries, at Thebes, with the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, the mortuary temples were out at the edge of cultivated ground, as the pyramids had been themselves. The most complete example of a later temple is the one for Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, where we get the added element of the surviving foundation of the royal residence right next to the temple. Ramesses III lived there. We can see where his shower was. And he was probably assassinated there. In any case, the existence of such mortuary temples through the ages signifies the postumous worship of the King, where the perpetuity of the rites was secured through dedicated lands and a permanent priesthood and staff. You only do that for gods.

Even better, there is the great rock-cut temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel (Abū Sinbal). As we face the inner sanctuary, there are four figures:  the gods Ptah, Rē, and Amun, and Ramesses himself, right next to Amun -- shoving Rē off to the side. Thus, the King is a figure of devotion and worship, with the gods, not a priest or worshiper facing them. Even better, on the outer face of the temple are four colossal figures. Not like the four inner figures, but all of the King himself. He embodies all the deities of the temple and is multiplied to their number.

Romer discusses the mortuary temples in some detail, since they can hardly be ignored, but he obviously does not grasp the significance of their presence, even as he shows us an image of offerings being made to a living King, Den of the I Dynasty, which apparently accomplish no more than "provisioning the living court" [p.75]. So the King is some sort of unloading and stocking supervisor. There must be a clipboard under his flail, ready for a job at Walmart.

Before moving on, let me do some nit picking and note an anachronism in Romer's usage. Neither Khafre nor Den was a "pharaoh," because that term, , which had meant the palace, was not used for the King until the XVIII Dynasty. Romer uses it quite generally, with no more than a brief gloss about it (vocalized per'a) on page 58. Part of this may be Romer's distaste for the word "king," which, "in the modern sense," seems to be not Egyptian enough. While this usage of "Pharaoh" is quite common, and we can hardly fault Romer for it, the only problem is that Romer does not provide the caution and perspective that I just have done. Television shows can merrily skip such details, but it should have been his duty as a historian to clue his readers in.

So if the divinity of Egyptian kings was no more than one of these "products of their proponents regarding alien cultures with a patronizing eye," how does Romer think the Egyptians regarded their Kings? He tells us:

And pharaoh was the focus of this state, the fulcrum of that system which served and supplied the households of the court in life and death. So the essential office of the man sitting at the centre of this system -- King Khafre and his hawk, his antecedents and successors -- is best described in modern terms [sic] as that of a sacerdotal priest, the single figure whose offices in life and death penetrated and synchronized the energies contained within the ancient valley of the lower Nile and placed them in the service of his people. [p.76]

The concepts here of the "state," "energies," and of "service of his people" and of the "households of the court," are all things unknown to the Egyptians. And I doubt that anyone in the Court of an Egyptian King believed that the purpose of the royal office was that of a Sugar Daddy to provide them with a living in the style to which they had become accustomed. An Enlightened Despot in the "service" of the people and the state seems to be an Enlightenment idea. The "state" itself, of course, is something reified by Hegel, "whose terms and concepts later served to ratify the underlying character of Hitler's Third Reich." So Romer should have been wary of this. The King of Egypt did not need to say L'état c'est moi, because the Egyptians had really not yet imagined a possible separation.

But the real chestnut here is the King as a "sacerdotal priest," perhaps like the Pope -- although few would call such an office anything remotely in "modern terms." Not to mince words, this is absurd. It would also be insulting to Nietzsche. A King typically portrayed as ready to bash in the head of an enemy -- a mace is a lovely weapon -- is not going to strike anyone as the sort of emasculated and scheming being, a priest, whose power is through fictions and deceptions, like, according to Nietzsche, the Jews -- or all priests according to Protestantism, whose background with Nietzsche cannot be ignored. The Babylonian Kings, who were priestly enough to "take the hand of Marduk," were never called gods, nor buried, nor worshiped like them.

Thus, chosing to ignore the obvious about the status of the King of Egypt, Romer makes it up, in the very "modern terms" that he has already warned us are inapplicable to the Egyptians. And now, where is the King portrayed, represented, or characterized as a priest? I think that the answer is "nowhere," but then Romer doesn't favor us with anything like examples or evidence. The Kings of Egypt, to be sure, performed some priestly functions, such as performing rites for burying their fathers, but where Egyptian priests, like Buddhist monks, are typically shown with shaven heads, wear distinctive clothing, and observe pollution taboos actually recounted by Herodotus, the Kings in their proper office look nothing like that. And, unlike Julius II or Shingen Takeda, no Egyptian priest rode into battle.

This all is Romer's own interpretation, which, according to Michel Foucault, or Wittgenstein, both of whom Romer has favorably quoted, can be anything. And, apparently, it is. This is a shame, since otherwise Romer has a great deal to contribute about Egypt -- at least he wasn't, mercifully, pulling this stuff on us in Ancient Lives.


Index of Egyptian History

Philosophy of History

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Index of Egyptian History, Note 1

As I have considered in detail elsewhere, we have a valuable piece of evidence in the Akkadian transciption of one of the names of King Amenhotep III, i.e. , Nbmꜣꜥtrꜥ, which appears in the Amarna Archives as Nimmuarīa or Nibmuarīa.

For my purposes here, this reveals a couple of important things. One is that the word for "truth," mꜣꜥt, , "maat" (simply written with the goddess of Truth, as we see at right), appears as mua and has obviously lost its feminine "t" ending. This means that the loss of "t" is not a late phenomenon of Coptic but already is active in the New Kingdom. In Coptic, the word is reduced to ⲙⲏⲉ, ⲙⲉⲉ, or even ⲙⲉ, with the latter now a homophone for one form of the verb "to love," , which otherwise may be ⲙⲉⲓ or retain the "r" as ⲙⲉⲣⲉ.

The other point is the vowel in the name of the god Rꜥ, , Rē. This is Ⲣⲏ in Coptic -- hence the transcription that I use. However, because of the lack of written vowels in Egyptian, and the convention of transcribing what would be the Arabic ʿayn with "a," the name of the god is frequently given as "Ra."

That has nothing to do with what the vowel was -- although "ra" is indeed the Tahitian word for "sun." From the Akkadian transcription Rīa, however, we know that the central vowel was a long "i." So "sun" and the sun god in Egyptian was Rīꜥ. The extra "a" in Akkadian may reflect a practice in Egyptian, as it is in Hebrew and Arabic, of supplying an "a" to make the final guttural consonant easier to pronounce -- a.

The most familiar word where this happens is in the Hebrew word for "Messiah," מָשִׁיחַ. This looks like it ought to be read Māšīḥa; but the final short "a" is read before the last consonant, as Māšīaḥ, for the reason just given. The same word in Arabic is مَسِيح, Masīḥ. This does not write an extra vowel, but in pronunciation one always hears it, sometimes even with emphasis: as in رُوح, a, the imperative "Go!," the sort of word one often hears with emphasis, as at the main taxi stand in Damascus. Greek, of course, Μεσσίας, doesn't need to worry about gutteral Semitic consonsants, and the final alpha may just be for the added nominal inflection.

Thus, the reconstructed pronunciation of Kīma or Kīmǝ for "Egypt" reflects the loss of the "t" and the presence of an Egyptian long "i" for the long "e" in Coptic. The only question is whether the final vowel was reduced or not.

Return to Text

Index of Egyptian History, Note 2

Perhaps here the exception proves the rule. We have a complete city in Egypt, one which was not swept away by the Nile floods. Indeed, it was built entirely from scratch, de novo, and then abandoned not long after it was created. This was the pristine new capital of the "heretic" King Akhenaton, which he called the "Horizon of Aton," , Aḫet-Aton, named after his new, personal, unique solar god. Today, it tends to be called after the modern name of the location, "Amarna," a name that is used for the period, the religion, the art, and the culture associated with Akhenaton's reign.

Akhetaton tells us a lot. Like other capitals built from scratch, including Washington, D.C., New Delhi, Chandigarh (in the Punjab), and Brazilia, it tells us what its builders thought a city should be like. So Akhetaton, built in the 14th century BC, long before the existence of coined money or cash economies, shows how the Egyptians conceived of cities at the time -- far outside the period allowed by John Romer for "a city in the modern sense of that word." And a proper city it is, with different quarters alloted for different social and economic functions.

So if John Romer's thesis is that cities cannot exist "in the modern [or even ancient] sense of that word" before a cash economy, not only is this falsified by all the cities of the Middle East, India, China, Mexico, Peru, etc., and apparently by records of all the other cities of Egypt, but it is refuted by a tangible Egyptian city whose idealized plan, as actually built, still survives for our direct inspection.

The preservation of the diplomatic archive at Akhetaton, with correspondence from the Babylonian Kings and others, opens a remarkable window on the contemporary history of the whole Middle East.

Return to Text

Index of Egyptian History, Note 3;
"Money's Murky Origins"

Mayan Market activity, Pyramid at Calakmul, Mexico, 7th Century;
tamale dough traded for bowl of chocolate

As luck would have it, recent arguments about the origin of money have been discussed in "Money's Murky Origins," by Bruce Bower, in Science News [Volume 194, No. 3, August 4, 2018, pp.16-21], with some information relevant to Romer's thesis about markets, money, and cities. Thus:

In the 1500s, Spaniards wrote of observing a thriving system of markeplaces in societies stretching from Mexico to Central America, including the Aztecs and the Maya. Spanish chroniclers describe currencies, most prominently cacao beans and woven cloth, that were widely used to buy goods, pay taxes and debts, calculate monetary values and store family wealth. [p.18]

Of course, Romer could then argue that they had money, i.e. the "cacao beans and woven cloth"; but, of course, this involved commodities that were neither precious metals nor coinages thereof. The use of beans and cloth clearly bespeaks market arrangements originally based on barter, with a gradual focus on particular commodities that became standard media of exchange. We get more information about this:

Researchers have long suspected that Maya marketplaces and merchants plus various goods used as currencies appeared as early as around 1100, after the fall of Classic Maya civilization's kings and city-states. Evidence now suggests, however, that such perishable forms of money appeared even earlier, during the Classic Maya heyday, from 250 to 900.

Converting various items into legal tender "occurred in ancient America, not just in Europe," says Kathryn Sampeck, an anthropological archaeologist at Illinois State University in Normal [note, coins were creatd in Lydia, which was on mainland Asia, not in "Europe"]. Consider a set of mid-seventh century murals discovered about a decade ago in a small pyramid at Calakmul in Mexico [see image above]. These scenes illustrate marketplace exchanges at a powerful Classic Maya center that controlled a string of satellite sites (SN [Science News] Online: 4/17/18). Calakmul's painted pyramid sat in the middle of an open area that included a large marketplace, archaeologists suspect.

Murals on the pyramid's walls depict people of different social classes, as indicated by their clothes and jewelry, apparently exchanging tamales, tobacco and pottery. Several painted scenes show woven cloth of various sizes and colors displayed for exchange. One painting portrays a woman wearing the simple clothes of a villager offering what's probably a mug of hot chocolate to a man in exchange for tamale dough.

Over the next few decades, as Maya rulers demanded cacao and textiles as tribute payments, a kind of tax collection from subjects, the two products became currencies with standard values... [pp.19-20]

Despite the idea that cacao and textiles became standard media of exchange, the article also features an image (at right) of "An Aztec tribute, or tax-collection, list... including jade beads, bird feathers, cacao and jaguar pelts" [p.18]. Thus the Aztecs, much later than the Maya, despite perhaps favoring cacao beans and woven cloth (or prisoners for sacrifice) for tribute, taxes, or money, still cast a much broader net of commodities for their value in exchange.

All this falsifies the thesis of John Romer. The Maya markets never saw any coinage of precious metals and even antedate the use of standard perishable commodities as conventional media of exchange. The currency of exchange emerged from the markets, as something already in actual use for barter, and eventually became convenient for payments that rulers expected to receive. The pyramid scenes, which we don't get in Egypt, illustrate the contents and the workings of the Maya markets.

While Egyptian markets would not have featured tamales or chocolate, we have a nice list of things that the Eloquent Peasant was taking to market, many of which we don't even know how to translate:

...reeds, redemet plants, natron, salt, sticks from [Hes]tiu, wood from Farafran, panther hides, jackal hides, nesha plants, 'anw stones, tenem plants, khprwr plants, s3hwt plants, míswt plants, snt stones, 'bw stones, ibs3 plants, ínbí plants, pigeons, n'rw birds, wgsw birds, wbn plants, tbsw plants, gngnt, shní-t3, and ínst -- a full (load) of all the good products of the Field of Salt. [The Eloquent Peasant, Loren R. Fisher, Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, 2015, p.6; orthography and bracketed text in original; manuscript references deleted]

Thus, according to John Romer, markets allow for cities and urban population, which then Egypt would have had, pace Romer, from its earliest days.

Return to Text

Another Treatment of "Money's Murky Origins"

Index of Mesopotamian
and Ancient Middle Eastern History

Mesopotamia, Μεσοποταμία, is "between" (or in the middle of, μέσος, mesos) the "rivers" (ποταμοί, potamoí; singular ποταμός, potamós). Those are the Tigris, ἡ Τίγρις, and the Euphrates, ἡ Εὐφράτης. These rivers arise near each other in the mountains of Anatolia, Ἀνατολία. The Tigris, to the east, runs more or less straight down to the Persian Gulf. The Euphrates, to the west, wanders off further to the west for a while. The large plain between the two rivers in the north is the , jazīra, the "island," or the , nahrain, the "two rivers," in Arabic -- but a name that already existed in Egyptian, in the same form, as . This area is now divided between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The historic kingdom actually based in the jazīra was

Just below midcourse, the rivers approach each other. In this area one finds the historic cities of Babylon, Seleucia, Ctesiphon, and Baghdad, progressing roughly from south to north. Babylon was on the Euphrates, the later cities all on the Tigris. Below these cities, the rivers spread out again before merging into the , Šaṭṭ al-ʿArab river, which flows into the Gulf. In Ancient times, the Gulf came up further north and the Šaṭṭ al-ʿArab didn't exist.

This southern area between the rivers, lying entirely in modern Iraq, (ʿIrāq, "root," "beginning"), constituted ancient Sumer or Sumeria. In turn, Akkad, which conquered Sumeria under Sargon, straddled the rivers north and south of their middle course convergence. Sumer and Akkad together become Babylonia. The Tigris valley north of this becomes the heartland of Assyria.

Assyria frequently sought to expand across the jazīra and eventually conquered not only Babylonia but the Levant, the mountains to the north and east of Assyria, and, briefly, even distant Egypt. The Persian Empire finally encompased all this area, including the Iranian plateau and central Asia.

This index covers ancient Mesopotamia down to Alexander the Great, and the culturally related nearby states in Anatolia, the Levant, and Iran. Egyptian history is indexed separately. Geographically, Yemen is rather out of place; but since it is frequently overlooked, it is included here as a reminder.

Kings of Sumer and Akkad

Philosophy of History

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The Archaic or
Early Dynastic Period of Egypt

The Archaic Period
Dynasty Zero
"Scorpion" (II?)c.3100?
I Dynasty,
of ,
Men, "Menes"
c.2870?Abydos, Saqqara?
Djer, Zer2870-2823Abydos, Saqqara?
Djet, Uadji2822-2815Abydos, Saqqara?
Den, Udimu2814-2772Abydos, Saqqara?
Anedjib, Enezib,
2771-2764Abydos, Saqqara?
Qaꜥa, Kaꜥa2755-2732Abydos, Saqqara?
The trouble with the earliest days of Egyptian history is that there isn't much history. We know from pictorial representations, like the Naꜥrmer Palette, as well as from later sources, that Upper Egypt was conquering Lower Egypt. The details, however, are lost. It has even taken a while to identify the king who traditionally was said to be the first king of a united Egypt, Mēnēs, Μήνης (in Greek).

Naꜥrmer, evidently assuming the distinctive crown of Lower Egypt on the Naꜥrmer Palette, was a good candidate; but then a tablet of Horus ꜥAḥaꜣ appears to use the hieroglyph , mn, "endure," as a name. Although the argument about this has been going on for years, it looks like more people than not now accept that this is where the name "Mēnēs" comes from, and that Horus ꜥAḥaꜣ was the first king of a united Egypt, as understood by those later making up the King Lists.

A version of the name of Horus ꜥAḥaꜣ that we see attested has the Horus hawk reaching right into the serekh to grasp the shield and mace of the "warrior" glyph. This is an extraordinary design and does not seem to be repeated, although the glyph in question provides a nice opportunity for it. It also perhaps implies that "Horus" is not just a title, but part of the name of the King. This will come up again with the goddess Neith below.

Naꜥrmer and the previous "Scorpion," , king are given in "Dynasty Zero" -- probably much the horror of ordinalists everywhere -- although the line of kings, apparently one family, is certain to antedate the unification of the country. "Mēnēs" does not need to start the Dynasty, just as the XI Dynasty straddles local Theban rulers and those who reunited the whole country. This argument over names is complicated by the incomplete development of heiroglyphic writing at the time. Partaking as much of the nature of cartoons as of linguistic representation, Egyptian writing at this point poses many of the same problems of interpretation as Aztec codices --- although we now know that Mayan glyphs are entirely phonetic. A sense of the pictograph nature of the glyphs perhaps explains why the Scorpion King keeps being called "Scorpion" rather than by the (later) Egyptian word for the animal.

The "Scorpion" King has recently become the subject of fantastic ahistorical movies (e.g. The Mummy Returns, 2001, and The Scorpion King, 2002) and is a matter of increasing archaeological interest with some new discoveries. There may even have been more than one Scorpion King, with an earlier Scorpion I as long ago as 3250 BC. With a "Scorpion" tomb at Abydos, it may be that this traditional city of Osiris united Upper Egypt by conquering the power, perhaps of the god Seth, based in the city of Naqāda, across the great bend in the Nile from which the Coptos road leads to the Red Sea. The relationship of this conflict to the later twin capitals of Nekhen and Nekheb (Hieraconpolis and El Kāb), further up the River, is more obscure. That tomb itself has yielded matter that may be of revolutionary importance. Precursors of writing, abundant in Mesopotamia, have hitherto been missing in Egypt. Now the Scorpion King has provided them, with what look like many small pictorial tabs, very unlike in form and material from what existed in Sumer. Hopefully new discoveries will expand on this novel window into Egyptian pre-history.

The map here shows cities in the Nile Delta from many periods of Egyptian history. The cities marked with glyphs also figure in the, probably fantastic but suggestive, analysis of the structure of Egyptian tombs by Christiane Desroches- Noblecourt. See the maps of the Nomes for other details.

All these kings are titled "Horus." The queens, on the other hand, seem to be titled "Neith," after the goddess , familiar at Sais (Σάις), , in later centuries. This has overtones of a political marriage between an Upper Egyptian king and a Lower Egyptian princess; but this inference is about as far as we can go with it. On the other hand, this does give us a clue about the early importance of Sais, which thus stands at the beginning, as perhaps the capital of Lower Egypt, and the end, as the capital of the XXVI Dynasty, of Egyptian history.

W.B. Emery shows us the names of two "Neith" Queens of the I Dynasty, Nithotep and Meryet-nit, based on jar-seals from their tombs, and a funeral stela [Archaic Egypt, Pelican, Penguin Books, 1961, 1963, pp.49 & 65]. It is a little hard to tell what we are seeing. The cult symbol of Neith would later be bows, especially two bows bound together, as we see in the glyph "nt" in the serekh at left, and in the names of the 4th and 5th Nomes of Lower Egypt. In these early representations, we seem to get crossed arrows instead, often across what may be a shield. That is how I have reproduced the image, in the serekhs at left and below right.

The images we see in Emery, however, as above right, are ambiguous. In the name of Nithotep (or Neith-hotep) the crossed arrows are plain enough, but they may be fixed to a staff rather than a shield, a staff that extends down through the serekh and bisects the space. We also see this in the name of Meryet-nit, which I have partially reproduced in the name at lower right. Most revealing also is that perhaps the crossed-arrow standard itself counts as the name of Neith, just as "Horus" is included in the Horus names of the Kings. Thus, the serekh of Nithotep actually need not have the name of Neith in it, as I have constructed it, but Neith is part of the serekh itself.

What is in each of the bisected spaces in the name of Nithotep remains puzzling, since neither looks like the glyph for "hotep" and one of them seems to be a bird. Emery does not explain how he interprets this. Alan Gardiner, however, does explain the "hotep" gylph as a "loaf... on a reed-mat" [Egyptian Grammar, Oxford, 1927, 1964, p.501, R4], where it is impossible to tell how one gets a "reed-mat" from the image. Perhaps the glyph on the left of the name of Nithotep is an archaic form of that. The bird is unexplained.

Emery's image for Meryet-nit seems less problematic. The glyph for "love" is simply repeated on each side. The image on the Meryet-nit stela is even more striking, with a fuller version of the "love" glyph (a hoe) to the left of what might well be a shield, a figure-eight shield, tied to a standard, with the crossed arrows over it, as in this glyph, , which is included in the "Hieroglyphica" font [T63b; but this is missing in Bill Petty's Egyptian Glyphary, Museum Tours Press, 2012, index on p.292, where we jump from T35 to T81]. An identical image, remarkably, is something we see repeated on the back of a chair found in the mysterious tomb of Hetepheres, the mother of King Khufu, at Giza (i.e. the tomb seems intact, but the mummy is missing). We see the standard of Neith, much as it is in another glyph from Hieroglyphica, [T63a]. The wood of the chair is modern, but the gilt decoration is original, reapplied to the new wood. The result is stunning, and it is also striking the Neith is still so strongly associated with a IV Dynasty queen.

Assembling T63b and R12, which Alan Gardiner says is a "standard for carrying religious symbols," "accompanying various ideograms for gods" [Egyptian Grammar, Oxford, 1927, 1964, p.520], and coloring it turqoise, we get a close equivalent of what is on the chair of Hetepheres.

The cult symbol of Neith as crossed arrows, with a figure-eight shield, occurs later associated with the goddess Athena in Mycenaean Linear B tablets. The identity of the two goddesses is mentioned by Plato, "a goddess whose Egyptian name is Νηΐθ [Nēith], and in Greek, as they assert, Ἀθήνη [Athēnā]" [Timaeus 21e]. Since goddesses such as Athena are, one suspects, pre-Greek, even Minoan, an ancient connection between Crete and the Egyptian Delta is not beyond consideration. How Plato would know, or guess, about this is a good question, and what it would mean for the substratum of Egyptian and Minoan culture is even better.

When W.B. Emery excavated the I Dynasty necropolis at Saqqara, , just outside the new capital at Memphis, , he thought he had found royal tombs of the period. Since I Dynasty royal tombs were also known from Abydos, , Greek Ἄβυδος, Coptic Ⲁⲃⲱⲧ, Arabic , the sacred city of Osiris, this posed a difficulty. Emery concluded that the Abydos tombs, which often were smaller, were cenotaphs, created out of deference for the sacred and traditional location, near what Manetho gives as the native city of the I Dynasty, Thinis.

The Saqqara tombs are flat and oblong, "maṣṭaba," , tombs, with a distinctive, palace-like and Sumerian looking façade -- which we also see in the serekh, , or the square frame, topped by the hawk of Horus, for the name of the king. Some of the tombs seem to include the burial of retainers, killed to attend the king in the afterlife, like similar practices in contemporary Sumer (and later in Shang China).

However, opinion now seems to have swung against the Saqqara tombs being the actual royal burials, or even having been royal tombs at all, and attribution has been made for some of them to specific Court individuals. To me, this seems stranger than the idea that there were cenotaphs at Adydos (or that the Saqqara tombs are cenotaphs) -- where Abydos tombs themselves seem to have sacrificial burials of retainers.

To have people, even royal relatives, building great (for the period) tombs, larger than the royal tombs, within sight of the capital of Egypt, seems wholly bizarre and out of line with all later Egyptian (or any monarchical) practice. It would be lèse majesté, of a particularly severe sort, when the Kings are divine. That III Dynasty royal tombs are at Saqqara is unquestioned, and it was always thought that the wall around Djoser's pyramid complex was simply the distinctive façade of the I Dynasty tombs made large (or a version of the White Walls of Memphis), with the Step Pyramid itself based on stacked maṣṭabas.

What gave Imhotep the idea to build a Royal tomb as a maṣṭaba if this had not been done already? Thus, if the maṣṭabas at Saqqara were the Royal tombs, we simply have continuity. If not, then a whole architectural style for royal tombs was conjured up de novo. Of course, something like the latter happened anyway, since Djoser's tomb was not finished as a maṣṭaba but as a pyramid. But we must wonder, did Imhotep just walk out the gate of Memphis one day, see the maṣṭabas, and say, "I think that the King's tomb should be rather like those tombs, which otherwise, however impressive, with the Royal façade and all, are not at all Royal tombs from the I Dynasty"?

Now this comparison, of I Dynasty maṣṭaba with III Dynasty maṣṭaba, with informed opinion, would seem to lapse, unless the I Dynasty tombs represent something upon which everyone has failed to reckon. I await developments, or more reasonable arguments.

II Dynasty,
of ,
Raneb, Nebrec.2700
Neteren, Nynetjer, Ninetjer2700-2660
Seth-Peribsen, Perabsen
Sendji?Weneg? & Sened?
Khaꜥsekhem, Khaꜥsekhemui2610-2593
Something serious seems to have happened in the transition from the I to the II Dynasty, but we are at a loss to say what it was. The line of tombs at Saqqara abruptly ends, and the epigraphic sources, miserable as they were, become more so. So there seems to be some kind of compromise to the authority or the power of the Kngs. The Dynasty begins with a curious name.

The name of the first King we see at right. This is the "Horus" name of the King, something that is used by all Kings throughout Egyptian history, but is both the primary name in the Archaic Period and very much a secondary name later. The "Horus" name is written in a box, a serekh, , featuring the "palace" façade that seems to reflect Sumerian influence and that we find featured on the I Dynasty tombs at Saqqara, and on the walls around Djoser's III Dynasty pyramid. This is one reason why it is hard to believe that the Saqqara tombs are not Royal tombs. The most familiar name of a King, later on, is the "Son of Re," , name, called the "Nomen" -- as with "Thutmose," "Ramesses," "Tutankhamon," etc. Coupled with this is the "King of Upper and Lower Egypt (the Sedge and the Bee)," , name, called the "Prenomen," because it is given first ("Nebkheperure" for Tutankhamon). The terms "Prenomen" and "Nomen" reflect classic practice, since the "King of Upper and Lower Egypt" was the title used first and dominated from the IV Dynasty to the V Dynasty, when the "Son of Re" title was introduced and gradually predominated during the VI Dynasty. Meanwhile, the actual name of Hotepsekhemui means "The Two Powers are at Peace." What "two powers" are those?

Soon an indication emerges. The fourth king, Sekhemib, , abandons his name and Horus title and becomes a "Seth" king with a new name, Peribsen, . The serekh is now topped by the dog of Seth rather than the hawk of Horus. This could reasonably be taken to indicate some kind of religious conflict or revolution. One might think this would involve some kind of resistance from Lower Egypt, unhappy with its conquest, but the centers of both cults seem to have been in Upper Egypt, where the 5th Nome retains the name of Horus, and the 11th that of Seth, for the rest of Egyptian history.

No contemporary evidence of the next three (or whatever) kings occurs, not even their names -- with a suspicious lack of Horus names in the King Lists. This can be taken to mean that they never existed, or it could be taken to mean that the country was so disrupted that too little in the kings' names, at the time, was made to survive.

The Dynasty ends with another interesting turn. Two names occur, , "Khaꜥsekhem," "The Power Arises," and , "Khaꜥsekhemui," "The Two Powers Arise." The serekh of Khaꜥsekhemui is uniquely topped by both Horus hawk and Seth dog. The inference is irresistable that Khaꜥsekhem restored the country with a compromise and fusion between the two cults or factions, changing his name to reflect this. The restoration seems to have worked, but not the fusion, since the III Dynasty immediately begins with strong rule but not a hint of Seth again as a royal title. With such mysterious and tantalizing clues, our frustration at the limited evidence is considerable.

The glyph of the Seth dog, which animal may have been a species or variety that has become extinct, henceforth was used as a determinative in words for "turmoil, confusion, destroy, interfere, disturb, rage, storm, disaster," and even just "foul weather." And Seth was unavoidable as the murderer of his brother Osiris. Since Egyptian religion featured the moral ambivalence characteristic of mythic thought, Seth was not a lesser god for this, and he returned, with perhaps a Semitic overlay, as the patron deity of the XIX Dynasty. The violence of Seth could be associated with war, which was essential to the State, although he was never really a war god; and in daily life he could be associated with violent personalities.

The chronology of this period is largely speculative. The figures given are now largely from Kevin L. Johnson & Bill Petty, The Names of the Kings of Egypt, The Serekhs and Cartouches of Egypt's Pharaohs, along with Selected Queens [Museum Tours Press, 2011, 2012]. They gives us totals of about 170 years for the I Dynasty (about 21 years per reign) and 137 years for the II Dynasty (17 or 27 years per reign). Peter A. Clayton [Chronicle of the Pharaohs, Thames and Hudson, 1994] has 210 years for each dynasty, which adds up to about 23 years per reign for the I Dynasty and 26 years per reign for the II Dynasty -- but leaving out the three questionable kings of the II Dynasty raises that to 42 years per reign. This compares with averages of 18 years per reign for the IV Dynasty, 17 for the V, 26 for the XII, 20 for the XVIII, 14 for the XIX, and only 10 for the XX. The average length of reign in the VI Dynasty is anomalous, 40 years, because of small number of kings and the unusual reign of Pepi II.

Thus, 23 (or 21) years for the I Dynasty is possible, but seems optimistic. On the other hand, 26 years per reign for the II Dynasty sounds suspicious, while 42 years, with the three kings left out (whose reigns must have been short anyway), is really impossible given the unsettled nature of the times and absence of indication, let alone the probablity, of another reign as long as Pepi II. Johnson & Petty's average of 17 or 27 years for the II Dynasty overlaps Clayton's average 26 or 42 -- where the low 17 seems like the most likely number. A reasonable device would be to use an average of 20 years for the I Dynasty and 15 years for the II. This would put the beginning of the II Dynasty at 2800 and the I Dynasty at 2980, which are a little earlier than Johnson & Petty now have it. Lengths of 180 years for the I Dynasty and 120 for the II are in the range of variation for Old Kingdom dynasties.

Apart from Johnson & Petty and Clayton, the treatment here is based on W.B. Emery, Archaic Egypt [Penguin, 1961] and Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford, 1966]. A more recent treatment can also be found in Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt [Thames & Husdon, 2004]. Dodson and Hilton begin the I Dynasty in 3150 and end the II Dynasty in 2584, providing no other dates -- all together much, much too long for the period. The three obscure Kings of the II Dynasty they combine as "Weneg" and "Sened" (as noted in the table) and have Peribsen following rather than preceding them (as Johnson & Petty also have it). They assert that Djoser, first King of the III Dynasty, was the son of Khaꜥsekhemui, I know not why.

Egyptian History Continued

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Philosophy of History

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Copyright (c) 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2017, 2018, 2019 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Kings of Sumer and Akkad

Dynasty I of Kish
21 Kings since the Flood
Etana the Herdsmanc.2750
A book by Samuel Noah Kramer is titled History Begins at Sumer [Doubleday Anchor, 1959]. This is true, but, as with early
Egyptian history, it is a vague and frustrating kind of history, with fragmentary or legendary literary sources, and without the succession of hard monuments that become the signposts of time in Egypt -- which even in Egypt at the time are without the epigraphic information so familiar from later. Sumer also has less of a presence than Egypt because it was politically fragmented into city states -- none with the concentrated power that enabled Khufu to make sure that he would never be forgotten.

Sumer or Sumeria are the names we use for this earliest nation. These words have no apparent connection, however, to the name of Sumer in Sumerian, which was Kiengir, expressed as in cuneiform -- a name never heard now except in passing references like this. In later forms of the signs, down to the Neo-Assyrian Period, this could be written , , or . The name of Sumer that we use now comes from the Akkadian name of the place, Shumer, phonetically written , in Akkadian. As the Sumerian language died out, and Akkadian evolved into Babylonian and Assyrian, their Semitic name eclipsed the original one.

Dynasty I of Uruk
Here dynasties are given for Kish, Uruk, Ur, and Lagash. The early history of all these cities is mythologized in later documents. Thus, Gilgamesh might be regarded as a purely legendary figure if he did not also occur in the ordinary king lists. How much the historical Gilgamesh has to do with the legendary one is anyone's guess. Certainly, seducing the virgins would be a temptation for many later monarchs, and politicians. There is also some trouble, as in Egypt, reading the names, since the pronunciation of the early ideograms is not always certain from later phonetic indications.

While Sumerian history is apparently older than Egypt, the earliest dates here, around 2900 BC -- with no confidence until around 2700 -- appear to be later that those given for Egypt in the Archaic Period, beginning around 3100 BC. This effect is the result of the fragmentary nature of Sumerian chronology and may reflect the overestimation of the length of the Egyptian I and II Dynasties. The "21 Kings since the Flood" of Kish would put us back substantially before 2700, if not before 2900 -- if the numbers bear any relation to reality -- while a more reasonable length for the Archaic Period puts the beginning of Egypt more like around 2900.

What is unavoidable is that we have little evidence apart from legend for early Sumerian history, despite the archaeological indications that writing may have begun as early as 3400 BC, while in Egypt there are actual tombs for many of the I and II Dynasty Kings, at Saqqara, Abydos, or both and the political event of the unification of Egypt looms large in the record, the archaeology, and memory. Egypt, as a unified Kingdom, unlike the continuing city states of Sumer, could then be focusing its collective efforts on its records and its monuments, as Sumer could not, with the full resources of a large, organized state directed to preserving the past. The shadowy events of the II Dynasty reveal how close we are there to complete ignorance.

Dynasty I of Ur
Dynasty II of UrEnannatum Ic.2425
Identical to Uruk II in
Roux 1964; "4 kings
(names unknown)" in
Roux 1992
Enannatum II
Archaeology has revealed a great depth to prehistory in Mesopotamia. Thus, the "Ubaid Period" is dated c.6500-3800, the following "Uruk Period," or "Protoliterate Period," from 4000 to 3100, and then the "Jemdat Nasr Period" from 3100 to 2900, which finally brings us to the "Early Dynastic Period" and our king lists. We can't match the archaeology to the king lists until we have some spectacular tombs from the I Dynasty of Ur -- spectactular, not for the tombs themselves, which now are all but invisible ruins, but for their contents, which include marvelous jewelry and even a harp, providing images of Sumerian life that are now a lifeline to our imagination about Sumer -- we never get the kind of vivid tomb paintings that we find in Egypt. There was enough gold to warm the heart of any grave robber, but the invisibility of the tombs certainly helped preserve them.

The obscurity of early Sumer is compounded by later misconceptions. The Biblical expression, "Ur of the Chaldees," although used by the great excavator of Ur, C. Leonard Woolley, for the title of a book about the city [Norton Library, 1965], is extremely anachronistic and misleading. Ur was originally a city of the Sumerians, not of the Chaldeans. The latter were actually Aramaeans, who did not appear in Mesopotamia until nearly a thousand years after the end of the Sumerians as a distinct linguistic community.

The Chaldeans dominated Mesopotamia in the "Neo-Babylonian" Period, not only long after the Sumerians but also long after any reasonable date for Abraham -- if Abraham came from "Ur of the Chaldees," this must be a different Ur, already Aramaean in Abraham's day, or it is just applying an anarchronistic epithet to a city that later was associated with the Chaldeans.
Dynasty II of Uruk
Dynasty III of Uruk

The Sumerian language itself was neither Semitic nor Indo-European, a representative of a now vanished pre-historic group of language isolates that also included the Elamite, Guti, Kassite, Hattic, Hurrian, and Urarṭuan languages. Some of these must have been related to each other, but there is so little information about many of them that such judgments are difficult. Since unaffiliated languages still exist nearby in the Caucasus (e.g. Georgian), we might wonder if there are living representatives related to the old languages -- although there are no less than three language families discernable in the Caucasus alone. Yet there is indeed a Sprachbund, where nearby languages, related or not, borrow features from each other. It is hard to imagine that a similar relationship didn't hold between Sumerian and, say, Elamite, as it certainly did between Sumerian and the Semitic language Akkadian.

The isolated nature of the Sumerian language has led many to speak about the "mystery" of the Sumerians. In a sea of Semitic languages, apparently, they must have come from someplace else; and since Dilmun, i.e. Baḥrain, looms large in their mythology, they must have come by sea, at least from Dilmun, but perhaps from much further away, like India, where we have the similarly isolated Dravidian languages.

But we might note that the more outré become the speculations about the Sumerians, the less notice we ever get that an identical "mystery" would apply to the Elamites, the Hurrians, etc., who betray no sense that they came from anywhere else. Indeed, if anything, Ground Zero still looks like the Caucasus, where we even have suspicions about the origin of Indo-European languages. It is the source and "homeland" of the Semitic languages that might seem to pose more of a "mystery." Instead, the vivid swathe of mysterious languages from Hattic to Elamite, extending into the Caucasus, should give us a clue that these are the autochthonous languages of the area, like Basque in Spain. The encroachment of Semitic and Indo-European languages gradually overwhelmed the autochthonous ones, everywhere but in the fastness of the northern mountains.

Dynasty II of Kish
[2 kings]
Dynasty III of Kish
Dynasty IV of Kish
Dynasty V of Kish
History begins at Sumer because the Sumerians were undoubtedly the first to have a functioning system of writing. The origins of this are now plausibly explained by Denise Schmandt-Besserat (cf. Before Writing, Volume I, From Counting to Cuneiform [University of Texas Press, 1992]). For purposes of accounting, contracts, shipping, etc., little clay models were made of the kinds of commodities involved. For convenience, these models were then placed in clay wrappers. Then, so that the contents of the wrappers could be known without breaking them, little drawings of the models began to put on the wrappers. Soon it became obvious that the little drawings by themselves made the models superfluous.

The stylization of the models had already produced a certain abstraction and stylization in the drawings, which thus became proto-cuneiform -- a system already pre-adapted to representing numbers as well as concepts. Since thousands of the clay models have been found, the evidence for the process is abundant. No such antecedents have been found in Egypt or India, where writing began soon after the Sumerian precedent -- although some indications have now been found in Egypt.

It is hard not to conclude that Sumerian influence, with the evidence of Sumerian artifacts to prove it -- and considerable actual Sumerian records about trade with India -- sparked the development of writing in those places. Where writing developed independently elsewhere, i.e China and the New World, Middle Eastern influence via Central Asia cannot be discounted on the former, while Mayan glyphs, only recently deciphered at all, had not progressed far, even three thousand years later, beyond the most basic versions of cuneiform or hieroglyphics. Nor were even the Aztecs still using the system at that level, while the Incas had no form of writing whatsoever. The achievement of the Sumerians thus represents a unique and pivotal moment in human history.

Recent documentaries I have watched about the origin of writing have completely ignored Schmandt-Besserat and her evidence. In the spirit of the times, I could attribute this neglect simply to sexism. But it is worse than that. Ignoring the archaeology is professional misconduct for historians, and yet Egyptologists and Assyriologists seem to prefer a silly dispute about who got writing first. Since this also involves ignoring India, perhaps it is racism also. But the archaeology used by Schmandt-Besserat cannot properly be ignored, and it is vivid and arresting. It was a breakthrough.

At the same time, the student of Egypt will find the visible material achievement of Sumeria disappointing. The pyramidal towers of Sumerian temples, the Ziggurats, are impressive, but not on the scale with the pyramids of Egypt, and made only from mud brick, now heavily eroded, and lacking the internal structure that is so rich a source of fantasies about Egypt. Indeed, the Egyptians had ready access to stone, while the Mespotamian civilizations, on the broad, flat plain of the Tigris and Euphrates, never would.

Only Assyria at its height would exercise the will and organization necessary to ornament its capitals with stonework, such as the great winged lions familiar from evocative etchings and museums. Yet even these were modest enough in scale that they disappeared from view until excavated in the 19th century. Xenophon marched right past Nineveh without noticing it was there.

At the same time, the excavation of the buried libraries of the Assyrian Kings revealed a mass of literature and knowledge surviving on clay tablets for which there was no counterpart in Egypt, with its more convenient, but far more perishable, papyrus records.
Dynasty of Akkad
Sharru-kīn, Sargon2371-2315/
Guti invasion, captures Guti King Sharlag, but Sumer & Akkad overrun, c.2193
This less dramatic but more substantive historical resource now suffers from the relative disinterest of the public, as gifted Assyriologists are unable to find academic or research positions and may find themselves required to change careers -- while some Egyptologists become kinds of international superstars, in both past (Howard Carter) and present (
Zahi Hawass).

Despite the epic and formative role of Sumer as the first of all human civilizations, the Sumerians were doomed by history to an early end. The first chill came from the Semitic speakers, the Akkadians, who lived immediately north of them. Sargon of Akkad united all of Mesopotamia for the first time, contemporaneous with the Egyptian VI Dynasty, embracing all of Sumeria and extending far up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Sargon's name, Sharru-kīn, means "the king is legitimate," an almost sure sign that he wasn't -- the story of his royal birth but childhood among commoners is similar to the story of Moses in the Bible or of Karṇa in the Mahābhārata, all of whom said they had been set adrift as infants and claimed a status opposite from what they started with. One of Sargon's successors also had a significant name:  Shar-kalli-sharri means "king of all kings." Shortened to just "king of kings," this became a standard title for later Urarṭuan, Assyrian, and then Persian monarchs. It even survived in Modern Persian as , Šāhanšāh.

The Akkadian "Empire"

Treatments of Mesopotamian history seem to have become very free with the idea of "empire." The working definiton now seems to just be that, if you conquer someone else and rule them, then you have an "Empire." This is basically very silly. The I Dynasty of Egypt conquered a vast land, from Aswan to the Mediterranean, but it is never called an "empire." Instead, the "national" unification of Egypt simply produces a national Kingship. Egypt starts getting called an "empire" when it extends its dominion into Nubia or, especially, Syria. Thus, we have the next definiton of "empire" as meaning the conquest of foreign peoples and holding their lands when they would rather have their own national government.

However well this might apply to Sargon conquering Sumeria, it produces an anomalous result when applied, say, to Japan, which clearly was a national monarchy and held no foreign territories until after the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). This then produces the silly and even insulting debate over whether it is proper to call the sovereign of Japan an "Emperor." This is not just silly but actually insulting because the Japanese themselves call their sovereign, when using European languages, "Emperor."

So what this entire discussion overlooks is that paradigmatic examples of "Empire," namely Rome and China, where there is undoubtedly foreign conquest, involve an inherent ideology of that kind of monarchy. And the essence of the ideology is simple enough:  Universal Rule. The Roman and Chinese Emperors claimed universal authority, what in China is applied to all "under heaven," . Anna Comnena, speaking of the reduced Roman Empire of the 12th century, nevertheless said:

For, being by nature the mistress [δεσπότις] of all the nations [ἐθνῶν], the empire [βασιλεία] of the Romans, holds them, hostilely, in a state of slavery [δοῦλον].

Even the relatively absurd Holy Rome Empire involved a claim of universal authority, derived directly from the universal authority of the Popes [note].

With the Sargonids, the introduction of the name and title "King of [all] Kings" clearly is the beginning of claims to universal authority. This echoes down through the subsequent history of the area, culminating with the Assyrians, the Persians, and Alexander the Great. While, this all does involve foreign conquest, it precludes the domains of Sumerian national monarchies being called "empires."

Sargon's state does look like the first real "Empire" in Mesopotamian history, although its extension all to the way to the "Western Sea" is a bit speculative -- but that was the claim. It was certainly ephemeral. Yet its influence was profound. The Akkadian state spelled the coming dominance of Semitic languages in the Fertile Crescent, something occasionally qualified but even today present in full force (whether we think of Arabic or Hebrew). Sargon's name would turn up again in the last triumphant period of the Assyrians. An invasion of the Guti, a non-Semitic people in the Zagros, disrupted the Akkadian state and led to its downfall.
Kings of the Guti
Imta or Nibiac.2138-2135 BC
Inkishush or Inkicucc.2135-2129
Sarlagab or Zarlagab or Sharlagc.2129-2123
Captured by King
Elulmesh or Elulumeshc.2117-2111
Ibatec 2095-2092
Yarla or Yarlangabc.2092-2089
La-erabum or Lasirabc.2083-2081
Si'um or Si'uc.2062-2055
Defeated, captured by Utu-Hengal of Uruk V

Governors of
Lagash for Ur III
The Guti pose something of a "mystery" themselves. Nothing of their language is attested, except perhaps for their names. But that can be deceptive. Attila the Hun bears a name that is Gothic. But the origin of the Guti in the Zagros Mountains probably means that they belong to the many other peoples of the area speaking autochthonous languages. Their invasion of Mesopotamia thus looks like a dress rehearsal for the later invasion of the Kassites. The Kassites themselves pose a similar kind of "mystery." But the dominion of the Guti and of the Kassites turns out to be very different. The rule of the Guti was unassimilated and hostile, provoking a kind of "national" rising against them. But the Kassites became Babylonians, losing their entire identity in the indigenous civilization, becoming the IV Dynasty of Babylon. Their alien origin is quickly forgotten.

Akkadian is now the first attested Semitic language, with a very different kind of grammar from Sumerian. Nevertheless, with the combination of ideograms and phonetic signs, it was not too difficult to adapt cuneiform writing to the new language. "Akkad" itself could be written with an ideogram, , or phonetically, , , etc. "Old Akkadian" is the language of the time of Sargon. It would subsequently split into Babylonian and Assyrian dialects. But Sumerian would never be forgotten nor lose its cultural prestige.

Sargon's empire did not long survive its ambitiously named "King of all Kings," and the rule of the Guti was followed by a Sumerian revival. The Guti were overthrown by King Utu-Hengal (or Hegal) of Uruk V, but he was unable to establish a permanent regime,
Dynasty IV of Uruk
[3 kings]2141-2124
Dynasty V of Uruk
Overthrows the Guti
and he may even have been assassinated by Ur-Nammu of Ur.

The dates for the Guti in the table here do not match up with the dates in the tables for Sumer and Akkad. That is because the list of Guti Kings is taken from Wikipedia, and the dating system is the "short chronology," which runs at least sixty years later than the dates from Roux, etc. There is no point in trying to adjust all this, since the whole business is so uncertain. See the discussion below about revised dates for Ur III and Babylon I.

The III Dynasty of Ur was the last brilliant moment for the Sumerians, ruling the whole country as none of the earlier dynasties had. But the set of the tide was already obvious:  The last three kings of Ur III already have names incorporating the Akkadian name of the moon god, Sīn, rather than the Sumerian name, Nanna.

Sumer was being linguistically overwhelmed. But not forgotten. Sumerian civilization did not vanish; it was simply translated; but even the translators did not forget Sumerian -- it was remembered by scholars, even by Kings of Assyria, centuries after it had last been uttered in ordinary speech. Sumerian became the first Classical Language, preserved as the storehouse of all that was fundamental in the continuing civilization that its speakers had created. Babylon and Assyria became the heirs of it all. But we are too.
Dynasty III of Ur
Amorites appear, c.2034
Elamites sack Ur, c.2004
The process of translation continued, since our own days of the week are translations, through Latin and Greek, of the Babylonian and ultimately Sumerian names of the planets.

The remaining puzzle about the Sumerians is not what happened to their language, which is obvious, but what happened to them. As the spoken language shifted over to Akkadian and its derivatives, there is no evidence that the Sumerian people died out, were killed, left, or were driven away. As with the Kings of Ur, they appear to have just switched languages. However, it now looks like there may have been some abandonment of the lower areas of Sumeria. The soil was become saline from centuries of irrigation, without the rains or floods, as in Egypt, that might have renewed the land. Visitors to Ur today find it surrounded by the most barren and lifeless desert. Also, where Ur had been a seaport, the silting of the rivers has moved the shoreland far to the south. Thus, many Sumerians may have been adandoning their cities and their land and moving north, precisely into the areas where Akkadian had become the dominant language.

We have little to no information about the movements or presumed influx of the original speakers of Akkadian. In fact, there is no information and no indication at all of any real ethnic differences between Sumerians and Akkadians, or of any other clear distinctions between the communities. Consequently, some historians have considered the proposition that they were actually the same people, who somehow had unaccountably arrived in history speaking two different, and actually (profoundly) unrelated, languages.

It is hard, very hard, to imagine how such a thing would be possible, even while there are later parallels to the conventional picture, as in the assimilation of the Elamites by the Persians who for a while even preserved the old Elamite language -- which consequently is available for inspection by modern scholars. That is before we even get to the cases whereby the Gauls or the Celtiberians became speakers of Latin.

Unless a more intelligible theory is proposed, in continues to look like the Akkadians arrived in a migration familiar from later periods, e.g. with the Amorites, Aramaeans, and Arabs, and that the Sumerians were a distinct people, like the Elamites, Hurrians, Kassites, and other non-Indo-European, non-Semitic speaking communities of the ancient Middle East. All we need to imagine is that the Akkadians arrived early, very early. Some of the names of Kish I look Semitic, and we might not be surprised to see that Kish was in fact right at the presumed boundary between Sumer and Akkad. Kish was closer to the capital of Sargon at Agade than it was to other Sumerian cities. So even the earliest of the legendary dynasties of Sumer already show the influence of the adjacent Semites.

Mesopotamian Kings Continued

The list and dates here are originally from Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq [Penguin, 1966 edition and revised 1992 edition, pp. 502-504]. However, it now appears that Roux's dates are about 94 years too early. In "Astronomy and the Fall of Babylon," in the July 2000 Sky & Telescope [pp.40-45], Vahe G. Gurzadyan discusses changes that can be made in Babylonian chronology on the basis of analysis of Babylonian astronomical records (the Enūma Anu Enlil) and more accurate modern calculations of ancient eclipses. Three revised dates are given above for Ur III. A key event for this period was a lunar eclipse on 27 June 1954 BC, which was thought at the time to have foretold the death of King Shulgi of Ur. Some kings have now been added to the lists, primarily for Kish I, from Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies. I have not attempted to square Gordon's dates either with Roux or with Gurzadyan.

Language Resources for Sumerian and Akkadian

My language sources for Sumerian and Akkadian include A Manual of Akkadian, by David Marcus [University Press of America, 1978], Introduction to Akkadian, by Richard Caplice and Daniel Snell [Fourth Edition, Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Roma, 2002], the Sumerian Lexicon, by John Alan Halloran [Logogram Publishing, Los Angeles, 2006], and Sumerian Grammar, by Dietz Otto Edzard [Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2003].

To my astonishment, neither the Lexicon nor the Grammar contain a single bit of cuneiform. Initially, all of my actual information on cuneiform was from the Manual and some other resources for Akkadian and Assyrian. There are now on-line resources; but I find those a little difficult to use, in part because of organization that is not transparent and also because what one sees, or doesn't, depends in part on what fonts one has installed. This takes some figuring out.

I am happy with one on-line source for Sumerian cuneiform, the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary. This is especially valuable for finding the original Sumerian ideograms ("logograms") whose use tends to decline as Akkadian is increasingly written phonetically, or the characters are simplified and regularized. Also, the site supplies its own images (as is done here), which means that there is no problem with using the right fonts.

Typical of the problems one encounters would be the Sumerian word for Sumer, "Kiengir," which can be written with a final sign that Halloran identifies as gir15, without (of course!) any hint in his book what this looked like. Marcus or Caplice and Snell are no help either. At Wikipedia, I see a sign for gir15 as in the Old Babylonian font. On the present page, however, I have been using the Neo-Assyrian form of the signs, which is what is used in Marcus and Caplice and Snell, even though their treatment is of the Akkadian language, which antedates the Old Babylonian Period. It is the tradition, from early Assyriology. When saved in a Neo-Assyrian font, gir15 appears in a form identical to the sign read ku, , as listed by Marcus and as seen in the word malku, "king," above -- Marcus gives a Sumerian reading of tukul, "trust," for this, which is unrelated to its meaning or pronunciation in Kiengir. I do not know what to make of this. It makes it look like the sign gir15 only occurs in Sumerian words. But if ku/tukul was also in Sumerian, I don't understand why it would appear for gir15 in the Neo-Assyrian font. I don't see any discussion of this on the cuneiform web pages I've seen -- and this is not too much to ask when Wikipedia has webpages on ki and en, but not on gir15.

Strangely enough, I may have found some answers in an unlikely source, the 1868 Assyrian Dictionary of Edwin Norris, which is available in reprint [Elibron Classics, 2005]. This was published early enough that Assyriologists weren't quite sure what "the ancient and now unknown province of Sumir" was [Part II, p.701]. But the Assyrian Kings knew about it, and they used an expression, , which combines , kur/mātu, "land," with , lisanu, "language," and . Norris also explains that this could be written phonetically, as , and other ways. If is used as ideogram for "Sumer," then the use of to disambiguate the usage from the word for "language" would seem to rest on the latter being the Neo-Assyrian descendant of as a phonetic part of the original name in Sumerian. And that would explain why ku is returned for gir15 in a modern Neo-Assyrian font. At the same time, there is another mystery here, which is why Marcus does not have in his book, either as a cuneiform sign entry or even as lisanu in the Akkadian glossary. This is very odd, since, not only is lisanu certainly an Akkadian word, but it is also a root quite common in other Semitic languages, like Hebrew, , lāshōn, and Arabic, , lisān, which have the same meaning, "tongue" or "language." It is hard to imagine what severe restrictions on space would lead to this being left out.

Norris gives an example that I have seen in no other sources, which is the formula "Sumer and Akkad," which had been used since the days of Sargon:  . The Kings of Assyria were using this when both places as functioning place names were very distant memories.

A curious case of the use of cuneiform is the logo of the Liberty Fund publishers, who present the signs as meaning "liberty." This gets taken up and repeated by the author F. Paul Wilson in a couple of his recent "Repairman Jack" books. Here the nature and meaning of these signs is examined in a footnote.

The paucity of comprehensive print sources is indicative of an alarming situtation in Mesopotamian language scholarship, where the resources are, rather like Sumerian history itself, fragmentary, of peripheral provenance, and/or out of date. The formative texts of 19th scholarship in German or French are accessible to scholars in libraries, but there is little of modern work currently in print and available in thorough treatments for a wider audience. A Manual of Akkadian and the Introduction to Akkadian are a very elementary and introductory texts. Marcus is reproduced from typescript with hand-drawn cuneiform (a very sad artifact next to, for instance, Gardiner's handsome and formidable Egyptian Grammar). The Caplice and Snell volume is properly printed, but the cuneiform is still hand-drawn, in a form sometimes less distinct than in Marcus. Also, the vocabulary and sign list are sigificantly smaller than in Marcus (lisanu is not in their vocabulary either), in a smaller book that disturbingly approaches the look of a pamphlet. Yet these are the best all-round, modern sources I have for Akkadian grammar, vocabulary, and cuneiform writing. Somebody should be embarrassed for this degree of scholarly and publishing neglect, and for the obvious lack of respect and general interest that it betrays for the first literate human civilization -- the very place where history began. The Internet can make up for this, and there is certainly a large volume of material now available there, but I am not finding it very accessible.

I now have two more sources, the Complete Babylonian, by Martin Worthington [Teach Yourself, 2010] and A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, edited by Jeremy Black, Andrew George, and Nicholas Postgate [Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000, 2012]. Each of these is handsomely produced, modern, and comprehensive. However, neither one makes any attempt to provide information on cuneiform, either to read it, in Worthington, or for the lexical items in the Concise Dictionary. Worthington has a chapter (#40) where he shows us what cuneiform looks like, which I can only interpret as a cruel and mocking taunt for all those students who would actually like to know something about it. In a similar space, he could easily have given us the basic list of phonetic signs. Since he expresses no ambition to write a companion volume on cuneiform, despite his obvious enthusiasm for the Babylonian language, we are left with the impression of being tossed out the door on our own. Oh, we could order the Mesopotamisches Zeichenlexikon [Münster, 2003], which is a sign list recommended by Worthington; but my own perusal of and do not show this book as either in print or available as used. In the day of print-on-demand publishing, for a nearly unique resource, this is astonishing. But it is no less astonishing that there should be one book after an another that give us no knowledge of the writing system that we would need to read languages in their original written forms. If they published books like this about Egyptian, there would be riots -- everyone knows that "Egyptian" means hieroglyphics (or "hieroglyphic" to the pedants). As it is, apparently you can get away with this neglect for Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian, perhaps because few people are paying attention. I do not understand the attitude of people who could be pleased with books that are so deficient and defective. One might suspect that this reflects an ideological bias against written language, such as I have noted elsewhere.

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Kings of Sumer and Akkad, Note 1

On the other hand, Spain certainly possessed a "empire" by all these definitions, but the King of Spain was not as such an "Emperor" anywhere. Considering the remarkable extent of Spanish possessions, this would seem odd. However, it was not odd at all. "Emperor" was a title, in Catholic Europe, that was the Pope's to bestow; and traditionally it was already held by the Kings of Germany, which consequently were our "Holy Roman Emperors." As it happened, Mexico and Peru were conquered in the reign of Charles V, who was both King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor -- the last Emperor actually crowned by the Pope (who wasn't allowed to crown Napoleon). But the Hapsburgs then separated the thrones of Spain and the Empire.

At the same time, we might wonder how it fits that Pedro I became the "Emperor" of Brazil. Brazil had been conquered by Portugal, but that would make Portugal the empire, not Brazil. But Kings of Portugal were under the same limitation as the Kings of Spain. Brazil was simply invented as an "Empire" in its own right. Since Brazil is now viewed as a national state, and it did not conquer itself, the only conceivable definition of "empire" that it would fit is simply one that would define the word as just meaning "big." Brazil was an empire because it was big. But this has now wandered, of course, very far from any traditional or ideological meaning of the word.

The "British Empire" was the name for scattered possessions which were not de jure an "empire" and which were ruled by a monarch who was not their Emperor. From Queen Victoria to George VI, the sovereign of Britain was the Empress or Emperor of India, but then India had its own tradition and ideology of universal rule, with a unique title, the Cakravartin, , or "Wheel Turning" ruler, derived from Buddhist doctrine. Otherwise, we seem to presuppose a definition of "empire" as the rule of foreign possessions whether or not a title goes with them. The King of England was never called "King of Kings" -- a status that, in Christian lands, becomes associated with Jesus Christ. So in their own usage, what the British meant by the "Empire" was foreign possessions, regardless of de jure status. But when India became independent, King George VI expressed sadness that he had to stop signing himself "Ind.Imp.," i.e. Indiae Imperator.

But, as I discuss at the link, the "British Empire" was a kind of thing for which there is a much more appropriate designation. And that is as a "hegemony," hēgemonía, ἡγεμονία. This goes back to Greece, where various states might dominate others without directly ruling or possessing them. That was the form of the League of Delos, which came to be dominated by Athens and so is now often called, absurdly, the "empire" of Athens. Yet it really involved neither foreign conquest, nor direct rule, nor even bigness. When Athens was defeated by Sparta, the latter was for a time the Greek "hegemon," hēgemón, ἡγεμών. Sparta's defeat by the brilliant Epaminondas passed on its status to Thebes, finally ending up with Macedon, whose dominion was enforced by the "Fetters of Greece," the bases -- Demetrias, Chalchis, Piraeus, and Corinth -- by which its control was projected over Greece.

Even at its strongest, Hellenistic Macedonia exercised no direct rule over most of the Greece. In turn, Rome "liberated" Greece from Macedon, and then almost immediately imposed its own direct and uncompromising government. Since Corinth had gotten the wrong idea about this, it was defeated and actually destroyed (146 BC), pour encourager les autres.

Britain had a similar string of bases to enforce its seapower, such as Gibraltar, Malta, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. This implied a hegemony, a "thalassocracy," which was celebrated as "Britannia rule the waves"; but then mixed in were actual "imperial" possessions, on a spectrum of control, from "Crown Colonies" to "Protectorates" under British "advice" and protection. At an extreme end, the British occupation of Egypt after 1882 had no official status whatsoever. The Khedive remained an autonomous vassal of the sovereign Ottoman Empire. While this all gave an impression of great power, its fragmentation and confusion had little additive or cumulative effect -- not unlike the vast possessions of the Emperor Charles V. Britain finally could not compete with real superpowers, like the United States or Russia.

The status of a "hegemon" is something that we also find very far from Greece. In the Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Chou of Chinese history, the tradition arose that at various times there were dominant rulers among the many states of the era. These were, in succession, the , or the "Five Hegemons." They did not conquer or rule all the others. Indeed, that only happened in the following Warring States Period, when the King of Ch'in rolled up the remaining states and created for China an ideology of universal and absolute rule, with a new title, , i.e "Emperor," for himself. So the hegemons were, briefly, predominant; but they did not create empires by any definition.

A proper hegemonic regime is something we may not actually find in Mesopotamian history, but sometimes even ferocious states like Assyria ruled through client kingdoms, while the Egyptian "empire" in Syria seems to have consisted of nothing else. The Persians made little use of it, although it was not unheard of. Caria was a client under the Persians. A pure hegemonic "empire" was actually that of the Aztecs, who, like Athens, made themselves so hated by their clients that the subjugated states defected as soon as possible to the first promising enemy -- the Spanish for the former, the Spartans for the latter.

The Arab Caliphate was an "Empire" in every sense of the word, with pretentions to universal authority, conquest and direct rule of foreign people, and, last but not least, a very, very big bigness, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to Sinkiang. With this state, we also have the phenomenon of "fetters," the , ʾamṣār, superficially like Macedon or Britain, but these were more than military bases. They were garrison cities whose role was to colonize and to enforce direct rule, not indirect control. They therefore grew into metropolitan centers in their own right. So the resemblance to the hegemonies was no more than superficial.

So in examining what many call the "empires" of Mesopotamian history, or any history, we should distinguish our use of the term when applied to states with a claim to universal authority, without or without foreign conquests, to regimes without any connection to either, and finally to states whose control is really only hegemonic, usually without any ideological claims.

Finally, we might note the short life of the "Central African Empire," 1976-1979, ruled by Jean-Bédel Bokassa, which was neither universal, nor conquering, nor big, nor hegemonic. Bokassa made himself "Emperor" just because he liked the title, and he admired Napoleon. Bokassa was overthrown, went into exile, returned, was convicted of murder, etc., imprisoned for life, then pardoned in 1993, and died in 1996, claiming he was the 13th Apostle. This leaves the Emperor of Japan as the only person on Earth with the publicly recognized title, although its ideological pretentions, including the divine status of the Emperor, have been shed.

Return to Text

Kings of Sumer and Akkad, Note 2;
Cuneiform for "Liberty,"

The Liberty Fund publisher uses as a company logo the cuneiform signs , which they say is the earliest written expresson for "liberty." Indeed, the word in Sumerian is amagi, which John Alan Halloran's Sumerian Lexicon defines as "freedom, liberation" [op.cit., p.19]. However, there is a little more to it than that. Halloran also says that it means, "manumission" and "exemption from debts or obligations" [ibid.]. In Akkadian, we get the same meanings for the word andurāru(m), "freedom, exemption," "release from (debt) slavery" [A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, edited by Jeremy Black, Andrew George, and Nichols Postgate, Harrassowitz Verlag, Weisbaden, 2000, p.17].

How we get these meanings can be gleaned from the ultimate meaning of the signs, which are "mother" and "return, restore, put back" . "Mother" can also be written with the dative ending -ra, pronounced ama-ar-gi. Thus, the full writing actually means, "restored to mother." This is a particularly vivid way to express the idea of manumission, to be freed from slavery. You go home to mother. The other meanings follow. Thus, we might say that the notion of liberty or freedom begins because of the condition of its opposite, slavery. This is not too surprising.

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Mesopotamian Index

The Natural Law, with the Logo of the Liberty Fund

The Old Kingdom of Egypt

I visited the Pyramids, called by the Arabs, the Mountains of Pharaoh...

MELTON, an English traveller, 1661; Leonard Cottrell, The Mountains of Pharaoh, 2,000 Years of Pyramid Exploration, 1956, Pan Books Ltd., London, 1963, p.3; not quoted in Arabic, "Mountains of Pharaoh" could be , ʾAjbāl Firʿawn

Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.

Proverb attributed to a "learned Arab of the twelfth century" but not attested before 1923, provenance and Arabic version unknown.

My entire tour group standing on an unfinished obeslisk in the granite quarry, Aswan, 1969
The III Dynasty begins a relatively brief period that has to be one of the most astounding in human history. The small stones that were used in the place of bricks in the elaborate Step Pyramid of Djoser quickly grew into gargantuan blocks weighing many tons, placed with no more apparent difficulty than Lego blocks, including enormous slabs of granite, up to 100 tons, brought all the way down the river from Aswan. In less than two centuries all the really big pyramids were built, during the III but mainly the IV Dynasties. And there is no avoiding or disparaging the fact they they were BIG....big beyond the budgets and will, if not actually the technology, of the modern world. Although the obelisk at left was a form of monument used during the New Kingdom, the granite quarries at Aswan, the scale of the work, and the distances the product needed to be transported, are already comparable in the Old Kingdom.

The Old Kingdom
& Petty
III Dynasty,
of ,
Djoser, Zoser

Sanakhte, Nebka2686-


Zawiyet el-Aryan?
The god Seth, who seems to have disrupted the
II Dynasty, was now forgotten in the royal cult (until the XIX Dynasty). Tombs are again built at Saqqara, and the palace façade of the I Dynasty tombs (royal or not), although returning in stone with Djoser, disappears forever by the time of the IV Dynasty.

The credit for the revolution in architecture was attributed by the Egyptians themselves to Imhotep, [Greek Ἰμούθης], who was Djoser's minister and "overseer of works," , i.e. the Royal builder. Imhotep was then deified, and since he had a reputation as a healer, he was mainly a god of medicine, and identified by the Greeks with their god Ἀσκληπιός, the Roman Aesculapius [note].

But the Step Pyramid of Djoser was not conceived as such from the beginning. It was at first a traditional flat , maṣṭaba (مَصْطَبَة), enlarged, then with steps added on top, and then enlarged again, ultimately with six steps. The underground tomb, which contains the burial chamber, contains extensive gallaries, which still can confuse the unwary -- including a foolish archaeology intern of Zahi Hawass, who got stuck, after being warned not to wander away. The pyramid itself is surrounded by an extensive enclosure, containing ritual buildings and other tombs, with the first examples of carved stone columns, although not yet free-standing (but "engaged," i.e. attached to adjacent walls). The scale and detail of the project reflects the genius of Imhotep, which can contribute to our understanding of human capital.

Here we see the Step Pyramid of Djoser (in 1969). At left is the entrance gate, which opens into the columned hall, seen below right, with the ribbed "engaged" columns. The Egyptians weren't sure about that yet. As we see a lot in Egyptian architecture, there were other gates in the wall; but the other gates were carved closed ("dummy" doorways), while only this one was actually open. So it led into something that must originally have seemed rather like a maze.

Below left and right we are inside the enclosure, in the ritual court, such as would have been used for the King's jubilee festival. This was called the "Heb Sed," ; and the glyph represents the pavillions erected for the event. Here reproduced in stone. Of course, what looks like fresh stonework here actually is. These things have been reconstructed. The old stonework, like the pyramid itself, is evidently old, with no more than the foundations remaining of the original structures.

Although this festival is obviously important enough that its venue is reproduced here for eternity, we never see anything quite like this again. The King apparently ran a circuit, perhaps stopping off for ritual acts, intended to revive him for further life and rule. Thus, it is not surprising that the tomb complex would contain such a venue. On art inside the pyramid, Djoser is portrayed apparently engaged in such a run. The speculation is that pre-historical Kings who were unable to accomplish the rite were killed -- something not unheard of elsewhere, although rarely in historical periods. Perhaps uneasy memories of this test led to its decline in importance and prominence. There would be jubilees later, but they would be no more than celebrations of periods of rule, not tests to see if rule should continue.

Plenty of people still find it hard to believe that the mere Egyptians, at such a time, could have done anything like build the sort of massive and sophisticated structures we see in the pyramids of the IV Dynasty. Something miraculous, or at least extraterrestrial, seems called for. Unfortunately for such theories, we have the evidence of the development of the architecture, especially with the pyramids of Djoser and Seneferu, which are obviously experimental, with hesitations and mistakes. Also, the Egyptians, although leaving no contemporary record of their techniques, did leave some of their tools in the limestone and granite quarries, along with quarry marks from the work gangs on many blocks (from which the organization of the gangs can be reconstructed), and, before too long, the tombs of nobles responsible for later projects begin to show us the means of their realization.

& Petty
IV Dynasty,
of ,


Seneferu? Step(?) pyramid
at Seila
Set?ka, Nebkare = Nebka?

Sadly, the III and IV Dynasty tombs do not yet show that, and the whole period is gravely lacking in inscriptions, especially in comparison to the thoroughness with which the Egyptians later covered every surface available. Where at Karnak hardly a square foot goes without the name of the king who had it made (or the later King who overwrote it with his own name), the major pyramids never even bothered to officially display the names of their owners. We are reduced to the few remaining quarrymen's marks, given fortunately in regal years, to positively identify several pyramids. Only one such mark survives (on accessible surfaces) to identify the Great Pyramid of Khufu, as only one small figure survives to represent the king himself. At least for Khafre and Menkaure we have abundant, magnificient statuary to show them to us.

Watching documentaries about Egypt on cable television, I've noticed that the narrators have begun talking about the "great pyramids" of Egypt. Formally, there is no such thing as the "great pyramids." The "Great Pyramid," singular, means the pyramid of King Khufu, which is the largest pyramid. Otherwise, it is not clear from the usage what the "great pyramids" is supposed to mean. Are they all the pyramids of Egypt? -- which means what? that they are "greater" than the pyramids of Mexico (or Kush)? -- or are they just some of the pyramids of Egypt? In that case, it is never specified which pyramids are "great" and which are not, although on one show it sounded like the pyramids at Giza, which include Khufu's, were the "great pyramids." To be sure, the pyramids of the III and IV Dynasty are definitely greater than those of the V, VI, or XII; but I have never seen such a distinction in Egyptian history books or books about the pyramids.

Since all the outer casing stones are missing from the Great Pyramid, except for some at the base that were long buried under debris (many remain on that of Khafre), which would have formed a smooth surface, and the apex pyramidion -- the single pyramid block that capped the pyramid -- are missing, creating a kind of staircase on the sides and a flat square space on the summit, it used to be that tourists could climb to the summit, with the help of a string of local guides.
The Sphinx, Giza, 1969
This has now long been prohibited, although the movie, The Bucket List [2007], shows Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson sitting at the top in the old manner. Nicholson's character, being a millionaire, could well have offered a sufficient gratuity, , baqšīš (i.e., a bribe, بَقْشِيش), to be escorted up. It could be on my bucket list.

The real mystery of the IV Dynasty is not so much how Khufu could have built his pyramid on such a scale but how his father, Seneferu, could, apparently, have done three of them nearly as big -- one at Meidum and two at Dahshur -- all within sight of each other. The pyramid at Meidum was begun as a step pyramid, perhaps by Huni of the III Dynasty.

Evidence of this is missing, and the Egyptians themselves left graffiti attributing the pyramid to Seneferu; but Huni is usually credited with a long enough reign to have completed a large pyramid; and if Meidum isn't his, then where is his tomb? He did not spend a long reign building no tomb; but opinion now seems willing to accept that neither Meidum, nor anything else, is his.

Which also happens to leave no completed pyramids in the entire III Dynasty after Djoser. Be that as it may, Meidum was then certainly finished as a true pyramid, with the steps filled in, by Seneferu. His name is on those blocks.

Why this was done is a good question, since kings do not usually finish their predecessor's tombs; but one thing for certain is that it as not done well. The structure was unstable. At some point the outer parts actually collapsed, leaving the core looking rather like a huge cube -- although some now deny that there was a collapse, with the condition of the structure the result of later quarrying.
Ancient beams of Lebanese cedar, preserved by the desert, shoring up a chamber in the Bent Pyramid
That's possible, but evidence of the Egyptians still learning their architecture can be found with the undoubted problems at Dahshur.

The first pyramid at Dahshur, the "Bent Pyramid," was then begun as a true pyramid from scratch, but it too had stability problems, and had to be finished with a flattened top. Signs of stability problems are evident from cracks and needed shoring in the interior chambers. However, a transient feature of the construction turned out to have a dramatic and desirable consequence. Thus, at this time the Egyptians liked the idea of masonry layers leaning inward on the pyramid.

By the next pyramid, this feature had been abandoned; and all subsequent pyramids possess flat and vertical courses. But with the Bent Pyramid, there is a benefit to the old technique. Laying the fine limestone outer layer at an angle has preserved more of it than on any other pyramid. This is evident in all images of the Bent Pyramid, although I can remember no one commenting on it -- until recently. Thus, the Bent Pyramid, more than any other one, with large areas of flat surface, give us a better idea of what the pyramids looked like when new. The Great Pyramid, for instance, is completely stripped of its outer casing, only some of whose stones can be seen, after being buried, at the very base of the pyramid. That gives no real hint of what the full casing would have looked like in place. But that's what we get at the Bent Pyramid. It isn't even the same color, even now, than the underlying stones.

Since the loss of the outer casing of most pyramids was the result of the stone being looted for other structures, and this was done with other pyramids at Dahshur, why not the Bent Pyramid? Again, it may have been saved by the construction technique. If you remove one of the casing stones, the upper stones are resting on it, and you can get a deadly cave in. This would discourage removing the stone. At corners of the Bent Pyramid, we can see the threatening overhang where courses below have fallen away. You may not want to be standing there. With the later technique, however, all the stone rests vertically on blocks below, and removing a casing stone does not compromise the casing stone in the next layer above. Thus, we have so much casing of the Bent Pyramid preserved, not just because of the work of gravity, but because its form of construction discouraged looting.

The full mastery of the masonry medium then appears in the third pyramid -- called the "Red Pyramid" or the "Northern Pyramid" at Dahshur -- with a good foundation, larger blocks, flat courses, and successful completion. The whole technique of truly large scale construction thus rapidly evolved in just one reign. Seneferu seems to have had money to spend, time to spare (in 24 some years), and a very clear end in mind. A shame he can't tell us about it. Unlike what we find in Herodotus, who repeates stories that all the pyramid builders were tyrants, the stories surviving in Egyptian literature all make out Seneferu as a kind and just king, despite the scale of his building.

There are anomalies in the "Red Pyramid" at Dahshur. There is no evidence that portcullis blocks were prepared or used to seal the tomb. This is unique among all pyramids. Also, there is a very odd feature that the floor of the presumed burial chamber has been thoroughly broken up, to some depth, apparently by grave robbers. With no evidence of a sarcophagus, this leads some commentators to wonder if this pyramid had even actually be used for Seneferu's burial. The robbers were looking for the "true" burial chamber, which was never found. This leads to speculation that Senefru may have been buried in the Bent Pyramid after all. Sounds as reasonable as anything.

The Red Pyramid is also lacking evidence of a mortuary temple or an enclosure wall, both very peculiar absences. And, after all, the Bent Pyramid, for all its problems, is very much still there, much more so than the pyramid at Meidum, let alone the pyramids of the V, VI, or XII Dynasties. And the interior is more elaborate than any other Old Kingdom pyramid besides the Great Pyramid.

It is all enough to make one wonder what was going on. Where is Huni's tomb? What was the relation between Huni and Senefru? We have nothing more than speculation to go on. Somehow no obvious tomb for Huni and three for Seneferu, despite similar tenures, defies some kind of logic. Divide the spoils, guys! And the devastated floor of the presumptive burial chamber of the Red Pyramid is unique. The grave robbers really went after it; but they didn't do anything like that anywhere else. What were they thinking? We don't know.

And there is a final mystery. There is an unusual small pyramid, at Seila, near Meidum. Seneferu's name was found on a stele at the pyramid, and this is the only evidence of its date. No burial chamber or other internal structures have been found, which only inceases the mystery, although there are a few similar small structures scattered around Egypt, all mysterious. While the pyramid now looks like a step pyramid with four steps, some Egyptologists now argue that it has once had the form of a true pyramid, perhaps the first one in Egypt. If so, this is part of Seneferu's pyramid experiments, and stands him with the credit of no less than four pyramids, even more stunning than the picture of his building that we have aleady. Much further study is, of course, warranted.

One key feature we should note about the pyramid building is that the quarries for the finest limestone were on the opposite side of the Nile, at Tura, from the pyramid sites, and that the quarries for all the granite were far up the Nile at Aswan -- rough internal blocks for the pyramids were quarried nearby. The Tura limestone was so valued for construction in later centuries that it was even looted from the interior of pyramids, not just from their external casing.

This means that the best time to move all that rock from remote locations to the pyramid sites was during the season of the Flood,
The Great Pyramid of Khufu, Giza, 1969
when the Nile would be the widest and deepest. Indeed, an essential part of all pyramid architecture was the dock at the edge of the desert, i.e. at the high water mark, with a causeway leading up to the pyramid foundation.

It is not hard to imagine the government of Egypt impressing all the farmers idled by the Flood, the "corvée" , into a great effort to move a year's worth of stone up and/or across the Nile. The rest of the year, the more skilled stone masons would work to place the blocks, or would quarry the rougher, interior stone for the pyramids adjacent to the sites. In recent years, the village and burials of the pyramid workers have been discovered at Giza. As might be expected, the bones of common laborers show evidence of heavy labor.

Moralizing reflections on the pyramids have often targeted their uselessness. However, no one seeing them, for centuries, could doubt the power and ability of the Egyptian Throne. They were not just monuments to individual Kings, but monument to the Monarchy itself -- let alone to the skill and organization of the Egyptians. For Kings who were supposed to be gods, the naive visitor might wonder how indeed it could be otherwise. And, at the same time, was this worse than devoting the energies of the State to bloody war and ephemeral conquest? As I have said elsewhere, the Egyptians, mostly, made stuff, not war.

And if the moralizers lament the condition of the "slaves" who built the monuments, it is now clear that this is a fiction. The corvée was seasonal. The permanent workers on the constructions mostly had to be experts. You can't just hand anyone a chisel and tell them to fashion a limestone (let alone a granite) block to within millimeter tolerances. Where we know the most about such Egyptian workers, on the Royal tombs of the New Kingdom, who lived in their own village, we know that they were privileged, not oppressed. Sometimes they would even go on strike.

Nicholas Meyer's Great Pyramid

We find Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson visiting the Great Pyramid in The Return of the Pharaoh, From the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., by Nicholas Meyer [Minotaur Books, 2021]. This is the latest installment in the Holmes-continuation books begun by Meyer with The Seven-Per-Cent Solution in 1974. That was a best-seller and was made into a movie. Subsequent books seem to have attracted less notice, and I was unaware of any of the others until The Return of the Pharaoh.

Meyer, however, is noteworthy far beyond his Holmes books. He actually directed two Star Trek movies, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [1982], and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country [1991]; and he wrote the screenplays, sometimes uncredited, for several movies. Meyer also contributed the screenplay to the TV movie, Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders [1974], which was my first exposure to the Judge Dee stories. I owe him for that.

For all the pies into which Nicholas Meyer has a finger, he does a poor job with the visit of Holmes and Watson to the Great Pyramid. They arrive at Giza on camels, within "sight of those gigantic white stone mounds" [p.59]. White? The pyramids were white when completed, with their Tura limestone casing, but they are now brown, very brown. Has Meyer been to Giza? Perhaps not. Has he seen color photos of the pyramids? How could he not have? But from the rest of his account, he seems to have done little or nothing to acquaint himself with structure of the Great Pyramid. This is surprising and puzzling, since a plan and description of the pyramid is available at Wikipedia, and you can get virtual tours, and endless discussion, at YouTube. You don't even need a proper book about the pyramids, which, from the evidence of Meyer's Acknowledgements [p.259], he didn't have anyway.

Thus, Holmes and Watson enter "into the tiny hole on the southern base of the Great Pyramid" [p.62]. However, the entrance to the Great Pyramid is on the north side, not the southern. Their guide, no less than Howard Carter, tells them "The only way in is an extremely tight fit, I must warn you, the robbers' entrance is the only one and your costume may make crawling upwards difficult and backing down even more so" [ibid.]. The way into the pyramid is indeed a robbers' tunnel, but it is not the only entrance. It is just the one used by tourists. It isn't even shown in the plan at right.

It is not "an extremely tight fit" and it does not slope "upwards." It is level until it reaches the original Ascending Passage. In the book it is so "tight" that everyone must remove their outer clothes. But I visited the Pyramid in December, 1969, wearing such winter clothing as is needed in Egypt; and I certainly didn't need to remove any of it. The corridors of the pyramid are indeed a "tight fit," but not so much that anything more than just bending over is needed. None of the public passages are so small that one must be "crawling," but Meyer says that the fictional Howard Carter "got on his stomach and crawled into the small aperture" [ibid.]. This is absurd.

Carter tells Holmes and Watson that in the tunnel, "there is no turning around 'til we reach the treasure chamber" [p.62]. This is quite false, ignoring the junction with the Ascending Passage, not to mention the spacious Grand Gallery. And no one calls any of the chambers in the pyramid a "treasure chamber." Watson repeats the falsehood that the robbers' "chiselled passage bent upwards," while his hands grow raw "clawing at the robbers' chiselled handiwork" [p.63]. We are given to understand that the robbers' tunnel extends all the way to the "treasure chamber." This is nonsense.

Arriving there, Carter tells them, "For all we know there may be other chambers, likely never to be found" [p.66]. This is also nonsense, since archaeologists had long known of the Queen's Chamber and the Subterranean Chamber, below the base of the pyramid. Watsons asks, "How did they contrive to extract the sarcophagus...?" [p.66], when, of course, the sarcophagus of Khufu still stands in the King's Chamber, the subject of remarks by early visitors that it rings like a bell when struck. Carter then comments on "a sarcophagus of imperial jade" [ibid.], when there is no such thing in Ancient Egypt and the sarcophagus of Khufu is granite, like all the surfaces of the King's Chamber. Jade was used in China, not in Egypt. Where did Meyer get this stuff? What planet has he been on?

The real gem of the whole treatment, however, may be Meyer's own footnote to the "no other chambers" statement, in his own voice:

In the twenty-first century two other chambers, also empty, have been discovered thanks to imaginative use of modern particle physics to "X-ray" the pyramids with the help of something called muons. [footnote, p.66]

Besides displaying his ignorance of the "two other chambers" that already have been known for centuries, Meyer does not get this quite right. What have been discovered are not "two other chambers," but voids whose nature is unknown. While they probably are empty, this has not yet been ascertained by direct inspection.

What is the point of all this? Why can't Nicholas Meyer take the trouble to represent the interior of the Great Pyramid as it is? I don't understand how some kind of poetic license would motivate these falsehoods and distortions. Even worse, in the Acknowledgments, Meyer says:

I must acknowledge a special debt to Professor Willeke Wendrich, director of the Costen Institute of Archaeology and professor of Egyptian archaeology at UCLA. It is hard to overstate what I owe to her close reading of the manuscript and her painstaking attention to Egyptian details therein. [p.260]

So are we now to blame a respected academic, Willeke Wendrich, for this mess? Did she really pass on this description of the Great Pyramid? It is very hard to understand.

I often have difficulty understanding how authors, and their editors, allow egregious misrepresentations into their books. I have found both Claire North and Lee Child basing nasty remarks and dismissals of Los Angeles and Las Vegas on descriptions so false to fact that I must conclude that they have never been to these places. They have just made up details based on preconceptions and prejudices.

Similarly, Douglas Preston gives us a description of Trinity Site in New Mexico that is completely fabricated. Since Preston knows New Mexico well, why does he need to make up such an account? More demanding may be correcting errors in Lee Child's description of how an airplane flies, since he clearly does not understand Coordinated Flight. That is not just a matter of knowing what some place looks like. He certainly has been on airplanes, but we can infer that he has not learned how to fly one.

Hopefully, people visiting the Great Pyramid in coming years will not think themselves prepared just by reading The Return of the Pharaoh.

The "Diary" of Merer

Painted limestone bust of Ankhhaf, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Curiously, while we know very little about Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid, and only one small image of him survives, we know perhaps more about the person responsibile for the actual construction. This was Prince Ankhhaf, who was a half-brother of Khufu, his Vizier and the "overseer of works." We have an excellent idea of what Ankhhaf looked like, since a half-torso bust of him survives from his tomb at Giza, at right. This was the man who was the equivalent of Imhotep. The whole planning and operation of construction of the Great Pyramid may have been his responsibility, and the perfection of its architecture can perhaps be attributed to him -- although the period in which he had this job is unclear, and it seems to extend into the reign of Khafre. Thus, when we marvel at the pyramid, we are not left wondering who did it, at least in part.

We know even more about the whole business from an extraordinary discovery. Excavations at the Wadi al-Jarf, which was an Egyptian port on the Gulf of Suez, revealed that this was a major depot for the importation of copper from the Sinai in the IV Dynasty, and in 2013 it also revealed papyrus fragments from the period of the reign of Khufu -- the oldest papyrus in existence.

The fragments are from the logbooks of a single official, named Merer, and consequently are now called the "Diary of Merer," from what seems to be the 26th year of Khufu. Prince Ankhhaf is actually mentioned. However, the look of the records has been compared to a modern computer spreadsheet, with columns of dates and items shipped or received. Much of it involves records of blocks of fine limestone moved from the quarries at Tura to the site of the Great Pyramid. There was no doubt that the white casing stones of the pyramids came from Tura, but this is an actual record of the Egyptians doing that.
Part of the "Diary" of Merer, reign of Kkufu; conspicuous cartouches of Khufu
We also see records of food being delivered to Merer's work crew, which numbered about 40 men. We know from other records that such crews, with their own names, took pride in their identity and actively competed with other crews. Merer's crew was the "Elite." The level of organization revealed by Merer's records is stunning; but it is no less than what we would expect when something like the Great Pyramid is being built. The impression may be of a degree of efficiency and conscientiousness that is lacking in the public works of, say,
New York City.

What the records are doing at the Wadi al-Jarf is a good question. It looks like some of the same boats that were used in the Gulf of Suez to bring copper from the Sinai, were disassembled, carried over to the Nile, and then used for transport there. This might seem awkward, but transport from Tura to Giza would only have been done during the period of the Nile Flood, when boats could dock right at the foot of the construction causeway of the pyramid. In the "off season," the boats would have been moved to the Gulf and used to transport copper. So Merer worked on the Gulf part of the year, and then on the Nile otherwise, taking his boats with him.

These Egyptian boats were only joined with rope, as we now know from the boats buried next to the Great Pyramid, one of which has already been reconstructed.
Copy of boat found buried adjacent to the Great Pyarmid, Boulogne-sur-Mere, France, 2019
A copy of it, now in need of repair, can even be found at
Boulogne-sur-Mere, France, by the monument to Auguste-Édouard Mariette. When the first boat was discovered, it just seemed to be a pile of number; and some people thought it was merely a "symbolic" boat for the afterlife journey. When it was understood that this "lumber" was ready to be tied together, it was hard to believe that such boats would be seaworthy. But experiments have been done building small similar boats. In the water, the wet ropes expand, tighten up everything, and actually seal any cracks. All you need to do is stitch your boat together, put it in the water, wait a little while, bail it out, and you're in business.

From the evidence of the boats at Giza, it is not clear that they would have been robust enough to carry stone; but from the records, it looks like only two or three blocks were transported at a time, about 200 blocks a month, and these were not particularly large blocks of the fine Tura limestone. And then many other things needed to be transported to the constrution site as well. However this worked, it seems clear that Merer was responsible for transport in both the Gulf of Suez and on the Nile -- in consultation with no less than Prince Ankhhaf. After the long silence of the uninscribed pyramid itself, this was an extraordinary window into the practices of those who built it.

In popular documentaries about the pyramids, and about the Great Pyramid in particular, the pyramid of Khafre, very nearly as large, is generally ignored. This is not only wrong, but it overlooks things that the pyramid of Khafre has, which are now missing with the pyramid of Khufu, namely the "Valley Building" temple and the causeway that leads up from there to the pyramid. This was the causeway that originated as a construction ramp to the pyramid, as the Valley Building itself was the dock by which things like Tura limestone were landed. Next to the causeway is the Sphinx, which does get its share of attention, but usually, again, while ignoring the rest of the pyramid complex of Khafre. But the Valley Building it itself a bit of a marvel, built with large blocks of granite. What's more, discovered in its floor where marvelous statues of Khafre himself, such as are completely missing for Khufu. I don't know how there can be this level of neglect, especially when anyone filming or visiting at Giza cannot miss them. Similarly with the unique features of the pyramid of Menkaure, like its granite casing.

"Triad" of Hathor, Menkaure, and the goddess of the 17th Nome of Upper Egypt, Anput, , consort of Anubis, in greywacke, Cairo Museum

The Assault on Menkaure

A striking feature of the pyramid of Menkaure is the deep gouge, the "Great Breach," that has been cut into it on the north side. This is what remains from what, we are told, was an attempt in 1196 to demolish the pyramid, on the orders of the Ayyubid Sulṭān of Egypt, ʾal-ʿAzīz ʿUthmān ʿImad ad-Dīn (1193-1198). This business is recounted in some detail by the historian and physician ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī (1162-1231).

However, there are features of the story that are inconsistent with the narrative. If this was a demolition, it was approached neither from the top nor from the bottom of the structure. As with an attempted demolition from the bottom, unsupported blocks from above were bound to fall down on the workers, as ʾal-Baghdādī admits. This doesn't make a lot of sense. And if such hazards were to be allowed, why start half-way up the pyramid?

What makes more sense is that this was simply a treasure hunt. There had long been fabulous stories about riches concealed in the pyramid; and there was the curious feature -- familiar to those who had entered the pyramid, as they could long before the days of the Ayyubids -- that a blind passage headed up into the interior of the pyramid from the upper chamber.

In those terms, the site of the excavation makes perfect sense. It was looking for the destination of the blind corridor. When the budget for this provided by the Sulṭān ran out, the project was abandoned. So why do we hear that this was actually a pious endeavor to destroy the "mountains of Pharaoh"?

Well, it all may have been a trick put over on the Sulṭān. A treasure hunt doesn't sound as noble as an insult to Pharaoh. The result, however, was going to be equally mortifying whatever the purpose. And, actually, a futile treasure hunt sounds less embarrassing than an inability to complete a project vindicating religion. It was probably all well and quickly forgotten, if not for ʾal-Baghdādī's account.

& Petty
V Dynasty,
of ,
Neferirkare I
Djedkare Isesi

Intense debate continues about how the large pyramids were actually constructed. We know the Egyptians used construction ramps, which survive here and there, but the form of ramps for structures hundreds of feet in height offers such problems and alternatives that no consensus exists on the form these would have taken. The scale of the projects is still daunting, and a recent suggestion is that the core of the pyramids is rubble, and not worked stones as are visible on the exterior. Chances are, this would not have made for the structures that remain stable after 4000 years. Indeed, later pyramids, whose interiors are rubble or mud brick, have often collapsed and eroded. From what interior blocks that can be seen in the IV Dynasty pyramids, it does look like the blocks were less regular than those on the outside, and some gaps filled in, but a general use of rubble is not indicated. The simple durability of the structures is the best evidence. Most pyramids from the V, VI, and XII Dynasties look more like mounds than pyramids.

Most recently, radiation studies have apparently detected a void above the Great Gallery in the Great Pyramid. This may have been to relieve pressure on the Gallery itself, as we already know about spaces above the King's Chamber. The first of those chambers was discovered in 1765 by Nathaniel Davison, who blasted his way in with gunpowder. Howard Vyse (1784-1853) suspected there were more chambers, since he was able to insert a reed between the roofing blocks into what seemed to be a void. Blasting his way through the roof, in 1837, he found four more chambers above -- which included graffiti from work gangs with Khufu's name -- the only examples of the King's name on his own pyramid. So a void above the Grand Gallery would not be entirely a surprise. With modern technology, a small hole could be drilled to allow the intertion of a fiber-optic cable and a small camera. After some consideration and argument, hopefully this will be done. Fortunately, the days of exploring the pyramid with explosives is over.

The names of the pyramids, attested for most starting with the IV Dynasty, suffer from the ambiguity that it is not entirely obvious whether the qualities attributed belong to the pyramid or to the King. The standard interpretation seems to be that the King's name is understood, even if it is not written as part of the pyramid name. An interesting case is the name of the pyramid of Pepi I, . This is usually read "Enduring Beauty," which, however, only makes the best sense when attributed to the pyramid. If we supply the King's name as understood, then we need a different interpretation, and this can be, "The Goodness of Pepi is Established." We are thrown back to the first reading, however, when this name becomes adopted as one of the names of the capital city of Memphis, . Indeed, this is the name "Memphis" -- Μέμφις in Greek. Here we still have the determinative of a pyramid for the name, with the addition of the determinative for a city. Mutatis mutandis, it is harder to read this with the name of Pepi understood, since the city as such has no direct connection to this particular King. Perhaps the goodness of Memphis is established, but beauty seems a more appropriate attribute.

Another circumstance we should note is that the Old Kingdom kings of Egypt did not, as far as we know, engage in the scale of foreign military adventures that become familiar in later dynasties. Many countries have impoverished themselves through war -- Louis XIV's gratuitous wars may have ultimately brought on the French Revolution -- but Seneferu through Menkaure focused the whole resources of their state on building their tombs. Not even the Egyptians were long able to keep that up. But it may occasion some reflection that the pyramids, however useless to subsequent, not just modern, judgment, nevertheless constitute monuments far more durable and majestic than the sanguine and temporary achievements of conquest.

The V Dynasty, indeed, ushered in an era of less colossal, but also more articulated, works. The mortuary temples became larger and more elaborate, private tombs began to tell the everyday stories of the time (though without the kind of historical narrative that we would like), and soon the pyramids themselves acquired a voice, as the "Pyramid Texts," starting in the pyramid of Unas, which related the perils of the voyage to the afterlife. The V Dynasty kings also built open air solar temples on the West Bank of the Nile, near the pyramids. These featured stout, open air forms, signifying the sun god, of what later would evolve into pillar-like obelisks -- elegant blocks of granite that so engaged ancient and modern attention that they now adorn the cities of Rome, Constantinople, London, Paris, and New York.

These things were treasured -- some in Rome that broke or fell during the Middle Ages were lovingly restored in the Renaissance -- before their inscriptions could even be read. Unfortunately, they suffer in northern climates, and the New York obelisk, whose fate would have sorely puzzled Thutmose III, is now hidden, contrary to the intention of its hilltop installation, in the trees of Central Park. A prospect on it from the Egyptian exhibits of the Metropolitan Museum of Art would have been fitting but apparently was never contemplated and would now be inconvenient. The open air design of the V Dynasty temples suggests the later solar temples of Akhenaton. In Egyptian tradition, the Dynasty was founded by priests of Rē. It is unclear how historical this tradition is, or whether the increasing role of the sun god suggested it.

A curious interlude in the IV Dynasty is when King Shepseskaf returns to Saqqara to build his tomb and then builds, not a pyramid, but the kind of tomb that had not been seen for royalty since the II Dynasty. The name of the tomb, , does not even include the now customary pyramid determinative. The pyramid itself seems to reflect the cult of the Sun god Rē, whose name figures ever more frequently in the names of the Kings, and whose fetish object at Heliopolis, the "Benben," , perhaps a cone, seems to have been the archetype for all pyramids [note].

The V Dynasty Pyramids at Abū Ṣīr, أَبُو صِير; Neferirkare pyramid, largest at site, in foreground, faint Giza pyramids, 7.8 miles away, on horizon to its left, 1969
Both the move and the name of Shepseskaf have the echo of some obscure, perhaps idiosyncratic, religious dissent. If so, it failed rapidly, and it may even have provoked a backlash and a coup, since the V Dynasty traditionally was established by actual priests of Rē; and the cult of Rē is conspicuous in unique solar temples as well as in the names of the Kings.

It would be nice to know what was going on, although Protestant historiography would have no difficulty supplying an explanation. Shepseskaf had obviously perceived the danger of the power and arrogance of the priests of Rē -- Papists before their time -- and was attempting to circumvent it. The absence of evidence for this has not prevently earlier Egyptologists from attributing such a strategy to Akhenaton, and suspicion of priests persists in recent interpretations of the Gnostic Gospels. Nevertheless, it would be nice to know Shepseskaf's motivations.

The IV Dynasty ends with another peculiar monument, the tomb of Khentkawes (or Khentkaus), , at Giza, a Queen who seems to be an important person, perhaps bridging the IV and V Dynasties, but whose role cannot be determined. She may have been a daughter of Menkaure who could have been married to Shepseskaf,
The V Dynasty Pyramids at Abusir, 1969
perhaps not from the dynastic family himself, and perhaps even to Userkaf of the V Dynasty, with duties as Regent in the mix. That she might have ruled in her own right, as we see indicated by Lehner in 1997, is perhaps precluded by her name never appearing in a cartouche. What does appear is a curious title, , which looks like it says she is the mother of two Kings. Which two Kings that might be is as much a matter of speculation as everything else. A further complication is that two Queens of the V Dynasty bear the same name, with the first one also bearing the same title. The whole business suggests a situation such as we find with the Empress Zoë at the end of the Macedonian Dynasty of Romania, whose marriages perpetuated the dynasty but did not bridge the transition to the next, as may have happened with Khentkawes. Indeed, even if the IV Dynasty Khentkawes, and that of the V with the same title, were not the same person, the continued use of the name may be a good clue in itself that the dynasties were linked by marriage.

In 2019 a new tomb was discovered at Saqqara, that of Khuwy, who is identified as the "Secretary of the King" and "Overseer of the Tenants of the Great House," among other things, of King Djedkare Isesi of the V Dynasty. "Great House," , of course is the Palace of the King, which in time will become a name for the King of Egypt, i.e. Pharaoh. Khuwy's remains were actually found among the stones of his broken sarcophagus. Although the external parts of the tomb had been quarried for building material (concealing its location near Isesi's pyramid), the interior of the tomb, as in the photograph, retains largely intact decoration, with vivid colors. It is remarkable that such discoveries are still being made in Egypt. This created a bit of a sensation.

The pyramid of Sahure, the first at Abusir, was for a very long time poorly explored. Little was done after the excavations of John Shae Perring (18131869) in 1837. The reason for this was simple. When Perrying reached the first chamber after the entrance corridor, the ceiling had collapsed and most of the space was choaked with debris, with heavy stones threatening to fall from overhead. Perring discovered fragments of a granite portcullis and of a sarcophagus. Later explorers didn't even notice such items, and they advanced no further into the tomb.

Because of this, conventional reconstructions of the interior of Sahure's pyramid have shown only one chamber, assumed to be the burial chamber. That would make Sahure's pyramid unique among finished monuments of the Old Kingdom, and should have been grounds for suspicion.

Recently, after 2018, Egyptologist Mohamed Ismail Khaled, of the Universität Würzburg, has made great progress in the pyramid. Perring's discoveries have been confirmed, and a small opening Perring identified on one side of the first chamber has been discovered to lead to storage rooms that are typical for pyramids of the era. More striking, it has been shown that the tomb continues on the opposite side of the first chamber, leading to what in contemporary pyramids would be the burial chamber. This remains to be explored, but it begins to look like the burial chamber of Sahure has simply never yet been discovered. Khaled also found a human jaw among the debris, with no evidence of its having been mummified. He speculates that this may have been from a tomb robber who was caught in the original collapse of the structure, after digging undermined the walls. This could be checked, of course, by determining the age of the bone.

Thus, much work remains to be done, with sufficient caution. And, as it happens, other V Dynasty tombs also need further exploration, although none have been as daunting as that of Sahure.

& Hilton
& Petty
VI Dynasty,
of ,
x  2270-
Pepi I
Nemtyemsaf I
Pepi II
Nemtyemsaf II
, Nitoqerty
The entire Old Kingdom period substantially ends with the long reign of Pepi II -- who would later boast perhaps the longest reign in world history.

As a child, we find Pepi writing charming letters to Harkhuf, his governor of Upper Egypt and the leader of several expeditions up the Nile. Pepi urged Harkhuf to keep safe the pygmy or dwarf he was bringing back from deep in Africa -- how deep we do not know -- so that the king could enjoy seeing him.

Harkhuf, a native of Aswan, preserved these letters in his tomb there -- a tomb with such extensive texts that they are called the "autobiography" of Harkhuf. Unfortunately, we do not get enough information to know how far Harkhuf got into Africa, or whether his dwarf was actually one of the pygmies that are now found only in the Ituri Forest, deep in the Congo.

The wandering mind of an octogenarian and nonagenarian king, however, may have left the nobles too much to their own devices. The country broke up when the power that devolved on them lost its last remaining unity in the death of the old king.

The king lists (and Manethō) contain the names of VI Dynasty Kings for whom tombs have never been found and whose existence has evidently been dismissed by many recent historians. Clayton and Lehner here are contrasted with James Henry Breasted, whose History [1905, 1909] accepted two other kings from the king lists -- but not Nitoqerty (from the Turin Canon), Manetho's Nitōcris. Clayton and Lehner do leave a year or two for a minor king (Userkare), but then they don't mention him. Now, a new VI Dynasty cemetery has been uncovered at Saqqara, apparently as part of a search for unfinished tombs of Userkare and others; but so far no dramatic new evidence about the kings has turned up.

The treatment here is based on I.E.S. Edwards, The Pyramids of Egypt [Penguin Books, 1961], Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs [Thames and Hudson, 1994], Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids [Thames and Hudson, 1997], Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford, 1961, 1966], James Henry Breasted, A History of Egypt [1905, 1909, Bantam Classic, 1964], and Kevin L. Johnson, The Names of hte Kings of Egypt, The Serekhs and Cartouches of Egypt's Pharaohs, Along with Selected Queens [Museum Tours Press, 2011, 2012].

A couple of touches have now been added from Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt [Thames & Husdon, 2004]. Thus, Dodson and Hilton think that Sanakhte followed rather than preceded Djoser. I have placed him there, while leaving the dates from Clayton and Lehner that show him coming first. Dodson and Hilton list a "Set?ka" after Djedefre, which may be the Nebka of Lehner, who follows Khafre. They take no notice of Lehner's Khentkawes at the end of the Dynasty. There are no significant differences in their treatment of the V Dynasty. In the VI Dynasty, I have provided Dodson and Hilton's dates, which they supply for more Kings than the other souces do. They disregard the obscure Nitoqerty at the end. Their chronology for the Old Kingdom begins in 2584 for Djoser, almost eighty years later than the other sources, and ends almost forty years later.

Giza, 1969
Visiting Egypt in 1969, I actually rode on horseback, with a guide and one companion, from Saqqara to Giza, passing close by the V Dynasty pyramids at Abusir. The two photos of the Abusir pyramids above are from horseback. Eat your heart out, Indiana Jones. I had previously had a little more experience with horses than I ever have had since. The photo here is the view we got, also from horseback, approaching Giza. I don't think this is a perspective often seen, looking across cultivated fields and through palm trees. Usually we see Giza either from the desert or from the adjacent sprawl of Cairo. This may be the view that would have been more familiar to the Egyptians, over many centuries. The time is late in the day, and the December sun illuminates the southern, but not the eastern, faces of the pyramids.

Egyptian History Continued

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Copyright (c) 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The Old Kingdom of Egypt, Note 1;
"Overseer of Works"

The term , "overseer of works," is of interest for its construction and literal meaning.

The first element, meaning "overseer," involves a device by which Egyptian can turn a preposition into an adjective. The morpheme involved is the suffix "ī," just as can be done in Hebrew and Arabic, in the latter with a long vowel, ي. Although Egyptian generally doesn't write vowels, it has long been suspected that the double slash glyph does represents a long "i," conventionally written "y."

The preposition in this case is the simple letter "m", or "i͗m," which means "in, as, by, with, from, when, through, what," which produces the term , meaning "one-who-is-in," i͗my. See Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar, §79 [Oxford, 1927, 1964, p.61-62].

For "overseer," that whole expression gets reduced to the letter "m" and the letter "r" is added, , i͗my-r, which simply means "mouth." So "overseer" literally means, "one who is in the mouth," which seems to mean that subordinates of the overseer speak to him, or of him. We might think that the overseer should be speaking to the subordinates, but that doesn't seem to be how the Egyptians thought of it. This whole expression, however, can be replaced with a single ideogram, , which seems to be a tongue and so may have some connection to speaking, like the previous "mouth."

Another nice use of the i͗my device is , which adds the ideogram for "heart," meaning, naturally, "one who is in the heart," or a "favorite." See the use of the heart in the Egyptian expression for "joy."

The second element of "Overseer of Works" is, of course, "works," which alone is , which is written as a plural but not necessarily read that way. This too can be reduced to an ideogram, , where the plural determinative is optional, as in the larger expression.

Imhotep was not just the Overseer of Works, he was the actual architect and builder of Djoser's pyramid. A "builder" in turn is , where, as we might suspect, the ideogram can be used independently, . The little circle determinative in the full writing is a glyph for "sand, metal, mineral, pellet, medicine," which in this case obviously refers to materials used by the builder. A builder is not going to be giving medicinal pills, but then the same glyph can be used for what physicians give. Notice that the "builder" ideogram occurs in the Egyptian name for Alexandria.

The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian

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The Old Kingdom of Egypt, Note 2;
The Phoenix

The Benben also gives us the root of the name of the Egyptian bird, , whose apparent association with the solar cult leads us to identify it with the Phoenix, Φοῖνιξ, spoken of by Herodotus [II:73]. His story is that the bird appears every 500 years, bringing its father, wrapped in myrrh, to be buried at Heliopolis.

The form of the story where the phoenix immolates itself, and then is reborn from the ashes, is due to later sources that I have not been able to identity. The name "phoenix" derives the idea of Herodotus that the bird was golden (χρυσόκομος, "golden feathered") and red (ἐρυθρός), using the name of the Phoenician purple dye for it.

However, the Egyptian bird, with its distinctive ideogram, was a heron; and herons are white (or gray, yellow, blue, brown, black, etc.). Herodotus might have confused the red of the fire for the bird, if only fire had been a part of his account. There is indeed a mythical Chinese bird, , which we have called a "Phoenix," because it is explicitly associated with the element fire and the color red. Meanwhile, the story in Herodotus, and subsequent versions with images of the "phoenix rising from the ashes" (and the capital of Arizona), are not attested in Egyptian sources.

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The First Intermediate Period of Egypt

The First Intermediate Period
VII Dynasty,
of Memphis,
"70 Kings in 70 days,"
or "5 Kings in 75 days";
No known historical kings
The treatment and dates here are based on Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs [Thames and Hudson, 1994], Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids [Thames and Hudson, 1997], Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford, 1966], Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt [Thames & Husdon, 2004], and Kevin L. Johnson & Bill Petty, The Names of the Kings of Egypt, The Serekhs and Cartouches of Egypt's Pharaohs, along with Selected Queens [Museum Tours Press, Littleton, Colorado, 2011, 2012]. The 30+ year difference between the dates for the Old Kingdom given by Clayton and Lehner originates in the First Intermediate Period, specifically in the X Dynasty. Since so little is known about the First Intermediate Period, while the XII Dynasty is tied fairly securely with astronomical observations, Old Kingdom chronology has always depended on estimates for the First Intermediate Period -- James Henry Breasted, for instance [A History of Egypt, 1905, Bantam Classic, 1964, p.500], estimated the length of the period at 315 years, as opposed to 141 years for Clayton, 110 years for Lehner, and only 77 years for Dodson and Hilton.

VIII Dynasty,
of Memphis,
Clayton, 2181-2161;
Lehner, 2150-2134;
Johnson & Petty, 2150-2118
Neferkare I
Neferkare II Neby

Neferkare III Khendu
Neferkare IV Tereru
Neferkauhor I
Neferkare V Pepysonbe

Qakara Ibi

Neferkauhor II Khuihapy 
Neferirkare II2119-
Manethō himself, whose figures are often wild exaggerations, only gave 185 years for the X Dynasty -- this implies that he may have had better information about it than for the IX Dynasty, which he put at 409 years (in one version). If five kings are allowed for the X Dynasty, then Clayton has an average of 28.2 years per reign, which is a bit high. Lehner's time for the dynasty only gives an average of 22 years per reign, which is much more in line with the averages previously considered. With only 77 years for both IX (using the attested Kings shown) and X, we only get 7 years each, which could well be reasonable for the period (contrasting with the average of 3 years for Roman Emperors of the
Crisis of the Third Century period).

However, the real number of kings is conjectural. For the X Dynasty, Manethō said there were 19 Kings, and the Turin Canon gave 18 (cf. Gardiner, p. 438). Dodson and Hilton supply more names than Clayton and Lehner, and I have added them to the lists. Dodson and Hilton combine the lists for the VII and VIII Dynasties, and for the IX and X Dynasties. I have divided the list for the IX and X Dynasties, perhaps arbitrarily, where Dodson and Hilton break the succession with a "Various" gloss.

Two Kings I have of the X Dynasty, Kaneferre and Meryibre Khety, are missing from Dodson and Hilton but given by Clayton, who also places Merykare before, rather than after, Akhtoy V. The last word about the dynasty, and the Period, therefore may well depend on some discovery to clarify who and how many the historical kings were. Since important items of Egyptian literature apparently date from the X Dynasty, testifying to cultural and literary activity, it is not impossible that something may come to light to clarify the succession. Heracleopolis would not again be a capital of Egypt until the Third Intermediate Period.

Johnson & Petty provide attested names in Egyptian for the Kings. Their note on the VII and VIII Dynasties is "Very little is known of Dynasty 7, and in it may be spurious. There are no kings who can be placed in that dynasty with any certainty" [p.25]. Their note on the IX and X Dynasties is, "This period includes many little-known kings ruling from Herakleopolis whose order is, at best, guesswork" [p.27]. For the Kings named "Khety" or "Akhtoy," the hieroglyphic writing provides no evidence for the initial vowel, which thus may derive from Manethō's Greek writing. His Achthōēs is said to have been a very bad king, who was killed by a crocodile.

The traditional view of the First Intermediate Period is that something very bad happened. While that is more than reasonable, the direct evidence for it was thin, and those inclined to scepticism were free to shoot the idea apart. Most easily cited as evidence for bad conditions were texts available from the Middle Kingdom lamenting various obscure calamities, lawlessness, and social upheaval. Among these are the "Admonitions of Ipuwer" and the "Dispute Between a Man and His Ba" (where a man contemplates suicide and argues about it with his ba, , one of the parts of the soul).

For instance, Ipuwer says, "A man goes to plow with his shield...Crime is everywhere...The servant takes what he finds....Lo, women are barren, none conceive...Lo, many dead are buried in the river..." [Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, Miriam Lichtheim, University of California Press, 1973, 1975, pp.150-151]. The translator here, Miriam Lichtheim, thinks that this is a genre, not a report or memory of events, and does point out that some statements, e.g. "Lo, nobles lament, the poor rejoice" [p.151], do not seem consistent with simple anarchy or natural disasters. Actually, they could well be consistent with simple anarchy. Similar laments are found in the "Dispute," e.g. "Hearts are greedy, Everyone robs his comrade's goods...He who should enrage men by his crimes -- He makes everyone laugh <at> his evildoing...Men plunder, Everyone robs his comrade...None are righteous, The land is left to evildoers" [p.167].

While it would be strange if none of these texts are related to any actual events, there is the problem about the cause of such events. Traditionally, there wasn't much to go on. About the best historians might say is that the long reign of Pepi II allowed local nobility to take over, and the fragmentation of the state resulted in the referenced calamities. However, increased power to local nobility would not necessarily have resulted in general lawlessness,
IX Dynasty,
of Heracleopolis, ,
"4 Kings for 100 years,"
or "19 Kings for 409 years"
Johnson & Petty, 2118-2080

Achthōēs, Meryibre

Akhtoy, Khety I
Neferkare VI

Akhtoy II; may be in X Dynasty
Neferkare VII Akhtoy III
Mery-? Akhtoy IV
X Dynasty,
of Heracleopolis,
Clayton, 2160-2040;
Lehner, 2134-2040
poorly attested; may be identical to next King

Neferkare VIII

Akhtoy V
; tomb at Saqqara?
and such nobility would certainly not "lament" or be tolerant of servants robbing their masters. This would generally give the poor no reasons to "rejoice." Why women should become barren is even more incomprehensible.

A new hypothesis about the problems of the First Intermediate Period comes from climate and rainfall indicators. It looks like there was a serious cooling of the atmosphere and a drought affecting Egypt at the end of the Old Kingdom. The failure of rainfall (and so of the Nile) is dated to 4200 years before the present -- about 2200 BC, right at the end of the reign of Pepi II by Clayton or Lehner's chronology. It also looks like the Faiyum actually dried up as a result of this, so that all the sediments from the Old Kingdom blew away. Such a dramatic transformation and misfortune has not happened since. The failure of agriculture easily led to the famine, violence, and chaos described in the lamentation texts, confirmed by recent archaeology -- though the rejoicing of the poor still seems a little anomalous if the conditions were those of famine. Nevertheless, the failure of women to conceive can easily be an effect of famine, something that no other explanation can cover.

An extreme distruption is certainly evident in the confused memories and lack of inscriptions or monuments for the VII Dynasty. Indeed, when Manethō says that there are "seventy kings in seventy days," we might wonder just what kinds of documents or texts he is looking at. This is the most extreme disorder in all of Egyptian history. The VIII Dynasty does slightly better, and one small pyramid even gets built; but it looks like the country only really begins to recover under the Heracleopolitan dynasties. Manethō's gloss for the first king of the IX Dynasty, Achthōēs, a tyrant killed by a crocodile, looks like a bad start, and there seem to be no known tombs. But this Achthōēs must have done something right to get his reign and domain started. Although generally we see the IX credited with following the VIII, it is reasonable to imagine a period of overlap, which would help shorten our estimates of the Period. Things may be getting close to normalcy during the X Dynasty, and the Egyptians have some memory of the Heracleopolitan Kings -- though nothing is like back to normal until the XI Dynasty, whose full restoration of Royal power and authority, with impressive monuments, sounds like nothing so much as the Sui in China. The XII Dynasty is then very much an Egyptian T'ang.

The climate evidence contributes here, as it does elsewhere, to an aspect of history that previously might have been disparaged, as in was in geology, as "catastrophism." That drought may have brought down the Maya and the Old Kingdom, and volcanic eruption the Minoan civilization, means that purely internal and institutional explanations, or invasions, do not have to aways bear the burden of explaining the decline or crises of cultures.

The Eloquent Peasant

If the Heracleopolitan dynasties begin inauspiciously, with a reputed tyrant, they may end with a very different tone. Thus, it is in the late reign of Nebkaure Akhtoy that the events in the "Tale of the Eloquent Peasant" are supposed to have happened.

A peasant, Khunanup (or Khun-Anup -- protected by Anubis, , Ἄνουβις, the god of embalming), a resident of the Wadi Natrun (the "Field of Salt"), taking to market his goods -- rushes, natron, salt, skins, etc. (most of which we don't know what the words mean) -- with his asses, attracts the attention of a corrupt overseer, Thothnakht (now read as "Nemtinakht"), a vassal of the "high steward" Rensi.

Thothnakht covets the peasant's goods, and he has the public path covered with linens (perhaps burial shrouds), forcing the peasant to pass through the adjacent fields. There, one ass bites off some grain, and the overseer seizes all the asses and their loads, beats the peasant, and drives him away with the taunt that "The poor man's name is not pronounced save for his master's sake" -- i.e. the peasant has no protector.

In the "Satire of the Trades," we see the assertion, "A peasant is not called a man" [Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, University of California Press, 1973, p.190]. But Khunanup, who, after all, appears to be a particularly prosperous peasant, knows that the master of Thothnakht, the steward Rensi, "restrains every robber throughout the entire land," and asks, "and shall I then be robbed in his own domain?"

After a week (ten days in Egypt) of futile appeals to Thothnakht, the peasant begins petitioning the steward Rensi, who sends someone to investigate. Rensi is advised to require Thothnakht to restore the goods, but without punishment over "a trifle of natron and a trifle of salt." He does not do this, but instead he tolerates petitions directly from the peasant exhorting him to administer , truth and justice. Otherwise he maintains a silent and aloof countenance.

Now, the lack of response from Rensi is consistence with Egyptian ideals of dispassionate judgment. The repeated remonstrations of the peasant, however, might strike readers of many subsequent ages as sometimes disrespectful -- as when a modern juror might voice Constitutional concerns to a judge and be asked "Have you been to law school?" i.e. a mere citizen, whose rights the Constitution protects, has no standing without a credential from the ruling class, i.e. from those whose sophistry reinterprets the Constitution, or ignores it, for their own interest and advantage, and often have little but contempt for regular citizens. The situation of the Eloquent Peasant is not unusual in the modern courtroom.

However, the Egyptians knew that justice was a divine power (natural law), not an earthly document, and they seem to have loved this story about the peasant, which survives in four copies (none of which is complete, but they overlap and cover each other's lacunae). Khunanup rebukes the steward:

Thou wast approinted to hear pleas, to decide between suitors, to repress the brigand; and behold, what thou dost is to support the thief. One puts faith in thee, and thou art become a transgressor. Thou wast set for a dam unto the poor man, take heed lest he drown; behold, thou art a swift current to him. [Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, Harper Torchbooks, 1948, 1961, p.150]

Rensi regarded this sort of thing as disrespectful enough that Khunanup did earn a beating, , but he was not discouraged or daunted. As a peasant, he was probably used to getting beaten anyway. The many petitions, nine in all, contained in the story, which might seem to go a bit far, may have been a large part of its appeal. Without the vowels for Egyptian, it is frustrating not to be able to get the full effect of what the Egyptians apparently regarded as classic, elevated, and beautiful moral and political rhetoric.

Even so, we can get some sense of the poetry of these petitions:

When you go down to the Lake of Ma'at [i.e. M39t],
You will sail on it with a good wind.
No part of your sail will be torn,
Nor will your ship stall,
No disaster will befall your mast
Nor break your yards.
You will not be too powerful[?],
Nor will you run aground.
You will not be carried away by a wave;
You will not taste the evil of the river.
You will not behold fear.
Darting fish will come to you.
You will catch fat birds.
For you are a father to the orphan,
A husband to the widow,
A brother to the divorced,
And a cloak to the one who is not a mother.
[Loren R. Fisher, The Eloquent Peasant, Cascade Books, Eugene Oregon, 2015, p.13; see the discussion elsewhere of the clues to the pronunciation of "Ma'at."]

Here we get images, drawn from the extensive experience of Egyptians in boats on the Nile, of the good effects of following Truth and Justice -- a bit like the assertion of the Tao Te Ch'ing that "sweet dew will fall" [Verse 72]. But it's not all just poety. The last four lines touch on the duties of the those charged with administering justice, which interestingly reflect confessions made in the Book of the Dead by those being judged in the Afterlife.

The steward Rensi has recognized the quality of the peasant's appeal, and after just one petition, he calls the attention of King Nebkaure, , to the case. The King instructs Rensi to continue to entertain the appeals, saying nothing in reply, while recording the (oral) petitions -- the peasant himself is certainly illiterate -- reporting everything to him, and secretly caring for the peasant's family, and for the peasant himself. Rensi and the King both enjoy the repeated statements of "the eternal foundation of righteousness" (as Calvin Coolidge put it). King Nebkaure will also be remembered in Egyptian literature for his "Instructions for King Merikare," his son, , on the duties and public benefits of Kingship. Both documents, long treasured by the Egyptians, thus attribute substantial wisdom to this one Heracleopolitan King. In the end, the King orders Rensi to render justice, and he does, restoring all Khunanup's possessions, and more, and appropriately punishing Thothnakht -- whose possessions and perhaps even his position (the text is corrupt) are given to Khunanup, a peasant no longer.

Loren Fisher gives us three lines in Egyptian with his translation. The small dots before "k" and "s" indicate that these are pronominal suffixes, used to inflect verbs, as the objects of prepositions, or as possessive pronouns. The "she" here is the lion goddess Sekhmet, , and the peasant, of course, is addressing Rensi:

If you have nothing, she has nothing.

If she has nothing, there is nothing for you.

If you do not do it, it is not done.

Later we will see some lion gods in relation to the city of Leontopolis. Here Khunanup is reproaching Rensi again, belaboring him for being greedy, unkind, and not unlike destructive gods, such as the crocodile god Khenty, , or Sekhmet, who can slaughter enemies, bring plagues, etc. -- which is why we see her in Fisher's translation as the "Lady of Pestilence."

Nevertheless, it is not clear to me exactly what Kunanup is saying here. There seems to be an identity asserted between Rensi and the goddess, such that a loss or lack in one is reflected in the other. Fisher also finds this puzzling, but the context is the comparison of the destructive course of Rensi, in neglecting justice, to that of the violent goddess. The final line, however, assigns to Rensi the task of correction, which indeed is the exhortation.

We get a fair idea from many sources of Egyptian ideals of justice and of the obligations of rulers. The "Eloquent Peasant" is a sterling example; and we leave the First Intermediate Period with a literary arc from the lamentations of the early texts to an exemplary text on what good government and the administration of justice should be like, with the addition of the "Instructions" to King Merykare. With this preparation, the Egyptians may have been about ready for the "Good Shepherd" Kings of the XII Dynasty.

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